One Win Closer

Posted by Corey Seidman, Thu, October 29, 2009 07:00 AM | Comments: 27

I meant to write a World Series preview that would be available to read on Tuesday night, but unfortunately, life gets in the way. With that said, maybe it was a blessing in disguise, as this series will be much easier to break down following Cliff Lee’s absolutely dominant performance in Game One.

The Phillies prized mid-season acquisition continued his unreal 2009 postseason by pitching a complete game in a 6-1, statement-making Phillies win. Unfortunately, his shutout was lost in the ninth inning due to an error by Jimmy Rollins, who prolonged the Phillies streak of throwing into the opposing dugout rather than first base. All told, Lee allowed six hits and NO WALKS, while striking out ten. He hasn’t allowed a free pass in three of four postseason starts, leading to a ridiculously low 0.60 WHIP. The most impressive aspect of Lee’s outing was his superiority over Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, who went a combined 0-for-8 with five strikeouts.

Best Ever?

No writer should ever have to say this, but Cliff Lee’s performance in these playoffs has transcended words. His 0.54 ERA is the lowest ever recorded by a pitcher with 30 or more postseason innings. That’s right, the lowest in the history of this sport, which has been played since the presidency of Chester A. Arthur.

Looking Ahead

Before the World Series started, I was ready to pick the Phillies to win in six games. Needless to say, that didn’t change after Game One. No, Lee will not be available to pitch again until at least Game Four, but that does not change the fact that the Phillies lineup came to play Wednesday night, scoring twice off Yankees ace CC Sabathia, twice off setup man Phil Hughes (both runs were inherited by AL K/9 leader David Robertson), and, for good measure, twice more off of Brian Bruney in the ninth inning.

Big hits came from all spots of the lineup, as Chase Utley homered twice, Ryan Howard doubled twice and drove in a run, Raul Ibanez had a huge two-out, two-run single, and Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino all contributed to a few more insurance runs. Just like the previous two rounds, the offensive output was a complete team effort, showing that from top-to-bottom, this Phillies lineup is as good as it gets.

A.J. vs. Pedro

Traditional thinking would give the Yankees the advantage in Game Two, as they have their high-priced number-two starter, A.J. Burnett, on the mound, to face a “past-his-prime” Pedro Martinez. But Burnett does not have a pretty history against this specific Phillies lineup, and Martinez is coming off a seven inning, three hit performance that was easily his best outing with his new team.

Since 2006, Burnett is 1-2 with a 5.89 ERA in three starts against the Phils. He has allowed six homers in those three starts and hasn’t gotten out of the sixth inning in any of them. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Jayson Werth have all homered once off Burnett, and Ryan Howard and likely-DH Matt Stairs have homered off the right-hander twice.

Burnett has struggled against the Phillies because he is precisely the type of pitcher that this team is built to hit – a hard-throwing righty with bad control. Other than 2001, his first full season, Burnett had the worst walk rate of his career in 2009, at 4.22 per 9 IP. Slightly more than half of his pitches, 50.1% to be exact, were out of the strike zone, which won’t bode well against a patient Phillies lineup that includes five players (Ruiz, Utley, Werth, Rollins, Ibanez) who swing at less than ¼ of the pitches they are thrown out of the zone.

Burnett, much like Pedro, will have to rely on the generosity of Game Two’s home plate umpire. If Burnett isn’t getting calls on borderline pitches, his effectiveness will drop significantly, because he is wild enough as it is. If Martinez can’t get calls on the corners, he, too, will assuredly struggle.

Movement and corner-painting are Pedro’s “bread and butter” at this point in his career, and the Yankees lineup will not give in – they’re even more patient than the Phillies. All Yankee regulars not-named-Robinson-Cano swing at fewer than the league-average 25% of the pitches they see outside the strike zone.

Leaving the Past

Much has been made about Pedro Martinez’ history vs. the Yankees, but I don’t see how the transpirations of 2003 will impact his performance in Game Two. The numbers I’ve laid before you concerning Burnett have all been compiled in the last four seasons against a Phillies lineup that has remained the same, for the most part.

But this Yankees lineup is completely different from the one Pedro faced while pitching for the Red Sox, aside from Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, two hitters that Martinez has held in check in his career. Posada has displayed a bit of power against Pedro, homering four times in sixty at-bats, but he is hitting just .183 off the right-hander. Jeter is hitting .256/.347/.395 off Pedro, with an OPS more than 100 points lower than his career number.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that Pedro Martinez circa 2003 contained a different skill set than he currently does. Therefore, all numbers that he compiled against hitters like Jeter and Posada in that span of time should be thrown out the window. Jeter and Posada, in 2009, are better than Martinez, in 2009. If common sense tells you to throw out his outings against the Yankees in 2003, it also tells you to remove the batter-vs.-pitcher numbers Pedro put together during the prime of his career, when he just so happened to be one of the greatest pitchers to ever toe the rubber.

To me, the Game Two pitching matchup is even. If Pedro can maneuver in-and-out of the strike zone like he did against the Dodgers, he should out-pitch Burnett, who, despite his price tag, has never cemented himself as an elite pitcher.

Game Three

In Game Three, the advantage goes to Andy Pettitte, a pitcher the Phillies have only faced twice since 2006. In each outing, the lefty went seven innings and gave up four earned runs. The reason I see the Phillies struggling, however, is because Pettitte, the major-league record holder in pickoffs, will completely neutralize their running game, even with Jorge Posada behind the plate.

Pettitte’s splits are literally the same against righties (.270, 1 HR/45 AB) and lefties (.271, 1 HR/45 AB,) so it’s not as if the Phillies are facing a truly dominant southpaw. But after going up against two flamethrowers in Sabathia and Burnett, Pettitte could spell trouble for this lineup.

Tired of Waiting

Cole Hamels has struggled all season and, quite frankly, I’m sick of making excuses for him. Early in the season, I blamed it on his absurdly high BABIP that would eventually regress. Then, I blamed it on the “Order of Operations” theory, which would explain his struggles as being the result of going “double-walk-homer-strikeout” rather than “homer-double-walk-strikeout.”

None of his peripherals decreased in 2009, which is a good sign, but last year’s World Series MVP just has not shown any ability whatsoever to recapture the magic he once had. More importantly, Hamels hasn’t been able to pitch effectively as a frontrunner. In all three of his prior postseason starts, he’s been handed a big lead and failed to hold his opponents down. If he pitches well against the Yankees, it will be an example of his true talent coming out at the right time.

But don’t bank on it.

No More Bullpen Talk

In my opinion, the one proven fact of the 2009 playoffs has been that bullpen-talk is meaningless. Pitchers who toss fewer than fifty or sixty innings simply cannot be viewed as “shutdown” guys. Rafael Betancourt, Huston Street, Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Hong Chih-Kuo, Ronald Belisario, Phil Hughes, and David Robertson were all touted as great relievers, coming off of strong regular seasons. But all have fallen victim to the Phillies multifaceted offense.

The reason for this? Well, it’s all about the situation. During the regular season, all of these men were used primarily in leads. Facing the Orioles or Padres with nobody on and nobody out in the eighth inning of a game in mid-July is much different than coming in with the bases loaded and 1 out in September. Therefore, it doesn’t matter which team may have a better bullpen on paper. Don’t believe me? Look at Brad Lidge’s 2009 season, then his 2009 postseason.

The situation will always dictate a reliever’s level of effectiveness.

The Impact of Game One

The Phillies have now won the last six opening games of playoff series’ – every round in 2008, and now every round in 2009. The road gets easier from here, as the Phillies now have the same amount of home-games remaining as the Yankees do, AND hold a 1-0 advantage.

Eleven of the past 12 Game One winner have gone on to win the World Series,  and since 1995, teams that win Game One on the road are 4-1.

It sure is nice building an early lead, especially when home-cooking is on the horizon.

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About Corey Seidman

Corey Seidman has written 210 articles on Phillies Nation.

Corey is Analysis Editor for Phillies Nation and also writes for CSNPhilly.com.

  • Posts: 0 Ed R.

    Can someone make a shirt that says:

    Dominating Bullpens…it’s just what we do.
    2009 Phillies

  • Posts: 0 bob

    “Cliff Lee is my daddy”
    -The 2009 New York Yankees

  • Posts: 0 bob

    Just ridiculous performance last night from Lee and from Chase Utley. They SHUT DOWN that offense, SHUT DOWN that crowd. Some very good, patient at bats from the Phils.

    Do not be satifised with 1 win there, we don’t have to be. Phils usually hit Burnett well and I have a feeling that Pedro will hold his own.

    1 down, 3 to go

  • Posts: 0 brewtownphilsphan

    Missing from most of the reporting on game one (excepting a brief notice in the Philly papers) is the significance of the approach at the plate taken by the entire Phils lineup.

    To read the national press, stories one, two, and three are Cliff Lee, while story four is a grudging nod to Chase Utley.

    A big key to the game, though, is CC’s pitch count. CC nearly shut down the Phillies, but he couldn’t continue beyond the seventh, despite looking really good late. The reason was that every Philly was patient at the plate, making him throw a lot of pitches early. That’s what got them to the soft Yankee pen and four insurance runs, which changed the complexion of the bottom of the ninth when the Yanks finally got some offense going. Patient hitting across the board means that a strikeout can be a productive at-bat – provided that it’s a six or seven pitch strikeout.

    CC handled that approach reasonably well; he just couldn’t finish. Honestly, though, what do you expect A.J. Burnett to do? I have a lot of hope that the Phils can drive him out much earlier than CC. You’ve got to respect Pettite in game 3, but at his age, can he throw 120 effective pitches? The Phillies look set to feast off this bullpen throughout the series, and that’s the result of an intelligent, patient approach at the plate.

  • Posts: 0 Benjamin

    Take a look at Utley’s second homer:


    A Yankees fan just flipped Chase, the camera and all of America the finger! Classy!

  • Posts: 0 Ed R.

    I agree brewtown. The Phillies patience, maybe more so than Utley’s homers was the key in last nights victory. And if there is ever a guy who can get completely off kilter because of guys walking and working the count it’s A.J Burnett. Hopefully the Phillies execute patience tonight and their patience is rewarded.

    Great game, great start to the W.S but we have got a long, long way to go.

  • Posts: 0 GWFightinsFan

    I agree Ed, it was a good start, and yes we do have a loooong way to go. The Yankees will not not roll over like some teams. Tonight is the key, we should really focus, make Burnett throw a lot of pitches, and outscore the Yankees.

  • Posts: 0 gm-carson

    That game was UTerLEE amazing. See what I did there? Anyway, that was the exact game the Phils needed to play last night to send a message to the Yankees, their fans, and the media that the Phils are for real and won’t roll over and play dead for the sake of New York and their goons. Read Fox.com and ESPN.com’s prediction for the series, and I think only 3 analysts picked the Phils to win. Like Rodney Dangerfield would say- “No respect, I tell ya, no respect.”

    I look for Pedro to pitch well tonight, because that’s what Pedro does in spots like this. Having a 2-0 series lead heading back to Philly would be incredible.

  • Posts: 0 beta sigma shag

    great start to the WS. What about A-Rod, if Pedro can shut him down again tonight I think some ghosts will resurface and he will start pressing again. This is only one win, a big one at that but just one win we need 3 more. A split in NY is HUGE, especially with how the Phillies have played at home in the post seasons. It is refreshing to see that there is not a bunch of sweep talk in here, this series is not going to be easy, and AJ might step up tonight and pitch great. I think it will be a 6-5 or 8-5 game and it could go either way.
    Just over 11 hours till first pitch, and no work for me tonight so I can watch the whole game from my couch, instead of watching the first 6 innings standing in the bar at work, and having to pay attention to the restaurant, since that is my job.

  • Posts: 0 Ed R.

    Don’t count on A-Rod repeating last night’s performance tonight. I looked up his game log for this season and A-Rod struck out 3 times in a game twice. The day after those 3 K performances, he went 5-5 and 3-5 with 1 homer and 7 rbi. Funny enough though, his first 3 k performance of the season was in the last game of the Phillies and Yankees series back in May.

  • Posts: 0 Ed R.

    oh and PS: that 3 K performance that A-Rod had on May 24 vs the Phils was with Hamels on the mound and 3 of Hamels 5 k’s that day were vs A-Cups, I mean A-Roid, I mean A-Rod.

  • Posts: 0 bob

    SPLIT is not the word to use right now……if that ends up being the scenario, so be it. We’ll worry about it later tonight.

    Obviously Pedro is gonna have a tougher time then Lee, the Yankees tend to make great adjustments at the plate. One of the many reason that they are here. I think we need to take the same approach with Burnett, not get too jumpy. He has good stuff obviously.

    Pedro just needs to keep us in the game and we can turn it over to the well rested bullpen.

  • Posts: 0 TrappedInNYC

    Watched Fox 5 News in NYC this AM…they showed Lee’s catch of Damon’s pop up and their only comment…”That was extremely disrespectful to the Yankess and their fans”…this from the same station that held up the NY Post pic of Victorino in a skirt and giggled…unreal

    Brewtown…I agree with you 100%…the patience at the plate was key in wearing CC down

  • Posts: 0 JD

    I think I am literally shaking in anticipation of game 2. Adrenaline is flowing. I have been saying it all along. Enjoy what we have this will be a team that we will be telling our grandchildren about. I love this team and city, and it feels so good to have a team finally give us what we have been begging for. Boo…F/U NY. Go Phills keep it rollin…

  • Posts: 0 Griffin

    If we get this one tonight….WOW.

    Everyone here in NY thinks it’s a foregone conclusion that Pedro will get bombed. It never occurred to anyone that Burnett may get bombed as well.

    Let’s get em.

  • Posts: 0 U Gotta Believe

    Yankee fans are crying about how there was an unfair strike zone last night and hopefull they get a fair Home Plate Umpire tonight…the only unfair aspect of that zone last night was that Lee Struck out Matsui twice in 1 at bat…and then proceeded to single…wow…they are almost as bad as Mets fans….when will the country and the media give the Phillies the respect they deserve and just say the Phillies took the Yanks behind the shed and gave them an old fashion beating.

    My other favorite qoute was the Phillies aren’t playing in the AAAA league any more…what a joke….The Rockies and Dodgers were just as good as the Angels and better then the twins.

    Go Phillies…sweep the series and maybe then this nation will wake up!

  • Posts: 0 Manny

    That short piece under “Best Ever?” gives me the chills. As great as he was, I’m hoping we don’t overuse him by bringing him back on short-rest after a CG. I like our odds more with Happ/Blanton in Game 4 and dominant Lee in Game 5…. If they get to Lee in Game 4 –> disaster.

  • Posts: 0 SDO

    I have a feeling Werth and company will be feasting off Burnett’s fastball in tonight’s game. 2 or 3 more long balls for the Phils tonight. Get Burnett out of the game early, and continue feasting on the very shaky-looking Yankee bullpen. (Does Hughs seem scared or what?)

    On the other hand, if Pedro gets into trouble, we’ll have Happ in the bullpen, ready to take over. I don’t see Charlie allowing a big inning to transpire against our Game 2 starter.

    I heard on ESPN radio that Blanton is being saved for Game 4, because Charlie doesn’t feel comfortable about using Lee on short rest. And that’s also why he let Lee go 120+ pitches last night.

  • Posts: 0 bob

    A relaxed Pedro is at his best. He doesn’t have the pressure of an 0-2 hole facing him tonight.

    Time for him to go out and get rid of those ghosts of Yankee Stadium past. I have a feeling Pedro is gonna be good tonight.

  • Posts: 0 Philly Geoff

    What a game… 3 to go!

  • Posts: 0 The Original Chuck P

    I think that we underestimate Pedro’s intelligence… he’s aloof but he’s actually very smart. I think that most of what he says is planned… even when it sounds completely absurd.

  • Posts: 0 j reed

    The Original Chuck P – or as Ali would call it – rope-a-dope.

  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    And Pedro’s aloofness and what he says….and how it comes across….. is EXACTLY why Charlie tapped him for this particular game.

  • Posts: 0 j reed

    Consider not seeing Pedro for a long time the same as not having seen him….at least until the third time thru the line-up. Remeber we also have Myers who the yankees have struggled with before esp with his curveball

  • Posts: 0 Zachary Hibbard

    This is a very prosperous, and quite extraordinary article, if you were to ask me.

  • Posts: 0 Hoagie

    After watching Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, I have come to the conclusion the Cliff Lee is not of this World. He carries himself as a regular Joe, or just one of the Guys. As I watched him finesse his way through the Yankee hitters and then Dart off the field I was not aware of his super Human effort.
    The Biggest Stage that Cliff Lee has ever pitched in, enables him to become Stronger. Pressure to him is like Spinach to Popeye. He was as powerful as possible, all with, absolutely no sign of an Adrenaline Rush. This sort of thing does not happen to human beings. Athletes are viewed as a higher being, but to show that kind of calmness is on another level. It was as if he was on Prozac while he threw his glove behind his back only to flip the ball to first like he was having a catch with Son, Jackson. Not to mention the Lack of effort he used to catch the shallow pop up with Jeter on first.
    The Demeanor of this Left handed pitcher, who are normally very abnormal, is unparallel. Cole Hamel provided a dazzling performance in the 2008 playoffs and we all thought that it could not get any better then that. Cliff Lee is showing us that it can be and will only help with the maturing process of both Hamel & Happ. This guy should have an “S” on his chest or at least, his own comic book.
    33 1/3 innings, 30 K’s, 20 hits, 3 walks, and his .054 ERA (2 Earned Runs/5 total) are un-imaginable. Not to mention his 2 hits with the bat and a big stolen base. We will be so lucky to have this pitcher show up ever 5th day for at least next year. Ruben, Your job is not done. Make this Priority 1, Sign Cliff Lee to a multi-year deal ASAP.

  • Posts: 0 Serita Rensing

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