On this day 518 years ago, some guy named CC landed near what would eventually become New York and – backed by an empire with an overwhelming advantage in resources and a determination to conquer everything in its wake – began an era of dominance and prosperity for some and misery and subjugation for others.
I know – it's hard to relate to events like this that are so far removed from our current reality…so let's talk instead about the 2010 baseball playoffs.
If the first round of this post-season has reinforced anything, it is that pitching wins – and poor defense loses - in October, and this raises another thorny question for Yankee manager Joe Girardi as he leads his team into the ALCS.
First, the pitching…
The Phillies look like the best team in baseball not only because they have an AL East-quality line-up, but primarily because they have the most fearsome three-man rotation in the playoffs. That rotation gave up a total of 3 earned runs (all by Roy Oswalt) on their way to a sweep of the offense-heavy Reds and contributed to an extraordinary team-WHIP of 0.556 for the series. The Giants likely won't have the offensive firepower to compete with Philly in an NLCS matchup, but their top-two of Lincecum-Cain gives them a better shot at matching the Phillies' pitching than the Braves would have should they somehow advance. Either way, it would be pretty shocking if the Phillies don't repeat as NL champs this year thanks largely to two pitchers named Roy and a resurgent Cole Hamels.
As for the AL, the surge in confidence regarding the Yankees' chances of returning to the World Series is not so much due to the fact that their hitting has picked up, but because of the pitching – both their own and that of their prospective ALCS opponents. In the ALDS Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes demonstrated that theirs is not a one-man rotation. And the ace of whichever team emerges from the Rays-Rangers series will likely not take to the mound any earlier than game 3 of the ALCS.
As for defense…
I can't recall so many errors and unearned runs in one round of playoffs as we have seen in the two NLDS series this past week. Consider the following:
NLDS (Phils-Reds): 3 G, 17 total runs scored, including 7 unearned. Of the 13 runs the Phillies scored in these games, 6 were unearned. What slim chance the Reds had vs. the Phils was thrown away behind an embarassing seven errors in just three games.
NLDS (Giants-Braves): 4 G, 15 total runs scored, including 4 unearned. The Braves have committed 5 unbelieveably costly errors – 4 alone by Brooks Conrad. This series has provided probably the most entertaining momentum-alternating nail-biters of the first round and runs have been at a premium in this series more than any other. Time and again, the difference-maker has been lapses in the field that undermined strong pitching performances – but as with everything else in this series, the problems have ben pretty eveny distributed, with each team scoring 2 unearned runs. At this rate it will be surprising if a defensive lapse does not sway tonight's game 4.
By comparison, the two ALDS match-ups have yielded 52 total runs, of which only 4 have been unearned, and the Yankees have continued their season of solid defense into October - getting through the first round as the only team in the playoffs to have not committed an error.
As the rejuvinated Yankees look to the ALCS, the outstanding question for Joe Girardi is the same as it was prior to the ALDS – go with a 3-man rotation (in this case throwing all three starters on short rest, including CC going twice on three days rest should this series go the distance) or give AJ Burnett a start?
There is not a Yankee fan alive who would prefer AJ Burnett on 3 weeks rest to CC Sabathia on 3 days rest. But the prospect of also having to start old-man Pettitte and young-man Hughes on short rest puts things in a different perspective. If I were Joe, I would take two factors into account:
1. Opponent. I would work a lot harder to close out this series before game 7 if the Yankees are facing the Cliff Lee-led Rangers than if they are up against the Rays – and that would likely mean starting the Yanks' top three each on short rest to try to avoid seeing Lee twice. David Price is great, but he is not the pitcher Lee is in October, at least not yet.
2. Situation. Under no circumstances would I want AJ to be starting in a game where the Yankees are facing potential elimination. He implodes much too quickly for that.
Considering these factors together, my plan would be: G1 CC; G2 Andy; G3 Phil; G4 CC on short rest; G5 AJ (unless it's the Rangers or an elimination game vs. Tampa Bay, in which case this is Andy's game on short rest); G6 Andy on normal rest (or Phil on short rest in either of the above scenarios); G7 CC with rested Phil waiting in the wings.
So on this idle day when we all celebrate the arrival of CC, what do you think Yankee fans?