Why Teams Are Playing In October
• 2012 American League Division Series: Orioles vs. Yankees
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
At the press conference after Game 2 of the Yankees-Orioles series, Baltimore manager Buck Showalter was asked a question that provoked a revealing response:
"This time of year, pitchers on top of their game versus hitters on top of his game, the pitchers win. That's why teams are playing in October. It's about their pitching, and that is the one common denominator between all the teams that got here. You pitch pretty deep in the game with your starters."
During the first two games of the American League Division Series, Showalter has allowed both of his starters, Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen, to exceed 100 pitches. Chen and Hammel combined to make 52 starts during the regular season. And of those 52, 30 of them ended with the two throwing more than 100 pitches.
What's interesting is that 100 pitches used to take you pretty deep into games. But Hammel made it through 5.2 innings and Chen lasted 6.1. In both cases, the pitch counts seemed unusually high given where they were during the game.
Hammel had not thrown more than 100 pitches during a game since July 7 in Anaheim. It was during his next start, July 13, that Hammel initially injured his knee. After 6.5 weeks on the disabled list, Hammel came back to throw a combined 125 pitches on Sept. 6 and 11.
In Chen's case, the smallish lefty had actually exceeded the 100-pitch count during 19 of his 32 regular-season starts. Yet, for all the times he threw that many pitches, he made it to the eighth inning only three times. Because the Orioles have a deep bullpen, it seemed a stretch to throw that many pitches.
Showalter's next starter, Miguel Gonzalez, has made 15 starts this season for the Orioles, with the first coming July 6, a 3-2 win in Anaheim. Of those 15 starts, Gonzalez exceeded the 100-pitch count 10 times. During the other five starts, he exceeded 90 pitches four times. During a three-game stretch between July 20 and July 30, Gonzalez allowed seven home runs through 16 innings. That means he gave up just six home runs during the other 82 innings pitched as a starter.
During his two previous starts against the Yankees, both at Yankee Stadium, Gonzalez threw a yin-and-yang set. On July 30, Gonzalez threw 6.2 innings and allowed three home runs against the Yankees. He came back strong on Aug. 31, throwing seven shutout innings.
The Yankees have announced they're starting a pair of right-handers for the next two ALDS games -- Hiroki Kuroda on Wednesday and Phil Hughes on Thursday -- but Showalter has remained mum on his Thursday starter. It would seem that if the Orioles win Game 3 and have a chance to clinch in Game 4 on Thursday, Chris Tillman would get the nod.
Should the O's need to go to a Game 5, that would set up an unenviable matchup between CC Sabathia and either left-hander Joe Saunders or Hammel. Of his 28 starts during the 2012 regular season, Sabathia had 13 at Yankee Stadium, where he pitched to a 2.69 ERA. Meanwhile, during his 15 starts on the road, his ERA was 4.02. What's more, since the All-Star break, the Yankees' ace has held opponents to a .216 batting average. That means the Orioles better finish the series off before Sabathia takes the mound again.
Brian Matusz is smiling these days. The left-handed reliever has been more pleasant to speak to after a horrific stretch of 28 starts in 2011 and 2012, and a prolonged stretch at Triple-A Norfolk. Matusz has resuscitated his moribund career as a major league pitcher, albeit in the bullpen.
Since returning to Baltimore and taking a seat in the 'pen in August, Matusz has thrown 16 innings and allowed just six hits, two runs and one home run, while walking five batters and striking out 24. His ERA during that stretch, including 2.2 innings during the postseason, has been a miniscule 1.12. No wonder he's smiling; he just got his life back.
Posted Oct. 10, 2012