Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Who's Pen is Mightier?

Breaking Down the Pitching in this series shows an interesting contrast between youth and experience in the rotations, and two bullpens who struggle outside of their key components. Paul Cousineau from and did a brilliant job of tracking the starters through Game Three: Click Here to read. He gives you everything you need to know, so I will move directly to the bullpen.


CLOSER: Mariano Rivera (3-4, 3.15 ERA, 30 Saves)
RHP Joba Chamberlain (2-0, 0.38 ERA)
RHP Kyle Farnsworth (2-1, 4.80 ERA)
RHP Luis Vizcaino (8-2, 4.30 ERA)
RHP Ross Ohlendorf (0-0, 2.84 ERA)
RHP Jose Veres (0-0, 5.79 ERA)
RHP Chris Britton (0-1, 3.55 ERA)
RHP Ian Kennedy (1-0, 1.89 ERA)

As much as youngsters Asdrubal Cabrera, Franklyn Gutierrez, and Rafael Perez energized the Indians after their call-ups, fire-balling rookie Joba Chamberlain was all that and then some for the Yankees. He stabilized the seventh and eight innings for a bullpen that was awful for most of the year. The kid has been borderline unhittable. A strikeout machine, Chamberlain has allowed just one earned run in 24 innings, good for a 0.38 ERA. He has 34 strike outs and just six walks. Wow. He is to the Yankees what Joel Zumaya was to the Tigers last season. He is the much needed bridge to the greatest closer in postseason history, the incomparable Mariano Rivera.

Rivera had a so-so season by his standards, saving 30 games with a 3.15 ERA, but he still possesses his out pitch, the cutter that eats Left handed bats alive. Nobody has pitched in more big spots than Big Mo. After Chamberlain and Rivera, the pen is full of question marks. You will see a lot of Luis Vizcaino, who was Torre’s work horse for much of the year. He is a tough righty who lives and dies with his power stuff. Kyle Farnsworth is a noted gas can who Yankee fans do not want to see pitching in pressure situations. He is like Paul Shuey was for the Indians in the late 90’s, you never know which Kyle will show up. The Good – who throws a high-90’s heater coupled with a knee-buckling breaking ball; or The Bad – who cannot find the plate and when he does it’s a straight-down-the middle fastball that gets crushed.

Ohlendorf is another one of GM Brian Cashman’s young arms he has held hostage, the same way he has with Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Hughes. Though he only appeared in six games, he struck out nine and walked only two in 6.1 IP. Don’t expect to see him in key spots. Same goes for Jose Veres and Chris Britton. "We're going to go with kids,” Joe Torre said in choosing Veres, Ohlendorf, and Britton over veterans Ron Villone and Brian Bruney.


CLOSER: Joe Borowski (4-5, 5.07 ERA, 45 Saves)
RHP Rafael Betancourt (5-1, 1.47 ERA)
LHP Rafael Perez (1-2, 1.78 ERA)
RHP Jenson Lewis (1-1, 2.15 ERA)
LHP Aaron Fultz (4-3, 2.92 ERA)
RHP Tom Mastny (7-2, 4.68 ERA)
LHP Aaron Laffey (4-2, 4.56 ERA)

The success of the Indians bullpen in 2007 is due in large part to three men – Right hander Rafael Betancourt, Left hander Rafael Perez, and closer Joe Borowski. Betancourt, known in these circles as “The Realtor,” was arguably the best setup man in baseball in ’07. His four-seam fastball and deliberate style on the mound gave opposing hitters fits. What’s so great about The Realtor is his control – in 79.1 IP, he struck out 80, while walking only nine. Perez in the meantime, started the season in Buffalo, and finished it by being described by ESPN baseball expert Peter Gammons as “the best left handed reliever on the planet.” Perez’s slider is filthy and lefties cannot seem to hit it. Lefties hit only .145 against him. If the Tribe starters get to the seventh inning with a lead, look out.

What you should really look out for his the ninth inning, where Joe Borowski roams. JoBo led the American League with 45 saves. That’s the good news. The Bad news is Borowski’s 5.07 ERA. His propensity to put runners on in seemingly every save situation gives Indians fans ulcers. But somehow, he always seems to get out of it. Well, not always. You recall A-Rod’s walkoff Grand Slam in Yankee Stadium earlier this year. It’s of the utmost importance that Borowski does his job in this series. He will be under intense pressure. But the good thing about JoBo is that he has the closer’s mentality, he leaves everything on the field and doesn’t let one bad outing get to him.

Jenson Lewis stepped up big time to take over the “guy before the Raffy’s” role that so many others (Aaron Fultz, Tom Mastny, Fernando Cabrera) failed in this season. His herky-jerky delivery makes it tough for hitters to see the ball. He will be a very important part of the bullpen in this series, the way the Yankees drive up pitch counts. Veteran Lefty Fultz could see some situational spots early in games if needed. Mastny will be nothing more than a right handed long man. Rookie lefty Aaron Laffey will be the first option out of the pen should there be an implosion for one of the starters. He could also be used in a pinch to start if need be.

Advantage: Indians – With all that said above about the various relief pitchers, this matchup comes down to Chamberlain and Rivera against The Raffy’s and Borowski. Neither team wants to see the guys above if they are trailing. The one thing that favors the Yankees is the instability of Borowski. He doesn’t scare anyone the way Rivera does, though we are seeing a different Rivera than we saw even four years ago. The Indians have not faced Chamberlain and that works in the youngster’s favor. The depth of the Indians pen is much greater. Lewis has shown promise and has been nails in September, posting a 0.69 ERA and striking out 15 in 13 IP. The Yankees will look to veterans Farnsworth and Vizcaino in the Lewis role. Both veterans have the propensity to show wildness. Don’t fool yourselves though, this series will be won and lost by the late inning guys with Borowski under the most scrutiny. Who would you rather have on the mound holding a ninth inning, one run lead on the road – Rivera or Borowski?

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