Saturday, February 28, 2009

The K to Winning a Championship: Strikeouts

Much has been made of the Revamped Yankee rotation, which now features C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, and Andy Pettitte. However, the Red Sox, who signed John Smoltz and Brad Penny, and Rays, who replaced departed Edwin Jackson with second-year phenom David Price, both upgraded their already stellar rotations as well. The AL East is going to be an absolute dog-fight this year, with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays all expected to win 90+ games. But us Yankee fans know it's all about playoff success in New York and this year's rotation is fit for fall baseball.

In recent years, most world series contenders boasted pitching staffs that had high strikeout rates and a legitimate ace. Just look at the 2004 Red Sox (Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez), 2005 White Sox (Jose Contreras), 2006 Tigers (Justin Verlander), 2007 Red Sox (Jon Lester, Josh Beckett), and 2008 Phillies and Rays (Matt Garza, David Price, Cole Hamels).

The Yankees have an ace in C.C. Sabathia. Say what you want about his post-season struggles, but the guy is a warrior and a proven shut-down pitcher when he is on. His awful start against the Phillies last year in the playoffs was a fluke, largely due to the heavy lifting he did down the stretch for the Brewers. His total year strikeout numbers between the Indians and Brewers last year (almost 9 so/g) were extremely impressive and his ability to eat innings (an unheard of 253 IP) is something the Yankees have sorely needed the last couple years.

Behind Sabathia in the rotation is A.J. Burnett, who, when healthy, is a terror for opposing hitters. Last year A.J struck out 231 hitters in 221 1/3 innings and his electric stuff (top flight fastball and devastating curve) translates well to the post-season. Even Chien Ming Wang, typically criticized for his inability to finish hitters off, has improved his strikeout numbers in recent years because of the improvement of his slider, which has really become a weapon late in the count. (54 SO in an injury shortened 2008). These three, coupled with the always improving and already scintillating Joba Chamberlain (118 SO in 100 1/3 IP), make up the projected Yankee postseason rotation.

Picture this: in a 5 game division series, the Yankees could potentially run out C.C. twice. If they advance, with the new (and stupid) playoff format which features days off after virtually every game, they could start C.C. 3 times in a 7 game series. Sending out your best pitcher for as many games as possible is key to post-season success and Sabathia can really dominate teams.

All four Yankee starters miss bats and go deep into ballgames (with the exception of Joba). The rotation, coupled with a deep lineup and even deeper bullpen, should lead to a successful season and even more successful post-season, culminating with a dog-pile on top of Mariano Rivera in early November.

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