The disconnect between the “storylines” that surround baseball and the actual baseball seems even starker than usual this week. Mostly because of Cliff Lee.
It seems like everything that has been written about the ALCS has started from the premise that Cliff Lee is like some avenging angel of death against whom no soul has a chance. What will the Yankees do now that they have to face him twice in a five game series? What should they do with the rotation to counter it? Now, courtesy of Ken Rosenthal’s latest column, we’re starting in on the “what will happen if Cliff Lee beats the Phillies in the World Series” stuff.
Don’t get me wrong: they’re interesting storylines, as Lee is a pretty phenomenal pitcher, especially in the postseason. But I just kind of get the feeling that the Yankees and Phillies don’t care all that much about it. The Yankees, as Mark Simon at ESPN New York points out today, have faced a few aces before. Indeed, postseason teams face aces every year because, hey, good pitchers tend to lead their teams to the playoffs. Lee is great, but he’s not supernatural. Likewise the Phillies would likely rather face someone else, but it’s not like they can be unhappy with the current state of the rotation. Because, you know, it’s pretty good.
Some things matter a lot more than we think because they don’t get talked about all that much before they actually reveal themselves to be gigantically important in a playoff series: Lefty-lefty matchups. Lingering injuries. A defensive liability that just can’t be hidden. Other things seem huge beforehand but really don’t matter a ton. I’m putting Cliff Lee Hysteria in that category.
Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.
While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.
When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.
Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.
More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.
Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)
It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.