Saturday’s Game 1 NLCS matchup between Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay was billed as one of the best postseason pitching matchups ever. It didn’t turn out that way, of course. That’s just not how this game works. And so, Cliff Lee could have given up four runs over six innings tonight and most rational baseball fans wouldn’t have been surprised. That’s why there’s something to be said for someone who comes out and does exactly what he was hyped to do: Completely dominate.
Lee held the Yankees to two measly hits over eight shutout innings tonight, striking out 13 and walking just one, leading the Rangers to an 8-0 win and a 2-1 lead in the ALCS. The southpaw is now 7-0 with a ridiculous 1.31 ERA and 67/7 K/BB ratio over 64 1/3 innings in eight career postseason starts. He and Bob Gibson are now the only pitchers in major league baseball history to strike out 10 or more batters in three straight postseason starts. Lee is the first to do it in a single postseason.
There was a question of whether Lee would come back out after throwing 122 pitches through eight innings, but the Rangers saved Ron Washington a difficult decision by scoring six runs in the top of the ninth. Considering that Washington ended up using Neftali Feliz with an eight-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, we probably shouldn’t trust his judgment, anyway.
Andy Pettitte was overshadowed by the brilliance of Lee, but his lone blemish was the two-run homer by Josh Hamilton in the top of the first inning. Otherwise, he was excellent, allowing five hits over seven innings while striking out five and walking none. It was fair to wonder how the veteran left-hander would bounce back after missing most of the second half of the regular season with a left groin injury, but his first two starts during the postseason have effectively put those concerns in the rear view.
As fans poured out of Yankee Stadium in the top of the ninth inning, the immediate assumption was that there was no way A.J. Burnett would pitch Game 4 on Tuesday night. Wrong. Joe Girardi announced after the game that he would stick with Burnett instead using of CC Sabathia on short rest, even though the Yankees are down 2-1 in the series. It sounds crazy on the surface, but maybe not so much when Tommy Hunter is starting on the other side. Looking past a deceptive 3.73 ERA during the regular season, Hunter averaged just 4.78 K/9 and served up 21 homers in 128 innings. If the Yankees can hit him like they are capable of doing, they could probably absorb a mediocre start from Burnett. That’s clearly the plan.
The Rangers now have the series advantage and they may very well hold the mental advantage, too. Lee obviously looms pretty large in a potential Game 7 in Arlington. It would be silly to look that far ahead, though. If the Yankees can’t take advantage of favorable matchups in the next couple of days, they may not see Lee again until he goes out in search of a well-deserved king’s ransom this winter.
MASN’s Roch Kubatko is reporting that the Orioles have “some level” of interest in free agent outfielder Denard Span. The Nationals did not make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Span, which means he doesn’t come attached with draft pick compensation unlike other free agents such as Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler.
Span, who turns 32 in February, hit a solid .301/.365/.431 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 38 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases, but took only 275 plate appearances due to back and hip injuries. He underwent season-ending hip surgery in September but is expected to be ready to participate in spring training.
The Mets and Royals have also reportedly shown interest in Span’s services.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Blue Jays are on the prowl for relievers with closing experience. Ryan Madson is one of the names on their list.
Madson, 35, had a career rebirth with the Royals in 2015. He signed a minor league deal with the club that paid him a salary of $850,000 if he made it back to the majors. Due to a plethora of arm injuries, Madson hadn’t pitched in the majors since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals as a member of the Phillies. For the Royals, he wound up becoming a crucial member of the bullpen, finishing with a 2.13 ERA and a 58/14 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.
While Madson allowed five runs in 8 1/3 post-season innings, he pitched well when it mattered most, as he hurled three scoreless frames in three appearances in the World Series against the Mets.
Madson has closing experience, with 55 career saves. 32 of them came in 2011 when he took over the closer’s role from Brad Lidge.
After signing Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, and trading for Jesse Chavez, the Jays have bolstered their rotation but it was reported on Saturday that interim GM Tony LaCava is still focused on upgrading the pitching staff.
ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent pitcher Trevor Cahill is looking for a one-year, bounce-back deal. The Pirates are one of the potential teams he is considering.
It’s no surprise that the Pirates are on Cahill’s list. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has garnered a reputation as a miracle worker after turning around the careers of a handful of pitchers, including Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ. Volquez parlayed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates into a two-year, $20 million deal with the Royals last December. Liriano signed with the Pirates on a one-year, $1 million contract and turned that into a three-year, $39 million deal. Happ, dealt to the Pirates from the Mariners at the most recent trade deadline, just signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Blue Jays.
Cahill, once a highly-regarded pitching prospect, has scuffled over parts of seven seasons in the majors. The 27-year-old owns a career 4.13 ERA with a 754/427 K/BB ratio in 1,083 2/3 innings. Cahill had some brief success after signing with the Cubs as a free agent in mid-August, compiling a 2.12 ERA in 11 appearances out of the bullpen.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.
LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.
Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.