Pitching and defense wins games. At least that's what they say when it comes playoff time in Major League Baseball. There are two reasons why I agree with that theory:
- Anyone that has ever tried to hit a ball in 50 degree weather (the average nighttime temperature in late September/early October) can tell you that it's not a pleasant feeling. It's essential that you hit the ball with the meat of the bat. Anything below that and your hands sting for hours afterward.
- By the time you've played a 162 game season, players are tired. Most batters have 400-500 plate appearances which translates into somewhere between 1,500-2,000 "rip your arms out of your sockets" swings for many big leaguers. Granted, pitchers grind through the same 162 games but in most cases, starting pitchers have only pitched 35-40 times at an average of 6-7 innings/game.
I'd be lying if I told you that I wasn't impressed by what the Yanks have done over the last month. I'd also be lying if I didn't tell you that I've kept a closer eye on the out-of-town scoreboard every night. But at the end of the day, the Sox are just too good to blow this lead. Put it this way. The Sox have been playing just slightly better than .500 ball since June and yet they still maintain the best record in baseball and are five games better than the second place Yanks.
Two things that support the "pitching and defense" theory. For one, the Yankees offense has averaged just a hair over 7 runs/game during their last 33 games. However, they've also given up an average of 4.9 runs/game in that same stretch including losses to bottom dwellers Baltimore ( 0-12), Toronto (4-15), Chicago (9-13) and Tampa Bay (4-14.)
If you look at the ERAs of the projected playoff teams in the AL -- Sox (3.77), Angels (4.09), Detroit (4.65) and potentially Seattle (4.61) -- the Yanks, on paper at least, don't win many games against these teams. Given the Yankees upcoming schedule (3 with LA, 8 with Detroit, 3 with Boston and 3 with the Sox), we can see if this theory holds true.
The second item that supports the theory of "pitching and defense" leading to victory for the Sox is the law of averages. If the Red Sox own the 2nd best ERA in MLB (1st in the AL) while the Yankees are 14th overall (7th in the AL), the 6th best fielding percentage in MLB (3rd in the AL) and 4th best offense in the MLB (3rd in the AL -- NY is first overall in MLB), this says that the Red Sox have to hang on to their lead over the next 43 games.
There is still a lot of baseball to be played before the fat lady sings but you have to like the Sox chances. A lot of apologists (myself included) have tried to argue that the upcoming schedule for the Sox and Yanks will level the playing field a bit. At the end of the day though, it's about execution. The Sox have it where it counts -- the Yanks don't.
See you in October!