Thursday, October 4, 2007

Playoff Lights Shine Brightest

The playoffs have arrived.

A 27 year-old hefty southpaw may well decide the Yankees fate. The weight of the world leans over his husky frame, wondering if the hometown team will continue its reputation as The Mistake By The Lake.

His team flashes a lineup filled with power potential, though they inconsistently slug. (Sound familiar?)

The back of their bullpen is strong with two talented Rafael's, though this makes for an inexperienced setup man. (Sound familiar?)

Their closer is a bulldog, but often times becomes a goat. (Where the similarities end.)

But the 6-foot-7 horse will be the focus of everyone's attention. Along side Josh Beckett, CC Sabathia is one half of a two man race for the American League Cy Young award. Last night saw Beckett dominate, compiling an impressive complete game shutout.

Tonight, Sabathia will attempt to put a bad history against the Yankees behind him, hoping to prove that the '07 version is a pitcher which New York's never laid eyes on; with exception to clips looped on Baseball Tonight or Sportscenter.

As discussed yesterday, Sabathia's biggest weakness may be his ability to consistently throw strikes, particularly in early counts. Will the Yankees hitters march up to the plate hacking away? This would be a bold move, but not necessarily the wrong one. If CC tends to be most hittable in 0-0 and 0-1 counts, then Joe Torre would be wise to have his hitters institute an aggressive approach.

Implementing an impatient lineup goes against an entire methodology which got New York into the playoffs, but it could lead to success and a Game 1 win. The greatest gift of the Yankees offense relies on them grinding atbats, taking pitch after pitch, and tiring the man on the mound. When they face the ace of a staff, like Sabathia, their strategy forces the starter to throw an inordinate amount, until he ultimately finds himself in the dugout wondering how he threw 110 pitches in 5+ innings.

Sabathia, however, does not tend to tire easily and consistently works deep into games by economizing his pitches and showing extraordinary stamina.

It will be extremely intriguing to see how the Yankees adjust to Sabathia after his first time through their lineup. The first turn through, Yankee hitters will refer to their experiences three years ago, when they last faced the Indians star. The entire lineup will hug the the fence atop the dugout steps, peering for some previously unforeseen flaw in Sabathia's delivery.

Eventually, the plan Torre and his staff decide on will reveal itself. Spectators will recognize if the Yankees become unusually aggressive in the early innings, or instead exercise stoic patience in the hopes of tiring Sabathia and delving into the Cleveland bullpen. In all likelihood, attempting to "wait out" the starter may result in eight scoreless innings. By the time he's been removed from the game, the game might already be in hand.

Not that the Yankees lineup ever backs down from a talented pitcher and not to imply that their unyielding offense is stoppable. But, with the last two postseasons witnessing early, unlikely exits for the boys from the Bronx, the pressure to deliver is that much more magnified.

Regardless of which team separates themself in the first of the five-game series, one thing's for sure. It's playoff time. When words like "intangibles," "heart" and "glory" ring a little longer. When lifetime dreams are realized, and the stories of championship teams are written.

When the bright lights shine brightest.

No comments: