Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Postseason Pitchers in the National League

Draft Philly pitchers.

If I were a smartass (and I am) and more concise (apparently, I am not), I would leave the Fantasy Postseason article on National League pitching to those three words. The Phillies staff allowed nearly 70 fewer runs than the next closest staff (if the Braves do eventually make it) and they have three starters with the lowest ERA’s among the participants in the playoffs on the NL side. While there may be some debate about their offense, there is no doubt that the Philadelphia pitching staff is the best in baseball. Along with their trio of top starters, they have excellent long relievers, and a sensational late inning crew. Draft Philly pitchers.

Unlike 2010, the Phillies won’t have a chance to run into a team that actually has a better staff, since the Giants didn’t make the playoffs. The rotation starts with prohibitive Cy Young favorite Roy Halladay who has an excellent six-year run. This year, he had a career high 220 K’s to go along with a career-low 2.35 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. After three straight years of nine complete games, Halladay only completed eight this year and had but one shutout. Halladay was also excellent in last year’s playoff with three starts and 17 base runners in 22 innings with 20 strikeouts. He was equally dominant before (2.45 ERA) and after (2.19) the All-Star break. Halladay had a 1.70 ERA in September, with only a four-run, eight-inning outing against the Cardinals as the only black mark on his record. He should be the first pitcher taken and should be among the first five picks.

Cliff Lee’s season has almost been as impressive as Halladay’s. The 33-year-old has had two completely dominant months. In June, he allowed one run over five starts and he allowed just two runs in five August starts. Lee started the season a bit slowly with a 4.00 ERA over the first two months, but that makes his 2.38 ERA for the season all that much more impressive. After the All-Star break, Lee has authored a 1.71 ERA with 95 K’s in 89.1 innings. He limited the Brewers to three earned runs over 13 innings, but did not factor into the decision of either of his two starts against Milwaukee. The lefty had a 3.86 ERA against the Diamondbacks, but limited them to two runs in a seven-inning win on August 17 (those were his only runs allowed that month). Halladay only faced Arizona once, but pitched a complete game with three runs. The Brewers touched up Doc for a season-high six runs in April, but Halladay wrought his revenge on September 9 by holding Milwaukee to one run over eight innings at Miller Park.

Quietly, Cole Hamels had the best season of his six-year career. He allowed just a 0.98 WHIP and just 165 hits in 213 innings. While Lee was dominant in June and August, Hamels wasn’t far behind. He had a 1.31 ERA in six starts. Somehow, the Phillies only managed to win two of those games. In August, Lee had a 2.32 ERA in four starts and Philadelphia won three, but Hamels only got credit for one win. Don’t get me started on how silly wins and losses are for pitchers. Hamels tossed a complete game against the Brewers on September 8. His offense managed to give him seven runs for his only September win, despite a respectable 3.60 ERA. If the Phillies should need a fourth starter, they can go to either Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley. Kendrick had a 3.17 ERA in 15 starts, but is likely to come out of the bullpen. Worley provided a 3.03 ERA and could be used for long relief. The Philadelphia bullpen has also been a strength this season. Ryan Madson has settled into the closer role with 32 saves in 34 opportunities. He has converted his last nine opportunities and hasn’t given up a run since August 19 (when he gave up six against the Nationals). Antonio Bastardo and Brad Lidge have been excellent in middle relief for most of the season. Lidge, the former closer, has given up two runs in the last two months. Bastardo was dominant until September. The wheels have fallen off in the last month and opposing offenses have scored runs on Bastardo in five of his last seven outings. Prior to that, he has only allowed five earned runs all season. You may want to let someone else draft him.

The other three teams are going to get short shrift in this National League playoff preview, but I’ll make up for it on the offensive side. The Diamondbacks have one really excellent starter: former Yankee Ian Kennedy. Yankee fans can’t complain too much about Kennedy because the trade netted them Curtis Granderson. Kennedy has only given up more than three runs once since July 3. He did not face the Braves this year, but held the Phillies to three runs over 12 innings (2.25 ERA) in two starts. The right-hander shut out the Brewers for seven innings on July 21. The other Arizona starters are likely to be Daniel Hudson and Joe Saunders. Saunders has a 2.38 ERA in five September starts and pitched well against the Brewers and Braves. The former-Angel was hit hard by the Phillies (8.49 ERA). Hudson was not particularly successful against any of the prospective playoff teams. Diamondback closer J.J. Putz has had his best season with 45 saves. He has converted 23 straight saves.

I remember reading prior to the season that the Brewer pitching staff might have some trouble because the team had deemphasized defense. The Milwaukee starters have fared well. Yovani Gallardo, the incumbent, has been the ace of the staff. The 25-year-old Mexican has four straight quality starts since given up eight runs to the Cardinals on September 1. For the season, he has 207 K’s in 207.1 innings with a 2.53 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. He pitched well against the Braves, Diamondbacks, and Phillies with a seven-inning win over Philadelphia on September 11. Gallardo has struck out 36 batters in his last three starts. In their first years in the National League, Shaun Marcum and Zach Greinke have looked good, although neither pitcher has showed a huge bump in stats from the conversion to the NL. Marcum has a 1.16 WHIP. He allowed four runs in his lone six-inning outing against Arizona. Greinke has struck out 197 batters in 165.1 innings. After the All-Star break, he has provided a 2.56 ERA. The former-Royal did not face Philadelphia this year, but was hit hard in his one game against the Diamondbacks (four innings, five runs, four earned). The Brewer bullpen is very strong with John Axford (45 saves, 84 K’s), Francisco Rodriguez (31 K’s in 27 innings), and LaTroy Hawkins (20 holds).

If the Braves hold onto their one-game lead over the Cardinals, they will enter the postseason with the weakest pitching staff. Both Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson are likely done for the year. That leaves Tim Hudson, Brandon Beachy, and Derek Lowe as playoff starters. Lowe has playoff history, but was not a good pitcher this year (1.52 WHIP). Hudson has had his second straight excellent season with a 1.14 WHIP and 154 K’s in 208.2 innings. He shut out the Brewers on one hit in early May and did not allow a run to the Diamondbacks over seven innings on August 21. Beachy has allowed four runs in his last three starts. He does have 169 K’s in 141.1 innings. The Brave bullpen is very good with youngsters Craig Kimbrel (46 saves, 126 K’s in 76 innings) and Johnny Venters (95 K’s in 86 innings), but both have had their struggles in September.

Perry Missner is a freelance writer. You can read his other ramblings on College Fantasy Hoops Insider and Fantasy Football Oasis.