The Trouble With Lefties

The Yankees pulled ahead in the World Series on Saturday night, two games to one. Andy Pettitte survived an awful second inning, while Cole Hamels fell apart like a cheap watch after a dominating three innings, with Pettitte himself contributing to that via an RBI single amid a three-run fifth-inning rally that ultimately chased last year’s World Series MVP.

There’s been a lot of talk about the root of Hamels’ woes lately. As I wrote in my series preview, BP colleague Matt Swartz found that the difference between his 2008 and 2009 performances largely boiled down to fluctuating results on balls in play. While that may be convincing on some level, it doesn’t explain why dating back to September 23rd, Hamels has now made seven starts, none of them quality, putting up a 7.32 ERA while allowing 2.3 HR/9. A look at his splits, however, is more telling: while he held opponents to a .228/.270/.388 line in their first plate appearance of the game, they hit .301/.342/.473 when seeing him in their remaining plate appearances. Last night was more of the same, as he struggled mightily once he tried establishing a curveball during his second time through the order. The Yankees went 5-for-10 with two walks, two doubles and a homer (.500/.583/1.000) after that first time through, turning the game around in short order.

Besides Hamels, the Phillies are having a few other problems. From my latest at BP:

As in the first two rounds of the postseason, they’re again having trouble hitting left-handers, with the occasional big blow disguising their inconsistency. In Game One, they were 5-for-28 against CC Sabathia, Damaso Marte, and Phil Coke, while last night they were 5-for-25 against Pettitte and Marte. Six of those 10 hits have been for extra bases, but only one — a ninth-inning double off Phil Coke in Game One — has come with runners on base, and their overall line against lefties in the series (.189/.268/.453) is similarly shaped to that of the first two rounds (.194/.322/.444). Take away Jayson Werth’s production and for the entire postseason, the rest of the lineup is hitting a fairly tame .174/.304/.383 against southpaws. With Sabathia and Pettitte lined up to pitch as many as three of the remaining four games (if the series stretches that far), this remains a huge problem for the Phillies.

Not that it’s the only one. The lineup’s first four hitters — Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, [Chase] Utley, and [Ryan] Howard — are a combined 8-for-45 thus far against the Yankees. Howard, who whiffed six times in a row in Games Two and Three, already has nine strikeouts, three shy of tying Willie Wilson’s 1980 World Series record. He hasn’t walked in the World Series yet, either. Rollins, whose pre-series prediction (Phillies in five) has already been rendered impossible, is hitting an anemic .235/.316/.294 for the entire postseason. Further down the lineup, [Raul] Ibañez has struggled this fall as well (.233/.313/.395), to say nothing of Pedro Feliz (.143/.182/.310).

With Phillies manager Charlie Manuel having decided not to bring back ace Cliff Lee on three days’ rest given that he hasn’t done so once in his career — a lunkheaded excuse, particularly given that Manuel pushed him to 122 pitches while protecting leads of 4-0 and 6-0 in the final two innings of his brilliant Game One start — the Yanks have the upper hand in tonight’s matchup pitting Sabathia versus Joe Blanton:

[Blanton]’s a thoroughly capable number four starter who put up a career-best strikeout rate this year (7.5 per nine), but it came at the expense of a career-high homer rate (1.4 per nine) and a career-low groundball rate (42 percent). Some of that is simply the shift in leagues and ballparks, from Oakland’s pitcher-friendly Coliseum to the hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, but it’s nonetheless an unsettling trend. Also unsettling is the fact that the righty yielded a .270/.321/.469 line against righties, compared to .252/.320/.401 against lefties. The Yankees themselves have shown more muscle against righties than lefties this fall (.252/.342/.450, compared to .255/.346/.418). They’re poised to create another souvenir or two tonight.

The bottom line is that the Yankees come back with their ace tonight against the Phils’ fourth-best starter, one who’s got matchup problems against the Bronx Bomber lineup. While the series is by no means over, the two games to one margin and the way the rotations line up going forward makes this their series to lose.

The Yankees have also announced that A.J. Burnett will start Game Five on three days’ rest. Barring what Joe Girardi termed any “unforeseen things,” they’ll stick with the three-man rotation from here onwards.

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