Pitchin' Ain't Easy: Why I Love The MLB Playoffs

Milwaukee Brewers vs St. Louis Cardinals

The Major League Baseball playoffs began Wednesday, and there was one common feature found in each of the three games.

Damn. Good. Pitching.




The MLB playoffs are better than the other pro sports' playoffs because you need stellar performances from the most significant player on the field.

The pitcher.

The names and numbers will astound you.  This year's playoffs will feature five Cy Young Award winners with Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Chris Carpenter.  The quintet of aces have combined for a total of seven awards for being the best in their field, with Pedro and his jheri-curled greatness leading the pack with three.  Lee and Sabathia are the AL's last two winners -- both pitched for the Indians -- who fell off the face of the earth without them.

The five Cy Young champs combined to post a collective 49-20 record for their respective teams in 2009.

But Pitcherpalooza doesn't end there.

Houston Astros vs St. Louis Cardinals

The eight postseason closers boast a collective 317 saves.  The class of closers lies in the American League  and is headed by Mariano Rivera, the Greatest Of All Time.  But it doesn't end there.  Joe Nathan (47 saves) and Jonathan Papelbon (38 saves) are as automatic as they come, representing Minnesota and Boston, respectively.  Brian Fuentes somehow saved 48 games for the Angels despite a 1.400 WHIP and 3.93 ERA.

In the National League, even Brad Lidge's return to earth yielded 31 saved despite an ugly 7.21 earned run average.  Jonathan Broxton of Dodgers converted 36 saves and whiffed a whopping 114 batters in 76 innings.  Huston Street regained the form that made him an All-Star closer in Oakland.  And Ryan Franklin learned under the watchful eye of Dave Duncan as he re-invented himself as an All-Star closer for the Cardinals.

Oh, and then there's Billy Wagner of the Red Sox, who has converted 385 saves over his 15-year career.  He'll help set up down the stretch for the BoSox in what is surely an audition to land a closer's role in the offseason.


MLB: Dodgers vs Devil Rays
July 14

Rex Grossman led the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl.  He was the quarterback known for fumbling, bumbling and finding the other team's open receivers more often than he found his own.  There is no doubt in my mind that quarterback is the most important position in football, and there is an argument that it is the most important position in professional sports.

Baseball is full of Grossmans in the starting rotations.  Most of them don't get a chance to see the bright lights and pressure situations that come with playoff baseball because they have usually been eliminated for months by now.  Clunkers at the back-end of the rotation of playoff teams usually don't make the rosters.

Sixteen of the National Hockey League's 30 teams make the playoffs.  Same for the NBA.  In my eyes, that's a joke.  We're talking about more than 50 percent of teams being rewarded, and at least four of them are being rewarded by getting meeting the league's top teams.  Quite a reward for being mediocre.

In The Association, the point guard is arguably the most important position and is the focal point of each offense.  Yet, the Bulls won championships with Ron Harper and B.J. Armstrong running the point.  The Sixers went to the NBA Finals with Eric Snow running the show.  In most cases, superstars at other positions -- usually in the post (Shaq, Hakeem)or on the wing (Kobe, Jordan) -- carry NBA teams to titles.  In Roger Goodell's NFL dictatorship of parity and parody, you can make the playoffs with an awesome offense-lackluster defense combo, and visa versa.  But you won't win anything of significance without balance.  And the next year, you might end up picking in the top five.

PHILLIES PEDRO
MARTINEZ 

Then there are the future aces of baseball.  Clayton Kershaw only went 8-8 in his first full season in the bigs, yet he posted a 2.79 ERA and struck out a team-best 185 batters in 171 innings.  Three-fifths of the Angels rotation is under 30, led by Jered Weaver (16-8, age 26), Joe Saunders (16-7, age 28) and Ervin Santana  (one year removed from a 16-7 season at age 25).  J.A. Happ (26) of the Phillies won 12 games as a rookie, and Ubaldo Jimenez (25) won 15 games for the Rockies who play in one of baseball's most hitter friendly parks.

Young stud pitchers aren't relegated to the starting rotation as the Yankees will feature fireballing 23-year-olds Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain out of the bullpen before Mariano ends your offense's night.  Not to be outdone, the Red Sox will send hard-throwing Daniel Bard (23) and Ramon Ramirez (27) to set up the just as hard throwing Papelbon.

Sometimes, baseball fans and followers get caught up in the gaudy numbers put up by offenses.  And I guess I can't blame them.  There is so much star power in guys such as Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Ryan Howard, Joe Mauer, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.

But as the old saying goes, "Good pitching will always beat good hitting."

I'm not going out on a limb by saying that will continue to stand as true when the 2009 playoffs are completed.

ROCKIES --
PHILLIES

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