But take a look at the four teams remaining in the playoffs. They are — perhaps with the exception of the Dodgers — built on offense.
The Yankees, Angels and Phillies are all in the top six in the majors in runs scored, slugging percentage and OPS. And even the Dodgers boasted the fourth-best on-base percentage in the majors during the regular season.
Does that mean the playoffs will become a series of shootouts? Not quite.
An unquestioned ace at the top, depth in the rotation and a strong bullpen have always been essential pieces of a run to a championship, and that will be as true as ever this year. Because as the other old mantra goes, good pitching beats good hitting.
So which team has the pitching staff that is best-equipped to navigate its way through some of the most potent offenses in the league?
The Dodgers have been praised for the strength of their bullpen, but their rotation is so lacking that they sent out a 21-year-old to take on the defending World Series champions in Game 1 of the NLCS. And we all saw how well that worked out.
Clayton Kershaw has plenty of potential, and he compiled an impressive 2.79 ERA this season, but there’s a reason he went 8-8. He walks too many batters, and as a result of his high pitch counts, he struggles to pitch deep into games. That’s exactly what happened on Thursday night, when he walked five and threw 89 pitches in only 4 2/3 innings. Oh, and he gave up five runs.
Overall, the Dodgers simply can’t match the Phillies’ depth in the rotation. With Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez and J.A. Happ, Philadelphia has the necessary talent in its rotation to potentially stifle any offense. And hey, Brad Lidge hasn’t blown a save yet, so maybe their bullpen won’t be that big of a weakness after all. Considering that the Phillies were able to win the World Series with Jamie Moyer in the rotation last year, they certainly have the ability to repeat as champions this season.
In the American League, the Angels are an interesting case. They have two top-of-the-line starters in John Lackey and Jered Weaver, as well as a solid closer in Brian Fuentes — but that’s about all they have. Joe Saunders is pedestrian at best, Scott Kazmir is wildly inconsistent, and the bullpen, which put together a 4.49 ERA during the regular season, is a jumble of mediocrity.
The Halos can obviously compete with what they have. A couple of strong starters can make up for what is otherwise a very weak pitching staff (see: 2001 World Series). But if either Lackey or Weaver stumbles, that will put the Angels in a hole they might not be able to climb out of — especially against the Yankees in the ALCS.
The Bombers have been known all year for their offense, but they boast perhaps the most complete pitching staff in baseball. CC Sabathia is a true ace, capable of pitching three times in a short series. Andy Pettitte is tied for the most career postseason wins, and A.J. Burnett — while not the steadiest of pitchers — has the talent to shut down anyone.
Plus, the arrangement in the bullpen is the best that New York has had since the ‘90s. Joba Chamberlain, who has a career 1.53 ERA as a reliever, has been tossing the seventh. Phil Hughes (1.40 ERA in relief this season) has been pitching the eighth. And of course, Mariano Rivera, as effective as ever at age 39, owns the ninth.
If the Yankees have a lead after six innings, they can turn it over to the JoPhiMo combo (as it is hereby nicknamed — spread the word) to close the door on their opponents. And even if the Bombers don’t have a lead, as long as the ‘pen can keep them in the game, they have shown that they are more than capable of coming back in the later innings.
As such, it seems that Las Vegas had good reason to select the Yankees as the favorite to win the World Series.
But as the other Vegas pick, the Cardinals, proved in the first round, anything can happen in the playoffs.