Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Year of the Pitcher

First and foremost, it's about damn time! No, it isn't about time for a year of phenomenal pitching, though I suppose pitchers are due, but it is about damn time the National League won the midsummer classic. Yes, after a drought going back to 1996 when a National League catcher by the name of Mike Piazza (maybe you've heard of him, he was selected to 12 All-Star Games and holds the record for most home runs by a catcher in Major League Baseball history) won the All Star Game MVP award, the American League all stars had made the midsummer classic their personal batting practice. Until now. Who knows, maybe the 3-run double Atlanta's Brian McCann hit to put the National League on top will give his Atlanta Braves the World Series home field advantage. Wishful thinking? Perhaps.

Now, the 2010 All Star Game isn't the purpose of this post, but makes a clever introduction to a topic I have been wanting to discuss for some time--the year of the pitcher. In last night's midsummer classic it was obvious from the beginning that the game was going to come down to pitching, not defense and certainly not offense. The National League sent their flame thrower to the mound; a pitcher who has a 15-1 record before the all star break, a no-hitter this season, and a 99 mph fastball. And the American League sent a young pitcher named David Price to the mound with his 12-4 record barely skimming the surface of his talent. The pitching staff for the National League included a guy who threw a perfect game this season, Cy Young award winners, and a 40 year-old relief pitcher and first time all star who has been one of the brightest stars in baseball this season.

It isn't really a surprise that last night's game came down to pitching given the general dominance of pitching this season. Since the baseball season began in April we have seen Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay throw perfect games, Ubaldo Jimenez and Edwin Jackson toss no-hitters, and Detroit's Armando Galarraga suffer a near perfect game broken up by a blown call by the first base umpire. In addition to the games that went into the history books, there have been numerous games go into the late innings as no-hitters or one-hitters and plenty of games that have been 1-0 finals or low scoring games. A few of the teams currently sitting in first place in their divisions are there largely because of pitching--teams like the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, and Tampa Bay Rays. Teams that have been incredibly good with a balance of pitching and hitting are adding or expected to add pitchers up until the end-of-the-month trade deadline--teams like the Texas Rangers and Cincinnati Reds.

On any given day in the National League West, an ace might take the mound and be that game's determining factor. Ubaldo Jimenez, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, Hong-Chih Kuo, Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, Jonathon Broxton, Edwin Jackson, Heath Bell, and Brian Wilson.

Maybe the emergence of solid, shutout pitching is the signal of the end of the steroid era in baseball. Monday night's State Farm Home Run Derby featured hitters that on first glance wouldn't strike someone as power hitters. Like Dave Winfield said prior to the derby about a small, young outfielder from Arizona, "too light to fight, too thin to win." The lone holdout in the 90's mold of what a power hitter should look like was David Ortiz, the actual winner of the derby.

With quality pitching on the rise and teams really focusing on shutting down hitting and preventing runs, the biggest news this coming off-season, other than whether or not the St. Louis Cardinals re-sign the best player in the game Albert Pujols, may turn out to be the price for free agent pitchers.

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