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Indians Indians Archive Ace-less In Boston
Written by Tony Lastoria

Tony Lastoria
For the last several seasons, bouts of inconsistency and nagging injuries have held C.C. Sabathia from truly being seen as a "staff ace" amongst Indians fans. Sabathia quieted those doubters this season with a Cy Young caliber year. However, in two playoff starts, C.C. has been atrocious, making two of his worst starts of the entire season in the two games that mattered most. What does that say about C.C.? Should Indians fans be worried Sabathia may never evolve into a true staff ace capable of carrying a team to a title? Tony gives his thoughts.

Everyone knew going into the American League Championship Series (ALCS) that Boston's Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling were two of the best postseason pitchers of all-time. Their track record speaks for itself.

That said, a lot of people may have over-estimated the dynamic duo in Cleveland of C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, particularly Sabathia who has been labeled as the ace of the Indians staff all year. Even though the sample size is limited to just three career starts, Sabathia has yet to establish himself in the postseason.

Still, for any player, the opportunities are limited when it comes to the postseason, so you have to grab the bull by the horns and go after it with all you got. As we saw last night, this is something Sabathia did not do. Instead of grabbing the proverbial bull by its horns, he instead tried to dance around it and eventually was bowled over by it before he was bludgeoned to death.

His performance last night is another poor start added to a resume – albeit a short and still incomplete one – where he has not lived up to his billing as an ace. And, ever since the clock struck midnight on the regular season, Sabathia has turned into a pumpkin so far this postseason.

In three career postseason starts, Sabathia is now 2-1. But, his numbers are hardly indicative of an above-.500 pitcher, or a quality one for that matter. In those three starts, Sabathia sports a 7.63 ERA having given up 13 earned runs in 15.1 innings pitched. Even worse, he has allowed 17 hits and 16 walks in 15.1 innings pitched, which is a Kane Davis-like WHIP of 2.15. You are not going to win many games - or last that long in them - when you are giving up two base-runners an inning on average. Sixteen walks in 15.1 innings, boy, that is just not good.

The most troubling number of all is the amount of walks Sabathia has given up. In two postseason games this year, in only 9.1 innings he has 11 walks. On the season, in 241 innings he only walked 37 for the YEAR! Going from 1.38 walks per nine innings in the regular season to an astronomical 10.61 walks per nine innings in the postseason is very concerning, and makes you wonder if Sabathia is just going through a tough stretch or has turned into
The Great Pumpkin. Of course, this would be fitting with the whole Charlie Brown trying to kick the football analogy in regard to Cleveland trying to win a sports championship.

Prior to this season, Sabathia had made only one career start in the postseason, and that came his rookie year in 2001 when he went six innings and allowed two runs on six hits, five walks and struckout five against Seattle in the Division Series that year. He won that game, but was greatly helped by an offense that put up 17 runs that day. Still, even after getting such large run support and with the pressure off, he allowed eleven baserunners in his six innings of work. That is not good.

If I did not know any better, Sabathia has morphed into Cliff Lee. Lee was once a quality left-hander in the Indians rotation before he imploded this year. What got him into trouble is he did not trust his stuff, did not throw strikes consistently, and nibbled to just about every hitter.

Maybe Lee has learned the same new ability as the villian Sylar on the hit TV show "Heroes" where he can morph into any person he wants. Speaking of which, anyone actually seen Cliff Lee lately? I know he is not on the postseason roster and all, but he should still traveling with the team. Maybe the real Sabathia is tied up and gagged in some cellar somewhere out in Middlefield, Ohio while Lee himself has been on the mound this postseason posing as the Indians ace. It is the only way to explain it.

Fellow colleague
Steve Buffum has often talked about the Inning of Crap (IoC) that Sabathia typically puts up in every start. Well, I suggest that so far this postseason, Sabathia has ballooned that into a Postseason of Crap(tm) (PoC).

Some fans will try and spin it and say that Sabathia is just rusty as he has only pitched three times in the last month and had a lot of time off. But, I don’t buy it. For starters, prior to last night Red Sox ace Josh Beckett had last pitched on October 3rd (Sabathia pitched October 4th), and before that Beckett last pitched September 27th (Sabathia pitched September 28th). Also, Fausto Carmona came out on ten days rest and shut down the Yankees in Game Two of the Division Series last week.

Every pitcher on the Indians and Red Sox pitching staffs have a lot of “rust” since they have played sparingly considering that both clinched playoff spots with a week to play in the regular season. Both teams finished up their first round playoff series’ quickly where they did not have to pitch any starter twice or overuse their bullpens, and they also have only played a game in four of the last eleven days coming into Game One of the ALCS. Yet, rust only seems to be affecting Sabathia? Like I said, I am not buying it.

Even though the sample size is small for Sabathia, how a player performs in the postseason can define a career. Just ask Alex Rodriguez. Sometimes guys are great from April to September, but when the October lights come on and they are put on the great grand stage of playoff baseball, they wilt. It happens.

Some guys like Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Orel Hershiser, Jack Morris, and so on just step their game up in the postseason to an absurd level, and they revel in pitching big postseason games. We have yet to see that from Sabathia.

He gets another shot at it in Game Five next Thursday, assuming this series goes five games. He will have a home crowd behind him, and hopefully by then he finds the confidence and aggressiveness that has been absent this postseason. He can take the situation head on and pitch his ass off and prove that he is not a choker in the postseason, or he can gack and put up another poor start like he has so far in his postseason career.

Here is hoping it's the former.

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