When will a big name pitcher head to the American League by choice again? Last year Roy Halladay left the offensive minded AL East and had perhaps his best season. His strikeout numbers, ERA, and most of his other number benefited from replacing the DH with the opposing pitcher. In the press conference that welcomed back to Philadelphia, Cliff Lee specifically mentioned the benefits of pitching in the National League. Aside from C.C. Sabathia, the AL East hasn’t been a very fruitful destination for pitchers of late, and I wonder if their offensive firepower is starting to backfire against them. And, like pitchers coming to the NL, the hitters seem to be going the other way. Two of the NL’s leading home run hitters, Adam Dunn and Adrian Gonzalez, have packed their bags for AL destinations.
I’ll be interested to see how Greinke does in Milwaukee. He was unquestionably brilliant in 2009, but he hardly has a consistent track record of success. Expectations are high. Scouts rave about his stuff and how well he’ll fit in the National League. The Brewers, who appear to be on the verge of losing Prince Fielder, seem to be shifting their philosophy. A couple of years back their playoff team was C.C. Sabathia and a bunch of power hitters. Now faced with the reality of not being able to keep their position players, it looks like they are trying to stockpile young arms and perhaps follow the Giants’ blueprint. In addition to Greinke, the Brewers have Yovani Gallardo and newly acquired Shawn Marcum to anchor what should a very formidable rotation.
You could drive yourself crazy trying to rank the top-10 pitchers in the National League. Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, Hamels, Santana, Johnson, Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Greinke, Carpenter, Wainwright….it goes on and on. It’s an embarrassment of riches. In the AL, the list isn’t quite as flashy and the talent doesn’t appear to be as deep. I think the usual argument is that the same pitchers wouldn’t have the same success in the AL, and that is true to a certain extent, but with how the playoffs have been evolving lately, I’d be concerned if my team didn’t have a couple of shutdown starters at the top of the rotation.
It seems like in the constant struggle between offense and pitching that pitching is starting to win out a little bit. The playoffs last season were largely about how dominant your ace or aces were. The Giants pitched their way into the World Series, and the Rangers had Cliff Lee on autopilot until he ran into San Francisco. The Yankees were relying heavily on C.C, and the Phillies used their rotation to get into the NLCS. When talking about offensive stars, most of discussion was around slumps. Why isn’t this guy hitting?
I guess the bottom line is, which teams in the AL have a staff that you wouldn’t want to run into in a short series? Certainly Texas shouldn’t be feared, the Yankees still have slots to fill, the Red Sox have name value but not much recent success, Tampa Bay has the most raw talent, but could be on the verge of being broken up. There’s nothing there that approaches SF, or Philly or even St. Louis. So, when the World Series rolls around again, I think we might see another classic match-up of AL vs. NL ball. Can the NL turn the tide for an extended streak of success thanks to their pitching? We’ll see.