I know this might be pretty surprising for some of you to read, but there's actually been some absolutely great pitching so far in the playoffs. People obviously expected some nice, good ol' fashioned shellackings with the likes of Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia taking the mound. But, shockingly, we've already seen numerous pitching performances that make you shrug your shoulders and say, "Damn, he's good."
And this afternoon shouldn't be too different, as Philadelphia's Cole Hamels faces off against San Francisco's Matt Cain in Game Three of the NLCS. I mean, we probably can't bank on seeing a no-hitter, 14-strikeout shutout, or whatever the hell we're going to call Cliff Lee's dominance, but these are two very good pitchers in Hamels and Cain. And generally speaking, good pitchers have a tendency to do good things on the mound.
I'd like to start off by focusing on the left-handed Hamels, because I think that the mainstream has kind of forgotten how good this guy is. I was watching the game last night with some buddies, and one of them mentioned how Hamels seemed to be the weak link among the top-3 starters for both the Phillies and Giants. My first thought was, "He knows Hamels put up a 3.06 ERA and 211 strikeouts this year, right?" Well, actually, my first thought was, "What the hell does Federico know about pitchers, anyways?" But seriously, that's a general sentiment that I've heard from a few people lately. Maybe I'm surrounding myself with morons, but I'd like to think that these people reflect the general perceptions of the public.
And frankly, anyone who thinks that Hamels isn't a great pitcher is totally off-base. Maybe they were overrating the other guys, not that Jonathan Sanchez or Matt Cain aren't good, but Hamels is one of the best left-handed pitchers in the NL. Implementing a cutter this season has improved his ability to keep the ball on the ground, he was already stingy with the walks, and his whiff rates have routinely been above-average. He's one of the best pitchers in the league, and his dominant shutout against the Reds in the NLDS only helped to confirm that.
And none of that was meant to sully Matt Cain's good name- he's going to provide Hamels with some very strong competition. Cain isn't a lefty like Hamels, but he brings similar velocity from the right side, and has an awesome track record as far as ERA is concerned. As I brought up recently, Cain is one of those guys that xFIP really struggles with- he doesn't give up that many homers despite a low groundball rate and his career BABIP is .274. Basically, Cain is either due for some serious regression over the next few seasons, or he's just one of those guys that defies conventional wisdom regarding BABIP and HR/FB (although his ability to induce infield flies is a huge reason as to why his HR/FB is so low). Either way, though, he's a quality starter and possesses the ability to out-pitch his left-handed counterpart.
In the end, making predictions for a single game is a pretty fruitless task- especially when you're talking about two good teams sending two good pitchers to the mound. But if you asked me which Game Three starter I'd rather have for this postseason and beyond, I'd lean towards Hamels. Sorry, Citizen Cain.