Abandon all hope, ye hitters who enter here, for this is the realm of the pitcher. Here Johnson and Schilling, Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz, Zito, Mulder and Hudson, Clemens, Wells, Pettite, Mussina (with due apologies to El Duque) and Rivera and Washburn rule with steel in their eyes and lightning in their arms. Unless thy name be Barry Bonds, leave now and never look back.Let there be no doubt, the 2002 Major League Baseball playoffs will be dominated by and decided by the quality of each team’s pitching.
Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling have compiled almost identically brilliant 20 win, 300 strikeout seasons.
Johnson leads the league in wins and strikeouts and leads the NL in ERA. Schilling has allowed a staggeringly low 32 walks in 34 games, is tied with Johnson for the league lead in wins and is second in strikeouts. The NL Cy Young award is a tossup between the two teammates.
This year Greg Maddux became only the second pitcher in history, and the first since Cy Young himself, to have 15 consecutive seasons of 15 or more victories. Tom Glavine is in the NL top 4 in wins and ERA.
John Smoltz has been lights out in his first year as a closer. He has 53 saves, tying the NL record for most saves in the regular season, a record he is all but assured of breaking in the coming week. Throw Kevin Millwood into the mix (Millwood has won 8 of his last 10 starts) and Atlanta might have the best pitching of any World Series contender.
Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson are not only the best young pitchers in the bigs but among the best pitchers in the bigs period. Zito in particular has been outstanding and despite Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez’s impressive seasons, is odds on to pick up his first AL Cy Young award with a 22-5 record and a 2.78 ERA.
The Yankees rotation has been shaky at times this year but despite all the turbulence, David Wells has 18 wins and Mike Mussina 17. Andy Pettite has been solid in winning 9 of his last 10 starts and looks back to his best just in time for the playoffs. Roger Clemens hasn’t been at his best but is still 13-6 for the year.
The only question for the Yanks is how well Mariano Rivera will pitch in the playoffs coming off the DL. He could well be the key to another ring for the Yankees.
Jarrod Washburn’s excellent season has been overlooked thanks to the A’s starting three and Boston’s top two, but he has quietly compiled an 18-6 record with a 3.15 ERA. Anaheim will rely heavily on their ace if they are to progress beyond the first round.
All this means the playoffs will be a pitching masterpiece. The team whose arms handle the pressure best will be the one wearing the rings come the end of October. I can hardly wait.