Is the National League Really That Easy?
For years it's been said that National League hitting is inferior to that of the American League but in the past few weeks it seems like pitchers who have recently left the AL for the NL are having their way with the senior circuit.
The most recent example is Boston Red Sox castoff Brad Penny. Last night Penny made his first start as a Giant since the team signed him after he cleared waivers and blanked the NL's best hitting team, the Philadelphia Phillies, over eight innings. Penny allowed just five hits en route to his eighth overall win of the season.
In 24 starts with the Red Sox, Penny never made it through the seventh inning and gave up at least two earned runs in all but three starts. It is worth noting that prior to this season, Penny had spent his entire career in the NL with the Florida Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers. Also, Penny has a pretty good record against Phillies, as he's 8-4 with a 3.72 ERA all-time against Philadelphia. But it does seem pretty surprising to see a guy turn it around so quickly after no team wanted to claim him off the waiver wire.
Imagine what the Red Sox would have if Penny pitched this way all season and they had the NL version of John Smoltz.
Smoltz also started his season in Boston after a long and successful career in the National League. Smoltz was coming back from arm surgery so when the Red Sox outright released the Hall of Fame-bound right-hander it wasn't hard to imagine this being the last we'd see of Smoltz.
However, the St. Louis Cardinals picked up the 42-year-old, and in two starts back in the NL cocoon, he has gone 1-0, with a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings pitched. Granted, Smoltz's two starts have come against the lowly San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals but he had gotten torched by the Nats in his first start of the year (five runs, five innings, five strikeouts, one loss).
In fact, Smoltz (who is a combined 3-5 with a 6.71 ERA in 10 starts) has only faced two teams that have winning records this season, the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, yet still compiled an AL-only ERA of 8.32.
While Smoltz and Penny have seen their season quickly turn around after jettisoning a designated hitter, Cliff Lee has dominated throughout.
Lee, the reigning AL Cy Young award winner, had been putting up great numbers (7-9, 3.14 ERA, 107 strikeouts, three complete games) while taking the ball every fifth day for a dreadful Cleveland Indians team.
Since being traded to the Phillies at the trade deadline, Lee has been absolutely phenomenal, going 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA with two complete games in six starts. Lee's performance has been reminiscent of his former Indians teammate, CC Sabathia who last year was traded to the Brewers and went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts or Milwaukee.
The National League averages for batting average, on-base percentage and slugging are .260/.331/.411 compared to the American League's .266/.335/.430, which is obviously better but not ridiculously so and could certainly be attributed to the presence of the DH.
So maybe Brad Penny just needed to be familiar with his opponents. John Smoltz claims to have made a mechanical change since joining the Cardinals and may have been tipping his pitches in Boston. And maybe Cliff Lee and, previously, CC Sabathia are just that damn good.
Guess we won't know which league has the better team until the World Series. I'm sure the defending world champion Phillies would love to defend their title and NL pennant.
September 3, 2009; 1:05 PM ET
Categories: Brewers , Cardinals , Giants , Indians , Phillies , Red Sox | Tags: boston red sox, cleveland indians, milwaukee brewers, philadelphia phillies, san francisco giants, st. louis cardinals
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