Unheralded pitchers keep NL races tight

Steve Henson
Yahoo! Sports
Unheralded pitchers keep NL races tight
With a big chance to redeem himself, Barry Zito proved once again he's been a Giant bust

SAN FRANCISCO – Break out the abacuses, kids. Tim Stauffer(notes) and Vance Worley(notes), pitchers previously as anonymous as accountants, can be thanked for turning the National League playoff picture into a mathematical morass.

Stauffer, until now known mostly for being a first-round bust with a bum arm, shut down the San Francisco Giants for 6 1/3 innings and kept alive the San Diego Padres' chances at securing the NL West crown or the wild-card berth. The Padres won 4-2.

Worley, making his second big league start only because the Philadelphia Phillies are resting Roy Halladay(notes) and Roy Oswalt(notes) for the playoffs, shut out the Atlanta Braves for five innings, spoiling Bobby Cox appreciation day. The Phillies won 7-0.

The regular season ends Sunday, except that it's 50-50 it won't. Here are the four scenarios, courtesy of Yahoo! Sports editing whiz Jeremy Stone:

Braves win, Giants win: The NL West goes to the Giants. The wild card goes to the Braves. The Padres go home.

Braves win, Padres win: The NL West is decided by a tiebreaker between the Giants and host Padres on Monday. The wild card is decided by a tiebreaker in Atlanta on Tuesday between the Braves and the loser of the Monday tiebreaker.

Braves lose, Giants win: The NL West goes to the Giants. The wild card goes to the winner of a tiebreaker in Atlanta on Monday between the Padres and Braves.

Braves lose, Padres win: The NL West goes to the Padres. The wild card goes to the Giants. The Braves go home. In this scenario, the Padres and Giants both would celebrate clinching postseason berths in the same park for only the second time in MLB history: The Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals did it in 2001.

For a deeper analysis of the possibilities, plus an explanation of home-field advantage in the division series, check out Mr. Stone's Playoff Scenarios

Good stuff, huh? Ah, yes, that's also what Giants batters said about Stauffer and Braves batters muttered about Worley. Stauffer's changeup has been devastating since he was thrust into the starting rotation in early September, and against the Giants his slider was working as well. Worley was mixing a 94 mph cutter with a four-seam fastball about the same speed, and his changeup and slider produced outs as well.

Meanwhile, Giants left-hander Barry Zito(notes), given an opportunity to for one day make his $126 million contract seem anything but a disaster, instead cemented the contract as a complete and utter disaster. He walked in two runs in the first inning and was lifted to a chorus of boos after walking Stauffer to lead off the fourth.

Both the Giants and Padres have such excellent bullpens that the team which takes an early lead gains a nearly insurmountable advantage. The two freebies Zito doled out in the first were all the Padres needed because Stauffer's excellence was followed by the sharpest relief trio in baseball – Luke Gregerson(notes) to Mike Adams(notes) to Heath Bell(notes).

Stauffer spent most of the season in the bullpen and has a great appreciation for its inhabitants.

''I still feel like part of them,'' he said. ''They made me feel like I belong, and now when I turn the ball over to them, I just get a great feeling that we are going to win.''

Quality starts were the calling card of Sunday's starter Mat Latos(notes) until recently, and the Padres' season will be determined by which Latos shows up: the impressively mature competitor who set an MLB record with a string of 15 consecutive starts of at least five innings while allowing two runs or less, or the emotional basket case who lost his last four starts. He gave up six runs in the first innings of the first three of those losses but pitched better in his most recent start, holding the Cubs scoreless for four innings before imploding.

''He can't stay thinking about something that doesn't go his way,'' Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez(notes) said. ''It will be important that he keeps his composure. That's what he did all season. He's gotten away from that a little bit, and we'll be talking to him about it.''

Latos, 22, also popped off last week about the Giants adding so many players as the season progressed, suggesting that the Padres somehow are morally superior because they added only Miguel Tejada(notes) and Ryan Ludwick(notes). Not that the Giants need additional motivation.

Jonathan Sanchez(notes), the Giants starter Sunday, also spoke out of turn recently, saying his team would sweep the Padres before a series in August. San Diego won two of three. Sanchez no-hit the Padres in 2009 and has been dominant of late: He has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his last six starts.

''I want to keep us in the game,'' he said. ''You don't want to fall behind against this team. I'm going to battle and so are they. This is the best feeling, to be playing with the playoffs on the line.''

Despite losing two games in a row in front of sellout crowds itching to celebrate division title, the Giants know they will get into the playoffs in three of four scenarios Sunday. In the fourth, they must win a tiebreaker Monday or Tuesday.

''Our season won't end no matter what,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ''We're going to come out and play our hardest. We'll let somebody else do the math and figure out where we go next.''

Sounds like a job for Mr. Stone.