Smart baserunning critical to postseason success

Updated: October 14, 2009

Al Bello/Getty Images

Chase Utley is not only 23-for-23 in stolen bases; he's also one of the game's smartest baserunners.

In the postseason, baserunning is a big factor because runs are at a premium. Whichever team can take an early lead and put pressure on the opposing team may hold the key in determining who ultimately ends up playing in the World Series.

In the American League Division Series, the Minnesota Twins were plagued by bad baserunning against the New York Yankees, although they were just as aggressive as they had been during the regular season. Keep in mind, their aggressiveness on the bases was one reason they were so good. Minnesota is known to take extra bases; the Twins ran from first to third with the best of them because the makeup of their ballclub made it necessary. It's just a coincidence that this strategy took a turn for the worse against the Yankees. When you try to push to get a run or to get into scoring position, sometimes it bites you.

Now the Los Angeles Angels will face the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Under manager Mike Scioscia, the Angels are good at going from first to third, running and hitting behind runners. They play the game much like the Twins, but on top of that, they have some players who can hit the ball out of the park. The Angels have an eclectic mix of players who make their lineup strong and produce a lot of runs.

Bad baserunning is uncommon, but the truth is that some teams are just not capable of playing that style of game. Scioscia demands that the Angels run aggressively, so his team puts a lot of pressure on opponents on the bases. Look at the Yankees, with Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter; they have tremendous baserunners. The reason these teams are in the playoffs is they run the bases well and take advantage of the small things to put themselves in scoring position. Just look at the Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley, who is 23-for-23 in stolen-base attempts this season.

In the National League Championship Series, the Phillies have the edge because they're experienced and the defending champs. But the Los Angeles Dodgers' lineup won't be easy to beat. Los Angeles has Rafael Furcal, Ronnie Belliard and Matt Kemp, who are all baserunning threats. Of the four remaining playoff teams, the Dodgers probably are the weakest link. In the end, though, the Dodgers' ability to apply pressure to the opposing team and manufacture runs brings them closer to the pack.

The Yankees, Angels, Dodgers and Phillies are all well equipped offensively. All of them can hit the ball out of the park and run. The team that scores first will have a huge advantage because the pace of the postseason is so much faster than that of the regular season. Scoring first puts more pressure on the team that's behind and allows the pitcher who's ahead to relax on the mound.

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Each night throughout the postseason, "Baseball Tonight" will remember some of the postseason's best pitching performances.

Koufax Oct. 14, 1965: Sandy Koufax pitches a shutout with 10 strikeouts on two days' rest as the Dodgers beat the Twins 2-0 and win the World Series 4-3. Only two pitchers have pitched a shutout and struck out at least 10 in the clinching game of a World Series. Koufax did it in 1965, 57 years to the day that Orval Overall did it for the 1908 Cubs (the last Cubs team to win a World Series) against the Tigers.



Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Today, he looks at the opposing first basemen in the NLCS, the Phillies' Ryan Howard and the Dodgers' James Loney.

Ryan Howard and James Loney
Versus opponent, past 2 regular seasons
Howard vs. LAD Loney vs. PHI
BA .121 .383
HR 3 2
RBI 12 11
K-BB 22-7 8-4
Games 15 15
Howard: .300 BA, 2 RBIs in 2008 LCS; Loney: .438 BA, 2 RBIs in 2008 LCS