When you're watching the rest of the championship series, look closely at the bullpen matchups. Keep in mind, these matchups were played out in the minds of the managers and coaching staffs long before they ever happened on the field.
Here's a quick behind-the-scenes look at the bullpens of the remaining four teams:
Seattle Mariners vs. New York Yankees
The Mariners can still make a comeback if the cards fall their way. Manager Lou Piniella and his coaching staff have assembled an amazing Seattle bullpen.
The addition of setup specialist Jeff Nelson put this already jam-packed 'pen into the outer limits of sanity. Nelson, along with LHP Norm Charlton, RHP Jose Paniagua, LHP Arthur Rhodes and closer Kazuhiro Sasaki can all throw low-to-mid 90s, get out both lefties and righties, and close out games. All five have some of the nastiest breaking, forking, moving-out pitches that make hitters drag their bats and shake their heads all the way back to the bench.
Yankee manager Joe Torre knows if he doesn't have the lead by the sixth inning, the Yankees are in trouble.
Seattle may be the best in the playoffs, but the Yankees are no slouches either. Closer Mariano Rivera is 22 for his last 22 in postseason saves and his 93-95 mph cut-fastball is by far the best in the game. Rivera is the best closer in this postseason. In fact, he may be the all-time best closer in postseasons, period.
Former closer and now setup man Mike Stanton complements Rivera perfectly. Stanton, a very nasty lefty, is an All-Star who throws for a lot of strikes.
Right-hander Ramiro Mendoza is versatile in that he can start or relieve. He has four pitches that dart all over the strike zone. While Mendoza is not as big of a threat as Nelson, he's very close.
The rest of the Yankee bullpen is solid, but beatable.
Atlanta Braves vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Atlanta's postseason history is known as one of many chances with few results, due in large part to its bullpen failures.
Not this year.
A former Cy Young winner as a starter, John Smoltz rehabbed his ailing elbow in record time to become the Braves' closer. As a closer, Smoltz knows the Braves only need one or two innings from him, so he's throwing harder than he ever did as a starter. He has a 95-98 mph fastball and continues to have one of the best curveballs ever.
LHP Mike Remlinger also began his career as a starting pitcher but found a home in the 'pen. Remlinger is one of the most underrated pitchers in the playoffs. Although he can close, he's mainly used to set up Smoltz. He runs it up there in the low 90s, has a great breaking ball for his out pitch and has no fear. This guy is awesome.
Right-handersSteve Karsay and Rudy Seanez also throw in the mid 90s, and Steve Reed is one of the nastiest side-arm righties on the planet. I wouldn't want to face him, and I hit left-handed.
With three former starting pitchers (all of whom are eligible for social security), the Achilles' heel of the D-Backs is their bullpen. Of righties Bobby Witt and Mike Morgan and lefty Greg Swindell, only Swindell is a real reliever, and even his days of usefulness are coming to an end. The other two are great guys, but they've seen better days.
Brian Anderson is a solid left-handed starter sent to the 'pen. Anderson does an OK job as a reliever, but he's still unproven.
RHP Mike Koplove doesn't have any playoff experience, which leaves Byung-Hyun Kim as the only real reliever. Kim, with his sidearm 95 mph heat and wicked breaking stuff, can be overpowering at times. But truthfully, I don't think he's scaring anyone. The Braves have some hard-core hitters who don't quiver at a guy who's like 5-foot-5 (actually 5-11) whipping it in there sidearm.
Arizona really misses flamethrower Matt Mantei. It's too bad, because the D-Backs have two of the best starters ever to go into the playoffs.
GRADE: D (they didn't think ahead)