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Schmidt: Hitters need better approach in October

Monday - 10/14/2013, 2:58pm  ET

FILE - In this Oct. 19, 1980, file photo, Philadelphia Phillies' Mike Schmidt watches his two-run homer in the fourth inning as Kansas City Royals catcher Darrell Porter watches, at right, during Game 5 of the World Series in Kansas City. Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt was the MVP of the 1980 World Series when the Phillies won their first championship. He reached the postseason six times and hit .236 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 36 games. (AP Photo/Stubblebine, File)

MIKE SCHMIDT
For The Associated Press

Editors: Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt was the MVP of the 1980 World Series when the Phillies won their first championship. He reached the postseason six times and hit .236 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 36 games.

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In its simplest form, baseball is about a series of competitions between pitcher and hitter. It's physical, mental and involves teamwork.

Sure, there is defense, baserunning and strategy. But at the core of baseball, it's pitcher versus hitter. And up until a few years ago, the hitters had dominated for more than a decade.

Not anymore. Things have swung full circle in favor of the pitcher -- this postseason is full of examples, with Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright shutting down offenses.

It's said that good pitching will beat good hitting. Not exactly true, but the percentage will play in favor of a pitcher against a hitter, all things being equal.

The pitcher has a defense behind him that today has information on opposing batters' tendencies and hitting patterns, plus managers who will go to extremes on defensive strategy.

From 1995 into the 2000s, hitters had the benefit of HGH and PEDs that increased strength. Combined with small parks, loaded bats and small strike zones, hitters ruled.

Only a few pitchers stood tall during that era, including Greg Maddux, Roy Halladay, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson. But now, as the game has been cleansed, there is a more level competition between pitcher and hitter.

That pair of 1-0 games in the league championship series on Saturday made history. For me, it just substantiated my theory that the pendulum has swung.

Of course, it's not nearly as evident during the regular season because hitters can make up statistical ground against mediocre pitching. But a quick look at the league-leading totals in the regular season would also indicate a serious hitting decline.

Three hitters separated themselves from the pack this year -- Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, and Paul Goldschmidt. Eliminate them and 109 RBIs and 36 home runs led the majors.

Those are mid-1970s numbers. I twice led the NL in home runs with 36, once with 37 and twice with 38, and once had the most RBIs with just over 100.

What's happening?

Pitchers have made tremendous strides over the last 20 years. Hitters have made few, if any.

As pitchers have become bigger and stronger, they have raised the average fastball speed by 4-5 mph over that period. Once Nolan Ryan was a freak, then Dwight Gooden, then Johnson as they threw in the mid-90s.

Now every team has seven or eight guys who throw in the mid-90s, and many in the minor leagues as well. Think about that: Today's hitters see a Nolan Ryan fastball at some point in every game. For me, it was one game and a dozen at-bats a year.

The Cardinals have three starters in a row throwing 95 with great secondary stuff, and a closer in Trevor Rosenthal who throws 100.

Used to be we'd say, "he throws hard, but has no idea where it's going." No more. They throw hard and know how to pitch.

Now add into the mix postseason pressure, where hitters are anxious to be the hero, refuse to walk and don't make adjustments game to game. This new breed of savvy flamethrower eats them up.

Michael Wacha, a rookie, and the St. Louis bullpen shut down the Dodgers 1-0 on Saturday. Then Anibal Sanchez and the Detroit relievers beat Boston -- the highest-scoring team in the majors -- by the same score a few hours later.

Combined with Max Scherzer and Verlander, the Tigers have taken no-hitters into the sixth inning in three straight postseason games.

Look, I was once a pretty good hitter, a World Series MVP in 1980 and goat in 1983. In 1983, I went 1 for 20 in a loss to the Orioles, so I'm not grasping at straws here. I know hitting. I know why guys go cold in the postseason.

Hitting with normal season pressure is different. In the postseason, you're facing the best pitchers, with a huge television audience and the temptation to become a national hero in every at-bat.

It's plain and simple on TV. Watch the overaggressive home run swings, especially with two strikes. Watch how teams can't scratch out a run because hitters lose the feel for the opposite field and advancing runners.

The A's struck out 57 times in their five-game series against Detroit. Imagine that, 57 times. Some would say it's not the strikeouts, it's when you strike out.

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