In the most competitive first round in the history of baseball’s three-tiered playoff system — the 19 total games that will be played in the four Division Series represent the most since this system was adopted in 1995 — the neutralizing factor has been the inability of aces to pitch like aces.
There is still time to remedy the situation: Both Game 5s in the NLDS feature a matchup of aces, with Arizona’s Ian Kennedy facing Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo, and St. Louis’s Chris Carpenter facing Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay on Friday. (In the remaining ALDS, it is a matchup of No. 2 starters on Thursday night, Detroit’s Doug Fister and New York’s Ivan Nova.)
But thus far, perhaps the most surprising development is how few dominant pitching performances there have been, given the plethora of aces and former Cy Young winners in the field.
Consider this: There are six Cy Young winners in the playoff field (I’m counting Detroit’s Justin Verlander, since he will almost certainly win the AL Cy Young this year), and here are their numbers so far in the first round:
Roy Halladay (PHI), 8 IP, 3 ER
Justin Verlander (DET), 9 IP, 5 ER
CC Sabathia (NYY), 7 1/3 IP, 6 ER
Zack Greinke (MIL), 5 IP, 4 ER
Cliff Lee (PHI), 6 IP, 5 ER
Chris Carpenter, 3 IP, 4 ER
The totals for our Cy Young winners: 38 1/3 IP, 27 ER – which works out to a cumulative ERA of 6.34. And that doesn’t even include the duds turned in by Texas Rangers ace C.J. Wilson and Tampa Bay’s James Shields, who would have been the Rays’ Game 1 starter if they had had the luxury of lining up their rotation the way they preferred. Add those two to our six Cy Young winners, and you get a cumulative record of 2-3 with a 7.45 ERA.
Meanwhile, the three best starts of the Division Series, as measured by game score at baseball-reference.com, were turned in by three relative unknowns: Gallardo (game score of 78), who, despite getting the nod for the Brewers in Game 1, has never posted an ERA below 3.50 for a full season in his career; Tampa Bay Rays phenom Matt Moore (77), who had started only one regular-season game in his career; and Arizona’s Josh Collmenter (73), a 25-year-old rookie who posted a 5.77 ERA at Class AAA last year before pitching his way into the Diamondbacks’ rotation this season.
The result of all this is that we are seeing some of the highest-scoring games in recent postseason history. The average of 9.9 runs per game so far is the highest for the Division Series since 2005, and a whopping 36 percent increase over 2010 (6.3 runs per game).
It could just be the small sample size. It could be an aberration. And it could all be normalized with some shutdown performances in Game 5 by the likes of Halladay, Carpenter, Kennedy, Gallardo, Nova and Fister. But so far, it is undeniable: This has been a postseason dominated by offense, not aces.