Before the postseason started, you could have reasonably anticipated that the two teams meeting in the World Series could have come from this group: Dodgers, Nationals, Tigers and Athletics. They were some of the best teams in baseball this year and, more significantly, they possessed some of the best starting rotations.
Three of those four teams finished in the top four in starters’ ERA in Major League Baseball. The Tigers, who finished 21st, have some of the most impressive individual hardware of the group, with three former Cy Young Award winners in their starting five.
But we didn’t get those teams, we got the Giants and the Royals and their two middle-of-the-pack rotations. There is just one true ace between the two teams, Madison Bumgarner, who is averaging better than 7.2 IP per start this postseason. James Shields, who is billed as an ace, has been anything but; Shields is averaging fewer than 5 IP per start and has a 7.11 ERA in the 2014 postseason.
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The Royals have gotten 7 IP from a starter just once this postseason. The non-Bumgarner starters on the Giants also have recorded 7 or more IP just once. This has been a postseason, and a now a World Series, all about the bullpens.
Much has been made about the Royals’ three-headed monster. That moniker has been beaten to death and I vow to never use it again. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland have been terrific this postseason. Combined, the trio has posted a 0.84 ERA in 32.2 IP while striking out 39 batters and allowing just 15 hits.
The issue for the Royals — and even the Giants when Bumgarner is not pitching — is that when you have starters who don’t go deep in games, three studs deep in your bullpen are not going to be enough in a seven-game series. A bridge to your best relievers is critical when you have less than stellar starters.
In Game 4, the Royals tried to use Danny Duffy and rookie Brandon Finnegan in that role. It didn’t work out. The Giants had Yusmeiro Petit … again.
Petit has had three relief appearances this postseason. He has thrown 6, 3 and 3 innings in those appearances. He has picked up a win in each appearance and has not allowed an earned run in those 12 IP while registering 13 strikeouts, 4 walks and just 4 hits allowed.
Petit has been nothing short of phenomenal and arguably up to this point is a close runner-up to Madison Bumgarner as the Giants’ postseason MVP. All hail the long reliever, until this postseason, the most underappreciated job in all of Major League Baseball.
If the Giants can win it, they’ll have their bullpen version of David to thank, while the monster Goliath wished he had more help.