Maybe fried chicken and beer — the breakfast of champions for Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester — isn’t just on the clubhouse menu at Fenway Park.
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How else do you explain that in an era that is conspicuous for superb starting pitching, the World Series — an event that is often defined by dominating starters — will be won by a team that does not seem to have any?
At least that’s how the Cardinals and the Rangers arrived here, laying waste to the baseball bromide about good pitching thwarting good hitting — from the starters at least.
In two rounds of the playoffs, the Rangers have sent a starting pitcher to the mound 10 times. Not once has he survived more than six innings. In the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals bullpen logged more innings than the starters, none of whom made it past the fifth.
Where have you gone, Tim Lincecum? Where art thou, Cliff Lee?
Consider that the series opener Wednesday night will feature these aces: C.J. Wilson, who in three playoff starts for Texas has allowed 14 runs in 15 2/3 innings and, as the best free-agent pitcher besides CC Sabathia this winter, seems intent on correcting the market before it opens.
For the Cardinals, it will be Chris Carpenter, whose 1-0 shutout win in the clincher over the Phillies was a performance for the ages — and has nicely obscured his two other playoff starts, which lasted a total of eight innings, after he allowed seven runs on 11 hits. In the Cardinals’ clincher Sunday night, Edwin Jackson lasted only two innings, being pinch hit for after allowing three home runs. Of course, he left with the lead.
“It was 12-6 and I was sweating bullets,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, whose task of finding a reliable starter has become harder than spelling reliever Marc Rzepczynski’s name correctly on the lineup card.
La Russa and Washington have spent the playoffs managing their pitching staffs like it was an All-Star Game, except they are doing it without All-Stars.
La Russa can lean on Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel, a fearsome duo — a decade ago. The others are people named Lynn, Boggs — no, not Freddie and Wade — Salas and Motte. For Washington, his two best starters in the playoffs have been Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando, who have allowed one run in 19 innings — out of the bullpen, of course.
“Every time we go out we don’t try to go three innings,” Rangers pitcher Derek Holland said before his last start, in which he nearly made it through five innings.
It was hard to see this coming. Just a year ago, a resurgence of pitching — there were seven no-hitters — was punctuated in the playoffs when Roy Halladay fired a no-hitter in his first playoff start and the Giants rode their devastating starters to a World Series title. In the last two games of the series, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum allowed six hits and one run in 16 innings, each one handing the ball directly to closer Brian Wilson.
This season’s storylines were once again driven by starting pitchers. The Phillies Phoursome of Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels helped them to the best record in baseball, and in the American League, the Tigers’ Justin Verlander was so good that he may just be the league’s Most Valuable Player, too. The Yankees managed the best record in the American League thanks not to their stacked lineup but to the emergence of rookie Ivan Nova and the reclamation of Freddy Garcia.
As if to further underscore the importance of starting pitching, the Red Sox’s lack of it — along with a bucket of drumsticks perhaps — was the recipe for their undoing. Tampa Bay had it and Boston did not.
And yet now, the stars of the playoffs have been two sluggers not named Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Nelson Cruz, who bats seventh for Texas, and David Freese, who is in the same neighborhood for St. Louis, have been smashing anything that is thrown their way. They were named the MVPs of the two league championship series.
Thus, this is shaping up as somewhat of a throwback World Series, with both teams channeling the 2002 Angels, who relied on a relentless offense and a bullpen that covered for a rotation whose frontline starters were Jarrod Washburn, Kevin Appier and Ramon Ortiz. Consider that the Angels allowed 44 runs in that series and no starter made it through six innings. Yet they survived in a thrilling seven-game affair.
The way this World Series is shaping up, with the Rangers and Cardinals, we should all be so lucky. In the meantime, pass the fried chicken and beer.