Cardinals vs. Giants NLCS: The Battle of Bullpens

William Smith@@BSmith102688Correspondent IOctober 15, 2012

Motte and the St. Louis bullpen have been excellent in the postseason.
Motte and the St. Louis bullpen have been excellent in the postseason.Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

While it's important for both teams in the NLCS to get quality starting pitching efforts, it was clear last night that this NLCS may be decided on the strength of the two bullpens.  

It looked like Game 1 would be a high-scoring affair after both the Giants and Cardinals exploded for four runs each in the fourth inning.

Both Game 1 starters were knocked around in Game 1. San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner lasted just 3 2/3 innings, surrendered eight hits and six runs.

St. Louis starter Lance Lynn was not much better, escaping with four runs allowed in 3 2/3 innings.  

But both bullpens turned in excellent efforts, as the Giants' bullpen tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings of hitless ball while striking out five.

The Cardinals' bullpen was just as impressive, allowing just two hits and striking out four in 5 2/3 innings. Righty Joe Kelly relieved Lynn and escaped a big two-on, two-out jam to keep St. Louis ahead 6-4.

Postseason baseball usually features some very close baseball games decided by one or two runs. After watching last night's contest, it is pretty clear that the bullpens may decide this series.

Big name starters such as Matt Cain, Chris Carpenter, and Kyle Lohse are undoubtedly important to their team's success this series, but the members of each bullpen have the responsibility of retiring the select number of batters they face while trying to preserve the lead or keep the game close.

San Francisco bullpen

Through six postseason contests, the Giants have not gotten a quality start out of a starting pitcher, 

The bullpen is 2-0 with a 2.51 ERA and no blown saves in 28 2/3 innings. Sergio Romo has the lone save for the Giants. Tim Lincecum, who had a dreadful year as a starter, has proved to be one of manager Bruce Bochy's best weapons out of the bullpen, as he has allowed just one run and struck out nine batters in 8 1/3 innings. 

Lefty Jeremy Affeldt is yet to surrender a run in the postseason, and Santiago Casilla has struck out seven in 4 1/3 innings out of the Giants' pen.

If the starting pitching (6.49 ERA in postseason) continues to struggle, the bullpen will play a key role.

St. Louis bullpen

The Cardinals have only gotten one quality start in seven tries this postseason, but the bullpen has been lights out.

In those seven games, the bullpen is 3-2 with a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings. It is a hard-throwing group that features three hurlers that average over 95 mph on their fastballs in rookie Trevor Rosenthal, closer Jason Motte, and Mitchell Boggs. Motte has two saves and Rosenthal has been electric with seven strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.

Manager Mike Matheny's starting pitching (4.22 ERA) has been average at best in the postseason, so the bullpen should expect to go several innings again if a starter is knocked out early.