2011 MLB Postseason: Pitching? We Don't Need No Stinking Pitching!
Baseball is a curious sport, no doubt.
As we've all heard before, it's the only major sport where the defense has control of the ball and where the offense is largely reactive to the defensive component.
As such, a premium has been placed on the value of pitching—the single most significant element of defense.
Good pitching typically beats good hitting. This dictum has been proven time and time again in the World Series. The 2010 showdown between the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers is the most recent example where a team with shut-down pitching can win despite having an offense that is suspect at best.
This year's World Series title, in fact, was granted to the Philadelphia Phillies prior to the pitchers and catchers arriving back in February. This is perhaps the best example yet of how pitching wins championships—Philly's pitching was so strong that they didn't even have to take to the mound to win the World Series.
To all Philly fans, apologies (not really) for using your team's failures this year as the foil for this story. It had to be done though, if only to call to attention to how indoctrinated we've all become to the notion that pitching is king.
Now, the intention here is not to ignite an endless dialogue about the importance of pitching versus the importance of hitting. Let's just agree that a team's ability to do one or the other exceedingly well gives it the opportunity to make things happen. Likewise, it's quite common for teams that do both very well to find themselves hoisting the trophy when Commissioner Bud is handing it out.
The intention, rather, is simply to make clear that there is room for debate when it comes to this notion that pitching solves all woes, all the time.
There were two teams in this year's postseason tournament that entered the fray with a decided advantage in terms of overall rotation/staff talent who found themselves going home before reaching the second round.
Those teams were Philadelphia (sorry again - not really - Philly fans) and the Tampa Bay Rays. Each of these teams were, at a minimum, four deep in terms of plus/quality starters, and each boasted a bullpen worthy of recognition. And each, when all was said and done, struggled to mount a sustained offensive attack when the ability to do so would have seen them move on to the next round.
It could also be argued that there was a third team with a decided edge in terms of pitching depth that couldn't make its way to the World Series.
The Detroit Tigers, you'll remember, came into the postseason with the best pitcher in baseball for the season, Justin Verlander, and a rotation filled out by Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello—three hurlers that have demonstrated the ability to be shut down pitchers at various times, including in the playoffs this year.
Let's not forget that Detroit can also lay claim to perhaps the best set-up/closer combo in the game this year in Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde.
The Detroit offense, though, struggled mightily at times versus Texas and averaged .7 runs less per game during the six game series than they did across the entire season itself. In three of the six games, all losses, Detroit averaged just 2.67 runs on 6.67 hits. Moreover, it could be said that if not for the inconsistent Yankee offense in the ALDS, the Tigers would have never advanced to face the Rangers in the first place.
To recap, we have three teams in Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Detroit that entered the playoffs with arguably the best and deepest pitching staffs in the postseason. Each of these teams was unable to consistently produce offensively and ultimately found themselves falling out of the playoff picture.
On the other hand, Texas and St. Louis, the two teams facing off for the World Series title, had respectively averaged 5.5 and 5.9 runs per game through the first two rounds of the postseason, and it should be pointed out that they put up those numbers against the very pitching staffs that were projected to be the most effective, if not dominant, throughout the playoffs.
Does this all point to a trend of some kind, one where offense recaptures it's place as the dominant force in the game? Frankly, it's too early to tell and, additionally, the postseason is far too small of a sample set to base any long-term predictions on. Keep in mind, as well, that we've also had two consecutive years where offense has taken a backseat to pitching over the course of the regular season.
It would be refreshing, though, if the offensive success of the two teams in the World Series led to some sort of offensive revival throughout the sport. With realignment on the horizon, and a serious discussion underway regarding what to do about the designated hitter role, it would benefit the sport in general if the powers that be paid attention to the buzz created by some truly historic offensive performances during this year's postseason.
While fans outside of Texas may remember that Derek Holland pitched the game of his life in Game Four this past Sunday, those same fans will certainly recall that Albert Pujols went yard three times the night before.
We know this because while most fans can tell you that Reggie Jackson went deep three times on three pitches in Game Six of the 1977 World Series, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who remembers that Ron Guidry threw a four-hit complete game win in Game Four of the same series.
It's the nature of things, plain and simple. In a world where success creates followers, here's one fan of the sport who would look forward to a future packed with high octane offense. This time around, though, if it happens at all, let's hope it's due to talent and hard work, not to needles and illegal substances.
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