Starting Pitching: The Strangest Part of that Strange NLCS


The tale of the 2011 Cardinals just keeps getting more and more unbelievable.  And we’re not using the word “unbelievable” strictly in the fairy tale sense, although it’s certainly fits.  We’re saying it’s literally hard to believe this all happened, if you hadn’t just witnessed it yourself.

Every step seems to throw one more element that stretches the story out to even more mind-bending heights.  Just look at the resume and try to imagine what your reaction would be if someone descended from the future back in August and laid out this scenario:

Fact: They were down 10.5 games in the Wild Card race in late August, but came back.
Reaction: Sure they did.  Get back into the phone booth with Bill and Ted and head home

Fact: In a short series, they beat the team that had won over 100 games and had a rotation of Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt.
Reaction: I can smell the hallucinogenic drugs on you, future man

Fact: They beat the Brewers in the NLCS and David Freese hit .548, 3HR and 9RBI and won the MVP.
Reaction: Next thing you’re going to tell me is that the Rams are 0-5

Fact: And not a single Cardinals starter in the series went more than five innings
Reaction: Now you just sold your self out, bro. Your bluff has been called.

Of all the bizarre facts surrounding what just happened in the last month and a half, the story of the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation in the 2011 NLCS might just take the honors as the most outlandish.  Jayson Stark from ESPN offered a nugget that brought that into perspective:

No other team in history had ever won a postseason series without a single starting pitcher getting an out in the sixth inning or beyond.

While that little tidbit is certainly straight forward enough, one thing we wanted to know was how dramatic was the difference between this season and past NLCS performances from Cardinals starters?

So we gathered together info from all the NLCS appearances by the Cardinals dating back to 1982 and compared the average innings pitched in each series by the team’s starters.

From first glance it is a bit surprising to see that the gap isn’t nearly as wide as we might have expected it to be.  It isn’t the first time LaRussa has had to make some quick phone calls to the bullpen. In 1996 the starters averaged 13 outs per start or 4 1/3rd innings, just one out better than the 2011 crew.  Of course the explanation for that year is quick and painless – the numbers were skewed by a one inning performance by Todd Stottlemyre in the 14-0 bashing the Braves laid on the Birds in Game 5 and Donovan Osborne’s two out performance en route to a 15-0 throttling in Game 7.

In 2000, the starters averaged 13 outs again, but were dragged down by the brief performance Rick Ankiel turned in before LaRussa had to pull him due to public safety regulations.

The other common factor in those two series? Well…the Cardinals lost.  What we’ve always been told is that if your starters fall apart, the team will too.  Certainly proved true in those series, but not so much in 2011.  Even the old school baseball curmudgeons have no choice but to concede that, in this case, the better team was the one whose offense destroyed mediocre pitching more efficiently.

We shouldn’t expect much to change in the World Series considering the Rangers won with the same formula. Their starters averaged just a shade more than the Cardinals and their offense cranked out over six runs a game.

Knowing all that, if that damn guy shows up from the future again and tells me the offense went in the crapper, the bullpen struggled and the starters led the Cardinals to their 11th World Series Title, I’d say he was full of shit.  Again.


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