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Sensational Starting Pitching: The Dominant Theme So Far in the 2013 ALCS & NLCS

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Through three games, a grand total of seven runs have been scored by the four teams remaining in the 2013 playoffs. But these games haven’t lacked excitement. There was a near no-hitter in the ALCS opener last night, and the St. Louis Cardinals won their first two games of the NLCS over the Los Angeles Dodgers by one run each (the first one being a nailbiting 13-inning, 3-2 victory on Friday).

alcs-tigers-red-sox-baseball via Charles KrupaAP

Anibal Sanchez at Fenway Park during game one of the 2013 ALCS

In the third of the three LCS games played thus far, last night at (hitter-friendly) Fenway Park, Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez opened up the first game of the ALCS not only by out-dueling Boston ace Jon Lester, he no-hit the Red Sox over six innings. The Tigers ultimately won 1-0 while giving up just one hit total (to Daniel Nava in the bottom of the ninth). Earlier on Saturday, Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha led his team to a 1-0 victory over the Dodgers in the second game of the NLCS. This was the first time in history that saw 1-0 victories in two postseason games on the same day. Now I’m not in the gambling business, but with the Red Sox, Tigers and Dodgers’ powerful offenses on full display, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that only seven runs would be scored between them and the Cardinals (who aren’t bad themselves at the plate), no matter how surprisingly strong opposing pitchers were.

So how did this happen? And will this trend continue? The answer to the first question is incredibly strong starting pitching. Sanchez, though occasionally wild, was so spot-on with his 96 mph fastballs and well-timed sliders last night that Boston hitters didn’t know what he was going to throw at them and when. The AL ERA leader of the regular season walked six but quieted all potential run-scoring opportunities with strikeout after strikeout, 12 in all. He even made history last night by punching out four in the first inning – Shane Victorino was not recorded out after being strikeout victim #2 because a wild pitch allowed him to successfully run to first base. It has only been accomplished in the playoffs one other time, all the way back in 1908.

With the Cardinals, Wacha is on an incredible run. He’s has had near no-hit stuff since near the end of the regular season, and yesterday gave up no runs while striking out eight in 6.2 innings. His strikeout victims included the likes of Dodgers rookie phenom Yasiel Puig and veteran Juan Uribe with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, and he did it by using devastating change-ups. Add to that 23-year-old rookie closer Trevor Rosenthal blowing by Dodgers hitters with 101 mph fastballs and you have little room for comfort if you’re a Dodgers fan. After all, 2011 NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ ace and Zack Greinke (who would be an ace on any other team) both pitched in this series already and given up just two earned runs over 14 innings combined, but have no wins to show for it.

As far as the second question is concerned, offenses will indeed likely be held in check due to strong pitching for the foreseeable future. If you’re a fan of high-scoring baseball games, you’re likely not going to see much of that these next couple of days, as aces like Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals and Justin Verlander of the Tigers will likely continue to quiet opponents’ offenses (and give up somewhere between 0-3 earned runs each). Oh, and did I mention that tonight in game two of the ALCS, likely 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer (21-3, 2.90 ERA) is going up against Boston’s Clay Buchholz, who ended the regular season 12-1 and with a 1.74 ERA?

There hasn’t been a no-hitter in the postseason since Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies pitched a perfect game against the Cincinnati Reds in game one of the 2010 NLDS. Only one other pitcher, Don Larsen has pitched a no-hitter in the postseason and it too was a perfect game. Though I still don’t think we’ll see a no-no happening this postseason, more low-scoring, nailbiting playoff games, where every pitch and managerial move matters, are definitely on their way. They are what baseball at the highest level is and should be all about.

Photo credit:Charles Krupa/AP

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.
  • Charlie

    I did not expect either pitcher to be completely off his game tonight but so far, one has given up just one run (Scherzer) while Buchholz is gone after giving up five runs in 5.2 IP, including two homers. Wow. Looks like it’s going to be a Tigers-Cardinals World Series again the way this is going (a repeat of 2006)..