In LCS, 'pens may write the tickets to World Series

In LCS, 'pens may write the tickets to World Series

A great bullpen is the ultimate security blanket.

Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel felt cozy throughout the 2008 season because of his bullpen, which finished the regular season with a National League-best 3.22 ERA. It then posted a 1.79 ERA in the postseason as the Phillies won their second World Series championship in franchise history.

"Not only did the bullpen get hot during the season," Manuel said Wednesday, "they stayed that way all the way through the World Series."

  Date   Recaps Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 10   KC 8, BAL 6 (10 inn.) video
Gm 2 Oct. 11   KC 6, BAL 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14   KC 2, BAL 1 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15   KC 2, BAL 1 video
The Royals and Orioles bullpens have enjoyed a similar run to the 2014 American League Championship series, which begins Friday in Baltimore at 8 p.m. ET on TBS. The Orioles' bullpen finished third in the AL with a 3.08 ERA, while the Royals finished fifth with a bullpen ERA of 3.30.

  Date Recaps Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video
The Giants and Cardinals meet in the National League Championship Series, which opens Saturday in St. Louis at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. The Giants' bullpen finished third in the NL with a 3.01 ERA, while the Cardinals finished 10th with a bullpen ERA of 3.62.

Each of those teams needs their relievers to pitch well to reach the World Series.

"Your bullpen can carry you all the way through," Manuel said.

There is no hard and fast rule for a bullpen's success, but it shouldn't surprise anyone that teams with good ones typically fare well in the postseason.

Consider:

• There have been 38 World Series teams since postseason expansion in 1995. Twenty-two finished in the top five in their respective leagues in regular-season bullpen ERA. Thirteen of those won the World Series.

• Seven World Series teams finished with the best bullpen ERA in the postseason (10 or more innings pitched). Six of those won the World Series.

• Twenty teams finished in the top three. Eleven of those won the World Series.

• Sixteen World Series teams had a 2.99 bullpen ERA or lower in the postseason (the Orioles posted a 2.25 bullpen ERA in the AL Division Series, while the Royals' bullpen had a 2.37 ERA). Eleven of those 16 teams won the World Series.

• Thirty-two had a 3.99 ERA or less. Sixteen of those won the World Series.

• The 2004 Red Sox (4.97 ERA), '02 Angels (4.07 ERA) and '01 D-backs (4.01 ERA) are the only three World Series champions in the past 19 years to win a World Series with a bullpen ERA of 4.00 or higher in the postseason.

A good bullpen is essential in October.

Teams do not need to break the bank to have one, either. Both the Orioles and Royals constructed their bullpens in similar fashion: through the Draft, trades and waiver wire.

There are no high-priced closers or setup men in the ALCS.

The Orioles selected closer Zach Britton in the third round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He converted to a reliever this season and went 3-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 37 saves. The Royals selected closer Greg Holland in the 10th round in 2007. He went 1-3 with a 1.44 ERA and 46 saves.

Britton and Holland made a combined $5.1465 million this season. It is a steal, considering there were 18 relievers this season whose contracts' average annual value was at least $6 million, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.

The Orioles claimed setup man Darren O'Day off waivers in 2011. They acquired Andrew Miller in a trade with the Red Sox in July. Kevin Gausman moved from the rotation to the bullpen for the postseason, where he became an instant weapon. They selected him in the first round in 2012.

Of course, Orioles manager Buck Showalter has pushed the right buttons, too.

"Whatever he does seems to be the right one," Miller said. "I've had a lot of great coaches, a lot of great managers, but I don't know that I've ever seen anybody as prepared as Buck Showalter. I think it pays off. I think the staff as a whole is really, really special and I think it goes a long ways."

Kansas City's three-headed monster of Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera went a combined 14-8 with a 1.28 ERA and 49 saves in the regular season. They struck out 258 in just 204 1/3 innings. They allowed just three home runs.

The Royals acquired Davis in a trade with Tampa Bay in December 2012 and signed Herrera as an amateur free agent in 2006.

Davis, once a member of the rotation, is the highest paid reliever in that group at $4.8 million.

"You look at their numbers, and it's the best I've ever seen for a back-end three guys, and we owe a lot of our success to them," Royals starter James Shields said.

The Orioles feel the same way about their group, and the one that performs best in the ALCS stands an excellent chance of advancing to their first World Series in a generation.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.