MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Bullpens carrying survivors through postseason

Bullpens carrying survivors through postseason

KANSAS CITY -- They didn't play Game 3 of the American League Championship Series here Monday, and Royals manager Ned Yost and Orioles skipper Buck Showalter and their respective staffs spent the hours after the postponement became official re-thinking their rotation alignments, in light of the extra off day.

More meaningfully, though, the delay provided another 24 hours of rest for the relievers these men rely upon so heavily. And that brings us to a key point of this postseason.

There have been 20 playoff games played so far, and only six of them have seen one or both starting pitchers record an out in the eighth inning. In fact, Madison Bumgarner alone is responsible for three of the 13 times a starter has lasted at least seven innings.

Really, take Bumgarner out of the picture (and the Cardinals probably wish they could), and you can make the argument that, contrary to what we've been groomed to think, October has not been all about aces at all.

Whether it's Clayton Kershaw losing both of his starts for the Dodgers or Adam Wainwright posting an 8.00 ERA in two starts for the Cardinals or Jon Lester giving up six runs in the AL Wild Card Game or Detroit's Max Scherzer surrendering five runs in his lone start against the O's in the ALDS or the guy they call "Big Game" James putting up a big ERA (5.63) in three outings for the Royals, the aces' impact has been mostly negative.

Meanwhile, the guys following them have been thrust into the limelight, for better or worse. Thirteen of the 20 games have been decided by one run or in extra innings, so October has been all about the depth and dependability of the 'pens. Only four of the 20 games have seen what turned out to be the winning run scored prior to the seventh inning.

  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

To some, this is not exactly an unforeseen development.

"The game has really changed," said Royals general manager Dayton Moore, "to the point where, if you don't or can't match up late, it's really hard to win."

Moore's club can match up with anybody right now. The arrival and quick adaptation of recent Draft pick Brandon Finnegan has given Yost a left-handed look to complement the three-headed, right-handed beast of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera.

The Royals weren't able to outlast the Tigers in the AL Central standings this season, but they keep living to see another day because their relievers, who have been credited with five of their six wins, have a 2.30 ERA and .204 average against. The Tigers, on the other hand, are done because their relievers had a 9.64 ERA and .348 average against in 4 2/3 innings.

The Tigers, much like the Dodgers, could not match up, which is why they've been marched out.

The matchup game might sometimes slow the pace to a crawl, but it has had a profound impact on how the late innings play out, both here and in the regular season. Collectively, MLB hitters had a .256/.314/.395 slash line against starting pitchers this season, and those sluggish stats are illustrative of the era in which we live. But batters were especially feeble against bullpens, registering just a .242/.314/.368 slash.

What those numbers tell us is that the once-popular position of trying to run up a starters' pitch count in order to get to the bullpen is, in most cases, outdated. It's certainly notable that the four clubs that advanced to this LCS stage all ranked in the lower half among MLB's 30 teams in walk rate. The Cardinals were 15th, while the Giants (20), Orioles (27) and Royals (30) all finished in the bottom tier.

Showalter on O's bullpen in loss

• Video: Showalter on the O's bullpen loss

"Hitting is controlled aggression," O's GM Dan Duquette said. "We have some aggressive hitters."

The aggressive moves made by the A's and Tigers at the Trade Deadline to assemble what looked to be otherworldly rotations were, at the time, thought to be the keys to those clubs' October advancement. But now that the A's were ousted in the Wild Card round and the Tigers started three Cy Young winners -- Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price -- in succession in the Division Series and lost all three games, the view of those trades is considerably different.

Put it this way: Which July trade acquisition has had the most meaningful impact on his club's bottom line -- Lester, Price or O's reliever Andrew Miller?

Well, by now, we know the answer to that one. And we're also seeing a sort of shift in expectation in this postseason environment.

Showalter was asked the other day if "length" from a starter is more or less important in the postseason, and his answer, as is usually the case with Buck, was interesting. He said it's always important to have your starter go "deep" into the game, but then he added an asterisk to that remark.

"I think what's changed over the years is what's considered deep in a ballgame," he said. "Deep in a ballgame now is the sixth inning. I know that makes a lot of the veteran older players cringe, but that's just the way it is."

That's certainly the way it's been in October.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.