A five-game playoff series shines a light on every aspect of your team. Stars will shine brighter and flaws will be exposed.
In this National League Division Series, the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates share at least one similar strength: a quality bullpen of mostly young arms.
Look at some of the key season stats:
|FIP||2nd (3.26)||4th (3.35)|
|SIERA||1st (3.19)||5th (3.39)|
|ERA-||8th (95)||2nd (79)|
|K%||5th (22.4%)||13th (20.1%)|
|BB%||1st (7.4%)||2nd (7.8%)|
|LOB%||9th (75.1%)||3rd (78.3%)|
Two similarities about the bullpens stick out: both rely on limiting walks and generating ground balls. Although the Cardinals’ bullpen looks like the more talented one overall, the Pirates’ bullpen has had better results due to strong defense. Pittsburgh relievers generate grounders on 52 percent of balls in play, by far the highest rate in baseball.
If we are only looking to analyze this series, though, there is some noise in the season statistics. Each team got many innings from pitchers who are not on the NLDS roster.
|Closer||Trevor Rosenthal||1.93||Jason Grilli||1.79|
|Setup||Edward Mujica||3.25||Mark Melancon||1.80|
|7th||Seth Maness||2.65||Tony Watson||3.33|
|Middle||Kevin Siegrist||2.77||Vin Mazzaro||3.83|
|Multi-Inning||Carlos Martinez||2.95||Jeanmar Gomez||3.98|
|Lefty||Randy Choate||2.88||Justin Wilson||3.65|
|Extra Arm||John Axford||3.42||Bryan Morris||4.26|
In Game 1, St. Louis can also use the services of Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller, one of whom will likely start Game 4, if necessary.
The Cardinals are relying on the services of six rookies, including Wacha and Miller. That inexperience isn’t a bug, though. It’s a feature. Last year, a more-veteran-laden bullpen in St. Louis was one of the worst in the National League. Now the Cards have four rookie relievers with a SIERA below 3.00 in Rosenthal, Maness, Siegrist and Martinez.
This is what you need to know: the St. Louis’ bullpen is deep with talent. Manager Mike Matheny can pick from a multitude of arms who would pitch high-leverage innings for any other team: Maness for ground balls, Siegrist for momentum (he has pitched 28 straight scoreless innings) and Rosenthal for high-velocity strikeouts.
Such a loaded arsenal would seem to be unbeatable. The key to victory for the Pirates lies with Clint Hurdle’s willingness to play the matchups. On the offensive side, that relies on seeing if righties like Gaby Sanchez and Jose Tabata can solve the dominant Siegrist and Choate.
More importantly, Hurdle has to be willing to deploy his own most talented relievers into unorthodox situations. Tony Watson (1.36 ERA since June 1) and Justin Wilson are quality relievers and will counter the Cardinals’ left-handed hitters well.
But it is the use of Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon that is paramount. Grilli is not the same strikeout machine he was before his forearm injury, but he still represents the Pirates’ best chance for a K. Melancon also had his September struggles, but his grounder-generating cutter is begging to be used with men on base.
In the last nine days, Grilli has thrown just 17 pitches and Melancon just 16. Hurdle acknowledged that the whole bullpen is pretty fresh for having played in the Wild Card, a byproduct of Liriano going seven innings Tuesday and being able to punt Sunday’s game.
“For October 2nd it’s as well-rested a bullpen as you can have,” Hurdle said.
In October, managers have to be quicker to pull their starting pitchers and willing to go to relief. Such a short series may well come down to which relievers produce in tight spots, as well as which managers pull the right strings.