PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 07: Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after he caught a line drive hit by Jimmy Rollins #11 of the Philadelphia Phillies for the final out in the bottom of the eighth inning during Game Five of the National League Divisional Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 7, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The offenses of the Rangers and Cardinals have received more attention than the clubs' starting rotations during these playoffs. This is understandable as the Cardinals led the National League in most major offensive categories and the Rangers were one of the top offenses in the American League. The sluggers that populate each club's lineups are All-Star caliber and well known. With names like Pujols, Hamilton, Berkman, Young, Berkman, and Beltre it is no wonder that the starting rotations have not received many beams from the media spotlight.
The Rangers finished 2011 with the third-lowest ERA in the American League behind only their AL West rivals, the Angels, and ALDS foes, the Rays. Along with posting the third-lowest ERA of .365, the Rangers also posted the league's third-lowest FIP of 3.80, just behind the Angels and White Sox. The Rangers' starting pitcher xFIP of 3.82 was the second-lowest in the league. All impressive numbers given the fact that they started so many games in the band box at Arlington.
The starters also take after their club president Nolan Ryan in the strikeout department. Their 7.22 K/9 led AL starting rotations while their collective 2.77 BB/9 was in the middle of the pack. The staff also ranked in the middle of the AL in GB rate at 43.1% while posting the second-lowest BABIP for an AL starting staff behind only the Rays.
The Rangers' starting pitchers' collective fWAR of 19.8 was second only to the Chicago White Sox.
The Cardinals on the other hand were much more pedestrian. Their starting rotation ERA of 3.81 ranked eighth out of the sixteen National League clubs. It was a number that betrayed their fielding-independent metrics. At 3.69, the Cardinals rotational FIP was fifth-best in the NL; their 3.76 xFIP was sixth-best.
Whereas the Rangers purportedly follow the Ryan Express model, the Cardinals have Master of the Sinker Dave Duncan leading their staff. It is not surprising that Duncan's democratic pitching philosophy led to a K/9 of 6.10 that tied for the third-lowest in the National League. Duncan's pitch-to-contact philosophy also possesses the tenant of pounding the strike zone. Hence the Cardinals 2.50 BB/9, third-lowest in the NL. Opponents managed a .301 BABIP against Cardinals starters, which is the second-highest in league. The groundballing duo of Westbrook and Garcia helped the Cardinals post the highest GB rate of any NL starting rotation at 49.5%.
The St. Louis starters combined for 13.1 total fWAR, which tied the Brewers for fifth in the National League.
Game 1 will featued a battle of aces, a squaring off of fWAR leaders: Chris Carpenter vs. C.J. Wilson. Carpenter put together a 5.0-fWAR season anchoring the Wainwright-less rotation, posting a 7.29 K/9 reminiscent of his peak seasons from the middle of the decade past as well as an impressive 2.09 BB/9. His 3.45 ERA is misleading as he pitched much better this season with a 3.06 FIP and 3.31 xFIP. With a 5.9-fWAR season, Wilson is an ace entering his peak. His K rate of 8.30 helped neutralize his 2.98 walk rate. His 49.8% helped him to be an effective pitcher in and out of his home stadium. Wednesday's could be the pitching duel that elluded fans during the LCS's.
In a series that will feature many a potent slugger, Game 1 may give us a pitching duel. Both Carpenter and Wilson are aces and have the ability to shut the opposition down. It will be intriguing to see whether either or both can manage to do so in the pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium on Wednesday.