Grantland has posted an article by Bill James that it describes as "[a] totally, utterly, insanely completist list from the godfather of baseball stats" of the 100 best pitchers' duels of 2011. James attempts to objectively list the top-pitched games by starting pitchers during 2011. In doing so, he lays out the following guiding criteria:
What are the elements of a great pitchers' duel? A pitchers' duel is a low-scoring game, obviously; a 1-0 game is the champion of its list. The term "pitchers' duel" implies that the starting pitchers pitch well, as opposed to staggering through five innings un-scored upon and handing it off to the bullpen. We think of a pitchers' duel more highly if it involves pitchers of stature. A 1-0 game is more memorable if it is Sabathia against Verlander than if it is Marco Estrada against Kevin Correia. Which, by the way, actually happened last year; Marco Estrada and Kevin Correia matched up on August 13 at Miller Park, and the result was a 1-0 game. Go figure. There's a woman involved somewhere.
Anyway, a great pitchers' duel implies that there is something at stake beyond fifth place, although you don't want to place too much emphasis on that criterion, or you wind up warbling on about Jack Morris in 1991, long after anybody cares.
I agree by and large with the elements James lays out. But, like other Cardinals fans, I respectfully disagree with Grantland regarding the completeness of the list, which only seems to include regular season pitchers' duels. By limiting the list in such a way, James has left off the top pitching duel of the 2011 calendar year: Halladay vs. Carpenter in Game 5 of the NLDS.
Applying the four criteria James uses, let's evaluate Game 5 of the NLDS between the Phillies and Cardinals.
1. Quality Pitchers on the Mound
The game was a face-off between aces. For the Phillies, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner took the mound. His 2011 was on par with his award-winning 2010 season. Halladay struck out 8.49 batters per nine innings while only walking 1.35 in 2011. He posted a 2.35 ERA, 2.20 FIP, and 2.71 xFIP--all of which were lower than their corresponding 2010 levels. Halladay's 8.2 fWAR was 1.6 fWAR higher than his total in the preceding Cy Young 2010 season. In 2011, one cannot definitively state that there was a better pitcher than Halladay in the National League.
For the Cardinals, the 2005 Cy Young Award winner got the start. The de facto ace after co-ace Adam Wainwright's Tommy John surgery ended his season before it began, Carpenter anchored the St. Louis rotation throughout the season. Carpenter led the National League with 237.1 IP and was very good. Even though he had a 3.45 ERA in 2011, which was below what we've come to expect from Carpenter (who has a career 116 ERA+), it was still good for a Jack Morris-esque 105 ERA+. Carp posted a 7.24 K/9 and a 2.09 BB/9. His FIP of 3.06 suggests he pitched better than his 3.45 ERA and on a level similar to Halladay's 2010 (3.01 FIP).
Game 5 of the NLDS featured two Cy Young Award winners still pitching at a high level.
2. Something is at Stake
This game had the highest stakes possible in sport. It was the deciding game of a postseason series. The loser's season would end and the winner would move on the NLCS. Something wasn't at stake; everything was at stake.
3. Low-Scoring Game
The run tally was as low-scoring as a game can be: 1-0.
4. The Pitchers Pitch Well
The Cardinals got to Halladay early. Rafael Furcal led things off with a triple. Skip Schumaker then hit a double that plated Furcal. The game's first and only run was scored before Halladay induced one out. After Furcal scored to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead, 54 outs followed without another run scoring.
Halladay posted a final line of 8 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 7 SO, 1 BB.
Carpenter posted a final line of 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 SO, 0 BB.
Halladay participated in three of James's top 100 regular season duels of 2011. His September 14 five-hit shutout against Houston was No. 7. The Phillies' 3-2 win over the Rangers on May 20, in which Halladay bested C.J. Wilson, came in at No. 85. At No. 95 is a 2-1 loss on May 10 to Josh Johnson and the Marlins. Halladay posted a Game Score of 81 versus the Astros in September, 68 against the Rangers, and 73 in the Phillies' loss to the Marlins. In Game 5 of the NLDS, Halladay posted a Game Score of 72.
Like Halladay, Carpenter started in three of James's top 100 regular season pitchers' duels. Carpenter and the Cards' 1-0 victory over Johnny Cueto and the Reds on Independence Day comes it at No. 40. On September 7, Carpenter bested Zack Greinke and the Brewers 2-0, a duel that ranks 48th on James's list. Carpenter shut out the Phillies on September 18 and the Cardinals plated five runs on Cole Hamles, a matchup that is No. 86 on the list. Carpenter's eight innings of shutout pitching against the Reds on July 4 totaled a Game Score of 74. His shutout of the Brewers in September produced an 82 Game Score. Lastly, his September 18 shutout of Philadelphia only totals a Game Score of 70. In Game 5, Carpenter's performance earned an 84 Game Score, a Game Score he bested once in 2011--with a 93 in his compete-game shutout against the Astros on the season's final day, a performance that helped the Cards to clinch a postseason berth.
In the biggest game of the MLB year to that point, Carpenter and Halladay turned in impressive performances. The two starters combined to throw 17 IP, allow just 9 total hits, issue a lone walk, strike out 10 opposing batters, and allow a single run. This game was October baseball at its finest and those who watched know that it was the top pitchers' duel of 2011. That the Cardinals won the game and went on to win the National League Pennant and the World Series makes it all the better.