to understand how the cardinals in october sliced 2 full runs off their regular-season era, we need look no further than jeff weaver. duh. after posting a 5.76 era in the regular season --- a 5.18 era as a cardinal --- weaver led the team in postseason era at 2.43. i started digging around to see how often pitchers as bad as jeff turn in postseasons this good.
the answer: never. he has just set new records for starts (5) and innings pitched (29.2) in a single posteason by a pitcher with a 5.00+ regular-season era, while tying the record for wins (3). the 3 wins, in fact, tie the st louis franchise record for wins in a single postseason. carpenter tied the same mark this year; the pair of them join tudor, andujar, gibson, and harry brecheen as the only cardinals ever to do it. yeah, it took them an extra round (or two) and all that; it's still a rare feat.
more to the point, it's rare for a pitcher as bad as jeff weaver to pitch in october, period. in the 25 postseasons leading up to this one (ie, 1981-2005), only 13 pitchers with regular-season eras over 5.00 made a single start in the LCS or world series. if we include chad ogea (who made 4 postseason starts in 1997 with a 4.99 regular-season era), the list expands to 14 guys. only 5 of them (including ogea) started games in the world series. 5 guys in 25 years, making 6 total starts; --- and then in one world series the cardinals start two 5.00+ pitchers (weaver and reyes) and get 3 good starts out of them. that in itself shows how extraordinary weaver's postseason was: guys like him just don't get the opportunity to pitch in october. and you can understand why: most teams that get to the postseason and go deep in it have good pitchers; guys with 5.00+ eras pitch for 3d-, 4th- and 5th-place teams. . . . maybe for teams that won 83 or so games. the cardinals tied a record of sorts by assigning 7 starts in a single postseason to pitchers with 5.00+ eras --- 5 to weaver, 2 to reyes. the only other team to do so was the 1996 orioles --- and they only had 9 postseason games total that year, so almost every start came from a guy with a black-eye era.
now here's the flip side of the argument: although guys like jeff weaver don't often get a chance to pitch in october, when they do get the chance they don't pitch half-badly. the 14 pitchers (including ogea) with 5.00+ eras who've pitched in the LCS or world series since 1981 compiled a cumulative postseason era of 4.00 in 198 innings. that's incredibly good, when you consider that these bums posted that mark against playoff-caliber lineups. here are the best performances:
what jumps out at you is the fact that these are all pretty good pitchers. derek lowe in 2004 was a two-time all-star, two years removed from a 21-8 season in which he finished 3d in the cy young award voting. charles nagy in 1998 had made two all-star teams and notched three top-10 cy young finishes in the previous six years. erickson was a former staff ace (2d place in the cy in 1991) who was just regaining his stride (he would go 47-32, 4.17 in the three seasons after 1996). weaver fits solidly into that mold --- a pretty good pitcher having an off-year. reyes likely does as well --- his 5.06 era this year probably (hopefully) will seem anomalous when we look back on it a few years hence. so that may be one explanation for high-era pitchers' good october performance --- the ones who get the ball have better abilities than the typical high-era pitcher.
the other explanation is just a guess --- i have no data to back it up. the explanation is this: it's flat-out hard to hit in october, no matter who's pitching. in the postseason pressure-cooker, there's an inherent advantage simply in having the ball in your hands --- initiating the action, rather than having to react to it. jason isringhausen told all those young relievers before the playoffs began: don't rush yourselves. you've got the power to dictate the pace; set one that's comfortable for you. hitters never have that luxury; they're constantly on the defensive, apt to be lured or forced into bad decisions. it even happened to pujols this past month; he clearly was pressing, swinging at bad pitches and taking hittable ones throughout the lcs and world series. any pitcher --- jeff weaver, oliver perez, anthony reyes, josh kinney, tyler johnson --- can exploit that inherent advantage simply by staying aggressive.
that's what so impressed me about suppan and wainwright in the crucial at-bats of game 7 vs the mets; they went right after guys. it seems ridiculously simple, but i think it's one of the major differences between the cardinals' performance this year, vs their disappointments of years past. the pitchers didn't nibble, didn't try to make perfect pitches; they stayed in attack mode all month. if there's anything at all to be learned from jeff weaver's success this october, maybe that's it: just throw strikes, dammit.
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