No shortage of arms in baseball playoffs

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2013 - 12:16 AM

The best arms in the majors form one of the themes of the playoffs.

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The Cardinals scored in bunches during the regular season.

Photo: Jeff Roberson • Associated Press,

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The 2013 postseason will feature beards, Bucs and bygone Twins.

Less likely? Blowouts.

Not since 1995, when there were two fewer teams and a strike that erased three weeks of the season, have so few runs been scored in the major leagues as this year. And the teams that qualified for the playoffs did so by following that trend; the teams with the five lowest starting-rotation ERAs in the National League all qualified for the postseason, while the American League’s playoff rotations all ranked in the top six.

Count on that theme to carry over into the postseason, which reaches the Division Series stage beginning Thursday afternoon. Each of the eight finalists has an ace, and some lucky teams have two or three, pitchers with established track records who are being relied upon to shut down the opposition and get the game to the bullpen with a lead.

But when every team has superstar pitching, who wins the ring? Maybe it’s the Red Sox, who scored more runs than anyone. Maybe it’s the Cardinals, who had better clutch hitting than the other 29 teams. Could be the A’s, who own the most reliable defense. Or how about the Tigers, with the game’s best hitter, Miguel Cabrera, in the middle of the lineup? And then there are the Pirates, back in the postseason after 21 years, making them America’s favorite underdogs.

Here are five story lines to follow as the unpredictable postseason plays out:

Kershaw, Kershaw & Friend

That Clayton Kershaw was the NL’s best pitcher this year is well known. It may come as a surprise, however, that the Dodgers own the second-best pitcher in the NL postseason as well. While Kershaw posted an otherworldly 1.83 ERA, Zack Greinke quietly built a 2.63 mark of his own, a half-run better than any other NL postseason starter. He hasn’t given up more than two runs in a start since July. With each of them pitching twice per series, the Dodgers will put tremendous pressure on the other pitching staffs.

The relentless attack

Without the benefit of a DH, the Cardinals operated an American League offense; they scored a whopping 77 more runs than the next-most-proficient NL team, and were the only NL team among the nine highest-scoring in baseball. They did it without a dominant hitter, too. No Cardinal reached 100 RBI or 25 homers, but an MLB-best five starters had 75 RBI or more. The secret? Their .330 batting average with runners in scoring position, far and away the best in the league. Taking advantage of opportunities is what makes a champion.

Is it the beards?

The Red Sox went from a 93-loss, last-place team in 2012 to the highest-scoring team in the game in 2013, with 28 more wins. They had the best home record in the AL, drew more walks than anyone but Tampa Bay, and have a closer in Koji Uehara who has retired 56 of the last 60 hitters he has faced. They also lead the league in shaggy, scraggly whiskers, a symbol of the unity that last year’s team lacked. “It’s a bonding element. It takes the focus off the daily grind,” new manager John Farrell told reporters this week. “We wanted talented guys who were good teammates. If this is how they express it, that’s fine with me.”

The rematch

Detroit and Oakland reprise their memorable first-round showdown of a year ago, a five-game thriller that included two walk-off wins, two shutouts, and four straight one- or two-run games. Three outs from elimination in Game 4, the A’s rallied with a three-run ninth, only to be shut down by Justin Verlander in the deciding game. This A’s team is more balanced offensively and has a stronger starting staff — but the Tigers feature Verlander, ERA champ Anibal Sanchez and Cy Young front-runner Max Scherzer. Still, don’t count out the A’s — the Tigers, strangely enough, are 1-9 in Verlander’s past 10 starts (including two against the Twins), and closer Joaquin Benoit has never saved a postseason game.

Ex-Twins factor

Seven of the eight remaining teams include former Twins, and most of those 11 players are in prominent roles. Justin Morneau of the Pirates and David Ortiz of the Red Sox bat cleanup for their teams, while Torii Hunter bats in front of Cabrera. Delmon Young was the MVP of the ALCS last year and homered in his first at-bat for the Rays on Wednesday night. Francisco Liriano has already won a playoff game for the Pirates, and he’ll go again against the Cardinals. And in the bullpen, Craig Breslow of Boston, Luis Ayala of Atlanta and Oakland closer Grant Balfour all pitch in critical situations. Also on playoff rosters: Cleveland’s Matt Carson, Pittsburgh’s Garrett Jones and Dodgers utilityman Nick Punto, who, along with Ortiz, already owns a World Series ring. Which former Twin will join them? We’ll know in three weeks.

 

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Philadelphia 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
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Houston
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Houston
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Dallas
Indiana 8:00 PM
Denver
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Buffalo
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Minnesota
Calgary 9:00 PM
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IUPUI 71
Ohio State 74 FINAL
North Carolina 82
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Villanova 82
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Binghamton 51
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Fair-Dickinson 75
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Florida State 75
Vanderbilt 60 FINAL
Georgia Tech 65
SC State 71 FINAL
Houston 63
Missouri 59 2nd Half 0:17
Illinois 59
Truett-McConnell 55 FINAL
Jacksonville 84
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McNeese State 69
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UNC Greensboro 60
Drexel 64 2nd Half 0:20
Penn State 70
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Rutgers 68
Albany 64 FINAL
Yale 60
PSU-Beaver 74 FINAL
Longwood 106
Eastern Ill 60 FINAL
Indiana State 56
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Butler 57
Marshall 32 2nd Half
Arkansas State 27
Lafayette 28 2nd Half 19:54
Kansas 45
Oral Roberts 28 2nd Half
Memphis 35
Western Mich 28 2nd Half
Northwestern 25
Delaware State 27 2nd Half
Oregon 38
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Arkansas Tech 30 2nd Half 18:24
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Texas-Arlington 47
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Kennesaw St 38
St Josephs (IN) 22 2nd Half
Chicago State 23
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Missouri State 19
UCLA 2 1st Half 9:11
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Miss State 0
NC Central 3:00 PM
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Louisiana 0 1st Half 20:00
Northwestern St 0
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IUPU-Ft Wayne
Texas A&M 6:00 PM
Kansas State
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Manhattan
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Marist
East Carolina 6:00 PM
UNC-Wilmington
Richmond 6:00 PM
Pepperdine
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Towson
Incarnate Word 6:05 PM
UMKC
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Idaho State
Iowa 6:30 PM
Northern Iowa
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SIU Edwardsville
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SE Missouri St 7:30 PM
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UNLV
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 7 3rd Qtr
Texas-El Paso 3
(23) Utah 14 1st Qtr 6:15
Colorado State 0
Western Mich 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
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Northern Ill
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So Carolina
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(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
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UNC Greensboro 81
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Dartmouth 70
Georgia Tech 65 FINAL
St Francis-NY 59
Auburn 49 FINAL
St Johns 56
East Tenn St 56 FINAL
Jacksonville St 57
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Detroit 57
Cal-Irvine 42 FINAL
Wright State 80
Gardner-Webb 47 FINAL
Kennesaw St 50
(7) Stanford 40 FINAL
(11) Tennessee 59
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Ole Miss 71
Central Michigan 45 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 80
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FIU 69 FINAL
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Niagara 60
Texas State 57 FINAL
Stetson 75
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ULM 53
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Kansas State 61
Robert Morris 59 FINAL
Cornell 70
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Abilene Christian 80
Hampton 53 FINAL
James Madison 85
American Univ 64 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 52
Tenn Tech 49 FINAL
NC A&T 54
Presbyterian 45 FINAL
NC Central 33
Penn 58 FINAL
Drexel 67
Lipscomb 38 FINAL
Xavier 62
Ohio Christian 62 FINAL
Akron 97
Jacksonville 62 FINAL
Murray State 80
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Iona 58
Indiana 88 FINAL
Oakland 61
Missouri 79 2nd Half 0:19
Wake Forest 64
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TX A&M-CC 65
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Green Bay 60
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UNC-Wilmington 55
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SMU 40
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Florida A&M 32 2nd Half
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Jackson State 21
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Arizona State 48
Valparaiso 32 2nd Half
SIU-Edwardsville 28
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Minnesota 24
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Washington St 5
Furman 2 1st Half 18:43
(15) Georgia 4
(18) Michigan State 6 1st Half
(9) Baylor 2
Winthrop 3:05 PM
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UMKC
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Loyola-Maryland
Arizona 4:30 PM
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Oral Roberts 5:00 PM
Wisconsin
Florida Atlantic 5:00 PM
New Mexico St
La Salle 5:00 PM
Georgia State
(16) Oregon State 5:30 PM
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Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Villanova
Delaware 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
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Utah Valley U
Washington 7:00 PM
UC-Riverside
Pacific 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Old Dominion 7:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
Austin Peay 9:00 PM
Montana
Lewis-Clark State 9:00 PM
Idaho
(21) Miss State 9:30 PM
Illinois-Chicago
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