'Pens still have chapters to author in Series
Pair of potent lineups meet, with both groups of starters faltering
MILWAUKEE -- Cardinals starting pitcher Edwin Jackson strolled into the visitors' clubhouse at Miller Park -- beaming from ear to ear despite a rough night on the mound -- and began to twist open a bottle of champagne, before incessant sprays from his teammates interrupted him.
"I can't see; I can't see," he yelled. "What a team win. What a bullpen."
That said it all. The Cards beat the Brewers, 12-6, on Sunday to earn a trip to their first World Series in five years. Game 6 unfolded in a manner consistent with the overriding theme of this National League Championship Series -- a starter struggled, and the bullpen took it from there.
"If it weren't for the bullpen, I don't know if we'd be here right now," Jackson said. "Hats off to those guys. Wow. Amazing."
One night earlier in Texas, every Rangers player must have been echoing the same sentiments.
Texas' Nelson Cruz and St. Louis' David Freese may have been named the Most Valuable Players of their respective series, but if that award could be given out collectively, it would've gone to the men who sit in folding chairs beyond the outfield fences.
The Rangers and Cardinals got this far because their relievers carried them.
Texas' bullpen pitched in nearly 49 percent of the team's innings and put up a 1.32 ERA. St. Louis' bullpen pitched in just over 54 percent of the team's innings -- the fifth-highest percentage ever for an LCS, according to the Elias Sports Bureau -- and contributed a 1.58 ERA.
In the NLCS, Brewers and Cardinals relievers combined to pitch the highest percentage of innings ever for an LCS (49.5) and Tony La Russa broke his own NLCS record for pitching changes (28).
"No starting pitcher went more than five innings," reliever Octavio Dotel said. "Wow. It's unbelievable. We got more outs than the starting pitching. I can't explain it. But the thing is we're here, and we're headed to the World Series, and I'm very excited. I'm looking forward to more happy flights."
And now -- considering how much their starting rotations have struggled and how fearsome their lineups are -- we can probably look forward to a lot more bullpen usage between the Rangers and Cardinals.
Combine the two six-game series, and here's what you get -- zero quality starts, one starter completing six frames and relievers pitching 56 of the 110 innings.
Last year, the Giants won because their starting pitching was phenomenal. This postseason -- one that follows an offseason that saw middle relievers get compensated better than ever -- the two teams that made it to the World Series got there on the strength of relief pitching.
"If you would have said at the beginning of this series that our starting pitching wasn't going to do well, I'm sure it would've made some guys nervous around here," Rangers outfielder David Murphy said. "But our bullpen came up so big that all we needed to do was get our starter through four or five innings.
"If our bullpen didn't [take control], we wouldn't be here tonight," Cardinals senior vice president and general manager John Mozeliak said. "This series came down to the stronger bullpen."
The Rangers and Cardinals both came into the year minus an ace -- Texas lost the bidding war for Cliff Lee; St. Louis watched Adam Wainwright undergo season-ending elbow surgery -- but both got here anyway with a deep bullpen and a loaded offense.
They share many other similarities in that sense ...
Both of their bullpens were terrible leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Cards' bullpen ranked 21st in the Majors in ERA (3.95); the Rangers' bullpen ranked 26th in ERA (4.35).
Both made their relief corps a top priority down the stretch. Texas acquired Mike Adams and Koji Uehara before the Deadline, then acquired lefty Mike Gonzalez in August; St. Louis got Marc Rzepczynski and Dotel before the Deadline, then acquired lefty Arthur Rhodes in August.
Both improved drastically in the ninth towards the end. The Rangers got a much-improved Neftali Feliz, who posted a 1.90 ERA and converted 11 of 12 saves in the last two months; the Cardinals integrated Jason Motte -- their fifth closer of the season -- who converted eight of nine saves in September.
Both are benefiting from two converted position players pitching lights out in the playoffs. Alexi Ogando, plucked out of the Dominican Republic as an outfielder, has given up just one run on four hits and has struck out 12 in 10 1/3 innings; Motte, a Minor League catcher up until five years ago, has hurled eight shutout innings and converted all four save chances.
And, of course, both are facing off in the Fall Classic because their bullpens absolutely took over in their last series. In six games against the Tigers, Rangers starters combined to give up 21 runs in 28 2/3 innings while their relievers gave up four runs in 27 1/3 innings. In six games against the Brewers, Cardinals starters combined to give up 19 runs in 24 1/3 innings while relievers combined to give up five runs in 28 2/3 innings.
You're supposed to thrive with starting pitching, not with starters going four innings and five relievers combining to finish the game. None of this makes any sense.
"It's just a freaky, weird postseason so far," La Russa said. "But it's very possible that in the World Series, you see starters take charge and get back to normal."
Possible. But if recent history and basic logic tell us anything, not likely.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.