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10/27/06 3:19 AM ET
Cards getting quality effort from starters
Suppan extends hurlers' streak of three runs or fewer allowed
By Conor Nicholl / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Jeff Suppan didn't match his incredible run in the National League Championship Series in Game 4 of the World Series on Thursday night. However, the right-hander's quality start continued a string of sterling outings by Cardinals starters that encompasses the entire postseason. Considered the team's primary weakness at worst and an inconsistency at best, starting pitching has been outstanding for the Redbirds in October. "The postseason is all about pitching," infielder Aaron Miles said. "We are here because of pitching. We've got the big guys that can swing the bat, but the bottom line is that we are here because we can pitch and play good defense." Suppan's gutty outing -- three runs on eight hits in six innings in the Cardinals' 5-4 victory at Busch Stadium -- wasn't as strong as his two starts in the NLCS against the Mets. "There were innings that I had better command," Suppan said. "But they were able to get some runs up there. It's just a situation where you're just trying to contribute to a win." Still, it marked the third quality start for Cardinals starters in the World Series. It also extended another streak: For the ninth straight playoff game, a Redbirds starter allowed three runs or fewer in an outing. In the entire postseason (15 games), the Redbirds have had only two games where a starter was hit for more than three runs. That's a stark contrast from the regular season, a 162-game slate that often saw starters mix seven strong innings with a terrible outing five days later. The Redbirds' pitching staff, hurt by an early injury to Mark Mulder and a very inconsistent Jason Marquis, finished ninth in the National League in ERA (4.54) and 12th in starters' ERA (4.79). The only constant for the majority of the year was reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter. Suppan encountered a dismal first half before delivering a post-All-Star break stretch that was one of the best in the Majors. Jeff Weaver found his groove down the stretch. Anthony Reyes showed signs of the potential that made him the Cardinals' top prospect entering the season. Collectively, the starters improved in September, helping the team post a 4.27 ERA, the best month for the Redbirds since May. In the playoffs, Marquis (6.09 regular-season ERA) hasn't seen any work, while all four starters have posted a mark of 3.00 or lower. With the exception of Carpenter, all three starters have posted a playoff ERA at least a run and a half lower than their regular-season mark. They also haven't made a single error, a stark constrast to the four made by Tigers pitching in the first four World Series games. "It doesn't surprise me that Cardinals starters are pitching well," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Suppan, [and] Carpenter is a Cy Young winner. Weaver got over with [Cardinals pitching coach] Dave Duncan and he has been pitching well. They have had that injury to Mulder and have had to make adjustments." In October, though, the quartet has been incredible, recording a 2.76 ERA, working deep into contests and providing the Cardinals a chance to win. "Our starting pitching has been fantastic, and when they pitch great, it makes it a lot easier in the bullpen," Game 4 winner and Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright said. "When they go deeper into the game, the bullpen is way more effective. It takes a load off and it keeps us in the game." Collectively, the starters have been helped the Cardinals go from a team that finished the regular season five games over the .500 mark to one that is 10-5 in the postseason and one win away from St. Louis' first title since 1982. "It's been a big key," shortstop David Eckstein said. "Pitching is everything in this game, especially in the postseason. And for them to do what they have done, that's given us a chance to go out there and win games. ... If you go out there and give out extra runs here and there, you will have a losing battle. But they have never given up and they keep going and they do a great job." In the World Series, the Tigers supposedly had the pitching edge in every game not started by Carpenter. Through four contests, though, Redbirds starters have outpitched the best starting rotation in the American League, registering a 2.67 ERA to the Tigers' 3.86 mark and picking up a Cards offense that has been inconsistent at times. "I think we've had one or two games where we have put together a lot of hits," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "A lot of that has to do with the postseason pitching that you have faced. But our pitching beginning to end has been the most consistent thing. That's what wins when you start playing good teams, especially in October." And with another terrific performance by Weaver in Game 5, the Redbirds could find themselves with World Series rings.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.