Earlier this fall, right around the time when he said he didn’t see any reason why the Kansas City Royals couldn’t make the 2014 playoffs, Hall of Fame broadcaster Denny Matthews made an interesting point.
Time was when teams could not only get to the postseason but could make a deep run if they had four quality starters and a top-notch fireman (yes, I just dated myself). Go back into baseball history and look at some of the best starters in the game. How many games did they go start to finish?
You could start seeing things change as teams went from four-man to five-man rotations in the 1980s, but still the emphasis was the same: quality starters plus shutdown stopper equaled an above-average playoff chance.
Matthews’ point was this: the game has further evolved where the entire pitching corps has to be solid. If you want the best chance of a deep postseason run, you need a solid offense, good defense and no weak links in your pitching staff. A lockdown relief corps has now become a necessity, not a passing fancy.
This is why the Detroit Tigers, now down 0-2 in the American League Division Series to the Baltimore Orioles, should have no business advancing to the World Series, let alone the ALCS.
Some of the initial regular season numbers don’t look bad (Joba Chamberlain, 69 G, 63 IP, 3.25 ERA; Phil Coke, 62 G, 58 IP, 3.88 ERA; Al Albuquerque, 72 G, 57.1 IP, 2.51 ERA), but some look positively awful (Joakim Soria, 13 G, 4.91 ERA; Joe Nathan, 62 G, 4.81 ERA despite 35 saves). Tigers relievers had a 4.29 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP during the regular season.
Then you see these numbers, both starters and relievers, in the first two games against Baltimore:
Granted, Tigers relievers didn’t get any help from their defense in Game 1. On top of that, short series tend to throw stats totally out of whack. But in this case, the stats just don’t lie.
Strange things happen in the playoffs. If the Tigers advance, some very, very strange things happened along the way.