Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal own the late innings for Cardinals

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Even as Michael Wacha was through five scoreless, one thing seemed pretty clear: his pitch count up to 90, the sixth would be his final inning.

That sixth inning didn’t go as planned, but the seventh through ninth innings sure did. The Cardinals rallied from 2-1 down beat the Red Sox 4-2 in Game 2, with Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal striking out six in three scoreless innings of relief.

Martinez, who initially signed with the Red Sox out of the Dominican Republic, only to land with the Cardinals after MLB voided the deal, got six outs. After a clean seventh, he got into trouble by giving up a pair of groundball singles in the eighth. However, he was able to get Mike Napoli to pop out to end the rally.

Rosenthal got the bottom of the Boston’s order, which has produced nothing in October, and made quick work of Jonny Gomes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and pinch-hitter Daniel Nava, striking out all three.

As good as Edward Mujica was for the Cardinals for most of the season, the team probably caught a break when he was injured down the stretch, rendering him ineffective and resulting in Rosenthal going into the closer’s role. It’s possible — perhaps not likely, but possible — that Martinez wouldn’t have even made the postseason roster if not for Mujica’s injury. He was only handed his first late lead with 10 days to go in the regular season. Mujica was far more likely to have a Joaquin Benoit moment against these Red Sox than either of the young gunslingers are. Rosenthal and Martinez have combined to allow five homers in 121 1/3 innings this season.

At least the Red Sox have had a look at both now. They actually got a run off Martinez in Game 1. Rosenthal is nothing if not predictable; it’s nothing but high-90s fastballs and hit them if you can. Few do. The Red Sox will certainly see Martinez again, and probably Rosenthal, too, if the Cardinals can continue taking leads into the ninth. Against the Tigers, the Red Sox’s best hope was to outlast the starters and prey on the pen. Versus these Cardinals, especially the next two games with Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn starting, they’re going to have to feast on the starters some in order to prevail.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.