After watching Division Series in an age of reinventing pitching order, one thing is clear: The four teams remaining in the postseason have plenty of starters.
Is it any surprise that Boston, Houston, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee are playing for league championships?
So maybe there will be more talk about starters going seven innings instead of how a manager will use seven pitchers to get through nine innings.
The defending World Series champion Astros have Justin Verlander (2.52 ERA in regular season) and Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel (3.74) leading their rotation.
Keuchel, a free agent after the season and some one who could draw interest from the Nationals, is a former Cy Young winner. Verlander and Cole will get consideration for this year’s award.
The Astros acquired Verlander, 35, from Detroit before the deadline in 2017. He had a 1.06 ERA in five regular season starts for Houston and 2.21 ERA in five postseason starts for the Astros in their march to their first World Series title.
Last offseason, the Astros traded prospects for Cole, who gave them a 2.88 ERA and 15 victories this season.
What’s different about this Astros year? Their bullpen is better - much better. Last year, they had to improvise by using starters in the bullpen roles.
This year, that won’t happen.
The Astros added relievers Héctor Rondón, a former Cub, before the season and the Ryan Pressly from the Twins and Roberto Osuna from the Blue Jays during the season.
They already have Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, Lance McCullers and Collin McHugh. A strong rotation makes their deep bullpen more of a weapon.
The Astros led the American League in ERA for starters (3.16) and relievers (3.03), a feat that doesn’t happen often.
But, throw in double-digit strikeout totals per nine innings of Verlander and Cole and you can see why the Astros have a chance to repeat as World Series champions.
After a 108-win regular season, Boston’s biggest concern going into the postseason was the velocity and durability of Chris Sale, the pitcher the Orioles pounded in a 10-3 win in Sale’s final regular season start at Fenway Park. He’s been on the disabled list twice, and his fastball velocity was at 90 mph, about 4-5 mph slower than usual, in his final few starts of September.
But all the speculation about Sale’s velocity and durability were put to rest when he pitched the Red Sox to a win in Game 1.
Now the Red Sox’s rotation question is Price, who will pitch Game 2 of the ALCS, but couldn’t make it out of the second inning of his ALDS start against the Yankees.
David Price, 33, pitches well against every team except the Yankees. In fact, when he was introduced at Yankee Stadium, Yankees fans sarcastically gave him a significant ovation.
Aside from the Yankees, Price has been fine. He had a 3.58 ERA during the season, including 2.10 in August.
Nathan Eovaldi, a pitcher the Red Sox picked up for a minor league pitcher in July from Tampa Bay, threw one-run ball for seven innings against the Yankees, throwing first-pitch strikes to 21 of 26 batters.
Eovaldi can hit 100 mph and when he combines a well-located fastball with a devastating cutter, he’s got potential to go deep into a game.
The Red Sox bullpen got the job done in the first round, but needed help from the rotation against New York in the first round
Rick Porcello pitched in relief in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. Sale did the same in Game 4.
That’s why the Red Sox bullpen is their biggest question going up against the Astros.
The Red Sox’s Matt Barnes is untested. Ryan Brasier is a 31-year-old rookie. Joe Kelly is inconsistent and closer Craig Kimbrel, while reliable, can have bouts of wildness.
Boston manager Alex Cora says the Red Sox’s big lead in September gave him the luxury of not over-working his bullpen. That might work to Boston’s benefit in the American League Championship Series.
The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, rookie Walker Buehler and Rich Hill, a better-than-average fourth starter, in their rotation.
Ryu pitched seven shutout innings against Atlanta in the NL Division Series, Kershaw eight. Buehler, with a dynamite pedigree, struggled with command against the Braves, but showed poise in settling down.
The Dodgers and Brewers had the two lowest September bullpen ERAs in the National League.
The good news for the Dodgers is that in the National League Division Series, closer Kenley Jansen appears back to his old dominating self after a season of injury, ineffectiveness and scares with heart health. Former starter Kenta Maeda and Pedro Báez are the main setup guys in the Dodgers bullpen with Scott Alexander, Alex Wood and Caleb Ferguson the lefties.
Milwaukee, trying to make the World Series for the first time since 1982, has a lights-out quartet with flame-throwing Josh Hader, Joakim Soria, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel, who has allowed five hits in pitching to 66 batters since coming back from a minor league stint to fix mechanics.
And rookie Corbin Burnes is going to get some big innings for the Brewers after a strong performance in the NLDS.
The Brewers, who used opener Chris Woodward in the Division Series, don’t have big-name starters, but late-season statistics say they have a rotation that can be effective enough to get to a devastating bullpen.
It’s difficult to believe for Orioles and Nationals fans, but lefty Wade Miley, who had a 5.61 ERA for Baltimore last season, posted a 2.60 ERA after the All-Star break, and former inconsistent National Gio Gonzalez had a 2.35 ERA in five September starts.
Miley has a more refined delivery and is throwing more cutters.
The question for the Brewers: Do they know Gonzalez’s track record in the postseason for the Nationals?
The Brewers will start Jhoulys Chacin in Game 1. He had a 3.24 ERA after the break.
Those three might be good enough for the Brewers to get a lead and turn the game over to the bullpen for the last four or five innings.
So Milwaukee will hope to get to the bullpen ASAP. The Dodgers hope that their rotation will be strong enough to ease the bullpen’s work.
Of the Championship Series teams, the Dodgers have the best rotation followed by the Astros, Red Sox and Brewers.
The Brewers have the best bullpen followed by the Astros, Dodgers and Red Sox.
There are several ways the respective Championship Series can go.
The pick, for the sake of tradition, is the Dodgers-Red Sox, but the underdog Brewers trying to knock off Boston wouldn’t be bad either.
Astros-Brewers would be a World Series between two teams that had to switch leagues, the Astros going from the NL to AL in 2013 and vice-versa for the Brewers, who switched from the AL to NL in 1998.
However, the most likely matchup, given each team’s pitching, is a Dodgers-Astros rematch from a year ago.