When the 1983 American League Championship Series opened on an 81-degree October afternoon, the Baltimore Orioles were confident. They boasted a young rotation that led the league with 15 shutouts and an impressive bullpen. Although their staff ranked second in the American League in ERA, there was no way to know that just 11 days later it would complete one of the most dominant postseason runs since the advent of division play in 1969.
While polishing off the White Sox in what was then a best-of-five LCS format and steamrolling the Phillies in the World Series, Baltimore's pitchers posted an aggregate 1.10 ERA, held opponents to a .202 average and compiled a 0.951 WHIP.
Here's a look at a few of the other pitching staffs that rose to the occasion while playing in at least two postseason series during their journeys to the Fall Classic.
Rotation: Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Denny Neagle, John Smoltz
Bullpen: Steve Avery, Mike Bielecki, Brad Clontz, Greg McMichael, Neagle, Terrell Wade, Mark Wohlers
Numbers: One of just two postseason teams with an ERA of 2.40 or less (1.89), at least 120 K's (125) and a batting average against below .200 (.198)
The Braves were known for their pitching, boasting three future Hall of Famers, all of whom won the World Series with Atlanta the year before. In the first round, Braves pitching allowed a mere three earned runs. In the LCS, the team posted a 0.918 WHIP and held St. Louis to just one run over the final three games. And in the World Series, each of the three starters maintained a terrific ERA: 0.64 for Smoltz, 1.29 for Glavine and 1.72 for Maddux.
Rotation: Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman, Catfish Hunter
Bullpen: Rollie Fingers, Hunter, Blue Moon Odom
Numbers: 1.91 ERA, .206 batting average against, 0.99 WHIP
Hunter gave up six runs in the first five innings of the ALCS opener, but Oakland's pitching allowed just one more the rest of the way. In the World Series, Fingers figured in three of his team's victories, with a win and two saves, and was named the Series MVP.
The A's were known for their colorful green and gold uniforms, which perfectly complemented the personality of innovative owner Charlie Finley, whose various shenanigans included parading his pet mule around the field and signing track star Herb Washington as a "designated runner" even though he had no professional baseball experience. Despite the feuds and the wacky antics, strong pitching carried Oakland to a third consecutive championship.
Rotation: Brian Anderson, Miguel Batista, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling
Bullpen: Batista, Troy Brohawn, Byung-Hyun Kim, Albie Lopez, Mike Morgan, Greg Swindell, Bobby Witt
Numbers: The other team that meets the parameters set by the '96 Braves: 2.40 ERA, 140 K's, .193 batting average against. Also sported a 0.94 WHIP
This ranking is heavily weighted by the World Series, during which D-backs pitchers combined for a 1.94 ERA. And that, in turn, is influenced largely by the overwhelming performances of Johnson and Schilling, who were named co-MVPs of the Classic. Schilling accumulated a 1.69 ERA and a 0.66 WHIP over three starts. The Big Unit won both of his starts and picked up a third victory in relief of Schilling in Game 7 to finish with a 1.04 ERA and 0.69 WHIP.
"You don't bring in Randy Johnson so you can finish at the middle of the pack," Anderson said.
Rotation: Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, Tom Seaver, George Stone
Bullpen: Tug McGraw, Harry Parker, Ray Sadecki, Stone
Numbers: 1.84 ERA, .201 batting average against
The Mets had won just 82 regular-season games that season, but after Matlack tossed a two-hit shutout against Cincinnati in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, New York's Bud Harrelson quipped, "He made the Big Red Machine look like me hitting today." It was the Mets' pitching attack, featuring Tug McGraw, that carried the team to the World Series.
"It's no secret we can't win without him," Harrelson said of the reliever.
Despite a cumulative 2.22 staff ERA in the World Series, New York fell to Oakland. This was a not-so-distant echo from 1969, as pitching was front and center that year, as well. Those Miracle Mets won it all while holding opponents to a .190 average.
Rotation: Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander
Bullpen: Al Alburquerque, Jose Alvarez, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, Jose Veras
Numbers: .209 batting average against, 130 K's in 96 innings
True, Detroit didn't make it to the World Series, and the staff's 2.81 ERA doesn't compare with many teams on this list. But a 12.2 K/9 ratio can't be ignored. In Game 1 of the ALCS, five Tigers pitchers whiffed 17 and held the Red Sox hitless through eight. In Game 2, Scherzer continued the shutdown work, fanning 13.
"Pitching's an art," Scherzer said. "Numbers drive this game, but you have to look at the context. You can't hang your hat on wins and losses."
Rotation: Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez
Bullpen: Jeremy Affeldt, Bumgarner, Santiago Casilla, Lincecum, Javier Lopez, Guillermo Mota, Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson
Numbers: 2.47 ERA, .196 batting average against, 1.02 WHIP
The Giants hurled four shutouts in the postseason and became the first team with two in the World Series since the Orioles in 1966. "It doesn't take a ton of runs to win ballgames in the playoffs," said Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand. "That's when pitching becomes more important."
San Francisco had to battle through some tough pitching itself to make it to the World Series, though, as Phillies arms threw two shutouts, including a no-hitter by Roy Halladay, in their best-of-five NLDS against the Reds. Even though they were eliminated by the Giants, the Phils posted an 0.97 WHIP in their two postseason series.
2005 White Sox
Rotation: Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland
Bullpen: Neal Cotts, Dustin Hermanson, Orlando Hernandez, Bobby Jenks, Damaso Marte, Cliff Politte, Luis Vizcaino
Numbers: 2.55 ERA, .202 batting average against, 0.97 WHIP
The White Sox won the World Series for the first time in 88 years in 2005, but the turning point of the postseason came in the ALCS. After losing the opener, 3-2, Chicago's starters hurled four straight complete-game victories. Neal Cotts pitched two-thirds of an inning in Game 1, which turned out to be the only time manager Ozzie Guillen used his 'pen in that round.
"I credit the pitching coach and both of our catchers," Buehrle said. "They're calling a heck of a game back there, and I'm just making quality pitches."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.