The postseason is all about the starters. Except when it’s about the bullpens. Except when it’s about the starters. Except when it’s …
Well, you get the idea. The postseason is all about PITCHING, whatever the role, whatever the form.
So how do the 12 October teams rank in terms of their pitching staffs? Let’s take a look. (For lineups, click here.)
Bottom line: This is the most pitching-rich team in baseball right now. Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier and José Urquidy give Houston the luxury of terrific starting depth beyond the top three listed here, and any of them could be a bullpen weapon. Same goes for hard-throwing prospect Hunter Brown if he gets rostered. And it’s not as if the bullpen is starved for help. It had the lowest relief ERA in MLB (2.80).
Bottom line: Statistically, the Dodgers had the best pitching staff in MLB this year, and they’ve got a franchise-record win total to show for it. Their October outlook is fascinating, though, because late-season injuries affecting Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May and the struggles of Craig Kimbrel that led to his demotion from the closer role leave a lot up in the air. Urías is the Dodgers’ top starter … and yet he would also be an intriguing candidate to close out games in a pinch. Starter Andrew Heaney could be used in the ‘pen. This will be a very fluid staff, is the point.
Bottom line: Rookie sensation Spencer Strider hasn’t pitched since Sept. 18 because of an oblique injury, which is the only reason why he isn’t listed above (for now). But whether Strider is ready, Fried, Wright and Morton are capable of picking up the starting slack. The Braves’ bullpen might be the club’s biggest weapon. With the additions of Jansen and Iglesias this year, it runs deeper than the group Atlanta rode to the 2021 World Series title.
Bottom line: Though the young, fun lineup has been a 2022 revelation, pitching remains the backbone of this organization. Cleveland has a true ace in Bieber, a true anchor in Clase and has benefited from a big breakout from McKenzie. The midseason return of Karinchak from a shoulder issue helped the bullpen post the best second-half ERA in MLB.
Bottom line: You know how it is with the Rays. They could pick names out of a hat and get outs. They’ve had 18 pitchers make a start and 11 pitchers record a save. They could use openers or piggybackers (particularly for Glasnow, who only recently returned from Tommy John surgery and will have his workload limited) or do whatever mixing and matching it takes to maintain a matchup advantage.
Bottom line: We can (and often do) wax poetic about what it means to have two Hall of Fame-caliber arms atop a playoff rotation in Scherzer and deGrom. That said, Scherzer’s multiple IL stints with a left oblique issue hampered him slightly this season, while deGrom only recently returned from a year-long injury absence and wasn’t his usual dominant self down the stretch of the regular season. They’ll have to step up, as will the go-to arms in a bullpen that has been very effective despite depth concerns and the lack of a reliable lefty presence.
Bottom line: While the Yankees’ arms as a group have put up terrific numbers this year, there is no denying that a number of question marks exist here, from Cole’s troubles with the long ball to Holmes’ second-half regression and its effect on the bullpen. It will be particularly interesting to see how Cortes handles his first October assignment, given how vital he has been to this rotation.
Bottom line: You could say no team made a bigger addition at the Trade Deadline than the Mariners did in adding Castillo to what now rates as a fantastic rotation (strike-throwing rookie George Kirby is another rotation option). The bullpen has been an underrated strength the past two years. It has the fifth-best strikeout-minus-walk rate (18.3%) and left-on-base percentage in MLB (75.3%). Seattle has the fifth-best ERA in MLB since the start of June, so there is an argument to move them higher on this list.
Bottom line: The in-season acquisitions of Quintana and lefty Jordan Montgomery and the late-season return to prominence after a lengthy injury ordeal for Flaherty gives the Cards solid rotation depth going into October (veteran Adam Wainwright is, of course, another option for a start in a short series). Some of that depth -- in the form of Hudson and Steven Matz -- spills into what has been a good bullpen anchored by All-Star closer Helsley and his triple-digit heat.
Bottom line: Few will be forecasting a deep run for the Phillies, but the dynamic combo of Wheeler and Nola atop the rotation gives them a legit chance, and Suárez has been fantastic since the start of July (2.95 ERA in 14 starts). The bullpen has been boosted by Eflin’s recent seamless transition to relief work and the midseason return of Robertson in a trade.
Bottom line: Because of a season-ending injury to Hyun Jin Ryu and the surprising struggles of José Berríos, this season has not played out as expected for the Toronto pitching staff. But the veteran Stripling stepped up to preserve the rotation behind the excellent Manoah and Gausman, and Berríos could be an interesting option in a very solid bullpen in the Wild Card Series if he doesn’t get a start over Stripling.
Bottom line: The thing about this list is that all of these pitching staffs are inherently good, otherwise these wouldn’t be postseason teams. Somebody had to be last, and the Padres’ essentially average ERA+ puts them here. But after enduring midseason inconsistency, this staff seems to be hitting its stride at the right time. Snell’s fantastic finish (1.76 ERA in his last seven starts) adds shine to this starting group. And though much was made about Hader’s colossal struggles at the start of his San Diego tenure, he has settled into a bullpen that also benefits from the recent injury returns for Pierce Johnson and Craig Stammen.