October memories glare the
brightest in baseball lore. Bobby Thompson's 1951 home run, Don Larsen's
perfect game in Game 5 of the '56 Series, Bob Gibson's 17-strikeouts in Game 1
'68, Carlton Fisk's home run in '75, Kirk Gibson's blast in '88, Joe Carter's Series
ending three-run homer in 1993. While home runs mostly dot the top of the
memorial landscape, October baseball can also feature memorable defensive plays
and great pitching performances from starters and relievers.
The Cubs had a remarkable 2016 run during
the regular season. The pitching was tops in baseball, but they finished #22 in
errors made. Airtight defense is a key cog along with pitching, especially in
October when lower scoring battles and one-run games crop up. The top pitching
teams in baseball as far as ERA this season were the Cubs, Nationals, Mets,
Giants, Dodgers, Indians and Blue Jays -- all but two made the postseason, with
three winning their divisions.
For all the accolades the Toronto
Blue Jays had with their powerhouse offense don't forget the pitching staff
ranked sixth in ERA and their fielding was in the Top 10. A year ago Kansas
City ranked 10th in field and pitching -- and they won the whole thing. The
team they beat, the Mets, was also in the Top 10 in pitching and 12th in
Two years ago the champion Giants
were Top 10 team in ERA. The year before Boston road a strong defense and
pitching staff to a worst-to-first title, but slipped to last place in 2014
with a team ERA ranked 23rd and bottomed out again in 2015 with awful pitching
and worse defense in the field.
The Big Four who reached the 2013
League Champion Series were no flukes during the regular season. The Red Sox,
Tigers, Cardinals and Dodgers all had star power on offense and some dominant
aces on the mound to help anchor the pitching staffs and end losing skids.
Pitching and defense shine in October. You need both to get here and managers
are more inclined to go with their best arms, which isn't always the case
during the long regular season.
The Giants won the World Series in
2012 and the final scores of the last three games against Detroit: 2-0, 2-0 and
4-3 in ten innings. The Cardinals stunned the Texas Rangers in October
of 2012 with a miracle comeback in Game 6, a 10-9 thriller. But 5 of those 7 World
Series games went under the total with scores of 3-2, 2-1, 4-0 and 6-2.
The 2010 Giants were a poor hitting
team all season, ranked 17th in runs and 19th in on base percentage, yet won it
all. Taking a content analysis of the last 17 years of the World Series,
you'll notice that pitching and defense shine a bit more on the October stage
than offense. Over that time there have been 60 unders, 28 overs and 2 pushes
in World Series play.
Is this a fluke? Or are there
reasons for more low scoring games? Since the World Series is the last
battle of the season, managers aren't going to go with their worst pitchers,
but the best of their best. This is why you see three and four man rotations in
the World Series, whereas in the regular season teams employ a five and
sometimes six-man rotation. Simply put, the No. 4, 5 and 6 starters during the
regular season aren't going to see much (if any) important action in late
October. The same is true for relief pitchers: A team generally has two or
three quality relievers and three or four marginal/below average arms.
Naturally, a manager is going to use his best often and go to his weakest arms
only if necessary.
Teams constructed solely around
offense are built for the regular season. Teams stocked with a balanced lineups
and excess pitching, both starting and in the bullpen, are built for
In addition, defense is a subtle,
often overlooked aspect of baseball. There's an old adage that teams win with
pitching, hitting and defense, and that's true. This is why you often see teams
with outstanding center fielders, shortstops and catchers in the World Series
because a team needs to be strong up the middle. Good defense helps your
pitchers, turning double plays and keeping the other team from scoring.
Finally, the weather is far colder
in October than in July and August, and it's tougher to hit a baseball when
it's cold. When the World Series takes place in northern cities (Boston, New
York, Cleveland, Detroit) it can be very cold in late October and early
In 2014 the Giants won 3 of the
final 4 World Series games, with one 5-0 shutout and a 3-2 win in Game 7, both
going under the total. In 2013 the final three games went under the total
between the Cardinals and Red Sox, 4-2 under overall. In 2006 the A's and
Tigers hooked up for Game 3 in Detroit. It was 42 degrees at game time, the
lowest for a postseason game since it was 38 in Cleveland at the 1997 World
Series. The final score? 3-0 Tigers, way under the total. Fans were bundled in parkas
and blankets in Philly during the World Series in recent years. So don't be
surprised if pitching and defense shine a bit more than offense as temperatures
dip -- along with batting averages.
For more of Jim Fesit click here.