There was once a Dodgers pitcher who was a perennial All-Star, Cy Young Award winner and MVP.
He was outstanding in the regular season, helping lead the Dodgers to multiple postseasons. Yet once they got there, his performance was horrific.
I'm not talking about Clayton Kershaw. I'm talking about Don Newcombe, a mainstay of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s. He had four All-Star seasons and was named MVP and Cy Young winner in 1956, just as Kershaw likely will be this year.
In the World Series (which was the only postseason baseball back then)? Five starts, 22 innings, eight home runs allowed, 8.59 ERA. Which is even worse than Kershaw's postseason numbers: 51 innings, six home runs allowed, 5.12 ERA, although Kershaw appears to be getting there.
What is it with the Cardinals? Voodoo? Magic pixie fairy dust? It's simply inexplicable. Kershaw breezes through six innings, then gives up two singles, both of which barely are out of reach of Dodger fielders, then a home run. To a lefthanded hitter, Matt Adams. On a curveball. Reports were that had happened only once previously in Kershaw's career (a lefty hitting a homer on a curveball), by Adam Dunn... four years ago.
Kershaw will probably recover just fine and have another stellar regular season in 2015. He just has to hope that, if the Dodgers return to the postseason next year, they don't play the Cardinals.
The Giants got a bit of that pixie fairy dust, too, in winning their series Tuesday evening over the Nationals. After Bryce Harper singlehandedly tied the series up with an RBI double and a towering home run, the Nats' bullpen lost the series on a wild pitch. Aaron Barrett was a reasonably effective reliever during the regular season (2.66 ERA, 49 strikeouts in 40⅔ innings), but had also thrown six wild pitches in those innings. Plus, he had pitched just once since September 26, facing one batter in the 18-inning game last Saturday. Rafael Soriano or even closer Drew Storen might have been a better choice there, or heck, even Stephen Strasburg, since the Nats had already made it clear that Jordan Zimmermann was going to start Game 5 if they got there.
I guess that makes us all big Giants fans for the next week or so.
The worst part about both the N.L. division series ending Tuesday night is that gives us no baseball until Friday, when the ALCS begins. Here are my thoughts about the two league championship series.
We'll call this one "That 70's Series." That was the decade dominated by these two teams. From 1969 through 1985, a 17-season span, the Orioles and Royals combined for 14 postseason appearances, seven league pennants and three World Series championships. Oddly, they never played each other during that time, so this will be their first-ever postseason meeting. Here are the years each made the playoffs back then, seven times each:
Orioles: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1983 Royals: 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985
Kansas City hasn't been in the postseason, as you know, since that 1985 World Series title, the only one in their history. Baltimore has been back twice since winning it all in 1983, two ALCS losses in 1996 and 1997. Personally, I'm very happy to see new teams make it to this round.
And these teams could not have a bigger contrast offensively.
The Royals hit 95 home runs this year, last in the major leagues. The Orioles hit 211, the most of any team (and by a significant margin, 25 more than the second-place Rockies). The Royals' home-run leader, Alex Gordon, had 19. Baltimore had four players with more than that, including Steve Pearce, who hit 21 in only 338 at-bats.
The teams flip places in stolen bases. KC led all teams with 153. Baltimore brought up the rear with 44 -- the Royals' Jarrod Dyson stole 36 by himself. Meanwhile, Baltimore's stolen-base leader, David Lough, had eight.
So the teams have contrasting offensive styles, but one thing in common otherwise: both had lockdown bullpens in the late innings. If either team has a lead going into the seventh inning, it's pretty much a done deal. The Royals were a bit better entering the ninth inning with a lead -- they were 79-1 in that situation, the Orioles 80-4.
This one ought to be fun. The Orioles have home field, though that's meant little in this year's postseason. The Royals won the season series four games to three, though the teams have not played each other since May 18. (Thanks, schedulers.) As befits this postseason, three of those seven games were one-run affairs.
I have no real reason to pick this other than a hunch: Royals in seven.
Giants vs. Cardinals
This is the 2000s version of the Royals and Orioles appearing nearly every year in the 1970s and 1980s. Since 2000 the Cardinals have made 11 postseason appearances, the Giants six. These two teams have represented the National League in each of the last four World Series and won three of them.
Now, since we have to watch these teams again, it will likely have to be Giants starting pitching dominating if San Francisco is going to keep its streak of even-numbered-year World Series appearances alive. They did that quite well in the division series against the Nationals and, since this series won't begin until Saturday, can line up their rotation perfectly: Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson will likely start the first three games. They've got Ryan Vogelsong, who has a stellar postseason record, available for Game 4.
The Cardinals have good starting pitchers, too, but they don't match up with the Giants'. St. Louis' bullpen is a bit better than San Francisco's. Both teams struggled offensively in their respective division series (except for St. Louis' offensive explosion in Game 1), but scored runs when they needed to, and used home runs to do it. That was unusual for the Cardinals, who finished ahead of only the Royals in home runs this year.
Also remember that in early June, the Giants looked like the best team in baseball; they were on a 100-win pace before stumbling for a month or two, then recovering to claim a wild-card spot. The Cardinals, meanwhile, were 6½ games out of first place as late as July 1 before going 46-33 down the stretch to win the Central.
The Giants won the season series four games to three, and took three of four in St. Louis; they also showed they can win on the road in the division series, so home field, owned by the Cardinals, might not mean that much. Four of the seven regular-season games between the two teams were shutouts, and we could see more of those in the LCS.
It was the Cardinals' turn last year. Giants in seven.