This has been the year of the pitcher. The MLB regular season featured five no-hitters, six if you include Armando Galarraga, and two perfect games; three if you include Galarraga, whose perfect game was blown by an umpire's call.
Over half of the nine pitchers that had walks-plus-hits-per-inning-pitched below 1.10 were within one game of a .500 record; that they were pitching well didn't necessarily mean they were winning.
But this year's playoffs have easily one-upped the regular season. Cliff Lee has been absolutely untouchable through three starts. He has won all three games and pitched 24 innings, allowing only two runs and 13 hits. The two hits the mighty Yankees managed Monday night were both weakly-hit singles. Lee has struck out 34 and walked one. That's a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 34:1, which makes his regular season ratio of 10.3:1 look pitiful. To give this number even more meaning, last year's Cy Young Award winners had ratios of only 3.04:1 and 4.75:1.
Lee has four career postseason starts of 10 strikeouts and zero walks, this happened twice this year. Only three other pitchers have accomplished such a feat in postseason history, and each of those three has done it once. But enough about the newest Mr. October and soon-to-be highest paid pitcher in baseball.
Even excluding Lee, the pitching of this postseason has been fantastic. Lee's performance in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Tampa was easily overshadowed by Tim Lincecum's impressive performance and Roy Halladay's no hitter. San Francisco Giants starters had a quality start in each postseason game as of Monday. Their four-man rotation of Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner makes the Phillies rotation look mediocre; the Phillies rotation included Cole Hamel's complete game shutout in Game 3 to clinch the series against the Reds and Roy Oswalt's Game 2 performance to tie the National League Division Series at one game apiece.
The pitching duel between Halladay and Lincecum in Game 1 of the National League Division Series was supposed to be the best postseason pitching matchup since Game 7 of the 2001 World Series when Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling faced off. The game ended 4-3 in the Giants' favor and compared to other playoffs was a slugfest in that four home runs were hit.
That doesn't even mention the all time leader in postseason wins, Andy Pettitte. Pettitte has thrown two outstanding games for the Yankees, allowing just 10 hits and one walk and striking out nine within the combined 14 innings he pitched. But his one mistake of hanging a breaking ball in the first inning to Josh Hamilton cost him and the Yankees Game 3 against Lee and the Rangers.
What do these great pitchers have in common? They all play for teams currently working their way through the playoffs. Great pitching wins playoffs. It has worked in the past, it works in the present, and it will continue to work in the future. This is why teams all across baseball will be offering Lee over $20 million per year this offseason just to win in October.
Pitching has always been the key to postseason success. Pitchers like Lee, Hamels, Schilling, Josh Beckett and Jack Morris have made names for themselves out of postseason heroics.
Even back in the '70s when the Big Red Machine won back-to-back world titles, the team had great pitching. That team may have been known for its offense of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and George Foster, but it won the 1975 and 1976 World Series because of pitching.
In the 1975 National League Championship Series, the team allowed a total of seven runs in the three games against Pittsburgh, sweeping the series. And in 1976, the staff allowed more than three runs only once in the entire playoffs, sweeping both the Phillies in the NLCS and the Yankees in the World Series.
Even teams with great offenses like the Yankees, Rangers and Phillies will still have to pitch well and shut down the opposing offense if they have any hope of winning the World Series.