If you don’t count the 1871 Philadelphia Athletics of the National Association or the 1889 Brooklyn Bridegrooms of the American Association, only 4 teams in MLB history have won an MLB pennant with an adjusted ERA+ for starters under 97. Two of them, the 1913 and 1914 Philadelphia Athletics, are well before my time, and beyond the fact that the 1914 team lost to the Miracle Braves, I have nothing to say about them either.
But two modern teams had bad starting pitching and won pennants: Harvey’s Wallbangers in 1982 and the 2012 San Francisco Giants. The 1982 Brewers lost the World Series while the Giants won. So how bad can your starting pitching be and still win a World Series?
The Giants started Matt Cain (126 ERA+ in 32 starts) who was great, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong (both 105 ERA+ in a combined 63 starts) who were above average, and bad years from Barry Zito (85 ERA+ in 32 starts) and Tim Lincecum (68 ERA+ in 33 starts). The remaining two starts went to Eric Hacker and Yusmeiro Petit. So think about it for a minute: the worst starting pitcher staff to ever win the World Series had three above-average pitchers on it. When they got to the World Series, Lincecum didn’t start a game – the other 4 started one each in a 4 game sweep over the Tigers.
Harvey’s Wallbangers were (obviously) known for their offense: other than Pete Vuckovich (114 ERA+ in 30 starts) none of their main starters were above league-average: Mike Caldwell (97 ERA+ in 34 starts), Bob McClure (90 ERA+ in 26 starts), Moose Haas (85 ERA+ in 27 starts), Randy Lerch (77 ERA+ in 20 starts), Doc Medich (76 ERA+ in 10 starts.) But they made a move at the deadline and acquired the 37 year old Don Sutton from Houston. He started 7 games in September (116 ERA+) and 2 games in the World Series. So while their regular season starting pitching was not good, the staff improved substantially in September, with two well-above average pitchers and Randy Lerch and Doc Medich only in relief.
OK. So where are the Braves in this? Hold on to your hat: Braves starters have an average ERA+ of 106, the same as Braves relievers! How is that possible?Well, when you start with Max Fried (246 ERA+ in 9 starts) and Ian Anderson (206 ERA+ in 3 starts) and Mike Soroka (126 ERA+ in 3 starts, sob!!) and Josh Tomlin (130 ERA+ in 4 starts and 8 other appearances) you can take a lot of crappy performances into the averaging. Robbie Erlin’s 58 and Touki Toussaint’s 62 and Kyle Wright’s 61 and Sean Newcomb’s 44 and Tommy Milone’s 34 and Folty’s 33 and Chris Rusin’s 66 and Ynoa’s 73 are, it’s true, horrible. But none of those guys is going to start a playoff game as anything other than a bullpen game.
The case for the Braves is the case that Fried is healthy and can win two playoff games in any series, that Anderson is no fluke and can win or two, and that Braves bats can summon the ghost of Harvey Kuenn and bludgeon some team to death in a Tomlin start or Ynoa bullpen game. Would the case be much, much stronger if we’d made a move like the Brewers did? Yes.
Can they do it? In a crapshoot, anything is possible. The Brewers lost in 7, and could have won in Game 6 if Sutton had pitched better. On such things do crapshoots depend….
A little Freddie Freeman Love
Braves Twitter has been trolling the Padres fans all day, countering the Pads lovefest with Fernando Tatis Jr. with the Braves lovefest of Freddie Freeman. Here’s a glimpse of part of the battle.
Tonight’s Braves Lineup
If Nick Markakis is out of his slump, this is a top 3 lineup in the Majors and it’s been a long time since the Braves have been able to say that.