MLB MLB Playoffs

MLB Playoffs 2013: Top 10 Pitching Performances Through Divisional Round

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Best Postseason Pitching Performances of 2013

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Every sports fan knows the saying, “offense wins games; defense wins championships”, but baseball is a unique sport. In fact, it’s the only sport in which the defense controls the ball. And there’s one position that specializes in this skill set: the pitcher.

While the pitcher still relies on the other eight guys on the field to make the plays (and even bail him out sometimes on hard hit balls), it is the pitcher’s responsibility to keep the batter off balance and hit the ball where the defenders can make the play. You could have the best defense in the league, but it'll be meaningless if the ball is hit over everyone's heads. So really, we need to modify the saying somewhat. When it comes to baseball, pitching wins championships.

There is no better example of this than the 2005 Chicago White Sox, whose starting rotation delivered four complete games en route to a World Series sweep of the Houston Astros. There may be no greater performance by a staff in the postseason, but there are other individual performances that have gone down as some of the greatest in the history of the game.

There was Don Larson in 1956, who threw the only perfect game in postseason history; Sandy Koufax in 1963, who dominated the New York Yankees twice in the World Series; Jack Morris in 1991, who broke the hearts of Atlanta Braves fans in Game 7; Josh Beckett in 2003, whose championship-clinching complete game in Yankee Stadium earned him the World Series MVP Award.

The trend has continued through 2013. This October, young rookies and proven veterans alike have shut down the premier hitters in the game when it mattered most. These are the 10 best postseason pitching performances through the Divisional Round.

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10. Jon Lester vs. Tampa Bay Rays, ALDS Game 1

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7.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 7 SO

Lester could arguably be higher on the list, but two of the three hits he allowed were home runs. If he makes the same mistakes in the Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, they’ll make him pay much worse than the Tampa Bay Rays did.

Still, it was a dominant performance from a guy who is once again becoming one of the premier pitchers in the game.

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9. Max Scherzer vs. Oakland Athletics, ALDS Game 1

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7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 11 SO

The favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award did not disappoint in the postseason. He stifled Oakland’s offense in their own park and put his team in a great position to gain an early stranglehold on the series.

His Game 4 relief appearance wasn’t as stellar as his Game 1 start. Nevertheless, pitching on short rest when his team needed him is the stuff legends are made of.

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8. Francisco Liriano vs. Cincinnati Reds, NLWC

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7 IP, 4H, 1R, 1 BB, 5 SO

PNC Park was rocking as October baseball returned to the Steel City for the first time in 21 years. The Cincinnati Reds didn’t have a chance, especially not with Francisco Liriano on the hill. He fed off the raucous crowd, dominating early and extinguishing threats late as he led the Buccos to the Divisional Round.

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7. Clayton Kershaw vs. Atlanta Braves, NLDS Game 1

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7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 12 SO

It’s hard to believe this was Kershaw’s first postseason win. It’s even harder to believe his stat line because watching the game, he didn’t seem that dominating. Buster Olney said it best:

Still, the numbers speak for themselves. He beat the Atlanta Braves in the toughest place to win on the road this year, Turner Field, and is now set to face the Cardinals in the NLCS.

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6. Adam Wainwright vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, NLDS Game 1

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 9 SO

The Pirates came into the NLDS smokin’ hot after manhandling the Reds late in the season and in the Wild Card playoff. They were the team everyone was rooting for to win it all after 21 years of mediocrity.

Adam Wainwright didn’t get the message. Without Chris Carpenter, Wainwright has inherited the role as St. Louis’ big-game pitcher and he provided the Cardinals with a Game 1 victory.

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5. Justin Verlander vs. Oakland Athletics, ALDS Game 2

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7 IP, 4 H, 0R, 1 BB, 11 SO

After struggling during the regular season, Justin Verlander proved all the doubters wrong with a phenomenal outing. The only reason this isn’t in the top-three is that the Tigers lost the game.

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4. Michael Wacha vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, NLDS Game 4

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7.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 SO

Down two games to one to the Pirates, 22-year-old Michael Wacha took the mound in the biggest game of his career, and possibly the Cardinals’ last game of the 2013 season. In the same environment that beat Lance Lynn the day before and caused Johnny Cueto to fold under pressure, Wacha was perfect through five innings and had a no-hitter through 7.1.

He got the series back to St. Louis, and into the extremely capable hands of Adam Wainwright.

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3. Sonny Gray vs. Detroit Tigers, ALDS Game 2

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

8 IP, 4H, 0R, 2 BB, 9 SO

It was only Game 2, but it was a must-win for the Oakland Athletics against the Detroit Tigers. They couldn’t go to Detroit down 2-0 in the series. What is more, they faced Justin Verlander, who was outstanding. But, Sonny Gray was even better.

Neither allowed a run, but Gray wins the tiebreaker because he lasted one more inning, and his team won the game. He outdueled the former MVP in the best game of the 2013 playoffs thus far.

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2. Justin Verlander vs. Oakland Athletics, ALDS Game 5

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8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 SO

In a win-or-go-home game, Justin Verlander was perfect through five innings and had a no hitter through six. He dominated.

Here is Verlander’s stat line in his two ALDS starts: 15 innings pitched, six hits, 0 runs, two walks and 21 strikeouts. So much for Verlander’s down year.

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1. Adam Wainwright vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, NLDS Game 5

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

CG, 8 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 SO

Wainwright dropped the hammer curve on the Pirates all night in the best pitching performance of the Divisional Round. The fact that he allowed eight hits is irrelevant. In an elimination game, these were the two most important stats: nine innings pitched, one run allowed. Wainwright put the team on his back (or his right arm, if you will) and pitched the Red Birds into the Championship Series.

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Honorable Mention: David Price vs. Texas Rangers, Game 163

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CG, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 SO

Technically, this performance was still in the regular season, which is the only reason it’s not in the top 10. In the first of two elimination games for the Tampa Bay Rays, David Price carried his team into the playoffs on the strength of his left arm. True, allowing seven hits is not that impressive, but he made the big pitches when he needed to and went the distance in his most important start of the season.