Clayton Kershaw was his usual, masterful self last night in the 2017 World Series opener. He went seven innings, struck out 11, gave up only three hits, and didn’t allow a single free pass, to help guide the Dodgers to a 3-1 victory over the Astros. It was a performance unlike many in the World Series, and I’m guessing the postseason altogether.
That right there tells us that no post-Musial era Cardinal has put up a similar line in the World Series, so I thought I would do a Play Index search and expand it to the entire postseason. However, searching for Cardinals who have struck out at least ten, walked zero, and pitched at least seven innings in the postseason turned up zero results. Not a huge surprise, I suppose, so I lowered the strikeout total to five and left the other parameters the same and this is what I found (as sorted by strike outs):
Not unlike Kershaw, Adam Wainwright has a postseason reputation that has been a bit unappreciated. That happens. We remember the bad starts (Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, Game 1 of the 2013 World Series), and tend to forget the run-of-the-mill variety. (Although, to be fair, I think everyone remembers his postseason relief appearances in 2006 quite well.) But in 89 total innings pitched in the postseason, Wainwright has a 3.03 ERA, better than the likes of Jack Morris, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, to name a few, and Wainwright’s own career regular season mark of 3.29.
His postseason numbers are bolstered by his pitching in the 2013 NLDS against Pittsburgh. When I think of that series, I first go to Michael Wacha keeping the Cardinals alive in Game 4. Most of us probably do, as is the norm when a pitcher keeps the other team hitless for 7 1/3 in a win-or-go-home game.
Still, as shown above, in Game 1 of that series Wainwright came closer than any Cardinal to replicating what Kershaw did last night. It took him about 20 more pitches and he recorded two fewer strikeouts, but everything else across the board is nearly identical. Then, for good measure, he came back six days later and pitched a complete game, with six strikeouts and only one walk, to send the Cardinals into the 2013 NLCS – the place where the Kershaw “chokes in the postseason” myth was perhaps first born.
Lastly, Wainwright appears on the list above three times. No other Cardinal can claim more than a single start. Wainwright will likely never be unappreciated by Cardinals fans. In fact, it’s fair to say he’s universally beloved, which is what happens when you spend your entire career with one organization, while being one of the best pitchers in the league and an overall decent human being. That said, being one of the best postseason pitchers in Cardinals history should certainly be a part of his legacy, too.
Credit to the Baseball Reference Play Index for most of the stats in this post. Subscribe to the Play Index here.