A recent history of Cy Young winners in elimination games

Ed Zurga

I've written a lot about the Dodgers over the last month, for obvious reasons. Now my base is starting to revolt. Where are the cheap shots? Where's the concern-trolling? Where are the "Here's why the Dodgers will fail" articles masquerading as balanced analysis? The Marichal Foundation marked my last article about Yasiel Puig as a "key article" that will go on my scorecard. Now I'm running scared.

I'm making amends. Clayton Kershaw is starting on Friday night, which means the Dodgers are going to win because he's the best pitcher in the world. But I can't write that. Not in this rivalry climate. So I'm going to make a list of the best Cy Young winners to pitch in an elimination game, and see how many of them muffed it.

Coulda won it

CC Sabathia, 2007 ALCS, 6 IP, 4 ER (team loss)

Not the situation Kershaw's in, exactly, but still useful. And the only situation this century where a soon-to-be Cy Young winner had a chance to ace a series for his team was the 2007 ALCS, with Sabathia and the Indians holding a 3-1 lead against the Red Sox. Sabathia wasn't exactly Kershaw, who's led his league in ERA for three straight seasons, but Sabathia was still an oh-jeez pitcher who terrified opposing fans and lineups before an elimination game.

It didn't work out. You know the Red Sox, always pulling out surprising postseason victories throughout their history.

Coulda lost it

Justin Verlander, 2011 ALCS, 7⅓ IP, 4 ER (team win)
Roy Halladay, 2010 NLCS, 6 IP, 2 ER (team win)
Chris Carpenter, 2005 NLCS, 7 IP, 3 ER (team win)
Johan Santana, 2004 ALDS, 5 IP, 1 ER (team loss)
Randy Johnson, 2001 WS, 7 IP, 2 ER (team win)

Four out of five super-aces kept their team alive. That's a sample size of -- carry the four -- too damned small. But it's still fun to think about the lead-up to each game, in which fans had to waver between supreme confidence in their super-ace and complete terror at the prospect of an elimination game. It's a fine line.

The interesting part for me, though, is that none of them (other than possibly Johnson) pitched brilliantly. They all would have lost to Smoltz and Morris, in other words. Look at Verlander's start. That's like something the Red Sox would have hoped to get from Tim Wakefield.

And that's the hidden subtext of this exercise: Kershaw could lay an egg by his standards, and the Dodgers could still win. Kershaw at 80 percent is better than almost everyone else. Kershaw at 60 percent is better than most. If he doesn't have a quality start, Michael Wacha could still pooter out, too. There are a lot of outcomes that could lead to a Game 7 other than Kershaw at his best.

Coulda won it or lost it

Bartolo Colon, 2005 ALDS, 1 IP, 0 ER (team win)
Roger Clemens, 2004 ALCS, 6 IP, 4 ER (team loss)
Roger Clemens, 2001 WS, 6 IP, 1 ER (team loss)

These are the Game 7s (or Game 5 in 2005). One team had the best pitcher in the league, and the other team didn't. Not only did the Yankees and Astros have the best pitcher in baseball that season, but they had one of the very best pitchers in baseball history. Both of those teams lost.

The team that won is the team that lost its super-ace forever. Colon won the Cy Young in 2005, but he left the Game 5 start with a shoulder problem. He pitched an average of 64 innings in the four years after that, with a 5.18 ERA. Then he missed an entire season after rotator-cuff surgery, and that's the last anyone ever heard of Bartolo Colon.

What does this mean for Kershaw? Nothing. If you had to put a $20 on someone in any given game, Kershaw is probably the #1 option until further notice, but maybe the point of all those names is to remind you that baseball is coming. Kershaw could give up five runs and still win. He could give up one run and lose. Or, or, or. The recent history of super-aces in elimination games is rather inconclusive.

Dammit, that wasn't nasty or cynical enough. The Marichal Foundation is coming for me. Tell my family I love them all.

For nervous/excited Dodgers fans, please visit True Blue LA

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