Making the adjustment: Can dominant postseason starts be repeated?

October 17, 2013 - 12:27 pm

DETROIT -- There may be a sense of a missed opportunity for the Red Sox. After they claimed  2-1 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS with their impressive 1-0 win over Justin Verlander, the team failed to capitalize on something tantamount to an offensive breakout, as 12 hits yielded just three runs in a 7-3 loss in Game 4 to Doug Fister and the Tigers. The Sox now face a most unsavory prospect, chiefly the need to win two games started by Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander -- the trio that combined to post a 0.86 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 21 innings in the first three games. The task, of course, is not impossible, even if all three continue to display sheer dominance. After all, the Sox won two of the three games started by that group. Even so, the likelihood of winning -- of repeating the trick of claiming W's in two of the three games against Sanchez, Scherzer and Verlander -- is fairly low if the Sox can't enjoy a breakthrough. So, it is worth asking: Do teams show an ability to adjust inside of a series against starters who dominate them in the postseason? To date, there have been 11 instances since the expansion of the playoffs to include a Division Series round where a starter struck out at least 10 batters while allowing one or fewer runs and then came back to start another game in the same series. In those 10 initial games, the starters (roll call: Mike Mussina in the 1997 ALCS, Kevin Brown in the 1998 NLDS, Bartolo Colon in the 2001 ALDS, Randy Johnson in the 2001 NLCS and World Series, Cliff Lee in the 2009 World Series and 2010 ALDS, Justin Verlander in the 2012 ALDS and 2013 ALDS, Adam Wainwright in the 2012 NLDS, Clayton Kershaw in the 2013 NLDS) combined for a ridiculous line of a 0.58 ERA with 127 strikeouts (13.3 per nine innings) and 19 walks (2.0 per nine innings) while going a combined 8-0 with three no-decisions. How did that dominance translate in the second matchup? Somewhat ominously for the Red Sox. In the 11 games in the same series after that initial dominant outing, the pitchers went a combined 7-1 with three no-decisions with a 2.35 ERA, 79 punchouts (9.3 per nine) and 21 walks (2.5 per nine). In four of those 11 follow-up outings, the starter did not permit an earned run; two resulted in yields of one earned run while two more resulted in yields of two earned runs. In just three of the 11 follow-up outings did the pitcher who dominated in his first outing allow three or more runs in his second start. In other words: It would be hard to imagine that the Sox would find the going any tougher in their next time through the grouping of Sanchez, Scherzer and Verlander, but in the relatively small sample of pitchers returning to the mound for a second start following a dominant first outing in the same series, there's not a great deal of precedent to suggest that the Sox are likely to erupt in any of the next three games. Certainly, it *could* happen, but in all likelihood, the Sox must hope that they have dominant starting pitching of their own to counter the formidable Tigers rotation.