With a wild comeback in Game 4 on Tuesday night, the Cubs secured their spot in the NLCS for the second straight season. Considering where the team was just five years ago, this is obviously an impressive achievement. But maybe more impressive is how they reached that second consecutive NLCS. The Cubs scored 17 runs against the Giants in their NLDS showdown, and six of those were driven in by their pitchers! That’s an absurd 35% of the Cubs’ run output coming from the guys who usually do the run prevention.
When Travis Wood hit his incredible home run as a relief pitcher in Game 2, it was the first postseason home run from a pitcher since Joe Blanton took Edwin Jackson deep in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series, and the first postseason home run from a reliever since 1924.
When Jake Arrieta left the yard in the first inning of the very next game, it became the first postseason series with multiple home runs off the bats of pitchers since the 1968 World Series, when Mickey Lolich and Bob Gibson each went deep in a seven-game series. Of course, Lolich and Gibson were rivals, not teammates, making the Wood-Arrieta accomplishment even more impressive — and rare. In fact, it was only the second time in the history of baseball (per Baseball-Reference Play Index) that two pitchers, on the same team, hit home runs in the same series. The only other time with in the 1924 World Series, when New York Giant teammates, and pitchers, Jack Bentley and Rosy Ryan homered in Games 3 and 5 of the epic seven-game series. Wood and Arrieta were the only ones to do so in back-to-back games.
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Now, it wasn’t just the Cubs pitchers getting in on the fun. For a while Tuesday night, it looked as though Giants starter, Matt Moore, was going to be a two-fold hero. Shutting down the Cubs offense from the mound, and knocking in the first run of the game for the Giants in the bottom of the fourth. While that was the only hit from Giants pitchers in the series, it was still enough to set the combined hitting totals for the two teams to: .250 batting average, with a .625 slugging percentage, while knocking in 23 percent of the total runs scored.
Those are some pretty crazy totals, but are they the best ever?
Using the aforementioned Play Index search of all-time postseason home runs from pitchers, there are 18 different series (including the 2016 NLDS) in which a pitcher homered. In those series, on three occasions, the pitcher who hit the home run was the only pitcher to get a hit in the entire series (1984 Rick Sutcliffe, 1978 Steve Carlton, 1975 Don Gullet). Only twice did pitchers combine for more than the 10 total bases from the Giants and Cubs, and only once did they drive in more than the seven runs (and they never topped the percent of runs driven in). Let’s go to the chart:
Top Team Pitcher Performances in the Playoffs
|Year||Hits||AB||BA||TB||SLG||RBI||Series runs||% of RBI|
After a brief peruse, it’s clear that there are only a few cases in which the pitchers in a series can even come close to what we just saw. Let’s take a look at the five best, in ascending order:
1968 World Series
This was one of the three series before the 2016 NLDS in which multiple pitchers hit home runs. In 1968, it was, as noted above, Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich who homered in the series, one each for the Cardinals and Tigers. The reason this series is in fifth in the challengers to Cubs-Giants is because those two pitchers were really it. They drove in the only four runs from pitchers in the series (three of the four RBI coming on the two home-run swings), and there was only hit to hit come from a non-Gibson/Lolich pitcher.
1969 World Series
Just a year after our first entry into this challenge, the Mets and Orioles played in the first World Series to be led off with a League Championship Series. The extra-long season didn’t stop the Mets and Orioles pitchers from contributing all over the diamond, however, as they crammed five hits, 10 total bases, and five RBI into just a five-game series. Because of the abbreviated length of the series, this is one of the few series that can challenge the 2016 NLDS in terms of percentages. That being said, the Cubs-Giants pitchers take all three percentage categories, leaving there no real room for debate on this one.
1958 World Series
The 1958 series stands out in that it was the highest RBI total for pitchers in any postseason series to date. That was thanks in large part to top two pitchers for the Braves, Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, tallying three RBI apiece. Burdette did it with the long ball, while Spahn preferred the death-by-a-thousand-cuts method, tallying his three RBI on four hits in the series. The Yankees got two RBI of their own from Bob Turley, but I’m not quite willing to give these guys the edge over the Cubs-Giants pitchers. The easiest argument for this year’s NLDS is that the Cubs-Giants pitchers tallied as many total bases and only one less RBI in three fewer games, as the 1958 World Series went to seven games, while this year’s NLDS went just four games.
1924 World Series
Here’s where the challenge gets real stiff. The 1924 World Series is the other series in which we have two home runs from pitchers, the aforementioned Bentley and Ryan teammates for the Giants. This series tops our charts in hits (8) and total bases (14), and is a reasonable choice for best-hitting series from a group of pitchers. I’m still giving the edge to Cubs-Giants in this showdown, though, and for a couple of reasons. Actually, really one reason with a couple different explanations: opportunity. Similar to the 1958 World Series, the 1924 World Series went to seven games, meaning that pitchers had far more games to rack up those hits and total bases. Pitchers were also left in games far longer in the 1920s, and as such, tallied almost three times as many at bats as the 2016 NLDS pitchers. When comparing batting average (.250 to .190) and, even more so, slugging percentage (.625 to .333) it becomes clear that this year’s Cubs-Giants pitchers still reign supreme.
Here’s our winner. The only series that I believe tops the recently concluded Cubs-Giants NLDS in terms of output from pitchers at the plate. This was an even shorter series than Cubs-Giants, as the Orioles only needed three games to dispatch the Twins. And their pitchers were a good chunk of the reason why. The Orioles used just four pitchers in the series, but all four got hits, combining for all of the offense you see above. (Twins pitchers were 0-for-5 in the series.) Not only did all four get hits, but all three starters got extra-base hits, as Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, and Mike Cuellar (Dick Hall was the reliever) all showed what they were capable of on the other side of the ball. Of course, the very next season, these three starters, along with Pat Dobson, would form just the second-ever set of four 20-game winners on the same team, proving just how awesome the late `60s and early `70s Orioles really were. They reign supreme for now, but let’s see how those Cubs starting pitchers do for the rest of the 2016 playoffs.