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Dominant pitching the story of postseason's opening week

It's not your imagination. The pitching in this postseason has been off the charts -- the latest examples coming last night, with Cole Hamels's complete-game shutout in the Philadelphia Phillies' clincher, and Jonathan Sanchez's 7 1/3-inning, 11-strikeout gem for the San Francisco Giants.

So far in this postseason -- and granted, we're talking small sample sizes -- pitchers are dominating, producing an aggregate ERA of 2.65, which, if it holds up, would be the lowest for the Division Series round since the playoffs were expanded to three rounds in 1995. It would also stand as the lowest for an entire postseason, beating the previous low (3.11 in 2001 -- more on that in a minute) by nearly half a run. (In case you're curious, the highest all-MLB ERA for a single postseason in the three-tiered playoff era was a 4.84 in 2002, when Barry Bonds was terrorizing pitchers.)

This was the so-called Year of the Pitcher in baseball, but this is the Postseason of the Elite Pitcher -- highlighted, of course, by Roy Halladay's no-hitter for the Phillies on Wednesday. From 1995-2009, there were only five complete-game shutouts thrown in the Division. But so far this postseason, there have been three -- by Halladay, Hamels and San Francisco's Tim Lincecum. (It also goes without saying that none of the earlier ones were no-hitters.) In the past 10 years, only six times has a pitcher recorded 10 or more strikeouts in a Division Series game, and three of them have come this postseason (Tim Lincecum, 14; Sanchez, 11; Cliff Lee, 10).

So far, this postseason is evoking 2001, perhaps the last time October was graced by so many dominant starting pitchers at the peak of their powers. That, of course, was the year Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson laid waste to the rest of the playoff field in leading the Arizona Diamondbacks to the title. In the Division Series round alone that year, there were no fewer than seven instances in which a pitcher went at least eight innings while allowing no more than one earned run (Schilling twice, Bartolo Colon, Tom Glavine, Tim Hudson, Matt Morris and Barry Zito).

Anyone who loves great pitching has to be rooting for a Giants/Phillies matchup in the NLCS, which, now that the Phillies have already clinched and the Giants are one win away, is close to happening. If the Giants can win tonight in Atlanta, with rookie Madison Bumgarner on the mound, they can avoid having to use Lincecum in a Game 5 Wednesday night, and thus give us the following prospective matchups in the first three games of the NLCS:

Game 1: Halladay vs. Lincecum
Game 2: Roy Oswalt vs. Matt Cain
Game 3: Hamels vs. Sanchez

And that, my friends, could be epic.

By Dave Sheinin  | October 11, 2010; 10:28 AM ET
Categories:  Playoffs  
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