A stellar rotation or a stellar bullpen. Choose one and you'll likely find the key to postseason success.
The ability to shorten games is how teams win in the postseason. Just take a look at our two World Series-bound teams.
The Royals have long been known as a team with a great bullpen, thanks to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland (until he got injured), and Ryan Madson. The trio of Herrera, Davis, and Madson did not post an ERA above 2.71 this season.
The Mets, on the other hand, might not have as strong of a bullpen as Kansas City, but they more than make up for it in their rotation. The Mets rode Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon to where they are today.
What's the common theme between these two teams? The ability to shorten games.
The Royals get that ability at the end of games, where they only need six or seven solid innings from their starter in order to win. Kansas City has gone 157-4 when leading after seven innings, including postseason, according to STATS LLC.
Being able to have the confidence in a bullpen to completely shut down the opposing team when the game is at its highest leverage has allowed the Royals to get back to the World Series in back-to-back years.
For the Mets, it's almost the complete opposite. They were able to use their scary starting rotation to limit the amount of innings they needed from their bullpen. This meant that they could get closer to their closer and by far best reliever, Jeurys Familia faster.
In Games 1-3 in the NLCS against the Cubs combined, the Mets only used four relief pitchers that were not named Jeurys.
In Game 1, they used this strategy to almost perfect execution, getting 7 2/3 masterful innings from Matt Harvey. They then immediately turned it over to Familia, who shut the door on the Cubs for a four-out save.
In Game 3, something similar happened. Jacob deGrom went seven strong. Following three outs from Tyler Clippard, the Mets turned the ball back to Familia, who recorded the save once again.
So, you don't need to have an amazing bullpen from top to bottom to win playoff series. What you need to have, however, is a way to shut the door on teams, whether that be early in the game or late in the game. That's what is going to make this 2015 World Series so fun.
See you on Tuesday.