The theme of this year’s postseason has been the bullpen and one dominant pitcher – be it Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, or Kenley Jansen – shouldering a ton of innings and providing extended relief. As frequent as that sort of dominance has been in 2016, there are examples of it throughout the last five years. Let’s rank the best relief performances in the postseason of more than 2 innings over that time period.
- Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants, 2014 World Series Game 7
5 IP, 0 ER, 4 K, O BB, 68 pitches
Bumgarner takes the top slot with his legendary performance in a winner-take-all game 7. Bumgarner entered the game in the bottom of the 5th with the Giants leading 3-2, after tossing 117 pitches in a complete game shutout three nights earlier in game 5. Bumgarner was so dominant in the 2014 postseason that the second the bullpen door opened for him in the fifth, the Royals must have wondered if the game was over.
The Royals gave Bumgarner and the Giants a scare with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but Alex Gordon would be stranded on third as Salvador Perez fouled out to Pablo Sandoval and brought the championship back to San Francisco for the third time in five years. Bumgarner would go on to be named the 2014 World Series MVP, with these stats over his three appearances: 2-0, 1 SV, 21.0 IP, 1 ER, 17 K, 1 BB.
2. Yusmeiro Petit, San Francisco Giants, 2014 NLDS Game 2
6 IP, 0 ER, 7 K, 3 BB, 80 pitches
Earlier in that same postseason, in game two of their Divisional Series against the Nationals, the Giants were trailing 1-0 entering the bottom of the 9th, when they staged a comeback against Drew Storen to tie the game. The game would remain tied until Petit entered the game in the bottom of the 12th, and remained tied as he was basically called upon to perform as a starting pitcher. This would be a sign of things to come for the Giants, as Petit was an integral part of the Giants bullpen in that postseason.
The Nationals had a chance in the 12th with a runner on second and one out, but Petit struck out Wilson Ramos and got Danny Espinosa to line out to short. Over six innings, he singlehandedly matched the Nationals bullpen with six shutout innings of his own, until Brandon Belt gave the Giants a 2-1 lead with a home run in the top of the 18th. Hunter Strickland would come out of the bullpen to record the save and give the Giants a 2-0 lead.
3. Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals, 2015 World Series Game 5
3 IP, 0 ER, 3 K, 0 BB, 33 pitches
When Kelvin Herrera entered this game, Matt Harvey was in the midst of a fantastic performance and looking to send the Mets back to Kansas City down three games to two. Herrera had to come in and keep the Mets scoreless to give the Royals an opportunity to come back late in the game, and he did just that. The Mets never came close to getting anything going and extending their lead late in game five, which opened the door for the Eric Hosmer to double and then race home to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth.
The Royals would go on to win game five 7-2 in 12 innings and win their first World Series since 1985, none of which may have been possible if not for the relief of Kelvin Herrera.
4. Aroldis Chapman, Chicago Cubs, 2016 World Series Game 5
2.2 IP, 0 ER, 4 K, 0 BB, 42 pitches
Some may say there is some “recency bias” involved in this pick, but what Aroldis Chapman did on Sunday, October 30th, may go down as one of the turning points in not only this series but the franchise, as this was the first step toward the Cubs’ comeback from a 3-1 deficit and their first World Series in 108 years.
Chapman was summoned with two outs in the top of the 7th and the tying run on second in the form of Mike Napoli. Napoli did not score and neither did the rest of the Indians team for the remainder of the game. Chapman dominated the Indians in Game Five, and while they had their chances in the 7th and 8th, Chapman never broke and was able to get Chicago back to Cleveland and get the ball to Jake Arrieta. The rest is history, as Chapman’s performance in game five helped catapult the Cubs’ comeback.
5. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2016 NLDS Game 5
2.1 IP, 0 ER, 4 K, 4 BB, 51 pitches
Of all the above pitchers, Jansen was the one who struggled the most with his control as he walked four batters, but that is mainly due to the fatigue Jansen experienced, as he was used more often in this postseason than he had been throughout his career. He entered the game with the Dodgers leading 4-3 and a runner on first with no outs. Jansen pitched out of trouble in the 7th, getting a fly out and two strikeouts.
The bottom of the eighth was less stressful, as Jansen pitched around a leadoff walk and kept the Dodgers ahead going into the 9th. Jansen started the 9th by striking out Trea Turner, but he would run out of gas and walk the next two hitters, Harper and Werth, leading Dave Roberts to summon his ace Clayton Kershaw from the bullpen to get the save and send the Dodgers to the NLCS. Kershaw’s performance, however, wouldn’t be possible without the workhorse appearance of Jansen’s it followed.
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Carl Triano is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Minor League Ball.