Dominant pitching performances have been common throughout the 2021 season. And that shouldn’t be different when it comes to the postseason.
With the playoffs set to start on Tuesday, Oct. 5, with the AL Wild Card Game, there are a number of the league’s best taking the mound in October. In a year where nine no-hitters were thrown, breaking the MLB record, two of those pitchers who were part of no-hitters will be on the rubber in the postseason.
As those hurlers are set to fire away at a shot at the World Series, here are the top 10 starting pitchers in the 2021 MLB playoffs.
Lance Lynn, Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox boast the best pitching staff in the American League and it starts with Lance Lynn. The ace was at the front of the AL Cy Young race for most of the season, but fell off a bit after the All-Star break. Lynn went winless in August with a 4.67 ERA, winless in September with a 3.86 ERA, but concluded the regular season on a strong note with one earned run through five innings in his single October start.
The right-hander ended the season with an 11-6 record and 2.69 ERA. He will likely be the Game 1 starter for the Sox in their ALDS series against the Houston Astros.
Carlos Rodón, Chicago White Sox
Part 2 of the 1-2 punch for the White Sox, Carlos Rodón is having one of the best bounce-back years for a starting pitcher. His no-hitter in his second start this season was a sign of things to come for the left-hander. The highest that Rodón’s ERA hit this season was 2.49. He finished the regular season with a 13-5 record and a 2.37 ERA.
He did deal with arm issues through the back half of the season, causing him to only make two starts in the month of August. The arm is still a concern going forward -- Rodón didn’t pitch more than five innings in any start after the All-Star break. However, the White Sox have a strong enough bullpen to pick up the rest if Rodón can give them five strong innings in the postseason. But that all depends on the health of his arm.
Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers
A name at the forefront of the NL Cy Young conversation, Corbin Burnes has emerged this season as a bonafide stud in MLB. Earlier in the season, he set the MLB record for most strikeouts without allowing a walk with 58, a record that would be broken less than a week later by New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. In September, he was a part of the Brewers’ combined no-hitter that broke the MLB record for most combined no-nos in a season, with Burnes tossing eight hitless innings.
He ended his fourth MLB season with a 11-5 record and 2.43 ERA, the latter of which ranked first in the major league among all starting pitchers who qualified (at least 1IP per team’s games played). After starting the season 2-4 through two months, Burnes went 9-1 in his last 19 starts. The Brewers are set to square off with the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, where Burnes is likely to get the nod in Game 1.
Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers
Another key part to the Brewers’ starting rotation, Woodruff has enjoyed his best season yet in a Brewers uniform. The 28-year-old sported a sub-2.00 ERA after the first two months of the season before slowly coming back down to Earth throughout the rest of the year.
Woodruff also has also experienced the Jacob deGrom treatment from his team -- an exceptional ERA with a losing record. He ended with an excellent 2.56 ERA, but had a 9-10 record. The offense will need to be better when Woodruff is on the mound, as the wins and losses matter much, much more in the postseason.
Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants
One of the reasons the San Francisco Giants came out of nowhere this season and have been one of the most dominant teams in MLB has been Kevin Gausman. The 30-year-old got out to a scorching start, 5-0 with a 1.40 ERA over the first two months.
He’s come back down to Earth since. Gausman struggled in July, going 1-3 with a 5.11 ERA, and also went 2-1 in September with a 5.33 ERA. He returned to his first-half form with a pair of quality starts in his final two games. He ended the regular season with a 14-6 record and a 2.81 ERA, the sixth-best ERA among qualified starting pitchers. The Giants will need Gausman to be on his A-game with a divisional series against the winner of the Los Angeles Dodgers-St. Louis Cardinals wild card game on the line.
Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers
Speaking of those Dodgers, Walker Buehler is once again having an incredible season. A key piece to the Dodgers’ World Series team last season, Buehler was at the top of the NL Cy Young race for awhile before dipping in September. The 27-year-old struggled mightily to finish the season, posting a 5.40 ERA in September, but did throw five innings of one-run ball in the Dodgers’ regular season finale.
However, when it comes to October, Buehler has been lights out. The right-handed hurler has a 3-1 record with a 2.35 ERA over the last three postseasons, with his only loss coming in 2018. However, there’s a chance we don’t see Buehler at all, as the Dodgers will be relying on the next hurler on this list to get the win in the NL wild card game.
Max Scherzer, Los Angeles Dodgers
New team, same Mad Max. The Dodgers bolstered their starting rotation by acquiring Max Scherzer at the trade deadline, and he has not disappointed. Despite two rocky starts to end the regular season (five earned runs in each), Scherzer did not lose a game in a Dodger uniform, going a perfect 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA over 11 starts.
Scherzer will be in the conversation for the NL Cy Young, but his last two starts didn’t help the cause. If he were to win, it would be his fourth Cy Young award, and third in the NL. He’ll have to put the end to the regular season behind him and get back to Cy Young form, as Scherzer will start against St. Louis in the wild card game.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
The clocks have been turned back in St. Louis. One of the more underrated storylines of this season has been the resurgence of Adam Wainwright. It had been years since the lanky 40-year-old veteran looked like his old self. But Wainwright, finally healthy, has been the ace of the Cardinals’ staff with Jack Falherty dealing with injuries.
“Uncle Charlie” ended the regular season with 17 wins, the second-most in MLB behind Julio Urias. His 3.05 ERA is the lowest since 2014, Wainwright’s last All-Star season. He’s been tabbed as the starter in the wild card game for the Cards, going against a powerhouse Dodgers team.
Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
One of the highest-paid players in baseball, Gerrit Cole had his worst year statistically since 2017 -- which goes to show just how good he has been. Cole finished with a 16-8 record and a 3.23 ERA, the third-lowest ERA in the AL among eligible pitchers. The 16 wins were the most in the AL and tied for third-most in all of baseball. His 243 strikeouts ranked third-most in MLB, as did his 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
Cole’s been good for a dud here and there, as six starts have resulted in giving up five or more earned runs. But he’s also been nearly unhittable at times for New York. He’ll be starting the AL wild card game against the rival Boston Red Sox, where the Yankees will need him at his best to advance.
Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox were without Chris Sale for most of the season due to an elbow injury, but their ace made his return in August and looked to be back to his dominant form. In nine starts, Sale was 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA.
The Red Sox were cautious with how they used Sale in his return from injury. He didn’t pitch more than six innings in any start since returning to the rotation. And he did not look like himself in his final two starts, suffering his lone loss before getting pulled during the third inning of Game 162. Nathan Eovaldi will start for the Red Sox in the wild card game, but Sale will likely be used later in the game if needed.