Wilson has to become Texas' equalizer
Holding ace title, lefty can ill-afford to drop another playoff start
ST. LOUIS -- The difference between victory and defeat in the World Series is often a very thin line.
On Wednesday night in Game 1 of the 2011 World Series, Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals was on one side of that line. C.J. Wilson of the Rangers was on the other.
The Cards won, 3-2, so there could not be much separating the work of these two starters. But the result was in one way fairly typical of the postseason work of both pitchers; Carpenter won, Wilson lost.
Wilson, in eight postseason starts over the past two Octobers, has a 1-5 record with a 5.32 ERA. He was the losing pitcher Wednesday night. He won his first postseason start in an American League Division Series against Tampa Bay in 2010, but has not won since in the playoffs.
Carpenter, conversely, now has an 8-2 record with a 3.10 ERA in 13 postseason starts. This the brilliant 1-0 clincher in the National League Division Series victory against the heavily favored Phillies.
On Wednesday night, Carpenter allowed two runs over six innings. Wilson allowed three runs over 5 2/3. The game was tied at 2 when Wilson departed, but he left with runners on first and third. And when Allen Craig's pinch-hit single scored a run, Wilson was left with the loss.
|C.J. Wilson||Texas Rangers||2011|
|Dock Ellis||Pittsburgh Pirates||1971|
|Don Newcombe||Brooklyn Dodgers||1949|
|Mort Cooper||St. Louis Cardinals||1942|
The Cardinals did not bash Wilson. On the other hand, Wilson didn't beat them. The difference in winning a World Series can often be found in which team prevails in a 3-2 game.
"I felt like I threw the ball pretty well tonight," Wilson said.
And it is distinctly possible that he was correct. But at this level, "pretty well" is not an appropriate substitute for winning.
This postseason has been difficult for Wilson, who is now 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA in four starts this October. He has walked 14 batters in 21 1/3 innings, although two of his six walks Wednesday and three overall have been intentional. The competition is the most difficult available, but that is supposed to be the case. The postseason can be the place where the truly great pitchers are separated from the great mass of pitching humanity.
"You just have to accept sometimes that the other team is really good," Wilson said.
There is no argument on that point, either. The eight postseason teams are all worthwhile, otherwise they couldn't have brought themselves through a six-month marathon season all the way to this lofty level. And if you reach the World Series, the opposition you find here is tougher still -- in this case, the Cardinals. They not only have the NL's best offense, but they have been tearing up the league -- regular season, postseason, summer into autumn -- for the past seven weeks.
This is the problem for Wilson and the Rangers. Yes, the southpaw ace's postseason level climbed from inadequate to all right Wednesday night, but that wasn't good enough to beat Carpenter, a proven postseason winner.
Wilson had a splendid regular season, but that was then and this is October. Texas needs him to be better than OK. Barring a St. Louis sweep, Wilson and Carpenter would be matched again in Game 5. Could the Rangers really afford to be 0-2 in the Wilson-Carpenter games in a best-of-seven format? Just the thought puts pressure on the rest of the rotation, the rest of the pitching staff and the rest of the Texas roster.
On a narrower issue, Wilson's free agency is rapidly approaching. He appears to be the single-most valuable starting pitcher who will be available this winter, unless CC Sabathia utilizes the opt-out clause in his contract with the Yankees.
Either way, Wilson's regular season (16-7, 2.94 ERA), in just his second year as a big league starting pitcher, would be extremely attractive to would-be employers. His stuff is impressive, his conditioning is beyond question and he is perhaps just hitting his stride at age 30.
But anybody would seem less like a truly elite pitcher with one victory in eight postseason starts. Wilson may have cost himself some money with this October's overall work.
Much nearer to the heart of baseball's focal-point event, the Rangers need Wilson to win one before this World Series is decided in a St. Louis direction. The easy way out of Game 1 is to blame the Texas hitters, but a 3-2 game is a staple of postseason play. And the ace of your rotation has to be able to win one of those against the best opposition.
Mike Bauman is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.