Kershaw is currently the best pitcher on the planet and will get the ball in the NLDS opener in Atlanta tonight. But I'm going to focus more on Sanchez, who despite a 2.57 ERA will not pitch until Monday's ALDS Game Three.
Detroit has a loaded rotation that also features Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Doug Fister that makes them one of the favorites to win the World Series. Sanchez getting bumped to third-starter status makes him an oddity among the 80 ERA leaders that reached the playoffs.
The chart below is all 80, and listed with each pitcher is the first-round game that they started. For most that means the World Series, but for the more recent ones it means the LCS or LDS.
|Pitcher||Year||Team||ERA||Game||Result||Top of the Rotation|
|Anibal Sanchez||2013||Tigers||2.57||3||Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander|
|Justin Verlander||2011||Tigers||2.4||1||L ALCS|
|Chris Carpenter||2009||Cardinals||2.24||1||L NLDS|
|John Lackey||2007||Angels||3.01||1||L ALDS|
|Johan Santana||2006||Twins||2.77||1||L ALDS|
|Roger Clemens||2005||Astros||1.87||2||L WS|
|Johan Santana||2004||Twins||2.61||1||L ALDS|
|Jason Schmidt||2003||Giants||2.34||1||L NLDS|
|Pedro Martinez||2003||Red Sox||2.22||1||L ALCS|
|Randy Johnson||2002||Diamondbacks||2.32||1||L NLDS|
|Randy Johnson||2001||Diamondbacks||2.49||2||WS Champ|
|Freddy Garcia||2001||Mariners||3.05||1||L ALCS|
|Randy Johnson||1999||Diamondbacks||2.48||1||L NLDS|
|Pedro Martinez||1999||Red Sox||2.07||1||L ALCS|
|Greg Maddux||1998||Braves||2.22||3||L NLCS||John Smoltz, Tom Glavine|
|Greg Maddux||1995||Braves||1.63||1||WS Champ|
|Randy Johnson||1995||Mariners||2.48||3||L ALCS||Chris Bosio, Andy Benes|
|Greg Maddux||1993||Braves||2.36||2||L NLCS|
|Roger Clemens||1990||Red Sox||1.93||1||L ALCS|
|Scott Garrelts||1989||Giants||2.28||1||L WS|
|Mike Scott||1986||Astros||2.22||1||L NLCS|
|Roger Clemens||1986||Red Sox||2.48||1||L WS|
|Dave Stieb||1985||Blue Jays||2.48||1||L ALCS|
|Nolan Ryan||1981||Astros||1.69||1||L NLDS|
|Rudy May||1980||Yankees||2.46||2||L ALCS|
|Ron Guidry||1978||Yankees||1.74||4||WS Champ||Jim Beattie, Ed Figueroa, Catfish Hunter|
|Catfish Hunter||1974||Athletics||2.49||1||WS Champ|
|Tom Seaver||1973||Mets||2.08||1||L WS|
|Jim Palmer||1973||Orioles||2.4||1||L ALCS|
|Vida Blue||1971||Athletics||1.82||1||L ALCS|
|Bob Gibson||1968||Cardinals||1.12||1||L WS|
|Sandy Koufax||1966||Dodgers||1.73||2||L WS|
|Sandy Koufax||1965||Dodgers||2.04||2||WS Champ|
|Sandy Koufax||1963||Dodgers||1.88||1||WS Champ|
|Whitey Ford||1958||Yankees||2.01||1||WS Champ|
|Bobby Shantz||1957||Yankees||2.45||2||L WS|
|Whitey Ford||1956||Yankees||2.47||1||WS Champ|
|Johnny Antonelli||1954||Giants||2.3||2||WS Champ|
|Mike Garcia||1954||Indians||2.64||3||L WS||Bob Lemon, Early Wynn|
|Eddie Lopat||1953||Yankees||2.42||2||WS Champ|
|Allie Reynolds||1952||Yankees||2.06||1||WS Champ|
|Gene Bearden||1948||Indians||2.43||3||WS Champ||Bob Feller, Bob Lemon|
|Howie Pollet||1946||Cardinals||2.1||1||WS Champ|
|Ray Prim||1945||Cubs||2.4||4||L WS||Hank Borowy, Hank Wyse, Claude Passeau|
|Hal Newhouser||1945||Tigers||1.81||1||WS Champ|
|Max Lanier||1943||Cardinals||1.9||1||L WS|
|Spud Chandler||1943||Yankees||1.64||1||WS Champ|
|Mort Cooper||1942||Cardinals||1.78||1||WS Champ|
|Bucky Walters||1940||Reds||2.48||2||WS Champ|
|Lefty Gomez||1937||Yankees||2.33||1||WS Champ|
|Carl Hubbell||1936||Giants||2.31||1||L WS|
|Carl Hubbell||1933||Giants||1.66||1||WS Champ|
|Lon Warneke||1932||Cubs||2.37||2||L WS|
|Lefty Grove||1931||Athletics||2.06||1||L WS|
|Lefty Grove||1930||Athletics||2.54||1||WS Champ|
|Lefty Grove||1929||Athletics||2.81||RP||WS Champ||Howard Ehmke, George Earnshaw, Jack Quinn|
|Ray Kremer||1927||Pirates||2.47||1||L WS|
|Wilcy Moore||1927||Yankees||2.28||RP/4||WS Champ||Waite Hoyt, George Pipgras, Herb Pennock|
|Stan Coveleski||1925||Senators||2.84||2||L WS|
|Walter Johnson||1924||Senators||2.72||1||WS Champ|
|Phil Douglas||1922||Giants||2.63||DNP||WS Champ|
|Hippo Vaughn||1918||Cubs||1.74||1||L WS|
|Fred Anderson||1917||Giants||1.44||RP||L WS||Slim Sallee, Ferdie Schupp, Rube Benton|
|Eddie Cicotte||1917||White Sox||1.53||1||WS Champ|
|Babe Ruth||1916||Red Sox||1.75||2||WS Champ|
|Pete Alexander||1915||Phillies||1.22||1||L WS|
|Smoky Joe Wood||1915||Red Sox||1.49||DNP||WS Champ|
|Christy Mathewson||1913||Giants||2.06||2||L WS|
|Jeff Tesreau||1912||Giants||1.96||1||L WS|
|Christy Mathewson||1911||Giants||1.99||1||L WS|
|King Cole||1910||Cubs||1.8||4||L WS||Orval Overall, Mordecai Brown, Ed Reulbach|
|Jack Pfiester||1907||Cubs||1.15||2||WS Champ|
|Mordecai Brown||1906||Cubs||1.04||1||L WS|
|Doc White||1906||White Sox||1.52||2||WS Champ|
|Christy Mathewson||1905||Giants||1.28||1||WS Champ|
|Rube Waddell||1905||Athletics||1.48||DNP||L WS|
|Sam Leever||1903||Pirates||2.06||2||L WS|
48 of them pitched the postseason opener and 18 more drew the Game Two start. Of the remaining 14, three did not pitch in the World Series and three more pitched out of the bullpen. Let's take a closer look at these guys.
Sanchez is the fourth ERA leader of the expansion era to reach the postseason but not pitch until Game Three or Four. Greg Maddux was in a similar spot in 1998, as he was third in line among a group of aces like Smoltz and Glavine. Put those three future Hall of Famers in any order you want, they steamrolled the Cubs with a 1.66 ERA in an NLDS sweep.
Randy Johnson and Ron Guidry had historic seasons, but their teams needed them in a one-game playoff just to reach the postseason. Johnson's 1995 Mariners trailed the Angels by 10.5 games with 33 to play, but rallied to tie California on the season's last day. Johnson struck out 12 in a complete-game three-hitter that clinched the A.L. West. With the ALDS starting in New York the next night, he couldn't pitch until Game Three.
Guidry's 1978 Yankees also pulled off a miraculous comeback. His 25-3, 1.74 ERA season led the way as New York made up 14 games on the Red Sox and forced a winner-take-all game for the division. At Fenway Park, he worked six and one-third innings and allowed two runs, picking up the win on Bucky Dent's famous homer. They had to go to Kansas City for the ALCS opener the next day, so Guidry did not pitch until the Game Four pennant-clincher.
Another note on the two one-game playoffs: They were both on October 2nd, 18 and 35 years ago yesterday (as well as my birthday).
The next two on the list were Game Three starters behind a pair of Cleveland Hall of Famers. Mike Garcia worked the third game of the 1954 World Series after Bob Lemon and Early Wynn put the Tribe in an 0-2 hole. Garcia lost as well and the Giants pulled off a shocking sweep. Gene Bearden won a one-game playoff for the A.L. pennant in 1948, and he slotted in behind Bob Feller and Lemon in the World Series rotation.
As we go back to 1945, we some a few guys like Ray Prim, who was more of a starter/reliever swingman that just got over the innings qualifier. Wilcy Moore (1927) and Fred Anderson (1917) also fall under this designation.
In 1929, Lefty Grove was in the middle of a dominant stretch in which he lead the circuit in ERA four years in a row and won seven straight strikeout titles. But when their World Series opponent was a Cubs team loaded with righties, A's skipper Connie Mack elected to put the ace and third-starter Rube Walberg in the bullpen. It worked like a charm as Howard Ehmke came out of nowhere with 13-K gem in Game One before Grove earned a save in the second game with four and one-third shutout innings. Lefty also worked a six-out save in the Game Five clincher.
King Cole had a great 1910 season, but in a crowded Cubs rotation he didn't get into the Fall Classic until the A's had already taken a 3-0 lead. He pitched well in a no decision as Chicago staved off elimination for one more day before Philly won it all. Sadly for Cole, he died of tuberculosis just five years later at age 29.
There were three ERA leaders who didn't participate in the World Series with their teams. Rube Waddell (1905) and Smoky Joe Wood (1915) were simply injured but the story of Phil Douglas (1922) is quite interesting.
A big right-hander Douglas was having a standout year for the Giants in '22, but alcoholism and a feud with manager John McGraw kept him off the field from July 30 onward. Read about his downfall and eventual ban from baseball in this sad and fascinating SABR bio.
In the last 34 seasons, only two World Series champions had an ERA leader on their squad. Kershaw's Dodgers and Sanchez's Tigers hope to join the 1995 Braves and 2001 Diamondbacks, and who knows...we could have an L.A.-Detroit showdown in the Fall Classic, which would be the first time both ERA leaders won the pennant since 1954.