Wednesday, January 15, 2014

'50s Face Off: Indians Trio vs. Yankees Troika

The Cleveland Indians in the first half of the 1950s had one of the best front-three of any starting rotation in baseball history, as noted in a  previous post, "Maddux. Glavine. And Smoltz" (  From 1949, when they first pitched together off the same mound in Cleveland, through 1954 Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn together with Mike Garcia were three of the five best pitchers in the American League, based on their cumulative pitcher's wins above replacement. (Boston's Mel Parnell and Chicago's Billy Pierce were the two others.)  The Yankees, meanwhile, had their own starting troika of renown with Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi and Eddie Lopat.  While not the measure of Lemon, Wynn and Garcia, Reynolds, Raschi and Lopat are better known as a Pitching Trio for the Ages because they were the heart on the mound for a New York Yankee team that won five straight World Series championships, whereas the Indians were near-perennial bridesmaids.  This Insight looks at the how the two staffs fared facing off against each other as they competed for the American League pennant.

'50s Face Off:  Indians Trio vs. Yankees Troika

Superior pitching was a hallmark of the rivalry between both teams going back to 1948, the first year Reynolds (acquired by the Yankees from the Indians in 1947), Raschi (called up to stay in 1947) and Lopat (acquired from the White Sox before the season) worked the mound at Yankee Stadium as teammates. Cleveland took the pennant in a one-game playoff against Boston in 1948, and New York finished a close third, but the Yankees were the only team to have a winning record (12-10) against the Indians.  Reynolds (4-1), Lopat (5-2) and Raschi (3-1) accounted for all twelve of the Yankees anti-Cleveland dia-Tribe.  In this year before Wynn (by trade) and Garcia (as a rookie) made it to Cleveland, the Indians' top two starters--Bob Feller (2-4), still the staff ace, and Lemon (1-3), in the first of his six 20-win seasons--managed only three victories between them against the Yankees, losing seven times, but not at the cost of a pennant.

New York again won the season series between the two teams in 1949 (12-10) and 1950 (14-8) on their way to the first two of five straight pennants.  The Yankees' troika won 20 of their 26 victories, while losing 9, with Lopat beating the Indians six times without a loss in 1950.  Lemon, Wynn and Garcia won 11 of the 18 games the Indians beat the Yankees and lost 13.  Feller, still a pillar of Cleveland's staff was 3-8 against the Yankees those two years.  Although the Indians led the league in both nominal ERA (that which appears in the record books) and adjusted ERA (which takes account of home park effects and the offensive level of the time) in 1949 and 1950, winning 89 and 92 games those seasons, they were not a significant threat to the Yankees going to the World Series either year.

From 1951 to 1956, it was the Yankees and the Indians finishing first and second every year in the American League, except for 1954 when it was the other way around.  The Indians faced off against the Yankees in three close pennant races not decided till the final week of the season and lost them all. Cleveland's inability to beat out New York more than once was reflected in their season series with the Yankees.  In 1951, the Tribe was a game ahead of the Yankees with only ten remaining when they went into New York in mid-September for a two-game series. Reynolds and Lopat each threw complete game victories over Feller and Lemon, the Indians scoring only two runs in the two games. Cleveland left New York a game down but clearly defeated for the seasons, winning only three of its remaining eight games, while the Yankees won nine of their last twelve, deciding the pennant by five games in favor of New York. The 1951 Yankees overwhelmed the Indians in their season series, winning 15 of 22 games. Their trio of big-game starters—Reynolds (5-1 against Cleveland), Raschi (3-2), and Lopat (5-2)—won 13 of those 15 games, while losing five. For Cleveland, Feller—who led the league in wins with 22 in his last outstanding season—won only two of six decisions against New York, while Lemon (3-3), Wynn (1-4) and Garcia (1-3) accounted for the remainder of the Indians' seven triumphs over the Yankees, but also for ten losses. The Indians’ formidable pitching—they led the league in ERA, lowest batting average and on-base percentage against, and fewest home runs surrendered—held the Yankees to their second lowest run total against any team in the league, but the Bronx Bombers still outscored the Tribe by an average of one run per game, 99 runs (4.5 per game) to 78 (3.5 per game). 

In 1952, the Indians could get no closer than half-a-game out in the final three weeks, but never trailed by more than 2½ before being eliminated with only two games left to the season.  Cleveland was last in first place on August 22, when Garcia beat Reynolds to boost the Indians into a tie with the Yankees, but the next day a 1-0 shutout by Raschi over Wynn left New York atop the standings alone, and the Yankees never had to so much as share the lead again in a pennant they won by a mere two games. The Indians fared better head-to-head against the Yankees in 1952 but still lost the series, winning 10 and losing 12. As befitting the only other team in the American League to win 90 games, Cleveland held the Yankees to their worst record against AL teams and was the only team to batter New York pitchers, who led the league in ERA, for 100 runs. The Yankees, for their part, scored 105 runs against the Indians. This time the Yankees’ trio of starters had an 8-7 record against the Indians, while Lemon, Wynn and Garcia went 7-6, with Feller—at the beginning of the end of his great career (9-13 on the season)—winning one of four decisions against New York. 

The Yankees won their first run-away pennant under Stengel in 1953 and were never behind in the standings after only their seventh game of the season. Not that it did them any good, but this time the Indians split their season series, once again being the most difficult team for New York to beat. Reynolds pitched mostly in relief in 1953 and had no decisions against Cleveland; Raschi and Lopat won five and lost three.  All three of the Yankee starters, however, were in their mid-30s and none pitched 200 innings or started more than 26 games.  Lemon and Wynn, by now in their early 30s, and Garcia each started at least 34 games on the season and worked in excess of 250 innings.  Against the Yankees, they combined for an 11-9 record, accounting for all but two of the Indians’ decisions over New York. The two teams split their series again in 1954, this time with Cleveland winning the pennant decisively—by eight games—or as decisively as can be, considering the runner-up Yankees won 103 games of their own. Reynolds and Lopat won five and lost three against the Indians, and Raschi was denied any ability to contribute having been unceremoniously banished to the Cardinals in a pre-season trade. Lemon and Wynn went 8-5 against the Yankees, while Garcia failed to gain a victory in three decisions. This was the first time in the four years that the Indians outscored the Yankees in the season series, but just barely by 99 to 95. 

Finally, in 1955, the Indians beat the Yankees in their season series, taking 13 of 22 games, but lost the pennant by three games. This was the first time in the Stengel era that the Yankees lost a season series to any pennant race rival, of whom they faced off against eleven from 1949 to 1955. The Indians’ trio of aces had an 8-8 record against the Yankees, while New York’s vaunted trio was no longer there. But, of course, New York again came out on top of the AL standings.  And in 1956, the last year that the Indians were in any way competitive with the Yankees, Lemon, Wynn and Garcia went 6-10 against New York--who won the season series, 12 games to 10--and major league baseball's newest phenom, Herb Score, beat the Yankees three times in four decisions.

New York's trio had the edge over Cleveland's going head-to-head in the three years, 1951 to 1953, that both teams' top threesome were intact and the Yankees and Indians were the only teams directly competing for the American League pennant.   Allie Reynolds (7-5), Vic Raschi (10-4) and Ed Lopat (9-5) combined for 26 wins and 14 losses against the Indians--a .650 winning percentage, not far off their excellent collective .668  winning percentage (147-73) for those three seasons. Cleveland's top three starters combined for a 180-110 (.620) record from 1951 to 1953 and threw more than a third as many innings as New York's top three, but were only 23-25 against the Yankees, with Bob Lemon having a losing 8-9 record against the Bronx Bombers and Early Wynn a losing 6-9 record. Mike Garcia alone had a winning record against the pinstripers during those years at 9-7.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Yankees won all three pennants.  

1 comment:

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