The last 10 World Series winners had a closer who averaged 36 saves and a 2.67 ERA. Only two of the last 10 World Series winners had a closer who blew more than five saves all season.
Eight of the last 10 World Series champs had a bullpen crew with a total ERA under 4.00. And just two failed to convert at least 70 percent of their save opportunities.
So if you don't see where we're coming from here, not even Rand and McNally could draw you this road map. The moral of this story, as Bob Lemon once said, is that the two most important things in life are "good friends and a strong bullpen." And when you reach October, even friends don't matter much.
Fifteen teams are rumbling down the stretch, trying to fit themselves into eight playoff spots. We can't guarantee that the team with the best bullpen will win. But history tells us that the team with the worst bullpen usually doesn't.
That doesn't augur well for the Cardinals, the Royals or (uh-oh) the Red Sox. But after surveying a bunch of players and scouts in both leagues, here is how we would rate the bullpens of those contenders:
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.