Today's postseason question: Should managers attempt to clean up as much as possible with their No. 1 starter?
This year's playoff format will challenge every manager to make the same decision: They can start their Game 1 starter on three days' rest in Game 4, or hold him on five days' rest for Game 5. Furthermore, a pitcher who starts Game 4 in the Division Series could start Game 1 of the LCS on three days' rest, or Game 2 on four days' rest. However, a pitcher who starts Game 5 of the Division Series won't be ready at the earliest until Game 3 of the ALCS. (See schedule here.)
What would you do?
For example, if you're Jim Leyland, you could use Justin Verlander on the following schedule:
Friday, Sept. 30: Game 1, ALDS
Tuesday, Oct. 2: Game 4, ALDS (three days' rest)
Saturday, Oct. 8: Game 1, ALCS (three days' rest)
Wednesday, Oct. 12: Game 4, ALCS (three days' rest)
Sunday, Oct. 16: Game 7, ALCS (three days' rest)
Thursday, Oct. 20: Game 2, World Series (three days' rest)
Wednesday, Oct. 26: Game 6, World Series (five days' rest)
Even on a strict three-day diet, Verlander would be unable to start three games in the World Series, assuming every series goes the distance. Now, maybe the Tigers wouldn't want to start Verlander five games in a row on three days' rest -- after all, he's never done it once in his career. It still seems a manager could gain a big edge, however, if he's at least willing to start his ace on short rest in Game 4 in the Division Series, since he'd then be able to bring him back for Game 2 of the LCS on regular rest, instead of waiting until Game 3.
Here's the scenario for Verlander if he never starts on short rest:
Friday, Sept. 30: Game 1, ALDS
Thursday, Oct. 6: Game 5, ALDS (five days' rest)
Tuesday, Oct. 11: Game 3, ALCS (four days' rest)
Sunday, Oct. 16: Game 7, ALCS (four days' rest)
Saturday, Oct. 22: Game 3, World Series (five days' rest)
Thursday, Oct. 27, Game 7, World Series (four days' rest)
Verlander could still get six postseason starts ... but three of those would come in a Game 5 or Game 7, which may never happen if he's only making one start earlier in the series. Of course, the best scenario is that you wrap up the series early, leaving your ace ready to start Game 1 of the next series. This, of course, is why the Phillies would seem the big favorite heading into the postseason: It doesn't matter where their rotation falls since they have three aces in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
Here's a look back at the past 10 seasons and all the starts made on short rest. As you can see, it's fallen into disfavor in recent years, although Joe Girardi successfully used CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte on three days' rest in winning the World Series in 2009. (We've also had very few series go the distance in recent years, leaving managers without the trouble of making the short-rest call.)
2010: 1 (Derek Lowe; pitched well, but lost 3-2)
2009: 3 (CC Sabathia 2, Andy Pettitte 1; Sabathia won both his starts, Pettitte struggled in Game 6 of the World Series, but won)
2008: 1 (Derek Lowe; allowed two runs in five inning in NLCS Game 4)
2007: 1 (Chien-Ming Wang; gave up five hits and four runs in one inning in Game 4 of ALDS)
2006: 1 (Oliver Perez; started Game 7 of NLCS and allowed one run in six innings)
2004: 7 (Brandon Backe, four runs in 4.2 innings of NLCS Game 1; Derek Lowe, one run in Game 7 of ALCS on TWO days' rest; Johan Santana, one run in five innings in ALDS Game 4; Kevin Brown, knocked out in second inning of ALCS Game 7; Matt Morris, four runs in 4.1 innings in World Series Game 2; Roger Clemens, two runs in five innings of NLDS Game 4; Roy Oswalt, two runs, 111 pitches in five innings but won Game 5 of NLDS)
2003: 8 (Andy Pettitte, one run in 8.2 innings of World Series Game 2; Barry Zito, lost Game 5 of ALDS with four runs in six innings; David Wells, three runs in seven innings in World Series Game 1; Josh Beckett, shutout in Game 6 of World Series; Mark Redman, got knocked out in third of World Series Game 2; Mike Hampton, four runs in 6.2 innings of NLDS Game 5; Russ Ortiz, two runs in five innings in NLDS Game 4; Tim Hudson, left after one scoreless inning of Game 4 of ALDS)
2002: 5 (Jarrod Washburn, two runs in five innings to win ALDS Game 4; John Lackey, one run in five innings to win Game 7 of the World Series; Kevin Millwood, two runs in five innings to lose Game 5 of NLDS; Mark Mulder, two runs in seven innings of ALDS Game 5; Tim Hudson, seven runs in 3.1 innings of ALDS Game 4; Tom Glavine, seven runs in 2.2 innings of NLDS Game 4)
2001: 8 (Aaron Sele, three runs in six innings of ALCS Game 1; Chuck Finley, two runs in 4.1 innings of ALDS Game 5; Curt Schilling; three runs over 14.1 innings of Games 4 and 7 of World Series; Freddy Garcia; three runs in 7.1 of ALCS Game 2; Greg Maddux, three innings, six runs in NLCS Game 4; Jamie Moyer, one run in six innings of ALDS Game 5; Tom Glavine, three runs in five innings, NLCS Game 5)
It's arguable it's the most important move a manager will make all October. Will Verlander start on three days' rest? If the Phillies are down 2-1 in the Division Series, do you start Halladay over Roy Oswalt or Vance Worley? Girardi will almost surely use Sabathia in Games 1 and 4 of the Division Series.