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Friday, September 30, 2011
A little postseason chaos adds intrigue

By David Schoenfield

The most unpredictable series of the first round just became about 10,000 times more difficult to predict.

Game 1 for the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees will resume Saturday night. Ivan Nova will enter in relief for the Yankees. Doug Fister will enter in relief for the Tigers. CC Sabathia will take the mound again in Game 3 on Monday; presumably, so will Justin Verlander.

Good luck projecting what will happen now. A.J. Burnett might get a start. Brad Penny might get one. Neither guy is any good, which means more pressure on the bullpens, and more pressure on Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland to pull pitchers at the right time and use the right relievers.

You know what? I like it. If the series had gone off as scheduled, the Yankees would have used two starting pitchers -- Sabathia and Nova -- to start four of the possible five games. That's not baseball. In the regular season, you're supposed to have depth in your rotation. You're supposed to have four or five quality starters. Heck, the Yankees won the World Series in 2009 basically on the strength of Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. Now we'll see what they have beyond the big guy.

And same thing with the Tigers. This is their opportunity to show that Verlander isn't a one-man pitching staff, for Fister to show that his late-season dominance wasn't merely the result of facing soft American League Central lineups, for Max Scherzer to show that his ace-like stuff can show up in a big game.

My first instinct says this gives an edge to Detroit. I like Fister over Nova in their two potential matchups; I like Scherzer over Freddy Garcia in the revised Game 2 matchup; I don't like the idea of Burnett starting at all. And as good as the Yankees' bullpen is at the back end with Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, this likely will mean guys such as Luis Ayala and Cory Wade will have to pitch important innings, since Garcia and Burnett are unlikely to pitch deep into the game. Your lasting impression of Ayala and Wade, of course, is Wednesday night's blown lead in Tampa, but they actually were very effective this season: Ayala had a 2.09 ERA in 56 innings, and Wade had a 2.04 ERA in 39.2 innings.

It certainly isn't the ideal situation Girardi and Leyland wanted to deal with, but this aspect of the potential chaotic nature of the postseason is so compelling. It's Randy Johnson and Jack McDowell pitching in relief in Game 5 of the 1995 division series between the Yankees and Mariners; it's Kevin Brown pitching in relief for San Diego in the 1998 National League Championship Series; it's John Smoltz -- when he was still a starter -- getting a save in Game 2 of the 1999 NLCS, starting Game 4 and entering again in relief in Game 6.

There's even a silver lining in all this for the Tigers and Yankees: With Sabathia and Verlander going again Monday, either one would now be lined up to start in Game 1 of the league championship series.

That is, assuming they don't come out of the bullpen in Game 5. Now how awesome would that be?