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|The Philles might be forced to use Joe Blanton (4.82) if they make the NLCS.|
During yet another tedious workout on an off-day last October, Angels manager Mike Scioscia sat in the dugout at Yankee Stadium, shaking his head in disbelief at his team's playoff schedule: nine games in 21 days. "We've had more days off in October than we had during the regular season,'' he said. "This needs to be fixed.''
While there isn't much MLB can do about off-days between series, it has streamlined the postseason by eliminating the nontravel off-day after Game 4 of the LCS. The change will affect both the continuity of the playoffs -- "All that day did was give you more time to sit around and wait," says Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, "and we want to play" -- and the strategy.
Last fall, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte were the only starters the Yankees used in 15 postseason games, with Sabathia starting twice on short rest and Burnett once. If a team wants to try that tactic in this year's LCS, it must ask all three to pitch on short rest, which is unlikely.
"I think it is a better test of your pitching depth when you have to use four starters," says Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey. For the Phillies, that would mean starting Joe Blanton (4.94 ERA), while the Rays could be forced to use rookie Wade Davis (4.14 ERA).
The new schedule will also affect bullpens. In past years, managers could use their closer in every game, knowing he would never have to pitch on more than two consecutive days, which relievers rarely do. "This new schedule is a better representation of the regular season because you are using most of your staff," Hickey says.
Players say it's a different game in October. But thanks to this scheduling tweak, the difference won't be quite as drastic.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.