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Sunday, October 2, 2011
It's usually a bad idea to start on short rest


Here's a little nugget you should file away, because it's going to come up again during this postseason.

It looks at the perils of starting pitchers working on short rest when the games mean the most.

We're taking that look because on Sunday, two teams -- the Brewers (with Zack Greinke) and Cardinals (with Chris Carpenter) -- will start maybe their most important pitchers on three days' rest.

Chris Carpenter
Carpenter

Zack Greinke
Greinke

They wouldn't be the first teams to try this ploy this time of year. But here's what they should know going in:

It doesn't work a whole lot. And we have the numbers to prove it.

Since 2005, 21 pitchers have headed for the mound on short rest in the postseason. Here's how that's gone:

• Their combined ERA in those starts is 5.83.

• Their won-loss record is 5-8.

• Their teams have won only eight of those games.

Now here's the breakdown year by year.

That 2011 start you see above was made by C.J. Wilson the other day. He went out there in Game 1 against the Rays after a mini-start four days earlier (two IP, 38 pitches). Didn't work out so hot.

Meanwhile, the one win in 2010 might also be looked upon as slightly misleading. It came in a Game 1 World Series start by Tim Lincecum four days after an NLCS relief outing in which he recorded only one out and threw just 16 pitches.

You wouldn't have thought those 16 pitches would have affected Lincecum much. But he made what was, by far, his worst start in the final two months last year (5 2/3 IP, eight hits, four earned runs, only three strikeouts).

Then, if you keep going and take a look back at the three postseasons that preceded that, there's only one word for them: ugly. Yearly ERAs of 6.30, 6.00 and 20.77? Yikes.

Now remember, these aren't just any old pitchers who are making these starts. These are starts that almost always have been made by their teams' BEST pitchers -- guys they are looking to run out there as often as they can in the biggest games of the year.

So maybe this will all work out fine Sunday afternoon. Maybe Carpenter (who is coming off a complete game in Houston just four days ago and has NEVER pitched on short rest in his career) will look exactly like Chris Carpenter. Maybe Greinke (who is working on short rest for the second straight start after having done it only once in his career before that) will look exactly like Zack Greinke.

But recent history tells us these gambles rarely look as brilliant on the mound as they look on the drawing board. It will be interesting to see whether this is the October when that trend reverses.

Or not.