NEW YORK – Postseason games come at an unprecedented pace starting Monday in this year of the pandemic.
Teams could play the Division Series over five straight days, take a single day off and then contest the League Championship Series on seven consecutive days. That could stress closers such as Aroldis Chapman, Liam Hendriks and Kenley Jansen, and starters like Gerrit Cole and Walker Buehler.
“I’m old school, I guess, but it’s all about winning. And if they needed me, I wanted them to put me in there, ” said Darold Knowles, who helped Oakland win the 1973 title by becoming the first to pitch in all seven World Series games. “I think that’s the way everybody feels now, but they’re so afraid they’re going to hurt somebody. And I understand that. I think it’s a little bit overdone.”
No one has pitched in games for five straight days since Shawn Tolleson for Texas from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3, 2015, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The last to pitch for seven straight days was San Francisco’s Steve Kline from July 31 to Aug. 6, 2007.
“The five days in a row would be interesting, right? You would have to be really efficient the first four days for that to happen,” New York Yankees reliever Zack Britton said. “But if it’s a winner-take-all game, you’re going do it because that’s what you need to do to win.”
The Division Series has had a 2-2-1 format since 1998, with a day off scheduled between Games 2 and 3, then another between Games 4 and 5 as the teams shift to each other’s ballpark. The League Championship Series has had a 2-3-2 format since 1985, with days off between Games 2 and 3, then another between Games 5 and 6.
Travel days were eliminated as Major League Baseball switched to a bubble environment in an attempt to avoid October interruptions caused by COVID-19.
AL Division Series start Monday, when the Yankees and Tampa Bay play at San Diego’s Petco Park, and Oakland and Houston meet at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. NL Division Series open the Tuesday, with Miami facing Atlanta at Houston’s Minute Maid Park and San Diego going against the Dodgers at new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
To start twice in the Division Series, Game 1 pitchers would have to come back on three days' rest.
“The change was purely a product the timing we needed to institute the bubble and avoid extending the end date of the postseason,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “We always are concerned about player health, but the number of days in a row is not all that different from stretches in the regular season and we have expanded rosters.”
Union head Tony Clark said the schedule was set at MLB’s discretion.
“The original draft of the postseason schedule we received on 7/31 had fewer off days but didn’t eliminate them,” he wrote in an email. “We didn’t see the revised schedule until right before it went out publicly.”
Winners advance to the ALCS in Arlington starting Sunday and the NLCS in San Diego beginning Oct. 12. The World Series opening Oct. 20 will keep the days off in the 2-3-2 format used since 1924, even though it will be played entirely in Arlington.
Reaching the World Series will test an entire pitching staff more than usual. Washington used five pitchers for 31 of 36 innings of its sweep of St. Louis in last year’s NL Championship and three pitchers — Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin — for 89 2/3 innings among 153 in the postseason, or 59%.
“You can’t just send your closer out there for two innings and think those guys are going to continue to to be able to do that. They’d probably be willing to do it, but it’s probably not going to be the most successful way forward,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I don’t mind it honestly, It tests your depth of a pitching staff and the way you do things You don’t need the off days. You’re not traveling.”
Mike Marshall pitched in relief on eight straight days for the Los Angeles Dodgers from May 17-24, 1974, during his Cy Young Award-winning season, allowing one run and 13 hits in 14 2/3 innings with 11 strikeouts and two walks.
Kent Tekulve set a record when he pitched on nine straight days for Philadelphia from Aug. 5-13, 1987, giving up one run and seven hits in 10 innings with five walks and eight strikeouts.
“I’m willing to pitch every single game. I think everyone else is, too,” Marlins reliever Richard Bleier said. “I’ve worked my whole life to get to this situation and be able to contribute in a playoff team. This is why we all play. And I would love nothing more than to contribute to every game possible.”
More frequent appearances would change Bleier’s approach.
“It’s more like a starter mentality where you’re getting three at-bats against a guy in consecutive days and you need to remember those previous at-bats and what they did and take that into the next outing and mix and match,” he said.
Jimmy Cordero of the Chicago White Sox topped pitchers on postseason teams with 30 regular-season appearances this year, down from the 80 by Oakland’s Yusmeiro Petit heading into the 2019 playoffs.
“Working for the players’ advantage is they haven’t just played a six-month season. So there’s less overuse accumulation going into playoffs,” said Glenn S. Fleisig, a Ph.D. who is research director at the American Sports Medicine Institute and works with renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews. “But working against them is the concentrated schedule. I can’t conceive any reliever is actually going to appear seven days in a row because I don’t know if that really happens these days.”
Three years ago, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts used Brandon Morrow in 14 of 15 postseason games, a total of 13 2/3 innings and 176 pitches over 27 days. Morrow joined Knowles as the only pitchers to appear in all seven World Series games, but his cut fastball dropped by 2 mph to an average of 92.6 mph by Game 7 against Houston.
“I don’t see anybody if there is a Game 5 pitching five games in a row,” Roberts said.
Houston’s Dusty Baker, at 71 leading his fifth team in 23 seasons as a manager, says times have changed since he broke into the big leagues in 1968.
“I think a lot of them are in better shape. They take better care nutritionally. They don’t run as much. They’re more aware of pitch counts, where before they weren’t. Before they had different stimuluses that were legal than you can use now,” he said. “The money’s different. There are more teams and therefore there’s more jobs, where back in the day you didn’t complain about things or go on the DL because there weren’t as many teams and so therefore somebody would have your job if you did.”
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