Daily Windup: Storylines to watch
With teams closing in on postseason spots left and right, a gathering East Coast storm threatening to throw baseball's final regular-season weekend into a schedule-maker's Armageddon and a familiar season-ending emotion now in full bloom -- that's good, old-fashioned desperation in the air -- here are four storylines to watch on Thursday night:
1) Does the Brewers' decision to start Yovani Gallardo against the Pirates smack of -- oh, I don't know -- last-gasp desperation to you? Because it sure does to me.
Gallardo, a 22-year-old right hander, has not pitched since May 1. He had surgery on a torn ligament in his knee back in mid-May. He wasn't expected, by most observers, to be back quite this quickly.
But there he was, looking happy and healthy enough in an interview after a throwing session in an instructional league on Friday in which he tossed 75 pitches. The Brewers said they'd use him out of the bullpen down the stretch. "We don't want to be foolish because there is a very, very bright future here," assistant general manager Gord Ash told MLB.com. "We're not going to take a short-term gain for a problem down the road."
But with Ben Sheets injured, Jeff Suppan ineffective and winless in September and CC Sabathia going on short rest at every chance possible, the Brewers' front office decided a start was indeed in order for Gallardo.
Now, granted, being tied for the wild-card lead after blowing a 5½-game cushion at the beginning of the month, is probably the very definition of desperation. At least in Milwaukee it is. The Brewers are flat up against it now. They'd like to get at least a little of that cushion back before they host the first-place Cubs this weekend.
But from a guy who hasn't pitched in four months? Quite possibly a gimpy, rusty guy? I don't know ...
"I don't think he's 100 percent, but I think with the medical staff they have -- it's one of the best -- that they're doing it smart," says Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, who knows knees and shoulders and every other aching body part better than anyone in the baseball-writing business. "He's also not really starting -- it will end up being a bullpen game, but they thought he'd have the most comfortable experience doing his normal starting routine."
Carroll points out that the Rangers' Milton Bradley came back from the same injury in a similar timeframe, and if Bradley played for a decent team, he might be an MVP candidate. Still, you have to wonder, at the least, if the Brewers aren't doing exactly what Ash was trying to guard against.
Desperate times. Desperate measures.
2) The weather map on Thursday looked like a giant, swirly spring was about to bounce off the East Coast. The call on Weather.com was for a 100 percent chance of precipitation -- my guess is they're talking rain -- for Thursday night, all through Friday and dropping to 90 percent on Saturday.
That could screw up games with playoff implications in Boston (hosting the Indians) and New York (where the Mets host the Cubs) on Thursday, and Boston (vs. the Yankees), Philadelphia (the Nationals) and New York (the Mets and Marlins) this weekend.
A rainout on Thursday in New York, for instance, could be made up on Monday, if necessary. But a rainout on Saturday in any of those places and baseball is looking at a possibly major headache concerning doubleheaders. Those rescheduled games could all creep into Monday (Sunday is the official end of the season) and, possibly, beyond. That would threaten the start of the postseason, which is scheduled for Wednesday.
And that's not even addressing what it might do to rotations and the burden it would put on a bullpen having to be ready for two games in one day.
"That would be very tough," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said on Wednesday night. "It would possibly cause us to move people into positions we're not used to being in."
Sure, it's fair to wonder how much worse the Mets' bullpen could get. We probably don't want to see.
3) If the Mets play on Thursday night, Pedro Martinez is expected to start. Everybody loves the idea of Martinez pitching, especially in late-season, must-have games. But if you've seen Martinez pitch lately, the concept can cause as much anxiety as a big, swirly spring bouncing off your head.
Martinez, 5-6 with a 5.50 ERA overall, has made it past the sixth inning only three times in 19 starts this season. And with that bullpen the Mets need a starter to go as deep into games as he can go. Martinez, lately, has been especially untrustworthy. Since his last trip past six innings, on Aug. 21, he's 1-3 in five starts with a 7.00 ERA. Opponents are hitting .345 off him.
Martinez, who has had a difficult year coming back from surgery and dealing with the death of his father, still puts in the pitches. He's thrown more than 100 in five of his last six starts. But he's giving up lots of hits and walking more than he ever has.
4) The Twins have made all the right moves in their wins this week over the White Sox in Minneapolis. Now they need one more, on Thursday night, when they try to finish off a sweep of Chicago and take over first place in the American League Central.
The Twins moved within a half-game of the ChiSox with Wednesday's 3-2 win, giving them a 9-8 edge over their division rivals this season. It's been a corker of a series; the White Sox have actually outscored the Twins, 94-92. The Twins are 7-1 against the Sox in Minneapolis this season.
This is the last scheduled meeting of the year between the two teams, though they could meet in a one-game playoff if the Sox have to make up a rainout game against the Tigers. Whatever the case, either the Sox or the Twins will make it to the postseason. Not both of them.
"You know what?," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski said after Wednesday's game. "We win [on Thursday] and these first two games don't even matter."
Well, those games will matter, anyway. And if the Sox lose on Thursday in the rain-protected Metrodome ... well, A.J., then it should really matter to you.