Pitching mess could doom White Sox even if they make playoffs
Getting to baseball's postseason is hard enough sometimes. Bullpens blowing up, starters going down, late losing streaks, make-up games, play-in games, just plain bad luck.
And for those fortunate enough to somehow limp into the playoffs -- um, that's not you, Mets -- what often awaits are the well-rested and nicely healed, those early clinchers who have been spending days vacuuming and setting the table and tidying up the house, waiting patiently while the rest of the October hopefuls circle the block trying to find that last parking spot.
That's what faces either the White Sox or the Twins, whichever emerges with the American League Central title after Monday's make-up game between the Sox and Tigers and -- if the Sox win that -- a Tuesday play-in game between the Sox and Twins. The eventual Central champ will play the hungry and well-rested Rays on Thursday in St. Petersburg in the first game of an AL Division Series.
And that's what the Brewers, who finally grabbed the National League's wild card Sunday, have to look forward to when they play the NL East champion Phillies on Wednesday in a National League Division Series in Philadelphia.
Welcome to the party, guys. Nice to see you. So, the ride over was a little bumpy, was it? Well, that's a shame. Oh, by the way, fellas, don't bother taking off your coats.
Baseball's postseason begins for most on Wednesday, and it's easy to say that the Phillies, Dodgers, Cubs, Angels, Rays and Red Sox are feeling a lot better about their World Series chances right now than the Brewers (who just found a spot Sunday), the ChiSox or the Twins (still circling the block).
When Wednesday rolls around, the Phillies, for one, will have their healthiest team possible ready and raring to go. Their No. 1 starter, Cole Hamels, will take the mound having not thrown a pitch with a real purpose in more than a week. Their bullpen will be nicely rested. The whole team will have been home for more than a week.
And across the field at Citizens Bank Park will be the Brewers and their starting pitcher, Whoever That Might Be.
Nobody's quite sure who will go for the Brewers yet. But CC Sabathia, their rent-an-ace, has pitched on three days of rest in between starts three straight times now, including Sunday's convincing clincher. He won't be ready until Thursday, at the earliest. Their longtime ace, Ben Sheets, lasted a little more than two innings on Saturday because of a bad elbow. He may not be able to pitch at all.
That leaves ... who? Dave Bush? Jeff Suppan? Manny Parra? Yovani Gallardo? Dale Sveum? The Mets' bullpen? Bernie Brewer? Ned Yost? Who knows?
When Thursday gets here, the Rays will have James Shields rested and ready. He started Sunday's finale and threw an inning, but that was just to keep the rust off. The Rays will face the best available pitcher from either the White Sox or Twins.
The important questions there -- other than, you know, which team the Rays will play -- are, 1.) Who is available? and 2.) Who is best?
For the Sox, Gavin Floyd is scheduled to pitch Monday in the make-up game against the Tigers, and John Danks will go on Tuesday if the Sox make it that far. With Wednesday off, Mark Buehrle could start on short rest in Game 1 against the Rays.
"We get paid to play 162 games, so we're going to get all of our money's worth,'' White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski told the Chicago Sun-Times. ''Hopefully if we win, we'll get to play 163.''
If the Twins have to play the Sox in Chicago on Tuesday -- they'll do so only if the White Sox beat the Tigers on Monday to force Game 163 -- they'll probably start Nick Blackburn, with all other hands on deck. If they win that game, they'll have either Francisco Liriano or Scott Baker for Thursday's playoff opener against the Rays, barring some extra-inning disaster against the Sox on Tuesday.
And even if the Twins don't have to play an extra game on Tuesday -- that is, if the Sox lose to Detroit on Monday, handing the Central title to the Twins -- it's not as if Minnesota is coasting into its game against the Rays. Unlike many of those early clinchers, the Twins have not had a chance to rest any of their regulars over the past few days. No more than a half-game has separated the Twins and Sox in the Central standings since last Wednesday.
Whatever happens, the Twins, White Sox and Brewers undoubtedly have been busy putting out many more fires than the rest of the postseason field in the past few days. Though, it should be pointed out, that doesn't always mean certain postseason failure.
Last year, remember, the Rockies used 10 pitchers in 13 innings of an extra game against the Padres just to get into the playoffs, then strolled into the World Series without a postseason defeat. Once they were in the Series, though -- after eight days off to rest and get their pitching back on track -- they were immediately steamrolled by the Red Sox in four straight games.
So it doesn't always work out that the healthiest, best-rested team is sitting prettiest when the playoffs start. Given the choice, though, teams will take that over a mad scramble to the finish every time.