Five Cuts: How do you beat the Yankees? Smoltz has a radical idea
Both the Yankees and Phillies have lineups that wear down opposing pitchers
Joe Girardi has a big decision to make about his postseason rotation
Off days were added to the postseason to accommodate a request from Fox
1. As the postseason began, Cardinals pitcher John Smoltz gave me a stunning piece of advice about how to stop the Yankees this October. Remember, it was the powerful New York lineup that knocked Smoltz clear out of the American League and very nearly all the way into retirement with a resounding thumping back in August.
"I'll tell you what I would do against them," Smoltz said, "and I know nobody would ever do this. I would treat it like a spring training game with my pitchers. I would keep bringing in a fresh arm to pitch to them, rather than asking my starting pitcher to go deep into the game trying to get them out two, three, four times. They just wear out a pitcher.
"I know nobody would ever do it, because what message would people think you were giving your starting pitcher? But their lineup is so deep I would change pitchers every two or three innings, just like you do in spring training."
I have to admit that Smoltz's Spring Training Plan has some merit, if only to prove a point: The Yankees wear out pitchers like no other team in baseball, chiefly because they don't chase pitches out of the strike zone and they hammer the ones in it. But if there is any team with a profile that resembles that of New York, it is its World Series opponent, the Phillies.
Welcome to the World Series, the War of Attrition, where the walk is a weapon and the pitch count is a measurement of casualties. This is the first World Series since 1926 to include the home run and runs leaders of each league. More than that, though, is the way the Yankees and Phillies aim to grind down their opponents, as has been on full display this October.
In 18 combined postseason games, New York and Philadelphia have outwalked their opponents 89-49 and outhomered them 28-11. Both teams are loaded with switch-hitters and hitters who don't have exaggerated platoon splits. And barring rainouts, the teams are scheduled to play five games in six days, including -- can you actually believe this? -- three straight days for the first time all postseason!
Those factors add up to a strain on bullpens by the time we head into the middle of the series. And more specifically, that means a strain on the managers. Joe Girardi of New York and Charlie Manuel of Philadelphia will become storylines of this Series. They will be faced with more extremely difficult choices than usual -- when to pull a starter, when to go to the closer, when to go strictly by left-on-left and right-on-right, etc. -- because there are no dead spots in either lineup, because both teams get extra-base power and RBIs when the lineup turns over to their 1 and 2 spots, and because of the switch-hitters and so few big platoon splits.
The games will likely be decided late, by the scoreboard and by the clock. Because of that, what Girardi and Manuel need is a reliable troubleshooter to emerge from their bullpen: a guy with plus stuff who can get multiple outs against either right-handers or left-handers in a big spot, and that could be anywhere from the sixth through eighth innings.
What Girardi and Manuel need is a 2009 version of J.C. Romero in last year's World Series. Romero pitched in four of the five games for Philadelphia, earned the win in two of them, and took care of 14 outs without allowing a walk or a run. The manager who has that hot hand is the one who will come out looking smart. The pitchers who most fit that profile for each team are Ryan Madson of Philadelphia and Phil Hughes of New York, but neither comes into the Series especially sharp.
So hang on, fans. If you like offense and if you like second-guessing, this is your Series. It's about to get busy and stay busy. This Turnpike Series should be as eventful as the New Jersey artery that connects the two cities: lots of traffic, a breakdown here and there, not always pretty, and you're not getting off without paying a toll.
2. I thought about Smoltz's Spring Training Plan in ALCS Game 6 as the Yankees ground down Los Angeles starter Joe Saunders like pepper with a mortar and pestle. It turned out that for the entire series Smoltz was right. I looked at how the Angels starters fared through their first, second and third times through the New York lineup. Sure enough, look at how the Yankees wore down the Los Angeles starters, especially seen in the increasing rate of walks and runs with each successive turn:
Maybe Charlie Manuel should look at those numbers. After the ALCS ended, I asked Angels manager Mike Scioscia about Smoltz's plan. He shrugged and said, "You'd better have a deep, deep staff if you're going to do that."
But Scioscia did get the point: Holding back the New York lineup is like trying to hold back water with your hands.
"One thing I know is that you can't give them extra outs," he said. "That lineup is so tough. That lineup is probably the best lineup I have seen in our league over the years."
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