Managers Art Howe of the Oakland A's, Bob Brenly of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Bobby Cox of Atlanta and Mike Scioscia of the Anaheim Angels said they would use a three-man rotation in October. Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals was considering it. They should all rethink that strategy.
Since 1996 there have been 20 games in which a pitcher started a playoff game on three days' rest against an opponent that used a fully rested starter. Only once did the pitcher on short rest win—the Padres' Sterling Hitchcock, in Game 6 of the 1998 NLCS—while their teams went 5-15. New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, blessed with deep starting pitching (and four World Series rings in the past six years), has used a starter on short rest three times in 78 postseason games with New York, and he's 1-2 in those games. Cox, 4-6 in such situations, will use only Glavine, Maddux and Kevin Millwood this time around, rather than give rookie Damian Moss (12-6) a start. Don't be surprised if Cox regrets that decision.
Off contraction's death row, the Twins are primed for an upset.
The Minnesota Twins play exceptionally good defense and can scare the bejabbers out of visiting teams in the loud, freakish Metrodome. However, the Twins match up poorly against the Athletics, their first-round draw: Minnesota lost the season series (3-6) and struggled against lefthanded starting pitchers (23-29). The A's have two of the best lefties in the game, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, who threw back-to-back shutouts against the Twins last month.
The way to beat the Athletics is to get into their bullpen.
Oakland had some September concerns with setup men Jim Mecir, Chad Bradford, Ricardo Rincon and Jeff Tarn. Plus, closer Billy Koch has never thrown a pitch in the postseason, and he logged 93? innings over 84 games this year, an unusually heavy load for a closer. "He loves to work," one AL general manager says. "His problem is, when he gets too macho and tries to throw harder, his ball straightens out."
The A's, however, thrive in the same way that Arizona did last year: by getting as many innings as possible from their starting pitchers. The Diamondbacks needed only one win (by Randy Johnson) and three saves (none in the World Series) from their bullpen to win three playoff series. Hudson, Mulder and Zito work so deep into games that they tend to diminish the importance of middle relief, or even Koch. Beating Oakland will require beating its starters, as New York did in all six of its postseason wins over the A's in the past two years.
The Angels match up well against the Yankees.
Entering the playoffs, Anaheim was 35-34 against New York since 1996—but none of those games were played in October. The Angels have one player with postseason experience, righthander Kevin Appier, who lost his only playoff start to the Yankees in the 2000 Division Series. Anaheim's other starting pitchers, Jarrod Washburn, Ramon Ortiz and John Lackey, have all exceeded their previous career highs in innings pitched.
As the Angels stumbled in late September before securing the wild card, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said, "I just see some guys tired now." Manager Mike Scioscia added, "They're going through a pennant race for the first time and trying too hard."