MLB Playoffs: Should Phillies Use a Three-Man Rotation in 2010 Playoffs?

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MLB Playoffs: Should Phillies Use a Three-Man Rotation in 2010 Playoffs?
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The article has been included in just about every major newspaper and website that cover the major league baseball pennant chase.

It’s headline, in various creative forms, poses a question about the best starting rotations in baseball.

The listed contenders don’t vary much from source to source, and more often than not, the top spot is held by the crew Ruben Amaro Jr. has assembled in South Philadelphia.

Almost every one of these analyses concludes with the Phillies at or near the top the list, along with the following question—In a playoff series, would you want to face the big three of Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels?

Quite simply, with those three arms at the top of the rotation, if the Phillies can avoid a Tiger Woods-like swing slump in a playoff series, and they will be difficult to beat.

To be honest, there are very few teams that have the ability survive a cold-stretch of hitting in a playoff series, and the Phillies are capable of some pretty nasty dry spells at the plate. It’s what makes Phillies fans so thankful for their elite starting pitchers.

However, the problem with the assumption that the Phillies’ starting pitching will be handled by only Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels is that it fails to consider the possibility that someone other than the big three could be called on in the playoffs.

Assuming the Phillies hold on to the wild-card position or overtake the Braves for the NL East title, they will soon be faced with the decision of using a three-man starting rotation in the playoffs versus the option of sending either Joe Blanton or Kyle Kendrick to the mound in order to keep their big-three on their normal four days rest.

In case you need a reminder, this is the same Joe Blanton that opponents have enjoyed a .301 batting average against this season. He is also the $8 million dollar option with the 4th worst ERA in the majors (5.54). Equally troubling is the fact that Blanton has only produced quality starts in 10 of his 20 opportunities this season.

As for Kyle Kendrick, the phrase “feast or famine” couldn’t be a more appropriate description of the risk that accompanies the Phillies fifth starter. He has looked terrific in nine of his 24 starts, lasting at least six innings while giving up one or fewer runs. Just as frequent, however, are the nights during which he can’t keep his team in the game. Kendrick has given up five or more runs ten times this season.

So, when it comes to a fourth starter for this year’s postseason, the Phillies are facing a huge roll of the dice. If they want to keep the big guns on regular rest, they can pitch Joe Blanton and expect a consistently mediocre outing that won’t kill them if the offense is rolling. They could also resort to Kyle Kendrick, in which case they may get a terrific start or be blown off the field in the early innings of a crucial game.

The possibility of a three-man rotation in the playoffs is something that needs to be examined using a concrete example. Just how difficult would this task be for Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels?

A quick look at the Phillies playoff run of 2009 provides some insight.

Remember that the Phillies starting rotation for the 2009 playoffs included Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, and Pedro Martinez (Jamie Moyer, J.A. Happ, and Brett Myers were eliminated from starting consideration when the playoffs arrived).

That four-man rotation worked off of four days rest throughout the entire 2009 playoffs, which ended when the Phillies lost in the sixth game of the World Series.

A closer look at that playoff schedule reveals that even a three-man rotation could have functioned with four days rest between starts until nearly the very end. Thanks, in part, to the Phillies quick advancement through the first two rounds of the playoffs, a three man rotation could have pitched with full rest all the way until the fourth and fifth games of the World Series.

That would mean that if the Phillies compete in this year’s postseason, they could conceivably utilize a three-man rotation and only be required to call on Roy Halladay or Roy Oswalt to pitch with three days rest once or twice. This would seem to be a reasonable approach if the reward was a World Series title.

Assuming the Phillies make the playoffs in 2010, the only foil to the three-man rotation plan would be if they are stretched to five or seven games in the first two rounds of the playoffs, which would subtract from their off-days between series. If that happens, and a fourth starter is needed, Joe Blanton’s usual three or four runs over six innings would likely be a better option than Kyle Kendrick’s potential for a meltdown.

Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels are a $37 million dollar per year investment. With the way they consistently shut down the opposition, this dollar amount is an absolute bargain.

As the Phillies look ahead to another postseason run, they would be wise to not leave their fate in the hands of any other starting pitcher on their roster.

 

 

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