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September 28, 2010

One-Hoppers

An LDS Menage a Trois?

by Christina Kahrl

Every year, there's some new complaint about the way the post-season schedule serves the interests of somebody paying lots of money, sometimes at the expense of the more basic notion that post-season series should give fans champions who won or lost on the basis of their relative merits. Ideally, the process lends us a structure--and outcomes--that don't outright invalidate the outcomes of 162-game season.

But as we already know, teams generally don't bother or have to bother with fifth starters when it comes to their post-season rosters: usually there are scheduled days off for travel between the second and third game and the fourth and fifth if they're necessary. Fair enough, nobody wants to see their team's entire seasons rely too heavily on the relative merits of the fifth starter--du jour, usually, since the slot rarely comes with all that much job security given the caliber of fifths even the best clubs end up relying upon.

But what is there to say about a post-season schedule in the National League that will give two teams in one Division Series the opportunity to skip their fourth starter as well? Is that even better still, as far as quality baseball determined by each team's best, or something that stretches that tension between the validity of 162-game outcomes and post-season series?

Consider the very different slates for the two Division Series in the senior circuit:

Day
LDS1
Starter?
LDS2
Starter?
October 6 Game One #1 OFF ---
October 7 OFF --- Game One #1
October 8 Game Two #2 Game Two #2
October 9 OFF --- OFF ---
October 10 Game Three #3 Game Three #3
October 11 Game Four #1, four days' rest Game Four #4
October 12 OFF --- OFF ---
October 13 Game Five #2, four days' rest Game Five #1, five days' rest

I admit, part of me thinks that there's something sort of cool about creating an opportunity for champs to be that much more determined on the merits of their best starters--assuming of course that the two teams that wind up in the first LDS clinch in enough time to line their ducks up in a row. The problem, as I see it, is the inequity between the two schedules, in that the winners of the two series could be be determined by strongly different criteria: if you can win a five-game series in which you get four starts from your two best starters, against one team that has to get a start from each of its front four.

Think on what that means if, say, the Phillies are in the first scenario: armed with two of the top six starters in baseball in Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, and three of the top 19 if you reach "down" for Cole Hamels, they should have a potentially huge advantage if they wind up playing that schedule against any of the alternatives. Going for their notional fourth starter, Joe Blanton, gets down to the 128th ranked starter of 140 with 100 or more innings pitched this season. Think that Charlie Manuel wouldn't rather skip that possibility, and just go with his best three?

I'll be writing about these kinds of considerations at greater length for Wednesday, but I figured I'd head into it after first noting this major logistical consideration.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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