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October 21, 2008

Playoff Health Report

World Series

by Will Carroll

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Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies have had time to rest and to deal with the minor health issues that had cropped up during the ALCS. It's given them the opportunity to freshen up the bullpen, work on their scouting reports, and re-set the rotation in the sequence that got them here. There's some question of fatigue, with several players going past normal workloads. The most concern has been for Carlos Ruiz, who hasn't had many days off since the All-Star Game. Or has he? After starting every game of the playoffs and much of the run up to October, I had the impression that Ruiz had been overworked, but the facts don't support this belief. Ruiz has had fourteen offdays since the end of the season, and almost thirty days where he didn't play (including offdays) since the All-Star break. It's certainly more of a workload than he's had in the past, and it could be a factor.

The other worry for the Phillies is the pitching staff. Cole Hamels hasn't shown any signs of fatigue, but he is well past his previous career highs for innings. One scout who has been watching his playoff starts says that he sees no difference, and that, if anything, Hamels seems a bit more focused and clean with his mechanics at present. That's a very good thing. There's always the possibility that there could be a slight "hangover" next year, but that's not going to matter if there's a flag flying in Philly. For now, Hamels looks like an ace. Brett Myers is a bit tougher to read, largely due to his role change coming into this year. While we know that there is some conversion from relief innings to a starter's innings, no one is sure exactly what it is, and thus far Myers has looked good since his early summer vacation to Allentown. Again, the results are what count, and Myers has been solid through the postseason.

There don't seem to be any significant issues, though at this time of the year everything can be magnified. There has been no mention of Pat Burrell's back, Jimmy Rollins' legs, or J.C. Romero's ankle, so we have to assume that those situations are under control. The extra rest between each series has the Phillies are in a nice situation. I'll leave the questions of momentum and delay to the readers of tea leaves; there is no question that rest and recovery time keep a team healthy.

Tampa Bay Rays

Moments after the Rays won the pennant (and yeah, that phrase still looks weird), B.J. Upton was interviewed. He was just seconds out of the dog-pile and in the middle of perhaps the greatest moment of his young life, but when Craig Sager asked him what got him there, he didn't have to think: "I have to give credit to the training staff," he said, tears in his eyes. While no team makes it to the playoffs without the work of the medical staff having a huge impact, it's been very clear in this case. The arms on the pitching staff are essentially all healthy. Upton's shoulder is, well, I don't think "healthy" is the right word after his power display; it's clearly working. Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford came back late in the season, and were both put on the post-season roster without hesitation, in large part due to the trust Joe Maddon had in his medical staff, and the move has paid off exponentially.

It appears that the Rays will go with the same bullpen structure for the playoffs, with Troy Percival once again inactive. The team won't go with David Price as the closer, if only because he wouldn't be available on back-to-back nights. The staff is going to keep a close eye on Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler, both of whom were worn out by the end of the ACLS. Maddon said that Balfour was "a little flat," and left him out of the Game Seven mix. With a couple of days' rest before the World Series, the Rays are expecting to be back to full strength, but this could be a weakness for the team. With Scott Kazmir the likely starter in Game One while still dealing with transient ulnar neuritis, the Rays have to hope that he can go deep into the game to avoid overtaxing the pen. Edwin Jackson figures to be the shadow here, rather than Price.

The Rays' position players are solid. Longoria has had no issues with his arm, Crawford's had no issues with his fingers or (more importantly) his hamstrings, and Upton's shoulder looks fine. Ongoing maintenance is key, and the medical staff will be dealing with these on an ongoing basis, so it shouldn't be a worry as long as there are no simultaneous breakdowns that might tax the staff.

As for having only two down days between the end of the LCS and the beginning of the World Series, and the ability to rest and re-set the rotation, that's a bit of a mixed bag. Chase Gharrity, one of our interns here at BP, pulled up some data for teams that had one and two days off between series, and how their rotations fell. The columns here are World Series games won and lost, Game Ones won and lost, which rotation spot wound up starting Game Seven of the LCS, and which starts Game One of the WS:


One days' rest
Year Team         WSW  WSL  Gm1W  Gm1L  PGm7  PGm1
2006 Cardinals     4    1     1     0     3     4
2004 Cardinals     0    4     0     1     3     1
2003 Yankees       2    4     0     1     3     5
1991 Braves        3    4     0     1     3     4
                   9   13     1     3

Two days' rest
2006 Red Sox       4    0     1     0     3     1
2004 Red Sos       4    0     1     0     4     3
2003 Marlins       4    2     1     0     3     2
1996 Braves        2    4     1     0     3     1
1992 Braves        2    4     1     0     4     3
1988 Dodgers       4    1     1     0     1     2
1987 Cardinals     3    4     0     1     2     3
                  23   15     6     1

Total             32   28     7     4

As you can see, two days' rest doesn't appear to be any handicap at all, and the Rays' rotation comes out well. While Kazmir is the de facto number two starter behind James Shields, the interchangeable nature of all four members of their rotation renders this a rather moot point. They're merely swapping Kazmir and Shields in the set, but this was actually done in the ALCS as part of Maddon's plan. Overall, the other starters line up well, and only Matt Garza is well beyond where he's been as far as innings pitched goes. At worst, they match up well fatigue-wise with the Phillies, who have a similar lack of experience in being pushed beyond their regular-season workloads.

Both teams come into this World Series with few major concerns beyond the known minor issues that they've adjusted to, or the common fatigue that every team suffers going late into October. That means that the World Series should be decided by talent, the way it ought to be. We should tip our caps-red or blue-to Scott Sheridan and Ron Porterfield for getting them all this far.

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