Today is the final off-day the Nationals will have during the regular season. They’ll finish by playing 16 games in 16 days.
How am I celebrating this rare time that I get to spend away from my laptop? Sitting in front of my laptop reading and writing about baseball.
Welcome to the life of Dan Kolko.
Actually, I’m going to go out to dinner a little later to celebrate my final hours before another birthday. So, there’s that.
As I was in the cab back from the airport this afternoon, I stumbled upon an article on Fangraphs in which Dave Cameron had a really interesting suggestion for the teams which win the wild card spots and have to take part in the one-game play-in game to determine who advances to the divisional round of the playoffs.
Cameron’s idea was that those teams flip-flop the normal pitching order and have their closer start the wild card game. The team would then mix and match relievers for much of the rest of the game and, if needed, could use a starter in the late innings to close things out.
Using the Braves as an example, Cameron suggested that they start the dominant Craig Kimbrel, use him for the first couple innings and then go from there, using other relievers based on specific favorable matchups.
Going with this strategy, the Braves could guarantee that they get to use their best pitcher for meaningful innings, use position players to pinch hit every time the pitcher’s spot in the order comes up (or when they deem it necessary) and not have to burn their ace just for the one-game wild card contest.
The Braves could then trot out Kris Medlen or Tim Hudson for the first game of the divisional round, and because of the schedule which allows for a day off for the wild card winner in between the play-in game and the divisional round, the relievers used would have time to rest before they’d be needed again.
It’s a radical idea, and one which makes a lot of sense with the one-game format.
That said, no manager would likely think about actually implementing this himself.
The stakes are far too high and the spotlight shines far too brightly in the playoffs. If a manager tried this out and it flopped, he’d be ripped to shreds all offseason and would risk having this hang over his head for years to come.
There are also in-game negative factors to consider - for instance, relievers used to pitch in high-leverage, late-inning situations often have trouble adjusting to being put into a less intense spot. Think about all the times we’ve seen closers come into a game in a non-save situation and struggle to pitch as effectively without the ninth-inning, close-game drama factoring in.
The Nationals want nothing to do with the one-game wild card play-in game, and with their magic number to clinch the division at 11 with 16 games to go, they probably won’t have to deal with any such ideas.
Regardless, it makes for an interesting discussion.