THE GAME CHANGES
From Terry Francona’s use of Andrew Miller in the playoffs last year to Houston’s balky bullpen this year, there is one baseball theory that falls flat come October. The stability in securing the bullpen for Washington was a huge bonus saving the season, but watching the Astros stymie the Yankees and Dodgers with relievers reminiscent of Blake Treinen this May is stunning.
When given the opportunity, Dave Martinez must find a wrinkle to throw at playoff teams next year. Considering he learned from the master of unorthodox baseball in Maddon, you can count on something strange out of the box.
The one constant in recent playoff baseball is the changing role of the starting pitching. Once the bastion of October, they rarely pitch into the fifth inning. Starting with Madison Bumgarner’s amazing 2014 Game 7 performance for San Francisco, managers are turning more to their starters to get multiple relief innings in crucial situations. Pedro Martinez’s 1999 game-saver in the Boston-Cleveland series is no longer rare.
Justin Verlander and Chris Sale locked horns in an ALDS game that was not a do-or-die affair at Fenway Park this fall. Any chance the Dodgers had coming back in Game 7 were there because Clayton Kershaw shut Houston down.
The Nats must figure how to use this to their advantage. Are they the first team to divide a game for three three-inning pitchers? Do they experiment with a six-man rotation if they clinch early to save innings for their tired starters?
Innovation and surprise, especially the last two years, changed the way teams approach October. How Washington adapts or creates might be the difference.