Starting pitching in short supply in Series

Starting pitching in short supply in playoffs

Much like real estate and its reliable partner location, baseball has three simple rules for World Series success: Starting pitching, starting pitching and starting pitching.

This World Series is bending the rules a bit, at least when it comes to depth of that tried-and-true facet of the game.

The Yankees are going with three starters on three days' rest, including 37-year-old Andy Pettitte in Wednesday's Game 6. As for the Phillies, ace Cliff Lee is a guy they acquired in July, and their only other truly reliable starter at this point is Pedro Martinez, the 38-year-old Game 6 starter -- whose first action of 2009, incidentally, was in August.

Perhaps it's a portrait of the depth of starting pitching in general, perhaps not, but the fact is these two teams don't appear to be four-deep in the rotation at this point.

But, then, what team really is these days?

"There is a step down [from the first three]," said former Marlins pitching coach Mark Wiley, now a special assistant with the team. "Most teams have two No. 5s for their four and five spots. The good teams have a 1-2-3 guy, either two 2s and a 3. Or they have a real 1 and two 2s.

"I think there is a big step down in most organizations in their bottom-tier guys. That's probably why teams go with [their best] in the playoffs."

That said, even if the Yankees spent $245 million on contracts to put CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in pinstripes, their $210 million payroll doesn't afford them the luxury of a fourth starter in the World Series, even if they needed it?

And the Phillies, well, their rotation has been perhaps affected by attrition, with last year's ace Cole Hamels hitting the skids this postseason. And Joe Blanton, who pitched more innings than anyone on the Phillies this season, has been mediocre, his schedule all over the board this postseason.

Long odds on short rest
The numbers haven't been very good for starters pitching on three or fewer days' rest in the postseason since it expanded to three rounds in 1995.
Year GS W-L IP ERA
2009 3 1-1 16 2/3 5.40
2008 3 1-1 15 6.00
2007 2 0-2 4 1/3 20.77
2006 1 0-0 6 1.50
2005 3 1-0 18 2/3 2.89
2004 7 2-2 31 1/3 5.46
2003 10 3-5 57 2/3 3.43
2002 7 2-5 33 5.73
2001 9 1-5 53 3.23
2000 4 0-2 17 2/3 10.70
1999 8 1-3 26 2/3 11.81
1998 5 2-2 33 2/3 1.60
1997 7 2-2 46 3.33
1996 10 2-3 62 2/3 3.30
1995 9 3-2 52 2/3 4.61
Totals 88 21-35 475 4.68
Source: Elias Sports Bureau

At least one might say the Yankees' setup is by design, and it's being done with three pitchers -- Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte -- who have proven able to do that, and therefore aren't necessarily risking injury.

"This is what the Yankees said they were going to do when the postseason started," said Rick Peterson, the Brewers' new pitching coach and the founder of 3P Sports, a company that analyzes pitchers' deliveries to improve performance and avoid injuries. "I think that's one of the reasons it works, because they made sure their guys were ready and lined up to do it. They had two guys [Sabathia and Burnett] with a track record of doing it [pitching on short rest] and doing it well, plus Andy, another guy with a track record, who would only have to do it once, and that's now.

"Believe me, if the Yankees came down the stretch in September and knew they would need a fourth starter, they would have done what it takes to have him ready. They were great about planning all year long, whether you're talking about the plan with Joba [Chamberlain] or some other guys. Somebody would have been ready."

Jack McKeon, who guided the Marlins to the 2003 title with Josh Beckett shutting out the Yankees in Game 6 on three days' rest, said he'd be doing the same thing as Yankees manager Joe Girardi, given the givens.

"Absolutely. I want to win the thing," said McKeon, who also used Brad Penny and Carl Pavano on short rest in '03. "I'm out there to win it. I'm not going to give [the other team] a shot by pitching somebody not as good as these three guys. These three guys on three days' rest are better than the fourth guy or fifth guy, with plenty of rest.

"You've got to realize: There are certain players who can do it."

If you're on either side of the Game 6 matchup, that's probably the guy you want on the mound, but the difference in rest could play a role. Pettitte is 3-1 in four career postseason starts on short rest, but can't be expected to be at his very best after gutting out the victory in Game 3. Martinez has an impressive Game 2 performance behind him, as well as full rest.

Neither should be expected to go the distance, or that close to it, and the relief for both clubs -- with the exception of the exceptional Mariano Rivera -- has been suspect at different stages of games.

Then, if there's a Game 7, it's likely Sabathia in a second straight start on three days' rest against ... oh, who knows at this point?

2009 World Series
Gm. 1 PHI 6, NYY 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 NYY 3, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 NYY 8, PHI 5 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 NYY 7, PHI 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 8, NYY 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 6 NYY 7, PHI 3 Wrap Video

Hamels says he's not ready for the end of the season and could be ready, Blanton could go on three days' rest himself, rookie J.A. Happ may or may not be ready for the Game 7 stage and, well ... Lee probably only could pitch an inning or two in relief.

What it comes down to if this goes to a Game 7 is it's CC and Pray For Eight Innings of Him vs. All Hands On Deck.

It's all part of the drama that starts with the starters and will end with one team celebrating a World Series title.

For one baseball man with not only a World Series ring but a Hall of Fame resume as a starting pitcher, the shift in how teams -- these teams and others -- use their pitching staffs up to and during the Fall Classic doesn't jibe with the regular season. But neither does the schedule.

"I wish they didn't have the off-days so that you had to use more of your pitching staff and use more of the team that got you there," said Rangers president and former right-handed fear merchant Nolan Ryan.

That way, a fourth starter would almost have to be used -- but perhaps that wouldn't be such a good thing.

"I just think that's the way it is right now," Ryan said. "I just think that's reflective of pitching in the game right now. Teams are just not that deep in starting pitching. You just don't have that many. Most teams only have one or two front-line starting pitchers."

Maybe three. But apparently not four. That even goes for some teams in the World Series.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. Reporters Joe Frisaro, Adam McCalvy and T.R. Sullivan contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.