Dan's Dugout: Who Will Pitch Playoff Openers? • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Who Will Pitch Playoff Openers?

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The old lefthander, rounding third and heading for home

The old lefthander, rounding third and heading for home

As Joe Nuxhall used to say at the end of a game, “This is the old lefthander, rounding third and heading for home.”

Now that September has reared its hideous end-of-summer head, the same adage applies to the 30 teams of major-league baseball.

Ten of them will reach the playoffs, with the other twenty heading for home when the curtain slams down on the 162-game season.

Managers of contenders now have a month — a little more than 30 games — to prepare their pitching rotations.

That is most critical for clubs that will clash in the wild-card games, the one-and-done series that precedes the best-of-five Division Series, best-of-seven League Championship Series, and best-of-seven World Series.

In the National League, for example, it’s pretty much a given that the Chicago Cubs will face the

The Cubs consider Jake Arrieta an ace in the hole

The Cubs consider Jake Arrieta an ace in the hole

Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card game. After the way Jake Arrieta pitched in August, Maddon probably wishes the wild-card game were tomorrow.

Arrieta, 27, capped his 6-0 August performance with a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Obtained by the Cubs in a trade that sent veteran Scott Feldman to the Orioles midway through the 2013 season, he fanned 12 a walked one against the homer-happy Dodgers.

Although lefty Jon Lester has playoff experience and is the highest-paid pitcher on Maddon’s staff, he hasn’t been as steady on the mound as the former Texas Christian University star.

In fact, the best bet to every playoff game is the coolest cucumber on the staff.

Clayton Kershaw has had playoff problems

Clayton Kershaw has had playoff problems

Since Clayton Kershaw has been less than stellar on October play, for example, the Dodgers would be wise to give the nod to Zack Grienke, the righthander who’s giving Kershaw competition for the Cy Young Award he’s monopolized.

Of all the possible playoff pitchers, Cole Hamels may be the man with the most experience. It’s almost a given that the veteran lefty will be on the hill against the New York Yankees in the American League’s wild-card game. And don’t be surprised to see the Yankees counter with either Nathan Eovaldi, who has the longest winning streak of any major-leaguer this summer, or Luis Severino, a rookie who’s lived up to the rave notices he received even before he reached the majors.

The Houston Astros, playoff participants for the first time since 2005, will almost certainly select Dallas Keuchel, who started for the American League in the All-Star Game. He may not have postseason experience but he fared well in the national spotlight in July.

PRICE

Lefty David Price will open for Toronto

As for the Toronto Blue Jays, a team known for its run-making ability, manager John Gibbons knows the Price is right for his team. David Price, a lefthanded trade deadline acquisition who has pitched like a Cy Young contender, is the unquestioned choice for him.

Like Toronto, Kansas City seems certain to pick a midseason arrival, Johnny Cueto, to open the Division Series.

The “other” Missouri team has too many choices, with erstwhile ace Adam Wainwright out of action with a ruptured Achilles and all five 2015 starters performing like a well-oiled machine. Michael Wacha, the first National Leaguer with 15 wins, wants to match his initial with a “W” and seems the best choice for the job.

Pittsburgh ace Gerrit Cole knows a win sends his team to the Division Series

Pittsburgh ace Gerrit Cole knows a win sends his team to the Division Series

And what of the hard-charging Pittsburgh Pirates? Gerrit Cole pitched well enough to make the NL All-Star team this year and is head and shoulders above the rest of the rotation.

Winning the first game of any playoff series is vital:

  • The wild-card loser goes home for the winter
  • Game 1 starters in the Division Series can return as early as Game 4 if necessary
  • Winning Division Series Game 1 means a team only has to split the remaining four games

One thing’s for sure: bullpens will be active early and pitchers who served as starters during the regular season often appear in relief.

Standings could change, of course, but only the AL East race still seems up for grabs at this late date.

No matter what happens, it should be an interesting month.

Elsewhere in baseball:

The skidding San Francisco Giants, still hoping to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, added Marlon Byrd from Cincinnati and Alejandro De Aza from Boston before the waiver deal deadline but the Dodgers added another pair of outfielders, Justin Ruggiero from Seattle and Chris Heisey from Toronto . . .

Dave Dombrowski will pick the next Red Sox general manager from a group that includes ex-GMs Frank

Dave Dombrowski will name a new GM for the Red Sox

Dave Dombrowski will name a new GM for the Red Sox

Wren (Braves), Jim Hendry (Cubs), and Omar Minaya (Mets) . . .

In talking to Atlanta, Kansas City said yet to Jonny Gomes but no to A.J. Pierzynski — even though they need a lefthanded catcher who can hit . . .

Although the Cubs sought to strengthen their pitching staff for the September stretch drive, they turned thumbs down on relievers James Russell, a lefty who got off to a strong start, and Rafael Soriano, a once-feared closer who faded fast with Washington last summer . . .

All five St. Louis starters have earned run averages below 3.00, an amazing feat considering that the injured Adam Wainwright isn’t one of them . . .

One of the big reasons for the Red Sox revival is the sudden emergence of defensive whiz Jackie Bradley, Jr. into a feared slugger . . .

The Cubs proved they’re serious about the playoffs by adding one-month rental Austin Jackson, a centerfielder who slumped with Seattle, for a player to be named later . . .

Former Cardinals standout Allen Craig, whose bat curdled so badly he went back to the minors, is getting a September showcase from the Bosox . . .

Travis Shaw, the rookie playing first base for the Red Sox, has been a great first impression . . .

Did NL pitchers catch up to Joc Pederson?

Did NL pitchers catch up to Joc Pederson?

Speaking of rookies, Joc Pederson has fallen from first-half phenom to Dodger bench-warmer . . .

Insiders say the NL Rookie of the Year will be a third baseman, either Kris Bryant (Cubs) or Matt Duffy (Giants) . . .

The Giants worry that erstwhile ace Tim Lincecum (back, hips) is done for the season . . .

Doug Fister, Washington’s struggling righthander, may have suffered this season from self-imposed pressure to perform in his “walk” year . . .

Believe it or not dept.: the Nationals have never made a trade with the Orioles, with whom they have had an ongoing dispute over television rights . . .

Because their team has so much power, Baltimore’s plunge toward the bottom of the AL East was one of the biggest surprises of the season . . .

This will be the first time in the wild-card era, dating back to 1995, that any division had three of its teams finish at least 20 games under .500 [Phillies, Marlins, and Braves are the Least of the NL East] . . .

Remember Warren Cromartie, outfielder for the late, great Montreal Expos? He’s resurfaced as head of the Montreal Baseball Project, which seeks a new or relocated franchise [Tampa Bay Rays?] and wants to book spring training exhibition games to show fan interest to MLB . . .

Lavishing all that money on ex-Yankee Robinson Cano two years ago killed Seattle’s chances to spread

Robby Cano hasn't looked the same since leaving New York

Robby Cano hasn’t looked the same since leaving New York

the wealth around and resulted in the firing of GM Jack Zduriencik . . .

Before he no-hit the Dodgers Aug. 21, newly-acquired Houston righty Mike Fiers had never pitched a complete game in 58 lifetime starts . . .

Pitching a perfect game is no panacea for otherwise pathetic performance, as Philip Humber can verify. He pitched a 4-0 perfecto for the White Sox against Seattle on April 21, 2012, went 0-8 for Houston in 2013, and finished with a lifetime record of 16-23 with a 5.31 ERA. For the record, his 2012 record was 5-5 with a 6.44 ERA!

 

 

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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