Dan's Dugout: Star Pitchers Often Less Dependable in Playoffs • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Star Pitchers Often Less Dependable in Playoffs

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Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz knows all about pitching in the postseason.

He has a 15-4 playoffs record to prove it.

Writer Dan Schlossberg (left) with broadcaster John Smoltz, a former pitcher

Writer Dan Schlossberg (left) with broadcaster John Smoltz, a former pitcher

According to Smoltz, now a broadcaster for FOX and MLB Network, it is twice as difficult to pitch in the postseason as it is during the regular season.

Maybe that’s why starting pitchers are exiting early or struggling when rushed into unfamiliar relief roles.

Consider Luis Severino, arguably the best pitcher in the American League during the second half of the 2017 season.

Opening the Division Series for the wild-card Yankees, he was knocked out by the Cleveland Indians in the first inning. Yes, Joe Girardi has a quick hook – but Severino was a bundle of nerves who never had command of his pitches.

Then there’s American League strikeout king Chris Sale, a Cy Young Award contender in his first season for the Boston Red Sox.

Hammered by the Houston Astros in the first game of the other AL Division Series, he wanted and received another chance in Game 4 Monday. He lasted one inning too long, coughing up the lead and the game in the eighth inning after blowing through the difficult Houston lineup in relief of Rick Porcello.

Chris Sale struggled in the AL Division Series

Chris Sale struggled in the AL Division Series

On the other hand, Justin Verlander justified the huge investment that Houston gave Detroit to acquire his powerful right arm.

A former American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, he made the first relief appearance of his career in the Fenway Park game Monday. After yielding a fifth-inning homer to rookie Andrew Benintendi, Verlander was vintage Verlander.

He threw 40 pitches, none as painful as his fifth, and lasted through the seventh inning. The Game 1 starter could have been saved to open the finale of the best-of-five series but manager A.J. Hinch gambled on using his ace earlier. That gamble paid off in a 5-4 win and sent the Sox home for the winter.

Verlander had thrown six innings in the opener against Boston and will undoubtedly start the best-of-seven American League Championship Series. That would allow him to start the fourth and seventh games as well.

Pitching has been almost as unpredictable in the two National League series.

Former Dodger Zack Grienke has been hit hard in the NLDS

Former Dodger Zack Grienke has been hit hard in the NLDS

Zack Greinke, 17-7 for Arizona during the regular season, pitched and won the wild-card game against the Colorado Rockies but was hardly unhittable.

By the time his team advanced to the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, his old team, Greinke was a mere mortal on the mound.

Nor did fellow starter Clayton Kershaw fare well. The probable National League Cy Young Award winner, never a stellar playoffs performer, struggled against Arizona’s powerful lineup – even though his Dodgers eventually won in slugfest fashion.

The postseason spotlight focuses on managers as well as players. Leaving a starter in too long, not bringing in a reliever sooner, or even failing to challenge an obvious bad call can lose a game or turn a series.

Just ask Joe Girardi, whose Yankees surrendered a grand slam to Francisco Lindor after the manager failed to challenge an umpire’s decision that Lonnie Chisenhall was hit by a pitch. Replays suggested that the ball ticked off the Clevelander’s bat and turned into a strikeout when Gary Sanchez grabbed it.

Even super closers Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel struggled — on successive days. Miller, the versatile righthander deployed by Terry Francona at every turn, threw Greg Bird the gopherball that gave the Yankees a 1-0 Sunday night win that prevented an Indians sweep of that series. Then Kimbrel, arguably the best closer in the game, yielded a key RBI single in the one-run game at Fenway Monday.

Craig Kimbrel coughed up a big game for the Bosox Monday

Craig Kimbrel coughed up a big game for the Bosox Monday

With a lot of baseball left to play, viewers need to remember Joaquin Andujar’s one-word description of baseball: youneverknow.

With much riding on every pitch, and every pitcher, that adage was never more apparent.

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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