When appropriate, Big League Stew reviews key decisions to see if the right one was made.
The Turning Point: Once the Texas Rangers took a 2-0 series lead against the Tampa Bay Rays by winning both games at St. Petersburg, they had a chance to advance to the ALCS in front of their home crowd. Rangers left-handers Cliff Lee(notes) in Game 1 and C.J. Wilson(notes) in Game 2 combined to limit the Rays to one run. In addition, Lee had 10 strikeouts, no walks (as usual) and allowed five hits.
Before the series began, Rangers manager Ron Washington set up a four-man starting rotation — with right-handers Colby Lewis(notes) and Tommy Hunter(notes) filling it out at Texas. Lewis was OK in Game 3 — though he lasted just five innings and the Rays eventually got to the Rangers' bullpen. Hunter lasted just four innings before being lifted and the Rays won again to tie the series and send it back to Tropicana Field to be settled.
The Question: Should the Rangers have altered their plans and used Lee to start Game 4?
The Case For: The Rangers stunned the planet — especially the New York Yankees — by pulling off a trade for Lee in July while the club's ownership status remained in doubt. Though he didn't pitch with the same kind of dominance overall he had before, Lee clearly is the Rangers' ace, a pitcher they should use as much as sensibly possible. Plus, his effort in September — he had a 1.93 ERA and limited opponents to a .528 OPS — showed Lee had re-sharpened his skills. With free agency calling, the Rangers probably have Cliff Lee for a finite amount of time. Use him.Further, by planning to start Lee twice in the first four games, the Rangers would have increased their chances of ending the ALDS quicker, which would help in lining up their rotation for the next round of the playoffs. After all, they're interested in winning a World Series, not just the first round. Now, because Lee has to pitch in Game 5 on Tuesday, he probably wouldn't be able to pitch in the ALCS until Game 3 on Saturday. That's not to the Rangers' advantage in the least.
Another consideration: If the Rangers didn't happen to get it done with Lee in Game 4, they could bring back C.J. Wilson on regular rest in Game 5. He was nearly as good against the Rays in Game 2. Washington seems to be in love with Hunter's 13-4 record, which misleads as to how well he has pitched.
[Check out the take of Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan, who says Lee should have demanded the Game 4 assignment.]
The Case Against: Lee has never — in the regular season or playoffs — pitched on less than four days of rest. Not once. Asking players to do things to which they're not accustomed is the very definition of bad managing. Further, Lee is marginally more effective with MORE than four days of rest. A fatigued Lee probably would be more liable to giving up home runs, which was a bit of a problem for him in the second half of the season.
Using Lee on a quick turnaround also increases the likelihood of Washington needing to use his bullpen more. The Rangers already have used their bullpen a lot and having Lee available for, say, six innings defeats some of the purpose of using him on short rest.
Last season, when pitchers made a combined five starts on three or fewer days of rest in the playoffs, they had a combined 5.68 ERA. Pitchers just don't do it that way anymore.
"So, you know, we have Tommy going [in Game 4]. For some reason if we don't get it done, we feel good about having Cliff available. "
Lee: "I am ready to pitch whenever they want me to pitch. I was ready yesterday in the bullpen. I could have potentially pitched today out of the bullpen. I'm ready whenever they are ready.
"For me it's not a matter of being mentally focused or whatever, I'm always ready. It's about competition and competing at the highest level. And I enjoy it and have fun with it. At this point in the year, I'm ready. Whenever they want to let me pitch, I'm going to pitch."
Stew Verdict: The overall results in recent history are mixed, at best, for pitchers going on three days of rest in the playoffs. Cliff Lee, as with CC Sabathia, is an exception to the rule. The Rangers can still win the series, of course, with Lee going on Tuesday. But they made it a lot harder on themselves in the long run and the short. Lee should have pitched Sunday.
What do you think?
- Cliff Lee