Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had mulled over the addition of a second wild card winner in each league for some time. It was decided that the implementation of an extra layer of the playoffs would be this season. But in Selig's haste to generate more fan interest (aka revenue), he didn't take this year's regular and post-season schedules into consideration. (Not a surprise since this came from the man who made the All-Star game "count".)
The decision directly impacts New York Yankees starter Phil Hughes, who has a chance to be a post-season hero when the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles meet in Game 4 of their American League Division Series this evening (10/11). The Yankees took a 2-1 lead in the best of five series Wednesday night when Raul Ibanez hit a pinch-hit, game tying home run in the 9th inning and then homered again in the 12th to win the ball game 3-2. Should Hughes and the Yankees close out the series in four games, they will have their pitching set to start the American League Championship Series Saturday night in the Bronx.
Should the Orioles even the series with a win in Game 4, the Yankees would have to use their best pitcher, CC Sabathia, in the decisive fifth game, with no day off before the start of the next round. (I won't get into the fans' debate as to whether Joe Girardi should have brought back Sabathia on three days' rest for Game 4.)
Should the Yankees advance, Sabathia wouldn't be able to pitch until the third game of the series. Obviously the Orioles are in the same position, but oddly this is the only the playoff series in which there will be no day off before the next round. Game 5's between San Francisco and. Cincinnati (underway at the time this was written) and Detroit against Oakland are both set to wrap up by Thursday night. If Washington is able to even their series with St. Louis, their decisive game will also be played on Friday, but the NLCS does not begin until Sunday.
It's unfortunate that money controls all aspects of baseball's post-season. (The time restrictions led to another bonehead move of having division winners start first round series on the road with the use of a "2-3" format. Selig promises this will all be corrected next season, when another ridiculous idea - playing interleague games all season - is put in place.)
This will be Hughes' 17th post-season appearance and just his fourth start. He pitched seven shutout innings in a win against Minnesota in 2010, but was hammered in two losses in that year's ALCS against Texas. The right-hander faced the Orioles four times during the 2012 regular season and split four decisions with a 4.76 ERA1. Three of the starts were at home where he won just once.
It should be interesting to see how long of a leash Girardi gives Hughes tonight. He would love to avoid a fifth game, but at the same time he does not want to overwork his bullpen. Hughes had an up and down season, but at times he showed he can be the pitcher the Yankees have always hoped he could be. For the fans' sake and sake of the ball club as a whole, Hughes would love to have one of those starts tonight.
1 - Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com