NEW YORK – Mother nature may leave her mark on the American League Championship Series – and that certainly won’t help a New York Yankees team that relies on having a rested bullpen.
With rain in the forecast Wednesday, it’s possible Game 4 could be postponed to Thursday, which would eliminate the off-day between Games 5 and 6. The Yankees would then host Game 5 on Friday, and Game 6 would be played Saturday, if necessary, in Houston. A delay would seemingly hurt the Yankees more than the Astros.
“Obviously if that were to happen, that changes some things moving forward as far as our rotation potentially moving guys up,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
What it could mean for the starting rotations
A potential rainout would allow both teams to delay when they employ a bullpen game and instead use starting pitchers for at least the next two games.
If there’s no postponement, both teams are set to match their bullpens Wednesday, with the Yankees likely starting Chad Green – who has not yet been told he’s starting as of Tuesday night — and the Astros expecting to lean on Jose Urquidy, although he might not start.
“This is the ALCS, it would be very unique for one team, let alone two teams to throw that many pitchers, that would be expected in that setting,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said before a 4-1 victory in Game 3 gave Houston a 2-1 series lead. “I may say I'm doing a bullpen game, and Urquidy goes out there at some point during the game and I give him five or six innings. I'm not sure that would really apply. The same I hope is I wouldn't have to use nine pitchers. That's not often ideal, because what if the game goes 10, 11, 12, 13 innings. Unexpected things happen in regular games let alone bullpen games.”
If there’s a rainout, Boone said there’s a “good chance” the Yankees would turn to Game 1 starter Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday, who would be on regular rest. The Astros could again counter with their Game 1 starter, Zack Greinke.
Both teams could then go to their Game 2 starters on Friday since James Paxton and Justin Verlander would be on regular rest.
That would then line up both teams for a bullpen game Saturday barring Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino returning on short rest for Game 6. The team that is trailing would be more inclined to delay a bullpen game another day.
“Bullpen days are effective,” Hinch said. “That's been kind of proven as baseball has evolved throughout this season, last season, a couple of teams made really impressive transitions as you can do that and you can optimize your pitching that way. It's also scary and dangerous as a manager. There's a lot of pressure. You're asking a lot of guys to be really good that day. And when the game changes or the game gets long or something unforeseen happens, a move gets made on the other side, it gets a little bit more difficult to manage perfectly in that game.”
No off days for the relievers
While a rainout would have a much greater effect on the rotations, it would put the Yankees in a situation in which they may have to push their relievers more than they have all year.
The Yankees avoided using relievers three straight days during the regular season, but a rainout would leave the Yankees needing to win three games in four days.
There’s no chance the Yankees would not use an elite reliever like Aroldis Chapman or Zack Britton for a third or fourth straight day in the postseason, but it would be asking them to go beyond what they did during the regular season.
It may not matter, but it could.
“You know you might have to pitch in every game, but it’s something this time of year you just do it,” Green said. “You try not to overthink it. You just go out there.”
The Yankees also lean on their bullpen much more compared to the Astros who ride their starters deep into games, and that would only intensify the burden on the relievers. Boone has already shown that he has a short leash with Paxton, and Luis Severino has only lasted five innings in one of his eight postseason starts.
“We’re going to need some length,” Boone said. “Confident our starters can give us that. Obviously one of these days we’ll kind of bullpen it and have to go that way. But I’m confident [the starting pitchers] can [get] us deeper into the game.”
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