Monday, September 24, 2012
Who should start the wild-card games?
By Jim Bowden
Kris Medlen is already lined up for a wild-card game, but who else should get the call?
This postseason will mark the first time Major League Baseball will feature two wild-card berths for each league. Managers of the contending clubs for the final four spots say they are only worrying about winning each day’s game. However, there’s no doubt they’re also looking ahead to make sure their rotations play out so they have their No. 1 starter ready for the most important game of the season. In fact, the Atlanta Braves announced over the weekend that Kris Medlen would be lined up to pitch the wild-card game, with Tim Hudson lined up for Game 1 of the NLDS if they win.
In Detroit, Milwaukee and Los Angeles, those managers have easy decisions; their No. 1 pitchers are pretty obvious. However, for several other managers, it will be a much more difficult call. Here are the teams with tough decisions and my guesses of whom the managers of those clubs would anoint as their wild-card starting pitcher.
Thus, the decision should be between Tillman and Chen. Tillman has the better fastball and overall stuff, and his numbers are impressive. Tillman also has pitched well against some of the AL’s better playoff-bound lineups, such as the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox, which is an important factor.
However, Chen has been their most consistent starter this year, and has struck out 147 batters in 181 innings. He pitches on the black on both sides and keeps hitters off balance. He has pitched two really good games against Oakland this year with 16 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings against them. He had one good game against the Angels and one bad one. However, I like his demeanor and competitiveness and I think he’d give the Orioles the best chance of winning the wild-card game.
Who should start: Chen
So it now comes down to Griffin or Parker. Griffin made his major league debut June 24 and quickly won his first six decisions. He has come back to earth of late, while Parker has been solid all year, going 11-8 with a 3.40 ERA in 27 starts, including a 1.25 WHIP and a 6.7 K/9. Griffin’s numbers are better, but Parker’s stuff should have a better chance of defeating a playoff-caliber lineup.
Who should start: Parker
Tampa Bay Rays Candidates: LHP David Price, RHP James Shields I talked to manager Joe Maddon on Friday and he told me that if the Rays make it to the wild-card game, it would be either Price or Shields. Price has been their best starter all year, and his fastball command is one of the best in the league. His last starts against the Angels, Yankees and Athletics were all impressive, and he has really had only one bad start since June 13.
Shields struggled initially, but once he started throwing his fastball more and cutting down on his cutters, his changeup became more deceptive and the results followed (2.98 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in the second half). However, “Big Game” James has actually failed to live up to his nickname during the postseason, posting a disappointing 4.98 ERA in his postseason starts. Starting Game 1 of the ALDS -- should they make it there -- might be less pressurized and more appropriate for Shields.
Who should start: Price
Philadelphia Phillies Candidates: RHP Roy Halladay, LHP Cole Hamels, LHP Cliff Lee Some teams have no No. 1-caliber starters; what happens when you have three? Halladay has not pitched well in two of his three starts against the Braves, their most likely foe in a one-game playoff. Hamels is 15-6 this year with a 3.05 ERA and has pitched decently in three of four starts against the Braves. However, despite being just 6-7 with a 3.27 ERA this year, Lee has given up two earned runs or fewer in his past six starts, including seven shutout innings against the Braves in Atlanta on Sept. 1.
This would theoretically be a really tough decision for manager Charlie Manuel, but the Phillies have fallen off a bit over the past few days and it will take an all-hands-on-deck scenario for them to even make the wild-card game. If Manuel had a choice, I would bet he'd go with the youngest of the three.
Who should start: Hamels
St. Louis Cardinals Candidates: RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP Kyle Lohse, RHP Adam Wainwright, RHP Lance Lynn Rookie manager Mike Matheny might end up with the most difficult decision of all. Carpenter would be the logical choice after going 4-0 in last year’s postseason and leading the Cardinals to a title. However, he just made his first start of the season on Friday, limiting the Chicago Cubs to two runs, five hits and a walk in five innings. He was solid but not spectacular. Matheny will have to watch his last two starts.
Wainwright has a 4.02 ERA in 31 starts with almost a strikeout per inning. However, he has lost his past three decisions, yielding five or more runs in three of his past four starts. He could be tiring, especially after sitting out last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Like Carpenter, Matheny will have to watch his next two starts closely.
Lohse has been the Cardinals' most consistent starter, posting a 3.07 ERA in 62 starts over the past two years. His sinking fastball and slider own the bottom part of the strike zone, and he uses both sides of the plate, keeping the ball mostly on the black. The stats say he should get the start.
Lynn started the season strong, going 11-4 with a 3.41 ERA and 105 strikeouts in 103 innings in the first half. The innings caught up with him, though, and his struggles forced a move back to the bullpen Aug. 27. However, after 17 days of working out of the bullpen, he was moved back to the rotation. Lynn’s stuff is as nasty as it was in the first half.
Based on their track records, Matheny would prefer starting Carpenter or Wainwright, and if either dominates in his next start, he might make the decision for him.
Who should start: Carpenter