Greener pastures may be ahead for the Detroit Tigers after defeating the Oakland Athletics in Game 4 of the ALDS. Down 2-1 in a best-of-five series, Detroit overcame all adversity as their backs were firmly against the wall. Game 1 starting pitcher Max Scherzer, once again, fought tooth and nail to lead his troops to victory, forcing a decisive Game 5.
Yes, you read that right. Working on only three days of rest, Scherzer was brought in out of the bullpen in relief of starter, Doug Fister. This was his first appearance coming out of the bullpen since 2011; as Detroit’s ace starter, Scherzer had a league leading 21 wins and a 2.90 ERA in his 2013 campaign.
Despite his regular-season success, Scherzer was roughed up for three hits, an earned run and two walks, while striking out two batters. He was able to successfully escape a huge bases-loaded jam, which may have caused significant damage to the slim one-run lead that the Tigers possessed. Though Detroit was eventually able to pull away and finish convincingly with an 8-6 victory over the A’s, the question is, could bringing in Max Scherzer have jeopardized their postseason?
It was apparent that Detroit manager Jim Leyland made a desperation move by inserting his ace pitcher into the latter stages of the game, but it ultimately turned out to be the right decision as Detroit prevailed with the victory. But seeing that history is not on the side of pitchers throwing on short rest, fundamentally, it may have been the wrong decision.
Dating back from 1995 to 2008, teams that have used pitchers on short rest have lost, on average, half the time. There is also the lingering risk that, on short rest, pitchers may increase the chance of arm strain and any other throwing related injuries. Pitchers throughout the regular season are used to having a specific schedule and routine and, as we know, baseball players tend to be a very superstitious breed. Throwing a pitcher on short rest not only upsets their routine, but could also “mess with their head”. With baseball being primarily a mental game, it could be the difference between a win or loss
As we saw the Los Angeles Dodgers make easy work of the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, LA decided to give the nod to Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw to close out the series in Game 4, who like Scherzer, was pitching on three days rest. Though the Dodgers pulled away with the win, Kershaw gave up two unearned runs on three hits, almost costing LA the game. A prime example of why starting your ace pitcher on only a few days rest may not be a risk worth taking.
As they gear up for a momentous Game 5, it will be interesting to see if Detroit can ride this most recent momentum to a victory, moving them next to the ALCS to face off against the AL East champion, Boston Red Sox.