The predictable became official at Busch Stadium early Monday evening when Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly announced that back-to-back (and almost assuredly back-to-back-to-back) Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw will start NLDS Game 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals on short rest. From KMOX's Chris Hrabe:
Don Mattingly announces Kershaw will start Game 4, Greinke Game 5.— Chris Hrabe (@chrabe) October 6, 2014
The move comes as no surprise. Last year, with the Dodgers leading the Braves 2-1 in the NLDS, Mattingly called on Kershaw to start Game 4 on short rest. Kershaw delivered six innings, allowing two runs (neither earned) off three hits and a walk while notching six strikeouts. Despite Kershaw's solid outing, the southpaw received a "no decision" from the official scorer because he left a game that was tied 2-2. The Dodgers won the game 4-3 and Brian Wilson earned a pitching "win" for his single inning of work because he was the pitcher of record when the Dodgers took their ultimate lead. The victory propelled L.A. not the NLDS against St. Louis.
Matheny needs to choose his lineups better
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This year, the Dodgers have been plotting a similar course of action since the aftermath of Kershaw's last regular-season start. L.A. has been preparing Kershaw to start NLDS Game 4 on short rest after taking the ball in Game 1 by altering his in-between-start routine. ESPN L.A.'s Mark Saxon reported the following on September 30:
Kershaw threw a simulated game Sunday, four days after his final start of the regular season, a move seemingly intended to get his body used to short rest.
Brian Stull reports at STL Baseball Weekly (with audio embed) that Mattingly revealed the Dodgers had indeed been planning on Kershaw starting Game 4 all along:
"I think we pretty much knew at the beginning of the series," explained Mattingly. "But we didn’t really ‑‑ we couldn’t really make that decision until after Game 1, and then seeing how Clayton came out of that. And so really, once we got past all that, then it was a matter of just the timing of Ryu and all that stuff. But we didn’t feel like it was worth messing with, trying to have to wait and everything else and get down to the last second."
On Monday at Busch, Mattingly also announced that the Dodgers' other Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke, will start Game 5, if necessary. If Greinke makes a start in NLDS Game 5, it would be on full rest. Greinke started Game 2 Saturday night. If Game 5 proves necessary, it will take place Thursday night in L.A, the fifth day after Greinke's Game 2 Saturday start.
The Dodgers have decided that Kershaw on short rest and Greinke on full rest gives them a better chance to win the NLDS than Haren on a lot of rest and Kershaw on normal rest. At first blush, the idea of starting two Cy Young winners who are still in their respective primes seems like a good one. But the opposite might very well prove true, especially if history is a guide. The odds are that pitching on short rest will make Kershaw less effective.
After last October's decision to start Kershaw on short rest, Zachary Rymer looked at whether starting top pitchers on short rest in the postseason paid off for their teams. Using the Baseball-Reference play index, Rymer winnowed the starts pitchers made on three days' rest to 54 since 2000. Rymer concluded:
Starts on short rest in the postseason haven't tended to go well.
Sure, Curt Schilling was basically a god on short rest twice in the 2001 postseason. We all remember Josh Beckett's series-clinching shutout in the 2003 World Series. The last two starts on short rest turned in by Hiroki Kuroda and Kershaw have been terrific.
But of the 54 starts listed, only 14 resulted in a game score of 60 or better. I also counted only 23 quality starts. Over half of these 54 outings were non-quality starts, which is obviously not what a team is looking for in these situations.
(Rymer also goes on to look at the aftermath of such starts. It's a very good article, well worth reading in its entirety.)
You'd never elect to face to Cy Young winners in the prime of their careers in back-to-back postseason games, especially when one or both might be a lose-and-go-home contest. But if you have to face Cy Young winners in back-to-back postseason games, you'd probably choose to do so with one of them on short rest. And that's just what the Cards will do this NLDS Game 4 with Kershaw. One thing is for sure, though: Having a fully rested Greinke as a sort of Game 5 firewall isn't a bad fallback plan. Then again, the Cardinals don't have a bad firewall either in Adam Wainwright.