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Short-start evolution part of postseason shift

Some teams would rather go to 'pen sooner than later
October 27, 2017

HOUSTON -- Let's start with a statistic that, I suspect, will either:A. Blow your mind.B. Tick you off.The Dodgers in this year's postseason -- so we're talking 10 games and counting -- have had one starting pitcher, ONE STARTING PITCHER, throw 90 pitches in a game.Include - Html: :: World

HOUSTON -- Let's start with a statistic that, I suspect, will either:
A. Blow your mind.
B. Tick you off.
The Dodgers in this year's postseason -- so we're talking 10 games and counting -- have had one starting pitcher, ONE STARTING PITCHER, throw 90 pitches in a game.
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That one pitcher was Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. He already had thrown 92 pitches when manager Dave Roberts sent him out to start the seventh inning. Kershaw promptly gave up three long fly balls, the last two of them home runs, and he was pulled.
It is quite possible that Roberts will not let another starter throw 90 pitches the rest of this Fall Classic.
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Like it or not, the revolution is upon us ... and a lot of people don't like it. In this year's postseason, exactly one starting pitcher -- Houston's Justin Verlander, with that wonderful unicorn of a complete game against the Yankees, has gone more than seven innings. Starters (with rare and getting rarer exceptions) are being looked at less as the game's center-point and more like role players.
In Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday, for instance, Roberts pulled starter Rich Hill after four innings and just 60 pitches. He'd allowed just one run.
In Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, Houston manager A.J. Hinch told his starter, Charlie Morton, to let it all out on every pitch, like he was pitching relief. Morton allowed two hits in five innings and was pulled after 54 pitches.
This is postseason baseball in 2017. And, as mentioned, many don't like it. Some don't like the strategy of it, but I imagine a lot of it is also the optics. So much of the mythology and legend of postseason baseball is built around those invincible starting pitchers who took the ball at the start and then never let go.
From Christy Mathewson to Lefty Grove to Sandy Koufax to Bob Gibson to Jack Morris to Madison Bumgarner, we have marked baseball postseason history by these kinds of heroes. And seeing Kershaw get pulled for Brandon Morrow after only 83 pitches just doesn't fit the narrative that has driven the game.

But this is where we are. We have all watched postseason baseball change over the last few years. The Royals took a scrappy but light-hitting lineup and an unimposing starting rotation to back-to-back World Series, mainly on the back of a bullpen that shut down the last three or four innings without fail.
Then, last season, Terry Francona took a wounded Indians team to Game 7 of the World Series by using his bullpen the way a magician uses doves, just throwing a new arm out there whenever he needed a little magic.
And now you look around and it's even more pronounced -- the postseason is changing so fast, it's hard to keep up. In 2010, 34 starters threw more than 100 pitches in a postseason game. In 2015, 20 postseason starters threw more than 100 pitches in a game.
This year, the total is NINE.

As far as this Series goes, it's clear that the Astros are somewhat reluctant participants in the change. Hinch has made it clear he would prefer his starters -- particularly his top two starters, Dallas Keuchel and Verlander -- work deeper into the game. But he also realizes how difficult it is to match up one starter against three or four or five fresh arms.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, are leading the revolution. Even during the regular season, the Dodgers did not extend their starters. Roberts let his starting pitcher throw more than 100 pitches only 20 times -- that's all season. Of the 540 teams that have played this decade, the Dodgers rank 539th on that list (only the 2012 Colorado Rockies had fewer pitchers throw more than 100 pitches).
All of this bullpen shuffling and confidence in the starter will likely play a major role in the Series, particularly in the three games in Houston when the designated hitter is in play and the managers don't have to worry about pitchers coming to the plate in key situations.
In Game 3, the Dodgers will throw Yu Darvish, who has been very good in his first two outings. But "very good" for the Dodgers means something different. In his first start of the postseason, Darvish was pulled after five innings. In his second game, he got just one out in the seventh. Those are long outings for Dodgers starters.

In other words, even a good Darvish will likely still leave three or four innings for the Dodgers bullpen to clean up. For most of the year, that has worked out well. In Game 2, the Dodgers bullpen couldn't quite finish the job.
Houston, meanwhile, goes with Lance McCullers, a 24-year-old who had an up and down season but was magnificent in closing out the Yankees in the ALCS. You would suspect that Hinch will be looking for early signs of trouble because McCullers did falter a bit during the regular season and had some injuries. But if McCullers is as good as he was against the Yankees, Hinch will probably give him leeway to go into the sixth and probably the seventh. With this strategy, the danger there is that you leave the starter in for one pitch too long.
It should be fascinating to watch. You imagine that there are traditionalists -- even minor-note traditionalists -- who will root hard for the team that stays with its starter, just a bit like the old days. But the truth seems to be that, sooner rather than later, there will be none of those teams left.

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for