No off-day NLDS another hurdle for pitchers

October 6th, 2020

Three games in three days was enough of a challenge for a beleaguered Padres pitching staff. Now, they face the daunting prospect of five in five.

For the first time since the Division Series was introduced 25 years ago, no off-days are included this year. With games held at neutral sites, travel days are no longer part of the equation. The Padres and Dodgers begin their series Tuesday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, and they'll play every day after that until someone wins three games.

The best way to handle that challenge, of course, is to get healthy. To that end, (right biceps tightness) and (right elbow impingement) have played catch. But they'd both presumably need to throw at least one bullpen session before they're ready to take the mound.

“We’re trying to keep everything in play, we’re not ruling anything out,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “We’ll see if we can stack some good days. I wish I had some information. I just don’t right now. Each [guy] is day to day. Feels like we’ll take a half-step forward, another half-step forward, then we’ve been having half-steps back.”

As optimistic as the Padres say they are about Lamet and Clevinger pitching in October, they need to plan for a reality where it doesn't happen.

The first round saw 21 innings eaten by the Padres' bullpen, including an unprecedented nine-man shutout in Game 3 on Friday. But the simple fact is this: It's much easier to survive three de facto bullpen days than it is five.

Imagine if the Padres had to play another game against the Cardinals on Saturday. They'd have nowhere to turn. Nearly every reliever was used beyond his typical workload.

The Padres didn't have a game on Saturday. They won't have one until Tuesday, and the team's decision-makers were aware of that fact when they mapped out pitching plans for the Wild Card Series. Ultimately, San Diego had just enough in the tank to advance -- and time to reset its pitching staff afterward.

“Tomorrow, after almost two days of rest and treatment and playing catch, I feel like we’re going to be back to 100 percent,” Tingler said. “That takes us then into Tuesday. Everybody’s going to be available. We’re going to be fresh. We’re going to be on our game, and we’ll go from there.”

Still, it's obvious that something needs to change on the Padres' roster entering the NLDS against the Dodgers, a much better offensive team than the Cardinals. If the Padres are going to make it through five games in as many days, they'll probably need to make these three adjustments:

1) They need more innings from the starters
and combined to allow 10 runs in 4 1/3 frames last series. Davies has a history of success against the Dodgers, but Paddack does not. Tingler wouldn’t fully commit to a Paddack start in the NLDS, acknowledging that things could change if Lamet and Clevinger are healthy. But he expressed a belief that Paddack would have a role to play -- and probably as a starter. It's worth wondering if Tingler gives his starters a longer leash earlier in the NLDS, knowing he'll need to keep his bullpen fresh.

2) They need more starters, period
Davies and Paddack are not enough for a best-of-five scenario, and Tingler indicated that isn’t under consideration, given how effective he has been out of the 'pen. Do rookies and -- both excellent out of the bullpen in Game 3 -- merit a starting role? Does have a place on the roster? Clevinger and Lamet are clearly the best options, but the Padres will look at those other possibilities, too.

3) They need to re-evaluate the bench
The Padres faced both lefty and righty starters against the Cardinals, yet they only used 10 offensive players all series. There's little reason to think they'd deviate from that script in the NLDS. That puts and -- useful bats from the left and right side, respectively -- on the roster bubble. The Padres would love to keep both, but they might need extra pitching a little bit more.

Tingler indicated that the team would “take it to the wire” with all of those decisions. It’s the sensible way to do it. The Padres will wait until they have every bit of information on their two best starting pitchers before they submit their roster to the league on Tuesday morning.

But regardless of which arms are available, Tingler is oozing optimism after his pitching staff’s performance against St. Louis.

“Whatever the challenge is, our guys are going to be up for it,” Tingler said. “If we’ve got to go five bullpen days, we’ll go five bullpen days. If we’re going to go starters, and they go seven, eight, nine innings, then that’s how we’re going to roll. But we’re going to roll with what we got.”