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Five Cuts: How do you beat the Yankees? Smoltz has a radical idea

1. As the postseason began, Cardinals pitcher John Smoltz gave me a stunning piece of advice about how to stop the Yankees this October. Remember, it was the powerful New York lineup that knocked Smoltz clear out of the American League and very nearly all the way into retirement with a resounding thumping back in August.

"I'll tell you what I would do against them," Smoltz said, "and I know nobody would ever do this. I would treat it like a spring training game with my pitchers. I would keep bringing in a fresh arm to pitch to them, rather than asking my starting pitcher to go deep into the game trying to get them out two, three, four times. They just wear out a pitcher.

"I know nobody would ever do it, because what message would people think you were giving your starting pitcher? But their lineup is so deep I would change pitchers every two or three innings, just like you do in spring training."

I have to admit that Smoltz's Spring Training Plan has some merit, if only to prove a point: The Yankees wear out pitchers like no other team in baseball, chiefly because they don't chase pitches out of the strike zone and they hammer the ones in it. But if there is any team with a profile that resembles that of New York, it is its World Series opponent, the Phillies.

Welcome to the World Series, the War of Attrition, where the walk is a weapon and the pitch count is a measurement of casualties. This is the first World Series since 1926 to include the home run and runs leaders of each league. More than that, though, is the way the Yankees and Phillies aim to grind down their opponents, as has been on full display this October.

In 18 combined postseason games, New York and Philadelphia have outwalked their opponents 89-49 and outhomered them 28-11. Both teams are loaded with switch-hitters and hitters who don't have exaggerated platoon splits. And barring rainouts, the teams are scheduled to play five games in six days, including -- can you actually believe this? -- three straight days for the first time all postseason!

Those factors add up to a strain on bullpens by the time we head into the middle of the series. And more specifically, that means a strain on the managers. Joe Girardi of New York and Charlie Manuel of Philadelphia will become storylines of this Series. They will be faced with more extremely difficult choices than usual -- when to pull a starter, when to go to the closer, when to go strictly by left-on-left and right-on-right, etc. -- because there are no dead spots in either lineup, because both teams get extra-base power and RBIs when the lineup turns over to their 1 and 2 spots, and because of the switch-hitters and so few big platoon splits.

The games will likely be decided late, by the scoreboard and by the clock. Because of that, what Girardi and Manuel need is a reliable troubleshooter to emerge from their bullpen: a guy with plus stuff who can get multiple outs against either right-handers or left-handers in a big spot, and that could be anywhere from the sixth through eighth innings.

What Girardi and Manuel need is a 2009 version of J.C. Romero in last year's World Series. Romero pitched in four of the five games for Philadelphia, earned the win in two of them, and took care of 14 outs without allowing a walk or a run. The manager who has that hot hand is the one who will come out looking smart. The pitchers who most fit that profile for each team are Ryan Madson of Philadelphia and Phil Hughes of New York, but neither comes into the Series especially sharp.

So hang on, fans. If you like offense and if you like second-guessing, this is your Series. It's about to get busy and stay busy. This Turnpike Series should be as eventful as the New Jersey artery that connects the two cities: lots of traffic, a breakdown here and there, not always pretty, and you're not getting off without paying a toll.

2. I thought about Smoltz's Spring Training Plan in ALCS Game 6 as the Yankees ground down Los Angeles starter Joe Saunders like pepper with a mortar and pestle. It turned out that for the entire series Smoltz was right. I looked at how the Angels starters fared through their first, second and third times through the New York lineup. Sure enough, look at how the Yankees wore down the Los Angeles starters, especially seen in the increasing rate of walks and runs with each successive turn:

Maybe Charlie Manuel should look at those numbers. After the ALCS ended, I asked Angels manager Mike Scioscia about Smoltz's plan. He shrugged and said, "You'd better have a deep, deep staff if you're going to do that."

But Scioscia did get the point: Holding back the New York lineup is like trying to hold back water with your hands.

"One thing I know is that you can't give them extra outs," he said. "That lineup is so tough. That lineup is probably the best lineup I have seen in our league over the years."

3. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has a big decision to make about his postseason rotation, a decision he doesn't have to reveal until Saturday. That's because his choices for the first three games would appear obvious: CC Sabathia in Game 1, A.J. Burnett in Game 2 and Andy Pettitte in Game 3. (Girardi could move Pettitte ahead of Burnett, but that would mean throwing Pettitte on three days' rest, an unnecessary push so early in the Series.) What happens after that is complicated, and may depend on how the Yankees stand in the Series. These would appear to be Girardi's options:

A. The Old-School Three-Starter Option. Sabathia is lined up and physically able to start Games 1, 4 and 7. But if Girardi wants to avoid using a fourth starter, that means he also would have to use Burnett on short rest in Game 5 and Pettitte on a short rest in Game 6. In a seven-game series, that would mean Girardi would be using a starter on short rest in Games 4, 5, 6 and 7. Does he really want to do that?

Here's how Burnett and Pettitte have fared on short rest in their careers:

Burnett's numbers are good, but he last pitched on short rest in September of 2008. Pettitte is 37 and has made 102 consecutive starts, postseason included, without pitching on short rest. Sounds risky.

B. The Straight Four-Man Rotation. Give the ball in Game 4 to Joba Chamberlain or Chad Gaudin, which still leaves your three horses to pitch six of the seven games on full rest. (Girardi might not want to start Gaudin with all that left-handed power in the Philadelphia lineup. Even though they're both right-handed, Gaudin's stuff doesn't translate as well against lefties, who have an OPS 150 points higher vs. Gaudin than Chamberlain: .823 to .673. And giving Chamberlain a start doesn't weaken the bullpen that much since David Robertson has been better than him of late.) The downside: Sabathia gets only two starts, but is a Game 7 bullpen option on two days' rest.

C. The Hybrid Rotation. Pitching Sabathia twice in the first four games and lined up for Game 7 worked out great in the ALCS. Why not do it again? Sabathia could start Games 1, 4 and 7. But instead of pushing Burnett and Pettitte, Girardi could start Chamberlain in Game 5 and Burnett in Game 6. The downside? Pettitte gets only one start, but he is a bullpen option on three days' rest for Game 6 behind Burnett.

I'm not about to tell Girardi which option is best. He has far more information than I do. And whether the Yankees are winning or losing the Series after three games may influence his decision. Of course, he can be expected to be roundly second-guessed no matter what he does.

4. Amid so much misinformation, let me try one more time to clear up the ongoing controversy about all the off days in the postseason schedule. Yes, everyone in uniform agrees that the schedule stinks. But it is not the fault of series that end early, nor the fault of the World Baseball Classic, nor the fault of Northeast fall weather.

The problem with the schedule comes down to this: In 2007 baseball accommodated a request from Fox to schedule World Series Game 1 for a Wednesday instead of a Saturday. The shift was requested because the prior format left two games, Games 1 and 6, set for Saturdays, the lowest viewing night of the week. The new format leaves only one game on a Saturday.

The idea makes sense, but the real problem is that baseball did nothing about adjusting the rest of the schedule to account for moving the start of the World Series by four days. Those four days became extra off days sprinkled throughout October.

The obvious solution should have been to make an adjustment to the front end of the schedule, i.e., when the regular season ends. When the World Series began on a Saturday, the regular season ended on a Sunday. When World Series Game 1 moved to a Wednesday, the end of the regular season stayed put. It should have been moved to a Thursday.

Why didn't baseball make the logical move? Because most owners don't care about the World Series. Twenty-eight of them don't get there. But all 30 owners get about 13 home weekend series a year, and nobody, let alone the half of them it would take, wanted to give up one home weekend series for the sake of a better postseason format. Weekend series traditionally draw a bit better than weeknight series (though that's debatable for teams out of the race in the last week). The preservation of clubs' self-interest above what's best for the sport always has held back baseball much more than in the NFL. So for the sake of preserving 15 weekend series, most of which are meaningless, baseball screws up its crown jewel event, the postseason.

5. How badly did the TV-friendly switch to a Wednesday World Series Game 1 spoil the natural rhythm of the sport? It's easy to see. Provided this World Series goes at least six games (and, ahem, assuming no rainouts), the Yankees or the Phillies will have "enjoyed" 16 off days this postseason -- seven more than the Yankees had when they won the first title of this decade. When you look at postseason off days for world champions this decade, you can see that the problem everyone is talking about was created in 2007 -- the year baseball accommodated Fox without fixing the schedule. Pay particular attention to what has happened to the off days since 2007:

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