Game 3 rainout scrambles rotations, bullpens for O's, Royals in ALCS
Monday night's rainout in Kansas City forced MLB to rejigger the ALCS schedule by doing away with Thursday's travel day. Barring further weather interruptions, the remainder of the best-of-seven series will take place with games every day from Tuesday through Saturday — if one team hasn't clinched, obviously. That schedule carries some consequences as far as both rotations and bullpens go. With the potential for five straight games using four-man rotations, each team will need a starter to take a turn on three days' rest or else turn to a fifth starter somewhere along the way.
In the immediate aftermath of the postponement announcement, managers Ned Yost and Buck Showalter both indicated that they would stick with their scheduled Game 3 starters, Jeremy Guthrie for the Royals and Wei-Yin Chen for the Orioles, for Tuesday night. Both also indicated that they would consider moving their scheduled Game 5 starters, James Shields and Chris Tillman — who squared off in Game 1 but didn't last long — forward a day while keeping them on normal rest instead of going with Jason Vargas and Miguel Gonzalez, respectively.
Assuming those the last two get pushed back to a potential Game 6, here's how that would look:
Guthrie and Chen will both be coming off long layoffs; the former hasn't started since Sept. 26, the final Friday of the regular season, while the latter's last start came in Game 2 of the Division Series on Oct. 2. Likewise for Vargas, who last started Kansas City's Division Series opener that same day, while Gonzalez hasn't pitched since Sept. 28, the final day of the regular season. Given that Yordano Ventura left Saturday's ALCS Game 2 start with tightness in his shoulder, an extra day of rest might be beneficial; if Yost goes with Shields for Game 4, he could move Vargas forward for Game 5 and push Ventura back a day.
If Yost were willing to start Danny Duffy, who posted the rotation's lowest ERA (2.52) but was just third among the starting five in FIP (3.83, one point ahead of Vargas) and fourth in quality start rate (52 percent), he could avoid bringing back Guthrie on three days rest if it comes to a potential Game 7. That would seem to be a good idea given Guthrie's weakness relative to his teammates: His 4.13 ERA, 4.32 FIP and 50 percent quality start rate were all last among the K.C. starting five.
There's also Guthrie's limited history on three days' rest. The righthander made five starts under such circumstances in 2011-12 as a member of the Orioles, Rockies and Royals, mostly because he'd worked short in his previous outings (although he was also ensnared in Colorado's four-man rotation experiment). The results weren't good; he was rocked for a 6.95 ERA with six homers allowed in 24 2/3 innings, less than five per turn.
The Duffy scenario doesn't seem all that likely, however. Since leaving his Sept. 6 start after just one pitch due to shoulder inflammation, the 25-year-old lefty has been limited to nine innings. He threw six scoreless frames in a Sept. 22 start but was roughed up for four runs in two innings on Sept. 27, at which point team officials expressed concern about his mechanics.
Since that outing, Duffy has occupied the Shelby Miller Witness Protection Program Bullpen Chair, limited to one postseason inning in relief. That came in Game 1 of the ALDS back on Oct. 2, though he was spotted warming up before the Royals took the lead in the ninth inning of ALCS Game 2.
Like Guthrie and the Royals, Chen would be faced with coming back on three days rest for a potential Game 7, something he hasn't done since coming stateside (if at all). As it is, in his three years in the majors, he's been more effective on five or six days of rest (3.65 ERA, 1.0 HR/9) than four days (4.07 ERA, 1.4 HR/9) in an equal number of starts. The alternative to avoiding another start from Chen in this series would be to start 23-year-old rookie Kevin Gausman, whose 3.41 FIP and 0.6 homers per nine were both the lowest in Baltimore's rotation.
Out of concern for his total workload (158 2/3 innings this year, up from 129 2/3 last year), Gausman was kept on such a short leash that 10 of his 20 starts were of 5 1/3 innings or less, though nine of his other 10 were quality starts. He hasn't started since Sept. 25, but he's been effective out of the bullpen in the postseason, tossing 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball and striking out six in two appearances.
As for those bullpens, the upshot of playing in five straight games is that both managers will have to mix things up somewhat, since among the two teams, only the Orioles' Andrew Miller had a stretch where he pitched even four days in a row. That was when he was with the Red Sox, working as a lefty specialist instead of in a multi-inning role. After throwing 12 pitches over 1 1/3 innings on June 13, Miller totaled 1 2/3 innings and 28 pitches in his following three outings, whereas he's gone at least 1 1/3 innings and 20 pitches in all four of his postseason outings thus far.
Among other Orioles relievers, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Darren O'Day all had at least one stretch where they worked three straight days this year, while Tommy Hunter last did so in 2013. For the Royals, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland are the only active Royals relievers who strung together three consecutive outings this year, while lefty Tim Collins did so last year.
Both teams' bullpen situations would benefit from starters pitching deep into games, but neither manager has given his starters much rope. Ventura's seven innings in the Division Series makes him the only hurler on either side to last longer than 6 1/3 innings in any postseason start this year. Shields and Vargas both went six innings in the ALDS, with the former's pitch count (105) representing the only time Yost has let his starter go beyond 95. He, Guthrie and Vargas were the only Royals to throw complete games this year; they did so just once apiece.
On the Baltimore side, Norris' 6 1/3-inning start in the Division Series clincher makes him the only starter to last longer than five innings in the postseason. He threw 100 pitches in that outing, while Tillman tossed 105 in his first; those are the only two times any Oriole has gone above 90. Tillman, Gonzalez and Gausman each had one complete game for Baltimore this year.
With the Royals up 2-0 and playing at home for the next three games, there's a very good chance all this talk of five straight games and starters on three days rest is moot. In the seven-game LCS format, none of the 11 teams that have lost the first two at home has come back to win, and only three of 13 have done so in the World Series: the 1985 Royals, 1986 Mets and 1996 Yankees. The average length of those 24 series was just 4.8 games, with 12 of the 24 (six LCS, six World Series) winding up as four-game sweeps, just six even reaching a sixth game and only three — the aforementioned 1985 and 1986 World Series, plus the 1972 World Series between the Athletics and Reds — going seven.