Saturday, December 27, 2014

Emptying the notebook, playoff style

Not only did the Phillies clinch a third straight National League East title last night, they clinched three consecutive days off for High Cheese. Today, the question on my mind isn't "Pedro Martinez or J.A. Happ for the postseason rotation?" It's, "Rouge or New Wave Cafe for lunch?"

Emptying the notebook, playoff style

Pedro Martinez celebrates in the clubhouse last night after the Phillies beat the Houston Astros for the NL East crown.  (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)
Pedro Martinez celebrates in the clubhouse last night after the Phillies beat the Houston Astros for the NL East crown. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

Not only did the Phillies clinch a third straight National League East title last night, they clinched three consecutive days off for High Cheese. Today, the question on my mind isn't "Pedro Martinez or J.A. Happ for the postseason rotation?" It's, "Rouge or New Wave Cafe for lunch?"

But there is a lot of stuff I didn't get a chance to put in the paper today, so before I turn my attention toward laundry and bills and dry-cleaning and, yes, lunch, I thought I'd run it all down for your.

1) A scene from last night's clubhouse: Jayson Werth is standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by a gaggle of reporters, wearing glasses and a hat while drenched with various forms of alcohol. He is in the middle of a question when a short balding Canadian walks up behind him and tugs on his arm. Werth doesn't notice. So the short balding Candian pinches his rear end. Werth turns around. Matt Stairs whispers to him, "Come on. We're going to the HK sign." With that, Stairs and Werth join the procession of Phillies filing out of the clubhouse, down a long hallway, through the dugout and onto the field. Together, they jog across the playing surface toward left-center field, where a large sign emblazoned with the intials HK has spent the season standing watch over one of the more dramatic seasons in recent memory. They reach the warning track and pause, together, drinking champagne and smoking cigars and reflecting on the previous 157 games. One of the cooler moments I've seen since I started on the beat last February.

2) I asked Pedro Martinez last night how he would evaluate his outing. He said he was satisfied with it. He allowed three runs in four innings and needed 84 pitches to do so, and he looked a lot more like the pitcher who took the mound in his first extended outing as a Phillie in August than the pitcher who held the Mets scoreless for eight innings in his most recent one. But Martinez said that both he and pitching coach Rich Dubee looked at this start as a simple tune-up for the postseason. That's Martinez's word, not mine. He was obviously rusty. It took him an inning to get his fastball back into the upper 80's and low 90's. But after 11 days off, that was to be expected.

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3) Who will the Phillies play? As of today, they are a half game behind the Dodgers for the top overall seed in the playoffs and two games ahead of the Cardinals for the second seed. Either one of those two finishes will give them a home playoff series in the first round, and provided the Dodgers win one more game and clinch the NL West, the opponent will almost certainly be Colorado. The Phillies have a magic number of two to clinch second place, meaning they need two wins or Cardinals losses to clinch. Assuming the opponent is Colorado, Games 1 and 2 will be in Philly next Wednesday and Thursday. Games 3 and 4 will be in Colorado next Saturday and Sunday. And a Game 5, if necessary, would be in Philly the following Tuesday.

4) Now, the question: What will the Phillies' postseason rotation look like? Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are the obvious starters for Game 1 and Game 2. There's a chance the Phillies could do something funky to get Hamels ready for Game 1. But really, that would seem counterproductive. Hamels is scheduled to pitch on Saturday on his normal fifth day, which would set him up to start Game 2 on normal rest. Hamels is best when he is in a rhythm and pitching every fifth day, so I expect the Phillies to keep it that way. Lee, meanwhile, will start tonight and then be available to start Game 1 on five days rest. Both Hamels and Lee will be on full rest if there is a Game 5, so why bother messing with Hamels just to give him the "honor" of starting Game 1?

5) Next question about the rotation: Who starts Game 3 and Game 4? I asked Ruben Amaro Jr. last night if, after watching Martinez pitch the clincher, he would be confident in sending him out to the mound in the playoffs. Amaro said yes, although he acknowledged that no decisions had been made. Most of the focus has been trained on Happ vs. Martinez for the final spot in the rotation, but I'm not sure that Blanton isn't an option for the bullpen. If the opponent is Colorado, Happ will be a strong candidate for the rotation. He pitched a complete game shut out against the Rockies earlier this season, and Colorado has struggled mightily against left-handed starters over the past month or two. So, to me, the question will come down to Blanton vs. Martinez. Blanton has never faced the Rockies, at least according to the splits I am looking at. Martinez, meanwhile, has not fared very well at Coors Field in his career.

Blanton at Dodger Stadium: 2 GS, 0-0, 4.09 ERA
Blanton at Busch Stadium: 2 GS, 2-0, 1.38 ERA
Blanton at Coors Field: No starts

Blanton vs. Dodgers: 4 GS, 1-0, 2.88 ERA
Blanton vs. Rockies: No starts
Blanton vs. Cardinals: 3 GS, 3-0, 1.71 ERA

Blanton in September: 5 GS, 3-1, 4.91 ERA, .243 BAA, 5 HR

Happ at Dodger Stadium: No starts
Happ at Busch Stadium: No starts
Happ at Coors Field: 1 G, 0 GS, 2.1 IP, 1 HR, 0 R, 1 SO, 0 BB, 0 HR

Happ vs. Dodgers: 1 G, 0 GS, 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 SO, 0 HR
happ vs. Cardinals: 2 GS, 0-1, 5.11 ERA, 12.1 IP, 15 HR, 7 R, 4 BB, 11 SO, 0 HR
Happ vs. Rockies: 2 G, 1 GS, 0.00 ERA, 11.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 SO

Happ in September: 4 GS, 2-1, 4.43 ERA, .329 BAA, 5 HR

Martinez at Dodger Stadium: 38 G, 14 GS, 7-7, 2.93 ERA
Martinez at Busch Stadium II: 1 GS, 5 IP, 5 R
Martinez at Coors Field: 4 GS, 1-2, 4.97 ERA, 7 HR

Martinez vs. Rockies: 10 G, 8 GS, 2-3, 4.31 ERA
Martinez vs. Cardinals: 16 G, 11 GS, 4-4, 3.62 ERA
Martinez vs. Dodgers: 9 GS, 3-5, 4.02 ERA

Martinez in September: 5 GS, 3-1, 3.14 ERA, .274 BAA

6) But while Happ might be the best choice to start against the Rockies, he also might be the best choice to slide into a bullpen role. While Martinez began his career as a lights-out set-up man for the Dodgers and has appeared in relief in the postseason, he is probably the least-suited for a bullpen role at this point in his career. Watching him pitch this season, it seems to take him a full inning to warm up and find his groove. And his career numbers suggest that habit is not limited to this season. In his career, Martinez has allowed 178 runs in the first inning, far more than any other inning (second-most: 142 in the fourth).

Happ, meanwhile, has allowed just three runs in the first inning this season. Opponents are hitting just .182 against him in the first inning.

But don't forget about Blanton. Opponents are hitting .218 against him in the first inning this season. He has allowed 11 runs in 30 first innings this season. Might he merit consideration as a reliever?

This surely be the Phillies most difficult decision, one that probably will not be made until the day of Game 1.

7) Kyle Kendrick. Has the young righty pitched his way into postseason roster consideration? "Everybody is in consideration," pitching coach Rich Dubee said last night. There is no question Kendrick is a different pitcher from last season. And he has turned in two straight crucial outings of long relief. His ERA in limited action as a reliever is below 3.00 this season. Has he performed well enough to merit consideration with Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey and Tyler Walker for one of the final relief spots on the postseason roster? 

8) Educated guesses. Unlike predictions, educated guesses have some foundation in logic. Here are mine:

  • J.A. Happ will be in the playoff rotation if the opponent is the Rockies. Cliff Lee will start Game 1. Cole Hamels will start Game 2. Happ, who is scheduled to start Sunday, will start Game 4 in Colorado.
  • Blanton will start Game 3, but the Phillies will not announce it until either the day before or the day of the game.
  • Martinez will throw a simulated or instructional league game on Monday, his fifth day. He will then be available to pitch out of the bullpen starting with Game 3 in Colorado on Saturday (his fifth day). The Phillies will have him prepare as if he is starting Game 3. If they need long relief in that game, he will be the guy. Then, the Phillies' goal will be two-fold: To have him ready for an all-hands-on-deck, if necessary, Game 5, and to have him ready to re-join the rotation for the NLCS.
  • I would not be shocked if Martinez gets the Game 3 start Saturday and Blanton is in the bullpen. Unconventional, given the fact that Blanton has been one of the team's steadiest starters? Sure. But convention and postseason games are sometimes at odds.
  • Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park, J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre will all be on the NLDS roster. So will Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Martinez. That leaves one pitching spot available for righthanders Chad Durbin, Tyler Walker, Clay Condrey and Kendrick.
  • Kendrick and Durbin will not be on the roster because they match up poorly with Rockies hitters.
  • Kendrick vs: Helton (4/9), Atkins (4/11, HR), Torrealba (3/9, HR), Hawpe (3/6, 2 HR), Barmes (2/3), Tulowitzki (2/7). Overall: .349/.406.
  • Durbin vs: Giambi (6/15, 2 HR), Spilborghs (2/2), Fowler (2/2), Atkins (1/4). No ABs vs. Helton.
  • The final roster spot will come down to Condrey vs. Walker, and I think Condrey will get it for a few reasons: First, he has had success against several Rockies: Helton (1/7, 2B, 3 RBI, 2BB), Hawpe (0-for-4, 3 SO), Ianetta (0/4, 1 SO), Torrealba (0/3, 2 SO), Tulowitzki (0/3, 1 SO). Second, he has a fresher arm than Walker, who has been used heavily down the stretch. Third, if everything else is equal, he has pitched in the postseason before.
  • Sergio Escalona could edge out Condrey, Durbin and Walker for the sheer fact that the Rockies are loaded with left-handed hitters. And with the uncertain health status of Romero and Eyre, the Phillies could have use for a lefty to face one batter -- Todd Helton, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith, Brad Hawpe, Jason Giambi and Carlos Gonzalez are all lefties who the Phillies could need to get out in a big moment. But Escalona is a rookie, and doesn't have much experience. Which makes me think the Phils will err on the side of a righty with experience.
  • Keep in mind that the last one or two relievers likely will not see much action.

9) So as of today, here is your projected postseason roster, although I would not be surprised to see Escalona replace Condrey:

  • Rotation: Game 1 - Cliff Lee, Game 2 - Cole Hamels, Game 3 - Joe Blanton, Game 4 - J.A. Happ
  • Relievers: RHP Brad Lidge, RHP Ryan Madson, RHP Brett Myers, RHP Chan Ho Park, RHP Clay Condrey, RHP Pedro Martinez, LHP Scott Eyre, LHP J.C. Romero.
  • Regulars: SS Jimmy Rollins, 2B Chase Utley, 3B Pedro Feliz, 1B Ryan Howard, LF Raul Ibanez, CF Shane Victorino, RF Jayson Werth, C Carlos Ruiz
  • Bench: LH Matt Stairs, LH Greg Dobbs, C Paul Bako, RH Ben Francisco, RH Eric Bruntlett.

10) Feel free to share your thoughts.

David Murphy Daily News Staff Writer
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