In baseball, is there something to be said about taking it easy in September, in order to prepare for postseason October? Boston Manager Alexa Cora may have gained some valuable experience last year, as bench coach of the Houston Astros. He remembered how the Astros sat down with Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander in September to explain how they would “taper” their innings. Verlander tuned up for October with an 11-strikeout, 110-pitch gem. Now Cora is hoping that the same preparation will work in Boston with Chris Sale and David Price. These two will start Games 1 and 2 of the American League Division Series against whoever the wildcard winner happens to be. But Sale is bothered by a sore shoulder right now and has only thrown 12 1/3 innings since July 28. Cora has him scheduled to “air it out” Wednesday in his last regular season start.
Is there only so much that our bodies can do? As I write this, I am in an incredible amount of pain, but I am not an athlete, so I can only comment on how I feel without playing baseball 24/7. Baseball has changed for the better when it comes to how pitchers are used. It’s not just the data that clubs use to protect them. It’s also the medical community. Cora revealed that Boston’s medical professionals are as important in determining workload (when pitchers pitch and for how long) as are the uniformed staff and the analytical experts. This is a really good thing. I mean, its so easy to say that someone should be able to play constantly all season, but that’s not always the case. (Unless we’re talking about LeBron, but I’m not even going to go there.)
Cora has indicated that “the medical experts told us that when you overuse pitchers it is reflected three weeks later in their performance. There’s actually a lag time of three weeks. We look closely at all that stuff. We’ve been very careful in these last two weeks with their usage.” This is super interesting to think about. I mean, what they’re saying is that if you pitch a game tonight, you’re not going to feel its effects for a full three weeks. Which is kind of insane, isn’t it?
Will this make a difference in the postseason? Boston is the 25th team in the World Series era to win 105 games or more. Only two of those teams failed to win a pennant: the 1998 Braves, who lost in the NLCS to San Diego, and the 2001 Mariners, who lost in the ALCS to the Yankees. The ’98 Braves and ’01 Mariners are two of the eight teams that won 105 games since divisional play began in 1969. Four won the World Series (1970 Orioles, 1975 Reds, 1986 Mets, 1998 Yankees) and two lost the World Series (1969 Orioles, 2004 Cardinals).
Which means, it’s been 14 years since we have seen a team with 105 wins in the post-season. The game has changed over the years, and the focus is now on pitchers who can keep the ball out of play. Even though, Boston has the best team in baseball right now, but is that enough to pull off what they need to for a World Series championship? Sale will definitely have to come through, but they will also need some backup options in the bullpen just in case.