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How to Manage a 5-Day, 5-Game Series

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It’s five games in five days, with no off days, and a less than reliable bullpen for the Astros. It’s going to need to be managed very differently than the last series.

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

For some totally non-baseball related reason, MLB decided to give teams up to four days off leading into the ALDS, which is 5 straight games. This will create interesting challenges, as our friends at the official hub of the Astros already noted. Compare this to last year, where a potential fifth game would be sandwiched by days off after games 2 and 4. None of that this time. Let’s ponder what it means...

The piggybacking of Round 1? Forget about it, as Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez will need to start at some point in the series.

Avoiding the third time through the order? Forget about that too. The only way the Astros will win this is if their slumbering bats score 8 runs/game, or if their starters go deep. Very deep. Why? Because the bullpen gets no rest. Remember just a few days ago, when the Padres used 9 pitchers? Those guys are all gassed at the back end of that series. Think Brandon Morrow at the end of the 2017 World Series, when he went from unhittable to batting practice (Morrow pitched 13.2 IP in 14 games that October. The most he pitched that season was 12 G, 11 IP in a month).

One could imagine, being up or down 2-0, burning a guy like Javier to help preserve a lead and to get to your back end. You can manage the Craig Counsell “live another day”-style, but that next day includes no off day.

The ideal offense would be one that gets into the opponent’s bullpen. In past years, that would be the norm for the Astros. This year, however, although the team did not strike out this year (19.7%, lowest in baseball), it witnessed a huge power drop off (ISO was .168, which put them 17th, down from .221, which had them 3rd in 2019; we miss you Yordan!) Some guys may feel that they can only get to their power early or ahead in counts. This could lead to low pitch counts for a guy like Chris Bassett or Jesus Luzardo.

The other question, broached by our site’s fearless managing editor, is whether anyone in the bullpen can get more than 3 outs. I don’t mean 6 outs in a mop-up role. I mean 6 outs in a white-knuckle playoff game. We know the answer because he’s already done it: Josh James. He did it in the 2018 ALDS. In the 2019 playoffs, he was a one-inning guy, and not a particularly effective one, but he did record 5 outs in a game as recently as September 17 against Texas. He’s rested, but is he game ready and sharp? We will find out.

In tight postseason baseball, relievers tend to become perfectionists. They don’t want to give in, so they nibble and hope guys chase. This habit can inflate pitch counts. If Ryan Pressly throws 24 pitches to close a game, how will he fare the next day if needed? The greatest balm would come in the form of a starter who goes 7+ innings, and essentially saves the bullpen for a day. We had a couple of those guys last year. The 2020 season may depend up finding a couple of those guys this year.