THE conventional thinking goes like this: Roy Oswalt should be your fourth starter come postseason because he's a veteran, has pitched successfully in October, seems to be getting stronger as the season winds down. Roy is your man because he's more trustworthy than any rookie, even one as good as Vance Worley.
I don't disagree with the reasons. It's the conclusion that I contest. Worley should be your fourth starter come playoff time for all those reasons, and let's add one more: Oswalt has come out of the bullpen in the postseason. Worley has not.
If I'm thinking about changing someone's role for the postseason, it makes better sense to keep the rookie in his comfort zone and have the veteran shoring up a bullpen that leans heavily on a tired (self-proclaimed), eighth-inning setup guy (Antonio Bastardo), a seventh-inning rookie who has been knocked around of late (Michael Stutes) and Brad Lidge, from whom no one knows what to expect.
Solid as he has been this season, the same could be said of Ryan Madson, entering his first postseason as a closer.
Oswalt may be better served in a role of stabilizing things back there. Especially if you think you might get an eight- or nine-inning effort from one of the Big 3.
Three-for-three? You're more optimistic than me. Earlier this year, discussing postseason disappointments during the Braves' long run, John Smoltz noted that batters get more picky in the playoffs and perhaps umpires do, too. Especially at the start of games. Pitch counts rise.
Oswalt has pitched in the postseason three times, with varying degrees of success. His numbers this year are solid but not spectacular, and frankly not as good as Worley's. Both men have been able to keep the team in the game. Pitching against two potential playoff opponents in the last week, Worley passed the test even in his Sunday loss. Squeezed unmercifully by home plate umpire Gerry Davis, Vanimal continually gathered himself behind the mound so as not to allow the missed pitch to affect his next one.
"I don't know what it is," he said last week. "I don't want to say I get butterflies, but I definitely have an adrenaline rush going out there at the start . . . Eventually I'll slow things down. I always seem to throw a lot of pitches in the first inning."
Worley's poise and ability to wriggle out of trouble has been a revelation to the entire organization and particularly those who had been around him during his formative years in the minors. Sitting next to one such minor league coach recently, I listened as he marveled over what he called a "[expletive]-you" mentality that Worley had found over his last two seasons.
That won't go anywhere in October. But that adrenaline rush that leads to missed pitches would seem a toxic recipe for a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever.
"I tend to make things difficult for myself," Worley said last week after beating the Braves. "I always seem to figure it out, slow things down and get myself out of jams . . . I don't like to put myself in those situations. But it seems as though I find myself in that spot often. I just know I need to make a pitch and get myself out of it."
As a starter, Worley has done that fearlessly. But they are his messes. Late-inning work will likely involve inherited runners. When he balked himself into trouble Sunday, I couldn't help but think of October consequences. When he bounced a pitch with two runners on in that same game, I thought of how slim the margin of error is for those in late-inning jams.
So . . . if Vance Worley is going to make trouble for himself, I would prefer he do it early in the game, not late. I would prefer to give him clean innings to, as he said, "Make a pitch and get out of it."
And if he doesn't? A short leash, and Oswalt to the rescue.
That formula might not work in reverse. Worley replacing Oswalt or any of the other three starters, especially with runners already on? Well, now you're really talking about pressure on a rookie.
So I'd go Worley as the fourth starter. Roy to the 'pen.
Not because I think less of either.
Really, it's because I think the world of both.
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