As we roll into September, some teams (Yankees, Tigers) might be able to start pondering their playoff rotations, while others (Minnesota, Chicago) are scrambling just to try to get a seat before the "Musical Chairs" music stops. When considering the ALDS, it's significant to look at the dilemma of the 4th starter. Blez recently highlighted the importance the 4th starter can have, noting how the A's August successes have often correlated with extreme success from Oakland's 4th starter, an inconsistent journeyman known as Corstedban Loaidlilla.
Teams have two choices in the ALDS: a four-man rotation, in which only the ace will pitch twice, or a three-man rotation, in which Games 4 and 5 will be pitched on just 3-days rest. (The A's, of course, have tried it both ways, and have scientifically proven that it doesn't matter if you're the A's, because your maximum ALDS win total is 2.)
Let's look at the teams most likely to be involved in the ALDS:
Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, Chien-Ming Wang, and these delectable choices: Cory Lidle or Jaret Wright. You can see where Joe Torre would be mighty tempted to go with a 3-man rotation...Which would mean asking for starts, on short rest, from pitchers who will be, at that point, 37 and 43. Interesting.
Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson. The Tigers might be in a great position to go with a 4-man rotation, as there is less separation from front to back than you usually see. I would think Verlander's "tired arm" would make a 4-man rotation a near certainty. Detroit's decision is important to the A's, as Oakland will match up with the Tigers if the standings are the same a month from now. In a 4-man set-up, "A's killer" Kenny Rogers still gets 2 starts. However, in a 4-man set-up, "post-season choker" Kenny Rogers also gets 2 starts. Interesting.
Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, Freddy Garcia, with Javier Vasquez deemed likely to land in the bullpen no matter what. This rotation is difficult even to rank 1-4, as any can be more like "aces" or like "#4-#5 starters" during any stretch. For this reason, the White Sox would probably go with a 4-man rotation, one most notable for the fact that currently three of them (Buehrle, Contreras, Garcia) are really struggling. Interesting.
Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano (DL), Brad Radke, Carlos Silva. Talk about a team with a "Big-2," but...It's unclear whether Liriano could return for the post-season redux, but it looks like even if he did it might have to be out of the bullpen. In that case, while the Twins might have the best LOOGY in playoff history, their rotation would be so thin you wonder if they would have to go with a 3-man rotation to have a decent chance. Or roll the dice with Matt Garza? Interesting.
And then there's your Oakland A's, for whom the decision is between starting Loaiza, or pitching Zito and Haren again on short rest. In May, the choice seemed obvious ("Start Loaiza? Are you kidding?"), and in August the choice seemed obvious ("Not start Loaiza? Are you kidding?").