Built for October

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With the Boston Red Sox grasping at anything resembling a chance of holding on to the American League Wild Card, and the Philadelphia Phillies on an eight game losing streak after clinching the NL East, the concept of a team’s make-up has never been more relevant.

There are really two separate seasons each year: they take place April through September and October.  The playoffs are truly different than the regular season and the make-up of a team built for a 162 game marathon and a team built to try to win the eleven games necessary for a ring can be stark opposites.  The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Philadelphia Phillies are flat-out built to win at anytime, but each team uses their resources differently at different times.

Consider the Phillies and their starting rotation.  They send out an ace approximately 130 out of the 162 game season; that’s enough to let any team slide into the postseason.  But what about October?  In a 5-game series, the third and fourth starters do not impact the series the way they do in the regular season.  In a match-up against the Brewers, Yovani Gallardo, Zach Greinke, and Shaun Marcum damper the advantage the Phillies have in the regular season.  Each game will feature two top-tier pitchers; the Phillies will not enjoy the Cole Hamels vs. Clay Hensley matchup they enjoyed against the Marlins eighteen times this season. 

Pitching depth is clearly needed during the regular season, whether in the rotation or bullpen, but a team built to win in October needs two aces, a solid third starter and three shutdown pitchers out of the bullpen.

Offense boasts a similar story: a team’s lineup is going to go through many manifestations during the season, but once October comes around all that a team needs is a strong 1-6 in the line-up, three plus defenders to round out the offense and speed off the bench.  This formula simply does not work during the regular season.  Ask the Red Sox, who have the best one through nine on paper, but injuries turn the most potent line-up into a team that outside of the top 5 hitters in the line-up could pass as a AAA squad.  Consider that the Red Sox current permutations of 6th through 9th batters include players that teams were either trying to give away over the past year or players that spent significant time in the minors over the past year and a half (note that Jarrod Saltalamacchia spent 2010 hitting .244 in Oklahoma City, Texas’ AAA affiliate and any team could have had [has had?] Darnell McDonald over the past three years). 

The Red Sox were built to win in October, they just have to get there.  Consider that their game 1 and 2 starters are John Lester and Josh Beckett and there are their two aces.  Clay Bucholz was slated to be the third solid starter, while the bullpen boasts legitimate shut down pitchers that have simply been overworked throughout the grind of 162 games.

In any case, a simple check of this year’s playoff contenders shows a clear mix of teams built for the 162 game grind: Anaheim, Arizona, Detroit, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Texas; and teams built for October: Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Milwaukee.  Simply by being on both lists does not give the Phillies an advantage.  Rather a team that boasts Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee starting twelve of nineteen potential games in October keeps the Phils way ahead of the pack in October.

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