This yearâ€™s MLB post-season has once again brought the term â€˜bullpenningâ€™ into frequent use as teams get what they can from their starting pitcher before turning the game over to the relievers.
However, the next two play-off games will have a clear focus on two starting pitchers.
Thursday nightâ€™s game is Game Five of the NLCS from Wrigley Field. The Chicago Cubs took Game Four on Wednesday to avoid a 4-0 series sweep, but theyâ€™re still in trouble against the Los Angeles Dodgers and all the more so because tonight they face Clayton Kershaw.
Among some outstanding hurlers, Clayton Kershawâ€™s record over the past five or six seasons has earned him the right to be called the best starting pitcher of his generation. The play-offs havenâ€™t been quite so kind to him so far, yet talk of â€˜strugglesâ€™ is overblown.
Whatever the past, tonight is a perfect opportunity for him to put together a signature Kershaw start and to help the Dodgers book a place in the World Series for the first time since 1988.
On Friday night Justin Verlander will be taking to the mound at Minute Maid Park as he tries to prevent the New York Yankees from joining the Dodgers in the Fall Classic.
The Houston Astros left their home a few days ago with a 2-0 series lead and full of optimism; however the home-team-wins pattern continued in a raucous Yankee Stadium where the Bronx Bombers have reeled off three victories.
This scenario is precisely why it seemed so strange that the Astros didnâ€™t augment their starting pitcher corps prior to the non-waiver trade deadline. That has to be caveated by not knowing fully how high the asking price was for them from various teams, yet given their great regular season and strong farm system of young talent it was hard to imagine a team in a better position to add one more arm to give them a great shot at their first ever World Series title.
They finally managed to get Verlander minutes before the waiver deadline at the end of August and they couldnâ€™t have wished for anything better from their new addition since he has arrived.
Now they need him to give them one more vintage Verlander start, ideally of six innings or more given that the Astrosâ€™ bullpen hasnâ€™t been quite as impregnable as others, to keep the series alive.
Verlander putting up zeroes has become more important due to the white-hot Houston bats mysteriously turning snow-white cold during the ALCS. Although Masahiro Tanaka had to pitch out of some jams in Game Five, he was still able to put together seven strong innings against what had hitherto been a formidable line-up.
The added bonus for Yankees manager Joe Girardi, and added jeopardy for the Astros, was his ability to send Tommy Kahnle out for two innings to complete the game. With Thursday as an off-day, that leaves him with a full arsenal of lethal bullpen weapons to throw at the Astros when Game Six comes around on Friday. Luis Severino was yanked from his Game Two start early due to a potential injury â€“ something the pitcher felt was unnecessary â€“ so thereâ€™s an element of doubt there for the Astros to latch on to.
However, if he gets through even four innings then Houston could have a problem.
Predictions are always a coin-toss at this stage, but I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if we have a baseball-free weekend with both the Dodgers and Yankees earning the all-important fourth win at theirÂ next – and in New York’s case first -Â attempt.