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Pitching Strategy From the Get-Go

If Game 5 actually does resume tonight, we're in for something special: a game where every pitch actually matters. It's like one of the mini-games used to decide tied two-leg playoff series back in the defunct NASL, except with baseballs and bats instead of a soccer ball.

Welcome to the first -- and probably the only -- Philadelphia mini-game. It may not be traditional, but neither is a World Series between the Phillies and the Rays. In fact, this little stint might even get some sidewalk gawking viewers. You know, the viewers who say they want to get into baseball but can't stand to sit through nine innings. A quick 3 1/2 innings to potentially decide a championship? THAT they will sit through.

So what are the Phillies and Rays likely to do? Only managers Charlie Manuel and Joe Madden truly know that right now, but here's our best guess, if their best-laid plans actually work out ... at least for the scheduled 3 1/2 innings.

BOTTOM OF THE SIXTH: Maddon has already said that power-pitching righty Grant Balfour, who was on the mound for the fifth on Monday night, will be back out there for the sixth when play resumes. That makes sense for the first batter he'll face, No. 8 hitter Carlos Ruiz, but the Phillies have already said they'll pinch hit for pitcher Cole Hamels in the nine slot. That means Manuel will almost certainly turn to a lefty for a better matchup against Balfour or, perhaps better, force a pitching change. If Manuel goes with power-hitting Matt Stairs, expect Joe Maddon to waste little time walking out to the mound raising his left hand, asking for lefty J.P. Howell. From there, the Phillies start over with Jimmy Rollins and their traditional lineup, so Maddon will have to take them matchup-by-matchup. Don't be surprised if he goes to his go-to pressure pitcher, former Astro Dan Wheeler, at the first sign of trouble. Wheeler went a full three innings against the Red Sox in the Rays' must-win Game 2 of the ALCS, and he could definitely be asked to do it again if needed.

TOP OF THE SEVENTH: Things line up a bit easier for the Phillies. If they find a way to score in the bottom of the sixth and take the lead, this will almost certainly be lefty J.C. Romero or, if Maddon decides he needs a righty, possibly even Ryan Madson earlier than usual. If the game is still tied, things could be more interesting. With an ongoing deadlock, Manuel could show his cards about who he's starting in Game 7, using veteran Jamie Moyer (who was masterful in Game 3) if he's decided to start Cole Hamels again on three-days rest in Game 7. It's not likely, but it's an intriguing possibility for Manuel if he wants to use it.

BOTTOM OF THE SEVENTH: Unlike the Phillies, who have established a fairly constant late-game pitching routine (Romero to Madson to Brad Lidge), the Rays play it by ear. If Wheeler is already in, he'll pitch until the game blows up on him. Meanwhile, either Howell or Chad Bradford will be on call against lefties, whichever wasn't used in the bottom of the sixth against Stairs or whichever pinch hitter the Phillies used. Trever Miller is also in the 'pen and could get work if Bradford or Howell are brought in for individual batters. And don't be surprised if, unlike Manuel's more traditional approach, Maddon at least considers using Andy Sonnannstine. Sure, the No. 4 starter got rocked his first night in Philadelhia, but if the game looks like it's going long, Maddon could pull him out of the 'pen.

TOP OF THE EIGHTH: Again, the Phillies will be hoping this is Ryan Madson, and it could be even if Philadelphia doesn't have a lead. If Manuel decides he needs to save Madson and Lidge for later potential leads, look for Chad Durbin or Scott Eyre. They don't have much work in the series so far, but as x-factors that could give them a slight advantage over the Rays. You never know.

BOTTOM OF THE EIGHTH: Let's play who's left in the Rays bullpen! We won't know until tomorrow, but it's very possible that both lefty-specialists will be used -- Ryan Howard will have come up in one of the previous two innings -- so Maddon will be flying by the seat of his pants. It says here that this is the point where either: A) Wheeler is emerging as the game's hero, pitching his second or part of a third-straight inning or B) David Price gets another chance to shine.

TOP OF THE NINTH: Phillies fans say "Please let it be Lidge!" The Rays will say "Anyone but Lidge!" Whether or not Lidge is on the bump will almost certainly depend on whether the Phils are winning. Lidge is a one-inning man, and he'll only pitch to preserve a lead. If the game is still tied, the Rays half of the ninth is really up for grabs, depending on how Manuel's played out the previous frames.

BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: If Price isn't already in, he's coming in here folks. There's no way around it. He has the endurance to toss multiple innings -- remember, he was still a starter back in September -- so he would seem like an ideal fit if this game looks ticketed for extra innings once it gets going again.

By Cameron Smith  |  October 29, 2008; 8:19 AM ET
Categories:  Phillies , Rays  
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Interesting, Cameron, but I think the most sensible move for Maddon may be Balfour for Ruiz, then Price for 2 (or more) innings. I think he'd like to lock the Phillies down and get the series back to St. Pete.*

Wheeler and Hammel are too questionable in this series and eventhe tail of the ALCS. They are the classic over-their-head middle relievers who have their peak years when their team makes a run but are truly mediocre and unreliable. Think Jamie Walker or, I'll admit, even Mike Timlin, who never really was an elite reliever even with a few borderline all-star level years. In August when Hammel was on a role, great, but now, he's just a soft tossing lefty who needs to place the ball in the wind and the cold. Gimme the guy who can break bats in these conditions.

Having said that, I think the Phillies have some real advantages tonight. The extra at bat and needing just 3 innings from the bullpen is huge. While Hammels is out, his getting through the 6th saves them an arm (or a double switch) and let's the bullpen set up more normally (Romero / Durbin, to Madson, to Lidge).

I'm a little surprised the idea of flying to Tampa and only resuming this game in Philly if necessary was not seriously discussed. All the arrangements to broadcast had been made. The conditions would have been guaranteed. Even tonight, it will not be baseball weather.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | October 29, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

PS - where in Planet NJ's grammar lady when I post?

"eventhe tail"
"on a role"
"let's the bullpen"

PPS - The "*" is to note how much more we know about the Rays because of their run. We now know not to call them Tampa, for instance.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | October 29, 2008 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Hamels is up, not Ruiz. Ruiz made the last out in the 5th inning.

Balfour may go out there to warm up, but the Phillies don't need to announce their pinch hitter until the end of the warm-up tosses. I for one hope that Charlie Manuel sends Hamels to the plate with bat in hand and then yanks him immediately, just so he can get a home crowd standing ovation for a good pitching performance. The friggin' weather caused him to prematurely end his start, and he deserves an ovation.

I was there on Monday, but can't be there tonight. It's crushing. But the Phils will pull it out tonight in front of a raucous home crowd. The bats have started to swing, and with a short game they'll be on.

Posted by: chrisduckworth | October 29, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

In the absence of Grammar Lady I'll take on the gremlin patrol function and ask whether you may have meant to type Howell rather than Hammel when speaking of middle relief.

I was wondering the same thing about venue options.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | October 29, 2008 9:51 AM | Report abuse

To clarify, my comment (typed up while the next posting was being made) was meant for jca.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | October 29, 2008 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Yes, the no. 9 spot is hitting first. Big mistake in your article, there, Smith. As far as Phils strategy, I would expect to see Greg Dobbs hitting lead-off b/c he has more speed than a Matt Stairs and he will need to get on base. If Dobbs reaches, expect to see So Taguchi pinch-running.

Who says that Maddon is the only one that would be "untraditional"? You don't think thta Uncle Cholly is considering using Brett Myers to possibly complete this game? These are unusual circumstances. Don't be surprised if he makes an unorthodox move like this.

Phils wrap it up tonight. All of you Rays boosters saying the series should have moved back to Tampa are out of your minds. Why on Earth would the Phillies agree to give up home field advantage and want to rob their 28 years of suffering phans, the chance to celebrate a world title in their home ballpark? Seriously, quit drinking the blue kool-aid, you front runners!

Posted by: PhilliesPhan | October 29, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

The best part is that Smith wasted probably a good amount of time coming up with these scenarios and he isnt even right from the get go.

Big waste!

The WAPO sports writers are proving why nobody in DC pays attention to their teams.


Posted by: rdy4all2000 | October 29, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Theres no way Brett Myers or Moyer are being brought in tonight. Durbin won't go in, he's been too spotty lately. I'm thinking definitely Madson first to face the lefties in the order.

And Lidge can go more than one inning if he needs to. He has before, and its been stated that if needed (which would mean the Phils are WINNING!) he will. He hasn't played since game 1, an ideal situation for an inning+.

ps the suggestion to fly to Tampa makes no sense whatsoever haha.

Posted by: NewB45 | October 29, 2008 5:37 PM | Report abuse

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