In the last weekend of the regular season, many of us were begging for more work for Anibal Sanchez in preparation for the playoffs. On Friday, we were screaming for Sanchez to stay in and pitch the eighth inning. Joba Chamberlain predictably imploded in a perfect storm considering his previous postseasons, record in the second half of this season, and performance on consecutive days.
But what if Ausmus had allowed Sanchez to pitch the eighth inning? De Aza led off, he would probably be retired. Adam Jones was up second, and Anibal would likely have enough gas in the tank for a second out. Nelson Cruz inevitably would have reached base. Then Sanchez retires Steve Pearce.
At this point, Sanchez's pitch count would be approaching 50. Would we be clamoring for him to pitch the ninth inning too? Even if Sanchez had made another appearance, running his pitch count to 65 would be hard to justify.
So it would have been Joe Nathan in the ninth inning. J. J. Hardy would have led off with a walk. Flaherty bats with Delmon Young's pinch hitting appearance being delayed, and Flaherty is retired. Kelly Johnson bats for Joseph and singles. Young pinch hits for Schoop, and hits a home run. The game is tied with one out, and the lineup has turned over to Markakis.
Ausmus replaces Nathan with..... Soria? Joakim has recorded three outs and allowed five runs. Joba Chamberlain, with his 108.00 postseason ERA? No, he goes with Phil Coke because Markakis and De Aza are left-handed. That would not end well.
The relief approach needs to be completely rethought. Last year, in game four of the ALDS, Jim Leyland became creative out of desperation and pitched Max Scherzer in the seventh and eighth innings. Brad Ausmus needs to break out of his defined bullpen roles and use the best arms on the team. Those belong to the starting pitchers. Max Scherzer will not be pitching in Detroit next season. There is no need to protect his arm. He should be the first option, with Rick Porcello next in line. David Price can face a tough left-handed hitter or two, and Kyle Lobstein any other lefties. The rest of the bullpen should be avoided like a recent arrival by plane from Libera.