This is premature. But we geniuses were talking about it last night in the press box, and I figured one or two of you might be having a similar conversation. So here goes: What’s the rotation if the Braves make the playoffs?
The obvious answer: Javier Vazquez in Game 1 because he has been the Braves’ best pitcher this season; Jair Jurrjens in Game 2 because he has been the second-best, and Tommy Hanson in Game 3 because he has been to this team what Steve Avery was to the 1991 aggregation. And then Bobby Cox would have to face the question all managers must tackle in postseason — a three-man rotation or a four-man?
And I’m thinking Cox will choose the latter. When he has had a big-time fourth starter in postseasons past, he hasn’t skipped him. Only when the Braves’ rotation was short a man did Cox deploy a starting pitcher on three days’ rest. And the Braves do have a high-salaried starting pitcher who has won clinching games in both the League Championship Series and the World Series itself, and it isn’t as if that pitcher hasn’t won a game this season. Indeed, Derek Lowe has won 15.
But there’s a catch. Lowe stands fourth among National League starters in wins — actually, he’s tied with four other men, Vazquez among them — but he’s only 67th in ERA. Opponents are hitting .299 against him, which ranks next-to-last (ahead of only Livan Hernandez, the human batting tee) among all NL qualifiers. Lowe has won almost in spite of himself, which isn’t exactly an advertisement for a playoff start.
But — yes, another “but” — there’s another consideration. Vazquez has one career postseason victory and has had the reputation, which he’s overcoming weekly, of not being a big-game pitcher. Jurrjens and Hanson have never been in the playoffs. Tim Hudson is coming off arm surgery and has won only once in nine postseason starts to boot.
Say what you will about Lowe as a Brave, but he started and won Game 7 in Yankee Stadium in 2004 and worked seven scoreless innings for the Red Sox in the Series clicncher against St. Louis. And that, we need note, came at a time when fatalistic New Englanders fully expected something to go wrong. (Because, up until then, something always had.)
I’m not saying give Lowe a Game 1 start because he won two big games five years ago for another club. But I’m saying he deserves a start if his latest club plays beyond the 162nd game. He’s still a decent pitcher. He has, after all, won 15 games.
Oh, and one thing more: As the rotation sets up now, Vazquez would start a one-game playoff against Colorado on Monday if a 163rd game is necessary. Since he’s scheduled to work Wednesday night against Florida, that would be his regular turn. But if Vazquez starts a playoff game and the Braves win it, that would surely leave Jurrjens to work Game 1 in Dodger Stadium, wouldn’t it?
OK, one final final thing: The Dodgers’ rotation would include some combination of Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Randy Wolf , Jon Garland, Hiroki Kuroda and possibly Vincente Padilla. Would you take that group over the Braves’ starters? Didn’t think you would.