So, is baseball really back on its normal axis? That was all the talk ahead of the World Series, which after a post-season dominated by discussion of openers and bullpen games has settled into what used to be the norm: starting pitchers giving their team length, middle relievers holding the fort and closers closing it out.
Sorry. Not buying it, yet. Not even with the rule change coming into effect in 2020 mandating that barring injury or illness, starting pitchers and relievers must pitch to either a minimum of three batters or the end of a half-inning. While that change does take direct aim at the idea of platoon-advantage that is at the heart of so much baseball strategy and essentially eliminates the role of, say, the left-handed, one-out guy (LOOGY), I’m skeptical it will turn into any kind of panacea for slow play. Truth is, the number of relief appearances that last less than three outs has been mostly static over the years — although it tends to get magnified in the post-season.
It’s true that there have been some telling moments in these playoffs. There was, for example, the New York Yankees‘ Zach Britton dropping some home truths about manager Aaron Boone’s aggressive use of his bullpen in a six-game elimination in the American League Championship Series by the Houston Astros. “The more times you face guys as relievers, you get exposed,” Britton told Sports Illustrated. “That’s what I always say — that’s why we’re relievers and not starters.” Then Sunday night, after his two-run home run helped stake the Astros to a 7-1 win and 3-2 World Series lead over the Washington Nationals, Carlos Correa acknowledged that a steady diet of Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson might be playing into the Astros hands.