— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 7, 2013
One of the things I repeatedly assert about the postseason is you can't manage the same way in October as you do the first 162 games. The regular season is about the long haul and you have to worry about things like fatigue and burning out your bullpen. That's why sometimes managers have to leave in a starting pitcher to take a pounding or why you carefully monitor reliever usage.
But there is an urgency to every game in the postseason. You can't afford to punt games by leaving in a starter too long when he doesn't have it; with so many off days, you should be able to funnel more innings to your best relievers.
Of course, the most obvious strategy managers employ in the regular season these days is to never start their starting pitcher on three days' rest; they get at least four days between starts.
Clayton Kershaw has never started on three days' rest in his career. He's coming off a 124-pitch outing in Game 1, his second-highest pitch count of the season. Nonetheless, Don Mattingly pulled an audible and decided to start Kershaw over Ricky Nolasco in Game 4 on Monday night.
I love the decision. Kershaw is 25 years old, at the height of his powers. He's a big, strong kid who even if he doesn't have his A-plus stuff, will still have plenty of stuff. Mattingly is opening himself up to second-guessing, but he's going the route that Tony La Russa successfully rode in 2011, when he twice started Chris Carpenter on three days' rest, including in Game 7 of the World Series.
With Freddy Garcia going for the Braves, the Dodgers will have the obvious starting pitching advantage. With Nolasco, that was less of the case, especially considering he'd allowed 24 hits and 19 runs in 12 innings in his final three starts.
The other important factor is that even with a loss, the Dodgers will have Zack Greinke pitching on full rest in Game 5, against Kris Medlen, and that starting pitching matchup would still rate in favor of the Dodgers. And if the Dodgers win Game 4, they're set up perfectly for the NLCS, with Greinke ready for Game 1 and Kershaw still able to start Game 2 on Saturday on four days' rest.
So the Dodgers' options were this:
Game 4, NLDS: Nolasco
Game 5, NLDS: Kershaw
Game 1, NLCS: Kershaw (if no Game 5) or Greinke
Game 2, NLCS: Greinke or Hyun-jin Ryu
Game 4, NLDS: Kershaw (three days' rest)
Game 5, NLDS: Greinke
Game 1, NLCS: Ryu (if there's a Game 5) or Greinke
Game 2, NLCS: Kershaw
In the second option, by simply starting Kershaw once on three days' rest, Mattingly guarantees at least three starts from Kershaw/Greinke (out of either three or four games). In the first option, he's guaranteed only two Kershaw/Greinke starts.
I'll take the chance of Kershaw on short rest to guarantee that other start. Is this without risk? No, since you're asking Kershaw to do something he's never done before. But you have a deep bullpen and I'll take my chances with the best pitcher on the planet.