Buster Olney made an important point in his Insider blog today: Rosters for the wild-card game can be changed for the Division Series:
The participating teams will set 25-man rosters for this one-game, winner-take-all extravaganza -- rosters that don't have to carry over to the division series matchup.
So the Braves and the other wild-card entrants don't have to carry multiple starting pitchers.
As Buster points outs, teams could thus add a couple extra relievers or a pinch-runner or third catcher. Teams would certainly be wise to carry 15 position players, providing more pinch-hit and pinch-run options. You probably need to carry at least one extra starting pitcher, either as a long reliever in case the starter cuffed early or if the game goes extra innings. So if the Braves, for example, start Kris Medlen in the wild-card game, you're still likely to see Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm, Tommy Hanson or Mike Minor on the 25-man roster.
There was also a discussion on Twitter if managers would be wise to manage the wild-card game as a "bullpen" game. Basically, the argument is that multiple relievers pitching one or two innings is more effective than leaving a starter to go through a lineup a third time (when most starters are less effective).
From Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus:
And while it's possible that MLB managers will take advantage of the rules for the wild card round, how freaking likely is it?
— Colin Wyers (@cwyers) September 18, 2012
@ceeangi Not better. Tactical options. Bench bat, defender off the bench, specialist reliever, long reliever.
— Matthew Leach (@MatthewHLeach) September 18, 2012
@ceeangiI think a manager is likely to think their fourth best lefty reliever is more desirable for one game than their second starter is.
— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) September 18, 2012
Aside from that, we should note who is currently in line to start any tiebreaker or wild-card games. The season ends Wednesday, Oct. 3, with the wild-card games scheduled for Friday, Oct. 5. That leaves Oct. 4 for any potential tiebreaker games (for a division title or wild card). Pitchers who start Wednesday would be in line to start a tiebreaker game on Oct. 4, assuming four days of rest between each start.
Let's go team by team.
Wednesday starter -- Phil Hughes
Thursday starter -- CC Sabathia
When Sabathia returned on Aug. 24, Joe Girardi had the ability line up his rotation. Currently, Sabathia would be ready on full rest to start the wild-card game (or the first game of the Division Series) but Hughes would be the guy to start against the Orioles if there is a tie for the AL East title. If Sabathia is needed, Hiroki Kuroda would be lined up to start Game 1 of the Division Series.
Wednesday starter -- Joe Saunders
Thursday starter -- Off
The Orioles have used seven different starters in their past seven games, so you can't really look at their Wednesday/Thursday starters to determine a potential tiebreaker/wild-card starter. Manager Buck Showalter is even hopeful that Jason Hammel, who left his Sept. 11 start early because of his sore knee, may return.
Note: The Orioles and Yankees split the season series (9-9), so the second tiebreaker to determine home-field advantage is higher percentage in intradivision games. The Orioles have the edge there, with a 35-24 record versus the Yankees' 33-29, so a tiebreaker game will likely be played at Camden Yards.
Wednesday starter -- Chris Sale
Thursday starter -- Francisco Liriano
The White Sox are in the position they want: Sale to start an AL Central tiebreaker if needed and Jake Peavy in Game 1 of the Division Series if Sale is used.
Wednesday starter -- Justin Verlander
Thursday starter -- Anibal Sanchez
The Tigers have Verlander lined up, even after last week's rainout pushed him back a day. However, say they need a win on the final day of the regular season to secure a first-place tie. Would Jim Leyland start Verlander on three days' rest? Max Scherzer would currently pitch on the last day, and considering he's been throwing well, they'd probably start him and hold back Verlander, who has never started on three days' rest in his career. (He did start on two days' rest last year in the postseason, after pitching one inning in a game that was rained out.)
The issue for the Tigers is that the AL Central winner will likely be the No. 3 seed, meaning their series will start on Saturday, Oct. 6. Doug Fister would be on three days' rest, so that means Sanchez or Rick Porcello would likely start the Division Series opener if Verlander is used in the tiebreaker.
Wednesday starter -- Derek Holland
Thursday starter -- Yu Darvish
The Rangers currently have Matt Harrison lined up to start the first game of the Division Series, making his final start on Oct. 1, which gives him five days of rest if the Rangers earn the No. 1 seed. However, with their division lead down to 3 games, things can get complicated. If the A's catch the Rangers, that leaves Holland and/or Darvish to start the division tiebreaker and/or wild-card game.
Wednesday starter -- Brett Anderson
Thursday starter -- Tom Milone
The most likely scenario for the A's is Anderson starting the wild-card game. If they tie the Rangers, that leaves Anderson and Milone in the one-game scenarios and Jarrod Parker likely starting the first game of the Division Series.
Wednesday starter -- Kris Medlen
Thursday starter -- Off
Medlen is on schedule to start the wild-card game on five days of rest, the Braves' likely slot. With a big enough lead in the wild-card race, the Braves can maneuver their rotation around, but you'd assume Tim Hudson would draw the Game 1 Division Series start.
Wednesday starter -- Cole Hamels
Thursday starter -- Off
They're 3.5 games behind the Cardinals and have to pass four teams to get the second wild card. Very unlikely, but if they do, they have the right guy lined up to pitch.
Wednesday starter -- Lance Lynn
Thursday starter -- Jaime Garcia
Chris Carpenter makes his first start of the season on Friday. Wouldn't it be something if he ends pitching Game 1 of the Division Series?
Wednesday starter -- Kyle McPherson
Thursday starter -- Wandy Rodriguez
Who? McPherson (3.22 ERA in 12 starts in Double-A/Triple, 63/9 SO/BB ratio in 67 innings) will make his first major league start on Wednesday, in place of the struggling James McDonald. I have no idea what Clint Hurdle will do moving forward. A.J. Burnett starts tonight, which puts him on track to start the season finale, leaving him unavailable for a tiebreaker or wild-card game.
Wednesday starter -- Marco Estrada
Thursday starter -- Michael Fiers
If the Brewers get to a Game 163, I think they'll be pretty happy just to have the opportunity. Yovani Gallardo, their hottest pitcher, is on the Burnett track as he starts tonight.
Wednesday starter -- Josh Beckett
Thursday starter -- Chris Capuano
The wild card here is Clayton Kershaw and his ailing hip that may require surgery. Don Mattingly has said he won't start Kershaw if there's chance of further damage and Stephen Fife will start in his place this weekend. But if the Dodgers do pass the Cardinals, Beckett will put his big-game reputation on the line.