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Bullpen play damages the appeal of baseball

NEW YORK – For a game in serious trouble when it comes to losing its appeal with its long-standing, loyal fan base, baseball is doing itself no favors this post-season with many endless games, relentless pitching changes and embarrassingly terrifying conversations.

If there’s one thing that has stood out most in a game of analytics, it’s the remarkable absence of innings-playing starting pitcher “horses” in the mode of Madison Bumgarner, Justin Verlander, Jon Lester, Jacob deGrom or Corey Kluber this post-season. So far, there have been only four cases where a starting champion has thrown seven or more innings, two of them by the Giants’ Logan Webb in the NL division series. Much of this can, of course, be attributed to the dramatically increased workloads for starters this year after last year’s pandemic cut-off season, and the worries that they will break down (like Astros ace Lance McCullers) with another level of the off-season that could potentially come.

But in reality, we’ve seen this “Bullpen Baseball” coming. According to Elias Bureau, the average number of pitchers per game has gradually increased from 5.5 in 1988 to 6.9 in ’98, 7.8 in ’08, 8.6 in ’18 and 8.8 this season. From Friday, teams in the post-season had used five or more throws in a game 41 times, while the so-called “opening” has begun to become the norm, in many cases to the detriment of the manager.

You can make the case that Dodger’s president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and his analytical disciples “managed” Dodgers out of the first two NLCS matches in Atlanta after ordering manager Dave Roberts not to start Julio Urias (who had been 20 -3 during the regular season) in Game 5 of the Division Series against the Giants in favor of an “opener” format with relievers Corey Knebel and Brusdar Graterol. The fact that Urias were only able to give Robert four innings created a situation where the Dodger manager chose to bring in his ace, Max Scherzer, to end the 2-1 victory. As a result, Scherzer was not available to start Game 1 of the NLCS against the Braves when Roberts went to a new bullpen game, which the Dodgers lost. Furthermore, as Scherzer confirmed, the relief against the Giants created a mortality in the arm that kept him to only 4 1/3 innings of Game 2 on Sunday and also prevented him from being able to start the central game 6 on Saturday night.

But when the Braves were on the verge of putting a bet in the Dodgers’ hearts on Tuesday, and had a 5-2 lead after seven innings, their old school principal Brian Snitker decided inexplicably to continue the hunt for the one guy who did not. He found him in Luke Jackson, his fourth pitcher in the game, who gave up the back-breaking three-run homer to Cody Bellinger. By the previous one, Tyler Matsek, the third Braves pitcher, had retreated to the side without a hit and two strikeouts, and you have to ask yourself:

When should these leaders trust their eyes and intestines and stick to these molds that get nothing but outs?

Meanwhile, through all this season’s weariness, we’ve seen some of the worst refereeing decisions ever. It was unforgivable that the Dodgers-Giants NL division series ended with the Giants’ Wilmer Flores being called out on a controlled turn that was certainly not by first base referee Gabe Morales.

“It’s going to be what we’ve been talking about for a while, and I understand why,” Giants Manager Gabe Kapler said. And then there was the dreadful night Laz Diaz had behind the plate in the Game Four of ALCS where he missed 23 ball-strike calls. Diaz has long been one of the lowest ranked judges in the majors, so you have asked: Who made this decision? And why, assign Diaz to an after-season series where he could shame baseball on national television? But for some reason (see also: Angel Hernandez), consistently low-ranking judges are never demoted, never fired and never held accountable. They just keep going.

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