Over the last three weeks, terms like “opener” and “bullpenning” have become part of the baseball lexicon for A's fans. Oakland will employ the strategy for the seventh time Friday night against Minnesota.
The A's have actually had success with the approach recently, which begs the question... Would they dare try it in the playoffs? A's manager Bob Melvin won't rule it out.
“Rosters are made a little bit differently once you do get (to the postseason),” he said. “We'll consider that if and when we do get there.”
Since a Wild Card Game matchup against the New York Yankees is looking more and more likely, we decided to weigh the pros and cons of "bullpenning" in that scenario.
Pro: Hendriks and Mengden have had success recently
Liam Hendriks has tossed five straight scoreless innings as an opener and has kept opponents off the scoreboard in every first inning he's pitched. The only runs he has allowed as an opener came when he went back out for a second inning of work. Meanwhile, Daniel Mengden has allowed just one run on three hits in his last 13 2/3 innings following Hendriks. Both pitchers have adapted well to the tactic.
Con: Hendriks and Mengden have limited big-game experience
While Hendriks and Mengden have performed well in September, they lack the big-game experience of veteran starters Mike Fiers and Edwin Jackson. Mengden has never pitched in the postseason and Hendriks has thrown just five innings in relief. Compare that to Jackson, who has already pitched 28 innings in the playoffs. While Fiers has limited postseason experience, he has been on the mound for plenty of important situations throughout his eight-year career. He also won a World Series with the Astros last season.
Pro: Fiers and Jackson have struggled against the Yankees
Fiers and Jackson might have big-game experience, but neither has fared well against the Yankees in their respective careers. Fiers has a 5.06 ERA in six starts against New York, including a 7.59 ERA in two games at Yankee Stadium. Jackson has a 5.21 ERA in 13 starts and eight relief appearances against the Yankees, including an ERA of 6.75 at the new Yankee Stadium. You don't want to rely too heavily on past numbers, but they have to be a consideration.
Con: Bad outing from one reliever could lose the game
The A's have typically used about seven different pitchers in “bullpenning” games. That's a lot of people to rely on in a must-win game, where one bad inning could cost you your season. Melvin would have to monitor each pitcher closely, ready to bring a quick hook if anyone looked shaky early on. The good news is that Oakland would have a rested bullpen after two days off and could turn to Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino for multiple innings, if necessary.
Pro: Yankees have struggled in games against “bullpenning” opponent
The Yankees enter Friday with a 93-59 record, third best in all of baseball. But they are just 3-7 in games where their opponent uses an opener. One of those three wins was against the A's on September 4, but all five of New York's runs in that game came in the seventh inning or later, against the usually reliable back end of Oakland's pen. Hendriks and Mengden combined for 5 2/3 scoreless innings in that game, allowing just one hit.
Con: A's have limited experience employing the strategy
As mentioned above, Friday will be just the seventh time Oakland utilizes the “bullpenning” strategy all season. It would be risky to experiment with such a new tactic in a must-win game. While the Tampa Bay Rays have nearly perfected their form of “bullpenning,” the A's are still working out a few of the kinks. That said, Melvin and Billy Beane have never been hesitant to push the envelope. Don't be surprised if they choose to roll the dice.