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LOS ANGELES — Fans are upset. Managers are frustrated. Pitchers are confused. And player agents, one in particular, are livid.
Welcome to the 2021 postseason, where pitchers can’t last five innings, starters are being asked to close and closers are asked to open games.
“A blind eye has put a black eye on the game," agent Scott Boras told USA TODAY Sports. “The commissioner’s office needs to understand we are not back to normal. We are still dealing with the pandemic."
Boras is furious that Major League Baseball didn’t expand the postseason rosters from 26 players to 28 or 30 this year to account for the increased innings for pitchers during a full, 162-game season after a 60-game season last year.
The increased workload and its impact on pitching staffs have Boras seeking an immediate remedy.
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“The Commissioner’s office and owners should consider an immediate roster increase for the remainder of the playoffs and the World Series to address the innings jump and fatigue issue," Boras said.
MLB may consider postseason roster expansion in the future, but there has been no request made by the union. Certainly, it would have to be agreed upon before the start of any season and not implemented once the postseason already started.
Well, that’s not happening. MLB is not about to change the rosters in the middle of the postseason.
The league could consider it in the future, but there has been no request made by the union. Certainly, it would have to be agreed upon before the start of any season and not implemented once the postseason already started.
American League starters are averaging about 3⅓ innings per start. The National League starters are lasting 4⅔ innings per start. Boston Red Sox pitchers Nathan Eovaldi (twice) and Eduardo Rodriguez and Houston Astros pitcher Lance McCullers are the only American League starters to even record an out in the sixth inning.
While no AL starter has been asked to pitch in relief, it has already happened five times in the National League.
Meanwhile, some of baseball’s most decorated pitchers have been a shell of themselves this postseason.
Three-time Cy Young winner and Los Angeles Dodgers ace Max Scherzer, who saved his first career game in Game 5 of the Division Series against the San Francisco Giants three days after he threw 110 pitches, couldn’t even go five innings in his last start Sunday.
“The energy Scherzer had to use to close that last game took a toll on him, as well as the jet lag and the trip," Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez tweeted. "He had never closed a game before in his career, and for a starting pitcher that has a different load physically and mentally.’’
Now, it’s unknown whether the 37-year-old can even make his next scheduled start for a potential Game 6.
“My arm was dead," Scherzer said. "I could tell when I was warming up that it was still tired."
The Dodgers' 20-game winner, Julio Urias, has made only one start in the postseason, coming into the game once in the third inning and another time in the eighth. He was originally scheduled to pitch Game 4 against Atlanta, but now may be pushed back another day.
“The plan is depending upon how Julio feels," Roberts said. “There's going to be a bullpen game in Game 4 or Game 5. We knew that going in. So now it's what puts Julio in the best chance to be most effective."
McCullers isn’t even on the Astros’ ALCS roster because of forearm tightness, and it's questionable whether he’ll pitch again this season if the Astros advance to the World Series.
Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who returned from Tommy John surgery in July, has lasted a total of 3⅔ innings in his two postseason starts, yielding nine hits and six earned runs.
New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole lasted only two innings in his wild-card game start against the Red Sox.
Chicago White Sox starters Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon, each of whom was a Cy Young candidate until faltering down the stretch, yielded a combined seven earned runs in their playoff starts that lasted a total of 6 ⅓ innings.
This postseason no longer is a matter of who has the best pitching, but who survives the war of attrition.
“You're conditioned to run a marathon, and all of a sudden you got to run a sprint and vice versa," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Check the stats on how many injuries happen when you are trying to stretch these guys back out to run the long race.
“Last year was different. It was a whole lot different, and we have a lot of young men here that had never run the full gamut of games during the whole season."
Urias, 25, who became the first NL pitcher to win 20 games since Scherzer in 2016, pitched 130 ⅔ more innings in the regular season than a year ago. Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler, whose velocity dropped toward the end of the regular season, will pitch on six days’ rest Tuesday in Game 3 of the NLCS, pitched 171 more innings than a year ago.
“They’re all affected, either command or velocity or both,’’ said Boras, who represents several high-profiled starters who struggled this postseason, including Scherzer, Cole, Urias, McCullers and Rodon. “These guys are having Cy Young-caliberseasons, and their performances at the end of the season became irregular. They’re fatigued.
“The innings jump is having a great impact on performance."
It also is causing managers to go to their bullpen much more frequently, with 53 pitchers used in the first two games of the NLCS and ALCS.
“When I was in other organizations and there were bullpen days and things like that there was some natural complaining," Astros reliever Kendall Graveman said. "Me being a person that doesn't want to complain, it's, 'Hey, guys, this is the hand we’re dealt.’
“Either we can complain and lose games, or we can pick each other up and continue to battle through some of the innings that we were throwing. …You start to feel a little fatigue, and that's where the mental aspect of playing this game comes in."
And with bullpens taxed much more, managers are turning to their starters, asking them to pitch in relief in between starts instead of their traditional side sessions.
“These managers are asking starters to do more," Boras said. “They’re worried about the repetitive use of the bullpens, and they’re using starters to pitch in the bullpen as well. We have this elite talent in the game taking on roles they’re unaccustomed to because of the fact that the managers and teams do not have enough volume of pitchers to withstand the need for innings."
Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who has relied heavily on his bullpen the first two games of the ALCS, said Eovaldi was available out of the bullpen for Monday’s Game 3, two days after pitching 5 ⅓ innings and 81 pitches. Cora used 11 relievers in the first two games.
“We're not going to put his career in jeopardy," Cora said. “If we believe that he cannot do it, then we stay away from him."
There will be plenty more difficult decisions these next two weeks with pitchers being asked to go on short rest, starters being asked to help out in the bullpen, and relievers being asked to pitch without any off days.
“There’s a problem in the game when the teams that didn’t make the playoffs are better off than the teams that did," Boras said.
“This is a black eye for the sport."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Scott Boras says pitcher usage is 'black eye on the game,' rosters need expanding