The Los Angeles Dodgers have announced that instead of fully rested 20-game-winning lefty starting pitcher Julio Urías, they will be starting, uh, Corey Knebel for tonight’s fifth and final game of their divisional playoff series against the San Francisco Giants. The plan, apparently, will be for Knebel to serve as the dreaded “opener” of recent vintage: He will pitch an inning and then, in all likelihood, yield to Urías.
The idea, as I understand it, is that this could scramble San Francisco’s plans for platoon shenanigans: The Giants have righty platoon guys they might typically stack early in the batting order against a lefty starter—to get them as many chances as possible to whack the lefty around—and then pull as soon as the lefty pitcher checked out. Now, assuming Knebel works a clean first inning and everything goes more or less to plan, Urías will face the weaker back part of San Francisco’s lineup before he faces the 1-2-3 hitters, and will face that weak back part of the lineup again before the 1-2-3 gang gets a second crack at him—and thus, he’ll get more easy outs, and could come out of the game having faced the top of the order fewer times than he faces the 7-8-9 hitters.
Unless! Unless the Giants do some weird tomfoolery of their own to try to counter this, like stacking the back of the order—a risky counter, since it’d increase the likelihood of the Giants’ better hitters getting fewer plate appearances than their worst with the season on the line. Or Knebel could give up five runs in the first because he’s not as good as Urías, rendering all of the strategery moot and making the Dodgers look like idiots. If this all seems like it’s maybe two needless panels too far on the galaxy brain meme, I’m inclined to agree.
But also, I kind of dig it, and for the same reason! A guy is starting the do-or-die game of a playoff series, because he is not as good as the other guy who is available to pitch and who will be needed to record as many outs as he can. It’s backward! That’s fun.
What could be really fun is if it works, and leads to a total inversion of pitching strategy down the line: Managers doing lefty-lefty/righty-righty pitching matchups for the first three innings of the game, and only then turning to the pitcher they expect to throw 100 pitches and record 18 outs. Starting the game with the closer on the mound, and bringing the traditional starter in to handle innings four through nine. This would drive opposing control-freak managers, addicted to matchup tinkering, instantly and completely insane, as it would make the job of setting an opening lineup completely impossible. How could you possibly know where to put your good hitters, or which version of your hyper-specialized platoon lineup to deploy? You couldn’t. Hell yeah.
Imagine the chaos! Baseball, gradually flipping completely upside-down! Becoming a weird passive-aggressive war of attrition, each side withholding its actual dangerous hitters and durable pitchers for as long as possible, each daring the other to leave them on the bench all night. Ah-ha! You thought I didn’t have one more hopeless junkballing shitbag hiding in the bullpen, but I did! So you will have to wait at least one more inning to face the Cy Young winner!
The home team sends a righty garbage-man reliever out to start the top of the first. The road team counters … by reverse-stacking the lineup, sending an utterly hopeless lead-footed bullpen catcher to lead off by recording a perfunctory strikeout. That’ll show ’em! The home crowd greets the start of the game with groans and jeers. Will the ninth damn inning hurry up and get here already, so that we can watch the actual good dang baseball players for once, after they run out of bums?
Do you see where this is going? Reverse baseball! Jogging to third when you draw a walk! Pitchers throwing with their feet! Batters holding the bat by the barrel! A fat meaty piece-of-shit beachball floating over the middle of the plate, and the batter just intentionally turning and socking it straight backward into the net, and the pitcher lowering his head in abject humiliated defeat! General managers at war to see who can pay out the fattest contract to the absolute crappiest doofus ever to have worn a button-up jersey, so that he can bat leadoff 162 times a season forever.
Reverse baseball. Reverse baseball!