ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 14: Manager Tony LaRussa #10 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on against the Milwaukee Brewers during Game Five of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 14, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
I'm by no means a fan of Tony LaRussa on a personal or managerial strategy level, but tomorrow I think the Brewers can utilize a strategy he's been using very effectively in this series so far.
With a day off today and an elimination game tomorrow, you have to assume that everybody out in the bullpen is available. And this is a strong bullpen. In short spurts, any given inning with one of the five Brewer pitchers out there who have worked in late-inning roles this year has a better chance to not give up runs than Shaun Marcum does at this stage.
So, with that in mind, here's my proposal for the game plan on Sunday night.
First of all, Marcum's not going more than five under just about any circumstances. If he's throwing a perfect game through five I'll think about letting him go back out but it's not a lock. He's on the shortest leash of all time. Two baserunners in any inning and Narveson's getting ready and fast. I'd basically tell Narveson and Estrada to be loose and prepare before this game with an expectation that they'll be going in early. If Marcum gets in any sort of trouble, Narveson's in there and quick.
Second thing I do is talk to Axford and K-Rod and ask what they think about going multiple innings. If that's on the table, you can at least have the option to go to K-Rod as early as the seventh. He throws the seventh and gets an out or two in the eighth and then Axford comes on, if they want to split. If Axford feels like he can go two and K-Rod's thinking one, you can just start out Axford in the eighth. He's gone two innings before. This shouldn't be necessary and hopefully won't be necessary, but what it would allow Roenicke to do is, say, go to Kameron Loe to get out Pujols (or another righty) in the third or fourth if the Brewers get in any sort of jam. I'm envisioning Marcum getting through the first two innings, maybe allowing one run or something, and then Furcal and Jay get on to start the third. You bring on Loe to go get Pujols then go to Narveson to try to battle through the rest of the inning and then maybe the fourth. Then you bring on Hawkins for the fifth, Saito for the sixth, and then use K-Rod and Axford to get through the seventh through ninth innings.
If a game that played itself out like that found a way to get to extra innings, it's an elimination game. All hands on deck. You probably bring on Gallardo for the tenth in that scenario, and start going to your unrested starters an inning at a time if it comes to that.
Obviously there are a million scenarios that could play out in a given baseball game. Maybe the Brewers put up 6 in the first and cruise to a win. Maybe Marcum goes 6 strong and gives the Brewers a lead to go to the setup crew. Maybe he implodes in the first.
All I'm saying here, however, is that there's a way that Marcum can have an outing of something like 2 1/3 innings, some hits, and a run, and the Brewers get out of here with a win if Roenicke plays it right and the offense puts up some runs. He has to emulate LaRussa's strategy of pulling a starter before a disaster can happen. You go down with your best guns, and if they beat Saito, K-Rod, or Axford, you tip your cap and say well done. Everyone in the bullpen can manage to go two days in a row, and if it gets to Game 7 I'll take my chances with Yo and the setup crew all going on back-to-back days.