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The Dirty Underbelly of the Playoffs

This isn't necessarily Marlins related, since they're not in the playoffs this year, but I'm going to ramble on about it anyway...

One of the downsides to the playoffs are the long commercial breaks. As a fan, this doesn't particularly bother me. I'm going to watch the games anyway. I can (literally) tune out the commercials. The baseball is going to be so exciting that even if they doubled the length of the commercial breaks, I'd still watch attentively.

The downside of the long commercial breaks is borne by the players - most notably the pitchers. If you're only watching the games on television, you may not notice. If you're watching the games in-person, at the stadium, you might not notice it either. But if you listen on the radio, you're almost sure to notice it.

By the time the LCS rolls around, the radio crews--which are still using their regular season breaks (2 minutes and five seconds each)--are back a full commercial ahead of the television feed. This gives the radio guys some dead air to fill. Since it's the playoffs and everyone's excited, that's not too difficult.

The opposite holds true for pitchers - particularly young starters. They, like the rest of us, are excited because it's the playoffs. But their routines are thrown off. Baseball players, especially those at this level and on this stage, are well known to be creatures of habit. Wade Boggs always ate chicken before games, for example. Pitchers are no exception.

This isn't just about food and pre-game rituals though. At a much more basic level, it's about how you go about your business and get ready for the inning. Each pitcher has a routine for getting his glove and hat, taking the mound, and taking his warmup pitches. It may seem trivial to you, but the extended commercial breaks throw this whole routine off.

Veteran playoff pitchers, like Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Orlando Hernandez, and others, can overcome this because they've been through the process enough times to have a modified pre-performance routine. Others don't have that.

You can minimize the importance of a pre-performance routine all you want; but if you do, it's likely only because you're unfamiliar with it. To an elite athlete, like those that we're watching in these playoffs, a pre-performance routine can be as critical to his success as his workout program or nutrition. Teams are paying consultants and experts millions of dollars to help their athletes with these routines. Not everyone is prepared for them in the extended-inning-break playoffs.

That's part of the reason why experience, particularly in your starting rotation, can be a big benefit in the post-season.

Although, if that's really true, I'm even less sure of what the heck happens to the Braves in October.