Wild Card Chat: How the opener has made its way to the postseason

Liam Hendriks will open for the A's.|Art or Photo Credit: AP

NEW YORK - For the first time ever in a postseason game, we have an "opener" instead of a starter, the Oakland Athletics using righty reliever Liam Hendriks as their first pitcher against the New York Yankees in the 2018 American League Wild Card Game.
The opener is obviously a newer concept, born out of the Tampa Bay Rays' need to get through sometimes up to four-fifths of their starting rotation without an established starting pitcher. Oakland was one of a few other teams to experiment with the concept at various points throughout the season, and now they're bringing it to baseball's biggest stage.
Tampa Bay won 90 games and Oakland 97, so clearly, there's room for it to succeed to varying degrees depending on its deployment, and the concept seems to have received mostly rave reviews from those who have experienced it around the league on either side.
Here is a sampling of what some of those involved in the AL Wild Card Game have had to say over the last two days about the new phenomenon that has turned Johnny Wholestaff into an ace, and how it's come full-circle into a postseason appearance:
ATHLETICS OPENER LIAM HENDRIKS: "I think obviously, as you can attest to the last couple years, the starters have been going shorter. The bullpen has been throwing a lot more, and it's just another concept of that. Instead of the starter going six and handing it over to the bullpen or going five and handing it over to the bullpen, now we're just reversing it and the guy is going to throw the first three, so maybe the starter can go that sixth inning and put him in in the seventh.

It's one of those things. It's one of little bit of a variation on using the bullpen a little bit more. I think it's one of those things where if you're not constantly striving to be -- like get that first foot in, get something in the door just to move forward, I think you're going to stand still, and we're trying some different ways. For us, it's just hopefully another way we're ahead of the curve, and we'll see how many teams do it next year."

ATHLETICS CLOSER BLAKE TREINEN: "I feel like in today's game, I think there's been a struggle between old-school mentality and sabermetrics, and this is a way to kind of incorporate sabermetrics with effectiveness. We have guys in the front office that do a lot of research to put us in the best situations for success, and I think it's our job to put some faith in them.
I feel like our starters have been monumental for us this year, and I don't think they get enough credit, but we've got the arms to make sense. This is a must-win situation for us, and we all know that, and I think we're all just willing to do whatever it takes to win. You can't say going a starter for seven innings is the best way. You can't say that going an opener is the best way. But this is what's going to work for us, and we're going to ride it out, and we have full faith in whoever makes the decisions. I'm excited to see what this game does because it's kind of a first of its kind, and I think we all fully embrace that."
ATHLETICS RELIEVER SHAWN KELLEY: "We have quality starters, but if you don't have a deGrom or a Scherzer or a Kershaw, then in a one game-shootout, you just try to win every inning. That's what we're trying to do - win nine innings one at a time, and hopefully celebrate after."
ATHLETICS THIRD BASEMAN MATT CHAPMAN: "With all the injuries we've had to the pitchers this year, our bullpen has just been able to pick us up and keep us in so many games. Like the Yankees going with Severino - if you're going to get beat, you want to get beat with your guys on the mound. We feel confident with those guys and their ability to throw strikes and keep us in the game, so I like it."
ATHLETICS MANAGER BOB MELVIN: "I think the reason that we started looking at this is because we've had so many injuries in our rotation, and we're just trying to do the best possible thing that we think for a particular day. It started with Tampa, and everybody seemed to try to take a look at it and see what their benefits would be from it; we probably never would have tried it before this year, but I think it takes that first look for someone to do it, and then see how you think it will go for you.
From the middle of June on we've been fortifying our bullpen, and you have to go with what you think is the best mix; we've had some complete bullpen games, and here recently we've been experimenting with the opener and then a starter. Leading up to this, we were trying to look at how at how things were going, and there's been some trial and error with this, but we feel our bullpen is our strength."
YANKEES OUTFIELDER/DH GIANCARLO STANTON: "It's a game of adjustments, and that's how it seems, whether it's adjusting to team lineups or just how their starters and relievers match up with teams. In a case like Tampa, they didn't have enough starters, so that's kind of what started them to do that with the relievers, and then it was successful, so a couple other teams started picking it up. You don't know where it's going to go from here, but that's kind of the new age we're in right now. For us, you've got to expect a bunch of different pitchers each inning, so you've got to be ready on all cylinders."
YANKEES MANAGER AARON BOONE: "We've seen really over the last five or ten years just how big a factor the bullpen has been in a lot of teams' run to a world championship. And then, I would say that even over the last couple of years, and certainly this year with what we've seen from Tampa and other clubs, it's even gone to another level with how teams are using and how bullpens continue to evolve.
I think bullpens across the board have become more dynamic, with more guys in a way bred for these kinds of roles, and I think teams build things out this way now, seeing a guy comes in to face a few hitters one time, with electric or specific stuff. For us specifically, we know the A's have a ton of really good arms over there that present a lot of challenges for us, and we'll just be prepared as best we can to handle that and to succeed."