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Smoltz: Some drastic changes on display as MLB playoffs get underway

Former pitching great John Smoltz says there are several players worth watching in the baseball playoffs.
Former pitching great John Smoltz says there are several players worth watching in the baseball playoffs.
  • John Smoltz says to keep eye on young players leading their teams in baseball playoffs
  • He says there should be more use of replay to correct umpires' calls
  • Smoltz says the Braves and Reds winning their series would be the biggest surprise to him

Editor's Note: John Smoltz was a star pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and won the Cy Young Award as the National League's best pitcher in 1996. He is second all-time with 15 post-season wins and will be doing color commentary on TBS's baseball playoff coverage that gets under way Wednesday.

Baseball's post-season starts Wednesday with six of the eight playoff teams facing off in best-of-five series.

First up, the Texas Rangers travel to St. Petersburg to take on the Tampa Bay Rays. Later Wednesday, the defending National League champion Philadelphia Phillies host the Cincinnati Reds, and the defending World Series champion New York Yankees open a defense of their title against the Twins in Minnesota.

The San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves open their National League Division series on Thursday.

John Smoltz, who was an eight-time all-star and pitched in the major leagues for more than 20 years, spoke to CNN about what to watch when you tune in the games.

CNN: Who are half-dozen or so players that even the casual baseball fan will enjoy watching in the playoffs?

John Smoltz: A couple of the young players come to mind. In the National League, we have Buster Posey, a rookie catcher handling a veteran pitching staff for the Giants. It will be interesting to see how he does. In that same series, Jason Heyward from the Braves, a young phenom, is in the playoffs in his first season.

It doesn't happen too often that two rookies are expected to lead their teams like Posey and Heyward are.

For people who don't know a lot about the Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto is an exciting player who has put up incredibly great offensive numbers (.324 batting average, 37 home runs, 113 RBI). It will be interesting to see how he fares against Philadelphia's three-headed pitching monster (star pitchers Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels).

Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay is an exciting player who is fun to watch. He can steal bases, hit for power and plays tremendous defense in the outfield.

There's going to be the question mark for the Yankees: Can Andy Pettitte return from his injury to dominance of the post-season where he's won more games than any other pitcher? [Smoltz is second.]

And Minnesota has all kinds of great stories. Their starting pitcher in the first game, Francisco Liriano, was coming off an injury, and in spring training didn't even know if he'd make the roster. And here [he] is starting game one.

CNN: There were some blown calls by umpires last post-season. Will we see more use of replay?

Smoltz: There won't be any more replays being used [than last year]. Replay will only be used for home-run calls, fair or foul.

My opinion is eventually we get to the point where at least in post-season, replay is used only when a run would be affected. So if there's a runner on third, and on an infield chopper, a guy looks like he is safe but they call him out, I think that would be reviewable since a run [was] scored. A trapped ball with two outs and a man on third would be the same thing. Those are the kind of things that could really affect the outcome of a game and would be a reviewable component if a run crosses home plate. That's why they do it for a home run, because a run is affected.

CNN: Has the style of the game changed in recent years, either due to more stringent steroid testing or for other reasons?

Smoltz: The style of the game has drastically changed. It's become a more specialized game, and what I mean by that is more pitchers are being used per game, which makes hitting that much more difficult because you're facing specialist guys who can throw 90 to 96 miles per hour coming out of the bullpen.

That has been a big component that has changed strategy. Starting pitchers don't pitch as long anymore, and relief pitchers pitch to one, two or three batters at a time. I also think the confidence of the hitters has been impacted by the steroid stuff and has contributed to the lack of home runs.

CNN: Does home field matter?

Smoltz: I would argue it always matters. I know statistics may show differently, but home field should matter. Imagine if in football you always got the ball last in the fourth quarter no matter what the score was. That would have an impact. In baseball, you bat last, which means there should be a strategic advantage, not to mention your home-team crowd should serve you well.

The best-of-five series [the round one format] is more of a coin flip. The first game of a best-of-five means a lot more than a game one in best-of-seven [The format for the league championship and World Series]. There is more time to recover in a best-of-seven than a best-of-five. The pressure in best-of-five reduces the chances of [the] best team winning.

CNN: Which manager can most directly impact the game and steal a win for his team?

Smoltz: Bobby Cox of the Braves has done his greatest managing job of his career. Just getting there has been an incredible testament to his patience and will and ability to put his team in position. Joe Maddon of the Rays has uncanny and well-thought-out theories that he applies and has his team do. ... Without knowing a whole lot, I'd give the nod to Joe Maddon.

CNN: What would surprise you most this post-season?

Smoltz: The Atlanta Braves winning their series against the Giants, just because they ran out of gas and have sustained too many injuries. That and Cincinnati knocking off Philadelphia, who is heavily favored.

CNN: What's your prediction on who wins the World Series?

Smoltz: Philadelphia beats Tampa Bay in a close series.