By Mike Murabito, Staff Writer
A Cy Young candidate. An inconsistent veteran. A young gun on an innings count. An injured franchise icon. Those four descriptions matched the resume of the New York Yankees' starting rotation for the final month of the 2009 regular season.
Lefty ace CC Sabathia had solidified himself as the ace of the Bombers rotation and also as the only sure thing for manager Joe Girardi come October. Question marks surrounded bouncy righty A.J.Burnett, as he has struggled down the stretch. Joba Chamberlin was only making 4 inning starts due to the ever so disputed "Joba Rules." And Andy Pettitte's shoulder fatigue made the Yanks concerned with his potential stamina for the postseason. As for a fifth starter, Chad Guadin and Sergio Mitre were worked in every fifth day (and they also pitched for Chamberlin during his abbreviated starts), but neither seemed like reasonable possibilities for an October pitching staff.
Problems with the rotation surfaced in the Yankee clubhouse towards the end of the regular season. Girardi was given two options. Go with a four man rotation for the longer series, or trust the arms of only three men. Girardi decided to not test the limited arm of Chamberlin, and go with Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte. The rest was history. Sabathia answered any critic who thought he couldn't pitch in the playoffs and Burnett showed why the Yankees gave him $82.5 million for five years. Andy Pettite was, well, Andy Pettitte. The three combined went 8-2 with a 4.40 ERA in 89 innings, and the Yankees won their twenty-seventh World Series, this time over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Now, fast forward to present time. With less than four weeks to go, the Yanks are in prime position for a playoff spot, as they come in to Tuesday with the best record in baseball (86-52.) Although that's two losses more than this point last year, the Yankees are again in the heat of a pennant chase.
At this point of the season, teams usually are shaping together their playoff rosters. Right now, it's hard to say who (besides Sabathia) will get the nod in the rotation for October. One would assume with the shortened gaps in between postseason games, that a four man rotation would better suit the Yankee arms, but I really can't see Girardi going towards a fourth guy if he's not fully confident in his throwing. CC is capable of making three starts again this year if need be, but is anyone else? Burnett hasn't won back to back starts since late July, and would be a terrible candidate for pitching on less rest than usual. Phil Hughes's innings have been limited as of late, so would the Yankees really throw him out there a day earlier? Finally, Andy Pettitte hasn't pitched since July 18, can you just throw the experienced lefty into October and expect him to pick up from where he left off?
If I were Girardi, I'd arrange it very similar to last year, but with the addition of one more spot in the rotation. Sabathia's the obvious Game 1 starter in the Division Series. I would give the nod to Burnett in Game 2 for somewhat of a tryout. Remember Burnett entered September last year with zero wins in six August starts and a 6+ ERA. He was able to regain his poise, and pitch well in the postseason. If he is to pitch poorly in Game 2, then Girardi could always go to Sabathia again in Game 4 and then throw Pettitte or Hughes in Game 5. Of course, that is if the series needs that many games. I have great confidence that Pettitte will be ready to go come Game 3 of the ALDS and he is exactly who you want on the mound for that pivotal game.
Based off the Division Series, Girardi must then arrange a four man rotation for the ALCS and World Series accordingly. You want it so Sabathia is pitching Games 1 and 5 (knowing him, I'm sure CC would have gas in the tank for Game 7 if needed also.) I think Andy Pettitte should already be a lock for Game 3, because no matter what that game will swing the series one way or another and you want Pettitte pitching that game. He's either going to be pitching with a chance to go up or down 3-0, or he could possibly take the mound when the series is tied 1-1, with a win giving his team the advantage and a loss meaning the Yankees would have to win three out of four. Game 2 and 4's starter I think should depend on who's hotter at that point. Based off the way they are pitching right now, Phi Hughes would be a more logical Game 2 starter with Burnett going Game 4, but as we have seen with this rotation all season, things could be totally different a month from now. As for Javy Vazquez, I really can't see him starting a game in the playoffs unless Hughes or Burnett completely implode. Vazquez will join Dustin Moseley and Ivan Nova as forces to be reckoned with in the bullpen and would most likely be the Yanks first option to come in and pitch long relief.
If the New York Yankees are going to win their twenthy-eighth World Championship, then they're starting pitching is going to have to be sorted out. Right now the Yanks are with a CY Young candidate. An inconsistent veteran. A young gun on an innings count. And, an injured franchise icon. Sound familiar? We all know how that played out last year.