By 11 o’clock tonight, there most likely will be a resolution as to who is crowned King of the AL East – the New York Yankees or the Baltimore Orioles. Unless, of course, the Yankees lose and the Orioles win, and then we’re looking at a one-game playoff to decide which team wins the division and which team heads into the Wild Card one game playoff via…the one game playoff.
Hopefully, the Yankees sweep the Boston Red Sox tonight and win the division, allowing themselves two days off to prepare for the real playoffs and not the TV Sweeps playoffs. Barring some unforeseen freak injury, the Yankees will have to choose which of their three starting pitchers will take the mound for games 1-3 of the divisional round.
Without question CC Sabathia will start Game 1. He’s had a rough couple of postseasons—he pitched decently in the 2010 Division Series against the Minnesota Twins, but took a series of beatings in the 2010 ALCS against the Texas Rangers and the 2011 Division series against the Detroit Tigers. This season, if you were to pit it against the curve of his past brilliance, has been the least impressive of his Yankees tenure. Sabathia struggled with injuries, velocity and wildness throughout most of 2012.
But then again, putting on a positive spin, Sabathia is more rested than he has been in years. In 2012, he barely breached 200 innings pitched, while over the past five seasons he’s averaged 240 innings pitched during the regular season. Over his past three starts, Sabathia’s velocity is up and he’s looked just plain dominant: 24 IP, 1.50 ERA, 28K’s, 4BB’s. Also, opponents have only managed a measly .155/.200/.402 slash over this span, so the peripherals are in place too. He’s getting hot at the right time and that’s all that matters during the playoffs.
Andy Pettitte is a big game pitcher–there is no tap dancing around that. He may not have the gaudy postseason stats of recent postseason pitching studs like Cliff Lee or Curt Schilling, but he still ranks up there in the upper-echelon. When the game is on the line, as a fan, there is something comforting in seeing Pettitte on the mound. He’s not easily rattled. He’s methodical. Against an unseasoned team like the Orioles, he brings with him a lore that can easily offset the most locked-in hitters.
Some people think Hiroki Kuroda should get the ball for Game 2, not only because he’s been the Yankees’ most effective pitcher throughout 2012, but also because he can split the lefties in the rotation. I disagree. Although I like Kuroda’s tough attitude, there’s no denying that he’s tired down the stretch, had a miserable September and has been getting into deeper counts by elevating his fastball and missing locations. Since Kuroda is pitching tonight, and has eclipsed his highest innings pitched threshold for his career in the States, the break between Game 2 and Game 3 of the Division Series should afford him some much needed extra rest.
As far as Phil Hughes is concerned, he’s no doubt earned his stay in the rotation and will be their #4 starter should the Yankees advance to the ALCS or need a fourth starter in a five game set. While I’m not the biggest fan of Hughes–to me, he inspires about as much confidence as a dumbfounded Little Leaguer when I see him staring blankly at a moonshot sailing over the Yankee Stadium wall–I still think he’s had a solid year. There is no doubt that Hughes deserves the chance to pitch again in the postseason.
Now, should there be a need for a #5 man in the rotation because of injury or fatigue or complete implosion, you give the ball to David Phelps. Forget experience. Forget track record. The ball does not go to Sweaty Freddy Garcia, and it especially does not go to Ivan Nova, who I wouldn’t trust pitching in a beer league softball game at this point.
Sabathia-Pettitte-Kuroda – not a bad trio. Not let’s just hope the Yankees get there.