Monday, October 18, 2010

Yankees rotation could be their undoing

The Yankees are sticking with A.J. Burnett in Game 4 and, while they may have no other legitimate options, I think that's a mistake. Burnett has been god awful this season, becoming the first Yankees starter EVER to lose 15 games and post an ERA over 5.00.

In his last 22 starts this year, Burnett was 4-13 with a 6.48 ERA. Add in the fact that the Rangers have one of the most potent lineups in the American League and possibly the majors and you can almost pencil in a New York loss in Game 4, even with young Tommy Hunter on the mound for Texas.

I understand Joe Girardi's explanation behind the decision too. It's one thing to bring C.C. Sabathia back on short rest, but Phil Hughes has never done it and now isn't the time to mess with Hughes, who struggled in Game 2. But Burnett is more useful to the Yankees with a pie in his hands rather than a baseball.

Facing Cliff Lee in Game 3 in a tied series is not an enviable task for the Yanks. Lee has two wins this season against the Yankees in 3 starts, but has allowed 8 earned runs in 23.1 innings, a human number for Lee. But the Yankees are a team that likes to take pitches and tire a pitcher out, something they can't do against a pitcher like Lee who pounds the strike zone so effectively (21 K:0 BB in the postseason).

This isn't to say that Game 3 is a must-win for New York, but they can't afford to go down 3-1 with two games remaining in Texas. The Rangers hit extremely well in their home park and winning Games 6 and 7 there with Lee throwing Game 7 is a daunting task. The Yankees either need to beat Lee in one of his two starts or hope Burnett puts together a decent outing to keep them in Game 4.

I don't see why you can't pitch Sabathia in Game 4, Burnett in Game 5 and keep Hughes on track for Game 6. Momentum is critical in a seven-game playoff series and 3-1 and 2-2 are two very different animals. I'd rather see Burnett toe the rubber tied 2-2 in Game 5 than see Sabathia out there down 3-1.

When the Yankees went out and spend money on Mark Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett last season I was staunchly against the contract they gave Burnett (5 years, $82.5 million). That money should be reserved for staff aces like Sabathia, Lee, Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum to name a few involved in the postseason. Burnett's stuff is comparable to those pitchers, but his maddening inconsistency will always keep him far from the league's upper echelon of starters.

We've seen that in the past two seasons. Last season Burnett was good and pitched well in the playoffs, helping the Yankees win their 27th World Series. But this season he's been useless while pocketing over $15 million from the organization. And if Lee throws a masterpiece tonight and Burnett blows up in Game 4, the Yankees will probably be watching the World Series from home.

It's not their lineup that's an issue; those guys won Game 1 with an epic 8th-inning comeback. The bullpen has thrown 8 scoreless innings in relief in the series' first two games. If the Yankees lose this series, you can put the blame squarely on the shoulders of their starting rotation. At least it looks that way so far.

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