Sabathia will lead Yankees rotation into the playoffs
The Yankees are two games ahead in the loss column of the American Least East. This means finishing the season 5-2 against the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox would guarantee at least a tie for the division even if the Baltimore Orioles finished 7-0, with three games remaining against the Tampa Bay Rays. Suffice it to say, it’s a safe bet New York is probably grabbing a playoff spot of some kind by next week. Let’s assume they win the division because the odds are in their favor.
The Yankees have been able to turn things around the second half of this month partly due to a favorable schedule (7-2 against teams under .500 in September) and partly due to the rotation recovering (New York has held opponents to three runs or less in nine of the past 17 games).
With Phil Hughes generally staying consistent in the second half and Ivan Nova representing an upgrade over Freddy Garcia, the Yankees have five legitimate playoff starting options. Of course, Joe Girardi figures to take four of them and the order should look like this:
Game One: CC Sabathia
Season: 14-6 3.42 ERA, 1.16 WHIP
Last Two starts: 1-0 16IP, 9H, 2ER, 21K
Three Starts Prior: 0-2, 20 ip, 22H, 12ER, 12K
It is obvious Sabathia has recovered from a slow return from the DL. After struggling to miss bats and hit corners, the big lefty has been brilliant in his past two starts, throwing eight shutout innings against the Oakland Athletics and then shutting down the Minnesota Twins.
If Sabathia can get on one of his hot spells with a refreshed arm in October for the first time in years, he can pitch against any other starter in the AL. With the Tigers and White Sox in a dead heat, Texas likely to finish with the best record and the Yankees likely to win the East, Sabathia may very well face Justin Verlander in a division series game one. Bringing his “A Game” would be a wise decision.
Game Two: Hiroki Kuroda
Season: 14-11, 3.34 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
September starts (four): 24IP, 27H, 15ER, 24K (one quality start, 6.1 IP and 3ER in a loss to Boston).
August starts (six): 3-3 46IP, 35H, 12ER, 28K ( five quality starts in a row until the last day of the month. Two of his three losses were quality starts).
There can be an argument made Pettitte would be a wise choice for the game two start. After all, Joe Torre always claimed Pettitte was an ideal game two starter, the lefty has an extensive and wildly successful playoff resume, and when healthy, has not pitched poorly at any point this year.
However, Kuroda has easily been the Yankees’ most consistent and healthy starter all season, he’s also a veteran and he’s a righty, which means starting him in Game Two would allow Girardi to split his lefties and give Pettitte a road start in a hostile atmosphere. In later rounds, it would also mean giving the winningest playoff pitcher of all time a start in a potential Game Seven.
Despite recent struggles, Kuroda is more a victim of poor run support than inconsistency (19 quality starts) and his numbers are nearly identical to Sabathia’s. It would be wise to go easy on Kuroda during his final two starts of the season as his arm could be tiring. Kuroda is 37 years old and has increased his innings count three years in a row, already throwing five innings more this season (207.1) than all of last season (202).
Game Three: Andy Pettitte
Season: 5-3, 2.71 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
Two starts since return from DL: 2-0, 11IP, 11H, 0ER, 9K
It’s important to note a few things about Pettitte. His two starts since his return only totaled 11 innings, but he was also on pitch counts and threw just 75 and 88 pitches respectively. Presumably, after his next and final regular season start, Pettitte will not be on a pitch count for the playoffs.
Which leads to the next point; Pettitte will have made just three starts off of the DL before the playoffs. So far, he has clearly shown no signs of rust, he’s one of the greatest postseason starters of all time and he has had a terrific season, albeit in less than 70 total innings. Pettitte seems safe in what is likely to be a road start and is likely a favorite against any team’s third starter, assuming the Rays and Angels both miss the postseason. As important as it is for Sabathia to be sharp, Pettitte could prove to be the difference between an average rotation and a deep one come playoff time.
Game Four: Phil Hughes
Season: 16-13, 4.10 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
Last five starts: 3-2, 30IP, 29H, 17ER, 31K (back-to-back non quality starts).
Prior five starts: 2-3, 29.1 IP, 30H, 14 ER, 21K
Hughes has been relatively consistent for awhile now, not just the past 10 starts, which appear virtually identical, albeit some extra strikeouts recently. Hughes has tremendous upside and is capable of shutting down any lineup, but he also carries a certain amount of risk, which makes him a pretty straightforward fourth starter in a playoff rotation.
The easy argument is whether he should be in this spot at all. The Yankees also have Nova, who didn’t seem phased by the bright lights last October before injuring himself and Hughes is the one with relief experience. Still. it would be wise to go with the more consistent and successful starter this season, especially in light of Nova, who will have a maximum of four starts since returning to the DL, having had one very solid and one very poor one so far.
If the Yankees are to put the best foot forward, that will be the playoff rotation, Nova will act as the long man, David Phelps and Joba Chamberlain will team up with Clay Rapada as middle relief and Boone Logan, David Robertson and Rafael Soriano will shut it down in the late innings.