I covered the significance of tonight’s game in yesterday’s pre-game post, but there are two corrections that need to be made to what I said yesterday.
The first is that, while the Yankees will indeed erase the half-game in the standings between themselves and the Red Sox for better or worse tonight, they will not do so with regard to the Indians until Monday as Cleveland opens a four-game series in Kansas City tonight, but will be off on Monday. Of course, the Yankees hope that half game with Cleveland is a moot point as, with a half-game lead in the AL East entering tonight’s game, their focus is entirely on winning the division, as well it should be as they still trail the Indians by a half game and the White Sox by three.
The other correction is that Joe Torre appears to have backed off his six-man rotation idea. Last night the YES announcers reported that Aaron Small would be the odd man out, but on today’s Mike & the Mad Dog show on WFAN, Torre claimed not to have made up his mind yet, though the choice does appear to be between Small and Chien-Ming Wang, one of whom will start thus Sunday against the Blue Jays and, barring a disaster outing in that game, will return to the hill in Game One of the season-ending showdown with the Red Sox.
Assuming that Torre goes with Wang, who I think is not only the no-brainer choice between the two, but the Yankees second best starter at the moment (behind only Randy Johnson), this is how the rotation would project over the remainder of the year.
Thu 9/22 v Bal: Mussina
Fri 9/23 v Tor: Chacon
Sat 9/24 v Tor: Wright
Sun 9/25 v Tor: Wang
Mon 9/26 @ Bal: Johnson
Tue 9/27 @ Bal: Mussina
Wed 9/28 @ Bal: Chacon
Thu 9/29 @ Bal: Wright
Fri 9/30 @ Bos: Wang v. Wells
Sat 10/1 @ Bos: Johnson v. Schilling
Sun 10/2 @ Bos: Mussina v. Wakefield
Of course, having Small and Leiter in the bullpen gives Torre the option of using either one in place of Wright (should he struggle this Saturday) or Mussina (should he tank tonight and/or Tuesday), or of using either or both in tandem with the starter listed above to complete a must-win game (as if there are any that aren’t at this point). After all, if the season does wind up coming down to that final game on October 2nd, the starting assignment is merely a formality. Any sign of struggle and the hook comes out and everybody, perhaps even the previous day’s starter, will be available to pitch.
In other news, Jason Giambi will sit tonight due to the sore back that drove him from yesterday’s game in the middle innings. Tino Martinez, who walked and doubled in two plate appearances in relief of Giambi last night, will start at first base. Bernie’s back in center after last night’s day off. Matt Lawton, who went 2 for 3 last night with a two-run dinger that accounted for all of the Yankees runs last night, will start in right in place of Bubba Crosby (also 2 for 3 last night) against the left-handed Bruce Chen.
Speaking of Chen, he was bounced to the bullpen after a few rough outings in July, but quickly returned to the rotation and has turned in eight quality start in his nine outings since doing so, the one exception being an start against Cleveland in which he allowed just one earned run in five innings. Since returning to the rotation he’s posted a 1.84 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP.
Mike Mussina, meanwhile, will likely be on a short leash with Al Leiter ready to come in as a second-leg starter if need be. So that’s your match-up, Chen against Mike Mussina on 23 days rest for a guaranteed half-game swing in the AL East race. Gulp. Here’s hoping the first-place Yankees, the hottest team in baseball right now (yes, they’re even a game better than the Indians over the last ten games), finds a way to pull this out and go a full-game up on the reeling Red Sox.