The Yankees rested comfortably for the second consecutive day Monday, and when the American League Championship Series begins Friday night, either in Arlington or St. Petersburg, they’ll have gone five full days without game action. Not even the All-Star break presented such a respite.
Much has already been written about the long layoff and whether or not it will benefit the Yankees. The consensus is that it could either help them, or hurt them. Well yes, but which one?
The facts are these: CC Sabathia will be pitching on eight days’ rest. Whatever their assignments — we’ll know officially later today — Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes will be pitching on similar rest. Kerry Wood, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera will be rejuvenated. Joba Chamberlain will be woken up and told he may be called for duty in the ALCS.
As for position players, Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez, all of whom played through injuries and other struggles in September and collectively helped the team limp into the wild-card position, are using this time to heal. (Based on the latest news from Esquire Magazine, Jeter might be healing the best out of all of them.) For guys like Curtis Granderson, the long layoff may kill the mojo he had going against the Twins.
I thought the layoff would prompt Joe Girardi to consider shelving AJ Burnett and going with a three-man rotation for at least this next round. With three well-rested arms, Sabathia could go on three days’ rest if necessary, as could either Pettitte or Hughes. But alas, my thought — ah, hell, let’s be honest, wish — was that Girardi would take that risk. He did not.
From GM Brian Cashman, on a conference call yesterday, as reported by the locals:
“I don’t think it will be a secret that (a four-man rotation is) probably the best route for us to go. Is (a three-man rotation) the best way to go? I don’t know if it’s the best way to go. I do think we’re deeper than that. I think we need to prepare to go with a four-man and see where that takes us and prove that we’re not just built for a division series with off days that are beneficial to us. In this round and probably the next round, we’re going to have to prove that we’re deeper than that.
“…October can bring out a competitive side in people, and I know AJ’s got a lot of competition in him. I know he’d like to eradicate everything that’s occurred here in the second half. A terrific start would go a long way toward doing that.”
Cashman is right. He’s diplomatically defending a five-year, $82.5 million investment, and he should. The Burnett signing was Cashman’s, and he’s holding himself accountable to the media. Even the AJ naysayers in the Banter community would like to see Burnett eradicate the bomb that the 2010 regular season was. But we also know he can eradicate the playoff run with a “Bad AJ” performance that features a lot of looks over his shoulders, and facial expressions normally reserved for the bathroom. Both Girardi and Cashman seem too conservative to hedge this risky of a bet.
Burnett told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch that “I can go out there and throw a no-hitter at any time, so I’ve got that in the back of my head, too. My confidence is not lost, but I know there’s questions. I’m not oblivious to that.”
We’re not oblivious to the fact despite the best efforts of Dave Eiland, Burnett likely has no idea where the ball is going once it leaves his hand. When Burnett threw his no-hitter on May 12, 2001, he walked nine batters. If Burnett’s breathing out of his eyelids the way he’s supposed to, and he doesn’t drink Jobu’s rum, he may be able to right himself.
If Burnett starts Game 3 or 4 and the Yankees are down, is he the guy you want to rely on to potentially save the season? To be fair to Burnett, it’s not like Game 7 of 2004, where Wonder Twins Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez put the cherry on the worst postseason collapse in baseball history. That year, the next best options were El Duque on fumes, and maybe Esteban Loaiza. In other words, Joe Torre had zippo. Here, Girardi had a choice, and he threw Burnett a bone.
The other thing to consider: if Burnett starts, do you dust off Francisco Cervelli to catch him, and make Posada the DH? Or do you plug in Posada in the middle innings if and/or when Burnett is yanked? Neither is a good fielding throwing option, but one is a better option to placate Burnett.
It’s too much to think about, and it’s too many days without baseball. If we’re getting this antsy, the players have to be champing at the bit even worse. The only real benefit to the layoff is that either CJ Wilson or Matt Garza will oppose the Yankees in Game 1. The Yankees were successful against both pitchers this year, and that could give an advantage.
We’ll know a lot more at this time tomorrow.