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Now that the Yankees have clinched a playoff berth, it’s time to talk about the postseason rotation. CC Sabathia undoubtedly will be the guy on the mound for Game 1 of the Division Series. Ivan Nova is also all but certain to start a game in the opening round match-up. However, it is still not guaranteed that he will necessarily be asked to follow CC in the rotation for Game 2.
Outside of Sabathia, Nova has been the most consistent and effective out of all the starters this season. Certainly, his 16-4 record and stat totals speaks for itself. However, the rookie’s poise, maturity and demeanor on the mound that is equally impressive. He was demoted back to the minors in July, (to no fault of his own) when Phil Hughes returned from the D.L., despite already having eight wins at the time in the majors.
In the minors, Nova made a few starts and was back with the big club less than a month later. While in the minors, Nova worked on a few things and was able to refine his slider. Since being back up, he has been even more impressive and even tougher on opposing batters. As a matter of fact, he has not lost a decision since prior to being demoted (June 3, 2011). His strikeout rate has increased, as he has been using the slider as an effective strikeout pitch to add to his fastball, curveball and changeup repertoire. The only reason Nova is not guaranteed to starting Game 2 just yet, is because he lacks post-season experience.
But even with Nova penciled in to start a playoff game, there are still two other vacant spots to be filled from the quartette of A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes. Of late, none of these four have done much to make the decision for Joe Girardi and company any easier.
Burnett has been an enigma to say the least. He has redefined the meaning of inconsistency in the Bronx during his two and a half years in pinstripes. Albeit in his first season, he was at least getting the job done consistently enough to receive playoff starts – most notably, of course, was the huge win he got in Game 2 of the World Series against the Phillies. Unfortunately for Burnett, that was the last positive result (aside from his walk-off pie routines…which are getting old, might I add) he has produced since he was signed for $82.5 million in December 2008.
The guy who was brought in to help anchor the staff with Sabathia, certainly has actually anchored it…to the ground. He is en route to produce a consecutive dismal season resulting in a plus-five earned run average, sub-500 record as well as league-leading walks and wild pitch totals. Although A.J. has clearly been more bad than good (the past two seasons especially), he still is fully capable of dominating the opposing lineup on any given start. His stuff is as nasty as it’s ever been. He just has to harness it and hope he is on top of his game with his fastball, breaking-ball combo.
Overall, Colon has had a very impressive season. It began as one of the most surprising stories for the Yanks out of Spring Training. After having not pitched in all of 2010 due to injury, Colon made the team to be used in what was described as ‘a Ramiro Mendoza type of role’ among Yankees brass. Somehow, Colon was able to regain his old Cy Young form, and was once again dominating the strike zone with ease thanks largely because of a dramatic resurgence in his fastball velocity. He was forced into a starting role by late April, and hasn’t looked back since.
He had been making major headway in the race to be labeled the staff’s number-two pitcher. However, of late, it seems the 38-year-old’s production has had a steady drop-off. He seems to be running out of gas, as he’s been inconsistent and ineffective over his past handful of starts. All of a sudden Colon more closely resembled his ineffective and injury-plagued form (what he was from 2006-2010).
A lot like Colon, Garcia has been a pleasant surprise for the Yanks this season. He too has exceeded expectations. Garcia, 34, is a completely different pitcher from what he once during his power-pitching days in Seattle. Matter of fact, Garcia more often than not, is described as being a right-handed ‘Jamie Moyer type’ – a crafty veteran pitcher. Garcia pitches to contact and relies on command, location, deception and strategy to get batters out. However, Garcia’s command has been way off lately (particularly his last 3 outings), resulting in some very ugly pitching performances. Without command of his pitches, his stuff simply is no longer good enough to compensate for that, making him very susceptible to getting hit hard, such is the case for Garcia over the last month.
2011 has been a nightmarish season for Phil Hughes considering how much was expected of him following a superb 18-win 2010 campaign. Hughes has an opportunity to atone for regular-season by pitching up to his potential in the playoffs. But in order for that to play out, Hughes has to beat out the other candidates to be given the chance to do so. Hughes’ problem is as much a problem of inconsistency as it health related or anything else. Last year Hughes showed everyone why he had been the most talked about pitching prospect in the organization since being drafted in 2004 straight out of High School. But now this year, all he has done is make those people collectively scratch their heads and second guess that notion. He went through a ‘dead-arm’ phase beginning the season, but now, what explains the inconsistent results? More importantly perhaps is; which Phil Hughes will show up if called upon to start a post-season game?
Some other notable factors will play into the decision about the playoff rotation.
We know Girardi is getting tired of hearing the questions about the rotation – you would be too if you had to dismiss the same question after every game over the past two months. But it is crunch time now and a decision needs to be made soon. It is going to be a tough decision, but in order for the Yankees to reach the World Series for the 41st time, it has got to be the right decision. Unfortunately, the right decision will not be apparent until the Yankees either go home in utter disappointment, or hoist the trophy for an unprecedented 28th time.