Here’s the basic outline of the situation: The Yankees have six starting pitchers, three available spots, and four candidates for those slots. The math for this is simple; the Yankees will carry a four-man rotation at some point, C.C. Sabathia is already guaranteed one of them, and A.J. Burnett has absolutely no chance at one. That last part may be a bit presumptuous of me, but even if the Yankees had been leaning towards keeping Burnett in the regular season five man rotation, at this point it’s simply not fathomable that they’d consider giving him a postseason start, especially after the Muck-up in Minnesota. So that leaves us with Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, and Phil Hughes vying for three available positions, with the odd man out probably going to the bullpen for the tournament.
At the moment, I actually think this is pretty much a wide open competition for the rest of the season. Not one of these guys strike me as someone who should have a postseason start guaranteed to them, or even someone with an obvious inside line on one, for that matter. Garcia is probably the closest to that, considering that, if he can come back from his cut finger pitching as well as he was before, he’ll obviously be one the team’s best four starters. But that’s not guaranteed, and Freddy could definitely pitch his way out of an October start yet.
Colon is the other big question mark. Earlier in the season, Colon was clearly the Yankees’ second best starter, and at time looked like a bona fide second ace. He’s still effective today, but a little bit less so than before, and his numbers have been padded to an extent by feasting on weak hitting teams, a luxury he isn’t likely to get in the ALCS, when the opponent would probably be either Boston or Texas. And of course, we’ve all been worried Colon might not hold up over the season, so the team will still have to keep an eye out for fatigue, as Colon could run out of gas in the next month. I know this view of things has a distinct what-have-you-done-for-me-lately feel to it, but that’s basically what management needs to be asking with these guys when they make this decision, at least this year.
Hughes and Nova are very interesting cases in their own right, and probably the two with the most pressure on them over the next month. They’ve both been good, of late, but the results are outpacing the stuff for both of them, and they both need to continue to pitch well to stay in the discussion (assuming Garcia and Colon don’t fall off of a cliff). One of them will have to get a spot, the other one will be at serious risk of being the odd man out.
This is the part where I’m supposed to say, “as of today the Yankees’ playoff rotation would be…,” but obviously I’m of the opinion that what has happened to this point is only a small part of making the decision, and what happens over the next month is just as, if not more, important than how all of these four have pitched as of today. Maybe that’s unfair to Garcia and Colon, but such is life. I will say that, as of now, my prediction for the Yankees’ postseason rotation is, in no particular order, Sabathia-Garcia-Nova-Hughes, with Colon going to the bullpen. I’d be okay going to war with that group, especially considering the remarkably deep bullpen that will be backing them up.