Just yesterday I opined that, for no particular reason, Colon struck me as more likely to give the Yankees at least 4 solid innings in Game 3 of the ALDS. Suffice it to say, that assumption took a pretty big hit last night. Not that I have any more faith in Garcia, who hasn’t pitched all that well since returning from the DL, but I can’t say I have much faith in Colon either. That’s probably not totally fair, as it was just two starts ago that he went 7 innings and held the Angels to one run, but the ALDS is going to see a matchup with a much better offense than the Angels’.
So where are we now? Maybe right back where we started the season; wondering about Phil Hughes and (gulp!) A.J. Burnett. Hughes has had his rough outings to be sure, but if his barking back isn’t an issue come October 3rd, Hughes might be the safe choice to make that start. After that? I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong choice between Colon, Garcia, and Burnett. Burnett has generally been better the first time through the order than subsequent turns, do you trust him to give you 4 innings of decent quality? Do you trust Colon or Garcia more? It’s not a fun question to ponder.
What I do know is that there’s suddenly that much more pressure on C.C. Sabathia and Ivan Nova, the only two pitchers with guaranteed starts. Sabathia, in particular, needs to not only give the Yankees a quality outing, he needs to go deep in the game to preserve the bullpen. Thankfully the ALDS schedule allows you to only use three starters if you’re comfortable with your ace pitching on three days of rest, and I think it’s safe to say that’s exactly what the Yankees will do. If Sabathia can be counted on to save the bullpen to some extent, and Hughes can go ~5 innings while keeping the Yankees in Game 3, that will allow Joe Girardi to aggressively deploy the Yankees’ bullpen in the later innings, particularly the trio of Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera.
And that, in my opinion, is going to be the key to navigating this postseason. Aside from Sabathia, the other starters, along with Cory Wade and Boone Logan when they’re pressed into service, need to keep the Yankees in the game long enough to get the ball to that troika of relievers, and those guys need to be able to be counted on to lock down at least three innings, and maybe even four or five once or twice. If they can do that, the offense can handle any of the other American League playoff teams. If not, October is going to be a big letdown from the joy of winning the division.