Brian Cashman’s disclosure that the Yankees would use four starters in the ALCS hardly comes as a surprise. By eliminating the off-day between Games 4 and 5, MLB made it significantly more difficult for teams to use three starters in the first round as the Yankees did last year. Of course, it’s still possible. It would simply mean that Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes would all go on short rest in their second start, and Sabathia would be on short rest for Game 7, if necessary. But Cashman simplified things for us when he seemed to announce that Burnett would make a start in the ALCS. Chad Jennings reports:
This afternoon, Brian Cashman left a little bit of wiggle room on the Yankees using A.J. Burnett as their fourth starter, but he didn’t leave much.
“In this next round, the schedule dictates that we’ll have four starters,” Cashman said.
Does that mean Burnett will be the fourth?
“Yeah, that’s what I believe would be the case,” he said. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow, but yeah.”
A few minutes later in a 25-minute conference call, Cashmen went just a bit further: “We’re going to have our meetings, but if we have to go with a four-man rotation, it will be A.J. Burnett.”
There is a bit of wiggle room in Cashman’s words here. It’s hard to decipher what “if we have to go with a four-man rotation” means. The schedule is what it is, and it’s up to Cashman and company to decide whether they want to use a four-man or whether they want to push Sabathia, Pettitte, Hughes and then Sabathia out there on short rest in Games 4 through 7. It’s probable that Cashman is simply hedging, not wanting to give away more information than necessary. All indications appear that Burnett will start. So will he start Game 4 or Game 5?
As Steve S. laid out yesterday, having Burnett start Game 5 appears to be the most attractive option. If Burnett starts Game 5, the rotation could break down like this:
Game 1, Friday 10/15: NYY @ TB/TEX: Sabathia v. James Shields/CJ Wilson
Game 2, Saturday, 10/16: NYY @ TB/TEX: Pettitte v. Matt Garza/Colby Lewis
Game 3, Monday, 10/18: TB/TEX @ NYY: Hughes v. David Price/Cliff Lee
Game 4, Tuesday, 10/19: TB/TEX @ NYY: Sabathia v. Wade Davis/Tommy Hunter
Game 5, Wednesday, 10/20: TB/TEX @ NYY: Burnett v. Shields/Wilson
Game 6, Friday, 10/22: NYY @ TB/TEX: Pettitte v. Garza/Lewis
Game 7, Saturday, 10/23: NYY @ TB/TEX: Sabathia v. Lee/Price
This operates under several assumptions. For one, it slots in Pettitte ahead of Hughes in the rotation. The Yankees ignored Hughes’ home/road splits in the ALDS and it worked out rather well. Further, Pettitte pitched superbly in Game 2, so there’s no reason to suspect the order would change in the ALCS. This order also assumes that the Rays or Rangers will not turn around and start David Price or Cliff Lee on short rest in Game 2 or in Game 6. This is a reasonable assumption at least for the Rays, given that they didn’t do it facing elimination in Game 4 of the ALDS. It appears reasonable for Texas and Cliff Lee, but it’s hard to handicap given that they have yet to face an elimination game with an inferior starter on the mound.
The advantages of starting Sabathia three times and Burnett in Game 5 are many. The most obvious one is that Sabathia would start three games, including a potential Game 7. The more CC the better (which is apparently the approach CC takes with his diet! Zing! Love you CC). The second advantage is that it allows the Yankees to throw their best starter against the worst starter of the Rangers or Rays in Game 4, which becomes a big advantage for the Yankees.
The downside to this plan is that pushes Sabathia hard in the ALCS and lines him up to pitch Game 1 on the World Series again on short rest. This would be his third consecutive short rest start, and if the Yankees were to continue the short rest pattern and have him start Games 1, 4 and 7 in the World Series like he did in the ALCS then CC would end up starting 5 consecutive games on short rest. It’s unlikely that the Yankees would want him to do this, and it’s also unlikely that both the ALCS and the World Series will go to seven games. Sabathia does have a decent record on short rest . In 2008 he started three consecutive times on short rest for the Brewers at the end of the regular season and then started again on short rest in Game 2 of the NLDS. In those regular season starts he pitched 21.2 innings, allowing only 2 earned runs for an ERA of 0.83, striking out 21 and walking only 4. In Game 2 of the NLDS though he was less effective, giving up 5 earned runs in only 3.2 innings against the Phillies. Perhaps the heavy workload caught up to him. In 2010 he started on short rest twice, in Games 4 of the ALCS and the World Series. In both games he was strong, throwing a combined 14.2 innings, striking out 11 and walking 5, and allowing 4 earned runs.
Regardless, the Yankees by and large need to manage the ALCS with the ALCS in mind. Quite obviously, they need to win the ALCS before they can truly worry about the World Series, so they have to manage the ALCS to maximize their potential to advance. If the ALCS goes to seven games it won’t matter how the rotation lines up for the World Series. The team will need to win to get in. As such, the Yankees should pursue this plan. The only exception, I’d argue, would be if the club was up 3-0 going into the Game 4. In that situation one could make the case that they should save Sabathia’s arm and start him in Game 5 on regular rest. But the team will need to make the decision before they know what the series score is after three games, and the best course of action appears to be to have CC start Games 1, 4 and 7 and Burnett start Game 5.
One final thing to note is what happens if the Yankees win the ALCS in less than seven games. In this optimal and awesome scenario, Sabathia will have started Games 1 and 4, the latter on short rest, and then would start Game 1 of the World Series on a week of rest. Depending on Burnett’s performance, the team could decide to go with a three man rotation in the World Series, lining up Sabathia for Games 1, 4 and 7, Pettitte for games 2 and 5 and Hughes for Games 3 and 6. Games 4 through 7 would all be started on short rest, but for Pettitte and Hughes it would be their last start of the season. With the World Series on the line, one has to imagine the Yankees would at least consider this option. Hopefully we’ll be talking about it in two weeks.