Thanks to the efforts of the preeminent lefthander of our time, one Bruce Chen, the Yankees are now in the driver seat for the American League East title. This is a drastic shift from even a week ago, when it seemed a fait accompli that the Rays’ easy schedule over the final week of the year would enable them to cruise to the division title. But baseball isn’t always so simple. As it is, the Yankees’ magic number to clinch the division is now 3, meaning that if they win the final three games of the year they’ll clinch the division no matter what Tampa does against Kansas City.
Today, the team will have an odd doubleheader. Thanks to FOX, the first game won’t start until 4:05, and the second game will start five hours later at 9:05. The first game is started by Andy Pettitte, who will be looking to right himself after a disastrous outing against Boston earlier in the week. Fortunately Pettitte didn’t warm up last night, so hopefully the extra day of rest won’t affect his preparation for today’s game. In the nightcap, AJ Burnett will make his final start of the 2010 regular season. Burnett’s September has certainly been mixed. He had good starts against Oakland and Baltimore, but had two rain-shortened outings against Texas and Tampa and his last start against Toronto was an unmitigated disaster. All things considered, AJ Burnett’s September probably hasn’t been as bad as some Yankees fans think, or at least not as bad as Javier Vazquez. Burnett may not be necessary for the ALDS, but having him in good form would go a long way towards easing the burden in the ALCS, so it will be very important to see if Burnett can locate his fastball and regain form on his curveball.
As it stands, the rotation is lined up well for the American League Division Series in an interesting way. Sabathia will start Game 1 of the ALDS on Wednesday on seven days’ rest. If Pettitte is the Game 2 starter, starting him today means that he could start Game 2 on regular rest. If they want him to start Game 3 (if, for instance, the team is the Wild Card winner) then Pettitte will be on six days rest. If Hughes is the Game 2 starter, then he’ll be on ten days’ rest. If he starts Game 3, then he’ll be on twelve days’ rest. The predominant theme here is that it’s possible that every starter in the ALDS will be on extra rest. This could be helpful if the team goes with a three-man rotation in the ALDS, but the risk is obviously that the pitchers will struggle with their command.
A week ago I was concerned with the team clinching a playoff spot and then getting the rotation on schedule and resting regulars in preparation for the playoffs. The team did clinch a spot, at long last, but has largely kept their foot on the proverbial pedal with respect to roster management. Clearly, Girardi is playing for the division and for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Yankees can clinch today, interestingly, if they win both games and Tampa loses. More important than that though is seeing Pettitte and Burnett get back on track. If they are able to have strong outings, this team will look very good heading into the playoffs. Given the questions surrounding other American League contenders, today could be a big confidence boost for the club and its fans.
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