Since Friday night’s rainout, Yankee manager Joe Girardi has thus far been non-committal on which game he will throw his ace pitcher CC Sabathia in the 2011 American League Divisional Series facing the Tigers. He has publicly stated the reason behind this delay is he “wants to see how CC feels” citing the warmups pitchers typically perform before each start. He may have thrown only 28 pitches in the game, but pregame rituals involve another 40-odd pitches, including long toss. We also know Sabathia himself was lobbying after the rain out for the game 2 start on Sunday, which Girardi and the Yanks shot down as being too risky. We saw published reports early Saturday afternoon saying Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman had tabbed Sabathia for Game 3, but a more recent report by (TYA fave) Marc Carig of the Newark Star-Ledger has the field manager still undecided on which game he will use his staff ace. Here’s the quote from Carig:
1. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman reiterated this afternoon that the plan is still to start CC Sabathia in Game 3 on Monday. But manager Joe Girardi said he wants to wait before penciling Sabathia in for the start.
“I called him in last night and said, ‘Let’s see how you feel the next couple of days before we make a decision; we don’t have to make a decision tonight and we don’t have to make a decision tomorrow, so let’s just see how you feel,’” Girardi said. “We’re going to wait to see how he feels.
Despite Girardi’s denials, the decision will likely hinge upon where the Yankees are in the series. If you really need the game (yes, you need some playoff games more than others) and are tied in the series, then Sabathia starts on Monday, no questions asked. However, if you’re up 2-0 in the series and are looking at Verlander on Monday and Porcello on Tuesday, then you have two options. One would be the traditional baseball thinking to pitch Sabathia in game 3 and Burnett in game 4 in what would be two evenly matched contests, giving your team the best chance to win each night. The other would be create mismatches by using Burnett vs Verlander in Game 3 and CC vs Porcello game 4. This could be characterized as ‘throwing’ Game 3, but you are such an overwhelming favorite in Game 4 that’s when you put the hammer down and look to close out the series. Lose a battle to win the war, as they say. Another factor in this is the respective performances of Nova and Fister last night. In a worst case scenario where you lose both games, you would still feel confident in Ivan Nova’s ability to deliver a win at home in Game 5. But Game 5 would be much more likely to occur if you go with the evenly matched contests than it is with the big edge in game 4. Close contests can be subject to fickle luck, where a bounce of the ball determines the outcome of a game. Girardi seems to subscribe to the Powell Doctrine, preferring overwhelming force when available.
We’ve seen Girardi employ this strategy in the past. In the 2009 World Series, he opted to employ a 3 man rotation and pitch Sabathia in games 1, 4 and 7. In game 1 Sabathia was evenly matched facing Cliff Lee, but in game 4 Girardi had created mismatch with CC against Joe Blanton. Had Game 7 ever occurred (Yanks won in 6) the match up would have been Sabathia vs Hamels, which also favored the Yanks. By pitching CC three times in that series, it meant he would only square off once against Cliff Lee. It also meant that the mercurial AJ Burnett had to face Cliff Lee in Game 5, which created a mismatch against the Yanks for that particular game. Even this year facing the Tigers, the projected rotation before the rain out had CC going in Game 4 facing Rick Porcello. Had the Yanks lost that game, rookie Ivan Nova would have been facing Justin Verlander in an elimination game. Girardi was playing the series to ensure he never got to game 5. But if he did, he would have opened himself up to enormous second guessing if the all too predictable outcome happened where Verlander outpitched Nova and the Yanks lost the series.
This strategy goes against the traditional baseball thinking of squaring your ace vs the opponent’s ace every chance you get and not throwing any games away in a short series. But we’re beginning to see a pattern forming over the past 3 years with Girardi and this strategy appears to be his preferred tact. He’s had success with it in the past, but if he chooses it again we will see if he or the traditionalists will be proven right for this year.
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