The playoffs are just around the corner, and as Dane Cook so often reminded us in 2007, ?There?s only one October.?
For the eight teams that earn invitations to the postseason party, regular-season results cease to matter. The New York Yankees — a terrific 61-29 since June 1 — have enjoyed a phenomenal run this summer, and are a virtual lock to capture the AL East division and enter as the Junior Circuit?s No. 1 seed. But that will be irrelevant if they make another early exit in October.
Projected to face either the Detroit Tigers (if the Red Sox capture the wild card) or the Texas Rangers (if Boston doesn?t make the postseason), the Yankees will have to contend with an offense that has the potential to put a curved number on the board at any time. That means manager Joe Girardi will need his pitchers to be at their best, and here, a worrisome question mark looms.
After CC Sabathia — who?s no postseason stalwart with a 7.92 ERA in five starts — the Yankees will send either A.J. Burnett or Andy Pettitte to the mound in Game 2 of the hypothetical ALDS. And neither of the two inspires quite as much confidence as the pinstripe faithful would like.
Burnett has been maddeningly inconsistent throughout his first season in New York. He is liable to shut down a lineup one night, and then get pummeled by the very same bats three starts later, as he did against the Red Sox on Aug. 7 and Aug. 22, respectively. With a 4.19 ERA overall and a 4.85 mark since the All-Star break, the 32-year-old flamethrower isn?t exactly the most reliable car in the garage.
Pettitte, on the other hand, has been masterful during the second half of the season, going 5-1 with a 2.85 ERA since the break. However, he?s just 5-4 with a pedestrian 4.65 ERA at home, and has allowed 99 hits, including 14 homers at the new Yankees Stadium, where Game 2 is likely to be played.
Meanwhile, Joba Chamberlain?s status for the playoffs remains a bit of a mystery, with the Yankees limiting his last few starts to three innings apiece, and perhaps setting him up to pitch in relief should they choose the longer Division Series format that requires three starters instead of four.
Thus, Joe Girardi has quite a conundrum on his hands as he begins to arrange his pitching staff for the postseason, and the fans ought to be somewhat concerned.
The Yankees were a dominant force once they regained full strength this summer, but they may not match up as well when the games really start to count.