What do you get when you pit a prolific offense against a pitcher with an ERA over 5.00? Thanks to Yankees manager Joe Girardi, we’ll find out on Tuesday.
Girardi announced before the ALCS began that A.J. Burnett — and not Cy Young Award candidate CC Sabathia — would start Game 4 of the series.
But with the series tied at one game apiece and Texas ace Cliff Lee pitching against the Yankees in Game 3 on Monday, the Yankees are in real jeopardy of being behind in the series when Burnett takes the mound.
Still, Girardi refused to change his plans on Sunday.
"We believe in A.J.," Girardi said. "I know it's been a tough year for him at times this year, but we believe in A.J."
In all likelihood, Girardi is basing his decision off of the success Burnett has had against most of the Rangers’ lineup. Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Jorge Cantu and Nelson Cruz all bat at or below the Mendoza line in their careers against Burnett.
Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero — the heart of Texas’ order — all bat at or below .250 when facing Burnett, and Mitch Moreland, Bengie Molina and Jeff Francoeur all have limited experience against him.
In fact, only former Red Sox outfielder David Murphy has had much success against Burnett in his career, hitting .294 with a .455 on-base percentage in 17 at-bats against him.
But if Girardi truly believes in Burnett, perhaps he hasn’t taken a close enough look at his second-half numbers. Burnett went 1-7 from August to October, posting an ERA of 6.65 and allowing 76 hits in just 65 1/3 innings of work. He finished with the season with a losing record, under 200 innings pitched and a career-worst 5.25 ERA.
Plus, Burnett has just four starts and 27 1/3 innings of postseason experience to his name, and has posted a 5.27 ERA in October. Not the type of numbers you want to see for someone about to face the AL’s fifth-most prolific offense.
Perhaps Girardi was lulled into a false sense of security by how easily the Yankees dispatched of the Twins. The Rangers are a very different team from the AL Central champs, though, and pose much more of a threat to the Bronx Bombers. The Texas offense has already scored 12 runs through their first two games against the Yankees, and would have a 2-0 lead if not for an uncharacteristic bullpen meltdown in Game 1.
Girardi still has time to reverse his decision and start his best pitcher in what will be a pivotal game in deciding whether or not the Yankees make it back to the World Series.
Rangers fans everywhere are hoping he sticks to his gut.
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