Any team hoping to knock off the defending champion Yankees this postseason is going to need all the help they can get.
Unfortunately for the Rays and Rangers, the Minnesota Twins were not in a helping mood.
For the second consecutive year, the Yankees swept the Twins in the ALDS, outscoring them 17-7 in a lopsided three-game series. Yankees starters CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes allowed just five runs in 20 innings pitched, and shut down what had been baseball’s sixth-most prolific offense during the regular season.
A workload like that would normally take a toll on a start rotation, but such will not be the case with the Yankees’ three-headed monster. By forcing a Game 5 in their ALDS matchup on Sunday, the Rays and Rangers assured the Yankees that they won’t play again until Oct. 15.
That means that whoever survives to face the Yankees will feel the full force of their rotation.
Sabathia has been one of baseball’s most durable workhorses for the better part of the past decade, and while the huge layoff he’ll get between starts is a luxury, it’s probably not one he needs.
But the rest could be huge for Pettitte and Hughes — two starters at opposite ends of the age spectrum who would face different problems if forced to pitch on short rest.
Nearing the end of his 16th season, Pettitte has already logged over 3,000 innings in the majors, and has suffered through various injuries over the past few seasons. He’s been great on short rest throughout his career, but the Yankees would undoubtedly prefer not to risk an injury to a member of their “core four.”
Hughes, meanwhile, has already pitched more innings this season (183 1/3) than in the past two seasons combined, and the Yankees considered limiting his innings down the stretch. He’s young and has a strong build, but that’s no guarantee that Hughes would perform well on short rest.
Things will be different for the Rangers and Rays, though. Cliff Lee and David Price are set to head off against each other in Game 5 on Tuesday, meaning that regardless of who advances, neither team will have its ace available until Game 2 of the ALCS at the very earliest, with Game 3 being the most likely scenario.
Maybe this will somehow turn out to be an advantage for the Rays or Rangers. Perhaps this will result in an ALCS Game 7 in which a well-rested Price or Lee gets to face off against an overused Sabathia.
But the way the Yankees have played so far this post-season, it’s more likely that Lee and Price will only get to be used once.