Now fully engrossed in his fifth playoff series in the last two years as the skipper of the New York Yankees, Girardi is once again having his rotation plans called into question.
Girardi has indicated that regardless of whether the Yankees are down 2-1 to Texas in the ALCS he will still go with A.J. Burnett in Game 4 on Tuesday rather than ace CC Sabathia on short rest — a move that has surprised some given Burnett’s difficulties this season and the fact that the club would be a in a pretty desperate mode if Cliff Lee shuts them down.
The reason is simple. Without an off-day between Games 4 and 5, as there was in the 2009 ALCS, bumping up Sabathia would mean that Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte go on short rest as well in Games 5 and 6, if necessary. As Girardi indicated, Hughes has never done that in his career, and the 38-year-old Pettitte is just a handful of starts removed from the disabled list. It’s simply too massive a shift, and one on which Girardi is not keen, even if the Yanks are trailing in the series.
While that logic would seem to float in the stormiest of seas, there has been no shortage of opinions on the matter, which is nothing new for Girardi. The weight of the world seems to fall on him no matter which way he turns in this regard. He was slammed by many for going in the opposite direction and choosing a three-man rotation before the ’09 ALCS and again prior (and even during) the World Series, although the moves largely worked.
Consider a few of the concerns from pundits before Girardi made those decisions before the series in 2009, both of which New York won in six games.
One noted commentator called it “a recipe for dramatic, decisive failure.”
Another said that if Girardi goes through with the plan, he “will be pushing one managerial button too many.”
A third said that Girardi could be “answering questions about one of the most damaging managerial decisions in World Series history.”
Yet, several regaled Girardi after the ploy helped the Yankees win their 27th World Series title. Now that he has chosen to eschew such a plan in 2010, due in large part to the condensed scheduling, the questions have resurfaced. It seems some are remembering how well the three-man rotation worked last year, forgetting the statistics that they used to support their initial argument against it (Bobby Cox was 6-13 when pitching a guy on short rest in the playoffs between 1991-2005) and taking aim at Girardi once more.
The Boston Globe called the team’s reliance on Burnett in Game 4 “a questionable decision by New York.”
Fifty-five percent of respondents to a recent New York Daily News poll said Girardi is not making the right call in starting Burnett in the ALCS, compared to 34 percent who said it is the right move.
One wayward writer even suggested that if the Yankees were going to shy from Sabathia they might be better off installing rookie Ivan Nova in Game 4. Nova isn’t even on the team’s ALCS roster.
So what you have is a whole host of first-guessing by people paid to second-guess, and perhaps hopeful that they will get that opportunity again. They didn’t get to do the latter in 2009. Girardi might provide them another chance. That will come if and when Burnett falters.
What it comes down to is this: The Yankees’ starting pitching has lacked depth and continues to lack depth. In 2009 there was nobody that Girardi could trust beyond the top three, which included Burnett. In 2010, with the use for a fourth starter a near necessity due to the new schedule, the best option is Burnett, but he has been awful in the second half of the season.
Essentially, if Burnett was the guy that the Yankees had hoped he would be, this would be a non-issue. New York feels that it needs four starters in this ALCS regardless and he would be a shoo-in to take up one of those slots behind Sabathia. The fact that he has struggled so mightily simply gives observers a chance to question the move by Girardi, one year after they questioned him for doing the opposite.
For Girardi it’s a lose-lose scenario. Unless, that is, the Yankees continue to win.
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