Saturday, September 24, 2011

AL Playoff Rotations Forming

The Yankees' Joe Girardi knows he has CC Sabathia to start Game 1 of the ALDS against either the Detroit Tigers or Texas Rangers (or by some miracle the Los Angeles Angels) and Ivan Nova to go in either Game 2 or 3. But the rest is up in the air.

Perhaps Freddy Garcia solidified a spot on Saturday afternoon with six shutout innings in a win against the struggling Boston Red Sox. So who starts Game 4? Bartolo Colon? A.J. Burnett? CC Sabathia on 3 days rest?

Colon has allowed five or more earned runs in four of his last seven starts. He's been particularly bad in his last two starts; he allowed six earned runs in four innings against Tampa Bay (after eight days off) and followed that up with a seven run (five earned) outburst in three innings against Toronto.

Burnett's been miserable the entire second half with a couple of sprinkles of decent thrown in. In a word: non-trustworthy.

So that means CC Sabathia on three days rest for Game 4; something the big guy hasn't had a problem with in the past. There's no question that Sabathia hasn't been as sharp in the second half as was in the first. Some blame coming back from not one, but two rain delays in the same game, while others point to the use of a six man rotation. Whatever the reason, the Yankees will need Sabathia to be on top of his game if they are to make any kind of a run this post-season. Which means he'll likely be the Game 4 starter with Nova, on regular rest, starting the "if necessary" Game 5.

Detroit's Jim Leyland has made it easy. He has steadfastly said that his ace and the sure winner of the AL Cy Young, Justin Verlander, will not be brought back on three days rest. That means Verlander in Games 1 and 5, Doug Fister in Game 2, Max Scherzer in Game 3, and Rick Porcello in Game 4.

The Texas Rangers will use C.J. Wilson to start things off, but then Ron Washington has some decisions to make. It's likely he'll call on left-handers in the first three games with Derek Holland and Matt Harrison pitching Games 2 and 3 (possibly in the reverse order). If Washington doesn't want to go with Wilson on three day's rest, he'll choose from right-handers Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando. Lewis is the likely choice with the way Ogando has struggled in the second half. Washington could also mix things up by starting Lewis in Game 2 since his numbers are much better on the road than at home. Ogando, meanwhile, will move to the pen where he was outstanding in 2010.

If Boston holds on to the wild card, they are two games ahead of Tampa Bay after Saturday's play, Josh Beckett goes in Games 1 and 5, followed by Jon Lester. John Lackey is likely to be the number three starter with Erik Bedard in Game 4. Tim Wakefield will step in if any of the starters have a physical issue.

Terry Francona has to be worried about the normally reliable Lester, who is 0-3 in his last three starts with 18 earned runs allowed in just 13.2 innings pitched. In years past Beckett would have gone on three days rest in Game 4, but with his back issues that is not a scenario Boston can/should use.

The Outsiders

If Tampa Bay does ease Boston out of the final spot, David Price, James Shields, and Jeremy Hellickson are likely to get the five starts. It all depends, of course, on if the final playoff spot comes down to the final day. If Tampa Bay needs a fourth starter, they'll go to Jeff Niemann. If Niemann's back isn't healthy, than Wade Davis will get the nod.

The easiest thing for any team do is just go out and win three straight and then we don't have to all worry about who is pitching when.

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