As Juan Miranda’s line drive literally off of Kyle Farnsworth escaped the Royals’ fielders and Eric Hinske scampered to the plate, the Yankees came together last night to celebrate their 15th walk-off win of the season. Juan Miranda became the latest victim of the Walk-Off Pie, and with their 102nd win, the Yanks opened a season-high 10.5-game lead over the Red Sox.
Lost in the feel-good defeat of a much-maligned former Yankee was another solid start by A.J. Burnett. Joe touched upon Burnett’s outing in the recap, but it warrants a closer look. Burnett went 6.1 innings, and he didn’t give up much. The Royals managed to plate two runs — one earned — on three hits and three walks. Burnett struck out eight on the night.
For A.J., last night’s outing was another in a string of good September starts. After a rough five weeks in August and September, Burnett has now surrendered four earned runs over his last 19 innings. He has surrendered 17 hits and just nine walks in that span while striking out 25. In fact, if we look at Burnett’s bad start against the Orioles, we see that, after surrendering a grand slam to Brian Roberts, Burnett was nearly untouchable. That day, he retired 17 of the last 19 batters he faced and threw 5.2 one-hit innings.
If we head back to Sept. 8, we see yet another good A.J. Burnett start. Against Tampa, he threw six innings and allowed one run on four hits and three walks. He also struck out eight that day. So over his last five starts, he has thrown 32 innings with a 2.81 ERA and has given up 28 hits and 14 walks while striking out 37. That’s not too shabby for a second or third starter.
There is, however, a downside to A.J.’s success. As Steve Lombardi concisely puts it in a color-coded post, Burnett’s success has come with Jose Molina behind the plate. Throughout September, Molina has been A.J.’s caddy. In August, during A.J.’s bad starts — an early August debacle against the White Sox and a late August shellacking by the Red Sox — Jorge Posada was catching.
And so we fear what this means. As Joe speculated last week, it appears as though Joe Girardi will pair up A.J. Burnett and Jose Molina during the playoffs. Jorge Posada would ride the bench and be available to come into the game the minute Burnett is removed. The Yanks, however, contend that Posada sat out not due to A.J.’s pitching but because of his sore neck. I report; you decide.
It’s hard to stress how much of an offensive blackhole Molina has been this year. His hit today broke an 0-for-19 streak, and his triple slash line is .215/.295/.262. Jorge, meanwhile, is hitting .290/.369/.534. Molina’s VORP is currently -6.7; Jorge’s is 35.1. Molina has contributed -9.0 runs above (below?) average at the plate while Jorge’s contribution is a positive 19.7. Get the picture?
Joe Girardi can get cute with the lineup if he wants to. It is, after all, his team. If he honestly and truly believes that A.J. Burnett is that much better of a pitcher with Jose Molina behind the plate, then so be it. I remain skeptical and shudder to see the lineup card when Burnett takes the mound next week in Game 2 or 3 of the ALDS.