Lining up the ALCS rotation

Mailbag: Next Year’s Bullpen
The need for good Thames against Texas

We know the who. But beyond Game 1, we don’t know the when. As in, when do Hughes, Pettitte, and Burnett pitch? It might seem like a straightforward situation, but it doesn’t have to be. The Yankees can exploit the schedule to give them the best possible rotation in the ALCS.

Starting Sabathia on three days’ rest

(Jim Mone/AP)

The first question the Yankees have to answer is whether they will start CC Sabathia on three days’ rest in Game 4. It worked last year, and since the Yankees face a pitching situation similar to last year’s, they will certainly consider it. If everything goes well, going with CC in Games 1, 4, and potentially 7 makes sense.

No one wants to wear down Sabathia. He is, after all, under contract for the next five seasons and figures prominently into the team’s plans during that time. But he also figures prominently into the team’s 2010 postseason plans. He’s clearly the team’s best starter, and the Yankees should use that to their advantage.

As was the case last year, Sabathia is well rested heading into the ALCS. After he pitches on Friday he’ll have made two starts in 17 days. This isn’t a situation akin to 2008, where he pitched on three days’ rest down the stretch and was worn out by the playoffs. We might worry about the long layoffs between his starts, but it has the potential to help the Yankees more than it does to hurt them.

Using Sabathia in Games 4 and 7 gives the Yankees a further advantage. Cliff Lee pitches in Game 3. If he dominates as he did last night, the Yankees can respond immediately with their stopper. Then, when Lee returns for a potential Game 7, he’ll have Sabathia opposing him. The hope, of course, is that things don’t even get that far.

Using Sabathia in Game 4 presents an additional advantage, as well.

Starting Burnett in Game 5

(Michael Dwyer/AP)

No one wants to see A.J. Burnett start in the ALCS. But the way the schedule works out this year, there isn’t much of a choice. Last year the schedule worked out so that only Sabathia would have to pitch on three days’ rest. This year, without the off-day between Games 4 and 5, every starter would have to go on short rest in order to cut out A.J. He’s necessary at this point.

The Yankees, though, can make him as unnecessary as possible. By going with Sabathia in Game 4, Burnett gets pushed to an if-necessary game. No one’s going to predict an ALCS sweep, but in this case I think it’s a real possibility. We’ll get to that in more depth as we continue previewing the series. If the Yanks can pull that off, it eliminates the need to use Burnett at all.

Who in Game 2?

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

The last rotation issue involves the Game 2 starter. The smart money is on Andy Pettitte, since he filled that role in the ALDS despite throwing with the same arm as Sabathia. If the Yanks didn’t feel the need to start Hughes on the road in that series, I’m not sure they’d change course in the ALCS.

For his part, Hughes has pitched well in Arlington. We all remember the near-no-hitter back in 2007. He returned there in 2009 and threw his best game of the year, an eight-inning, zero run performance. This year he pitched a single inning there. That makes for some entertaining noise, but it doesn’t have much substance. The sample, for both its size and remoteness, is completely unpredictive.

What we do know is that the Rangers hit righty starters a bit better than lefty starters, especially in terms of power, and that they hit far better at home than on the road. Their righty hitters have also hit righties just about as well as they have hit lefties*, which further negates the 15.1 innings Hughes threw in Texas in the last four years. Andy Pettitte

*Rangers RHB vs. RHP: .268/.330/.404. Rangers RHB vs. LHP: .272/.332/.399.

The preferred ALCS rotation

If the Yankees want to take advantage of their situation, this is how they’ll lineup the ALCS rotation. I’ll also take a stab at the Rangers’ rotation just for fun.

Game 1: CC Sabathia vs. C.J. Wilson
Game 2: Andy Pettitte vs. Colby Lewis
Game 3: Phil Hughes vs. Cliff Lee
Game 4: CC Sabathia vs. Tommy Hunter
Game 5: A.J. Burnett vs. C.J. Wilson
Game 6: Andy Pettitte vs. Colby Lewis
Game 7: CC Sabathia vs. Cliff Lee

But since the Yankees might not start Sabathia on three days’ rest, it will likely line up like this.

Game 1: CC Sabathia vs. C.J. Wilson
Game 2: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis
Game 3: Andy Pettitte vs. Cliff Lee
Game 4: A.J. Burnett vs. Tommy Hunter
Game 5: CC Sabathia vs. C.J. Wilson
Game 6: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis
Game 7: Andy Pettitte vs. Cliff Lee

Mailbag: Next Year’s Bullpen
The need for good Thames against Texas
  • bexarama

    Andy Pettitte vs. Cliff Lee TWICE is like personally designed to kill me.

    • MikeD

      Don’t worry. It won’t be twice. Yankees in five.

  • Peedlum

    There’s a part of me that wants Burnett to start against Cliff Lee–the part that expects Lee to dominate and Burnett to stink, so might as well put it all in one game. Of course, that lines up Burnett for a game 7. . . . . .

    • vin

      We can start Pena, Kearns, Golson, and Cervelli too.

    • steve (different one)

      I came here to get opinions on this wacky idea, but you beat me to it. AJ wouldn’t have to pitch game 7. It would be the same as as scenario 1.


      You’d be essentially punting game 3 for the best chance at winning the other games. They would never do this, since no team is ever going to basically concede a playoff game, but I think there is some merit to it (unless I am missing something obvious, which is possible)

      • vin

        Not only are they punting a playoff game, but its a guaranteed playoff game. If you going to punt, then do so in an if-necessary game.

        The amount of good-will AJ could generate if he pitches well this postseason is unbelievable. All will be forgiven in a lot of fans’ eyes.

        • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          “Not only are they punting a playoff game, but its a guaranteed playoff game. If you going to punt, then do so in an if-necessary game.”

          Well there might not be as big a difference between a guaranteed and an if-necessary game as we think.


        • Tom O

          In addition, with AJ pitches they get a good look at him before the WS, should they advance so far. If he pitches well, it takes some pressure off the decisions as far as the WS rotation. If he doesn’t, well at least they know what they are dealing with, and could be prepared to set him up for minimal damage, such as in this scenario with him in game 5, if necessary.

        • Mister Delaware

          You’re only punting if the idea is that you’re punting with AJ no matter what. If that’s the case, doesn’t it make sense to risk a 8-1 loss to Lee rather than an 8-7 loss to Hunter? Game 2 AJ beats anyone, last season AJ loses to anyone. Losing to Lee >>>>>>> Losing to Hunter.

          • pete

            I agree to a degree. It’s not true that Game 2 AJ beats anyone though. Game 1 Cliff Lee (or Game 5 from 2010 ALDS Cliff Lee) beats anyone more than Game 2 AJ does.

            Good AJ could go 7 IP, 1/2 ER against anyone. Good Cliff Lee can go 9 IP 0 ER against anyone.

            But I do think that AJ should pitch against Lee. 100%. Why waste a Hughes or Pettitte start?

  • Steve H

    How much does the situation play into game 4-5 starters? If Yankees are up 3-0 do you start AJ in Game 4 or go Sabathia on 3 days rest for the kill? If you’re down 2-1, same question?

    • vin

      I always go for the kill. Don’t give them any hope.

    • A.D.

      Might as well go for the kill, if you sweep you have week until the next game, and thus CC will be plenty rested.

  • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

    AJ looks chilly, amirite?

    • Steve H

      Turkey is done.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi



  • steve s

    I’d like to think that the historical precedent for 2010 is the 1999 ALCS series against Bos. (although the home field situation is now reversed). Pedro pitched game 3 and was lights out but Yanks won in 5 and didn’t have to mess with Pedro in a game 6 or 7.

    • pete

      …i guess…

  • Yank the Frank

    I say you stick with option 2 and not burn out CC unless we are down 0-3. If we are up 3-0 we still have the WS to get through and a rested CC could be abused there.

  • vin

    Assuming he’s physically up to the task, I start CC three times. They were willing to do it last year when Gaudin was the alternative. I know AJ is much more capable to pitch well in the playoffs than Gaudin, but you can’t deny how awful he’s been this year.

    I wonder if they carry Nova on the roster to shadow AJ. I know Moseley pitched well against TX, but the Rangers have never seen Nova and he has better swing-and-miss stuff than Dustin.

  • CS Yankee

    I would go with option A for sure but if they don’t want CC twice on 3 days, I would do the following;
    G1 CC
    G2 AP
    G3 PH
    G4 CC
    G5 AJ
    G6 AP
    G7 PH

    We would have CC available in game 7 on three days if Phil gets in trouble but would have a well rested CC in WS G1 if not needed. I expect to win this series in 6 though.

    • A.D.

      Realistically if a starter “gets in trouble” in game 7, series might already be as good as done before CC gets up. If it gets to game 7 I would say you start CC

      • CS Yankee

        CC on short rest twice might not be what the Yankee FO wants as he needs to provide value for the next 5 years.

        Plus Hughes on full rest may be better than CC on short rest twice.

        • bigs

          I don’t see what the big deal is pitching on 3 days rest. Before the 5 man rotation came into vogue the 4 man rotation meant EVERYBODY pitched on 3 days rest. They also pitched deeper into the game. No such thing as a 6 inning quality start.

          • Tim

            It isn’t a big deal, if you have been preparing to do it. But none of these guys has been preparing to do it, so now it is a big deal. Ask someone who used to work out often but hasn’t in years if they can just go ahead and bench press 250 lbs without any preparation. I’m sure they would struggle with it.

      • Ed

        Realistically if a starter “gets in trouble” in game 7, series might already be as good as done before CC gets up.


        I do agree though that the best option is simply starting CC in the first place.

    • Papilonger

      I like this rotation, seems so good. Go Yankees!!

  • RL

    What’s this weekend’s & next week’s weather look like? Would a rainout help with allowing CC to pitch in 3 games?

    • vin

      If there’s one rainout, I assume they’ll just play on the off-day instead of shifting the remaining games back a day. They line up the games per the optimal TV viewing schedule. Which is why we have to wait until Friday for game 1.

      I think two well-timed rainouts would do the trick, however.

      • CS Yankee

        A G6 rainout would give CC 4 days rest after a G4 start if needed (to start G7) however.

        • vin

          That would definitely work, but if CC already pitched in games 1 and 4, then he’d definitely start game 7. The question was if a rainout would help him make 3 starts – which makes the middle game the key. If he starts game 5, and it rains between then and game 7, then he could start game 7 on 3 days rest. That’s a possibility too.

          • CS Yankee

            Don’t fully agree, CC short once provides an advantage but twice is not what i would do as I would rather fire the heavier bullets earlier in the series and not go back to Texas.

            Joe didn’t mess around in G3 vs. the Twins in sending in the “A” relief with the big lead. Keep the gas pedal down and go for the throat early and create more time to rest up for the Phillies. We need CC in G1-WS.

            • Chris

              There are 3 days off between Game 7 of the ALCS and Game 1 of the WS. If the Yankees are willing to run him out there on 3 days rest 5 times (and I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t), then he can start games 1, 4, and 7 of the ALCS and 1, 4, and 7 of the WS.

        • RL

          … Hoping for a rainout after game 4 (if necessary) …

  • vin

    One thing I love about Girardi is that he probably won’t reveal his rotation until the last possible moment. If everyone recalls, he did the same thing last year. His approach was to start CC, AJ and Andy and then go from there. Doesn’t mean he has no idea, just that he wants to have the ability to change without it causing a ruckus in the media and fanbase.

    Joe does a good job of giving us just enough information without divulging too much and creating headaches down the line.

    • steve (different one)

      This makes him worse than the devil himself

      /peter abraham

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        At least the devil lets you have ice cream in the clubhouse.

        /further pete abe’d

        • Dick Whitman

          Oh wow. I just choked on my water.

  • YankeesJunkie

    The option where CC goes three times seems like the best rotation for the Yankees. Chances are that he only starts twice. However, if it goes seven the Yankees will be going out with their best.

    I was reading Cameron from fangraphs earlier and I found a couple of the question-answers bewildering and wrong.

    [Comment From Sabrina]
    Give an estimation (%) as to how much the Rangers odds of beating the Yankees decreased with not having Cliff Lee available for games 1 or 2.
    Dave Cameron: 0%. It doesn’t matter.

    [Comment From Andy]
    True, but they could have used Lee 1, 5, relief in game 7.
    Dave Cameron: Now they can use Lee in game 1 relief, game 3, and game 7. Same value

    Cameron says he is going to have a post on why what game an ace starts does not have bearing on how good a team will do, but if you are telling me that the Yankees don’t gain advantage with CC-Wilson over CC-Lee is idiotic. Although the Rangers have the advantage in Game 3, there is no certainty that the series goes seven games and his value for the series goes way down.

    • CS Yankee

      Agree with your logic…even if CC doesn’t go on 3 D-R, he gets two starts in the first 5 games while Lee only gets 1 in the first 6 games…this is huge.

    • vin

      I posted a similar conversation from Cameron yesterday. It was from yesterday’s fangraphs chat. I agree with you. The likelihood of a game 7 being played is much lower than a game 5 (and obviously games 1-4).

      His argument during the chat was “if you’re assuming the Rangers will lose all their games not started by Lee, then they won’t win anyway because he won’t make 4 starts.”

      From a pure logic standpoint, I see where he’s coming from. But in baseball, any team can win or lose on any day. And it behooves a manager to have his best starters scheduled to go as frequently as possible, and in games that are most likely to be played.

      • Chris

        His argument during the chat was “if you’re assuming the Rangers will lose all their games not started by Lee, then they won’t win anyway because he won’t make 4 starts.”

        But if your assumption is that they have a 25% chance (or some low but non zero percent chance) of winning a non-Cliff Lee start, then the situation is different.

        • vin

          I wish the Rangers had only a 25% chance of winning non-Lee starts. It’ll probably be more like 40-50% chance of winning those games. Homefield advantage gives them a slight percentage boost in some games, but it usually comes down to the starting pitchers. This isn’t the NBA where the better team almost always wins the series.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        You guys might be interested in this thread from yesterday:

        • vin

          I get your point – the Rangers need at least 2 wins from non-Lee pitchers to win anyway. And if Lee wins his 1st game, then there will be at least a game 7.

          However, what happens if Lee loses his first start? Wouldn’t you like to have him potentially going again in game 5 (more likely to be played) than game 7?

          Also, having him go in games 1 and 5 still leaves him available out of the pen in game 7. I know Cameron said he could come out of the pen in game 1, but no manager in his right mind would open himself up to that criticism. Potentially wearing your ace out on the last game of the season is infinitely better than wearing him out before he makes his first of 2 starts in the WS.

          • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            I’m not going to get into the conversation again, but I just wanted to clarify… It’s not ‘my’ point. You’re kinda preaching to the choir, I said many times in that thread that I think it’s clearly advantageous to line-up your ace earlier in the series.

          • PaulF

            If Lee loses his first start, then you need 3 non-Lee wins instead of 2. The only difference if Cliff Lee had lost game 1 instead 3 is only that you know that earlier. But that shouldn’t matter, because the Rangers will be trying to win every game.

            Your point about pitching in relief is correct though.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Andy: True, but they could have used Lee 1, 5, relief in game 7.
      Dave Cameron: Now they can use Lee in game 1 relief, game 3, and game 7. Same value

      You gotta be shitting me, Dave.

  • Chris

    Taking the rotation one step further, even if CC pitches in game 7 he could start game 1 of the World Series on 3 days rest thanks to the excessive off days. That means he could theoretically start 6 of the possible 14 remaining games this season.

    • YankeesJunkie

      At that point going three days rest five or six times in a row would be excessing in my opinion.

  • Andy

    Isn’t it possible that the Rangers start Lee in Game 2 on short rest? Then he could pitch Game 5 on short rest, unless the series is tied 2-2, in which case you pitch him in Game 6 to either force a Game 7 or go for the kill.

    • YankeesJunkie

      No. From all accounts it appears that the Rangers will continue to use Lee on a minimum of regular rest.

      • Andy

        Oh really? When did they say that? If I were a Rangers fan, I would definitely want Lee to start Game 2.

        • Newbie

          I think they are worried about his back giving out again.

    • CS Yankee

      He threw within 4 pitches of his career high and is a FA to be to boot. He has never pitch after 3 D-R in his career.

      If Charlie can’t get a guy to “man up”, do you think Washington can?

      • Andy

        Didn’t realize he had never pitched on 3 days rest. Still, seems like Texas should consider it.

      • vin

        Cliff offered to do it last year, but Manuel didn’t want him too. Manuel, in essence, punted game 4 last year. But Joba almost gave it back to them. Thank Mo for Damon’s heads-up baserunning.

        • bexarama

          Manuel still punted Game 4 by putting in Lidge. ;P

          • vin


      • steve (different one)

        I still can’t believe the Phillies didn’t send Lee out on short rest last year.

    • vin

      He’s never done it before, I don’t see them starting now. Plus, if the Rangers are trailing heading into game 6, they probably feel that with homefield advantage in two, a game 7 is likely (even if it isn’t statistically likely, but that would be the standard logic).

    • Will

      I was wondering this too. But in addition to what others said, him starting game 2 wouldn’t allow him to pitch 3 times in the series anyway — he’d still only pitch twice. So might as well have him pitch twice on regular rest.

  • Kiersten

    We ran a story in our paper yesterday from the wire and the headline was about Burnett pitching game 4. And I was reading the story and was thinking “I’m pretty sure they never said which game he’s pitching…” and this is the AP.

    so that’s great.

  • Camilo Gerardo

    Why did rabis end up going with 3 days (=/= 96 hrs) rest instead of 4 days (96 hrs) to explain 1 day shortened rest?

  • Jerome S.

    Cliff Lee is undefeated in his postseason career.
    (Sees scared looks on everyone’s face)
    Who’s ready to make history!?

    • Kiersten

      He also sucked in Game 5 of the WS last year but AJ sucked more (shocking), so Cliff didn’t lose.

    • Mike HC

      The Yanks can hit anybody. Their line up is ridiculously good.

  • Tank Foster

    I say, just factor Lee out of the equation and focus on beating the other pitchers. CC over CJ Wilson. Wilson’s weakness is command, so get the walks and get him out of there in 5-6, and count on CC to do the rest.

    We had this discussion last year, and while this is not the most logical approach, I would rather pitch AJ in game 3 v. Cliff Lee. Lots of upside if AJ pitches well, not much downside if Lee is brilliant and AJ loses, since if Lee is brilliant, probably any Yankee pitcher is going to lose that game.

    Then, you have games 4-7 stacked with your best pitchers.

    • Tim

      This logic completely escapes me for two reasons:

      1. It operates under the assumption that any game started by Lee is a Texas win.

      2. It operates under the assumption that any game started by Burnett is a Yankee loss.

      It might interest some of those who are running and hiding from Cliff Lee that Texas is only 8-9 in his 17 starts, including the playoffs. Granted, he did have back issues in August and had a five start losing streak, but still. And one of those losses happened to be to the Yankees in a game started by Javier freakin’ Vazquez. The guy isn’t invincible. He ain’t Pedro circa 1999.

      Under no circumstances should you EVER punt a game in a short series. What happens if Burnett is excellent and you lose to Lee anyway 2-1? Texas is a team right now with absolutely ZERO margin for error. If Lee loses any start he gets in the playoffs, they are effectively done. One slip up and they are toast. The Yankees can afford to absorb a loss from CC, but Texas most definitely cannot from Lee. The drop off for the rest of their staff is too severe to expect three wins in five starts, especially against the Yankee rotation. Put the heat on when Lee starts – win game 3 and the series is effectively over.

      • Tank Foster

        As I said, the logic is questionable. You may be right….and I would be surprised if any major league manager would employ a “sacrifice start” strategy like that, certainly not openly.

        But your counterargument isn’t 100% logical, either.

        If it’s not a guaranteed loss when Burnett pitches, why is it “punting” to decide to put him up against Lee? And I don’t really understand what you mean by Texas having “absolutely ZERO margin for error.” What does that mean? They are a good team with two very good starters and some good relief pitchers and great hitting. How can they have zero “margin for error?” What sort of error are you talking about?

        How many times have we seen the Yankees win a game against a team’s ace, and then lose against a rookie pitcher they’ve never faced?

        My point is that you try to win every game, but with an eye toward being able to win a 7 game series. The fact is, all playoff teams are close, and in a short series, anything can happen.

        It may not be the best decision, but I like using Burnett against Lee. I think the idea is to maximize your chances of winning as often as possible, and over a 7 game period, I would rather have CC/Hughes/Pettitte not face Lee, if possible, to give them the best chance of winning their games. Because the odds are – probabilities only, of course – even if they pitch very well, Lee is going to pitch better.

        • Tim

          Texas is not a good team with two very good starting pitchers. They are an OK team with a weak, exploitable offense, a questionable bullpen, one excellent starting pitcher, and three mediocre to worse starters behind him. The fact that they are dipping to their fourth starter is a staggeringly bad bit of judgment by Ron Washington; this should not surprise anyone, since judgment and tactical managing are obviously not his strong suit.

          The Yankees are easily 10 games better than the Rangers over the course of a full season with our current roster and injury status vs. their current roster and injury status. Hamilton’s rib injury turns their offense into a very pedestrian lot. Their bullpen was an unmitigated disaster in games 3 and 4 vs. Tampa. And outside of Lee, the starting staff should concern no one. Ask yourself this question – if Lee fell and broke his leg today, what would your prediction for this series be? We’d all be looking at a sweep, wouldn’t we? Or five games at worst.

          Apparently Las Vegas hasn’t bought into the Lee “aura and mystique” – Tampa was favored in both games 1 and 5. I don’t deny that Lee is an excellent pitcher, and that there is a decent chance that we lose Game 3 in this series regardless of who pitches. But I have gotten frustrated with the general perception that he is some form of superman, and that we should just pencil in a win for Texas on Monday night. Please note – this is not directed at you or your comments earlier. This theme seems to be the one being perpetuated by the MSM.

          Last season’s Phillies were better than this Texas team in basically every facet except probably closer. They also had Cliff Lee. And they lost in 6 to the Yankees. I wouldn’t expect anything less this time around.

          • Warrior86

            IETC!! Amen to that Tim.

            Yanks in five.

  • Ace

    Did you guys just hear that update on WFAN? Burnett hit two of his own teammates in a simulated game today. This guy is god awful. I rather see Kabak, Axisa or Pawlikowski pitch game four.

    • DCBX

      How many runs did he give up in how many innings? If it works out to less than 4.50 ERA, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if he threw the patented Steve Trout backstop pitch. :D

  • Tom Merritt

    I’m sure you are right about Kerry but I still think a strong business case could be made to keep him. He is a possible successor to Mariano, Joba is poor in the set-up roll, and Kerry has a good shot of satisfying the set-up roll requirements. It would be worth it to pay him market price and to not get outbid. Everyone is aware of his injury problems and they will adjust the price accordingly. I’ve just got a feeling that they should not let him go so easily. He could be a great asset next year.

    If they can get Cliff Lee in the off season they could have another strong staff if they get rid of A.J. for anyone. Cliff is likely to give us a dose during the upcoming series. He is a tough competitor and an excellent pitcher, especially in the playoffs.

  • Cy Pettitte

    small rant, but, am I the only person noticing the total lack of respect for Andy in MSM? He literally never gets mentioned in the discussions of match ups and best pitchers in the ALCS yet he’s got the arguably the most proven track record with the most post season wins.

    • pete

      Of the pitchers in the ALCS, I would say Pettitte ranks (arguably) 3rd, but (inarguably) WAYYY behind the first two.


      (sorry bexy)

  • Joe P

    It’s gonna be Burnett vs. Hunter game 4…all I’m saying is going to the game isn’t that bad if its for face value. I’ll be pumped and cheering for Burnett…at least we know the top of the first will be interesting lol