The A.J. FactorBy
I take the term “must win” quite literally, as in win or go home. It’s the engineer in me. If a loss won’t send you home for the season, then it’s not a must win because you have a chance to comeback in the future. Simple, right? Some games are obviously more important than others, like tonight’s game, which is more important that yesterday’s. The Yankees have three chances to win two games, and you want to win with CC Sabathia on the mound tonight to make life easier tomorrow, when A.J. Burnett starts.
We all know what Burnett has done for the last two years. He’s been awful and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. We’re talking 377 innings with a 5.20 ERA (80th out of 83 qualified starters) and a 4.80 FIP (also 80th). It’s bad, unfathomably bad. Because Burnett’s been so bad the last two years, it’s pretty natural to feel like tonight’s game is a must win because tomorrow’s game is an auto-loss. It’s not thought, we know that. Burnett might be terrible, but there’s no such thing as an automatic loss in this game. That’s part of the reason why I refuse to see tonight as a must win, and the other part is Rick Porcello.
Younger and definitely in possession of higher long-term potential than Burnett, Porcello has been pretty awful over the last two years as well. In seven fewer starts than A.J. since the beginning of last season, the New Jersey native has a 4.83 ERA (79th out of those same 83 qualifiers) and a 4.18 FIP (66th). If you’re a believer in xFIP, the two are basically equal (4.17 vs. 4.13). Sure Porcello finished the season strong (3.50 ERA in seven starts), but he faced six different teams in those seven starts, and all six were non-contenders (a combined 100 games under .500). Factor in ballparks, divisions, yadda yadda yadda, and the two have performed just as awfully over the last two years. Tigers fans are dreading Porcello’s start the same way we’re dreading Burnett’s.
Now, all that said, obviously it’s tough to trust Burnett to throw even a respectable start tomorrow, which increases the importance of tonight’s game. You don’t want the team’s season to be in his hands, really I don’t want it in anyone’s hands but Sabathia’s. Sabathia to Mariano Rivera, that’s how my ideal win or go home game plays out. Game Four is not an auto-loss though, just like his last start wasn’t a loss even though everyone expected one against those oh so might Red Sox. Game Three tonight is very important, but Burnett looming in Game Four is just one reason why.