The A.J. Factor

MLB announces start times for remainder of ALDS
ALDS Game Thread: Rangers @ Rays
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

MLB announces start times for remainder of ALDS
ALDS Game Thread: Rangers @ Rays
  • Jesus Freak

    Was AJ the kid playing the banjo in the movie “Deliverance”?

    • Reg


  • Kiko Jones

    I have faith that AJ will rise to the occasion.

    • ED

      I just hope that the occasion is sending the Yanks to the ALCS, not saving them from elimination.

    • http://yes jim

      With the way Girardi handled yesterday, this series isn’t going back to Yankee Stadium! (But, at least they’ll be well rested) All for Francona stand up and….well, you know.

      • Mike Axisa

        Yeah, Francona did such a bang-up job in Boston the last three years.

        • Jerome S

          I feel like this goes to the larger point of managers having a virtually nil effect on-the-field.

    • Dave O’Gorman

      I’m dreading the AJ Burnett start as much as anybody — indeed I was rather hoping he wouldn’t even make the playoff roster at all. Over the past two years, AJ has indeed been terrible, as the article asserts.

      But, then again, over the past three years he does have two *monster* starts, either one of which should’ve split his head so wide open that we saw dust clouds flying out. One was game-2 of the 2009 WS, after we’d already burned our ace in a game-1 loss and stood in danger of going to Philly down 0-2. Many people don’t remember the gem that AJ threw that night. I get the whole Matsui-MVP thing, but if I’d had a vote it would’ve been for AJ Burnett, despite the shellacking he took in game 5.

      The other enormous start he turned in for the Yankees was in the September 1st (2011) start against the Red Sox in Fenway. The Yanks hadn’t won a series against the Sox all year, and an inability to do so might have signaled that the team was a year away from postseason competitiveness. AJ pitched a great game (or, perhaps more accurately, a good game with some help from a no-call on a plunk to David Ortiz’ foot), and the Yanks won the game 4-2.

      This is not to say that I’m optimistic about our chances at Comerica Park — I’m not — but the idea that AJ is automatically going to go out there and stink up the joint, especially because it’s a big game, isn’t entirely without counter-precedent.

      • Kramerica Industries

        Not that I think it had anything to do with it, but AJ’s start against Boston was right towards the beginning of the Red Sox epic collapse.

        Just a nice thought to have.

        • Dave O’Gorman

          Oh, *I* do — indeed I think that very night was the start of it. The Sox learned that they couldn’t (entirely) trust Daniel Bard, and the Yankees learned that they could win a series against the Sox.

  • UncleArgyle

    I can sorta imagine the possibility of AJ giving the team 5 passable innings tomorrow. I mean the guy does have really good stuff, its always been between the ears with him. Maybe he’ll have what alcoholics call ‘a moment of clarity’ tomorrow. But I’ll go to my grave mystified how Girardi will start a player who statistically may be the worst Starter in Franchise History in a Road Elimination Game, while the player who was the teams 2nd best starter for 70% of the year is a healthy scratch from the 25 man roster (Bartolo Colon).

    • Brian S.

      His control problems don’t have anything to do with what is “between the ears”.

      • UncleArgyle

        I disagree. Its not ALL mechanics. If it was it would have been fixed by now.

        • Adam

          if you can’t command your fastball you cannot be successfull in this league anymore.

  • AndrewYF

    My only reason for hope in Game 4 is that if AJ encounters any kind of trouble, even in the second inning, he will immediately be yanked and Joe will go to the bullpen, which is usually fairly excellent (disregarding Ayala). I mean, it’s certainly well-rested.

    And Porcello was rushed to the majors and was coached to pitch to contact to facilitate that move. If you want to talk about a team ruining top-end talent…

  • Kiko Jones

    I want AJ to succeed—and CC, of course—if only to shut this clown up:–Division-Series-is

    • wow

      is the video of this interview anywhere?

  • Cris Pengiucci

    I won’t say I expect AJ to have a solid start, but he may be able to hold his own based on the his last start. If he does (say, 5 good innings as mentioned above) and Girardi pulls him at the first hint of real trouble and we add to that the “Porcello” factor, a win tomorrow is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. I’d love for CC to win tonight and AJ to close it out tomorrow night. If CC can’t win tonight, but AJ pulls it out tomorrow night, I have confidence in Nova to get the win on Wednesday. I’m cautiously optomistic on both AJ and the series.

  • MannyGeee

    Yikes… I would get Hughes stretching in the 3rd and keep that leash REEEEEEAL short on AJ.

    Then again, he could come out tomorrow with the Shocker. buuuuuuuut more than likely he gives it to us in the pooper.

  • Bartolo’s Colon

    Tonight’s win would be so great, it would at least guarantee the series goes back to the bronx, and take all the pressure off aj. plus i have game 5 tickets, so that would be fun, but i would gladly miss it if it meant the yanks in 4

  • Pounder

    Oh God.

  • Heisenberg

    A. J. Burnett, this year, had 17 starts in which he pitched 5+ innings and gave up 3 runs or less. He had 8 starts of 6+ innings and 2 runs or less.

    In the smallest of small sample sizes (1 game) there is no reason, except pure pessimism to be sure he will suck tommorrow.

    • Bartolo’s Colon

      not sure if anyone told you, but optimism is not allowed on any type of thread related to aj burnett

      • Heisenberg

        Oh, sorry I missed the memo.

        This is what I meant:

        A.J. had 6 games this year where he gave up at least 5 runs.

        How many days until spring training 2012?

  • Kiersten

    The key with A.J. tomorrow is a short leash. I’m confident A.J. can give us three or four solid innings, but the second he looks like he’s starting to lose it, you gotta go to Hughes, can’t wait till one run in four innings becomes five runs in five innings.

  • Monteroisdinero

    I think we lose tonight and win tomorrow as the Yanks give AJ run support. Ycpb.

    • Dave O’Gorman

      What does ‘Ycpb’ stand for?

      • Mike Axisa

        You can’t predict baseball.

      • Monteroisdinero

        You can’t predict baseball. Commonly seen on this site and out of the mouth of John Sterling.

  • Tiny Tim

    AJ is certainly capable of giving us 5-6 solid innings. He did it in Boston when no one thought he would. If it’s close in the 5th or 6th he can’t be allowed to pitch in big spots with men on base. You go to Wade/Logan or even the 7-8-9 guys as they’ll be fresh.

  • Kramerica Industries

    It’s certainly scary to think that, in the event tomorrow is an elimination game, that the Yankees are only one of AJ’s patented innings away from going home.

    Then again, gotta think the ‘pen will be ready at a moment’s notice when it looks like AJ may be losing his form. So that, in theory, should not become a problem.

    All I know is that I saw a post just like this before AJ’s start last year against Texas. And he was just one out away from a very solid, if surprising, performance. As it was, it was a back-breaker.

    • Bartolo’s Colon

      hopefully this year if joe makes aj ibb someone, he quickly takes him out right after that, no series sealing hr’s by someone who won’t even be playing baseball next year

  • BK2ATL

    Sucks that it comes down to AJ. Oh well, hope for the best and very quick hook.

  • Frigidevil

    Man it would be awesome to see Porcello suck it up tomorrow night. I hate Seton Hall Prep almost as much as the Red Sox

  • Adam

    the one saving grace is that the ballpark is bigger

  • billysbartender

    Funny how many people are calling tonight a loss. We got CC f-in Sabathia for crying out loud. Verlander is great and we could lose 1-0. Sabathia is great and may win 1-0. Go Yanks!!

  • MattG

    Is this totally insane? Start David Robertson instead, and bring in AJ for the third. You know Robertson will be needed in this game (for the Yankees to win), and changing AJ’s routine might just change his performance. He might look up in the fifth inning, and think, “Damn, I feel good.” If you do that, he can get you to the seventh.

    Then…well, that’d be a bit of a problem. Hughes-Soriano-Mariano, I suppose. So is it totally insane?

  • JBID

    I think A.J. will be okay. The mistake comes in leaving him in there and thinking he can work out of trouble. All the Yankees need are four innings, four good innings — give up a few hits, maybe even one run. I would take A.J. over Porcello any day. In other words, A.J. won’t be the problem: the offense will be. If they can’t provide run support, you can’t blame A.J. And by run support, I mean at least — at least — four runs. If A.J. gives up three and the Yankees lose, you can’t pin it on him.

    After his first four or five innings, pull him out at turn to the bullpen. That’s why Colon should have been included, as a long man, but it’s too late for that now. Instead we’ll have Philly, who I like, but who hasn’t had enough playing time this year for us to know how he’ll perform. It’s just going to take trust, and perhaps a little luck.

    In any case, if the Yankees lose, at least we won’t have to listen to another Buck-McCarver-Rosenthal debacle.

  • Monteroisdinero

    If the Yankees lose, the Red Sox have done so much to soothe the pain. Thanks guys.

  • CS Yankee

    I would use AJ for the first three innings and then go “major pen”. Soraino for the 4th/5th, Drob for the 6th/7th, and mo for the 8th/9th with Hughes for extra innings.

    I know this would blow out the pen for any chance of recovery for G5, or would it/ They would have a day off and Nova/CC/Wade would be fine for a game 5; which is like g7…anything can happen.

  • JBID

    I also think A.J. is a red herring. Garcia is more of a danger to the Yankees this postseason. I just don’t think he has what it takes anymore in this environment. I would have started Colon, Hughes, and Burnett before Garcia, even before Game 2. And after Game 2, I think it’s really evident, especially if the offense just isn’t going to fire in time.

    At least with Colon, Hughes, and Burnett, you can change them up during the game — don’t use them as real starters, just give them two or three innings each. Keep the opposition on their toes.

    • CS Yankee

      Your not making sense…if AJ is what you call him then the only solution is to be rid of him & yet you want AJ prior to Garcia?

      You do know that herring is usually quite good? Yes, it doesn’t come in all the ways as shrimp does (ala Bubba from Forrest Gump), but red herring is a cancer to the catch. JTYSK