ALDS and ALCS tickets go on sale Monday

While the Yankees could be waiting until Tuesday to find out their ALDS opponent, tickets for the series will go on sale Monday. Unlike in the old days, when you’d have to get there the night before and camp out in order to have a shot, this year it will be an online-only affair. Those interested can go to yankees.com starting at 10 a.m. EDT. From then until 9 a.m. “on the date of the Yankees’ first scheduled ALDS home game” — so Wednesday — it will be an online exclusive. After that tickets will be available at the Yankee Stadium Advance Ticket Windows.

Ross at New Stadium Insider has the pricing breakdown. The limit will be two tickets to one game per customer. So choose wisely. The press release, via LoHud, also notes some additional seating options:

There will be 60 café seats on the Field Level concourse available for $81 per ticket for the Division Series and $131 per ticket for the League Championship Series. Additionally, approximately 200 standing room tickets for dedicated standing locations on the Field and Main Levels will cost $33 and $25, respectively, for the ALDS and $64 and $48, respectively, for the ALCS.

If you’re planning to purchase tickets during the public sale, try not to get your hopes up. As Ross further notes, there are a limited number of tickets available: about 4,735 for the ALDS and 3,235 for the ALCS. So the bad news is that your chances are small of scoring even two tickets. The good news is that you don’t have to wait outside forever just to find out you won’t get them.

Again, the public on-sale date is Monday, October 5 at 10:00 a.m. EDT, exclusively on Yankees.com. Good luck to anyone who tries to snag a couple. Just keep your favorite hosts in mind when you’re deciding how to use your extra one, OK?

Playoff rotation comes into view

As the Yanks prepare for a three-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays to close out the season, the playoffs are looming large in the minds of the Bombers and their fans. With the pitching match-ups set for this weekend, we know a firm sense of the Yanks’ plans and can debate the merits of the Andy-and-A.J. decision.

Earlier this week, the Yankees announced that CC Sabathia would start on Friday night in search of his 20th win. Most of the Yanks’ A team will back him up. On Saturday, Andy Pettitte will take the ball in a final regular-season tune-up, and on Sunday, A.J. Burnett and the ALDS Game 1 lineup will earn themselves at least a few innings of time on the field. And so, as I’ve done once a week or so for the last few weeks, we extrapolate.

It’s safe to assume that the Yankees are going to take the longer ALDS series to avoid the Joba/Chad Gaudin decision that looms not as large as we might think (but more on that when and if the time comes). The pitching rotation, then, looks a little something like this:

[TABLE=35]

We know that Chip Caray and Ron Darling will be manning the broadcast booth for the Yankees vs. Tigers/Twins. Now we have a pretty good idea who will be pitching.

On Wednesday, Joe tackled the Andy-and-A.J. debate and came to the conclusion I would have drawn. “I like A.J. as much as the next guy, he wrote, “but with the season on the line, I’d rather have Pettitte on the mound.”

Personally, we’d all rather have CC Sabathia on the mound in the a do-or-die Game 5, but Game 4 could be just as important. Either the Yanks will try to close the door on the Tigers or Twins or the Bombers will have to win Game 4 to force Game 5. CC fights the bill for that match-up.

There is an interesting twist to the post-season pitching previews as well that I didn’t include in the chart. Right now, the Tigers hold a two-game lead over the Twins. In an ideal world, these two teams will tie so that they have to play a game on Tuesday. In an also-ideal world, the Twins will be a game behind the Tigers come Sunday. That day, you see, is Justin Verlander’s next start. If the Tigers face a must-win situation, they will start Verlander on Sunday, and he won’t be available to pitch on regular rest until Game 2. Although that would line him up to pitch Game 5, I’d take my chances with the rest of the Tigers’ rotation.

If the Tigers win a pair this weekend or if the Twins drop two to the Royals, the point will be moot. Verlander can rest until Game 1, and we’d have ourselves a good old fashioned pitcher’s battle to start the playoffs. I’m ready. Are you?

Yanks face a few postseason decisions

There aren’t too many decisions left for the 2009 Yankees. Beyond some minor decisions on how to construct the postseason roster, there are only a few questions to ask. While some might be wondering if Molina will catch Burnett, I’ve got a bigger question in mind. Will the Yanks start Burnett in Game 2 or Game 3? This is no small matter. The Game 2 starter would also start a potential Game 5. Who do you trust most in that spot?

In the aggregate, Burnett and Pettitte look like similar pitchers. Their ERAs are right in line, as are their WHIP, H/9, and HR/9 numbers. Burnett strikes out more batters but also walks more, leaving the pitchers about even in K/BB. Both have had dominant stretches, A.J.’s from June through mid-July, and Andy’s in August. Using this base information it might seem like the decision could go either way. But as we’ve learned, things aren’t always as they seem in the aggregate.

Our favorite optimist notes one major difference between A.J. and Andy:

Take a look at these splits: Pettitte’s home ERA is exactly an entire run higher than his road ERA, an OPS against that’s over 100 points lower on the road and fourteen home runs surrendered at home against only five on the road.

Burnett’s splits are similar to Pettitte’s in terms of home-road difference, just reversed.

That would make it seem obvious, right? Start A.J. at home in Game 2 and then Pettitte on the road in Game 3. It’s called playing the percentages. It’s what smart managers do to win ballgames. The schedule would also point to this conclusion. If the Yankees choose the A series, as most of us expect, they’d be able to start Sabathia on normal rest in Game 1, then Burnett on normal rest in Game 2, with Pettitte starting on seven days’ rest on the 11th. If they went with Pettitte in Game 2 he’d be on five days’ rest, and Burnett would be on six days’ rest for Game 3.

Yet that doesn’t take into consideration other factors. For instance, commenter JGS on Rebecca’s post notes that Pettitte has pitched better at home since the All-Star Break:

Andy at home since the Break:
2-1, 2.79 ERA, 1.216 WHIP

Andy on the road since the break:
4-1, 3.47 ERA, 1.068 WHIP

Maybe the home/road split is a bit overblown. Do the Yankees go with the season-long numbers, or the post-break numbers, when they’ve played like a completely different team?

There’s one last monkey wrench to consider: what if the Yankees choose series B? It seems like a long shot, but it’s possible. A friend mentioned that on Baseball Tonight, Peter Gammons said he heard the Yanks were going with the B series. This would make particular sense if playing the Tigers, because it would force Jim Leyland to either use his fourth starter in a potential Game 4, or use Justin Verlander on short rest. Neither is an ideal scenario.

Choosing the B series would make the Burnett-Pettitte decision moot. Joba Chamberlain would then pitch a potential Game 4, against either Nate Robertson, Jarrod Wasburn, or Justin Verlander, and then CC would come back for a potential Game 5. The problem there is that you can’t reverse the decision mid-round. If the Yanks find themselves in an elimination Game 4, they might not want Joba out there. That would necessitate trotting out Sabathia on short rest.

If the Yanks sweep, all this will be moot. Game 3 in both series is on October 11, and the Yanks would be able to realign their rotation for the ALCS. The longer it goes, the more important the Yanks’ decisions — both the choice of series and the starter alignment — become. If the Yanks win in four with Sabathia on the mound they’d probably have to slide him back to ALCS Game 2. If the Yanks win in 5, I doubt they’ll mind holding back CC until Game 3.

I hope the Yankees choose the short series. There’s a risk in starting Joba, but that’s somewhat mitigated by CC’s potential Game 5 start. The only way that scenario plays out poorly is if the Yankees face elimination in Game 4. They’d almost have to use CC on short rest, and then their Game 2 starter in Game 5. In that regard, I’d rather see Pettitte in Game 2. I like A.J. as much as the next guy, but with the season on the line, I’d rather have Pettitte on the mound.

The A.J. and Jose show

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.

Two solid outings but no clear fourth starter

Every time Chad Gaudin and Joba Chamberalin take the mound this month, they are auditioning for the Yankees. They aren’t really trying out for much beyond two post-season starts, but these outings constitute auditions nonetheless. After two solid outings from both pitchers over the last four games, the Yanks’ fourth starter picture remains cloudy.

Joba, as we know, has been bad. After three strong starts to begin the season’s second half, he is now 5-4 with a 5.37 ERA after the All-Star Break. In 63.2 innings, he has given up 30 walks and 63 hits while striking out 51.

After a series of horrendous outings in late August and early September, Joba seemed to turn it around on Friday when he went 6 innings in a win. He allowed three earned runs on five hits while walking just one and striking out five. More important, however, was Joba’s opponent, as he seemingly broke out of his slump against the Red Sox, a potential ALCS enemy of the Yanks.

Meanwhile, Chad Gaudin has been more than serviceable as the team’s fifth starter since coming to the Yanks. He has made six starts and has thrown 32 innings. While Joe Girardi has kept him on a short leash, Gaudin hasn’t lost as a Yankee starter and owns a win. In those innings, he has given up 28 hits and 15 walks while striking out 23. His ERA as a Yankee starter is 3.09.

Yesterday, Gaudin did what he had to do in his audition. Against a weak Royals team, he went 6.2 innings and gave up a pair of runs on four hits, two walks and five strikeouts. He threw 57 of 92 pitches for strikes and generally coasted through the game.

In one sense, this past weekend did nothing to illuminate the Yanks’ pitching plans going forward. As soon as Detroit or the Twins clinch the Central, the Yanks will opt for the longer ALDS, and the fourth starter issue won’t come to a head unless and until the Yanks reach the American League Championship Series. Even then, we’ve burned a lot of pixels arguing over which pitcher stands to make two or perhaps three postseason starts.

Yet, in a way, this issue is important for Joba Chamberlain. If the Yanks are confident in Joba’s abilities and his arm strength, they will give him the ball. He has, after all, been the fourth starter for the entire 2009 season. He has stayed healthy and has generally given the Yanks a chance to win games. After all, the Yanks are 20-10 in his games. But the Bombers are undefeated in Gaudin’s six starts, and the team won’t overlook that fact either.

Right now, I have no answer, and when we have no answer, we do what bloggers do best: We poll the audience. So as we count down the hours until tonight’s Yankee game, riddle me this one. I voted for Joba, but I don’t think the Yanks could make a wrong choice here.

Who would you name as the Yanks' fourth starter in the playoffs?
View Results

Bruney, Robertson and a post-season bullpen

When the Yankees beat the Red Sox on Sunday, the story obviously focused around the AL East crown. After missing the playoffs last year and winning the Wild Card in 2007, the Yankees had reclaimed the division title for the first time since 2006.

There was, however, a bigger story in the game-within-the-game and one that could be potentially more important for the Yanks’ postseason chances than the inevitable clincher. With the Yanks up by a run and Andy Pettitte out of the game after six solid innings, Joe Girardi had to deviate from his usual game plan. Phil Hughes had just thrown in back-to-back games and was unavailable to pitch. David Robertson was not yet back from his elbow injury.

With the stadium holding its collective breath — and the woman sitting in front of me having some conniption fit — Girardi gave the ball to number 99 Brian Bruney. Coming into Sunday’s game, Bruney had a season to forget. Since returning from an injury in mid-June, Bruney had appeared in 31 games to bad results. He had allowed 52 baserunners in 26 innings, and opponents were hitting .302/.414/.528. After a stellar start to the season, Bruney had walked 20 and struck out 19 while generally stinking up the joint.

And so into the fire walked Bruney. He came out more than alive. Strike out, ground out, ground out went the Red Sox in the 7th. Pop out, fly out when Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis, two dangerous hitters, in the 8th. When Girardi came out to get Bruney, the much-maligned right-hander left to a standing ovation in the Bronx. The fans had put no faith in Bruney, and the Yanks’ reliever delivered.

His stuff on Sunday was better than it had been in a long time. Thanks in part to a wide strike out and Jose Molina’s pitch framing, Bruney threw 14 of his 21 pitches for strikes. He was throwing his fastball at 94.55 mph and peaked at 96.8. It was vintage Brian Bruney.

After the game, he was emotional in talking about the crowd response. “The thing that was special for me was the crowd reaction,” he said in the clubhouse amidst champagne.”I’ve been through a lot all year, fighting a lot of injuries and mechanics and pitching like garbage. It’s special. The ovation I got, for me, meant a lot. Everybody here was counting on me and everybody here let me know they appreciated it. I would have loved to look up and give a ‘thank you,’ but honestly, I had tears in my eyes and I couldn’t do it.”

For much of the season, my dad has speculated that Bruney has been more injured than he is letting on, and this comment seems to hint that perhaps his throwing arm has not been 100 percent. While I hate to read too much into 1.2 innings, Sunday’s outing could be the start of a solid run for Bruney. He threw with confidence and made his pitches.

Meanwhile, David Robertston will take the mound for the Yankees tonight. After missing much of September with a sore elbow, the Yanks’ strike out artist will resume his role in the bullpen, and all systems are go for Robertson. In effect, then, the Yankees could be gaining two bullpen arms right when they need them the most. As Tyler Kepner reports today, the Yankees will look at Bruney, Robertson, Chad Gaudin and Damaso Marte for two bullpen spots in the first round.

If Bruney can restore some confidence, if Robertson can pitch and stay healthy, the Yanks will have the ability to reduce their playoff games to six-inning affairs. Gaudin, a versatile starter/long-reliever and Marte, a lefty specialists, have their upsides for other reasons, but I would lean toward a healthy Robertson and Bruney. With their offense and their starting pitchers, shortening games could very well lead to more than a few October W’s, and in the short best-of-five first round, those victories are both rare and important.

Most exciting series of the week will determine Yanks’ fate

The Yanks settled almost every playoff issue yesterday when they clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Red Sox and the Angels have magic numbers of two for the Wild Card and AL West, both over the Rangers, so with just six games left those races are about over. Only one playoff spot remains undecided: the AL Central, where the Twins have rallied to pull within two of the Tigers after being seven games back at the end of play on September 6. It has led up to this week’s four-game set, one which should decide the division.

It will also decide the Yankees ALDS opponent. A few weeks ago it seemed like the Tigers without question, as they had that seven game lead. But the Twins have gone 15-9 this month, and even more impressively have gone 11-2 since Justin Morneau last played in a game on September 12. He will miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his lower back. His teammates have more than picked up the slack, and this week they get a real chance to once again steal the AL Central from the Tigers, as they did in 2006.

The Twins, for their part, will have to take three out of four. Splitting would make things tougher in the final series, where the Twins would have to take two of three from the Royals and the Tigers would have to drop two of three to the White Sox, forcing a one-game playoff. It would be the second straight year in which the Twins would play a 163rd game. They dropped a 1-0 heartbreaker to the White Sox last year on the season’s final (and bonus) day.

While the Twins make a great baseball story, we’re still focused on what this will mean for the Yankees. Would they prefer Detroit or Minnesota? The question might sound like a no-brainer at first. The Twins are without their slugging first baseman and have generally been the inferior team during the season. But they’re the hot team, and hot teams can be hell on any team in the playoffs, even the team with the best record in baseball.

Joe Mauer, a near lock for MVP because of the Twins’ recent run, heads the offense. He not only leads the AL in OPS, but does it from a squatting position, making the production even more valuable. The catcher with the next highest OPS is Jorge Posada, and the two aren’t particularly close. Beyond that the Twins don’t have much, especially without Morneau, though they’ve seen a number of guys step up in the first baseman’s absence. Delmon Young is OPSing above .800 since the 12th, and Mike Cuddyer has a Pujols-esque 1.152 OPS in that span. Beyond those guys, both Jason Kubel and Denard Span have had solid seasons, with OPS+s of 137 and 120, respectively.

The reason the Yanks want to face the Twins is their pitching. It is a far cry from the 2006 staff which featured Johan Santana and a dominant Francisco Liriano. This year their best pitcher, in terms of ERA, has been Nick Blackburn, who sports a Wang-esque 4.2 K/9 rate. There’s also Scott Baker, whose 4.48 ERA has to be the highest ever for a pitcher with a 1.18 WHIP. Following those two is Carl Pavano, who has pitched well since the mid-season trip from Cleveland to Minneapolis. The one reason these three have pitched well: each has a BB/9 rate at or below 2.0. That helps make up for the lack of strikeouts.

The story with the Tigers revolves around one pitcher: Justin Verlander. After a rough 2008 he’s bounced back into his ace role. His dominant stuff makes him an undesirable playoff opponent, though he’d match up against CC Sabathia, no slouch himself. Edwin Jackson is having a fine season, though he’s fallen back to earth lately. After holding the Yankees to two runs over seven innings on July 19, Jackson has allowed 42 runs in 80.1 innings, a 4.71 ERA. His strikeout to walks ratio in that span is just barely over 2.00. So while he seemed like a tough playoff opponent the last time the Yanks saw him, he’s been something less over the past two months. After that it’s Rick Porcello, rookie extraordinaire, who boasts a 4.14 ERA over 158.2 innings this season. He’ll be the third starter in the playoffs, which is all the Tigers will need in the first round.

On the offensive side the Tigers are no great team. They rank 10th out of 14 AL teams in runs scored and 9th in OPS. Their only real weapon is Miguel Cabrera, though he is quite the hitter. His .951 OPS leads the team by far. The only other starter above .800 is Ryan Rayburn, and even that is over less than half a season. He’s been hot as can be in September, posting a .348/.404/.652 line in 42 PA. He’ll need to stay hot if the Tigers are going to have a chance.

(Also, is Brandon Inge’s .409 SLG the lowest ever for a guy with 27 homers? It has to be, right?)

Overall, the Twins are probably the weaker team. Their pitching lacks the top of the rotation arm that is Justin Verlander. When presented with the choice of facing Verlander, Jackson, and Porcello or Baker, Pavano, and Blackburn, it’s the latter in a landslide. They do have more offensive weapons, but a few of those guys — Cuddyer and Young, notably — are riding hot streaks that far exceed their season production. If one or both cools down before the 7th, it could be death for the Twins. Then again, the Tigers have Miggy and little else. Yet a few of their guys — Granderson, Inge, Rayburn — could be trouble in the playoffs if they’re hot.

Yes, I’d rather see the Yanks face the Twins, but it’s a tough call. Either way, the Yanks will be playing an inferior team. That doesn’t mean they’ll breeze through the first round, but it’s usually preferable to play the weaker team that got hot at the end. As we’ve seen in many years past, a late-season hot streak, or even a late-season cold skid in the case of the 2006 Tigers, carries over the break into the mid-week playoff start. It’s a fresh slate there, and because of that I’d rather have the Yankees face the weakest team overall. That would be the Twins.