ALDS Game Four: Yankees @ Tigers

It’s crunch time. The Yankees’ have their collective back up against the wall; a win extends their season for another game and a loss sends them home for the winter. It’s obviously not an ideal situation, but it is what it is. Nothing they can do now but win.

Tonight is A.J. Burnett‘s chance at redemption, a chance for us all to get behind him and forget all about the ugliness of the last two seasons. Joe Girardi will surely have a quick hook, but I’d really love to see Burnett just shove it tonight. Come out throwing fastballs on the black with a dirty hook for swings and misses. He’s due for a game like that, and there really would be no better time for him to have a start like that. Here are the lineups…

New York Yankees
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

A.J. Burnett, SP

Detroit Tigers
Austin Jackson, CF
Ramon Santiago, 2B
Delmon Young, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Don Kelly, RF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Wilson Betemit, 3B

Rick Porcello, SP

It’s another chilly but clear night in Detroit. The game is scheduled start at 8:37pm ET and can be seen on TBS. If the Phillies and Cardinals are still playing by then, this beginning of this game will be on TNT. Enjoy.

Joseph goes deep on AzFL Opening Day

Baseball America posted full Instructional League rosters for each team. It’s mostly lower level kids, 2011 draftees and recently signed international free agents. They also compiled organizational standings (Yankees had the 11th best combined record in the minors this year) and minor league averages (compared to recent years). Check it out, interesting stuff.

AzFL Phoenix Desert Dogs (12-8 win over Mesa) David Phelps, Preston Claiborne, Dan Burawa, and Chase Whitley are also on the roster
Corban Joseph, 2B: 1 for 4, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, BB – nice debut, but remember that this is a crazy offensive environment
Ronnie Mustelier, DH: 2 for 5, 1 3B, 1 RBI
Rob Segedin, LF: 1 for 4, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K

Rosters for the various winter ball leagues in Latin America have not yet been posted, but I’ll let you know if any Yankees are playing down there. There surely will be, don’t worry. Those seasons typically start in early November.

Burnett is not alone

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The season is on the line tonight, and A.J. Burnett is the one charged with saving it. That sounds like pretty scary, and it is, but baseball isn’t an individual sport. There are 24 other guys on the roster and they’re just as responsible for making sure the Yankees live to play another day.

More than football, hockey, or basketball, baseball is an individual game. It’s a collection of individual at-bats chained together, and although there is some overlap, one man generally can not carry a team. Burnett at his best isn’t enough to win tonight’s game, it’s up to the offense and the bullpen to back him up. Now, the offense did a fine job against Justin Verlander last night, scoring four more runs than anyone expected them too, but they need to do better in Game Four. I’m talking constant pressure on Rick Porcello & Co., especially early in the game.

The bullpen needs to really step up as well tonight, probably even moreso than the offense. Rafael Soriano and (especially) David Robertson will have a lot of heavy lifting to do tonight, as will 42-year-old Mariano Rivera. If Burnett exits before the fifth, something he did three times in his final ten starts of the season, then Phil Hughes and Cory Wade start to become important. Boone Logan might show up to face Alex Avila at some point, but in the name of all that is holy, Luis Ayala must be used in emergencies only. I’d rather see Ivan Nova out of the bullpen in extra innings before Ayala, to be honest.

I’m not sure where I’m really going with this, but the point I want to make is that this game is not on Burnett alone. His teammates can make his life a little easier, and frankly they have too. They did a real nice job taking the lead early in last night’s game, and I’d love to see another quick strike like that again tonight (Yanks were up 1-0 five pitches into last night’s game). Burnett will play a major role in Game Four, but at the end of the day, he’s just one of 25 players on the roster. The Yankees will win as a team or they will lose as a team.

The Quick Hook

Bartolo Colon should probably be starting Game Four tonight. He outperformed A.J. Burnett all season long, but his stuff clearly faded down the stretch. The Yankees were concerned enough about Bart’s declining stuff that they left him off their ALDS roster entirely, so now the season is in Burnett’s hands. It wasn’t supposed to be, he’s only getting the ball because the weather didn’t cooperate on Friday, but it is what it is. No sense in complaining about it.

“I could have a very short leash,” said Joe Girardi after last night’s game, an indication of how important the game is more than his lack of faith in Burnett. It’s the first true must win of the season, either win or go home. Girardi needs to have a quick hook not because it’s A.J., but because of the magnitude of the game. He can’t afford to let any one of his pitchers let the game get out of hand, not just his starter.

Burnett has typically done his best work the first time through the order this year, part of the reason why he was in the bullpen to start the postseason. He pitched well against the Tigers in Detroit earlier this season, limiting them to two earned runs in seven innings of work (there were three unearned runs in there due to some Eduardo Scissorhands defensive funny business). That’s the best case scenario. I’ll take two runs over four innings and call it a win. Two runs in five would be a godsend.

Rafael Soriano threw 22 pitches last night, David Robertson just 14. Those two are good to go, for more than one inning if needed. Robertson especially is in six out territory; we saw Girardi use Kerry Wood as a two-inning setup man is Game Five of the ALCS last year (also an elimination game) and that’s exactly what he needs to do with his top setup arm tonight. Mariano Rivera has thrown three pitches since last Tuesday, so he’s good for more than just one inning of work now as well. It truly is an all hands on deck game.

“People are entitled to their opinion, and obviously I give them reasons here and there to doubt,” said Burnett after Game Three. “But the bottom line is I have confidence in myself. I’m not going to go out and try to prove anything. I’m going to go try and win a ballgame.” It doesn’t matter how he does it, just that he does it. Burnett has to be viewed as just one of many tonight, the first link in a pitching staff chain that will have to carry the Yankees back to the Bronx for Game Five.