ALCS Game Four: Rangers @ Yankees

It’s moment we’ve all be waiting for. Or dreading. Yeah, probably dreading. For the first time in 17 day, A.J. Burnett will make a start for the Yankees, and unfortunately it comes when they’re down two games to one in the ALCS. I guess that’s better than being down three-zip, though.

A.J.’s awful season has been well chronicled, so there’s no point is going through all that nonsense again. Luckily the Rangers are starting Tommy Hunter, who’s probably the best possible matchup for Burnett. His high-contact, low-strikeout profile is one the Yanks tend to feast on, so in theory they should be able to score some runs to back their starter. Unfortunately with the way the offense has been going, putting that theory into practice will not be easy. No, it won’t be easy at all.

Here are the lineups…

1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Ian Kinsler, 2B
7. David Murphy, LF
8. Bengie Molina, C
9. Mitch Moreland, 1B

Tommy Hunter (13-4, 3.73 ERA)

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Curtis Granderson, CF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robbie Cano, 2B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Lance Berkman, DH
8. Brett Gardner, LF
9. Frankie Cervelli, C

A.J. Burnett (10-15, 5.26 ERA)

Fair or not, A.J.’s got a chance to erase a season’s worth of ugly starts right here, right now. First pitch is scheduled for 8:07pm ET and can be seen on TBS as usual. Enjoy.

Sherman: Pettitte has not told Yankees he’s retiring

At the bottom of today’s 3UP post, Joel Sherman reports that a team official told him that Andy Pettitte has not yet told the Yankees that he will retire. There’s still no indication that Pettitte will or won’t retire, which isn’t surprising; he’s waited until the offseason to make his decision after talking with his family and what not in each of the last two or three years. Andy clearly has something left in the tank, so it’s just a question of whether or not he wants to deal with the grind yet again. If he does want to come back, you can be sure the Yankees will welcome him with open arms.

Counterpoints to starting Burnett tonight

(David J. Phillip/AP)

Let me start by saying that I support the Yankees’ decision to start A.J. Burnett this evening. That was the plan, and the Yankees are sticking to it. The circumstances might seem dire, but the Yankees knew this scenario was a possibility. They also know that no matter how well or poorly Burnett pitches, they’ll play tomorrow and have their ace on the mound. That sounds a bit better than having Burnett pitching a potential elimination game.

Still, I can’t help but examine the other side of the issue. Going down 3-1 and having to face the Rangers’ three best pitchers doesn’t exactly seem like an ideal scenario. CC Sabathia undoubtedly gives the Yankees a better chance to even the series, so there has to be something to the argument that favors him taking the ball on short rest. Let’s examine that case.

This morning Craig Calcaterra laid out the argument for starting Burnett tonight. Within he makes two main points and one side point. The first is that starting Sabathia tonight would only delay the inevitable, since Burnett has to pitch in this series one way or another. The second is that Burnett matches up better against Tommy Hunter than he does C.J. Wilson. The side point is that pitchers going on short rest generally have poorer numbers than their normally rested counterparts.

To counter:

1) Yes, Burnett will pitch in this series no matter what, but that doesn’t mean that pitching him in Game 4 is the same as pitching him in Game 5. In Game 4 the Yankees will either enter an elimination scenario or they will avoid it. No one wants to enter that elimination scenario, and so I can understand going to the ace in order to keep the team alive for at least two more games. If things go according to plan and Sabathia wins tonight, Burnett could still pitch the Yankees into an elimination game. But being down 3-2 is quite different than being down 3-1.

Of course, CC is guaranteed nothing and could lose the game tonight. I’d still rather lose with my best on the mound than with my fourth best.

2) Burnett matches up well against Hunter, apparently, because Hunter is not only the least of the Rangers’ pitchers, but he has fared poorly against the Yankees. Yet we know that Hunter’s regular season performance against the Yankees means exactly zero right now. This is one game. Anything can happen in this microcosm. If we’ve learned anything from the endless previews for each playoff game, it’s that there is no way to get a good idea of what will happen based on past performance.

What we do know is that the Yankees’ offense has been horrible this series. Can we expect them to turn it around against Hunter? Maybe. Again, anything can happen in any given game. If the offense doesn’t show up I’d trust CC to hold down the Rangers far more than I would trust Burnett.

(Tony Gutierrez/AP)

3) Looking at the data from the past five years, yes, pitchers throwing on three days’ rest fare worse than those throwing on four, five, or six-plus days. The problem is that those starts on three days’ rest count for just 1.2 percent of all starts. In addition, a number of those starts on three days’ rest don’t follow other starts. For example, Javier Vazquez has one start on three days’ rest this season; it came after he faced one batter in relief. That certainly calls into question some of the data.

For his part, Sabathia has been superb when pitching on three days’ rest. He has done it during the regular season four times in his career, accumulating 26.2 innings and allowing just seven runs, three earned. That also comes with 26 strikeouts to just six walks. In last year’s postseason he added another two starts and 14.2 innings with three days’ rest. His overall line:

41.1 IP, 28 H, 11 R, 7 ER, 11 BB, 37 K

The walks is the most interesting part. The overall numbers for pitchers going on three days’ rest indicates that control is the biggest problem. On four days’ rest pitchers have walked 7.8 percent of hitters. On three days’ rest they have walked 94 percent. I’m not sure how much of that is the noise of a comparatively small sample, but it does appear to be a significant difference. Home run rates do favor four days’ rest pitchers, but not nearly to the degree of walks. Strikeout rates are very close. Sabathia’s walk rate on three days’ rest is 6.8 percent, while his rate on four days’ rest (not counting the postseason) is 7.1 percent.

How would the Yankees manage the rotation if they went with Sabathia on three days’ rest? That would push Burnett to Game 5, Phil Hughes to Game 6, and then either Andy Pettitte on normal rest or Sabathia on short rest in Game 7. I’d go with Pettitte, having Sabathia ready in the bullpen. It’s almost exactly the same as the current scenario, except Sabathia would have on extra day of rest for a relief appearance in a potential Game 7.

The overall point of using Sabathia tonight is to give the team the best chance of prolonging the series. No matter the match-up, Sabathia gives the team a better chance to win this evening. That means at least two more games. Since the Yankees are down two games to one, prolonging the series should be their foremost thought.

Again, I’m not sure if I buy this argument myself. I do think Burnett matches up best with Hunter, and I do trust Sabathia in an elimination game against Wilson. The Yankees have said that they’re not starting Sabathia on short rest, so I assume that they have reasons for not doing so. But there is certainly something to the argument for starting Sabathia tonight and Burnett tomorrow. Thankfully, in both scenarios there will be a tomorrow.

Cubs name Mike Quade manager

Via MLBTR, the Cubs have named Mike Quade their new manager, signing him to a two year deal plus an option. The Cubs went 24-13 under his watch after he replaced Lou Piniella on an interim basis this season.

Of course this now means that Joe Girardi will not be leaving the Yankees to manage his hometown Cubs next season. He might still leave to go somewhere else, sure, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better situation than the one the Yankees offer. They’ve got resources, an ownership committed to winning, a new park, the works. The only reason he was ever really linked to Chicago in the first place was the hometown thing. Well, at least this story can be put to bed.

Hoping that Hunter can help wake up the offense

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Last night’s Game Three loss wasn’t just an ass-whoppin’, it was a historical ass-whoppin’. It was the worst shutout loss in Yankee postseason history, and the three baserunners were the fewest they’ve ever had in a playoff game. Cliff Lee was already one of just five pitchers to strike out ten-plus Yankees in a playoff game (the other four are or will be in the Hall of Fame), but yesterday he became the first man to do it twice. There’s no shame in losing to a pitcher of Lee’s caliber, but it’s not as if the Yankee offense set the world on fire in the first two games of the series either. Therein lies the real problem.

Brett Gardner‘s second half crash back to Earth (.232 AVG since the All Star break despite a .311 BABIP) has predictably continued into the postseason, except now he can’t rely on mediocre pitchers to walk him once every six trips to the plate to remain productive. He also seems to have resorted to the desperate act of sliding into first now, even though it’s been scientifically proven to slow you down. Derek Jeter has struck out in five of his last six plate appearances, including three straight on swings-and-misses at fastballs up in the zone yesterday. Mark Teixeira … I don’t even want to talk about him. His second straight terrible postseason is again propped up by one big homer against the Twins, par for the course during the worse non-rookie season of his career. Nick Swisher, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada are a combined 5-for-34 with three walks in the series. Outside of Robbie Cano and Curtis Granderson, the offense simply isn’t getting it done this postseason.

The good news is that if there’s one pitcher on the Rangers’ staff that can help ignite an offense, it’s Tommy Hunter. The burly righthander pitches to contact (his 5.8% swinging strike rate ranked 133rd out of 146 pitchers with at least 100 IP this year) and gives up lots of homers (1.48 HR/9, ranking 136th), two things the Yankees need a little help with right now. They’ve faced Hunter a few times in the past but just once this season, getting to him for two runs in five innings of work. They’ll need more than that tonight, I can assure you.

Tonight’s Game Four isn’t a must win, but the Yanks have to play with that kind of sense of urgency just to get themselves out of this funk. Perhaps the lineup changes – Lance Berkman in at DH, Curtis Granderson up to the two-spot – that come with facing a righty will help, but those changes are really nothing more than cosmetic. The starting nine they trot out there on a given day is more than enough to win, but right now very few are playing up to their abilities. Several players just look straight up old to be quite honest, and that’s a bad thing, because reversing age-related decline is pretty much impossible.

Cliff Lee was brilliant last night, let’s not take anything away from him, but the Yankees haven’t hit at all in this series save for one inning in Game One. If they lose tonight, A.J. Burnett will almost undoubtedly be the goat, but if the offense can’t muster anything off Tommy Hunter, then I’m not sure they deserve to win anyway. They Yanks are set up for a breakout offensive game, and championship caliber clubs have to find ways to win pitching matchups like this, especially at home.