Rangers and Rays Bearing Gifts (UPDATED)

Cliff Lee in the ALDS: We won't see him Friday. (AP)

By snarling their series at four games apiece, the Rays and Rangers just did the Yankees a serious favor. No matter who wins, they benefit. The simple reason is that David Price will take on Cliff Lee in the Tuesday night finale, which rules both out for the Friday night Championship Series opener. For this exercise, we will assume the Yankees go with the same rotation as in the Division Series. Wacky guys that I am, I’m also going to guess that with another option, the Rays would not go with James Shields as their Game 1 or Game 2 starter given that he pitched poorly last time out (we need not mention that he also got kicked around the playground from June on).

FRIDAY

G1 (10/15)

SATURDAY

G2 (10/16)

OFF

MONDAY

G3 (10/18)

TUESDAY

G4 (10/19)

Yankees Sabathia Pettitte Hughes Sabathia
Rays Garza Davis Price Niemann/Shields
Rangers Wilson Lewis Lee Hunter


Now, we know that the Rangers are reluctant to use Lee on short rest, but perhaps young Price won’t be subject to the same limitations. Yet, moving up Price, or Lee for that matter, doesn’t change anything. Whether they pitch Saturday (three days) or Monday (five days), they’re getting two starts in the seven games. If they pitch on regular rest on Monday, they have the benefit of their usual recovery time, and the manager retains the option of asking them to come back on short rest for Game 6 or regular rest for Game 7.

After the first four games, determining the matchups becomes difficult and depressing. Given Andy Pettitte’s fragile physical state, it seems spectacularly unlikely he would pitch on short rest for Game 5. That means A.J. Burnett or Ivan Nova or Waite Hoyt or someone who wouldn’t ideally start is going if Game 5 is necessary. One alternative, and it’s probably not a good idea or even a realistic one, is Hughes pitching Game 2 . This would open up the possibility of shis tarting Game 5 on three day’s rest. Then Pettitte would pitch Game 3 and would line up to pitch in the seventh game if, for some reason, Sabathia couldn’t make another short-rest start.

WEDNESDAY

G5 (10/20)

OFF FRIDAY

G6 (10/22)

SATURDAY

G7 (10/23)

Yankees Staff Pettitte Sabathia
Rays Garza Davis Price
Rangers Wilson Lewis Lee


I’ve written "staff" in the box above where I should probably put "Burnett." I figure Burnett will be on a short leash and should he falter the game will quickly become the bullpen’s problem.

You can arrange this puzzle any of several ways, so that the Rays or Rangers, being aware of "staff," pitches Garza on short rest to better match up with Sabathia, thereby freeing Game 5 to be pitched by their own desperation hurlers, Niemann or Shields. "We’ll just leave that sucker up to the offense."

Who will co-star with the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS? (DC Comics)

Whatever the final shape of things, it is worth noting that the loss of Price or Lee for Game 1 doesn’t give the Yankees an instant or easy win in the initial game. Garza is a fine pitcher who did an excellent job against Boston in the ALCS two years ago—though he does have a 4.48 career ERA against the Yankees in 12 games, and they hit well against him in three starts this year (.314/.363/.629). Wilson, liberated from the bullpen, pitched better than anyone might have expected. He not only handled righties well, but decimated left-handed hitters, holding them to .144/.224/.176 with just five extra-base hits, all of them doubles. He might have had some good luck on balls in play as well, but that luck/good pitching held up in his start against the Rays, so he’s innocent until proven guilty. Neither of the pitchers is a pushover. In short, this is a positive development for the Yankees, but if it’s an edge it’s a very small one.

UPDATE: Brian Cashman just confirmed that the Yankees will be going with a four-man rotation in the ALCS. This isn't particularly surprising given the schedule. As I pointed out above, there is no good way of going with a three-man rotation. If Phil Hughes started Game 2, he could pitch Game 5 on short rest, but Hughes hasn't pitched on short rest all year. Assuming Andy Pettitte starts Game 2, he could also theoretically start Game 5 on short rest, but given Pettitte's physical state, that can't be something the Yankees want to risk, particularly when they have another round to go after this one, should they survive. Going with a fourth pitcher at least once is inevitable if you don't want to ask the starters to do things they haven't done before.

What isn't clear is if going with a four-man rotation means that Sabathia is going to pitch on regular rest. If so, then Sabathia would start Game 1 and Game 5, Burnett Game 4, and Game 7 would go to Phil Hughes. My guess is that whatever determination they make this week won't be set in stone. If the Yankees are 1-2 after three games, Sabathia would suddenly find himself starting Game 4 and the nasty Burnett start would be pushed off a day. Stay tuned.

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