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The Postseason Rotation (You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello)

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Now we know. Yesterday, Jay asked who the third starter would be. By the end of last night’s game, it was clear that the first-round rotation would be CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia. I don’t suppose anyone was predicting postseason rotations back in April, but had anyone bothered, no one would have had Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and Bartolo Colon on the cutting room floor.

Well, maybe Burnett.

Any prediction of postseason rotations would have been an act of bravado based almost entirely on the offense. The rotation was a patchwork, and on paper it seemed unlikely to work. By the end, it had been just good enough. Yankees starters had a 4.03 ERA on the season, good for fifth-best in the league but a good distance behind the top four. The Rays, Angels, Rangers, and A’s all had ERA’s well under 4.00. No one knew what Bartolo Colon had left, Freddy Garcia’s ERA for the previous five years was 4.69 and he had frequently been hurt, Hughes had had a 5.00 ERA after May, 2010, and Burnett had spent the last half of the season in a death-spiral. As for Nova, wasn’t he the kid who couldn’t get through the fifth inning?

When someday we look back on this season, the most unbelievable aspect of it will be that the Yankees sent Nova down at midseason so that Burnett could keep pitching. Second on that list will be the tremendous work Colon gave the team through early July, a 2.88 ERA in 14 games. There was no reason to expect anything at all, and he gave them ace-worthy performances for half a season.

That assemblage, combined with a strong bullpen that Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi needlessly worried over in terms of its lefty-righty balance, got the Yankees through to October. There are no guarantees that it can keep them there. Garcia’s post-injury ERA was 5.92, with seven home runs allowed in 24.1 innings. Multiply those home runs by eight to get a sense of what that rate works out to over 200 innings. Yes, he finished with six shutout innings against the Red Sox. No, that doesn’t prove anything. Throughout the season, fly balls allowed by the pitcher had a strange tendency to fall to earth faster than they had at any other time in his career. Phenomena that exist for no reason usually cease abruptly as our confirmed natures reassert themselves. That has happened with Garcia and his odd ability to keep the ball in the park.

Nova made 11 starts after returning from exile, eight of them quality. That the Yankees sent him down shows their slavish devotion to Burnett’s contract (the money is gone regardless of what he does, fellahs), but also that they have as much confidence in and/or understanding of his transformation as we do. Is he good? Yes. Is he good because he strikes batters out? No. Is he good because he has command and gets a lot of grounders? Maybe, yeah. Has he been lucky? Probably a little, although those ground balls can’t be called luck. Will he keep it up? Ask again later.

That leaves CC. He had a very good year, just missing the highest strikeout rate of his career. He was a bit shaky in August, though hardly Burnett-worthy, and was relatively strong in September. He’s not someone you worry about except in the sense that he will twice draw opposition from the likely Cy Young winner, and as good as he was, he wasn’t that good.

It’s going to be an interesting series.

As I always say at this time of year, have been saying since the last century, I thank you for following the Pinstriped Bible this year. I know your time is previous and I hope we have been worthy of your attention. I suppose that someday there might not be a Pinstriped Bible–nothing lasts forever, even those things we love most, and nothing in this world has more permanence than the most fleeting experiment. If that day comes to pass, I will always be grateful for having had this wonderful soap box to talk about baseball and so many other things. I have met so many wonderful people through this medium, and some have become dear friends and colleagues. My cup, and I use a 20-ounce mug for my tea, runneth over.

As always, the PB doesn’t go dark with the end of the season. The next step is the ALDS. Jay, Cliff, and I will be here to comment on the action and I hope you will be too. Thanks so much again.