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Starting Pitching: Mirage or Reality?

Yankee fans have been spoiled by fantastic pitching over the past week: Seven games, 50 innings, eight earned runs. A 1.44 ERA from the rotation over a seven day span. With all the hoopla that has surrounded the Yankees and their starting pitching over the past few years, this is something to be content with. But let's be realistic, how much longer is this going to hold together? 

I think it goes without saying that CC Sabathia will be the ace that he is. The fact that fans sit and expect him to win every time he goes on the mound says an awful lot about the man. He'll continue to give the Yankees 220+ quality workhorse innings of baseball. 

As we all know, the rest is full of uncertainty. 

A.J. Burnett is beginning to show signs of a reliable starter once again, but he also started off last season in admirable fashion. In his first six games last year, he went 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA. Comparing his first six starts to his first five of this year, the only major difference I see in Burnett's statistics is that he is yet to hit a batter this year while he had already plunked three by this time last year. He's allowing 25% of balls hit in play to be line drives, up from 16% last year. His four homers allowed is up from one last year as well. I'm led to believe that Yankee defense has done a tremendous job behind Burnett because BAbip has dropped .297 from last year to .250 this year. All his blemishes have been covered for two reasons, the Yankees have lost the last two games he pitched in by a combined three runs, and the other starters are stealing the spotlight. Burnett has been solid, but he'll need to follow up his brilliant outing against Chicago with some more quality starts if New York wants to make a run this year.

The Yankees haven't been helped out by Phil Hughes, who has God knows what going on with his arm right now. His "dead arm" might possibly be a circulatory condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). Further tests on Monday should reveal what the exact problem is. If this is indeed the case, he'll likely be out between 2-12 months. This was supposed to be the year where Hughes emerged as a real two or three starter, but likely will be sitting out for a while.  

The fact that the Yankees have gotten what they have out of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia is mind-boggling. These two guys have thrown a combined 39 innings allowing merely 28 hits, nine earned runs, and 10 walks. Yes, their WHIP is 0.974 through April 28. We're talking about two guys that were competing for one spot in the rotation that have turned back the clock and become their old selves. I'm a bit skeptical about them both being able to hold it together. I feel that the Yankees are inevitably buying time until they can trade for a quality starter (For the love of God, if anyone says Felix Hernandez...). Garcia and Colon both have injury-plagued histories, too. Is it a matter of time before an injury? Perhaps the league will figure out how to hit both of them effectively over the next month? 

In the long run, I don't believe that the fifth spot in the rotation is really going to make or break a team. With that being said, Ivan Nova isn't the worst possible guy to have in that position right now. His 0.4 WAR is already better than Javier Vazquez's from last year. Nova's problem stems from having a K/BB ratio of 1.09 thus far. He has to stop walking so many batters. His WHIP is also 1.62 right now. But in all fairness, he's still adjusting to the MLB level. 

Yes, I know it's early. Small samples sizes is essentially the mantra of the entire first month or so of the baseball season. But hey, I've got to write articles. What do you guys think about this? What exactly is going to happen with this rotation for the rest of the year? Are the Yankees buying time? Will Colon and Garcia be key components of a possible championship run? Will Phil Hughes even see the field for the remainder of 2011? Lots of questions are yet to be answered. What's your take?