How Did We Get Here?

You could make almost any prediction about AJ Burnett’s start tonight and I would agree it could happen. Two-hitter? Yup, could happen. Ten runs allowed in the first? Yup, could happen. The fact is we don’t know. All we know is Joe Girardi better have the bullpen warming up in the first and go from there.

The bigger picture question is how did the Yankees end up starting AJ in the biggest game of the year (so far)? Part of it is bad luck- ie rain on Friday. Part of it is poor planning- they did let AJ make 32 starts this year. Part of it is a lack of faith in some of the younger guys- Phelps and Warren, part of it is the wheels coming off for one of the older guys- Colon.

There are a lot of reasons for why we are here and a pretty clear path to avoid it in the future. The Yankees need to stop trying to import a pitching staff and start trying to grow one. For every CC Sabathia or David Cone we have seen a Carl Pavano or Jose Contreras. Sure, free agent signings are not going to stop in the Bronx, but they need to get closer to a model where they use them to supplement the team and not create it. That is the foundation you can build a dynasty on. Let’s face it, if AJ made the same amount of money Kei Igawa did, he would have pitched in Scranton this year. The only reason he didn’t is because the Yankees still owe him more than $30 million.

Teams around the league are getting better and better at developing and keeping young pitchers. The Rays will add Matt Moore to an already impressive rotation next year. The Mariners locked up Felix Hernandez and the Angels took Weaver off the market. The choices on the starters market are going to become worse and worse while the lack of inventory will only drive prices up. The Yankees can outbid anyone, but at what point does it become self-defeating?

The Yankees have done a great job of flooding the upper levels of their system with arms. Now they need to start using them. Ivan Nova went from afterthought to Game 2 starter. Next year, he is obviously a big part of the rotation. Guys like Phelps, Noesi and Warren need to get a look, not to mention Betances and Banuelos. Before the Yankees spend another dime on free agent starting pitchers, they need to think about all the arms they have in the system. Some of them will work out, some won’t. But chasing the increasingly smaller fish in an even smaller pond is a path to defeat.

More faith in a guy like Noesi during the season may have allowed him to be an alternative at the end of it. We will never know if 2011 would have turned out differently and as of right now the Yankees are still alive. But win or lose tonight, they should take a long look this offseason at what they have done in the past and vow to change it in the future. Just because they have the money to spend doesn’t mean they need to spend it.

Advantage Detroit

Things did not go well today. Max Scherzer handcuffed the Yankees and Freddy Garcia sandwiched a bad start and bad ending around a very good middle. Detroit now holds several big advantages.

First, they have homefield advantage now with two home games coming up.

Next, they have Verlander going tomorrow.

Finally, the Yankees face the possibility of a Game 4 must-win start being made by AJ Burnett.

If I am Joe Girardi, I put Brett Gardner at the top of the lineup tomorrow. He’s one of the most patient Yankees at the plate, the best guy at “creating” a run on the basepaths and he is 3-for-8 with 3 walks in his career against Verlander.

And while I don’t bat him 8th, I take a long, long look at A-Rod and his place in the lineup. He looks pretty bad at the plate and it is worth noting that he 13-for-76 since coming back from surgery. Perhaps he simply isn’t right, but this isn’t the time to let him play his way out of it. If he is hurt, sit him.

The solace the Yankees can take in today’s game is that they made the prime part of the Detroit bullpen work while keeping theirs well rested. That may prove to be a big advantage in the next two days.

Advantage Yankees

Other than Mariano’s brief, and I mean brief, appearance in Game 1 (part 2), everything went about as well as you could hope for it to go as a Yankees’ fan. Ivan Nova almost completed the game. The offense, or Robinson Cano, went bonkers and Mariano was the only significant bullpen arm used, and only for three pitches. That means the Yankees will have Soriano, Robertson and Mo ready to go later today and Monday if needed. Add in the fact that Max Scherzer is now starting at Yankee Stadium and not at home (Home ERA 3.80 vs. Road ERA of 5.23) while Justin Verlander will only add his work in Game 3 to the 1 inning he pitched Friday.

Cano’s performance is somewhat ironic to me because I can’t stop thinking about how the Yankees almost gave him away. If you recall, he was the guy the Yankees tried to get Arizona to take at the 2004 trade deadline for Randy Johnson. They only gave him a shot in 2005 because that team was awful out of the gate. He’s banged out over 1,200 hits since then and become the Yankees’ most dangerous hitter. If the Yankees hadn’t turned to Cano in May of 2005, where would he be now?

That’s a question I was thinking a lot about Friday as I watched Matt Moore dominate the Rangers in the second start of his big league career. Here was a 22-year old kid blanking the Rangers over seven innings of two-run ball. It made me wonder why the Yankees, even with the successes of guys like Cano, are so reluctant to turn to rookies? Tampa had to and they were rewarded. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I wonder if the Yankees had promoted Betances or Banuelos in August would they have had to worry about their playoff rotation?

That’s a gripe we can worry about later. For now, the Yankees are where we want them to be. One win down, ten more to go.

And Then The Heavy Stuff Came Down

We were one row away from a great seat at last night’s game. One row further back and we would have been completely covered from the rain. But, we weren’t and the rain came down and down and down. I don’t know if they showed it on TV, but at one point during the rain delay the tarp was actually in the outfield and the ground crew was working on the infield. And then it rained and rained and rained some more.

It was a disappointing end to an exciting night. The Yankees had Mo throw out the first pitch and honored Posada at the same time by having him catch that pitch. They made a big deal about all of Posada’s career and it gave the fans a chance to salute a player who won’t be in pinstripes next year.

The rain also throws the series into chaos. Ivan Nova is going to “relieve” CC Sabathia tonight when the game picks up in the second inning. Freddy Garcia is going to pitch tomorrow’s Game 2 and Sabathia will be back Monday for Game 3. Game 4, if needed, will probably be started by AJ Burnett. The Yankees and Tigers now have the potential to play four-straight days.

Obviously, Nova’s performance tonight is going to be huge. If he can pitch the majority of the remaining game, it will spare the bullpen. If he can’t the Yankees are going to have to hope Garcia picks up the slack because the alternative is a very tired bullpen.

We’ll see how it all plays out.