Phil Hughes will have a lot on his plate if he's the third man. (Image: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE)

A look at the Yankees' postseason rotation (we hope)

This may be more of an educated guess than anything, but bear with me. The New York Yankees have some pretty big concerns overall heading into the last month of the season and beyond. Will Mark Teixeira and Andy Pettitte be back and 100%? Can the team fully rely only on CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda going into the crucial month of September? Will the bullpen hold up? Will Alex Rodriguez make an impact after his fractured hand? All of these are legitimate concerns that the public has brought up lately and you know as well as I do that the Yankees’ front office is just as anxious to see what can happen. The offense may be fine heading into October with Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and now Robinson Cano who finally broke out of his slump, leading the team lately. On the flip side, the starting pitching remains to be one of the biggest questions. With Pettitte’s return still not a sure thing, who will the Yankees call upon to pitch in critical games?

CC Sabathia may play a key role if Andy Pettitte's injury continues to linger. (Image: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE)

Starter one: CC Sabathia

This one is pretty much a no-brainer. Sabathia’s playoff experience with the Yankees is the most out of any current starter aside from Pettitte. He wasn’t as sharp in 2010 and 2011 as he was in 2009 when the Yankees won it all, but hey, 2012 is a new year. Last year, Sabathia pitched a total of 9.1 innings against the Detroit Tigers in three different games. In those innings, he gave up six runs and eight walks. If the regular season is any indication of how Sabathia may do in October this season, then it may be a bumpy ride. With the injuries he’s faced, he ended up on the disabled list twice and is now well below his stats from the previous five years. His 3.40 ERA isn’t all too concerning, but yet again, it’s not something I’m exactly content with when he can potentially face some dangerous line-ups. I think going forward though, despite the down trend for Sabathia in 2012; he’s still the overall number one pitcher on this staff and has proven it for the past three years. I don’t see how you could pick anyone else for this role but the big man himself.

Starter two: Hiroki Kuroda

In what may easily be his best year in the MLB, Kuroda has stepped up as a dominant force in this rotation. He’s continued to shut down line-up after line-up and being on a team that provides run support, it may have been just what he needed. Kuroda’s efforts out on the mound this season have been amazing, but when it comes to the postseason, he hasn’t had much experience. He did pitch in three different games, winning two of them in 2008, but got rocked in 2009 when the Philadelphia Phillies lit him up for six runs. Based on Kuroda’s 2012 season, he looks sharp as he always has in the MLB and the fact that he’s been able to keep a hovering ERA around or lower than 3.00 for the season in the AL East of all divisions, is impressive to say the least. Kuroda has 12 wins on the year, but based on some of his efforts, he should have about 17 or 18 since he’s been in scenarios where he gave up two runs or less and either got the loss or no decision. If anything were to happen to Sabathia, I think instantly Kuroda becomes the number one, but for now, I’m thrilled with putting him as the two. He hasn’t had quite as much experience in MLB overall like Sabathia has, but in the little time Kuroda has had, he’s proved to be a quality Japanese starter.

Starter three:  Freddy Garcia / Andy Pettitte

With Pettitte’s uncertainty, this role goes to Garcia. If Pettitte is back however, you have to give this spot to the 19 postseason game-winner and move Garcia to the fourth spot. It may sound like a slam to put him third in the rotation, but battling this ankle injury and age only hampers Andy. Regardless, he didn’t do too badly in his return to the big leagues this season, but with that fracture, he may be done for good. Pettitte had hoped to be back in mid-September, but even that looks like it may not happen. We as Yankees’ fans know how lucky we were to have Pettitte in the playoffs and his dominating performances were just an added bonus to his amazing season play.

Garcia on the other hand has done well in place of Pettitte. I admit, originally I was one of the people moaning and groaning every time I saw his name among the probable starters, but I’ve since learned to keep quiet. Garcia had a horrible April, but has reinvented himself into a solid starter, and occasional reliever, since then. Garcia really hasn’t had a bad outing this year aside from five runs he gave up against the White Sox in which he got a no-decision. His playoff experience is deep and actually pretty successful. He holds a 3.28 ERA in the postseason with a 6-3 record. Now granted, most of that work was done in 2005 or earlier, but 2012’s Garcia looks just like last year’s Garcia. I have no concerns about Freddy since this third spot may eventually become his in October if Andy is done for good.

Starter four: Garcia / Phil Hughes / Ivan Nova

This role may ultimately be between Nova and Hughes if Pettitte is unable to return. If he does return however, then Garcia probably gets this role. For this spot though, it’s such a toss-up. On one side, you have Nova, who before he came up, was noted as one of the better Yankee prospects. Since his debut in 2010, Nova has successfully played the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 2012 only enforces the fact that Nova’s struggles may be more apparent than his successes. Not to mention that Nova has only had one postseason start. I hate to sound all negative about him because I know Nova is a good pitcher. He’s had some incredibly good outings, but not too many to overshadow the bad ones. Nova is currently fighting a shoulder injury, but hopes to be back before the season’s end.

For Hughes however, the Yankees have literally used him in every which way possible before deciding his position as a starter. Hughes’ season, while not amazing, has been pretty decent and more or less what we expected of out him. He threw a complete game this season and overall is somewhat looking stronger than years past. That said, Hughes has run into a problem with letting runners on as he’s allowed 159 hits in 156.2 innings whereas in 2010 he allowed 162 hits in 176.1 innings. Hughes’ playoff experience hasn’t been all that successful since 2007, but I think now that he has hopefully learned from those mistakes, he’ll be able to alleviate some of that pressure.

That’s it for my predictions. I wouldn’t exactly set these in stone, but at the same time, I’m not sure what else you can do different. Without knowing for certain if Pettitte can return, the rotation may very well be centered around Sabathia, Kuroda, Garcia and Hughes. I’d be fine with that because if any pitcher gets into trouble early on, you have Derek Lowe and David Phelps to fall back on, maybe Nova if he can figure his problems out. Now, will this be a rotation to get the Yankees their 28th World Series championship? That remains to be seen.

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