September 30, 2011
ALDS G1: Yankees-Tigers Suspended
Clinching their respective playoff spots early gave the Yankees and the Tigers the luxury of lining up their rotations to create the Division Series’ best pitching matchup, a pair of aces in CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander, but Mother Nature pissed all over that on Friday night. The short version of the story is that Game One was suspended after an inning and a half of play in the Bronx with the score 1-1. Delmon Young homered off Sabathia with two outs in the top of the first inning, and the Yankees scratched out a run without the benefit of a hit against Verlander in the bottom half. Leadoff hitter Derek Jeter reached base on a strike three wild pitch, advanced to second via Curtis Granderson’s walk, took third on Robinson Cano’s groundout, and scored on Alex Rodriguez’s groundout. Tack on a Mark Teixeira walk, and the Yankees ran a shaky Verlander's pitch count up to 27 before the skies opened up. The 28-year-old righty had particular trouble locating his four-seam fastball, getting strikes on just nine of 17 pitches.
Thanks to a rule change adopted in January 2009, all postseason games suspended by bad weather will be played to their conclusions. The current plan is for Game One to resume Saturday at 8:37 PM Eastern, with the Game Two starters (Ivan Nova and Doug Fister) picking up where their Game One counterparts left off. Alas, Weather.com reports at least a 40 percent chance of rain every hour from 8 PM through midnight, which means that the two teams could face yet another postponement.
The big question is whether Major League Baseball should have even started the game. According to Joe Torre, who as MLB's Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations was on hand to monitor the situation, the initial forecast called for "light, intermittent showers. Nothing that was threatening, except until late tonight." Of course, had MLB played the game in the afternoon timeslot that the Rays-Rangers game occupied (one where the afternoon shadows were apparently an issue, judging by my Twitter feed), it would have proceeded without a hitch, but of course the league and TBS prioritized putting the big-market Yankees in the later slot to maximize the TV audience.
If the weather holds, the upshot is that instead of being a travel day, Sunday would feature Game Two at 3:07 PM, starring Freddy Garcia and Max Scherzer. According to Torre, the possibility of a day/night doubleheader has not been ruled out if push comes to shove (a later announcement in the press box contradicted that). Tigers manager Jim Leyland has already stated definitively that Verlander will start Game Three on Monday in Detroit. How long would he have waited through the delay to bring his ace back? "You'll never know," he laughed when asked during the post-suspension press conference.
As for Sabathia, Girardi was less willing to commit. He won't bring his ace back on Sunday: "I don't think that's the right thing to do. Just because when you're talking about a real heavy bullpen [session] — this is more than a bullpen. And it's not the right thing to do." As for Monday, "That's something we'll continue to discuss. That's why I said Saturday and Sunday I have. Monday I do not... I'm going to wait to see how [Sabathia] feels Saturday and Sunday. And then we'll go from there."
Assuming Sabathia goes for Game Three, that leaves the Yankees needing a Game Four starter, since their initial plan was to use the big man on three days' rest. Both Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett are on the Division Series roster, while Bartolo Colon is not. The Yankees have already decided that Hughes will pitch out of the bullpen this postseason, either as a long man or a bridge to his late-game relievers, which leaves Burnett as the last remaining option. The 34-year-old righty had an ugly season, putting up a 5.15 ERA thanks to an ugly 1.5 homers per nine. While he pitched to a 4.15 ERA in September, that's misleading; he yielded 1.9 homers per nine in his five starts (two quality starts, his first two in over two months), with a FIP of 4.75, right in line with his 4.81 mark for the season.
The Tigers don't exactly have the ghost of Hal Newhouser to call upon for Game Four, but they had already planned to use Rick Porcello as their fourth starter in this series. Porcello posted a 4.76 ERA and a 4.14 FIP; he was strafed for a .318 BABIP. He did put together a superficially encouraging September, with five straight quality starts and a 3.55 ERA; his .278 BABIP helped cover for a dip to 4.4 strikeouts per nine. The team does have one other starter on their active roster in Brad Penny, whose 5.30 ERA and 5.05 FIP (owing much to a measly 3.7 strikeouts per nine) offer even less encouragement. When tonight's game was merely delayed, the ugly possibility of it picking up with Burnett and Penny — two former 2003 Marlins — loomed large.
Last night, friend of BP (and partner in Pinstriped Bible crime) Cliff Corcoran and I chatted about the series, as he had previewed it for SI.com while I delivered here. The way the rotations lined up, we agreed that the number of games the series went would likely dictate who won; in a three- or five-game series, the edge was with Detroit, with the Yankees' best shot to do it in four behind Sabathia's early return on three days' rest. Now, with Burnett almost certain to start, this has to be considered a blow to the Yankees. There aren't many pinstriped partisans who can feel confident about a four-game series going their team's way anymore.