We're never really going to know exactly what went wrong with Joba Chamberlain's season. The instinct is to blame the Joba Rules, the innings limit put on the young Nebraskan to save his arm for future seasons. But Joba knew the rules going into the season, knew the three-inning starts were coming, knew this was the plan all along. He was supposed to prepare himself. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn't. It's also possible it was just an off year. Perhaps he's hurt. Who knows? Less than a week before the ALDS begins, it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that five miles an hour have vanished from his fastball, and he looks totally lost. Which is a problem.
Joba struggled mightily again last night, lasting only three and two-thirds innings in a 4–3 loss to the Royals. After his last game, a decent start against the Red Sox, all Joba needed last night was five or six innings, two, three runs given up, a casual quality start. It didn't happen. "It was not a good start," Joe Girardi said afterward. No one is quite sure what happens now.
It's important to remember that the Joba question isn't one that has to be resolved just yet. The Yankees are likely to take the ALDS "A" schedule against the Tigers, giving them two days off and eliminating the necessity of a fourth starter. Ideally speaking, the Yankees would have a quality fourth starter and take the ALDS "B" schedule, because by adding the extra day off, they allow excellent Tigers starters Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson to pitch twice. But they certainly can't count on Joba right now.
It's unclear whether Joba will even be on the ALDS roster; he could be added for the ALCS, were the Yankees to make it that far and were they to decide they'd want him to start over Chad Gaudin. Game four of the ALCS, the first time the Yankees would need that theoretical game-four starter — assuming the ALDS doesn't go five games, which is always possible — is October 20. If the Yankees are fortunate enough to make it that far, they have until then to figure out what the heck they're going to do.
The only thing that could make this worse for Joba would be midges.