Nick Swisher became the latest Yankee to earn a walk-off pie-in-the-face last night, and in doing so the Yankees kept a six-and-a-half-game lead over the Angels for the best record in the American League. Even if you factor in the Angels’ inevitable three-game sweep of the Yankees in Anaheim later this month, the Bombers are in good shape. But they’re not just playing for home field: They’re playing for the right to announce once and for all exactly how much they trust Joba Chamberlain.
Whoever finishes with the best record will get to decide which ALDS schedule they’d prefer; one includes a day off between games one and two, and the other doesn’t. This means that one scenario would require a three-man rotation, while the other would require four starters. And while the Yankees would likely take into account the starting staff of their first-round opponent, what they’ll really be deciding is whether Joba should start in the first round or be held back until the ALCS.
Our thinking, though, is that, sure, having CC Sabathia and either Andy Pettitte or A.J. Burnett start twice would probably give them a better chance to win the ALDS. But if we’ve learned anything from the Joba Rules 4.0, it’s that Chamberlain doesn’t respond well to extra days off. This isn’t about protecting Joba’s arm in the long-term, it’s (finally) about winning now. The whole point of all the pitch counts and the days off and the early departures is for him to be fully available in October.
But if he sits for the entire ALDS, or even if he’s used out of the bullpen on occasion, it’s hard to imagine he’d bounce back and be an effective starter in the second round. In a perfect world he would, but he hasn’t given any indication that he can. And the Yankees wouldn’t be overconfident taking the second round into consideration. Their goal is to win three rounds, not just one. Then again, there’s always this possibility: Joba might not regain his form at all — he hasn’t really pitched well since before the trade deadline, after all — in which case he can just sit in the bullpen and watch the great Chad Gaudin take the ball in any game four.