The Yankees didn’t clinch a postseason berth last night, but that’s not really the problem. A.J. Burnett, once again, was the problem. His line last night was ugly even by his own standards: seven runs on seven hits in two-and-a-third innings. Last year, Burnett entered the playoffs as the undisputed No. 2 man in the rotation. This year, his spot is barely guaranteed.
Joe Girardi won’t discuss his postseason rotation plans until they’ve clinched a spot, but Tyler Kepner points out that if the Yankees wanted, they could use a three-man rotation in the ALDS, and only CC Sabathia, who’d pitch in Games 1 and 4, would have to pitch on short rest. That’s only a short-term solution, of course — the Yankees would need four starters in the ALCS and World Series — and it’s probably a long shot, or perhaps a move they’d only make if they fall behind two games to one, but here we are a week before the playoffs begin, and it doesn’t seem so ridiculous.
Burnett’s not an unproven youngster: He can be good — great, even — but when he’s not, the result is too often a game like last night’s, in which he left with the score so lopsided that homers by Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira drove in five runs but still only brought the Yankees to within two. (Though he may never match his historically bad June, he’s posted a 7.22 ERA since August 1.) That’s a big risk to take in the postseason, but they have little choice. And while Girardi’s not tipping his hand, Burnett says he expects to start in October.
Oh, and just to complicate things further, Jorge Posada is upset that he didn’t get a chance to catch Burnett last night, in advance of potentially catching him in the playoffs. (Girardi had intended to start Posada, but changed his mind because of Sunday’s extra-innings game.) Perhaps Girardi’s planning on using Francisco Cervelli in the playoffs when Burnett starts, but otherwise, you can see where Posada’s coming from, trying to get both himself and Burnett as comfortable as possible by next week. Burnett, especially, needs all the help he can get.