Wednesday, October 6, 2010
By Tony Mangia
BURNETT LEAVES HOLE AGAINST TWINS
It seemed like a pretty simple decision for manager Joe Girardi. There was once a glimmer of hope that he could put together a legitimate four-man rotation for the playoffs. First Javier Vazquez took his fastball south for an early winter and then A.J. Burnett became the Yankees poster boy for futility. The Yankees have decided to go with a three-man rotation against the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS. The three starters, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes will pitch on shortened rest, rehabbed groins and inexperience. The Yankees got the foe they desired--their whipping boys the Twins--but now don't have the starting rotation they planned and paid dearly for. A.J. Burnett the $82 million pitcher, will be exiled to the bullpen. The fouled-up deal to acquire Cliff Lee in July is rearing it's ugly Texan head.
Burnett is coming off one of the poorest pitching seasons in Yankee history. After Girardi gave the right-hander every opportunity to redeem himself, Burnett failed. The manager's reluctance to bench the pitcher was a season-long melodrama. It wasn't until Burnett was rocked by the Boston Red Sox "B" team last week that Girardi finally came to his senses.
Amazingly, the pitcher didn't flip out when he was told about the move. He took it like a man. No punched doors or mysterious black eyes. "I understand, man," he said, " It would be different if I had a great second half. I took baby steps." No, the Yankees took baby steps down the stretch, Burnett barely crawled.
Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA--one of the worst records ever for a Yankee starter. The team was overly patient with the pitcher while he struggled--which was basically all year. Girardi, who pulls pitchers faster than Carmelo Anthony changes his mind, watched Burnett get shellacked in the early innings all season. Ten times he failed to reach the fifth inning and all along, Girardi continued to foster the belief that the tattooed-rightie still had a curve that could dip and a heater which could burn. Burnett seemed to be self-destructive. He allowed 36 stolen bases, hit 17 batters and had the second most wild-pitches (15) in the league.
Can Burnett help the team? He did go 2-0 against both the Twins and Texas Rangers this year. He did contribute in last years playoff run, even after that mediocre regular season but the Yankees are 13-19 in the games Burnett has started. Vazquez was 13-12 and is currently keeping a seat warm for Burnett in the Yankee bullpen. I don't know where Burnett fits in. He can't get the first out without giving up runs, so how is he going to handle middle relief? Maybe Girardi should just avoid Burnett altogether?
The Yankees will open with the big horse Sabathia. There was never any doubt about that. CC's innings pitched in 2010 can almost match the pounds on his scale. He will be facing Francisco Liriano. After that, its a crap shoot. The Twins have been monsters at their new open-air home--Target Field--even without the benefit of those huge air vents in the old, enclosed Metrodome blowing in while the visitors batted and mysteriously shutting off during the Twins' plate appearances. They have the league's best home record and are the real deal.
The Yankees have enjoyed beating up on the Twinkies for years. They have won the last three playoff series against them. The Twins may have visions of breaking in their new stadium with a world championship, just like the Yankees did last year. It is a tall order. If the Pinstripers win the World's Series, they will have to do it by winning all three series without home-field advantage. No Yankee team has ever done that.