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It’s that time again, boys and girls.
October baseball is on the horizon. The teams chasing playoff spots make their final playoff push for the chance to play for the World Series trophy. Other teams that lead their respective divisions/wild card look to maintain their edge and move into October with momentum. With a 4.5 game lead in the A.L. East, the Yankees are grouped with the latter. Much like in spring training, they have some serious decisions to make in regards to who will be on the playoff roster come September 30th — and as in many postseasons past there are a plethora of option for Joe Girardi to consider. Who cracks the four-man rotation? Where will the DH at-bats come from? How does the bullpen fill out? If I’m Girardi, here’s how I answer those questions and more:
SS Derek Jeter, CF Curtis Granderson, 1B Mark Teixeira, 3B Alex Rodriguez, 2B Robinson Cano, RF Nick Swisher, DH Eric Chavez, C Russell Martin, LF Brett Gardner
The lineup is by far the easiest part of the roster to fill out. Barring any last-minute injuries, we should see the lineup that has been put out there for a majority of the season. The only matter to figure out would be at designated hitter. Even though Jorge Posada has had a better second half (plus the postseason experience) and catching phenom Jesus Montero has shown that he can hit major-league pitching, Chavez still has the better numbers to warrant the first crack at DH. But best believe you’ll see Posada and Montero get a good amount of ABs there.
C/DH Jesus Montero, IF Eduardo Nunez, OF Andruw Jones, OF Chris Dickerson, DH/1B Jorge Posada
With Fransisco Cervelli on the DL with concussion symptoms, expect to see Montero as the primary backup and Posada as the emergency catcher. Austin Romine is also in play here since he is better defensively than the two, but it would be difficult to foresee Girardi choosing the 22-year-old backstop over the prized prospect and veteran leader. We’ve seen plenty of what Jones and Nunez bring to the table, and Dickerson makes the team over Greg Golson and Ramiro Pena as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement all around the outfield. Once again, we’ll be seeing a versatile bench in Ocotber as the Yankees pursue World Series title #28.
CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia
While the four mentioned above have the best chance of being in the rotation, only Sabathia and Nova are absolute 100% locks. Garcia and Colon have hit the proverbial wall after exceeding expectations this season, but both have playoff experience and can use that to their advantage in their respective starts. The wild cards in this situation are Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett. Both men have struggled throughout the season but have bounced back with solid Septembers, but it will likely not be enough to surpass the overall effective seasons that Colon and Garcia are having. And there may not be enough room in the bullpen for both starters (more on this below).
Another matter to consider here is the usage of a six-man rotation this late into the season. Thanks to a large amount of inclement weather, the Yankees are in the midst of playing 37 games in 37 days from August 23rd-September 28th to end the year. This includes two double-headers (August 28th and September 21st), two additional make-up games (September 19th and 22th) and only one off-day (yesterday’s travel day). So while the Yankees seemingly have no choice but to go with six starting pitchers the rest of the way, it is greatly affecting the construction of the playoff rotation. The way everything is set up now CC would not be in line to start Game 1 of the ALDS on the 30th, as Mike from River Ave. Blues points out. It will take some creativity from Girardi and Larry Rothschild to get the ace on turn for the playoffs. (Mike’s idea to have him throw a simulated game yesterday went out with the window when Girardi tabbed him as tonight’s starter.) Whether it means starting on three days’ rest this coming Tuesday vs. the Rays or skipping his last start altogether, something needs to be done to avoid having Sabathia start Game 1 of the playoffs on two days’ rest. That’s just absurd.
Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan, Phil Hughes, Cory Wade, Hector Noesi
Rivera, Robertson, Soriano, Logan and Wade will maintain their respective roles in October. It’s the last two slots that are in question. As I stated before, there will most likely not be enough room for both Hughes and Burnett in the bullpen. I would give it to Hughes because of his experience as a middle reliever in the 2009 playoffs and just having the better year over A.J. The other spot up for grabs will go to either Noesi or Luis Ayala, and it depends on how Hughes is utilized. I see Hughes being used in middle relief, thus giving the final spot to Noesi. But Ayala’s season cannot be easily ignored, and adding him to the roster would push Hughes to the long relief role. Either way, I see the bullpen being a strength yet again in October.
Although the faces have changed over the years, one thing remains clear: the Yankees have countless possibilities when it comes to constructing their postseason roster. Each player brings something different to the table and can give Joe Girardi options to play around with during the games, as we all know how much he likes to toy with those options. It should make for a fun playoff round as we watch the Yankees vie for their 28th World Series championship.