At various points this season A.J. Burnett's struggles have been blamed on his relationship with Jorge Posada. It made for a juicy story, but was hard to take it all that seriously because the two would often team up during strong starts as well. After Burnett's late August meltdown at Fenway Park, however, the rumored problem became back page news all over town.
On August 27th, Burnett threw to Jose Molina and struck out 12 over six innings. He allowed three runs and lost the game, but it was one of his better starts of the second half. On September 1st, however, Posada was back behind the plate as Burnett got tagged for six runs and 11 hits in five-plus innings at Camden Yards. Burnett's last five starts in September have been with Molina behind the plate and four of them have been exactly what you'd like to see from Burnett in Game Three of the ALDS.
They've been full of strikeouts and low on hits, a trend that continued in last night's three hit, eight strikeout performance. Just as significantly, he hasn't shown any issue throwing on the road. Burnett didn't pitch well away from the Bronx for much of the season, but since he took up with Molina he's pitched well in both Anaheim and Seattle. That makes for a giant sigh of relief since Burnett's going to be on the road in the first round and it could be pivotal 1-1 game when he takes the mound.
You don't want to confuse correlation for causation after such a small sample size, but Joe Girardi is almost certainly going to be writing Molina's name on the lineup card for Burnett's start. If it ain't broke, don't go breaking it is a pretty good philosophy at this point in the season. That decision does have an impact on the team beyond who catches Burnett.
Posada's bat would have to be on the bench until a pinch-hitting opportunity arises, unless Girardi writes him in as a designated hitter. He could do that by keeping Francisco Cervelli on the roster for the ALDS without losing much roster flexibility. It might be an issue beyond that point, but with only 10 pitchers needed for the opening series it will be fine.
If history has taught us anything, though, it is that Posada's bat will be less important to the Yankees in the playoffs than Burnett's arm. If that's sound, the Yankees chances of advancing improve greatly with or without Posada's bat. It appears to be, which is worth a giant sigh of relief.