A.J. Burnett and the Yankees ALDS Choices

Burnett's struggles make for a difficult choice

By Josh Alper
|  Monday, Sep 14, 2009  |  Updated 1:15 PM EDT
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A.J. Burnett and the Yankees ALDS Choices

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Assuming the Yankees don't fall apart over the next three weeks, they're going to finish with the best record in the American League this season. That means they're going to have a choice about whether to play their divisional series over seven or eight days, a decision that seems natural until you take a look at the way A.J. Burnett has pitched in the second half.

The eight-day option seems natural because it comes with two off days and a way to avoid starting Joba Chamberlain, but it would also potentially mean giving Burnett two starts in five games. That prospect doesn't fill the heart with much more comfort these days.

Burnett is 3-5 with a 5.11 ERA since the All-Star game. He hasn't pitched as poorly as the numbers might indicate, but that ERA is the third-highest of any pitcher with 40 or more innings since the break. He's fallen into a rut of one or two bad innings per start that doom him and the team to losses. That's awfully reminiscent of the kind of starting pitching that sank the Yankees in each of their last three playoff appearances, and the thought of trusting a win-or-die Game Five to someone that inconsistent is a disturbing one.

That's not what the Yankees expected for the investment in Burnett, but that's almost beside the point at this juncture. The question is whether they trust him enough to make decisions based on him pitching well in October or if they cover themselves by spreading out the responsibility.

The Yankees don't have to pick the condensed series including Chamberlain. They could stack CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte in the first two games, an idea that has merit outside of Burnett because of the way lefty power hitters take advantage of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium. The dual drawbacks are that they aren't likely to face a team with a surplus of lefty power and that Pettitte, as well as he's pitched, is still a 37-year-old who faded badly down the stretch in 2008.

Any way you slice it, then, the Yankees don't have a tremendous amount of wiggle room with their starting pitching.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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