Don't Blow A.J. Burnett's Start Out of Proportion

One game out of seven won't decide the series

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    One of the great qualities of Yankee fans is that they are able to look past all the winning and find one thing that's not up to snuff to focus their energies on at any given time.

    There were two overwhelming concerns about the Yankees as they entered the postseason. The first was their listless play in the final throes of the season and the other was the shape of the rotation behind CC Sabathia. Both concerns were put to rest awfull quickly thanks as the Yankees rolled off three straight wins and got great starts from Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte to advance. They looked for all the world like a classic Yankee team mixing comebacks, an impressive bullpen and relentless offense in the right combination to challenge for a title.

    It didn't take long for the good vibes generated by the impressive sweep of the Twins to dissipate before everyone moved on to concerns about A.J. Burnett. The elimination of the off day in the middle of the series that the Yankees used to avoid a fourth starter in the 2009 ALCS means that they'll need to use one this time around. Burnett is one of several less than optimal choices for the job and got the nod, with his contract and memories of his past success earning him the nod against the Rangers.

    From the reaction, you'd think the entire series hinged on Burnett's performance. That's pretty far from the truth. He's going to be starting one game out of a possible seven against the weakest member of the Texas rotaton, a role that even the most alarmist of Yankee fans would be hard pressed to call essential to the team's hopes and dreams.

    Even if Burnett is just as bad as he's been for most of the season, the Yankees will hardly be up a creek without a paddle. For an object reference of that fact, you need only look back to last year when one bad Burnett start didn't do anything to hurt them in either the ALCS or the World Series.

    Burnett finished the 2009 postseason with a 5.27 ERA, actually slightly higher than the one he turned in last season. He pitched well in three of his five starts, so you must realize he was completely awful in the other two of them to post such a big number. The net effect of those two bad starts -- the same number that he's looking at this year -- was that the Yankees still won the World Series. And, of course, those three other starts keep alive the hope that the Yankees might actually get something useful out of him in Game Four.

    That might not be likely, but it is a lot likelier than Burnett being the reason the Yankees lose this series. If the Yankees do lose the series, it will be because the other starters falter or because the Yankees can't find the timely hits they did against the Twins, not because their fourth starter pitched one bad game against a team that's beaten plenty of good starters this season.

    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. You can follow him on Twitter.