Joe Girardi has been pestered with questions for the last week about whether Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes is going to be the fifth member of the rotation for the rest of the season.
After Wednesday night, he might not have to come up with an answer to that question. He could just leave both of them right where they are, drop A.J. Burnett from the mix and raise not a single eyebrow.
Staked to a 13-1 lead in Chicago, Burnett couldn't get out of the fifth inning before allowing seven runs and a season-high 13 hits. It was the worst start as Burnett has had this season and a contender for worst of his Yankees tenure, which is really saying something given how often we've seen Bad A.J. over the last three years.
He left the game by slamming the ball into Girardi's hand, forcing people to ask whether he was actually peeved at the manager for deciding to try and find another pitcher with the ability to protect a massive lead. Burnett squashed such ideas after the game by saying he was upset at himself for dropping to 0-8 with a 7.28 ERA in 12 August starts since coming to New York.
Cory Wade got the Yankees out of the inning and the offense remained lively as they piled on more runs on the way to an 18-7 victory that should cause everyone to marvel at the depth and power they have on offense. Curtis Granderson drove in five, Derek Jeter had another five-hit game and Eric Chavez hit a prodigious homer to right, yet none of it resonates nearly as much as Burnett's dog of a start.
We have seen Yankee teams like this many times before. Teams that roll through the regular season on the back of a mighty lineup only to find themselves doused with cold water in the postseason because their pitchers can't get enough outs.
It isn't just the obvious years of 2005-2007 that fit the bill. Remember Game Seven of the 2004 ALCS or the pitching breakdowns against Texas last year and you'll see just how little scoring massive amounts of runs winds up mattering if you can't get high quality outings from the guys on the mound.
Burnett is being paid like a guy who provides those kinds of outings, but there have been precious few of them in evidence during his Yankee career. Even by the modest standards of baseball's quality start statistic (at least six innings pitched with no more than three earned runs), Burnett has been subpar as less than half his starts as a Yankee qualify.
And yet there's never any of the hand-wringing that accompanies Hughes, Nova, Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia. Burnett has been worse than all but Hughes this season, yet he is in the rotation today and he'll be in the rotation tomorrow because of the fact that he's being paid like a pitcher he has never really been.
If you were going to guess about a story overshadowing an offensive night like the one the Yankees put together on Wednesday, you would have gone with A-Rod's poker playing. Instead Burnett folded once again, leaving you to wonder how the Yankees can possibly go all in when Burnett is one of the cards in their hand.