How Many Starters Does It Take to Win a World Series?

Sabathia's the only sure thing

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images

    When perusing previews of the World Series, you're likely to see references made to the Yankees' superior depth on the pitching mound. That's true enough on paper, but it doesn't make figuring out the team's starting rotation any easier to figure out.

    The Yankees know that CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte will be starting the first three games of the Series, but there are myriad options about how things will play out after that. Sabathia should start games 4 and 7 on short rest. He's proven that less rest doesn't equal lesser results in the past and, more importantly, he's the best pitcher in pinstripes. Losing with less than your best players on the field is worse than forcing the Phillies to beat your ace.  

    Joe Girardi might disagree. Chad Gaudin could start the fourth game and leave everybody on full rest. Burnett and Pettitte could take second starts on short rest or Gaudin could slot in behind Sabathia, giving a second start to only one guy or the other.

    Unlike Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte aren't used to that kind of workload. That doesn't mean they couldn't handle it, and the fact that it would be their last start of the season makes it more appealing. A bigger question is if the bullpen could handle the expanded workload that might result if the Yankees get shorter starts than usual because of the starters being stretched out. Throwing Gaudin in a potential Game 5 would mean that Burnett could go on regular rest (actually one extra day) but would skip Pettitte or still have him throwing on short rest. Gaudin isn't an ideal option, but with all bullpen hands on deck he wouldn't be any worse than potential Phillies fourth starters Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ.

    And, if all that isn't enough for you to think about, there's the specter of Mother Nature and the baseball gods. Rainouts could cause changes in the schedule, delays and other nastiness that make the best-laid plans of baseball men go wildly off course. The Yankees might actually welcome one if it comes at the right moment -- pushing back Game 3 or 4, let's say -- but it seems likely that the elements will rear their head at some point in the next 10 days. And a long extra inning game that forces Gaudin to pitch four innings would make this whole point moot as well.

    Spend a couple of minutes thinking about those scenarios and it's not hard to generate some sympathy for Joe Girardi. He'll be crushed if he starts Burnett on short rest and he loses or if he starts him on regular rest and the Yankees lose without getting Pettitte a second start. It doesn't much matter that there's plenty of justification for any of the routes.

    The guess here is that the Yankees will prepare as if they're only using three starters. Going with your best players as often as you can is the best strategy for winning, even if they have to play under less than ideal conditions.

    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.