When in doubt, go with CC Sabathia.
The big lefty gave up three hits and struck out eight over 8.1 innings in Toronto on Tuesday night, a performance that was good enough to win the game 6-1 and, after a longer wait than just about anyone would have liked, send the Yankees to the playoffs.
The victory should make every Yankee fan breathe a little easier for the rest of the week and it even came with a resounding rebuke of those fans who have been worried about the Yankee issues with playing small ball. Six of the seven Yankees to reach third base scored on Tuesday and none of them made their way home as a result of a hit. Given the eternally unhappy nature of some Yankee fans, that probably means we'll hear bellyaching about their inability to hit for power but those who think there's a way to please everybody all of the time are going to wind up banging their heads against the wall.
Sabathia's outing was exactly why Joe Girardi changed gears and started him against Toronto rather than throwing him on Friday night in Fenway Park, a plan that would have kept the Yankee ace on regular rest for the first game of the divisional series against the Rangers or Twins. Will that move wind up biting Girardi in the rear?
As Mark Feinsand of the Daily News points out in a screed against Girardi's overmanaging, Sabathia has a career ERA of 4.02 when he starts with six or more days of rest and this Yankee team appears to be overly reliant on getting a sharp outing from CC in Game One. Feinsand's argument is that Girardi's move was panicky and showed a lack of confidence in his team, but it doesn't really read like that. It reads as a rebuke of the ineffectual way Girardi has managed for the last month and you're left wondering if the team wouldn't have been better off if Girardi pushed a little harder two weeks ago and closed this thing out before Game 158.
That leads right into the second big question facing the Yankees: Can they win the AL East? They will need finish at least a game ahead of the Rays because of the tiebreaker, something made more difficult by the fact that they will play the Jays once more and then travel to Boston with a team that has to rest some of their regular position players. Mark Teixeira, in particular, needs a few days of to rest his numerous aches and pains and Andy Pettitte has already been replaced by Javy Vazquez for Wednesday night's contest. The Rays clinched Tuesday night as well and will be resting players, but they'll be doing it against the Orioles and Royals.
It would be silly for the Yankees to push for the division now, especially since they refused to do it earlier in the season. You'd like to avoid playing the Twins without home field -- Minnesota is 52-25 at Target Field -- but if the Yanks can't win a game on the road they probably aren't winning the World Series regardless of their position in the playoff pecking order.
That brings us to our final question and brings us back to Sabathia. Was Tuesday night's win a good enough closing argument to win him the Cy Young? It's the most interesting awards contest in ages as Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, David Price and Jon Lester all have cases that make them plausible choices for the award. Sabathia sparkled on Tuesday, but so did Hernandez and Price.
Sabathia's 21-7 record and status as ace on a playoff team make him the strongest traditional choice, but Hernandez blows him away with a more sophisticated analysis. Hernandez has a 13-12 record (on a 61-win Mariners team), however, and that makes him an unlikely choice for certain segments of the voters. Price has a better ERA than Sabathia and more wins than Hernandez for a playoff team, making him a possible compromise candidate. Lester isn't on a playoff team, but may be the second-best choice sabermetrically and could also wind up winning support.
Sabathia's been great, but we're with King Felix. He threw his 30th quality start last night, the first guy to do that since 2002, and he's been the most valuable pitcher in baseball with the most innings. Arguing against him based on wins and losses goes fundamentally against the spirit of the award and any other argument is unsustainable.
Not an easy call, but the Yankee win on Tuesday gives everyone plenty of time to think about it.