Is Andy Pettitte healthy enough to get the job done?
Can CC Sabathia carry the rotation all by himself?
You've heard these questions and several others about the Yankee pitching staff over the last month and there's been good reason for it. Their dismal September record was largely the result of poor starting pitching and the last two months haven't been particularly good as everyone who isn't an abnormally large lefty of gargantuan heft found it hard to string together consecutive strong appearances on the mound.
These are legitimate concerns, to be sure, but they've been a bit overblown. No one is worried about Sabathia and the biggest culprits for the second half slide will be nowhere near the mound during the Division Series. Hughes and Pettitte might not go out and thow seven shutout innings, but they're reasonably good bets to turn in something along the lines of three runs over six and that's hardly something to turn up your nose about. The Yankees bullpen has been much better since Kerry Wood arrived in the Bronx and has provided plenty of reasons for confidence in their ability to carry games from that point.
The issue that is getting far less publicity is the need of the Yankees to put up enough runs to make those starts stand up. Maybe this is just an attempt to be contrarian, but it feels like the Yankees ability to score runs, not to prevent them, is going to be the deciding factor in their series with the Twins. We realize that the fact that the Yankees led the world in runs scored makes this seems like a ridiculous thing to spend time worrying about, but it is coming from a very real place.
It's coming from watching the Yankees struggle all year long with pitchers who throw strikes and change speeds, two things the Twins do particularly well. It's coming from watching Mark Teixeira struggle with injuries down the stretch and struggle with changeups all year long. It's coming from watching Derek Jeter look lost at the plate all season long and not buying into the myth that he'll simply flip a switch because it is playoff time. And it's coming from watching an Alex Rodriguez with holes in his swing that didn't exist at this time last year.
That last one is particularly significant because time has served to significantly underplay just how crucial A-Rod's torrid postseason was to the 2009 title. The problems with the pitching staff led to a lot of mentions of how well the Yankees hit in last year's playoffs, but the team might not have wound up on top if not for the way Rodriguez picked up the slack left by struggling bats up and down the lineup. He's more vulnerable this season -- although his September proved he's still plenty capable -- and it's worrisome to see so many other vulnerabilities in the lineup at the same time.
Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes are getting the ink, but the other trio is going to be just as integral to whatever the Yankees do in the days and weeks to come.