There's One Big Unknown for the Yankees

Joe Girardi makes his playoff managing debut on Wednesday night

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    The Yankees finally know who they're going to face when the playoffs get underway on Wednesday night, and there's plenty to like about the answer. The Twins are rolling into New York with a rookie on the mound, no Justin Morneau in the lineup and seven losses in seven tries against the Yankees this season. While no one with any memory of the recent past could possibly view a series victory as a given, there isn't much on the tale of the tape that doesn't favor the Yankees.

    That doesn't mean there aren't area with question marks, however. The biggest one is in the dugout where Joe Girardi will be managing his first playoff game. While his players say there hasn't been a big change in Girardi from 2008 to 2009, things have seemed to run more smoothly for the manager this season. Having a better and healthier team certainly helps, but, from the outside, there also seems to be less of the rigidity that marked the first year of his tenure.

    That's a good thing entering the playoffs, when games and series can take sudden turns into places that you didn't contemplate before they got underway. And while you can't plan for those sudden turns, you can't allow yourself to completely forget about the possibility that they'll be coming down the pike either. Based on the regular season, that might cause some problems for Girardi.

    Girardi comes from the Tony La Russa school of bullpen management which believes that there's no three outs in a late inning better than three outs picked up by three different pitchers who alternate which hand they throw with. Numerous times this season he's used Phil Coke for a batter or two in some kind of combination with righty relievers. That made sense early in the season when no bullpen button seemed to lead to the desired results, but it's the kind of thing that can leave you awfully shorthanded in the 10th inning of a tie game in the playoffs.

    Alfredo Aceves can only do long man duty so often in a short series, and you can't ever lose sight of the fact that you may need him to replace a struggling starter down the road. There are going to be times when Girardi has to trust the pitcher he's got in the game and leave some bullets in his gun for the next rough patch. At the same time, he can't do what Joe Torre did in the 2003 World Series and lose a game with his best pitcher never getting into the game because you don't use Mariano Rivera in a tie game on the road. 

    In other words, Girardi is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Or, put another way, the regular season don't mean a thing if you don't win the ring.

    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.