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Keefe To The City: Postseason Planning For The Yankees

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By Neil Keefe
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The last few days have been good knowing that the Yankees are going to the playoffs and that they will have home-field advantage throughout the American League playoffs. There’s also that whole historical collapse and wild-card race going on within the AL East too, but who’s paying any attention to that?

The end of the regular season means it’s time for the postseason, but it also means the end of baseball every single day and it means we are drawing closer to another season of my epic email discussions with Sweeny Murti (the Voice of Reason) being in the books.

It’s the last regular season series for the Yankees before they had back to the Bronx to host Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS on Friday, so I figured it was time to talk with Sweeny about the state of the Yankees and what to expect from them entering the postseason.

Keefe: It’s Sept. 27, the Yankees have clinched the AL East and home-field advantage in the playoffs and lead the Red Sox by eight games. Now you know why you haven’t heard from me in a while. But even when things are going as good as they are right now (and they are going great), there’s always a reason for concern, and that’s why with Game 1 set for Friday night, I turn to the Voice of Reason again for the first time in a long time.

CC Sabathia will take the mound on Yankee Stadium on Friday night. Ivan Nova will take it in Game 2 on Saturday night. _________ will take it on Monday night on the road in Game 3. Is it crazy that we are under 100 hours away from first pitch in the postseason and we don’t know who is going to start Game 3 for the Yankees? Is it even crazier that A.J. Burnett’s name is now being brought up again as a possible candidate for Game 3?

If A.J. Burnett wants to shag fly balls and sit in the dugout and be “part of the team” in the postseason, well I have no problem with that. If Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi and whoever else will attend the meeting later this week to decide on the rotation and 25-man roster think he should get a start, I have a big problem with that. Maybe they should invite me to the meeting. I will make copies of his Baseball-Reference game log page and hand them out. That should put an end to this discussion.

Even though I don’t want Burnett to start Game 3, I don’t have a good answer for who should. Whether it’s Burnett or Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia, the Yankees are going to be second-guessed if their Game 3 choice gets lit up.

I know Freddy Garcia has been the most consistent of the three, but when I envision a potential Yankees-Rangers series and Garcia trying to use his magic tricks on the Rangers lineup, it doesn’t end well when it plays out in my head. It was only a few months ago that many were calling CC No. 1 and Bartolo No. 1-A in the rotation. I know he hasn’t been good lately, but at the end of the day, I trust Bartolo Colon the most and would make him my Game 3 starter.

Murti: Nice to hear from you again, Neil. I was afraid maybe you thought you were too well for therapy and didn’t need any more sessions. I’m glad you realize how much you need this, even if it rarely seems to do any good.

My answer to your question: Freddy Garcia. And Freddy Garcia. He actually pitched pretty well against both Detroit and Texas this year. I would think he has as good a chance as anybody else right now. My problem is probably the same as the Yankees these days in that the answer to that question has changed so many times over the last several weeks.

In July, Phil Hughes got healthy and I thought he had real potential to regain his form from a year ago and step up. In August, I thought Bartolo Colon had enough gas in the tank to overcome his midseason hiccup but his stagger across the finish line has me re-thinking that. Burnett has actually pitched more good games this month than any of them, but I don’t think even you are willing to give him any credit for pitching well enough to beat the Red Sox twice in the month when they plummeted to earth.

So, while nobody has stepped up, what choice do the Yankees have? They have to pick from a group of non-separators. And truth be told — aside from a couple bad start, Freddy Garcia has been much more consistent than any of the other pitchers we are talking about.

No matter what, I think we can say the Yanks are extremely lucky that Ivan Nova had the season he did, because he has made himself a clear No. 2, which none of us were sure the Yankees had halfway through this season.

Keefe: The day before Opening Day when we did one of these exchanges, and I petitioned for Robinson Cano to bat third and Mark Teixeira to bat fifth. You took Teixeira’s side in the argument and after Teixeira ripped through the Tigers and Twins in the first week of the season, my argument seemed rather ridiculous. But not anymore!

Cano is the best hitter on the Yankees and has been for a while. Joe Girardi (a creature of habit more than anyone) is always hesitant to change things up whether it’s the lineup or set bullpen roles, but even he seems to be ready for a change for the postseason. Yes, the Yankees have wrapped up first place and went to the ALCS last year and won the World Series two years ago with Mark Teixeira as their No. 3 hitter, but he hasn’t been the same hitter this season as he was last year, and nowhere near where he was in 2009.

A couple of months ago at the Stadium I made a Teixeira to Jason Giambi comparison and you asked me to look up how long it took for Joe Torre to finally start to move Giambi down in the order, and you were right … it took a while. But now with teams putting Cano on base every time there is an open base with Nick Swisher as his protection, the best bat in the Yankees lineup isn’t getting the chance to hit. With Swisher being one of the worst postseason performers in history, things are only going to get worse starting on Friday.

It’s long overdue, but it looks like Robinson Cano is finally going to become the Yankees No.3 hitter. Are you on board?

Murti: Robinson Cano is the Yankees’ best hitter. Mark Teixeira’s batting average is now at Giambi-like levels. I was against a move for a long time because you can’t rush to mix up the lineup every time a guy has a bad week or two, which is what you seem to want to do. Now, as I have previously agreed this has not been a good year for Teixeira, at least from the average standpoint. His power numbers are still representative.

Now, while I wouldn’t oppose a lineup move at this point, but I will tell you why it won’t happen: Because Curtis Granderson bats second. Batting the switch-hitter third and the lefty fifth gives the lineup more balance, and managers love that. All managers. They hate making it easy for opposing teams to bring in lefties to attack your two best hitters back to back. And if Gardner is batting ninth, you’ve now stacked lefties in three out of four slots. Yes, Granderson and Cano have hit lefties well, better this year than righties actually (even after I looked it up I find it hard to believe). But I don’t think that’s a move that any manager would willingly make.

Tell you how I’d do it from 2-5: Granderson, A-Rod, Cano, Teixeira.

Keefe: Actually, I agree with you. A-Rod certainly needs the protection more at this point in his career than Cano does and with the 2-3-4 you proposed, you switch L-R-L-S and A-Rod has a better chance to see fastballs with Cano behind him. We agree. This is unprecedented.

OK, so we sort of know what is going to happen with the batting order, but here’s a better question: What happens with the DH spot?

Jesus Montero, Andruw Jones and Jorge Posada are all in the running to be the DH in the postseason. How does Girardi choose between Montero and Jones against lefties, or is it as easy as though he will let the veteran Jones be the DH against lefties? Is Jorge Posada automatically the DH against righties, or is Eric Chavez in the running to be the DH against righties? I guess Girardi wouldn’t want to use Montero as the DH if he is going to be the backup catcher, but I would think that they would carry Romine as well? The more and more I think about it, the more and more the final spots on the 25-man roster are harder to choose?

So who’s the DH and when? And how many catchers are going to be on the roster as of Friday?

Murti: Well, there certainly are enough options. I think matchups against the starting pitcher will help determine who gets the DH start (Montero or Jones vs. LHP, Chavez or Posada vs. RHP). Since Montero’s body of work isn’t that deep, my thought is he gets the first chance to DH vs. lefties unless Jones has great numbers against a guy.

I think both Posada and Montero are on the roster as backup emergency catchers, meaning they only play if Russell Martin is injured. Girardi already says he has no problem catching Martin every inning in the postseason. Meanwhile, I saw both Posada and Montero working in the outfield and bullpen area Monday afternoon with Tony Pena, both guys in full gear and Romine nowhere nearby. I think they are preparing Posada and Montero to keep them sharp, but don’t anticipate anyone except Martin catching in the postseason. It will help them open a roster spot, and even though Posada and Montero both as DH/emergency catcher hurts the roster flexibility, I think they have enough coverage with Chavez and Nunez in the infield and Jones and perhaps Dickerson in the outfield. That would give the Yankees 14 position players and 11 pitchers, although they might opt for the extra pitcher rather than Dickerson if they aren’t comfortable with the depth of the starting staff and the innings they can get.

Keefe: Boone Logan is going to pitch in important situations in October. There’s just no way around and I have come to accept it. Now what I can’t accept is the idea of the Yankees possibly carrying another lefty on the postseason roster. Another lefty would mean Aaron Laffey or Raul Valdes. I know there’s this awesome theory that teams love to have two lefties in the bullpen (even if one of the two, or both, can’t get lefties out). Please tell me this isn’t something Joe Girardi is seriously considering. I’m too young to have heart problems because Aaron Laffey (released by Seattle) and Raul Valdes (released by St. Louis) are getting the ball in October. Tell me Logan is the only lefty! (And no I can’t believe I just said that.)

Murti: I think a lot of your teetering-on-the-brink health issues will depend on the opponent. But, you are correct in thinking that none of these other lefthanded options is a no-brainer. Forget about who gets released by who because that has nothing to do with it. There are many different versions of that in baseball every year, and for different reasons. The Yankees let Ivan Nova get away as a Rule 5 pick and the Padres actually sent him back! These guys have to come from somewhere, right?

Blame all this on Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano since neither of them threw a pitch for the Yankees this year. Injuries happen. But when the Yankees top two lefty relief options get shelved for the whole season, it leaves you digging even deeper through a pool of talent that isn’t that deep to begin with.

Let’s try to make you feel better this way: Get through six innings and you won’t have to worry about lefty-lefty matchups. Soriano, Robertson and Rivera and head for the exits.

Keefe: The Yankees will go into the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the AL with their team rested thanks to the early clinch. I think I was more confident in the Yankees last year than I was going into the postseason in 2009. This year I’m very confident in the Yankees despite the playoff field being the deepest it has been in a long time and despite the Yankees rotation being shaky after Nova and their lack of a real 1-2 punch.

I know it’s ridiculous to be “worried” about the best team in the AL with the best run differential in a decade, but there is still that level of doubt with the crapshoot that the MLB playoffs present with the short series. The fact that the Yankees will be facing either the best pitcher on the planet twice in five games in Detroit, or arguably the best lineup in baseball with a solid group of lefthanded pitching in Texas has kept me up at night.

On a scale of 1-10, I would say I’m an 8 right now with the Yankees heading into the ALDS. How confident should I be and where do you see the 2011 Yankees second season going?

Murti: Your worrying might be a little high, but that’s good. Remember, this is the playoffs. The Yankees have done their part in the regular season, but everything gets ratcheted up (if I can use that cliché). C’mon, Neil … you get nervous with a four-run lead against Kansas City and two men on in the eighth inning in August! This is what you are all about. You should be worried in the playoffs, not because I think the Yankees will lose, but because IT’S THE PLAYOFFS! There’s so much riding on every pitch. Whether the Yankees got into the playoffs winning 90 games or 120 games or something in between, you should feel as if there is a chance to lose every day because there is. These other teams are pretty good too, and they got here for a reason.

Now, remember that the Yankees are a good team too, and they got here for a reason too. Their pitching might be a little more suspect than you would like, but let’s take this (to use another cliché) one game at a time. Let’s figure out who the opponent is first, then let’s figure out CC Sabathia’s mission in Game 1 and how some of these Yankee bats match up against the other team’s pitching. How much fun would this really be if we just started planning the parade now without any drama whatsoever?

The 2011 Yankees are a good team. Let’s leave it at that, and we’ll leave the rest for our next session. Don’t forget to make an appointment with my receptionist, and please make sure your insurance information is up to date.

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe

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