2010 American League Championship Series preview: Shuffle up and deal!
Thursday, October 14, 2010; 7:56 PM
If baseball's regular season was the Year of the Pitcher, the opening round of the playoffs was the Week of the Ace. Combined, the four Division Series produced the lowest aggregate ERA (2.63) since the playoffs were expanded to three rounds in 1995. The two League Championship Series figure to be just as pitching-rich, given the fact five of the last 14 Cy Young winners will be on hand (San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, a two-time winner; New York's CC Sabathia; Texas's Cliff Lee; and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay). Today we take a closer look at each ALCS team's rotation and closer, to see who is holding a hand full of aces, and who is merely bluffing. (Tomorrow: the National League.)
New York Yankees
(95-67, AL wild card, beat Minnesota in three games in ALDS)
Game 1 starter: LHP CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA). Sabathia is one of the game's most durable, most dependable starters, and no one has won more games than him (76) over the last four seasons. However, he has a history of being ordinary in the postseason - he failed to win either of his starts in the 2009 World Series, and he allowed nine base runners and three earned runs in a win over the Twins in the ALDS. Card: KING OF SPADES
Game 2 starter: RHP Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19). Hughes was a first-time all-star after going 11-2, 3.65 in the first half. He faded in the second half, raising concerns as to whether the 24-year-old was out of gas, but he re-emphasized his change-up down the stretch to great effect, and he dazzled the Twins over seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the ALDS. The Yankees are switching him to Game 2 primarily because he has pitched better on the road than at home this season. Card: JACK OF HEARTS
Game 3 starter: LHP Andy Pettitte (11-3, 3.28). Pettitte is the winningest postseason pitcher in history (19-9), and still has the stuff to be every bit as effective as he was 14 years ago. His return from a groin injury in September was uninspiring, raising concerns about how effective he could be in October, but a solid, seven-inning, five-hit, two-run outing against the Twins in the ALDS quieted those concerns. Card: QUEEN OF CLUBS
Game 4 starter: RHP A.J. Burnett (10-15, 5.26). Burnett's maddening mix of superb stuff and inconsistent results reached the boiling point this fall, when the Yankees dropped him from their Division Series rotation. The fact he gets the ball in the ALCS is less a show a faith than an admission that the Yankees have no other viable option. He can be great at times (see Game 2 of the 2009 World Series), but can also be horrid (see Game 5 of the same series). You just never know which guy will show up. Card: JOKER
Closer: RHP Mariano Rivera (1.80 ERA, 33 saves). The incomparable Rivera is not only the greatest closer of all-time but arguably the single greatest postseason weapon in history. In 91 career postseason appearances, he has a 0.72 ERA, and his last blown save in the playoffs was in 2004 - 23 appearances ago. The Yankees will use him for more than three outs if needed. Card: ACE OF CLUBS
Ace up their sleeve: RHP Kerry Wood. He has been brilliant (0.69 ERA) since joining the Yankees via an August trade, taking over the role of Rivera's primary eighth-inning man.
(90-72, AL West champions, beat Tampa Bay in five games in ALDS)
Game 1 starter: LHP C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35). His conversion from closer to starter has been hugely successful, as he emerged this season as one of the AL's top lefties. He isn't Cliff Lee (who is?), but he's a credible Game 1 starter. The Yankees pounded him this season (0-1, 5.65 in three starts), but the 61/3 shutout innings he threw at Tampa Bay in a Game 2 win were no fluke. Card: QUEEN OF CLUBS