The first game of the ALDS between the Yankees and Tigers was supposed to be a battle of aces, but Mother Nature took center stage instead. With only 1 1/2 innings completed, the skies opened up and washed away the much anticipated showdown between CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander, leaving the two Cy Young candidates on the sidelines and their teams scrambling to rebuild the rotation around them.
Following the initial disappointment, most of the focus has been on which team, if any, will benefit from the postponement. Because the suspension all but ensures the Yankees will have to enlist A.J. Burnett in one of the five games, the obvious advantage seems to lie with the Tigers. However, Detroit’s best hope was believed to be Justin Verlander, who will now only pitch in one game if Jim Leyland’s plan to bring him back on Monday holds true. What’s more, because the game was suspended, not canceled, the Tigers are locked into a right-handed lineup against Ivan Nova. As a result, Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge (wOBA of .262 and .203) will be facing a right hander, instead of Brennan Boesch and Wilson Betemit (wOBA of .352 and .396).
There really isn’t much point to focusing on which team “won the rain out”. As both managers stressed after the game, nothing can be done about the weather. The Yankees, who experienced 23 rain delays during the regular season, learned that the hard way in 2011. So, instead of worrying about who has the advantage, both teams would be better served planning for the rest of the series, provided the weather permits it to be played.
Joe Girardi’s first decision was an easy one. Ivan Nova will simply take the ball on his scheduled day, even though he’ll actually be credited with a relief appearance. For all practical purposes, however, the young right hander will become only the third Yankees’ rookie to start the first game of post season series. Will this distinction introduce added pressure to the equation? That doesn’t seem likely considering Nova’s demeanor, but if he does get a little weak in the knees, at least he’ll have the luxury of a two inning head start. If the Yankees can take a lead, Girardi might only need five innings from the rookie before turning to his now very well rested bullpen.
Youngest Yankees’ Pitchers to Start a Post Season Opener
|Waite Hoyt||24.031||1923||WS||NYG||L 4-5||2 1/3||4||32|
|Jim Beattie||24.091||1978||ALCS||KCR||W 7-1||5 1/3||1||58|
|Andy Pettitte||24.116||1996||ALCS||BAL||W 5-4||7||4||47|
|Andy Pettitte||24.127||1996||WS||ATL||L 1-12||2 1/3||7||17|
|Doyle Alexander||26.042||1976||WS||CIN||L 1-5||6||5||33|
|Chien-Ming Wang||26.186||2006||ALDS||DET||W 8-4||6 2/3||3||49|
|Don Gullett||26.272||1977||ALCS||KCR||L 2-7||2||4||30|
|Don Gullett||26.278||1977||WS||LAD||W 4-3||8 1/3||3||61|
|Whitey Ford||26.342||1955||WS||BRO||W 6-5||8||3||46|
|Spec Shea||26.363||1947||WS||BRO||W 5-3||5||1||60|
Note: Underline indicates rookie.
The big question for Girardi is whom to pitch on Sunday. In his post-rainout interview, Sabathia stated he would lobby for the game 2 start (possibly making him the only pitcher to ever start the first two games of a postseason series). If Girardi acquiesces, the Yankees’ ace would also be in line to pitch a potential fifth game on three days rest. Of course, his recent schedule (nine days rest before Friday, one day of rest before Sunday, and three days rest before Thursday) could take its toll on Sabathia’s effectiveness, so Girardi’s most important decision will be how to best utilize his ace.
Regardless of when Sabathia pitches, the Yankees now need a fourth starter, which will undoubtedly be AJ Burnett. If Sabathia can’t return until game 3, there really isn’t much of a decision to make. Freddy Garcia would start in the second game, while Burnett and Nova would round out the final two contests, if necessary. However, if the big lefty can make it back on Sunday, Girardi has an interesting dilemma. With Verlander penciled in as the Tigers’ game three starter, the Yankees’ manager will have the option of matching up with Garcia, or essentially throwing Burnett to the wolf and hoping for the best. The outcome of the first two games will likely play a role in the eventual decision.
The Yankees worst case scenario would be facing Verlander down 0-2 with Garcia on the mound, and then having to rely on Burnett to get the series back to the Bronx. In that sense, the rainout has shifted the early burden to the Yankees. At the same time, however, it has also enhanced their chance of taking a commanding series lead. Meanwhile, the Tigers have been forced to rely on less accomplished pitchers at Yankee Stadium, but now hold a potential hammer if they can win a game or two in New York. In other words, Mother Nature really hasn’t taken any sides, although it might be human nature to think otherwise.
When the ALDS concludes, the rain will undoubtedly be cited as an excuse for the losing team. And, to some degree, that might be true. However, the road to World Series victory doesn’t always follow a straight and narrow path. As the Prussian King Frederick the Great once said, “a crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in”, so if the Yankees and Tigers hope to be wearing one at the end of the season, they’d better not let weather stand in their way.