Monday, August 22, 2011

Garcia and Colon to Vie for #4 Spot in Yankees' Playoff Rotation?

Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon have already battled for a job once this year—in spring training, when Garcia beat out Colon for the #5 spot in the Yankees' rotation—and they may very well be on their way to competing for a role once again.

It's probably a little too early to be speculating about the makeup of the Yankees' postseason rotation, but it's still a fun exercise, so I'm not going to shy away from it.

At the start of the year, it was expected that A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes would be the stalwarts of the rotation behind staff ace C.C. Sabathia. But, an early season injury to Hughes and Burnett's inability to rebound from last year's disaster, combined with surprisingly effective performances from Garcia, Colon and rookie Ivan Nova have left that notion in doubt.

It has been apparent for quite some time that the Yankees' playoff rotation would come down to Sabathia and the best three of the remaining five guys. In recent weeks, just who those top three are has started to come into perspective for me.

Following Burnett's horrible outing on Saturday night, he has now given up 21 earned runs on 35 hits in 17 2/3 August innings—for a 10.70 ERA—while allowing a .432 batting average against. Although his first-half performance was solid if not spectacular, his second half has proven that he's not someone who can be relied on. Given the fact the Yankees have options, something they didn't have heading into previous Octobers, I have to believe he's pitched his way out of the team's postseason plans.

While Garcia and Colon were the hot hands early in the season, of late the performances of Nova and Hughes have been promising. Nova has made five starts since returning from AAA in late July, and has won them all. The 5-0 record does overstate a little how well he's pitched, but he's posted a 3.55 ERA, a 23-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and has allowed a respectable 31 hits and three home runs in 33 IP.

Over the same time frame, Hughes has started four games and made one relief appearance, allowing six earned runs—for a 2.08 ERA—on 20 hits and six walks in 26 IP. He's only struck out 15, which is a bit of a concern, but it's otherwise hard to argue with the results. He appears to be well on his way to righting a season that looked to be way off-track early on.

Until recently, it seemed Colon would be a lock to secure a postseason rotation spot, as long as his body held up over the course of a long season. I even went so far as to proclaim him the Yankees' #2 starter before an injury derailed him in June. While his overall stats are good, he's been more of a mixed bag since returning from said injury, including 18 hits, five walks, four home runs allowed, and a 5.17 ERA in 15 2/3 August innings.

Whether hitters have finally figured him out, his body has worn down after throwing his highest number of major league innings since 2005, or his carriage has finally turned back into a pumpkin, Colon's ability to contribute in October is starting to come into question.

Garcia has only recently been slowed by injury, a mysterious cut right index finger that has landed him on the disabled list. There's no questioning his performance on the field this season, although he's another pitcher who doesn't blow you away with his ability to strike hitters out. He's just simply gotten the job done, to the tune of a 3.16 ERA over 122 1/3 innings, which ranks him second among the team's starters behind Sabathia.

Still, I can't help but feel Garcia needs to continue to prove the first three-quarters of this season have not been a fluke. Simultaneously, Colon will try to prove the flame has not burned out on his early-season success. The two of them will battle it out for the right to follow Sabathia, Hughes and Nova—not necessarily in that order—in the Yankees' postseason equation.

At least, that's how I see it...for now.

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