Bottom 3

A.J. Burnett has not been a very good sidekick to C.C. Sabathia this season.

By: Chris Ross

In the immortal words of American idol host Ryan Seacrest “America, this is your bottom three.” For the New York Yankees the bottom three of their starting rotation this season has been about as stable as Lindsay Lohan in a rehab centre. This is no doubt going to leave the Yanks with some serious problems this coming post-season.

The Yankees have one of the most potent offense in the league, and possibly their most dangerous, top to bottom, in the last decade. The averages may not be the sexiest you have ever seen, but don’t let that fool you. Go down the line-up and there are no weak spots, well unless you’ve got Granderson facing a lefty. You know that when you have Lance Berkman batting 8th in your order you have something good going for you.

For teams with weaker starting pitching, during the regular season it is fine to rely on your offense to consistently outscore the opposing team. I understand that the name of the game is to outscore your opponent, but you know what I mean, right?

However, when playoff time rolls around, trying to outscore teams 8-6 and 9-7 on a consistent basis isn’t going to fly. Most likely, night in and night out you are going to be facing higher level pitching than in the regular season. No more seeing the abysmal rotations of the Baltimore Orioles or the and as the old adage goes, good pitching beats good hitting. Generally, for a team to go deep into October the pitching has to be strong. Imagine trying to outscore the Phillies in a series when you have to face Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, or Cole Hamels on any given night.

When you flip it around, despite the Yankees massive payroll, the best they can roll out is legit ace C.C. Sabathia, 38-year-old Andy Pettite, who has been solid this year but has just come back from injury, and the wild cards in Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez.

Phil Hughes was very good in April and May but since then he has had his fair share of problems. Since the all-star break he has posted a 4.96 earned run average, while going just 6 and 6. It will be a tough decision for manager Joe Giradi to decide on how much, he is going to use the inexperienced, 24-year-old Hughes, if at all

A.J. Burnett is supposed to be Robin to Sabathia’s Batman but that obviously hasn’t worked out the way the Yankees front office envisioned it would since he signed that lucrative 5 year $82.5 million contract a couple of years ago. Burnett has been atrocious this year and if not for the Yankees weak starting rotation there is no way that he would even be considered to start in October. Burnett is 10-15, with a 5.33 ERA (6.19 post all-star), a .286 opponent batting average, and his lowest strikeout total in the past 4 seasons (140 to date).

I guess when you consider Burnett and Hughes the 3rd slot in the Yankees rotation must go by default to Vazquez. Vazquez is now 34 and it looks like last season’s “rejuvenation” was no fluke. Vazquez has been great, especially post all-star break amassing, a 6.64 ERA, while holding opponents to a marvellous .301 batting average. Okay, I hope you can tell that I’m being sarcastic, but seriously, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures and there is a possibility that Vazquez could be called on to start for the Yankees. I’m just not sure how bad that actually is compared to their other options because Vazquez has shown that he can still pitch at times this season.

Starting pitching isn't the only problem for the Yankees

There is also an issue that has not been an issue in the past decade for the Yankees, which is Mariano Rivera’s abnormal inability to lockdown games recently. Mariano Rivera is now 4 decades old and talks of him slowing down have been swirling around for the last few years. The difference is that those talks are finally coming to fruition, which is just another pin potentially bursting the Yankees World Series bubble in 2010.

Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada, Lance Berkman, Brett Gardner, and Marcus Thames. Are these guys going to be able to overcome the expected Yankee pitching troubles and sustain a deep post-season run?

Despite declining numbers from A-Rod and Jeter, it could very well be enough to overcome a Twins or Rangers matchup in the first round, who are teams also strapped for quality depth in their rotation. However, when it comes time to face a team with real pitching, I don’t think you will see the Yankees reeling off enough victories to take a 7 game series.

Even though it may be an early October exit for the Bronx Bombers, have no fear Yankee fans. The off-season will fly by like an elementary school kid’s summer after you overpay…err… acquire Cliff Lee.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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About Chris Ross
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23 Responses to Bottom 3

  1. Ricky Keeler says:


    As a Yankees’ fan, you make some good points. I don’t want to play the Twins because their rotation is playoff tested unlike Texas. Think about this: If NY beats Cliff Lee in Game 1 at home which they can, Texas throws up Wilson and Hunter, two pitchers with no playoff experience. Plus, you have Josh Hamilton, who will only have a limited number of at-bats coming into Wednesday.

    As for the rotation of the Bombers, New York’s bullpen has been a strength for them in the latter parts of the season. Kerry Wood was a big trade deadline acquisition with 23 straight scoreless innings. David Robertson has been solid since May 8th, Joba has been improving, and Boone Logan has been getting lefties out all year.

    Even though NY’s bottom 3 has been struggling, Hughes has playoff experience and Nova if he were to pitch Game 4 of the ALCS instead of Burnett, has improved by start and has kept the Yankees in the ballgame. Am I concerned? Yes, of course, but a veteran Yankee team most of the time will find a way to win when you have CC and Andy as well as Mariano Rivera at the back end if needed for 6 outs.

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  4. rjr191 says:

    You raise some very interesting points. The Yanks no doubt have some prolems with the rotation after C.C. If Pettite is healthy I think he’s a solid number two. The real problem comes in at number three. Who do you put in? This years post season isn’t set up like last year when the Yanks just had three, they will most likely have to have a fourth at some point. I love my Yankees, but if they somehow make it through the American League and play the Phils they are toast. With Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt you can’t win four-out-of-seven. We have to hope for someone like San Fran to knock them out. Let’s go Yanks.

  5. eskillian says:

    @paintstheblack eh? Have you read Living on the Black by John Feinstein? Anyways, good take on the Yanks. They definitely have their work cut out to them, but their bats are pretty fearsome.

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  8. Round 1 actually shapes up pretty favorably for the Yanks. The Twins feature virtually no prominent right handed bats and should the series go 5, will likely see CC and Andy twice. The key will be the bullpen, not the rotation.

  9. tophatal says:

    AJ Burnett at present couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if his life depended on it.

    tophatal 🙂

  10. niktigs says:

    I think only CC will give them good starts and Aj might have a few good starts. Great post, good points but I think Oswalt and Hamels migth struggle in the postseason.

  11. JW says:

    To see the Yankees problems, all you have to do is stack them up against some well-established baseball rules:

    1) In a playoff series, good pitching almost always beats good hitting.
    2) Winning Game 1 in a playoff series makes a major difference; home field advantage makes a huge difference when you are the Yankees.
    3) Team speed and athleticism can prove crucial in a playoff series.

  12. jimcrago says:


    One thing to add: I did read yesterday that the Yanks are leaving Burnett behind for the ALDS. So it looks like C.C., Pettite and Hughes as the top-3.

    The crowd in Minnesota will be rocking for games one and two, so New York will need to remain poised to get out of there with at least one win. The void of Morneau in the Twins’ lineup “could” prove to be an advantage for New York, but that remains to be seen.

    I like your angle on all of this.

  13. tophatal says:

    Not only will be left off the roster for the postseason but in all likelihood the Yankees will look to get rid of Burnett. That contract has been a waste and look at the situation with Zito and the Giants ?

    tophatal 🙂

  14. derekbets says:

    Good post Chris. Very interested to see who they pick up in the offseason.

    I agree with Ray, the bullpen and the middle/late innings will likely decide the Yankee fate. Tonight’s game is the key to the series. CC had a nice final start of the season and Liriano has been off form of late. Both teams lack momentum heading into this series.

    Good luck.

  15. Damian says:

    I think the Twins get swept again.


  16. Alex says:

    You are very right, sir. Though to me, it’s an easy call to make Phil Hughes your third starter in this situation, only because he’s the only one out of the three (him, Burnett, Vazquez), that doesn’t have a plus-5 ERA.
    The Yankees rotation was looking the strongest it has been in recent memory coming into this season. Who knows what happened to some of those guys, though I have to say, I kind of expected it from Vazquez. He’s an NL pitcher.
    The one thing I’m going to take beef with in your article is your bashing of the Baltimore Orioles, hahaha. They’re my team, and I know they suck, but hey, their rotation was a lot better under Buck Showalter when he took over on August 2 than it was previously, and believe it or not, a lot better than most other teams’ rotations. If they make the upgrades that they need this offseason, they could be at least a formidable force in the AL East next year to cause teams like the Yankees and Rays plenty of problems late in the season like they did this past September.

  17. The Lohan comparision is classic. The problem for the Bronx Bombers in the past playoffs have been mostly on the mound. You can outscored bad teams in the season, but once you reach the postseason, the fun and gun offense gets knocked down a notch for any team. I have more confidence in Hughes than I do with Burnett and Vazquez. Burnett can throw 3 good innings than come apart in the 4th and then it’s ballgame. Vazquez is a NL pitcher period. I thought it was a waste ofmoney bringing him back off his NL resume, knowing he has struggled in NY and in the AL. I will be interested in the courting of Cliff Lee, simply because the Rangers are preparing to go the distance for him under the new ownership. Another question which is flying under the radar is who would you go with at DH? Do you go to Berkman, who wasn’t exactly knocking the cover off in Pinstripes? Or do you lean towards Thames, who had between something like 11 or 12 homers in spot duty?

  18. Excellant points, the Yanks may step up in the postseason as they are prone to do but they certainly will not be riding any arms to the title this year. The rotation looks incredibly fragile and almost like a house of cards. Maybe they can pitch Sabathia twice in any series but the other games are definitely a toss up.

  19. rick says:

    good post, chris. i’m a long time die-hard yankee fan and their overall approach to baseball is frustrating to me. they seem old and fragile. next year could be a long year. and while they may throw money at free agents (lee for example), the questions are still going to be the other aging veterans that seem to be sliding. what do they do with jeter? will he ever be forced to play in a non-pinstriped uni? i hope not, but i had problems seeing him be our every day shortstop two years ago let alone be it for the the next five, in spite of how he views himself. very, very interesting waters ahead that will make brian cashman want to pull out his hair.


  20. hillman4mayor says:

    nice article young man

  21. Damian says:

    Just wanted to say my prediction a few posts up came true.


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  23. vvsports says:

    Great post Chris. Thanks so much for your note. I appreciate people looking and commenting on my posts as well. I agree with your assessment of AJ Burnett. To this point he has been anything but productive from the standpoint of how the yankees expect their players to be productive and contribute to the overall concept of winning. While I am not a Yankee fan, I do appreciate the depths they go to to win. Their top 3 may end up just getting by because of their unbelievable offensive capabilities. As I root for the Rays in the American League, and that may not happen after tonight, I would like to see someone in the playoffs expose the Yankees’ pitching staff after Sabathia and before Rivera. Thanks for the comments. Please keep checking and make your comments back. I will have another one coming up in a few days.

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