On one hand, the Yankees played last night as though they still held sincere interest in winning the American League East.
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But then again, they started Javier Vazquez.
One night after finally clinching their postseason invitation, the Yankees got squashed by the Blue Jays, 8-4, and with Tampa Bay's 2-0 loss to Baltimore, the Yankees (94-65) still trail the Rays (94-64) by a half-game in the American League East. Because Tampa Bay owns the tiebreaker edge, it's essentially a 1 1/2-game deficit for the Yankees, with three games left and four for the Rays.
So with ALDS Game 1 coming in six days, how should the Yankees spend their time? Here's my recommended priority list:
1. Get the starting rotation in order. CC Sabathia will start American League Division Series Game 1 on Oct. 6, whether it's at Minnesota or against Texas at home. After his superb performance Tuesday night, he'll rest until then, limiting his activity to bullpen work.
It gets trickier after that, yet in a way, the lack of appealing options should make the decision easier for Joe Girardi and company:
As long as Andy Pettitte feels physically ready after his start Friday night in Boston, he should get the Game 2 start, and Phil Hughes should start Game 3. You could argue that Hughes should start Game 2 if the Yankees play the righty-heavy Rangers as opposed to the lefty-leaning Twins, but the disparity in Hughes' and Pettitte's splits isn't great enough to justify such a maneuver.
Besides, here's the next step: A.J. Burnett can't start in the ALDS. If he pitches well Saturday at Fenway, then let him use that as positive momentum for the bullpen and then an AL Championship Series start. So you're starting Sabathia in Game 4 (on three days' rest) and Pettitte in Game 5 (on four days' rest), with Hughes able to contribute to Game 5 out of the bullpen.
2. Go for the division title.Let's not pretend home-field advantage means nothing. "We'll be smart about it," Joe Girardi said, before yesterday's game, "but we're still playing to win this division."
That means the manager won't use any reliever in all three games against the Red Sox. Yet he'll use his big everyday players. It's worth a shot.
3. Figure out the bullpen. OK, so you've got three starters, then Burnett as your long reliever. You're bringing Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Kerry Wood and Boone Logan, for certain. That leaves two spots. Ivan Nova seems like a very good option for middle relief. When he faces a batter for the first time in a game, he limits that batter to a .286 on-base percentage and .268 slugging percentage. That's pretty darn good.
The 11th spot? If it's the Twins, then it's probably worth bringing Royce Ring as a second lefty out of the bullpen; Ring retired Adam Lind on a grounder to third last night in a one-batter audition. If it's Texas, then Dustin Moseley makes the most sense. Either way, we probably saw Vazquez - whom the Blue Jays absolutely hammered for seven runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings - make his final appearance in a Yankees uniform.
4. Figure out the position players.You know the starting infield, outfield and catcher. Add designated hitters Lance Berkman and Marcus Thames, righty-hitting outfielder Austin Kearns and catcher Francisco Cervelli. You need one of infielders Eduardo Nuñez or Ramiro Peña. I'd take Nuñez, because he's the superior offensive player. With the final spot, I'd take Greg Golson.