Friday, August 14, 2009

Yankees Don’t Need GPS to Find the Easy Road to the ALCS

After a recent discussion with Bleacher Report’s Dave Foster, yet another interesting angle to the Yankee season was brought to the forefront.

There has been much discussion about the American League East race and the subsequent battle for the Wild Card among those unable to capture a divisional title.

Additionally, much chatter has been directed at the topics of the “Joba Rules,” the fifth starter role, Joe Girardi’s managerial skills, and the stark home-field advantage that New York has seemingly established.

However, a new wrinkle to the Yankee playoff debate revolves around the benefits of capturing the league’s No. 1 seed in the postseason gauntlet.

Every fan is familiar with the concept that the No. 1 seed will host the Wild Card winner in the American League Divisional Series (ALDS). This would only be altered in the event that the two teams arrived via the same division.

In all likelihood, this would pit New York against either the Texas Rangers or the champion of the American League Central.

What may not be as well-known or memorable to fans is a key choice that the No. 1 playoff seed is given with regard to the length of the postseason’s initial series.

This team is given the selection of one of two options:

The first of which is a “traditionally” constructed series, and one that would in most cases require the use of a fourth starter. There are fewer off days in between games, and it more so simulates the rhythm of the regular season.

A second option offers the No. 1 seed an extended series that is littered with off days—ensuring that two dominant starting pitchers can throw four of the five games on normal rest.

For example, the “longer” of the 2008 ALDS matchups was played between the Angels and Red Sox. The games were played on Oct. 1, 3, 5, and 6, and allowed (as previously discussed) each team to pitch their No. 1 and No. 2 starters four times.

Though their plan backfired in a four game defeat, the Angels chose to throw their aces John Lackey and Ervin Santana twice each—hoping to hold down a powerful Red Sox offensive attack.

This philosophy could benefit New York considering the uncertainties with fourth starter Joba Chamberlain, as well as concerns over the durability of Andy Pettitte’s body (but not mettle) moving toward the end of the season.

(It doesn’t hurt to have CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett at the top of the rotation, either.)

In the event that the Yankees are matched up with either the Chicago White Sox or Texas Rangers in the first round, the decision is a no-brainer.

Aside from the benefits of resting the aging or injured bodies of Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, and Alex Rodriguez, the bullpen will also be given ample time to recover.

The Yankees have had great success with Mark Buerhle, Kevin Millwood, and John Danks in their history, and they would avoid having to start Joba Chamberlain in a key playoff game.

Texas’ high-powered yet free-swinging offense would be the perfect matchup for the “expand the zone” philosophy that Burnett and Sabathia implement, and it would be very difficult for Texas in a short series.

New York’s rooting interest will clearly be with Chicago heading into September—especially after watching Justin Verlander throw 99-100 MPH fastballs past Red Sox hitters on Thursday. I could have sworn a few of them cracked the sound barrier.

Choosing the “longer” series against the Tigers would force New York to face Verlander and Edwin Jackson four times.

This decision would take away New York’s biggest advantage in the matchup—facing rookie Rick Porcello in the series’ fourth game as opposed to Justin Verlander.

Though Porcello and Chamberlain are both inexperienced starters, Porcello will face immense postseason pressure for the first time in his rookie season in the big leagues.

New York’s No. 1 ranked offense would likely provide the difference in a matchup of youngsters—as Detroit is ranked just 15th in runs scored.

The Yankees would also have an advantage in the series’ third game, as consistent playoff hero Andy Pettitte (14-9, 3.96) would face Jarrod Washburn (1-3, 4.91).

All of these factors would prevent the Yankees from entering into the “less rhythmic” of the series formats with the Tigers, though they would hold a clear edge in every probable ALDS scenario should they capture the No. 1 seed.

The ability to choose formats according to what opponent is placed in front of them in the first round is a benefit that cannot be overlooked or underappreciated.

There are many hurdles on the way to a World Series ring, but the road to the ALCS that is most reminiscent of The Audubon begins with the No. 1 seed and a very important power of selection.

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