Postseason Pitching Fears

I spend an unhealthy amount of time worrying about who the Yankees will play in the ALDS, considering the possibilities and doing hours of math involving the American League standings. But I have learned over the years that all the time I spend looking at the standings, matchups, lineups, rotations and history is meaningless and the stress caused by my obsession of picking a first-round opponent for the Yankees is unnecessary.

I can’t make the Yankees have the best record in the AL and put the Orioles and White Sox in the one-game playoff and then have the Orioles win that game so the Yankees play them. I can’t hope that the Yankees face the Orioles rather than the Rangers, White Sox, Tigers, Angels, A’s, or Rays. However, no matter what I want, it usually plays out the way I want as if I’m the subject of a Matt Christopher book, and it’s not always for the best.

Last year I wanted the Yankees to play the Tigers in the ALDS, just like I did in 2006, and it backfired, just like it did in 2006.

In 2010 and 2009, I wanted the Twins and it worked out.

In 2008, I hated baseball for the summer. I like to pretend that season didn’t happen the way the 2004 playoffs didn’t happen because of the strike. Remember the strike of 2004? That sucked.

In 2007, I wanted the Indians. When Johnny Damon led off the series with a home run, I had the same “This is too easy” feeling I had when the Yankees crushed the Tigers in Game 1 the year before. Chien-Ming Wang made me regret my decision to want the Indians in Games 1 and 4 (Paul Byrd helped me regret the decision in Game 4), and when Joba Chamberlain was sprayed down with bug spray for the midges (which we later found out was the opposite way to handle the midges and was basically the equivalent of jumping into a pool of sharks while holding steaks and having open wounds on your body) while Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez kept pitching like nothing was going on (I think I actually saw him eating some of the midges), I knew the Yankees were effed.

We talked about 2006, so in 2005 I stupidly wanted the Yankees to win the division and they did on the final weekend of the season thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker. But because of this, they had to face the Angels in the ALDS instead of the White Sox. Now the White Sox did win 99 games, but I think if the Yankees had faced the White Sox, I don’t think they would have lost to Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia (and an epic relief appearance from El Duque) the way the Red Sox did and I don’t think Ozzie Guillen is still a manager in the league because he wouldn’t have that World Series on his resume, which has to be the only thing keeping him employed. Then again, maybe the Yankees beat the White Sox, but the Red Sox beat the Angels and then beat the Yankees in the ALCS for the second year in a row and I’m off the grid for now almost seven years with no human interaction, or maybe I’m living in Iceland and doing whatever people do in Iceland, which I would think doesn’t involve watching or following baseball.

In 2003 and 2004 I also wanted the Twins and I got them. In case you haven’t noticed, the Yankees haven’t advanced to ALCS against a team not named the Minnesota Twins since 2001 when they came back from down 0-2 against the A’s in the ALDS. (I just checked and the Twins are 12 back in the Central and 10-1/2 games back in the wild card. This isn’t good for the Yankees’ chances of getting to the ALCS.)

Like I said, the amount of time I have spent over the years trying to figure the best possible ALDS matchup for the Yankees has been a complete waste of time. If I had put this much time into actual schoolwork over the years, who knows where I would be right now? Maybe I would be teaching advanced physics at Yale or working as an orthopedic surgeon and living in Greenwich? Instead I’m looking at Ivan Nova’s 2012 game log and wondering how the guy who went 3-0 with a 1.26 ERA in five starts in June has gone 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in seven starts since July 3, filling A.J. Burnett’s 2010-11 role nicely.

On Monday night, Nova was bad again (5.1 IP, 11 7 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 2 HR) and the Yankees lost to the second-best pitcher on the planet (you’re welcome, King Felix). Justin Verlander turned in an eight-inning, 14-strikeout performance to beat the Yankees for the first time in three starts this season. His effort combined with home runs from Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera confirmed that I won’t be pulling to see the Tigers in the ALDS this year.

But if not the Tigers, then who? It’s too hard to say. The second wild card has turned the league into a five-alarm gongshow and there are currently seven teams within five games of a one-game playoff. When you factor in the three division leaders that leaves just four teams (Seattle, Cleveland, Minnesota and Kansas City) whose seasons are actually over. The Yankees could potentially play the Rangers, White Sox, Tigers, Angels, A’s, Orioles, Red Sox or Blue Jays in the ALDS. That means I really have nothing to pull for, wish for or root for. The second wild card has taken the Yankees’ first-round opponent out of my hands even if it’s always been out of my hands.

So since I can’t hope for a team, Verlander’s start on Monday night made me think about which pitchers I don’t want to see in the five-game series. And because Felix Hernandez’s career is being wasted on the Mariners, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are in the NL and Colby Lewis is out for the year, I narrowed it down to four starters that I don’t want to see in the ALDS this fall.

(List Spoiler Alert: James Shields and Jered Weaver are NOT on this list. If I need the Yankees to win an elimination game against “Big Game” James who has the most misleading nickname since my friend we call “Big Kinsel,” who is a 5-foot-10, 155-pound Asian, or Jered Weaver, who is a blood relative of Jeff Weaver, I’m more than confident. If the Yankees have to face either of those two pitchers in a must-win game, I’m “Coach Taylor trailing 26-0 at halftime of State” confident in knowing that the Yankees are going to be fine.)

4. Ryan Dempster
I couldn’t even type that with a straight face. OK, let’s be serious…

4. Doug Fister
This isn’t as much about Doug Fister as it is what he represents. Fister is the non-elite starter who possesses the recipe for disaster for the Yankees. He knows how to pitch; he isn’t going to ruin a game unless someone like Al Alburquerque (yes, he’s real, Mike Francesa!) gets called upon to ruin it for him; he isn’t going to maybe have it or maybe not like A.J. Burnett or Max Scherzer; he’s going to keep the Yankees off balance, throw strikes and not hand out free passes. Doug Fister represents Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter, Paul Byrd, Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman and all the other starters that have beat the Yankees in the playoffs in recent years that you weren’t worried about losing to before the first pitch.

Find me a Yankees fan that thought the Yankees would lose Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS. When your back’s against the wall in an elimination game on the road with A.J. Burnett on the mound and you escape a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and go on to win to send the series back to the Stadium, you know you’re going to win. I knew the Yankees were going to win.

They didn’t win.

Yes, Fister lost the weird Game 1 at the Stadium last year and got charged with six earned runs, but four of them came on the grand slam that Alburquerque gave up to Robinson Cano. He bounced back in Game 5 of the series at the Stadium in a game no one thought the Yankees could lose. He was forced to throw 92 pitches in five innings, but only allowed one earned run on a two-out solo home run to Cano with the Tigers up 3-0 in the fifth.

Doug Fister reminds me of Cliff Lee. He works deep into games, doesn’t throw hard, has great location, doesn’t walk a lot of people and started to make a run at being an elite starter in his late 20s. When I hear “Doug Fister,” I think “Cliff Lee.” When I see Doug Fister, I think right-handed Cliff Lee. When it’s the playoffs, the last person I ever want to see is Cliff Lee, and that means I don’t want to see Doug Fister. He’s already gone into the Bronx and won when no one thought he could. When you survive an elimination setting in the Stadium, you earn the element of fear from me.

3. Chris Sale
Chris Sale is 23 years old. He has made 19 starts in the majors. He has never thrown a pitch in October. Those three things might make you wonder why he is on this list. These next two things won’t.

Chris Sale throws with his left arm. He has never started a game against the Yankees.

The real No. 1 pitcher on this list should be Any Lefty Pitching Against The Yankees For the First Time or Any Starter Making His MLB Debut, but since that’s not a real person, I couldn’t give the No. 1 spot to a general group of pitchers. Chris Sale is very close to being part of the group.

Sale has actually pitched against the Yankees before, but has never started a game. He has made three relief appearances, pitching 3-1/3 scoreless innings and allowing one hit with two walks and five strikeouts. This year Sale is 13-3 with a 2.59 ERA, 8.3 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 and 12 of his 20 starts have been six innings or more with two earned runs or less.

Chris Sale means Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are less dangerous, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher get turned around, Ichiro is less effective and the short porch at the Stadium isn’t the same.

I don’t want to see an elite lefty or someone who doesn’t walk people against the Yankees. That’s Chris Sale.

2. David Price
David Price means Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are less dangerous, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher get turned around, Ichiro is less effective and the short porch at the Stadium isn’t the same.

I don’t want to see an elite lefty or someone who doesn’t walk people against the Yankees. That’s David Price.

Sorry, I didn’t want to plagiarize myself, but I had to.

Price has made three postseason starts and lost them all. However, those three postseason starts came against the 2010 and 2011 Rangers. His line from those three starts: 19.1 IP, 24 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 1 BB, 17 K. Again, we’re talking about the best offense in baseball in the Rangers, and not the most sporadic offense in baseball (especially in October) in the Yankees.

The Rangers would probably welcome David Price in Game 1 of the playoffs, but a power lefty against the Yankees’ lineup? I’ll pass.

1. Justin Verlander
You would think that after an eight-inning, 14-strikeout performance from the reigning MVP and Cy Young, I would want no part of seeing Verlander for a third time in the playoffs in the ALDS, and you’re right, I don’t. But if it happened I wouldn’t be that worried either. Verlander doesn’t put the fear of God in me the way that Felix or Cliff Lee do, but he’s right there.

In all honesty, I’m not as scared of Justin Verlander as I probably should be. The Yankees have beat him in in two of his three starts against them this season and they rallied to come back against him in Game 3 last year. In 2006, they would have won Game 2 against him if Mike Mussina didn’t cough up the game the way only Mike Mussina could.

I said I wasn’t going to waste anymore time trying to solve the Yankees’ potential ALDS opponent puzzle or trying to worry about pitching matchups and I meant it. The only thing I really need to worry about is whether the middle of the order will hit with runners in scoring position, and that’s not something I can change or something I should spend my summer worrying about. I have October for that.