Not surprisingly, manager Joe Girardi will give the ball to ace CC Sabathia when the New York Yankees open their American League Division Series on Sunday, Oct. 7, against either the Texas Rangers or Baltimore Orioles.
Sabathia uncharacteristically struggled this season against the Orioles, losing two of the three starts he made against Baltimore, and the numbers were ugly: He posted a 6.38 ERA and 1.64 WHIP in 18.1 innings, allowing 24 hits - including four home runs - and six walks while striking out 19.
That is a marked departure from his career numbers against the Orioles. Sabathia is 16-4 in 25 career starts against Baltimore with a 3.12 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 176 innings.
Then again, perhaps the difference isn't all that surprising. After all, since Sabathia started his career with the Cleveland Indians in 2001, the Orioles averaged just 69 wins a season from 2001-11 and never finished higher than third in the American League East during that span.
This year, however, Baltimore was 93-69, finished just one game back of the Yankees in the divisional race and qualified for the postseason for the first time since 1997.
Against the Rangers, Sabathia won his only start against them in Arlington, Texas, on April 23. He surrendered four runs and seven hits in eight innings, walking one and striking out eight in a 7-4 New York victory.
In his career against Texas, Sabathia is 11-3 in 18 starts but has a 4.45 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 113.1 innings.
Based on those numbers, it's hard to see a clear advantage for Game 1 regardless of whether or not Texas or Baltimore wins the Wild-Card Playoff on Friday, Oct. 5.
This would be the eighth Game 1 starting assignment for Sabathia in his career with the Indians, Milwaukee Brewers and Yankees. He started Game 1 in both the ALDS against the Yankees and American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox while with the Indians in 2007, got the ball in all three Game 1s during New York's 2009 World Series run (against the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, the Los Angeles Angels in the ALCS and the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series), started Game 1 of the 2010 ALDS against the Twins and 2010 ALCS against the Rangers and took the ball against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 2011 ALDS.
In those Game 1 assignments, Sabathia is 4-2 with two no-decisions - including last season's rain-delayed Game 1 against the Tigers, during which Sabathia worked just two innings - and has allowed 39 hits and 26 runs (24 earned) in 43 innings. That's a 5.02 ERA (skewed somewhat by the eight runs he allowed in 4.1 innings of Game 1 of the 2007 ALCS) and a WHIP of 1.42 with 22 walks and 41 strikeouts.
Since joining the Yankees in 2009, Sabathia has made six Game 1 starts with a record of 3-1 and two no-decisions. In 33.2 innings he has an ERA of 3.48 and a 1.16 WHIP, allowing 28 hits and 15 runs (13 earned) with 11 walks and 33 strikeouts.
Despite making two stops on the disabled list this season, missing two weeks in June with a groin strain and two more weeks in August with a sore elbow, Sabathia is 15-6 in 28 starts with a 3.38 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 200 innings.
He's the right choice for Game 1, even if he struggled against Baltimore this season. After all, Sabathia is the ace of the Yankee staff and he was brought to New York to start games such as this one.
Phil Watson is a 20-year newspaper industry veteran and a longtime New York Yankee fan.