The New York Yankees fought long and hard to get to this moment, the American League Division Series (ALDS). They clinched the AL East on the final day of the season when the Baltimore Orioles lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, though they would have clinched even had Baltimore won since they pasted the Boston Red Sox 14-2 (and in doing so sent Bobby Valentine to the unemployment line with a most unforgettable loss).
Game 1 of the Yankees' ALDS begins this Sunday, October 7, in either Baltimore, MD, or Arlington, TX. And if you are wondering, yes, that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I am not going to go into great detail here since I'm discussing the roster, but the league (aka Bud Selig) took away the division winner's home field advantage by reverting back to the 2-3 format (2 games on the road, 3 at home) for the best of five series.
While the Yankees must finalize their roster now, the Orioles and Rangers can change their roster after their one game playoff. There's no need to carry a full complement of starting pitchers, so managers Buck Showalter and Ron Washington can load up on relievers and bench players. This was another mistake made by Major League Selig (that's not a typo)- the teams should have had to set their rosters for the ALDS and the one game playoff in one fell swoop, no changes in between.
Okay, back to the Yankees. Girardi will need a minimum of three starting pitchers for the series- that's CC Sabathia as the Game 1 starter, followed by Hiroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte - and will likely require a fourth hurler (Phil Hughes) if Girardi does not want Sabathia and/or Kuroda going on three days rest. Weather permitting, the series is scheduled to wrap up on October 12, so a very likely scenario for the rotation will be Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes, Sabathia, with the Yankees ace pitching the "if necessary" Game 5 on full rest.
As for the bullpen, (I am basing this on Girardi telling WFAN's Mike Francesa2 that he is likely to carry 11 pitchers in the first round) there is closer Rafael Soriano, set up men David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, specialists Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley, and long men David Phelps and Freddy Garcia. (Garcia, who despite his veteran presence, should in no way be included in the post-season plans, but Ivan Nova appears to have pitched his way off the roster). That's 11 pitchers total, four starters and seven relievers.
The position players are mostly a given - Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez are your starting infield. Catchers Russell Martin and Chris Stewart bring the roster total up to 17.
The starting outfield of Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher bumps the total up to 20, leaving four spots. Two of those spots, without question, go to Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez. One of the final two spots would have gone to Jayson Nix, if the utility infielder hadn't pull up lame with a hip flexor injury at the end of September. He's been ruled out of action for 10-14 days, so he might be set for the ALCS, but he's too iffy to be included in the ALDS plans.
Eduardo Nunez therefore makes the roster as the utility infielder by default and the Yankees don't have a true back up for second base. Which, in the scheme of things, means nothing as long as Robinson Cano stays healthy. Barring injuries, Nunez will be used as nothing more than a pinch-runner or pinch-hitter.
So, who gets that final, precious 25th spot? It comes down to two players, who both are far from 100% right now either physically and/or productively. Brett Gardner injured his right elbow in April, just nine games into the season, when he dove for a ball in left field. It was thought to be no big deal, but after a number of failed rehab attempts, Gardner underwent arthroscopic surgery on July 24 to remove inflamed tissue and was expected to miss the remainder of the season.
But Gardner was activated on September 26 and got into seven games. He was mainly used as a pinch-runner, but got three at-bats and some playing time in left field. He was 0-21 in stolen base attempts and one has to imagine it would take him a while to get back into reading pitcher's move to time his own moves.
Gardner's challenger for roster spot #25 is the once mighty Andruw Jones. The 17-year veteran was an animal against left-handed pitching in 2011, when he produced a .920 OPS, 8 HR, and 25 RBI in 126 at-bats. But the 2012 season has been a disaster for Jones, especially the last two months when he finished with 10 hits in his last 72 bats (.139) with just two home runs and 16 strikeouts.
So who does Girardi and Cashman choose? The feeling here is that Girardi will stick with Jones because he's a right-handed power bat, no matter how slow and weak his bat has become. Another option would to take one less pitcher (Phelps) and keep both Gardner and Jones on the roster. If it's up to me, I would go with Gardner and hope that Nunez can provides enough right-handed when it's needed.
Let the journey for championship #28 begin!
2 - WFAN/WCBS Radio