Division series pitching rotations take shape

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

At about the time the Cask'n Flagon turned up the lights on the corner of Brookline and Lansdowne in Boston early Wednesday morning, Brian Fuentes(notes) finished off the Rangers and the Red Sox were sixth team in.

We're still waiting on the American League Central – where a doubleheader split in Detroit between the Tigers and Twins drew no blood – and the National League wild card, where the Rockies, Braves and, unfathomably, Dodgers are still involved.

On a Tuesday night that brought some separation, Chris Iannetta(notes) dragged the Rockies a day closer to Rocktober; Tim Hudson(notes) bonked in the fifth inning in Atlanta; and the Dodgers lost to another bad club. They have played their past eight games against two last-place teams and one fourth-place team, have won just three, and because of it still aren't assured of the NL West title.

As you might have predicted back in April, the AL Central turns tonight at Comerica on Twins right-hander Carl Pavano(notes) vs. Tigers right-hander Eddie Bonine(notes).

With five days left in the regular season, that got us thinking about postseason rotations and how everybody seems to be setting up. They are:

New York Yankees: CC Sabathia(notes), Andy Pettitte(notes) and A.J. Burnett(notes). Presumably, GM Brian Cashman selects the "A" division series, played over eight days, so the Yankees need only three starters. Joba Chamberlain(notes) goes to the bullpen. As for the probable order, Sabathia goes in Game 1; Burnett has been better at Yankee Stadium so goes Game 2; and Pettitte Game 3 on the road, in either Detroit or Minnesota. They're currently lined up with Burnett behind Sabathia, but the off days give Joe Girardi the option to flip them.

Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander(notes), Edwin Jackson(notes) and Rick Porcello(notes). The Yankees would do Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland a huge favor by taking the "A" series because the Tigers' options for a No. 4 starter are Nate Robertson(notes), Bonine and Jarrod Washburn(notes). Robertson just became a starter again (but has a nice 3.68 ERA as one); Bonine makes his ninth career start tonight; and Washburn as a Tiger has a bad knee, a puffy ERA and hasn't pitched in two weeks.

Los Angeles Angels: John Lackey(notes), Scott Kazmir(notes), Jered Weaver(notes) and Joe Saunders(notes). Ervin Santana(notes), who shut out the Rangers on Monday night, is in the bullpen as a seventh- or eighth-inning man. Mike Scioscia could go against standard operating procedure and roll into Boston for Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) with two left-handers, given that Kazmir threw six shutout innings at Fenway in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series last year and Saunders has never lost at Fenway.

Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester(notes), Josh Beckett(notes), Clay Buchholz(notes) and Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes). Tim Wakefield(notes) – who was slated to pitch Wednesday night against the Blue Jays – is physically fragile, and Paul Byrd(notes) isn't a consideration. Lester is scheduled to pitch Thursday night for the first time since taking a liner near his knee. Beckett, having been topped off with Cortisone, will test his spasm-prone back Saturday. Both starts are at Fenway against Cleveland.

Minnesota Twins: Scott Baker(notes), Nick Blackburn(notes), Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing(notes). This eliminates Francisco Liriano(notes), who is scheduled for one more start – Friday against the Royals. He's pitched reasonably well out of the bullpen, which would be his playoff role. Because of Monday's rainout in Detroit and Tuesday's doubleheader, manager Ron Gardenhire is juggling all sorts of possibilities – including Blackburn going on three days of rest on Saturday and Pavano doing the same on Sunday.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Randy Wolf(notes), Clayton Kershaw(notes), Hiroki Kuroda(notes) and Chad Billingsley(notes). Everything is in play for Joe Torre, whose club has just stopped playing. Jon Garland(notes) and Vicente Padilla(notes) certainly could pitch themselves into a postseason start, beginning with Garland Wednesday night in San Diego. Working his way back from a non-throwing shoulder separation, Kershaw has an important start Saturday against the Rockies. Billingsley, who went into Petco Park on Tuesday night and pitched away from contact again, is no sure thing either. Torre and GM Ned Colletti could choose to match up with their division series foe, either the Cardinals (as it stands now) or the Phillies.

St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter(notes), Adam Wainwright(notes), Joel Pineiro(notes) and Kyle Lohse(notes). For the moment, it appears John Smoltz(notes) would have to light it up in Cincinnati on Wednesday night and Lohse would have to fall apart against the Brewers on Saturday for this to go otherwise. Smoltz could end up being a late-inning answer for manager Tony La Russa.

Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels(notes), Cliff Lee(notes) and Joe Blanton(notes) – but Charlie Manuel is going to need four. The first three are easy. The final spot is between J.A. Happ(notes), the rookie left-hander who's won 12 games, and Pedro Martinez(notes), the veteran righty who's been a postseason stud. There are variables beyond Pedro's (supposedly) stiff neck, which will be tested Wednesday night against the Astros. For one, if J.C. Romero(notes) and Scott Eyre(notes) are healthy, the Phillies will have plenty of lefties in the 'pen and Happ could be in the rotation. Pedro has shown his worth as a reliever at times in his career; but at almost 38, he might have trouble getting warm.

Colorado Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez(notes), Jorge De La Rosa(notes), Aaron Cook(notes) and Jason Marquis(notes). After wobbling down the stretch, Marquis might have pitched his way back into the rotation with six strong innings against the Brewers on Tuesday night. The final spot could also be pitched off over the next two nights, when first Jason Hammel(notes) and then Cook take their shots at the Brewers with the season on the line. In his first start in five weeks, Cook shut out the Cardinals over five innings Friday. Hammel has had a good month.

Atlanta Braves: Javier Vazquez(notes), Jair Jurrjens(notes), Tommy Hanson(notes) and Tim Hudson. That's right, it's possible – maybe even likely – that if the Braves win the wild-card berth they'd start neither Derek Lowe(notes) nor Kenshin Kawakami(notes). Over the past month, Lowe's ERA is nearly 6.00. Kawakami hasn't started a game in a month. That said, Hudson didn't wow anybody Tuesday night.

If the playoffs began today:

Tigers vs. Yankees

Red Sox vs. Angels

Cardinals vs. Dodgers

Rockies vs. Phillies

Wednesday primer:

• Dodgers vs. Padres: Garland, who hasn't allowed an earned run in his past 15 innings, takes his whack at the division clincher.

• Astros vs. Phillies: Phils need a win (or Braves loss) for a third consecutive division title. (Abbreviated Phillies bullpen moment of the day: Ryan Madson(notes) went six outs for Tuesday night's save.)

• Marlins vs. Braves: Atlanta's Vazquez probably can't lose again and get in.

• Brewers vs. Rockies: Two days after Tracy dragged him through a two-inning save, Huston Street(notes) blew up in the ninth.

• Twins vs. Tigers: It could happen … Game 1, division series, Yankee Stadium – Sabathia vs. Pavano.

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