Can the New York Yankees' Starting Rotation Be Trusted in the Playoffs?

Peter AlfanoContributor IIAugust 7, 2012

Phil Hughes will have to come up big in the postseason for the Yankees to return to the World Series.
Phil Hughes will have to come up big in the postseason for the Yankees to return to the World Series.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Here is one thing we can all agree on: CC Sabathia cannot pitch every day.

Thankfully for the New York Yankees, neither can Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers or Jared Weaver of the Los Angeles Angels. The burning question, however, is whether the other Yankees starters can measure up to the rotations they might face during the postseason.

The Yankees failed to acquire a starting pitcher at the trade deadline either because they felt the price  was too high or because the anticipated return of Andy Pettitte, the winningest pitcher in postseason history, will more than offset the Angels' acquisition of Zack Greinke and the Texas Rangers' trade for Ryan Dempster.

Pettitte is the wild card in the Yankees' postseason expectations. He and Sabathia are accustomed to big-game situations.

That cannot be said for the rest of the rotation. Hiroki Kuroda has been the most consistent starter after Sabathia, and Phil Hughes hit his stride in late June and has pitched well to improve his record to 11-8 and lower his ERA to 3.96. At one point this season, Hughes was allowing close to five runs a game.

At this point, Ivan Nova has pitched himself out of postseason plans and might even take a back seat to Freddy Garcia.

Nova's record has always been misleading; he has been the beneficiary of good run support the past two seasons, but recently even the potent Yankee bats can't keep up with the runs Nova allows. He is 10-6, but his ERA has climbed to 4.81.

If Pettitte returns, Nova and Garcia would be relegated to the bullpen for duty in long relief. Ideally, the Yankees would set up their rotation to go with Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte and Hughes.

The Angels are the only team that might have a stronger front line with Weaver, Greinke, Dan Haren and C.J. Wilson.

If Pettitte doesn't return or isn't 100 percent, well, the Yankees may have issues. Kuroda started three postseason games for the Los Angeles Dodgers and has a 2-1 record. The loss was to the Phillies in 2009, when Kuroda was roughed up for six runs in 1.1 innings.

He has done surprisingly well against American League teams after four years with the Dodgers in a pitcher's park. Kuroda is 10-8 this season, but his ERA is an impressive 3.19.

Hughes has plenty of postseason experience, having been in 16 games. Given the Yankees' indecision about whether Hughes should start or relieve, only three of those 16 games were starts. And he was 1-2, losing both to the Rangers in 2010.

Except for Greinke, the Yankees' rotation wouldn't have been upgraded with the addition of any pitcher who was traded, among them Dempster, Francisco Liriano, Paul Maholm and Joe Blanton.

Given that the Miami Marlins ultimately did not want to part with Josh Johnson, or were asking for the moon, or that Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs was injured, the Yankees were better off holding on to any trade chips they do have.

For better or worse, it looks as if their playoff hopes hinge on the arms who are getting them there. And that may be enough to get back to the World Series.