The New York Yankees are surging at the right time and now sit just 4.5 games back of the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Wild Card. A win Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles would put them 0.5 games ahead of their divisional counterpart in the standings.
With the chances of a playoff berth becoming more and more apparent by the game, it's worth taking a look at who the Yankees could choose to start in a one-game playoff to enter the divisional round. Given the struggles of nearly every member of the rotation in recent weeks, the decision may not be as easy as one would think.
Hiroki Kuroda would have been the popular choice prior to his last few starts. In his last five starts, Kuroda owns a 5.12 ERA and a record of 1-4. He's tossed just 31.2 innings but has served up five home runs.
These inconsistencies make him a questionable choice to start a playoff game—should they keep up, of course.
To his credit, though, Kuroda has pretty much been stellar all season long. Even with his string of five straight poor starts, he is still 11-10 on the year with a 2.89 ERA. He's tossed 171.1 innings and is on pace to eclipse the 200-inning mark.
CC Sabathia has pitched nothing like at ace this season—not even in spurts. The big lefty has been consistently poor, and his season ERA of 4.91 shows that. His 1.353 WHIP is his worst since 2002 (1.362), his second season in the bigs.
Sabathia has undergone a dip in velocity and a dip in his confidence. It wasn't often that Sabathia became flustered or frustrated when pitching poorly in previous seasons. This season, he hasn't been able to endure the tough innings and has given up crooked numbers on all too many occasions.
While he would undoubtedly be a member of the playoff rotation (perhaps as the No. 3 starter), starting Sabathia in the one-game playoff would be a poor decision by manager Joe Girardi.
Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova have both been great over their past five starts. Pettitte owns a 3.04 ERA and a 3-1 record in that time. What's even better is that he has allowed just one run (a solo home run) over his past two starts.
The problem with choosing Pettitte for the playoff game is that signs of aging have never been more apparent for the lefty than they have been in 2013. Pettitte can no longer blow hitters away and has had problems picking up strikeouts in big situations. His 6.1 SO/9 innings are his lowest since 2007. His 1.406 WHIP also isn't worth writing home about.
Nova has been a pleasant surprise since replacing David Phelps in the rotation. Nova has a 3.14 ERA and has been pretty consistent over each of his 14 starts. Not even Nova is the no-brainer choice, though, as he doesn't have much experience in the playoffs. He is 1-1 with a 4.32 ERA in two career playoff starts.
Needless to say, Phil Hughes is out of the question. He may not even be in the starting rotation by the time such a game would come around.
Saying that the Yankees are a potential playoff team would have seemed a long shot a few months ago, but the Bombers have slugged their way back into the playoff picture. If they have any hopes of making it into the divisional round, though, they'll need all of their pitchers to step up.
For the one-game playoff, choosing between either Kuroda or Nova would represent Girardi's best chance to win. It's not worth putting Sabathia or Pettitte out there given their tendencies to allow more than four runs per start. The best pitchers throw in the postseason, and scraping together that many runs could prove to be difficult.
The fact that there isn't a clear-cut choice at this point in the season speaks to the inconsistencies of 2013 for the Yankees. Girardi will likely ride the hot hand, but who knows who that will be come October?