As I watched Tuesday night's game, the biggest positive impact was that AJ Burnett appears to back on the upswing. Over his last 24.2 innings, he has allowed only 18 hits, four ERs, 10 BBs and recorded 27 Ks. His ERA over that stretch is 1.46, and his WHIP is 1.14.
The patently inconsistent pitcher had a terrible August and early September, but now appears to be back on track. I pointed out Burnett's inconsistent nature in a previous article. Always streaky, for Yankees fans they are now getting the "good AJ."
This means that many will feel better about his first ever post season start, especially if he does well again on Sunday at Tampa. Burnett has performed better of late because he has exclusively worked with Jose Molina as his catcher.
Burnett is THE KEY to this Yankees postseason. If he does not pitch well, the Yankees will likely not win the World Series. It is imperative that Burnett feel confident on the mound, and if that means Molina (with his anemic bat) behind the plate, then that has to happen.
Which then means that Francisco Cervelli NEEDS to be on the ALDS roster.
If Molina catches Burnett's starts, once AJ comes out of the game, Jorge Posada will come in to catch if he is not already the DH. Even if he does come in to catch, you need a backup in case Posada (although he is tough as nails, remember he is 37) gets injured.
In my mind, over the last couple nights Cervelli has solidified his spot on the postseason roster.
In the comeback win over the Royals on Tuesday night, he led off the two-run rally with a one-out single, taking several close two-strike pitches in the process*. He then went from first to third (rather easily) on Eric Hinske's single to right field and scored on Robinson Cano's game tying sacrifice fly.
*This tells me that Cervelli has earned the respect of the umpires. Being a personable catcher does not hurt either. Catchers will usually get the benefit of the doubt, but if umpires like a young player, he will certainly get his share of close calls.
And last night Cervelli again started a ninth-inning rally by singling with two out and no one on base.
He provides a third catcher in case of emergency, is quick enough to pinch-run for Posada or Molina to save Gardner for another opportunity, and allows Molina to start when AJ Burnett pitches.
Burnett is the Yankees' key this post season, and it benefits young Cervelli, one of the many options the Yankees have for their catching future.