After missing the postseason last year, the Yankees clinched early this year. As a result, they've been able to get everyone rested and set up the rotation for the playoffs. We know what the starting lineup will be.
We know that the Yankees will choose the long season and start Sabathia, Pettitte, and then Burnett. There are still a few questions to be answered, though.
Should the Yankees do anything with their slumping outfielders?
Johnny Damon will end the season in an awful slump. Over the past 20 games, he has put up a paltry line of .197/.313/.239 in 84 plate appearances. If there is one thing I stress, it's sample size. These 84 plate appearances have very little bearing on Johnny Damon's projection. It is a small slump, but these things happen over the course of the season. There is no reason to be concerned about the veteran Johnny Damon come playoff time.
The other slumping outfielder, Melky Cabrera is a different story. In his past 63 plate appearances, spanning 20 games, the Melk-Man hasn't done much hitting at all. His line reads .214/.302/.321, a little bit better than Damon's. The difference between the two, well, is that Johnny Damon can actually hit.
He has proven it year after year, while all Melky has proven is that he is a below average hitter. Not only that, the Yankees have Brett Gardner, who can hit as well as Melky while covering significantly more ground in center field. This one is a no-brainer: Gardner should be the Yankees' starter in the ALDS.
Will Jose Molina be A.J. Burnett's personal catcher in the postseason?
The answer should be a flat-out no, but Girardi wouldn't rule it out when the press asked him about it. This speculation started because Molina has caught Burnett's past five starts and he has responded by pitching great.
He's pitched 32 innings, struck out 37, walked 14, and has an ERA of 3.09 in that span. He has a 3.01 FIP in his past five starts as well, showing that his great ERA is no mirage.
As I said regarding Damon, a span of five starts for a veteran just doesn't tell you that much. Yes, he's pitched better, but can you really credit Molina for that? I absolutely do not think you can. I would give the pitcher the credit. It would just be plain stupid to take either Matsui or Posada's bat out of the lineup so that Molina can catch Burnett's starts.
Which pitchers will the Yankees carry in the ALDS?
Brian Cashman made it clear that the Yankees would only carry 10 pitchers on the roster, giving them additional flexibility on the bench. I think this is absolutely the right move. With the number of days off in the five-game series, ten pitchers should be plenty.
The sure things are CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Damaso Marte, and Phil Coke. That leaves room for two pitchers from a group of Joba Chamberlain, Chad Gaudin, Brian Bruney, and David Robertson.
I think that Chad Gaudin is a great bet to make the roster. He is absolute death on righties and can also eat up innings if the Yankees need. No chance that the Yanks take both Joba and Gaudin, so the final reliever will be either Bruney or Robertson.
It should come down to health. If Robertson feels good, he should get the final spot. He has outperformed Bruney all season long by a large margin.
Who will make up the Yankees' bench?
The Yankees should be able to put together a very formidable and useful bench with the pieces they have. Jose Molina will serve as the backup catcher. He should only be used as a defensive replacement after Posada has been pinch run for.
Freddy Guzman will make the roster as a pinch runner and not much else. He can cover a lot of ground in the outfield, but he will be the Yankees fifth outfielder.
Jerry Hairston Jr. will serve as the reserve infielder but can also play the outfield if necessary. If Melky Cabrera is the starter, Brett Gardner will serve as pinch runner and late inning defensive replacement for Johnny Damon. Eric Hinske will be the team's primary pinch hitter against right-handed pitchers, and the last spot will be taken by either Francisco Cervelli or Ramiro Pena.
I am pretty indifferent towards who should take this spot. A third catcher isn't really necessary, but I don't see where another utility player would fit in. Either way, it's the 25th roster spot, so it won't make too much of a difference.
It's nice to clinch early, isn't it? The Yankees just have to answer these questions themselves. Hopefully they'll come up with the same answers, and then start playing some playoff baseball. I know I can't wait, especially since I will be going to Game One of the ALDS.