Ivan Nova: What Having a True No. 2 Starter Does to Yankees Pennant Chances
It's hard to believe torrential rain could be within the range of home field advantages for a team, but I suppose anything can happen in the playoffs.
After yet another rain delayed game in the north-east, the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers were able to use their No. 1 starters for only an inning in the first game of the ALDS, while also using their No. 2 starters in the process.
Obviously, losing a start to CC Sabathia cannot be considered an advantage, but only having to face Justin Verlander once in the series most certainly can.
I have to admit, even as a Yankees fan, I was skeptical of what the Bombers would be able to do in Game 1 against the fiery hot Tigers ace, but getting Doug Fister to start the series was a great fortune for New York's lineup.
Over the last three seasons, Fister has a 7.36 ERA in 11 innings against the Yankees. He allowed nine runs and three home runs in that span.
Taking Game 1 became critical in this series after the No. 1 starters lost their starts, and New York can be thankful for the rain, because we could be looking at a completely different series had the forecast on Friday been clear.
There's something else that the Yankees need to be perhaps even more thankful for, though.
Ivan Nova put up six and one-third solid innings on Saturday night before getting into a bit of trouble in the ninth. Prior to the ninth inning, he had not allowed a run. Nova not only gets the win, but he answers a question that has been burning for weeks: "Do the Yankees have a legitimate No. 2 starter for the postseason?"
Will Ivan Nova continue to give starts like he did in Game 1?
They do now.
The rain on Friday night meant more than just the postponement of the game. It meant that Nova, the probable Game 2 starter, would have to make his first postseason start as the Game 1 starter.
With an enormous amount of pressure on the 24 year old, he came through. Nova was composed and confident on the mound on Saturday night. Even though his command was mildly shaky, he adjusted and put up six strong innings, in what had arguably become the most important game of the series.
What does this do to the Yankees Pennant chances?
Well, if Nova is the real deal and can continue with this kind of performance for the rest of the playoffs, it means a lot.
The Yankees enjoy one of the most powerful offenses in baseball. They are fortunate enough to have the services of at least two hall of famers, a stolen base champion and a now perennial MVP candidate, and not much uncertainty surrounded the abilities of the lineup throughout the season.
The question marks were on the rotation, and who would be the go-to arms for the playoffs.
New York has an excellent rotation, don't get me wrong. They were fourth in the American League in ERA, after all.
Their issue lies in the strength of the rotation in the second and third spots. As a five player unit, the rotation is terrific, but in a postseason situation when the three-man rotation is the widely adopted strategy, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia just don't instill the most confidence, mainly due to their propensities to blow starts.
Garcia allowed 15 runs in 11 innings in his first three starts in September.
Colon went only eight innings in his last two starts in September with seven earned runs against the Tampa Bay Rays, a potential ALCS opponent.
Burnett in the postseason rotation is an afterthought at this point, which left Nova to be the likely No.2 starter.
Nova went 16-4 in the regular season with a 3.70 ERA, but for some reason, his legitimacy as a No. 2 postseason starter was questioned.
Its fair to say he answered those questions last night, establishing his presence in the rotation.
If Nova is able to give six strong innings in starts against Texas or Tampa Bay, the Yankees can have a lot more confidence in winning the first two games of series and competing consistently with the strong lineups of opponents in those games.
Nova's now proven ability to perform in the second rotation spot will be one of the most critical factors of their postseason success for the remainder of October.
Consider this: In the scenario where New York wins Game 1 on the back of Sabathia and a loses Game 3 on a meltdown by Garcia, a quality start by Nova that doesn't result in a loss is the difference between a 2-1 series lead, and a 1-2 series deficit going on the road.
I realize it's still early in the postseason, but Nova acted the part last night. He looked like a Game 1 starter, and he dealt with the pressure extremely well. There's little doubt that he will be able to deliver in his next start and the starts to come.
The Tigers will have to maintain composure and rally to a win today to stay alive in the series against a very talented Yankees lineup with momentum.
Hopefully, the strong start from Nova will give Game 3 starter Freddy Garcia similar aspirations.
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