There's no doubt that talent will be on the mound later tonight in Detroit. It's the up-and-down results of Game 4 starters Rick Porcello and A.J. Burnett that leave fans shaking their heads.
Porcello's in his third season, only 22 years old. He made waves as a rookie in 2009, the youngest player in the majors at the time, finishing with 14 wins and a 3.96 ERA, numbers that earned him a third-place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
However, the sophomore slump hit Porcello hard. A 4-7 record and ERA over 6.00 to start the 2010 season got him sent down to AAA for a month. Inconsistency has plagued Porcello this season. Take a look at the fluctuation in his monthly ERAs from June through September.
Inconsistency also exemplifies the enigma that is A.J. Burnett. It's succinctly surmised in perhaps his greatest major league achievement, a 2001 no-hitter against the Padres, in which he walked seven batters.
It's obvious watching Burnett that he has the talent and stuff to be a nasty starter but is lacking the command. He's the unbridled kid oozing with potential who cannot channel it...except he's no kid anymore. Like the navy-blue number emblazoned on the back of his jersey, Burnett is 34.
Porcello still has youth on his side. When he was drafted 27th overall in the 2008 MLB Draft, scouts raved about his potential, pegging him as a future No. 1 starter. He hasn't yet reached that level, but the Tigers hope he will mature as the years go on.
While Porcello undoubtedly has more time ahead of him than Burnett, Game 4 could be a defining one for both. Yankees fans and the New York media are understandably sick of Burnett. He's making a boatload of money ($16.5 million a year) and has not produced the stats to back it up.
Signed to be the Yankees' No. 2 starter, he's been closer to that which grade school kids equate the number two.
Not a pretty analogy but there's not much pretty about Burnett. He's no Maddux or Halladay, surgeons who work with precision on the mound. Burnett flings his tattooed right arm toward home plate, often ending up wildly erratic.
His 25 wild pitches this season led the majors, 10 more than the next closest. Burnett thrives on the weird. This season he became both the first pitcher since 1919 to throw three or more wild pitches in eight games over a career and the first Yankee to strike out four batters in an inning.
Burnett has said he'll watch video of himself from the 2009 playoffs before this Game 4. He needs not just to watch but also to find a way to replicate his seven-inning, four-hit shutout in Game 2 of that year's World Series. Porcello will need to match his last five quality starts rather than revert to the struggles of August.
Giving the ball to Burnett is kind of like handing Snooki the keys to your Maserati. But maybe, just maybe, he won't crash and burn. The Yankees' season hinges on it.