AJ Burnett and MLB’s 10 Contending Pitchers Who Do Not Deserve a Playoff Start

Adam RosenCorrespondent IISeptember 21, 2010

AJ Burnett and MLB’s 10 Contending Pitchers Who Do Not Deserve a Playoff Start

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 02:  A.J. Burnett #34 of the New York Yankees reacts during the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on August 2, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Doesn't the photograph of A.J. Burnett say it all?

    I think it does (Yankee fans, including myself are used to it). 

    Therefore, sit back, relax and enjoy, as you read "AJ Burnett and MLB’s 10 Contending Pitchers Who Do Not Deserve a Playoff Start."

    Let's play ball.

    The playoffs are around the corner. 

Jason Hammel, Colorado Rockies

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    DENVER - SEPTEMBER 09:  Starting pitcher Jason Hammel #46 of the Colorado Rockies heads to the dugout after pitching the seven inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Coors Field on September 9, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the Reds 6-5.
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Entering the final few weeks of the regular season, besides for Cy Young Award candidate Ubaldo Jimenez, the Rockies pitching staff have many uncertainties in their rotation, including No. 3 starter Jason Hammel.   

    Over his previous three starts, Hammel has a 7.80 ERA, including his latest debacle, which came Sunday, lasting only four innings against the Dodgers, after giving up three runs in the fourth. 

    Trailing the new NL West division leaders, San Francisco Giants, by one-and-a-half games, who took over the division lead with a 9-2 win over Milwaukee on Sunday, the Rockies are on the verge of putting together another memorable September run, similar to their 2007 magical playoff push where they won 21 of their last 22 games, en route to reaching the 2007 World Series. 

    Reports out of Colorado were that Hammel was pitching with a tired arm. Although manager Jim Tracy and pitching coach Bob Apodaca said Hammel is not hurt, according to the pitcher, he feels something's been wrong with him for the last five or six starts.

    Is this an excuse or is Hammel really injured? 

    Despite not walking many batters over the course of the season, and striking out 138 batters in 170 innings pitched, Hammel is struggling at the moment. The Rockies "postseason" has begun, as every game is a "must-win" from here on out.

    Hammel's pitching coach believes his velocity hasn't wavered, and said he just needs to find a way to work through days where he doesn't have his best stuff. Unfortunately for the Rockies, Hammel hasn't had his best stuff for a few starts now.

    For the Rockies' sake, they better hope he regains his form real soon, otherwise, another memorable September run will turn into a month they'd like to forget.    

Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta Braves

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    ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 09:  Starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens #49 of the Atlanta Braves is pulled from the game in the fourth inning after giving up a homer to Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals at Turner Field on September 9, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Coming off a career season in 2009, going 14-10 with a 2.60 ERA, 152 strikeouts, and 1.21 WHIP, the Atlanta Braves were looking to see nothing, but improvement from the 24-year old. However, Jair Jurrjens has failed to live up to expectations this season, and should find himself left off the playoff roster (if the Braves hold on).

    Back on Sept. 4 against the Florida Marlins, it appeared Jurrjens had turned the corner when he tossed seven shutout innings, while striking out seven, and giving up only three hits.

    But since that outing, he has allowed 11 runs over his last two starts, including giving up four runs over five innings in a loss to the Nationals this past week, increasing his ERA to 4.64 on the season.

    As the Braves enter a crucial three-game series against the NL East leading, Phillies, the Braves were supposed to call upon Jurrjens to get them back on track if they hope to narrow the gap in the standings, but Jurrjens was unable to pitch because he's still nursing a sore right knee.

    Prior to losing his last two starts, giving up 11 runs and four homers in 8.2 innings, Jurrjens had collected four wins in a row.  If the Braves want their manager's (Bobby Cox) final season in the dugout to be a memorable one, Jurrjens and company needs to figure themselves out.

    Let's hope it's only a matter of time until Jurrjens does.  It would be great to see Cox end his final year in the dugout with a chance at a World Series title. 

Rich Harden, Texas Rangers

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    OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 07:  Rich Harden #40 of the Texas Rangers reacts after walking in a run in the first inning of their game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 7, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra S
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Rich Harden is going to get what he deserves. 

    Therefore, barring another injury to not only himself, but to any other starter in the rotation, he will be used in mop-up/long reliever duties during the playoffs. 

    Once again, Harden has failed to stay healthy during the season, leaving the Texas Rangers no option, but to replace him in the rotation. 

    The Rangers are set up to pitch in the playoffs, Cliff Lee, Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland will close out the rotation.  If one of these starters goes down, manager Ron Washington has Tommy Hunter waiting in the wings to be the fill-in starter. If the Rangers need to rely on Harden for a postseason performance, their magical season will turn into a nightmare. 

    Harden (5-5, 5.42 ERA) has been pitching out of the bullpen since he was activated from the DL on August 23.

    When the Rangers signed Harden to a one-year $6.5 million contract, with a mutual option for 2011, they took a chance on a talent, who has struggled to stay healthy over the course of his career. 

    Now, he's not only struggling  to find a spot in the rotation, but he's hoping, he'll find himself pitching in a crucial situation in October, proving to us all, he still has the artillery to be a starting pitcher in baseball.

    While we can only watch, it's up to his manager to give him that chance.   

Javier Vazquez, New York Yankees

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 21:  Javier Vazquez #31 of the New York Yankees looks on after surrendering a third inning home run to Ichiro Suzuki #51 of the Seattle Mariners on August 21, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim M
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Javier Vazquez does not deserve a spot in the Yankees pitching rotation for the playoffs.

    It's that simple.

    With Andy Pettitte back in the mix, Vazquez, whose been shuttling in and out of the rotation all year, partly due to his 10-9 record, and 5.09 ERA,  will most likely be spending the remainder of the season in the bullpen (and hopefully, not pitching out of the bullpen).   

    Vazquez, who hasn't gone more than five innings in any of his past five starts, has proven time and again, he can't handle the pressure of pitching in New York during the playoffs, and come this postseason, nothing is going to change.

Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati Reds

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    CINCINNATI - JULY 22:  Edinson Volquez #36 of the Cincinnati Reds is pictured after giving up his last hit and run allowed during the game against the Washington Nationals at Great American Ball Park on July 22, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He lasted only in
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    While Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo will be part of Cincinnati's three-man October rotation, this past week, Reds manager Dusty Baker confirmed that Edinson Volquez is likely to be the third starter for the playoffs.

    The right-handed Volquez shut out the Pirates last week with a 10-strikeout performance, and this past Thursday, held the Diamondbacks to three runs, while fanning seven.

    But despite Volquez's previous two impressive outings, since returning to the rotation after missing the entire first half of the season due to Tommy John surgery (to go along with a PED suspension), Volquez has been erratic and inconsistent.

    Prior to his Sept. 16 start against the Diamondbacks, in his previous nine starts, Volquez has compiled an abysmal 5.14 ERA, and has only pitched into the seventh inning twice.   

    Hoping that Volquez can anchor their rotation in the playoffs and be a reliable starter, there are definitely some question marks after Cueto and Arroyo.

    This season, it has been a roller-coaster ride for Volquez.  Not knowing what to expect, Volquez, who's 3-3 with a 4.99 ERA on the season, is striking out 9.9 batters per nine innings, which would be a career-high over a full season.  It’s hard to say which Volquez the Reds can expect to come.

    The velocity is there, but the ERA is up.   

    The strikeouts are up, but so are the walks.

    Volquez’s performance has to be considered anything but a sure thing going forward, and will be extremely nerve-wracking for Baker and the city of Cincinnati when the playoffs begin. 

Nick Blackburn, Minnesota Twins

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 27: Brian Duensing #52 of the Minnesota Twins speaks to manager Ron Gardenhire #35 in the eighth inning against the New York Yankees during their game on May 27, 2010 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the
    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Rotating between the minors and the bigs throughout the course of the season, Nick Blackburn has failed to solidify a spot in the Twins starting rotation during the season.

    Therefore, he should be spending the postseason pitching out of the bullpen, but in all likelihood, the Twins playoff starting rotation will most likely be Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Brian Duensing, and Nick Blackburn.

    But does Blackburn deserve to be there?

    Led by Carl Pavano's 17 wins (scary thought),  all season long the Twins have opted for a five-man rotation, but all signs point towards a four-man rotation, once the playoffs begins. However, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire should think twice about pitching Blackburn in the playoffs. 

    Although Blackburn won six of his first nine games, while being extremely effective, he's since pitched poorly, while spending some time in the minors.

    Since being recalled from the minors on Aug. 21, despite having a losing record of 2-3, he has lowered his ERA from 6.49 to 5.43. But the Twins should not bank on Blackburn in the playoffs.

    They can ill afford to rely on someone who struggled during  "meaningless" regular-season games, leaving the uncertainty of whether or nor, the pressure of pitching in the postseason will get to Blackburn.

    In one postseason start, Blackburn failed to make it through six innings of work.

    Expectations are raised during the postseason. 

    With the shaky season, Blackburn has had, going 9-10 with a 5.43 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP, it doesn't appear Blackburn will be able to meet those expectations.

    And for the team that is currently one of the best in the majors right now, will soon be experiencing another disappointing end to their season.

Jeff Niemann, Tampa Bay Rays

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    ST. PETERSBURG - AUGUST 31:  Manager Joe Maddon #70 of the Tampa Bay Rays takes out pitcher Jeff Niemann #34 against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Tropicana Field on August 31, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Less than three months ago, rookie Wade Davis' horrendous pitching performances had fans calling for top prospect Jeremy Hellickson to replace him in the rotation.

    Since then, Davis  (12-9, 4.24 ERA) has a seven-game winning streak, tied for the longest in club history, and has been Tampa Bay's second-most consistent starter of late after Cy Young Award contender David Price,  most likely earning him a  spot in the Rays' four-man postseason rotation.

    However, the same cannot be said about starter Jeff Neimann (7-10), who fell to 0-4 in his five starts since his disabled list stint in August with a strained shoulder.  In those starts, Neimann failed to record an out in the sixth inning, only allowing fewer than five runs once.

    Neimann insists he's fine, but his performances on the mound tell a different story.  

    While his ERA before the All-Star break was 2.77, seventh best in the American League, last year's staff leader in wins and ERA has a 9.07 ERA since the All-Star break, the highest in the majors among starters.

    Neimann will find himself pitching out of the bullpen if he doesn't straighten himself out. With the way he's been pitching of late, that might not be such a terrible thing. 

The San Diego Padres Pitching Staff

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    ST. LOUIS - SEPTEMBER 17: Starter Matt Latos #38 of the San Diego Padres regroups after giving up consecutive hits against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on September 17, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Having lost six of their last 10 games, and trailing the San Francisco Giants by a half of a game in the NL West, the San Diego Padres need every win they can get.   

    They can look towards the offense for help.  As a team San Diego is hitting .249 with Adrian Gonzalez leading the way hitting .306, with 29 home runs, 97 RBI, and 82 runs scored.

    But it doesn't begin at the plate. The help needs to come from the mound.

    With a team ERA of 3.47, the starters at 3.81 and the bullpen at 2.85, the pitching must shoulder  the blame for this monumental collapse.  Leading the West by six-and-a-half games on August 26, the Padres have dropped seven of 11, and are 7-17 since having that six-and-a-half game lead in the division.

    The Padres rotation has gone 1-5 with a 9.00 ERA in the last eight games. Clayton Richard (12-8, 3.70 ERA) allowed a career-high eight earned runs and 11 hits in three innings (shortest outing of his career) last Wednesday.  And despite having  a 1.64 ERA in his previous six outings, the Padres have lost his last four starts, and he's 0-3 during that stretch,  matching his longest losing streak of his career.

    Mat Latos (14-7, 2.84 ERA), who's been the ace of the Padres staff for the entire year, has given up 13 ER in his previous two starts, lasting only 5.1 innings—not the way an ace is supposed to pitch. 

    Now is not the time manager Bud Black wants to see his pitching staff struggle.  He has two more weeks to turn his time around. We all get to see what the Padres are made of. 

Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants

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    SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 14:  Barry Zito #75 of the San Francisco Giants looks on before being taken out of the game in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during a Major League Baseball game at AT&T Park on September 14, 2010 in San Francis
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Why Barry Zito doesn't deserve a spot in the San Francisco Giants' playoff rotation?

    Prior to Sunday's win against the Brewers (That's right, he beat Milwaukee):

    1. Zito failed to record a win 11 previous starts.
    2. Zito was 0-9 in those starts (plus a relief outing).
    3. Zito hadn't won since July 16.
    4. Zito was on the cusp of becoming the first Giant in 70 years to lose 10 consecutive decisions over one season (Bill Lohrman, 1940).
    5. Zito is 9-13 with a 3.98 ERA.

    So this is what $126 million dollars gets you.

    When the Giants announce their playoff rotation, it'll be interesting to see if manager Bruce Bochy gives Zito a chance to pitch in the playoffs. 

    He certainly doesn't deserve one.

Joe Blanton/Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies

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    PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 19:  Starting pitcher Joe Blanton #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies wipes his forehead as he walks back to the dugout at the end of the top of the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Four of the NLCS during the 2009
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    It's not that Kendrick and Blanton have ERA's over 4.75

    It's not that Kendrick or Blanton have failed to win 11 games.

    Simply put, neither of them are better than Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, or Cole Hamels.  Therefore, neither of them deserve to be on the mound when the playoffs begin. 

    Since July 30, the "Big Three" have combined to go 19-5 with a 2.39 ERA, which includes Hamels' record of 4-0, and his miniscule ERA of .63 in the month of September.

    If I were manager Charlie Manuel, let these three take you all the way to the World Series. There's no way they can lose. 

AJ Burnett, New York Yankees

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 02:  A.J. Burnett #34 of the New York Yankees hands the ball to manager Joe Giradi #28 as he leaves the game against the Toronto Blue Jays in the fifth inning on August 2, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (P
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    As displayed by his eight-inning shutout performance at Camden Yards back on April 29, A.J. Burnett can be unhittable at times, but the 2010 season, has been an up-and-down ride  for the New York Yankees $82.5 million man. 

    Last season, the Yankees went with a three-man rotation during the playoffs, riding the arms of CC Sabathia, Burnett, and Andy Pettitte all the way to the 27th World Series championship in franchise history, but if the Yankees are planning another parade down the Canyon of Heroes this fall, that three-man rotation might have been reduced to a two-headed monster.

    While Sabathia is on the verge of winning his second Cy Young Award, once again earning every penny of the $161 million contract he signed before the 2009 season, other than the 20-game winner, Girardi's starting pitching options remain a question mark, especially Burnett who has been a disaster in his second season in New York.

    Burnett, 10-13 with a 5.08 ERA, is a miserable 3-6 with a 5.94 ERA since the All-Star break, and has only found the win column once, in his previous nine starts. 

    Pettitte was great for the Yankees in the first half of the season, going 11-2 with a 2.70 ERA and making his first All-Star team since 2001.  After returning from the disabled list with a groin injury, the 38-year-old is now back in the rotation, but there's no telling what kind of production the Yankees can expect from Pettitte when the postseason begins, leaving Burnett to play an important role in the playoffs. 

    That is a very scary thought for any Yankee fan, but as it stands right now, Girardi has no choice. The Yankees might need to depend on their bats to carry them to a second straight championship.

    Because if they plan on depending on Burnett, it will be a very short postseason this fall, and a very long winter in the Bronx. 

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