There’s a thing about rain-outs. Actually, there are two things.
- They suck.
- In theory, they should offer neither team an advantage.
The first one’s pretty evident. Where once there was supposed to be baseball, now there is no baseball, thanks to the rain, and that sucks. The second one seems pretty evident as well. Instead of there being baseball between two teams on one day, there will be baseball between the two teams the next day, with each team having been identically inconvenienced. But the reality is that the inconveniences aren’t always identical, and that’s what we observe in the ALCS between the Tigers and the Yankees. Rain delayed Game 4 by a day — so far, at least — and this has without question worked out in the Tigers’ favor.
You already know why, but to quickly review, just in case: the Yankees need to win the remaining four games of the series. Entering Wednesday, they were set up to have CC Sabathia start Game 4 on full rest, and then to have Sabathia start a potential Game 7 on short rest. Pitchers tend to be worse on short rest than they are on full rest, but Sabathia has a history of pitching effectively on three days’ rest, and even a below-100-percent Sabathia is better than the Yankees’ alternatives. Now in a Game 7, the Yankees would have to look to their alternatives, because instead of pitching Wednesday, Sabathia’s pitching Thursday. Two days’ rest isn’t a thing for starting pitchers.
Also, I’ll just throw in that Phil Coke was given a day off after working hard. Now, come Game 4, Coke will be rested. But the members of the Yankees’ bullpen will also be rested. This is mainly about Sabathia.
The Yankees have to win four games, and instead of having two of those games started by their ace, only one of those games could be started by their ace, with the second one going to Phil Hughes, or David Phelps, or Ivan Nova, or someone. The Tigers haven’t been inconvenienced really at all — Justin Verlander is still lined up for any would-be seventh game. Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are there for any Games 5 and 6.
Because there wasn’t any new ALCS baseball to talk about today, reporters started talking about potential future ALCS baseball, and this subject came up. To a man, the Yankees all responded that they can’t think about Game 7, because they have to think about Game 4. The Yankees have to take this one day at a time and not get wrapped up in the improbability of what they need to accomplish. That’s all well and true. But Brian Cashman did rule out Sabathia as a Game 7 starter. The role would be too taxing, and the Yankees have Sabathia under contract for a while. They’d like the guy to stay healthy.
Perhaps a little too much is being made of this, I don’t know. Let’s use the simplest math possible and estimate that the Yankees had a 50-percent chance of winning each of their remaining individual games. Based on that, the Yankees’ odds of winning four games in a row would’ve been 6.3 percent. Now take that last 50 percent — the Game 7 50 percent — and drop it to, I don’t know, 40 percent, to account for replacing Sabathia with someone else. Based on that, the Yankees’ odds of winning four games in a row would be 5 percent. Overall, it’s not that much of a change, and I probably overestimated Sabathia’s impact.
But it’s clear that the Yankees went a day without playing any baseball, and their odds of advancing got worse. Phil Hughes was removed from his last start with a back injury, and even though he says he feels okay, he’s Phil Hughes. David Phelps posted some interesting numbers, but there were concerns, and neither of these guys is Sabathia. In fact, they’d be righties in Yankee Stadium, instead of a lefty who could shut down lefties and keep hitters away from the right-field porch.
What matters the most is Game 4, and after that Games 5 and 6 before a Game 7, but one just can’t not think about the potential implications of the rain-out in the series. It’s funny; a few days ago, I was thinking about writing a post suggesting the Yankees start Sabathia on short rest in Game 3, opposite Verlander. Then he’d be on full rest in a Game 7. I was talking to Dave about the potential advantages and disadvantages of matching up aces, and ultimately we both decided it didn’t make much of a difference either way. So that post never got written. But now in hindsight we can say, yes, absolutely the Yankees should’ve started CC Sabathia in Game 3. What were they thinking!
If we’re going to allow ourselves to get ahead of ourselves, and we pretty clearly are, we can say that the Yankees’ best plan for Game 7 might be going with a bullpen game. Start Hughes and give him a short leash. Follow with Phelps and give him a short leash. Maybe Sabathia would be available in relief, since I believe that would be his throw day. In last year’s ALDS against the Tigers, Sabathia threw 106 pitches on October 3, then he threw 37 pitches in relief on October 6. Just because Sabathia wouldn’t start doesn’t mean Sabathia wouldn’t pitch at all, as all hands would presumably be on deck. A bullpen game might give the Yankees their best shot at beating an ace.
But that’s a ways off, and of course any number of things could happen between now and that potential reality. If the Tigers win on Thursday, it all hardly matters. If the Tigers win on Friday or Saturday, it all hardly matters. It matters for a seventh game, and that’s three consecutive Yankees wins away. The Yankees need to take advantage of one Sabathia start before they can lament the unfortunate lack of a second.
I think, without question, Wednesday’s rain-out made the Yankees’ odds of making the World Series worse. If it’s any consolation to Yankees fans, it didn’t make them much worse, because with one Sabathia start or two Sabathia starts, the odds are still highly unlikely. For now, this is just something worthy of acknowledgment. But in the event that we get to a seventh game? In the event that, with the stakes the highest, Justin Verlander opposes Phil Hughes, because the weather in Detroit had an attitude? The Yankees were victims of a bad call in Game 1, and they were victims of a bad call in Game 2. Those fans probably aren’t in the mood to deal with this.