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Can Colon win for Yanks in postseason?
Let’s assume that BaseballProspectus.com has accurately calculated the Yankees’ chances of making the postseason, currently listed at 97.9 percent.
Fast-forward to Game 2 of the Division Series, which Joe Torre used to consider the turning point in any short series.
In past years, the choice was easy: Give the ball to Andy Pettitte, whose maturity and pedigree turned him into an October machine — his 19 postseason victories are the most in major league history. Except for the three years Pettitte was with the Astros, he was a safety net in the Bronx. It'd been that way since 1995, until the trusted left-hander finally retired in February. The Bombers have been searching for a No. 2 starter ever since.
Rival executives consider it the Yankees’ greatest vulnerability — a rotation that’s littered with question marks. After CC Sabathia, how many bullets does Joe Girardi really have?
Incredibly, Bartolo Colon has emerged as the best (and maybe only) option after Sabathia. This is an obvious indictment of A.J. Burnett, but also an endorsement of the former Cy Young Award winner Colon, who after sitting out the 2010 season with shoulder problems is turning into one of the best free-agent signings in recent Yankee history.
The Bombers, in fact, have already gotten a return on their investment with Colon: his 8-6 record and 3.30 ERA have revealed flashes of his 2005 prime. The Yankees have decided this is no longer a fluke; Colon’s efficiency impacted GM Brian Cashman’s calculus at the trading deadline.
When it was time to make a decision on Ubaldo Jimenez — whether to allow the Rockies to pluck Ivan Nova, Jesus Montero and Dellin Betances in exchange — Cashman asked himself who he’d really prefer to have on the mound in Game 2 of the postseason. Jimenez or Colon?
The Yankees had been considering Jimenez for weeks, but were also wary enough of his declining velocity to ask for a medical exam prior to a trade. According to the New York Post, GM Dan O’Dowd refused Cashman’s request, which led to an impasse in negotiations.
Turns out, the two executives never spoke again after Wednesday, which is why Cashman said “We were never close” to acquiring Jimenez.
The verdict had been rendered by the Yankees' hierarchy well before Sunday’s deadline. Why take a chance on a pitcher who’d lost 3-4 mph on his fastball, has never been the same since the first half of the 2010 season, had never won a postseason game and, through no fault of his own, has never proved he could handle AL East-type pressure?
Cashman correctly pointed out, “For us, pitching in a sold-out Stadium against the Red Sox, that’s the same thing as the playoffs.” Using that metric, Colon was the better choice, especially since Jimenez would’ve cost the Yankees so much in young talent.
Granted, Colon is not young (38), he’s already thrown more innings this season than at any time since 2005. He’s also a health risk, having been on the DL once this season with hamstring problems. And this recent trend line is troubling to Yankee officials: The AL batted .307 against Colon in July, a 121-point surge over June.
But it’s also true that Colon, when in sync, throws harder than Jimenez — or any of the other Yankee starters, for that matters. He’s topped out at 96-mph, as well as featuring a sharp, lateral-moving two-seam fastball that looks like a screwball on steroids.
One talent evaluator said, “Colon can just about neutralize any left-handed hitter” with that two-seamer, aiming it at the batter’s hip and then guiding over the outside corner.
It’s a more effective weapon than Burnett’s knuckle-curveball, which so often bounces in the dirt, and Phil Hughes’ fastball, which has lost much of its fury. Hughes is down to 91 mph this season, still trying to remake himself as a location specialist after a meteoric rise through the organization as a power pitcher.
Still, it bears repeating: The Yankees are under no illusion about their reliance on Colon. Cashman himself, said, “He’s pitched like a No. 2, but whether he can stay healthy, I can’t guarantee that.”
One short-term solution is to go to a six-man rotation while Girardi decides between Hughes or Nova for the No. 5 spot. Both will pitch this week, giving Colon an extra few days before he faces the Red Sox at Fenway on Friday.
The audition won’t last long, however, which means Colon will soon be back on a five-day calendar. The right-hander seems up for the task, insisting, “I feel good,” even though he needed 102 pitches to get through five innings against the Orioles on Saturday.
It’s little blips like that that make the Yankees nervous. Cashman, however, is convinced he made the right choice passing on Jimenez. Alex Rodriguez will soon return from the disabled list, and with Montero and Manny Banuelos soon to be called up from Class-AAA, the GM believes he emerged from the trading deadline with the best of both worlds — an intact roster, and a farm system that will pay dividends very quickly.
But that still doesn’t address October’s biggest question: Who gets the ball after Sabathia? As of today, it’s Colon or bust, which is another way for the Yankees to say: Our fingers are crossed.