Can New York Yankees Survive October with 3 Starters?

Phil Watson@FurtherReviewCorrespondent IOctober 1, 2012

Phil Hughes was hit hard again at Toronto on Sunday.
Phil Hughes was hit hard again at Toronto on Sunday.Abelimages/Getty Images

Three years ago, the New York Yankees won the World Series by going through the entire postseason with a three-man starting rotation of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte.

Each made five starts as the Yankees went swept the Minnesota Twins in the Division Series, beat the Los Angeles Angels in six games in the American League Championship Series and knocked off the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies in six games to win the World Series.

It’s looking more and more likely that if the Yankees are to succeed this postseason, manager Joe Girardi may have to consider a similar tactic.

Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes were both hit hard as the Yankees had to struggle to win two of four games at Toronto.

Nova was battered for six hits and four earned runs in just 4.2 innings on Saturday as the Blue Jays blanked the Yankees 6-0, and Hughes couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning Sunday, surrendering eight hits and five earned runs before New York rallied for a 9-6 victory.

Nova is a very deceptive 12-8 in 28 starts this season. But just two of those wins have come after the All-Star break as the young right-hander has disintegrated in the second half. Since the break, Nova is 2-5 with a whopping 7.05 ERA in 11 starts, with a WHIP of 1.63. He’s surrendered 75 hits and 11 home runs in just 60 innings of work after going 10-3 with a 3.92 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 17 first-half starts.

Hughes hasn’t pitched particularly well since throwing 7.1 shutout innings at the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 13. In his three starts since then, Hughes is 1-1 and has allowed 13 runs (all earned) and 18 hits in 15.1 innings. Hughes continues to tantalize Yankee fans with his inconsistency.

In 32 starts this season, Hughes is 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA and 1.26 WHIP but has surrendered 35 home runs in 191.1 innings, tied with Jason Vargas of the Seattle Mariners for the second-most in the majors this season. Only Ervin Santana of the Los Angeles Angels, with 39 gopher balls given up, has allowed more.

The obvious concerns about the prospect of using a three-man rotation for the playoffs are age and health.

Sabathia is the youngest of the three most dependable New York starters at 32. But he’s had two stints on the disabled list already this season, missing time in late June and early July with a strained left groin and sitting out two weeks in August with a sore left elbow.

Since returning from the DL on Aug. 24, Sabathia has had three very good starts and four dicey ones. Overall since his return, he is 2-3 with a 3.04 ERA and 1.19 WHIP; still solid numbers overall. For the year, the big left-hander is 14-6 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 27 starts.

Hiroki Kuroda, 37, had his worst month of the season in September, putting up a 5.22 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in five starts, although he still managed to get three wins. For the year, Kuroda is 15-11 in 32 starts with a 3.34 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.

Pettitte, 40, returned this season after not pitching in the majors in 2011 and missed nearly three months with a fractured bone in his ankle.

He surrendered the first runs he’d allowed since returning on Sept. 19 as he took the loss Thursday at Toronto, allowing three runs and five hits in 5.2 innings. That came after five shutout innings in a win over the Blue Jays on Sept. 19 and six scoreless frames in a win over the Minnesota Twins Sept. 24.

It would be a risky strategy to shorten the rotation but would it be any less risky than handing the ball to Hughes or Nova under postseason pressure? That's a roll of the dice Girardi and Yankee management will have to ponder.