What would the Giants look like in the post-season without Tim Lincecum? What about the Yankees if the A.J. Burnett they get is last month’s, not Monday night’s?
There is something bizarre about the rapidity with which the Giants had prized prospect (and the singularly named) Madison Bumgarner ready to go as soon as the news came down that Tim Lincecum would not pitch against the Padres Tuesday night. As late as Tuesday morning, newspapers in Eastern League cities had Bumgarner pitching the opening game of that circuit’s playoffs, Wednesday night, for the Connecticut Defenders. I know we have jets nowadays, and you could actually get from the Nutmeg State to SFO Airport in less than six weeks of stagecoach relays, but doesn’t it strike you that the Giants had to have had more of a hint that the incumbent Cy Young Winner’s back was acting up, than they’re letting on?
In turn, does that suggest that Lincecum is more hurt than they’re letting on? Certainly the reach to Bumgarner – the minors’ best pitching prospect even though he is barely two years removed from high school – implies that. To be fair, there was nobody on the active Giants’ roster this morning who had started a game in the majors this year (concurrent with Bumgarner’s promotion, Joe Martinez was summoned from Fresno, but Martinez pitched four innings on Saturday). Still, Madison Bumgarner, 3,000 miles away, does not sound like the likeliest emergency starter, even if you’re two games out in the wild card.
This update: as Bumgarner made his debut against the Padres, on the San Diego telecast, Mark Grant (who himself debuted as a 20-year old Giants starter before Bumgarner was born), offers an intriguing theory that uses the same evidence to reach the exact opposite conclusion. It’s not that Lincecum’s hurt, it’s that he’s just a little tired, and the rest could do him good for his next two starts, both against the Dodgers. I have to say Big Grant’s theory holds at least as much water as my own.
Meantime the Yankees are breathing a little more deeply after A.J. Burnett’s solid work on Monday, though they are fully aware that their second most expensive free agent starter was on the ropes in the night game against the Rays until Andy Sonnanstine took him off it by giving up eight runs. Forget Jeter, Sabathia, Rivera, Teixeira and all the rest – Burnett might be the most pivotal figure in New York’s post-season hopes. If he is the lights-out pitcher of the spring and early summer the Yankees are the favorites in any post-season series.
But if he’s not, the Yankee rotation is Sabathia and The Question Marks. Andy Pettitte has been successful but nearly as generous to the hitters as Burnett. The Yankees have meanwhile completely screwed up Joba Chamberlain. This leaves… Sergio Mitre? Somebody in the Bronx is likely regretting having not given Alfredo Aceves a more serious look as a starter.
The Yankees’ starting weakness and another flaw are the kind that might not show up over the course of a long season against a lot of those pitching-poor, fundamentally-unsound AL also-rans, but could be fatal in the playoffs. The second problem is outfield defense. Brett Gardner can run down anything, but could not stave off Melky Cabrera’s bat. Johnny Damon is still a strong outfielder, and still would be better off returning the ball to the infield by FedEx. Cabrera is a mixed bag in the field. Nick Swisher could have the team’s best outfield arm, and that should terrify any Yankee fan who contemplated a playoff series turning on a successful relay play to the plate, or even a great catch in rightfield.
One other pitching note: the mutterings are that the Rockies are not as confident as they appear, that Huston Street will be back closing by this weekend or even the first of next week. Nothing firm on this, but worth noting (and thanks to the lights-out brilliance of Franklin Morales, not necessarily a big thing one way or another – except if it lingers to the post-season and experience or its lack is magnified).