I really don't have much to say about the Blue Jays. As the season winds to a close it looks as though their splashy offseason will have netted them an extra six wins. That's nothing to sneeze at, but 86 wins just isn't going to cut it in the American League.
What's most compelling about the series that begins in Toronto tonight is that a) the Yankees could make like 1995 and clinch in Canada and b) because the rest of the rotation was scrunched into two days over the weekend and Cory Lidle is out with tendonitis in his pitching hand, the Yankees are running out a trio of rookie starters. This spring I did a lot of blabbing about the trio of 25-year-old pitchers in Columbus which I thought could produce this year's Chien-Ming Wang for the Yankees. Things didn't work out that way. Sean Henn and Darrell Rasner spent large chunks of the season on the DL and Matt DeSalvo was so awful that he was exiled to Trenton where he continued to walk more than he struck out. Henn inspired little confidence when healthy and was eventually converted to relief, though he'll return to the rotation in Lidle's stead on Wednesday.
Of the three, only Rasner, who starts tonight against the Jay's offseason poster boy A.J. Burnett, has displayed the sort of potential I had trumpeted in the spring. Rasner has been uniformly excellent for the Yankees in his limited opportunities this year. He posted a 2.89 ERA in the minors with a stellar 3.93 K/BB ratio--which includes a few rehab starts following his three-month DL stay due to shoulder soreness--and has allowed just one run in 11 2/3 major league innings (0.77 ERA), striking out eight and walking none. In his only previous start for the Yankees, Rasner held the Twins to a run on four hits over six full. Most recently he pitched in relief of tomorrow's starter Jeff Karstens and threw four one-hit shutout innings against the Devil Rays, striking out five and throwing a staggering 80 percent of just 45 pitches for strikes. That outing came on Thursday, which means Rasner is pitching on three-days rest, albeit from what amounts to half a start. I continue to hold out hope that Rasner will be a part of the discussion for next year's rotation. While I don't think he'll be able to work his way into the fourth spot in the playoff rotation, a good outing tonight could clinch his spot on the postseason roster as he could do for the Yankees what Ervin Santana did against them in Game 5 of the ALDS last year.
As for Burnett, he has been dominant over his last three starts--24 IP, 16 H, 4 R, 1 HR, 5 BB, 22 K--but it's too little, too late. In his last start against the Yankees, Burnett was bounced after giving up four runs in four innings and throwing 86 pitches. That start came in the Bronx. At home against the Yankees in late June, Burnett turned in 7 1/3 strong innings to earn just his second win of the year. He'll have to face a full set of Yankee starters tonight, though I expect to see Torre start resting guys again tomorrow as the Yankees play their second of three games on the Rogers Centre turf.
Hmmm, Rasner plus a full-strength Yankee line-up. I could get used to this.