The Yankees begin their final series of the season, against the Tampa Bay Rays, with nothing to play for as they wrapped up home-field until the World Series during the 9-1 thrashing of the Red Sox on Saturday.
However, a major benefit of having no incentive for winning these final three games is that they will be able to rest regulars while giving the Rays a golden opportunity at winning the Wild Card over the Red Sox. The Red Sox will be playing the Orioles for their final three games, and even though Baltimore is in last place they have a great chance at continuing to play spoiler since they swept the Red Sox last week during their impressive month of September.
The Red Sox currently hold a one-game lead over the Rays and Hector Noesi, who has mainly pitched out of the bullpen, will be pitching tonight for the Yankees in Tropicana Field. The Yankees obviously want Noesi to pitch well but if he allows four or five runs it will not be the end of the world. All that matters in these last three games is that nobody gets injured before the playoffs commence.
The Catch-22 in this scenario is that the Rays could potentially be the more difficult team for the Yankees in the American League Championship Series because of their vastly superior starting pitching, but the Yankees would like nothing more than having the Red Sox miss the playoffs as a result having an even worse September record than the worst team of all-time, the 1962 Mets.
Bartolo Colon will pitch the second game of the series against rookie Jeremy Hellickson. After Tampa sent out James Shields in the first game, who has a 2.87 ERA, the Yankees will have another challenge in game two when facing Hellickson, who comes in with 13 wins and a stellar 2.90 ERA.
During the month of September, Colon (4.02 ERA, 132 strikeouts) has pitched himself out of consideration for a spot in the playoff rotation, for the first round, since he has allowed four runs or more in three out of his last four starts. However, even though he only has an outside chance of being the fourth starter in the ALCS, he still deserves the Comeback Player of the Year, after not pitching in baseball last season, and having his first solid campaign since 2005.
The rotation that would give the Yankees the best chance of winning in the first round, against either the Tigers or Rangers, would be CC Sebathia, Ivan Nova and then Freddy Garcia. However, it is hard to figure out why Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman are even considering A.J. Burnett for a playoff start. Even though he had one of his better starts of his season, allowing two runs in 7.2 innings in the 6-2 win on Sunday, he is too inconsistent to be relied upon in the playoffs.
Mariano Rivera, who is the best closer of all-time, recently received another accolade, after being named the Player of the Week. He has made at least 60 appearances for the 14th time in his career and has recorded his 8th career 40 save season.
He set the all-time saves record with his 602nd last week, while coming off of a two week span where he has picked up five saves, pitched six innings and only allowed three hits. He will be a valuable asset in the postseason, as he is probably the best playoff pitcher of all-time, sporting a miniscule ERA of 0.71 during his 15 seasons appearing in the postseason.