Yankees, Burnett have no room for error

Yankees manager Joe Girardi will have tonight's starter, A.J. Burnett, on a short leash. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Here’s what I’m looking for in Game 4 of the ALDS between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers, as well as Game 3 of the NLDS between the Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks.


• Yankees right-hander A.J. Burnett looked like his old self during his last four starts of the regular season, as his fastball command returned, and he struck out 32 men in his final 23 2/3 innings. However, with the Yankees on the verge of elimination, Burnett will be on a short leash. His success tonight will depend on his curveball. If he can’t get it over for strikes, he will be out of the game by the fourth inning. Detroit’s plan will be to not offer at any curveballs, always taking them unless there are two strikes, and sit on Burnett’s fastball, which he throws 60 percent of the time.

• Even if Burnett pitches well, he will not pitch more than six innings. With the Yankees pinned against the wall, manager Joe Girardi will want to get the ball to relievers David Robertson and Mariano Rivera as quickly as possible if the Bombers have any sort of lead. Do not be surprised to see Rivera go two innings to preserve a potential win.

• Tigers starter Rick Porcello does not miss a lot of bats, which means Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson is going to have to cover a lot of ground tonight. Magglio Ordonez is nearly statuesque in right field, and with what I predict will be a big game from Mark Teixeira tonight, Jackson’s Gold Glove-caliber defense will be called upon to cut off the right-center-field gap. What has been exposed about the Tigers is their lack of range at multiple positions. If the Tigers have any sort of lead, Ordonez will be replaced by Don Kelly by the sixth inning.

• I scouted Porcello when he was as a high schooler at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey, and while he doesn’t throw the 97 mph fastball or big looping curveball he used to, Porcello has shown he has the maturity to handle a big game like tonight's. Making it to the majors as fast as he did (as a 20-year-old) is a statement unto itself, but Porcello’s also junked the curveball in favor of a slider, and he’ll pair that up with a plus-command fastball that sits around 92-93 mph.


• Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson should win NL Manager of the Year for the job he did during the regular season. However, during the postseason he’s been terrible. Gibson said at the outset of the series that he would not let the combination of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder beat his team. But that is exactly what has happened, with Braun and Fielder going a combined 9-for-16 with three doubles and two homers. Gibson also left right-hander Ian Kennedy in to face Fielder in Game 1. Fielder could be seen in the on-deck circle visibly surprised -- and then summarily crushed a Kennedy fastball to right field. Gibson should remember next time to bring in lefty Joe Paterson, against whom Fielder is 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

• Milwaukee’s spark plug, Nyjer Morgan, will play a big role tonight. He provides energy and hustle and always makes a difference in big games. As a guy who can run down any ball in both gaps, look for Morgan to play some stellar defense tonight.

• Though relievers Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford handle most of the Brewers’ late-inning responsibilities, look for manager Ron Roenicke to deploy reliever LaTroy Hawkins if the Diamondbacks are threatening and Justin Upton is at the plate. Upton is 0-for-5 with two strikeouts against Hawkins, who has served capably during his career as a setup man and closer, so pressure situations are not new to him.

• Much will be made about the Brewers’ lack of success on the road, but that record is very misleading. Though the Brewers posted a 39-42 overall road record, many of those losses came in the first two months of the season, during which they went 9-19 as visitors. The last two months of the season, during which they went 16-9 on the road, tell a different story. The Brewers will make it a sweep tonight in Arizona.