A version of this story appears in the October 3 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
FOR MONTHS NOW, New York Yankees fans have been buzzing about October. With the postseason clearly in reach, the team's clubhouse conversation has turned to the biggest decision left to be made: determining the playoff pitching rotation. Who is in it, and in what order, can make or break a World Series run and undo 162 games of stellar play.
You don't have to remind Yankees manager Joe Girardi about the importance of aligning his arms. Before the team won it all in 2009, he arranged his rotation so he had to use only three starters -- CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett -- the entire playoffs. His club's lack of pitching depth was never exposed.
This year, Girardi has a different challenge. Sabathia will get the ball in Game 1 of the opening series. Beyond that, the manager will have to choose among five options. Veteran reclamation projects Bartolo Colon (3.81 ERA) and Freddy Garcia (3.77 ERA) have been pleasant surprises, but they have been outpitched down the stretch by rookie Ivan Nova, who is 15-4. Phil Hughes dominated in 2010 and might have the most upside of the group when healthy, but he's battled shoulder woes and has a WHIP of almost 1.5.