"I believe this is going to go down to the end," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "This road trip is very important. It's as important as any road trip we've had, I believe. We have six games -- tough games -- in Seattle and Anaheim. This is an extremely important road trip."
While the Yankees have already started making preparations for a potential AL Division Series at Yankee Stadium, few are dismissing the last three weeks on the calendar as a formality. And the Bombers do have legitimate business to figure out, having been tossed a curveball of late with the state of their starting rotation.
A.J. Burnett, who gets the ball Friday, has been more unreliable than expected in recent starts. While Burnett -- 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA since the start of August -- has maintained that he is "not concerned" and vows the Yankees will "be all right," there are clearly crucial adjustments that he must make, avoiding the type of six-run innings that he served up to the Orioles in his last start.
"I'm throwing the ball where I want to for the most part," Burnett said. "You eliminate a couple of mistakes and everything's great."
This is the last lengthy trip of the season for the Yankees, who play three games apiece against the Mariners and Angels before returning home for a six-game homestand against the Red Sox and Royals. New York finishes up the campaign with three games at Tampa Bay, and with a magic number of 11 games to win the AL East looming, it is possible the club could be counting down quickly on the road.
"It's not what you really want to do, but it's the baseball schedule and you know it," Girardi said. "We knew it last November. It's just part of it. The West Coast teams have to go East, the East Coast teams have to go West. It's your schedule and you deal with it."
NYY: RHP A.J. Burnett (11-9, 4.33 ERA)
Presumably, Burnett will have three more opportunities in the regular season to prove his readiness for the playoffs -- which is good, because right now, he does not appear particularly close. A big inning undermined Burnett yet again last Saturday, when the Orioles scored six times in the second to send him to his fifth loss in six decisions. Since the start of August, Burnett is 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA, three times serving up at least four runs in an inning. He will look to rebound against the Mariners, a team he has not faced since beating them in 2007.
SEA: RHP Felix Hernandez (15-5, 2.52 ERA)
The Mariners ace is in the middle of the AL Cy Young Award race and is coming off another solid performance -- seven scoreless innings against the Rangers. It was the 16th time in 30 starts this season that he surrendered one or fewer runs. The two-seam fastball has been his bread-and-butter pitch this season. He needs seven strikeouts to reach the 200-strikeout mark for the first time in his career. Felix shows no favoritism -- both left- and right-handed batters are hitting .228 against this season. This will be his first start against the Yankees this season.
Jorge Posada will be serving the second game of his three-game suspension on Friday. Shelley Duncan is appealing a three-game suspension, and there has been no word on when the appeal will be set. ... Dave Robertson played catch on Wednesday at a distance of 60 feet and will do so again on Friday. Girardi called his progress encouraging. ... Mark Teixeira has reached the 40-double plateau for the third time in his career (also 2005 and 2006). ... Alex Rodriguez is hitting .396 (21-for-53) with eight runs, four doubles, two homers and 14 RBIs in 14 September games. ... Mariano Rivera has allowed just one earned run over his past 33 appearances (0.28 ERA, 33 innings), with eight walks and 32 strikeouts.
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Saturday: Yankees (CC Sabathia, 17-7, 3.42) at Mariners (Doug Fister, 2-2, 3.53), 10:10 p.m. ET
Sunday: Yankees (Joba Chamberlain, 8-5, 4.39) at Mariners (Ian Snell, 6-10, 5.17), 4:10 p.m. ET
Monday: Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 13-6, 4.14) at Angels (TBD), 10:05 p.m. ET