Yankees starter A.J. Burnett is eager to justify manager Joe Girardi's decision to stick with him in the rotation -- and he certainly has the skill set to do it. For all his struggles this season, particularly since the All-Star break, Burnett still possesses some of the best swing-and-miss stuff in the game. He was more than a full run better at Yankee Stadium this season than away from home, and he posted a 2.50 ERA in three starts against the Rangers this season.
Rangers sluggers Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Ian Kinsler, Michael Young and Nelson Cruz are a combined 31-for-136 (.228) in their careers against Burnett. (Opposing view: Why the Rangers will win Game 4)
Such statistics may not be enough to erase the sour taste of Burnett's second half. But they are enough to give the Yankees hope.
"A guy with his type of stuff, you still don't know what you are going to get even when he's struggling," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "If you put him out there, his stuff could get nasty. One guy who you don't think is going to do anything might be the guy who steps up and has everything fall into place. You are darn right I'm concerned about him."
And it's not as if Burnett will need to be perfect. Rangers starter Tommy Hunter, while solid, has submitted two scoreless starts in 22 tries this season. In his lone outing against the Yankees in September, Hunter needed 98 pitches just to complete five innings of two-run ball.
This Yankees offense, facing anyone other than Lee, can put up runs in a hurry. Curtis Granderson is 4-for-6 lifetime off Hunter. Robinson Cano is 2-for-5. As a group, lefties have touched Hunter for a .272 average and 10 home runs this season -- and Yankee Stadium tends to exaggerate numbers such as those.
So there's a decent chance that even if Burnett does struggle, the Yankees will be able to post a sufficient number of runs off Hunter -- who lasted only four innings in his ALDS start against the Rays -- to take him off the hook.