New York Yankees: 4 Ways the Yanks Can Win the AL East
The New York Yankees' tumultuous 2012 campaign is beginning to come down to the wire.
After heading into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball and a seven-game lead in the AL East, the Bombers are currently in a dogfight to maintain control of their one-game lead in the division. The mass hysteria that ensued as the Baltimore Orioles rapidly caught up to an aging Yankees squad in the standings was deafening.
However, there are still several reason why the Yankees are in a prime position to win the AL East.
For Yankees fans, this season has been a roller coaster.
The team has played some incredible baseball, and then gone on to throw it all away in the standings. There have been serious injuries to key contributors, yet several fresh faces have stepped up to keep the Yankees afloat.
It's almost a miracle that the Yankees are where they are.
However, now that the season is nearing its end, the Bombers should be viewed as the favorites to come away with the AL East crown.
Been There, Done That
This is not the first time the Yankees core group of players will have to fight to the last day of the season for the divisional crown. In fact, this will be the third time since 2007 that the Bombers will be in a playoff race that is likely to be decided by two games or less.
This is a veteran, experienced group that has enough talent to beat anyone.
On the other hand, the Baltimore Orioles haven't been there before. For over a decade, the O's have been AL East bottom dwellers and have never come close to obtaining a playoff berth. That's not to say being young and inexperienced precludes them from winning the division.
However, it does not work in their favor.
When the season comes down to the last week and each game can determine a team's playoff fate, the Yankees are going to have a better idea of how to handle that pressure. We have seen team's like the Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves and New York Mets put on historic collapses in recent years because of their inability to perform under pressure.
The Orioles are a much more likely candidate to fall into that category as the October spotlight brightens upon them.
The Yankees have had some key players go down with injuries in 2012.
Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner are done for the year. Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte are just now returning from their respective wrist and ankle issues, and furthermore, Mark Teixeira is currently battling a calf strain that could keep him out until close to the start of the playoffs.
Through all of those injuries, the Yankees have a one-game lead on the toughest division in baseball. With Andy Pettitte coming back to add a quality, rested arm to the starting rotation, the Yankees are in prime position to make a run from now to the end of the season.
With that, the lineup has fought admirably in the absence of Mark Teixeira. Although the Bombers will surely miss his production, the Yankees just took two of three games from the Tampa Bay Rays. They still have the ability to consistently beat any team in baseball.
The return of A-Rod, Andy Pettitte, and possibly Mark Teixeira down the road will only strengthen the team's chances.
Power Bats Must Produce
Although the Yankees have the 11th-best team batting average in baseball, they have scored the second most runs and lead the majors in home runs—coming in at 218 so far on the season.
No other team is within 25 long balls of that mark.
Needless to say, the Yankees rely heavily on home runs to catapult their offense. While this has always been the Bombers reputation, we have seen the bats go cold at times throughout the season.
For the Yankees to win the division, players like Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Nick Swisher must continue to hit the ball over the fence. Rarely do the Yankees win by hitting more sacrifice flies than the other team, so it's important that the power bats propel the Bombers into October.
Bullpen Must Dominate
Even through the loss of Mariano Rivera, the Yankees still have one of the leagues most impressive bullpens. With David Robertson as the setup man and Rafael Soriano as the closer, the Bombers have the ability to shorten games.
The key to allowing the bullpen to succeed is good starting pitching.
While the Yankees do not match up with the likes of the Rays with their starting rotation, the return of Andy Pettitte and the emergence of Hiroki Kuroda will allow the team to put forth a formidable starter for every game.
That said, it's important that the bullpen remains intact.
With the loss of Mariano Rivera's big game experience, the Yankees are relying upon David Robertson and Rafael Soriano to step up and produce in a big way. The talent is there, but nobody knows how this tandem will work as the games begin to become pressure packed.
It's imperative that the Bombers bullpen rises to the occasion for the remainder of the season.
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