I often take predictions with a grain of salt, particularly when it comes to predicting what will happen in the short-series, little-room-for-error crunch of October in Major League Baseball, where a team is even more defined by how good its starting pitcher is on a given day.
Still, it can be a lot of fun to make predictions. So after giving this a lot of thought, I’m prepared to offer my 11 predictions for the New York Yankees heading into the postseason.
Why 11? Well, for a division champion, it still takes 11 wins to hoist the big trophy with all the flags on it. So consider this a prediction-a-day approach.
As a caveat, it should be pointed out that these predictions are made on the assumption that the standings won’t change, that the Yankees will win the American League East and be the No. 2 seed in the AL playoffs. Some of these predictions are serious… others, not so much. So enjoy!
Mariano Rivera has been a part of every Yankee postseason since 1995, when he made three appearances and earned a victory as a rookie in New York’s three games to two series loss to the Seattle Mariners in the Division Series.
The records Rivera has accumulated since then are almost mind-boggling. He’s finished 892 games, the most all-time. He’s saved 608 games, the most all-time.
But it’s in the playoffs where Rivera has made his reputation. His 0.70 ERA is the best in postseason history. His WHIP of 0.76 is third-best all-time. No one has made more appearances in the postseason than Rivera’s 96. His 42 saves are more than double the No. 2 pitcher on the all-time postseason list, Brad Lidge (18).
So when the Yankees have a lead to protect this October and Rafael Soriano comes out of the bullpen? Yeah, it’s going to be a little bit weird.
Ichiro Suzuki came to the U.S. from Japan in 2001, just in time to help the Seattle Mariners win an American League-record 116 games that season.
Little did he realize at the time that 2001 would be his only appearance in baseball’s postseason. He had a great Division Series that fall against the Cleveland Indians, hitting .600 (12-for-20) with four runs scored and two RBI. But in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, he faltered a bit, managing just a .222 average (4-for-18) and one RBI as the Mariners lost to New York in five games.
And for the rest of his career in the U.S., that’s been it as far as October baseball goes.
Now, 11 years later, Ichiro will have the opportunity as a Yankee to return to baseball’s biggest stage. Based on how well he’s hit since coming to New York on July 23, it looks like Ichiro is bound for a huge October. He’s hitting .328 since the trade, with five homers and 23 RBI. That’s almost 70 points higher than the .261 he had hit for Seattle before the deal. His two hits against the Twins on Wednesday extended his hitting streak to 10 games, as well.
It’s hard to think Ichiro won’t seize the opportunity that he’s waited more than a decade for.
Nick Swisher is not a good hitter in the postseason. He’s actually been a pretty awful hitter once the playoffs roll around.
For his career, he’s a .169 hitter in the playoffs (21-for-124). His triple-slash of .169/.295/.323 isn’t what you’d hope for from a guy who has hit at least 21 home runs and driven in at least 69 runs in every full season he’s played in the bigs.
But something happens to Swisher when he gets to the postseason. He fights himself at the plate. He tries so hard to do so much that he winds up doing next to nothing.
Could that change this season? Could the maturity that comes from being almost 32 make a difference? Sure, it could. But I seriously doubt it will.
There are not a lot of teams in the American League that can make the claim that the Detroit Tigers can: The Tigers have never lost a postseason series to the New York Yankees.
The teams have met twice in the playoffs, with the Tigers beating the Yankees in four games in the ALDS in 2006 and taking a decisive fifth game from New York in the ALDS in 2011.
Throw in the scheduling wrinkle that will have the lower-seeded team hosting the first two games of the Division Series and the Yankees could be in trouble. If the Tigers can beat out the White Sox for the AL Central Division crown, it would likely mean they would host the first two games of the ALDS at Comerica Park.
The nightmare scenario is that the Tigers can line up their rotation to have Justin Verlander work the opener and Max Scherzer in Game 2. That’s a lot of heat to face in back-to-back games on the road.
Home-field advantage or not, no team wants to be in the position of coming home for the final three games of the series looking up out of an 0-2 hole.
Detroit’s starting pitching could create just such a scenario for the Yankees.
Did you know TBS is very funny? You will by the end of a potential Yankee appearance in the American League Championship Series, which will be aired on TBS this season.
O’Brien is TBS’ big name, its ticket into the competitive late-night talk show scene against Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel.
So a captive national audience (and I mean this as much in a Stockholm syndrome sort of sense as I do just being interested in baseball) will get between four and seven games worth of “Conan” promos. Depending on how the schedule works out, the network might even stick O’Brien in a seat for one of the games so they can get the “see our big star in the baseball crowd” shot.
Should the Yankees decide to go with a four-man rotation for the playoffs, Ivan Nova would be the odd man out of the rotation. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are carved in stone for the first three spots in the rotation and based on his 2012 performance, it seems clear that manager Joe Girardi would opt for Phil Hughes over Nova.
The only problem with that scenario is that Nova has four relief appearances in his major-league career. Three of those came during his cup of coffee stint with the Yankees in 2010 and he appeared once in relief in 2011.
Nova doesn’t even have a wealth of relief experience at the minor-league level. He came out of the bullpen five times as a 19-year-old rookie with the Yankees’ affiliate in the Gulf Coast League in 2006 and made two relief appearances while pitching for the Tampa Yankees in the Florida State League in 2008.
Nova could be a valuable long man for the Yankees in case a starter gets into trouble. Or he could be so uncomfortable working in an unfamiliar role that he ends up not being useful at all. I don’t see a real middle ground with Nova.
It was July 1, 2004, when Derek Jeter made the play that has come to define his career as a New York Yankee. It was on that date when he dove into the stands behind third base in a game against the Boston Red Sox.
He came away from that play with a cut on his chin, a swollen cheek, a bruised shoulder and a signature moment in a career full of such moments.
Of course, the mythology of the play, as reported last July by The Sporting News, has come to exceed the reality of the play. First and foremost, Jeter didn’t dive into the stands to make the catch. He made the catch and his momentum carried him over the short fence and into the seats at old Yankee Stadium.
As is often the case, however, there seems to have been no need to let the truth get in the way of a really, really great story.
Even more so than the dive into the stands, the flip Derek Jeter made in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series against the Oakland Athletics has come to represent everything Jeter’s career is about.
It was an improbable, heavy play that prevented the Athletics from scoring the game-tying run in the bottom of the seventh inning of the critical third game of the series. It was critical because Oakland had gone into Yankee Stadium and taken the first two games of the series and would have completed a shocking sweep with a win in Game 3.
The play, during which Jeter retrieved a wild throw from right fielder Shane Spencer near the first-base line and flipped the ball to catcher Jorge Posada in time to cut down a stunned Jeremy Giambi at the plate, preserved the Yankees’ 1-0 win in Game 3 and they would go on to win the series in five games.
Boone Logan has been the Yankees’ primary LOOGY (lefty-one-out-guy) in 2012 and he’s done a decent job for much of the year.
He’s 6-2 in 77 appearances with one save, three blown saves and 23 holds in 54 innings. His ERA of 3.83 isn’t great but it’s that 1.37 WHIP that is truly frightening.
Logan is advertised as a lefty specialist but the truth of the matter is that left-handers are only hitting four points less off him than right-handers are (.237 to .241). He’s surrendered three home runs to left-handed hitters and three to right-handed swingers. His key numbers have all risen since the All-Star break. His ERA post-break is 3.91, his WHIP has climbed to 1.39 and his strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate has declined from 11.90 before the break to 9.78 since.
And all three of those blown saves? Yes, they’ve been in the second half of the season. Not exactly confidence-inspiring.
Andy Pettitte is the winningest pitcher in postseason history with 19. In two starts since coming off the disabled list after returning from a fractured ankle, he hasn’t surrendered an earned run.
That fact that Pettitte has only made 11 starts during the regular season isn’t a problem for New York because Pettitte was really signed for this time of year, for October, for those playoff appearances during which he has almost always excelled in.
Despite not having over-powering stuff, Pettitte knows how to throw strikes and he knows how to make hitters hit his pitch. At some point this postseason all of that savvy will be on display and we’ll be reminded again why he’s on the verge of becoming the first pitcher in major-league history to win 20 postseason games.
CC Sabathia spent most of late August and early September scaring the heck out of Yankee fans. After a solid return outing after coming off the disabled list on Aug. 24, Sabathia struggled with command and velocity over his next four starts, posting three losses and a no-decision during which he was touched up for 14 earned runs in 27 innings, resulting in a a very non-ace-like 4.67 ERA.
But in his Sept. 21 start against the Oakland Athletics, Sabathia had it working again. He pitched eight shutout innings, allowing only three hits and two walks while striking out 11. And on Wednesday at Minnesota, Sabathia had the Twins under control. The big lefty fanned 10 hitters and walked just one in eight innings, allowing two runs on six hits to improve to 14-6 on the season.
He pounded the strike zone on Wednesday, throwing a season-high 89 strikes out of his 119 pitches and his velocity was back where people are used to seeing it.
That bodes well for the ace to pitch like an ace when October baseball arrives.