Alex Rodriguez is hitting .250 in September.
Though the Wild Card would seem to be a safety net, as it has been for the AL East runner-up for several seasons, MLB's new postseason format makes it important to win a division. The wild-card teams have to face each other in a one-game playoff.
The Yankees surely don't want any part of that. Additionally, they can still win the top seed in the AL, meaning they would play the Wild Card in the ALDS.
But the Yanks are in this position largely because they haven't played that well in September. More specifically, several of their star players have struggled over the past month.
For the Yankees to beat out the Orioles in the AL East and succeed in the playoffs, they will need the following five players to improve their performance.
All statistics cited are current as of Sept. 29.
The New York Yankees' center fielder has 40 home runs and will soon surpass 100 RBI for the second consecutive season, but he's batting .211 with a .797 OPS as of Sept. 28.
For the month of September, Curtis Granderson has a .181/.255/.458 triple-slash average. Yes, he has six home runs with 18 RBI, but he's struck out 32 times in 25 games.
“He’s been productive, but he’s had a lot of strikeouts and he just hasn’t hit for as high an average as he did last year," Yankees manager Joe Girardi told the New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand.
"It’s probably somewhere in between those averages, what his career was and last year to this year. It’s been an interesting year because he has been productive even though his average isn’t where we expected it to be.”
Though Granderson is obviously a threat to go deep at any point—even more so if he's hitting at Yankee Stadium—hitting for such a low average and striking out so frequently could kill big innings while hitting in the middle of the lineup.
The top two spots in the Yankees' postseason starting rotation are spoken for. CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda will get the nod in the first two games of the ALDS.
But who the other two pitchers will be is still a question mark. Andy Pettitte looks like he'll get one of those spots. He's been outstanding since being activated from the disabled list, pitching 11 scoreless innings in two starts.
Phil Hughes will probably get that fourth spot in the rotation (maybe as the No. 3 starter). He may even get that role by default because Ivan Nova has been terrible—a 7.03 ERA kind of terrible—since the All-Star break. Freddy Garcia probably was never an option, but an 8.49 ERA in September assures it.
However, Hughes needs to pitch better for the Yankees (and Yankees fans) to have any confidence in him. In his past two starts, he's allowed eight runs and 10 hits over 11.2 innings. A 3-2 record and 4.50 ERA in September doesn't indicate a pitcher going into the postseason on a strong note either.
Nick Swisher has had kind of an odd season.
Overall, his numbers look pretty strong with a .260/.350/.464 triple-slash average, 24 home runs and 90 RBI. His .814 OPS is the second highest among the Yankees' regular batters.
But Swisher's monthly splits alternate between productive and terrible. In April, for example, he hit .284 with a .972 OPS, six home runs and 23 RBI. He followed that up with two homers and nine RBI in May, along with a .207 average and .571 OPS.
September has been one of the bad months. Though Swisher has four home runs and 14 RBI, he's batting .219/.330/.385. He also has 24 strikeouts in 26 games, though that's been pretty consistent with his performance all season.
If Swisher keeps following the good month/bad month pattern, however, that means he could have a strong October.
Overall, David Robertson has had a typically fine season pitching as a setup man, first for Mariano Rivera, now for Rafael Soriano.
But September hasn't been good for him. In 15 appearances, Robertson has a 4.97 ERA, allowing seven runs and 17 hits in 12.2 innings. Opposing batters have a .315 average against him.
Since the All-Star break, he's given up 33 hits in 33.1 innings and his strikeout rate has dipped to 10 per nine innings. That's still excellent for a reliever, but a notch below his career rate of 12 Ks per game.
Obviously, Robertson will be counted on heavily to help bridge the gap between the starters and Soriano in the ninth inning. As we saw in last year's postseason, a team needs a bullpen to win when starting pitchers are worn out by batters taking pitches and fouling them off.
This will be especially true if Andy Pettitte is given a prominent role in the Yankees' starting rotation. He might not be able to throw 100 pitches and probably can't go past six innings.
It's so easy to pick on Alex Rodriguez. The guy just seems to invite it.
But A-Rod invites criticism when he doesn't play well, and he hasn't done so in September. In 104 plate appearances, the Yankees third baseman is batting .247 with a .673 OPS, three home runs and 12 RBI.
Rodriguez also has 28 strikeouts in 23 games this month, which would seem to indicate that he's pressing as he tries to get himself back into form after coming back from a broken hand.
His performance has been enough of a concern that Newsday's David Lennon speculated that Yankees manager Joe Girardi might consider moving Rodriguez out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup if he continued to struggle.
Of course, that brings back memories of Joe Torre moving Rodriguez down to the No. 8 spot during the 2006 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers.
It probably won't come to that, if for no other reason than Girardi doesn't want to alienate Rodriguez. But Girardi might have to try something with him until he starts swinging the bat with authority again.
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