Robinson Cano and the Yankees are scorching hot entering the Playoffs and now they await who their first round opponent will be.
We know right now that the New York Yankees accomplished what every team in the American League sets out to do at the onset of each major league season: Win the division and try and win as many games as possible to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The 2012 Yankees have several flaws and questions in both their lineup and pitching staff, yet for all of the chatter about how this team was going to blow the division and possibly even miss the playoffs, the Bronx Bombers are a veteran-laden team that never choked and are now standing tall, getting ready for their first game on Sunday.
The Yankees will begin the playoffs on Sunday, at a time yet to be determined and at a location yet to be determined. However, we do know that once the dust settles on Friday night in Arlington, Texas, the Yankees will find themselves opposing either Texas or their division-rival from this season, Baltimore.
The playoff structure this season has changed and even though the Yankees finished with the best record in the AL, they will play their first two division series games on the road. Then, at minimum, one game will be played at Yankee Stadium (Game 3) with the potential for two more also in New York.
This year's structure is nearly identical to the first year of the wild card in 1995, though of course this season has the wild card vs. wild card playoff game just to get in to the main part of the ALDS. The Yankees finished very strong and have exceptionally hot hitters like Robinson Cano powering them into postseason play.
Now, Yankee fans have a few days to digest and concern themselves with the competition that will be standing in their way of a 41st American League pennant and 28th World Series championship. I have ranked Baltimore and Texas and out of those two, who the Yankees would prefer to play, based on how they match up.
Here is a close look at each of the teams the Yankees could play on Sunday.
Chris Davis and Adam Jones supply the power for the Birds.
The Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees may not have seen the last of one another as the calendar turns to October. The Orioles have a crucial one-game wild card "winner takes all" matchup with the Rangers on Friday night in Arlington. If they win, the Bombers are off to Camden Yards on Sunday.
If Baltimore loses, their dream season is over.
The Orioles have gotten timely pitching from Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman, in particular, though the strength of this O's team is their bats. Baltimore blasted the second-highest home run total of any team, behind only the Yankees.
How the Yankees match up:
The Yankees finished dead-even with Baltimore on the season, at 9-9, and most recently split a key four-game series at Camden Yards in early September. The Orioles power bats Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters help to fuel the lineup and all three players have had big years against the Yankees.
Matt Wieters particularly.
The Orioles pitching staff lowered their ERA from 4.05 before the All Star break to 3.73 after, showing considerable improvement, particularly from their starters. Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter weighed the staff down earlier in the year and their departures helped make way for Gonzalez, Tillman and Joe Saunders.
The Orioles are not a team that the Yankees should deeply fear at this stage. Their pitching staff is above-average but hardly great. In a slugging match, you have to favor the Yankees, particularly playing in two very hitter-friendly ballparks.
That said, Baltimore had a great record in the second half of the season and nearly came all the way back to win the division. If there's such a thing as the "it" factor, the Orioles seem to have just that. Though, the Yankees can rake, and overall, the Bombers pitching staff is simply better than the Orioles.
When it comes down to it, that's why the Yankees won the division. Even though on paper, it appears the Yankees are the better team, it's hard to dismiss the momentum and verve that this Baltimore team has. It will hardly be shocking if they beat Texas tomorrow night.
Incredibly, the Rangers faltered down the stretch and failed to win the AL West.
Rank: 1st (The Yankees would like to play Texas most)
It's hard to believe, but at this point, the Texas Rangers are the team the Yankees would most like to play. Now, I know what you're thinking, "You're out of your mind! What are you talking about?!"
Allow me to explain.
The Rangers lost seven of their last nine games and blew the lead they had in the AL West for virtually the entire season. The Rangers lineup is deep and they do hit for power, but it's not quite as deadly as it was last season.
That said, there's no question that this Rangers team can hit, but pitching is what wins games at this time of the year. Matt Harrison has been a solid starter for Texas all year long but he's no CC Sabathia. There's not one Texas starter that the Yankees—or any team for that matter—should be afraid of facing in a big game.
Yu Darvish has rebounded nicely after running into some bumps in the middle of the season to have a very fine rookie year, but one has to wonder how he'll respond after pitching nearly 200 innings this season. He'll get the ball on Friday night in Texas' biggest game of the season.
It will be fascinating to see how he pitches when the pressure is greatest. Even if Texas advances, it's entirely possible that the Yankees would not face him in a division series.
How the Yankees match up:
It's hard to ignore the fact that Texas is the two-time defending American League champion and perhaps even harder for some to ignore the Rangers dangerous offense that led the majors in runs scored.
But the Yankees offense is more potent than Texas and even more capable of hitting the ball out of the yard. The Yankees' pitching staff is superior. Most Yankee fans would likely feel more comfortable lining up Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte over Harrison, Dempster and Holland in a short series.
Again, bearing in mind that Yu Darvish would not be able to pitch until a possible Game 4.
Depending on whether you feel this matters, the Rangers don't have any momentum entering the playoffs, even if they win on Friday night. Sure, if they win, they'll get to start out at home for the ALDS, but the Yankees should feel comfortable going down to Texas and hitting against the Rangers' weaker starting pitching.
There just seems to be a feeling that this Rangers team is a bit of a sleeping giant. One that may already be out for the count.