The New York Yankees survived a battle to the finish with the Baltimore Orioles with a 3-1 win on Friday evening. The win in Game 5 of a tightly contested American League Division Series advances the Yankees into a series with the Detroit Tigers.
The American League Championship Series begins with a very short turnaround. Game 1 of the series is Saturday night at Yankee Stadium with Game 2 set for Sunday afternoon.
So what did we learn about the Yankees in this series with Baltimore? A few things:
Age is becoming an issue
The Yankees are dealing with the double-edged sword that is experience. On one hand, New York survived a pressure-packed series in large part because there are so many players in the clubhouse who have been there and done that.
On the other hand, there were a number of times in the series where the Yankees looked very long in the tooth. Perhaps not even a vampire needs an infusion of fresh blood quite as much as the Yankees do.
Of the players on New York’s 25-man roster for the ALDS, only four position players are younger than 30 and three of those players—catcher Russell Martin, second baseman Robinson Cano and reserve outfielder Brett Gardner—are 29. Only reserve infielder Eduardo Nunez, at 25, could be considered young.
On the other end of the spectrum, four position players on the roster are older than 35. They include third baseman Alex Rodriguez (37), shortstop Derek Jeter (38), outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (38) and outfielder Raul Ibanez (40).
The pitching staff is a bit younger, but not a lot. Of the four men in the starting rotation for the playoffs, only Phil Hughes, at age 26, is younger than 30. CC Sabathia is the second-youngest arm in the rotation and he’s 32. Hiroki Kuroda is 37 and Andy Pettitte is 40. Even rookie David Phelps is already 26, matching Hughes as the youngest pitchers on the staff.
When Mark Teixeira stole a base in Game 5 against the Orioles, it came as a shock. Because of their age, the Yankees have become a team that relies heavily on the home run to score. They are not a great base-stealing team, nor do they look to run often. Bunting isn’t a high priority and they can struggle sometimes to simply move runners up with productive outs.
If the Yankees can get younger in 2013, it might provide a spark.
CC is a big-game ace
CC Sabathia came up big when the Yankees needed him most on Friday. He fought his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth. Then he finished what he started, recording his first career postseason complete game.
Sabathia surrendered just four hits, no extra-base hits and struck out eight. He matched his season high with 121 pitches. Most importantly, though, is that Sabathia gave a weary bullpen a night of rest. The Yankees had played 25 innings in Games 3 and 4 combined and the relief corps had been taxed.
As recently as last month, some were questioning whether Sabathia could still be an ace.
He struggled after coming off the disabled list in late August. He had a tough stretch of four starts from Aug. 29-Sept.14 during which he was 0-3 and had a 4.67 ERA in 27 innings.
Sabathia may not have thrown a shutout the way Justin Verlander did to close out the Oakland Athletics. But he’s every bit as much of a big-game ace as Verlander or any other pitcher in baseball.
Alex Rodriguez will be a bigger problem moving forward
Alex Rodriguez is clearly not the player at 37 he was as 34 or even 35. It may be that his days of being a superstar bat in the middle of the order are finished.
He was brutal in the ALDS. Rodriguez was 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts in the first four games of the series before being benched for Game 5.
The problem moving forward is his contract. Rodriguez is an untradeable asset unless the Yankees are willing to do an A.J. Burnett type of deal. New York is paying $18.1 million of the $31.1 million that was left on Burnett’s contract at the time of the trade in February.
Rodriguez still has five years and $114 million left on the 10-year deal he signed in December 2007. That makes trading Rodriguez complicated and cutting him out of the question. There is no way the Steinbrenner brothers would eat nine figures.
If nothing else, Rodriguez’ contract should serve as a cautionary tale. Signing 32-year-old players to 10-year contracts is a ridiculous strategy.
The Yankees are starting to feel the effects of that albatross of a deal now.
The New York Yankees advanced past the ALDS. That’s the good news. The bad news is that New York is an aging team without a lot of youth ready to contribute right away.
The Yankees have never beaten the Tigers in a postseason series, losing ALDS to Detroit in both 2006 and 2011.
The makeup of this current group of Yankees doesn’t bode well for breaking that string of Tiger success. But the presence of so many veterans with so much playoff experience does give New York a puncher’s chance in a best-of-7 series.