6 Reasons New York Yankees Will Still Make Playoffs Despite Injuries

Bryan Shaffer@Bryan_ShafferFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

6 Reasons New York Yankees Will Still Make Playoffs Despite Injuries

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    Questioning the 27-time World Champion New York Yankees' status as playoff contenders seems almost unfathomable. The franchise has been so dominant for so long that it is usually a safe bet to pencil them in for a playoff spot.

    But this year their success seems a little more dubious. Between losing integral hitters like Raul Ibanez, Nick Swisher and Russell Martin to free agency and sluggers Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson to injuries, the Yankees look to be in a world of trouble.

    But despite all the issues they face, the 2013 Yankees will emerge as one of the five playoff teams from the American League.

Healthy Starting Rotation

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    The Yankees are fielding a battered lineup, but they have no such injury problems with pitching.

    In fact, their starting staff is completely intact from 2012, when the unit totaled 71 wins and posted a 4.04 ERA, which ranked second and sixth in the American League, respectively.

    In 2012, CC Sabathia compiled fewer than 19 wins for the first time in his Yankees career. At 32 years of age, there is no reason to think Sabathia won't get back up to his normal win total. After all, his ERA of 3.38 was not much higher than the 3.18 ERA he posted over his previous three seasons with the Yankees. At 1.14, his WHIP was even a hair lower than the 1.19 he posted during those three years.

    Hiroki Kuroda won 16 games to go along with a 3.32 ERA during his first season in the Bronx. He has been consistent since he came to the big leagues in 2008, starting 30 or more games in four of those five seasons, and posting a sub-4.00 ERA in each of them. Even at 38 years old, he can be expected to make good contributions to the team.

    Longtime Yankee Andy Pettitte's 2012 numbers did little to betray his age. The 40-year-old posted a 2.87 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP in 12 starts after rejoining the team in May. Asking him to post those numbers again is a bit demanding, but there is no reason to believe he can't be around his career average ERA of 3.86 by the end of the season.

    Phil Hughes put together another fine season in 2012, posting his second 16-plus win season of the past three years. His ERA and WHIP during those two seasons (2010 and 2012) are almost identical, but he pitched 15 more innings in 2012 than in 2010, and struck out 19 more batters.

    After an impressive 2011 season, Ivan Nova regressed in 2012. His ERA jumped up 1.32 runs, while his total number of wins dipped by four. It was just his second full season, so some of that regression can be attributed to a sophomore slump. With solid pitchers around him, the Yankees just need Nova to be solid and they will be set.

Strong Bullpen

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    The Yankees have the luxury of one more season with the greatest closer in baseball history. While Mariano Rivera is coming off a major injury and is 43 years old, it is tough to bet against him. Before 2012, he was coming off four straight seasons of sub-2.00 ERA baseball. His strikeouts-per-nine-innings were up slightly from his career average, and his 0.82 WHIP was well below his career average of 1.00.

    David Robertson showed yet again what an effective setup man he is, surpassing 30 holds for the second year in a row. He was not quite the unhittable Robertson of 2011, when he allowed opponents a .170 batting average while posting a microscopic 1.08 ERA, but his respective numbers of .229 and 2.67 are still very good.

    As for the other guys, Boone Logan continued his solid three-year run with the Yankees last season, when he pitched over 50 innings for the first time since 2007. His WHIP of 1.37 was only a shade above that of the previous two seasons, and his 23 holds were a nice addition to the team.

    Clay Rapada emerged as a solid lefty specialist out of the bullpen last season, holding opposing left-handed hitters to a .186 batting average and a .255 slugging percentage.

    Joba Chamberlain has not panned out as people had hoped, but he still has potential. He is just a season removed from a 2.83 ERA and 1.05 WHIP campaign, and if he can get anywhere close to that, the Yankees are in good shape. With their other bullpen options, anything they get from Chamberlain will be gravy.

Good Replacement Players

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    The fact that the Yankees have lost eight of their 10 hitters with double-digit home runs last season to either injury or to a team transaction is no doubt going to hurt. But they have patched up the holes enough to hold serve until they get some of their guys back.

    At third base, they got Kevin Youkilis to replace Alex Rodriguez, who will miss significant time in 2013. Youkilis, though not up to his former standard of excellence last season, is still a quality bat in the lineup. His average may have dipped to a mere .236 last season with the White Sox, but he still got on base with a solid .346 on-base percentage. His home run total in Chicago of 15 in 80 games projects to 30 over a 162-game season.

    The loss of Curtis Granderson is partially mitigated by the return of Brett Gardner, who missed most of last season. Gardner might not have the pop of Granderson, but in 2010 and 2011 he registered subsequent seasons of 40-plus steals, in addition to posting a.364 on-base percentage during that span.

    Was getting rid of last year's starter at catcher, Russell Martin, a mistake? Yes. But how great a mistake it made has been overstated.

    Francisco Cervelli, if he is to win the job, will be a serviceable catcher. He doesn't quite have the pop that Martin has, but in 2010 and 2011 for the Yankees, he posted a .269 batting average and a .348 on-base percentage, which is significantly better than Martin's respective numbers of .211 and .311.

Midseason Returns of Stars

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    The biggest reason for panic surrounding the Yankees is the injuries to some of their key contributors. Neither Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson nor Mark Teixeira will be in the opening day lineup for the Yankees.

    Remember, though, those guys aren't going to be out all that long.

    Curtis Granderson has a projected return time of early May, and Teixeira has one of mid-May.

    Team General Manager Brian Cashman says that Alex Rodriguez will likely return from his hip injury this season. While Rodriguez is not the player he once was, the return of his bat to the lineup will give the Yankees a nice boost later on in the season.

    Just last season, on May 21, the Yankees sat at a mediocre 21-21 and looked to be heading nowhere. They then finished the season with a fantastic 74-46 streak to win the division yet again.

    They certainly have the talent to stay around for the first month-and-a-half, and then the return of centerpiece players will give them a nice jolt.

Parity of the AL East

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    For the first time in ages, a legitimate case can be made for each of the five teams in the AL East winning the division.

    That should play to the Yankees' advantage. Without a clear-cut dominant team, the five teams should beat up on each other, keeping the divisional race close, and in striking distance for the Yankees.

    The Blue Jays made some big changes, but there are still doubts surrounding them. New ace R.A. Dickey is going to be hard-pressed to replicate his 2012 Cy Young form. Both Ricky Romero and Josh Johnson are coming off the worst seasons of their respective careers. Not to mention the question marks surrounding the health of Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Emilio Bonifacio, each of whom missed significant time last season.

    The Orioles are unlikely to post another historically great season in one-run games, especially with a starting rotation which was below the American League average in ERA last season. If they are more mortal in close games, they might still be competitive, but they won't run away with anything.

    The Rays, while a great pitching team, lack offensive explosiveness. Outside of Evan Longoria, their lineup is filled with average hitters. Their pitching, despite the loss of James Shields in the offseason, will be good enough to compete for the division crown. They will not, however, run away with it, and thus the Yankees should have a chance to catch them.

    The mess that is the Boston Red Sox has been well-documented. Even though Boston has worked hard to clean up their clubhouse, the truth is that they just don't have the talent to be what they once were. With the injury questions looming around David Ortiz, their offense lacks power, and is unlikely to be much of a force. Couple that with the question marks surrounding the pitching staff, and the prognostication for their season is not that bright. Even if they are competitive, they are doubtful to be bounds ahead of the Yankees.

Extra Wild Card Spot

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    The road to the playoffs has been getting easier and easier over time in baseball. All the way up until 1969, there were no playoff rounds but the World Series, so you needed to be nearly perfect to have a chance to win it.

    Since then, the league has implemented several other playoff rounds, and now five of the 15 teams in each league make the playoffs. That is 33 percent of the teams, and it is tough to count the Yankees as being outside of the top third of the teams in the league.

    As the previous slide stated, the AL East is loaded with five teams which could make the playoffs. The AL Central doesn't seem to have any teams, after the Tigers, that will compete for a playoff spot.

    The AL West, however, has the Athletics, Rangers and Angels, each of whom is very good. Like the AL East, those teams will beat each other up, and that will keep the win total relatively low for the Wild Card spots. The Yankees should be able to keep pace with any of those teams and be right in the Wild Card hunt for when they regain some of their players.