5 Signs New York Yankees Are Destined to Reach the Playoffs

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIMay 8, 2013

5 Signs New York Yankees Are Destined to Reach the Playoffs

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    The New York Yankees have made the playoffs in 16 out of the last 17 seasons, with 2008 being the lone exception, but that's not the only reason why New York is destined to return to the playoffs in 2013.

    A slew of injuries scattered throughout both the offseason and spring training put the Yankees in a seemingly insurmountable hole even before the regular season's first pitch was thrown.

    Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson have all yet to play a game for the Bombers while Michael Pineda has yet to throw a pitch for them over parts of the past two seasons.

    A 162-game season can be tricky though as the Yankees are playing as if they have a legitimate shot at making the postseason. At this point in the season, that is technically true for every team—except maybe the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros, of course.

    If a few things fall into place for the Yankees this season, there's no reason to think they won't be in the playoffs. Whether it is as the American League East winner or an AL Wild Card remains to be seen, but this Yankees team seems to have a strong chance of playing in October.

Reinforcements Are on the Way

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    As mentioned the Yankees have been playing severely undermanned so far.

    Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Marc Teixeira are all still on the disabled list. Likewise for Michael Pineda, but anything the team gets from him is a bonus.

    In addition, Kevin Youkilis, Ivan Nova, Francisco Cervelli and Joba Chamberlain are all on the DL as well.

    The current ragtag lineup for the Yankees has pieced together a winning record, but it's clear that this team will improve a great deal when its stars return.

    Granderson and Teixeira should both be returning sometime this month whereas Rodriguez and Jeter are tentatively scheduled to see the field after the All-Star break.

    Youkilis, Nova and Chamberlain are only on the 15-day DL so they should be back in the near future. Cervelli is on the 60-day DL, and shouldn't be expected back for some time.

    The power of Granderson and Teixeira will be a welcome addition to the lineup. Granderson has mashed 84 home runs over the past two seasons and Texeira has hit 63 of his own during that time. The run production they provide will be improvements over the current options of Lyle Overbay and Ichiro Suzuki.

    As if that weren't enough, the Yankees will see another huge boost when A-Rod and Jeter return. The left side of the Yankee infield has been interesting this season with a rotating door of players at both third base and shortstop. Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez and Chris Nelson have currently been manning the two positions.

    General manager Brian Cashman may not need to make any big trades around the deadline as the return of the team's injured stars should suffice as enough of a gain on offense. If anything, look for Cashman to maybe make a run at a pitcher.

Fast Start Without the Big Guns

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    The Yankees have gone 18-13 through 31 games to far exceed any expectations placed upon them given their decimated roster.

    Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay have revived their respective careers, tallying 17 home runs between them. Wells and Hafner are hitting .280 and .291, respectively, while Overbay is getting the job done at a .253 clip. When you think about it, that's actually a small improvement over Mark Teixeira's .251 mark from a year ago.

    The best part about the restoration of their careers is that it cost minimal dollars on GM Brian Cashman's part. He has taken a liking to the low-risk, high-reward types over the past few seasons and it has certainly been paying off.

    Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix have done a passable job over at shortstop. While they're hitting just .200 and .227, respectively, they've collectively tallied seven extra base hits and 10 RBI. As long as they do their jobs at the plate, the Yankees should be pleased.

    Nunez, despite his three errors, has actually made strides defensively. He looks more sure of himself for the most part when ranging in the hole and making throws off his back foot. While he's still nowhere near a Gold Glove shortstop, the defense he's currently providing is good enough to get the job done.

Great One-Two-Three Punch

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    The Yankees possess a strong top-three in their starting rotation.

    CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte can all be relied upon in big spots to produce quality starts. While the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation aren't always the most consistent (sorry Phil Hughes and David Phelps), the top starters are enough to keep the Yankees' playoff hopes alive.

    Kuroda has been the best performer so far. He owns a 4-2 record and boasts an exceptional 2.30 ERA, having struck out 33 in 43.0 innings with the opposition hitting just over .200 against him.

    Sabathia has been just barely above-average. He's usually a slow starter though so there's no reason for fans to worry. He's 4-3 with a 3.31 ERA and has struck out 42 in 49.0 innings. What's alarming is his .265 BAA (batting average against) and 1.27 WHIP, but those numbers will surely improve once he finds his groove over the summer.

    Pettitte's 4.06 ERA is deceiving. Its inflation is a direct result of a recent string of subpar starts, but he started off the season 3-0 with an ERA under 2.00. His experience and ability to get hot at any moment make him a valuable member of the staff.

    It seems as if the Yankees' top-three can compete with any other top-three rotations in the AL East on any given day. That alone makes them a threat to reach the postseason.

Robinson Cano's Impending Free Agency

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    As the best player on the Yankees, Robinson Cano will not let his squad miss the postseason. He simply has too much to prove.

    Cano needs to prove that he can lead a team to the playoffs without full seasons from his star teammates. He also needs to prove that he can succeed in the playoffs, even though he has yet to do so in his career. Simply put, he needs to prove that he's worth the money.

    Everyone knows about Cano's impending free agency at this point. Aside from the rash of Yankees' injuries, it's probably the biggest problem on GM Brian Cashman's plate right now. Cano is in for a big payday regardless, but leading his team to the playoffs and then hitting well in the postseason would make his demands skyrocket.

    In his postseason career, Cano is a .222/.267/.419 hitter with eight home runs, 33 RBI and 28 strikeouts in 203 at-bats. His 2012 showing was especially poor. Actually, it was borderline worthless.

    Cano posted a line of .074/.093/.119 in nine playoff games against the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers. He drove in just four runs and struck out six times. His terrible showing at the plate was one of many reasons why the Yankees were swept in the ALCS by the Tigers.

    I'm not here to speculate dollars and cents, but I think it's obvious that Cano has a ton of incentive to perform this season. If we've learned anything in sports, it's that a driven ballplayer is a dangerous one. Pitchers would be wise to pitch carefully to the AL MVP candidate.

Exit Sandman

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    The concept of retirement at the end of the season has done absolutely nothing to slow down Mariano Rivera.

    Baseball's best all-time closer has converted all 11 of his save opportunities while striking out 12 in 12.1 innings and has a respectable 2.19 ERA—a mark that would be lower had it not been for some early-season inflation.

    His command has been impeccable with just two free passes and his cutter has been unhittable (just .234 BAA). Most importantly, Rivera's mere presence has led the Yankees to a winning record when all the sports world was betting against them.

    Rivera's role on this team is not just as the closer. Instead, he will play the role of emotional leader as he inches closer to the end of his brilliant career with each game. At the level he's performing though, his career could extend well beyond the regular season.

    Dominance in the regular season is just a small slice of Rivera's career. His true dominance comes in the postseason with his 42 career playoff saves (how fitting) the most in MLB postseason history.

    He has suffered just one loss and has a 0.70 ERA in 96 career appearances. Simply put, he's nearly untouchable when the game is on the line.

    As a driving force emotionally and an on-field leader, Rivera will make sure his Yankees make the playoffs. This is it for the last MLB player to wear No. 42, and you can rest assured that he wants to go out on top.