The New York Yankees begin their 2007 postseason campaign against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night.
With an amazing second half, the Yankees were able to secure the AL wild card and preserve their 13-year playoff appearance streak. So the rest of baseball better watch out, right?
Well, not so fast.
Most people are aware of the Yankees' outrageous payroll—the largest in baseball by more than $50 million. But that doesn't make the Bombers invincible.
In fact, the Yankees look to be in serious trouble in the 2007 playoffs.
The team has made it this far on the strength of its young talent—but how will the kids perform in October?
Pitching is also a problem. The staff looked strong going into the season, but Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, and Mike Mussina all went bust. Roger Clemens hasn't lived up to his billing, and the young Phil Hughes will hardly be a given in his first postseason start.
To win in the playoffs, your starting pitchers need to set the tone. Chien-Ming Wang has had another amazing season, and Andy Pettite has been a solid stopper. But can those two be the dominant starters that Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson were for the Diamondbacks in 2001?
I don’t think so.
Let’s be realistic—the Yankees' hopes will come down to starters three and four. Clemens' shaky health makes him a question mark. Mussina has allowed 24 earned runs in 30 innings since August 21st. Hughes will be the X-factor—but it's unfair to expect a rookie who sat out two months with injuries to shut down a team in the playoffs.
Offensively, the Yankees haven’t received much for their money either.
Jason Giambi ($23.4 million salary) hit .236 with 14 home runs and only 39 RBI in a season marred by injuries. Johnny Damon ($13 million) got off to a slow start and didn't produce until late in the year. He was also replaced in center field by Melky Cabrera.
My point here is that the Yankees have won on the play of unheralded players. The problem with this is that these youngsters and backups have little if any playoff experience.
The Yankees will rely on Hughes, Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Shelly Duncan, and Ross Ohlendorf this October. These six players have a combined 11 games of playoffs experience between them—nine for Cano.
These kids will be counted on time and again to get the big hit or the big strikeout. Will they be able to handle the pressure?
That said, a lack of big-name contributors isn’t entirely a bad thing. The 1996-2000 Yankee dynasty wasn’t driven by $20 million players—it was built on the likes of Scott Brosius, Joe Girardi, and Louis Sojo.
The energy of unheralded and inexperienced players can’t be denied. They're excited to play in the playoffs—they're new to October, they're hungry to win.
Maybe what the Yanks' veterans need is Shelly Duncan and Joba Chamberlain to light the fire.
I don’t know how things will go this postseason. I'm worried about both our starting pitching and our youth.
Will the next Scott Brosius reveal himself?
I hope so.
We can’t win if these young players don’t excel. There's a lot of pressure on them, and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.
If they perform well, not only will the Yanks succeed in the postseason—we could be on the verge of another long run of excellence.