Do They Have It In Them This Season?
Almost a year ago, September 13, Joe Girardi was a ticked off manager. Even though the Yankees had the best record in the game (92-52) and a seven-game lead in the AL East over the Boston Red Sox, Girardi had been tossed out of a close game against the Orioles for arguing balls and strikes.
The bases were loaded in the bottom of the fourth with A-Rod at the plate. It was the third game of a three-game series against the O's and the Yankees were on the verge of being swept at home, having lost the first two by a combined score of 17-7. Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie was on the mound in a 4-4 game and struck out Rodriguez on a 2-2 pitch that did appear to be outside.
Girardi came out to argue and was thrown out of the game. He got his money's worth as he stood on the field and argued with umpire Marty Foster for quite a bit of time. A-Rod was chirping from the bench and was ejected as well. The fans applauded as Girardi gave the hand motion to eject Foster and the crew chief, Wally Bell, had to step in between them at one point.
The Bronx Bombers would go on to score eight in the eighth and win the game 13-3. Sure, Girardi had been thrown out, but at least the Yankees were able to avoid the sweep at the hands of the O's.
The Yankees would finish the month of September with a 19-9 record (.679), which was their second-best record in a month behind their 21-7 August (.750). The Yankees went 11-7 to close out the regular season. They would go on to win their 27th Championship against the Phillies, with Hideki Matsui playing as if he was Babe Ruth reincarnated.
Fast forward a year and it would be an understatement to say the Yankees are in trouble heading into the postseason. A-Rod, Andy Pettitte, Nick Swisher, and countless other players have dealt with injury problems through different parts of the season, and recently their play has been downright ugly.
They have scored significantly less runs (829-763) than last season and are underperforming in the second half, with a 31-25 record (.553), which is off their first half pace of 56-32 (.636). They were a Nick Swisher home run from being swept at home by Buck Showalter's O's (who, by the way, has them playing very well), were swept by the Rangers, and lost the first game of a very important AL East series against the Tampa Bay Rays. They have tied up the series with a win and must win it tomorrow in order to take a semi-comfortable lead in the AL East.
There is no doubt that this is a very talented team and on paper the best in baseball. However, they have to start playing like it or they will be kicked to the curb by the Rangers or even the Twins very early in the postseason.
So, that brings me to the biggest question for Yankee fans and even the Yankee haters: Does this team have it in them to win it all again?
Here are my top five reasons why and possibly why not, followed up by my answer at the end:
He flat-out dominated the American League during the second half last season and then followed it up with a stellar postseason. He is a bonafide ace, which the Yankees had been missing since the 2003 World Series. Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez, Randy Johnson, and countless others came and went from 2003-2008 with no rings to show for it. All had been highly sought after, but could not deliver acceptable results.
Then Yankees GM Brian Cashman made one of his biggest acquisitions over his tenure with the Bombers. AJ Burnett was a nice pickup and was a big part of the Yankees 27th Championship as was Mark Teixeira, but the missing piece to the puzzle was none other than Carsten Charles Sabathia.
The 6'7" lefty went 11-2 with a 2.74 ERA in the second half last season. If that wasn't impressive enough, he was undefeated during the months of August and September (9-0 with a 1.96 ERA). Turn the page to October and he stepped up on the biggest stage when it mattered most. In five postseason games, the big man went 3-1 with a 1.92 ERA. He had put the Yankees on his back and pitched them to their first title in nine years.
The Yankees can and should feel confident going into any Game 1 matchup because Sabathia can match up against any of the other postseason aces. The Twins (Carl Pavano), Rangers (Cliff Lee), and Phillies (Halladay) will all be tough matchups for the Yankees, but CC certainly won't back down from the challenge.
Two nights ago, he went pitch for pitch against David Price, the young Tampa Bay ace, but came up on the losing end. Over eight innings pitched, he only gave up two hits and struck out nine while walking only two.
CC has carried the Yankees pitching staff this season and is looking to win his 20th game, which would be a career high, before the regular season concludes. When the Yankees reach October, CC will be leading the way, ready for whatever challenge is tossed his way.
A-Rod was criticized for many years because of his ineptitude in the postseason. However, the 2009 postseason was a renaissance for the three-time AL MVP. He not only shattered his previous statistics, but was instrumental in helping the Yankees win their 27th Championship.
From 1995-2007, Rodriguez appeared in 39 postseason games. He hit seven home runs and had 17 RBIs. During the 2009 postseason, in just 15 games, A-Rod fell a home run short of tying his postseason career total and surpassed his 17 RBIs with 18.
A-Rod stepped up for the first time in Yankee pinstripes and the results were mind boggling: .378/.496/.834/1.330 (AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS). While he did fade during the World Series, Rodriguez hit a big home run, which got the Yankees back right into Game Three. Also, A-Rod, no stranger to controversy, hit the first home run to ever be reviewed in the postseason. His first and only home run of the World Series was initially ruled a double, but later overturned after video replays showed that it hit off a camera lens.
The biggest factor of the MLB postseason is that the best team does not always win. When the Cardinals won in 2006, were they really the best MLB had to offer? The reason is because of the first round. When all that is required is three wins in a row, the underdog could definitely beat the favorite. Over any three-game period, one team could advance to the next round, while a team with promise is on the next plane home.
There are a lot of talented teams that will be in the MLB postseason. The Twins, Rangers, and Rays will all be tough opponents for the Yankees. Each of those three have strong pitching staffs: The Twins (3.78), Rangers (3.98), and Rays (3.82) will make every game close and will be able to keep up with the Yankees because of their strong offenses: Twins (692), Rangers (694), and Rays (725).
The Yankees might be the best team on paper this season, but that does not mean they will win it all. They will face some stiff competition and if they make it to the World Series, it will not get any easier. The Braves (3.58), Giants (3.54), Padres (3.32), Reds (4.08), and Phillies (3.79) all possess dominating pitching staffs.
It will certainly be a lot harder for the Yankees in 2010.
The Yankees pitching has had a rough season to say the least. CC Sabathia has been the undisputed ace of the staff, but AJ Burnett has been more Hyde than Jekyll, while it looks like Andy Pettitte's age is starting to catch up to him. Javier Vazquez, brought back over in the offseason, started off poorly and has continued to pitch terribly, being pulled from the rotation multiple times. He is no longer in the rotation. Phil Hughes has been skipped sometimes because of the innings limit on him.
The Yankees are actually having a better season in terms of ERA (3.89 to 4.26), but the starters ERA presents a much different story. While their starters ERA this season is still better than last season (4.16 to 4.48), it is not that impressive.
However, the scary part is that since the All-Star Break, their team ERA has risen (4.01).
Ivan Nova and Dustin Moseley are now in the Yanks rotation, and they have been playing pretty well. We shall see what happens once they reach October. Will Nova or Moseley be pushed back to the pen or will they be one of the important starters?
This is the Yankees' biggest issue heading into October because it will make or break their hopes of repeating.
Last postseason, every closer besides Mariano Rivera blew a save. To say that he has a solid resume in the postseason would be greatly underestimating the greatest closer of all time.
Over 14 seasons (29 series), Rivera has gone 8-1 with a 0.74 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP in 133.1 innings.
ALDS: 2-0 with a 0.35 ERA and a 0.58 WHIP in 51.1 innings.
ALCS: 4-0 with a 0.99 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP in 45.2 innings.
World Series: 2-1 with a 0.99 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in 36.1 innings.
He is the key to the Yankees' chances in repeating this postseason. He has been the Yankees' Most Valuable Player since he started pitching for them in '95.
If he fails, they Yankees will fail along with him, and if he succeeds, the Yankees will win their 28th.
And for all those people who thought he would break down this season, he has the lowest ERA of his career (1.33) and the second lowest WHIP of his career (0.81). He has only blown three saves this season (29-32). Like every other postseason, Mo will be the one that the Yankees rely on most.
Chances are that what I say in this space won't come true exactly the way I have it written. There is also a strong possibility that I will be bashed for being a Yankee homer. I am an unbiased fan who likes the game of baseball in general.
ALDS: Yankees over Twins in 4
ALCS: Yankees over Rangers in 7
World Series: Yankees over Phillies in 7
This postseason will be much tougher for the Yankees. Anyone of my predictions could be wrong because the three teams I have them facing are very tough. I still do think that the Yankees have the strongest team in baseball and that will matter when it comes to playing on the field.
This is an offense that has scored 763 runs, which is 38 more runs than the next closest team, Tampa Bay (725). They still lead the league in runs post All-Star Break (294 to 284 White Sox).
This is still a very strong team and if they get some breaks this postseason, like any other team, they will be fine.