The Yankees won in 2009, but have assembled a team capable of winning again in 2011.
It seems like forever since Mariano Rivera's subtle fist pump near first base in Game 6 of the 2009 World Series, verifying his fifth title and the Yankees' 27th in franchise history. It was a fifth for Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, a group crowned the "Core Four" for their unflappable championship fortitude over the years.
Two seasons later, the Yankees are a different team with the same focus. Many familiar faces wear the pinstripes, but their stories are very different. Jorge Posada, once a leader and All-Star catcher, is now fighting for his postseason life in his final act as a Yankee. Derek Jeter is still the captain, but his diminished play has been well documented and most people are waiting to see if his October magic can still be conjured. And Curtis Granderson, the replacement for young Melky Cabrera, has become the offensive anchor in New York's lineup.
Changes aside, the goal remains the same, and the Yankees are poised to run toward a 28th title this postseason. Here are 10 definitive reasons why this team has the pieces it'll take to get the job done.
Sabathia has done it before for New York, and can certainly do it again in 2011.
A team's best chance to win a World Series starts with their ability to throw a No. 1 starter out as many times as possible. Well, C.C. Sabathia happens to fit the job description perfectly. Not only can he take the ball three times in a seven-game series without flinching, but he can do it more effectively than most pitchers in baseball.
Sabathia was gold during the Yankees' 2009 run, going 3-1 with an ERA under 3.00. Since then, he has assembled what will appear to be back-to-back 20-win seasons, only being topped by Detroit Tigers' all-world ace Justin Verlander.
Fans shouldn't be worried, however, for Sabathia can be thrown against any team's ace and give the Yankees a good chance to win the game. This year's title pursuit begins with Sabathia, and it goes as far as he can carry them.
Jeter has led the Yankees to five titles with clutch hitting and stellar plays in October.
As far as any Yankee fan is concerned, as long as Derek Jeter is playing shortstop for the Yankees, or is even in the stadium, New York has a better chance to win than the other team.
It sounds like an irrational overreaction at first glance, but the more you analyze it and weigh the alternatives, the more believable it becomes. If you doubt his abilities in the postseason, try and find someone comparable that is currently playing. You would have to start by finding someone that has played in seven World Series, let alone someone who's won five. If Jeter plays a relatively extended October/November this season and wins the title, he will most likely eclipse 162 postseason games.
His career average in the postseason is .309, including .321 in the World Series and a .407 mark in the 2009 Fall Classic. Jeter's intangible plays and clutch hits are well documented, ranging from The Flip to Mr. November.
This season has caused speculation, however, on whether or not he will still be capable of delivering in October. The answer is much simpler than statistics. If you need a hit and Jeter's at the plate, can you really bet against him?
Granderson has been a remarkable talent in the middle of the Yankees' lineup this season.
Perhaps the most legitimate improvement from this season to the last is not a trade, but an operation. Late last year, hitting coach Kevin Long and Curtis Granderson worked on a swing change that has since allowed the center fielder to unleash power he has never had before.
In 2011, Granderson has belted 40 home runs thus far, placing him second in the American League (Bautista, 42). This new and improved power threat dropped early in the lineup makes the Yankees a devastating force. His dangerous bat allows hitters like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano to see better pitches, which deepens the lineup, wears out pitchers and inevitably helps the team win.
Don't forget about Rodriguez, one of the best hitters the game has ever seen.
The 2009 World Series was Alex Rodriguez's postseason coming-out party, one he invited all of New York to attend. He delivered in every series with big hits that helped the Yankees win crucial games on the way to winning his first ring.
His performance has been lacking since then, with scattered injuries hindering his full potential. And if we have all forgotten, his potential is incredible. A man who will more than likely finish with more than 700 home runs should not be overlooked, and that might be the case entering this postseason.
It appears he is relatively healthy after dealing with leg and finger injuries, something the Yankees are quietly praying is a certainty. With him performing at an optimal level in October, New York is practically unstoppable offensively, especially if the current stars keep playing at the same pace. They have done well without him the last couple months, but a healthy and effective A-Rod may be the tipping point for a World Series title in 2011.
Beckett has been part of a large injury bug that has hit Boston this season.
The Boston Red Sox are certainly not asking for pity, but maybe fewer injuries would be nice. Seeing as they have owned the Yankees this season, confidence must have been flowing through them knowing a potential October meeting to decide the American League pennant was probably in order.
They are now down to one reliable starter in Jon Lester to carry them into October, and are barely in if that with a charging Tampa Bay Rays team breathing down their necks in the wild-card race. Granted, Boston could sweep the Yankees in their final three-game set this season and throw themselves back into the division hunt, but it will be most likely be a depleted backdoor entry for the Red Sox.
With that said, the Yankees should be able to take advantage of this huge void. The only team with the depth to compete with New York in a seven-game series was the Red Sox, but with a pitching staff in shambles, the Yankees will become the favorites out of the American League.
The Phillies know both victory and defeat in the World Series, losing at the hands of the Yankees in 2009.
One of the most important factors in a team's ability to beat another team is self-confidence of being able to get the job done. If the Yankees reach the World Series, there is a decent chance the Philadelphia Phillies will be waiting for them.
Now there's no way around it: The Phillies are built to win a postseason series, combining a timely offense with a devastating pitching staff, starting with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. If there's one team who can handle the Phillies, however, it's the Yankees. They defeated Lee's 2009 team by winning around him, but now against Halladay, their task will be much steeper.
What the Yankees do have is experience against Roy Halladay, an asset few teams have. With their experience and prior success against Philly, they may have what it takes to bring them down in the Fall Classic.
The Yankees may be Jeter's team, but it will someday be Robinson Cano's.
For over a decade, Derek Jeter has been the soul of this team, leading with a winning example on and off the field, delivering big in the playoffs and collecting multiple titles. It will not be his team forever, though, and somebody has to step up to that challenge. That someone will be, and should be, Robinson Cano.
The silky-smooth second baseman is establishing himself as one of the elite players in baseball, using seemingly effortless hitting skills to haunt lineups. This postseason, it's time for Cano to break out and be the obvious successor to the current captain in Jeter. It's his for the taking, and not anyone including Jeter would complain about it.
His statistics in October are below standards for Cano, with only a .248 average in 37 games. But this 28-year-old phenom will have his coming-out party in 2011, and all of New York will be very glad to see it.
Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira are prime examples of how impossible the Yankees' lineup is to deal with.
The movement of pitchers on baseball's chessboard in the late innings of games are some of the most important decisions a manager can make in a game. During the postseason, these decisions are magnified significantly, with one wrong choice resulting in a lost game, or even a lost series.
This October, opposing teams will have a matchup nightmare while dealing with the Yankees. Let's assume New York uses the following lineup in the playoffs: Jeter, Granderson, Teixeira, Rodriguez, Cano, Swisher, Posada/Jones, Martin and Gardner. That equates to the following at the plate: right, left, switch-hitter, right, left, switch-hitter, left/right, right and left. To attack that lineup with a bullpen is nearly impossible to do correctly, which means mistakes will be made against the team, giving them a decisive advantage in an extended series.
Ivan Nova is pitching himself into a major postseason role in 2011.
No pitcher deserves the ball in Game 2 of the Yankees' first postseason round more than Ivan Nova, who has pitched himself into more than a great record this year. He is a serious Rookie of the Year candidate, sporting at least 16 wins with, so far, only four losses. His poise and resilience are uncanny and promising for any 24-year-old starter, especially in New York.
His ability to win will land him a start in the playoffs for the Yankees, and it could be just the spotlight he needs to catapult his career to a new level. Nova does not seem phased by pressure, something he will need to fend off repetitively in the postseason. All signs are pointing to him being up the challenge, however, and if he is, Nova gives the Yankees a serious chance to win the title not only this year, but many more to come.
Rivera may be the all-time saves leader, but he would say the team's wins are much more important.
0.71. It's a statistic held by Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, and is possibly the most impressive number the postseason has ever seen. That is Rivera's ERA in 94 playoff games, a number that may never be matched again.
Now the all-time saves leader, it would be hard to bet against the Yankees any time Rivera is closing out of the bullpen (which is very good, sporting electric arms like David Robertson and Rafael Soriano). His presence in October is legendary, and there's no reason why it will change in 2011. If the Yankees take leads into the ninth inning consistently, they have a better chance to win than any other team not only in this league, but in the league's history.