MLB Playoffs 2011: 10 Questions Surrounding the New York Yankees in the ALDS
The New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers will resume their American League Division Series Saturday night at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. A heavy rain halted the much-anticipated pitching matchup between the Yankees' CC Sabathia and the Tigers' Justin Verlander, so for the rest of Game 1, Yankees fans will be treated to Ivan Nova and Doug Fister.
Although fans will not get the pitching duel they were hoping for when this series kicked off, it is not the only thing to discuss as the series starts up again.
Here are 10 questions surrounding the Yankees as another postseason gets underway.
1. Will the Rain Affect the Yankees?
In the second inning of Friday night's game, the rain once again came pouring down in the Bronx. Although the teams initially tried to play as puddles formed on the muddy field, the game was halted and eventually suspended after a one-hour, 17-minute stoppage.
The Yankees are no stranger to rain delays. Twenty-two of their games have been affected by rain this year, and nine of those have been postponed. But how have the Yankees fared after that?
In the most notable delay of the season, which occurred on Sept. 6 against the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees pulled out a 5-3 win. The game was delayed by four hours and three minutes, but Bud Selig ruled the game had to be played because the Yankees' remaining days off were being used to make up previously rained-out games.
New York also won 10-3 against the Seattle Mariners back on July 25 after a two-hour delay.
In makeup games, the Yankees defeated the Orioles 8-3 in a postponed game that was supposed to be held on Aug. 27, but even that was postponed due to the threat of heavy rain from Hurricane Irene. The game was played in Baltimore.
Mariano Rivera got his 602nd save to set the all-time saves record on Sept. 19 against the Minnesota Twins, a game that had been moved from April.
The Yankees did lose four of their makeup games this year, including parts of doubleheaders against the Orioles and Boston Red Sox. However, the bad weather has never slowed them down entirely.
2. Can Austin Jackson Show the Yankees That They Made a Mistake?
Austin Jackson was a highly regarded Yankees prospect when the team traded him to the Tigers in December of 2009. In return, one of the players New York received was Curtis Granderson. (More on him in a minute.)
Jackson's hits total in 2011, 147, was down from his 181 in 2010. His batting average also dropped to .249 from .293. However, he improved to 10 home runs after hitting just four in 2010 and had 45 RBIs after tallying 41 last year.
As far as defense goes, the centerfielder was fifth in the AL in fielding percentage this year with a .992 mark. That also improved from his 2010 mark of .985.
If Jackson is going to show the Yankees they made a mistake in getting rid of him, he will have to show it in the field or come up big as soon as he gets to the plate.
3. How Will Curtis Granderson Impact His Old Team?
As mentioned in the last slide, Granderson came to the Yankees in the December 2009 trade that sent Austin Jackson and pitcher Phil Coke to the Tigers.
Granderson struggled a bit in his first season in New York, but he had an MVP-worthy season in 2011. In addition to his 41 home runs, he had 119 RBIs, a .262 batting average and a .364 on-base percentage. His performance earned him a spot in the 2011 MLB All-Star Game.
He was a member of the 2006 Tigers roster that faced off against the Yankees in the ALDS. As the Tigers defeated the Yankees in four games, Granderson had five hits, two home runs and five RBIs. He finished the series with a .294 batting average and a .278 OBP.
When the Yankees faced the Twins in the 2010 ALDS, Granderson once again had five hits. His batting average was .455, while his OBP was .500.
If Granderson's regular-season success this year translates to the postseason, his old team better look out.
4. Will A.J. Burnett's Temper Come Out?
A.J. Burnett's tenure in New York has featured some solid performances. But those have been forgotten by many fans who remember more his general mediocrity and the occasional blow-ups. He has even shows, at times, that he can't control himself when things don't go his way.
In 2010, Burnett injured himself by slamming doors in the clubhouse and cutting his pitching hand. He was angry about being taken out of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays and originally lied and said he slipped going up the clubhouse stairs.
This year, Burnett again lost it during a September makeup game against the Twins and was removed after the fifth inning. According to ESPN New York, Burnett did not handle it very well:
"Heaven forbid I give up a couple of hits. You do what you can to get your team the win, I guess."
Will the whiny, inconsistent Burnett be present in the playoffs, or will we get the Burnett who stepped up in 2009 and earned the appreciation of rookie pitcher Ivan Nova for being a good mentor?
Unfortunately, this is something Yankees fans and players can't predict.
5. Can Jorge Posada Come Up Big?
Jorge Posada may no longer be the Yankees' everyday catcher, but in his 115 games this season, he has made an impact.
Even though his production is down and he notched just 81 hits, 14 home runs and 44 RBIs to go with a .235 batting average in the regular season, Posada has come through when needed. In an August matchup against Tampa Bay, Posada hit a grand slam to add to a Yankee lead.
Then, as we all know, he hit a single in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sept. 21, again against the Rays, to sweep the series and give the Bronx Bombers the AL East title.
Posada will serve as designated hitter for the playoffs, and if the Yankees are down, there will be some hope when Jorge comes to the plate.
6. How Will Ivan Nova Handle Playoff Pressure?
Rookie pitcher Ivan Nova got his first playoff start a little earlier than expected. C.C. Sabathia started Game 1 before the rain suspended the game, so it will be up to Nova to pick up where Sabathia left off.
This season, Nova had a record of 16-4 in 28 games and posted a 3.70 ERA. He gave up 163 hits and 74 runs while delivering 98 strikeouts. His WHIP was 1.33.
With Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010, he had a 12-3 record with a 2.86 ERA, also posting 115 strikeouts.
Nova's lack of playoff experience doesn't mean Yankees fans will go easy on him. OK, some will, but can he handle the overall scrutiny and scorn he will face if he is not ready for the challenge? Can he keep his composure and continue performing beyond his years?
Nova may have wanted to watch Sabathia handle an October situation a little bit longer, but time is up. The spotlight is on.
7. Can the Yankees Shake off a Rough End to the Regular Season?
The last week of the regular season did not go well for the Bronx Bombers.
After winning the first game of a doubleheader with the Red Sox on Sept. 25, the Yankees allowed Boston back into the second game by allowing the game-tying run. They went on to lose 7-4.
As if that weren't enough, they were swept by the Rays. In their last regular-season game, as many no doubt remember, the Yanks surrendered a 7-0 lead, and the Rays won 8-7 in the 12th inning to capture the AL Wild Card.
But so what? They already won the division. What's the big deal?
Look, I was as happy as anyone when the Rays won on Wednesday, sending the Red Sox home and laughing with my fellow Yankees fans about Boston's epic collapse.
But it's pretty concering that it happened to begin with. When every game counts in October, you just cannot surrender a 7-0 lead or drop three straight games. It may not have hurt to do so on Wednesday, but it will kill the Yankees from this point on as they fight for their playoff lives.
It didn't take the Tigers long to go up at the start of last night's game, taking a 1-0 lead in the first. The Yankees did tie the game before the game was stopped, so at least went into Saturday night with a tie game.
Let's hope the Yankees grab the bull by the horns and get on the path to a series win.
8. Which Backup Will Get a Chance to Shine?
While we know that the usual core players will be starting for the Yankees, they have several players available should backup be needed. And as we saw in the regular season, these men can and will come through, if necessary.
If one of them is needed to step up, who will it be?
Will it be Eric Chavez, the veteran third baseman who had two home runs and 42 hits in 58 games? He had a .263 batting average and .320 OBP as well as 26 RBIs. All of those totals were improved from his 2010 totals with the Oakland A's.
The downside is that he has not played in the postseason since 2006. Can he shake off the October rust if called upon to replace Alex Rodriguez?
Or will the unsung hero be Eduardo Nunez, a player who has handled various positions in the field? But let's face it, Nunez didn't earn the nickname "NunEEEEEEEEEE" for nothing. He committed 20 errors this year, with most of them coming at the shortstop position.
At the plate, Nunez hit five home runs and 30 RBIs, finishing with a .265 batting average and .313 OBP.
One of the most likely options besides Chavez will be Chris Dickerson. In 60 at-bats this season, he has a home run and seven RBIs. He improved on his 2010 batting average to finish with a .260 and also increased his OBP from .250 to .296.
And of course, let's not forget Jesus Montero. The hottest prospect in the majors played 18 games this year, posting four home runs and 12 RBIs to go with a .328 batting average.
There is definitely room in the dugout for someone to step up.
9. Will Derek Jeter Get His 200th Postseason Hit?
Yankee captain Derek Jeter already made history this season when he got his 3,000th career hit on July 9 against Tampa Bay. Can he do it in the postseason by getting his 200th playoff hit?
Going into Saturday night, Jeter has 185 playoff hits.
I looked at Jeter's hits totals from September to project if or when this could happen. He had 27 hits in 22 September games to average about a hit per game. The highest total of that month was back on Sept. 19 against the Twins, when he had three.
It will likely take at least two series going the distance for him to accomplish what he's setting out to do, but Jeter's quest for that hit will surely be an interesting storyline as their series with Detroit goes on.
10. Can the Yankees Keep the Pressure on the Tigers?
Detroit is coming into the playoffs for the first time since 2006. As I said previously, that year, the Tigers defeated the Yankees in four games in the ALDS. Detroit had won the AL Wild Card that season.
After eliminating the Yankees, the Tigers went all the way to the World Series, but fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games.
Back in New York, the Yanks are playoff pros. They've been there and done that. They've only missed the playoffs once in the last 10 years, in 2008. In those 10 years, they have been to three World Series, winning it all in 2009. They have also made five appearances in the ALCS, where they were bounced last year by the Texas Rangers.
While Detroit will be looking to stay in the postseason mix a bit longer, the Yankees will be looking to do what they've always done. They will count on their stars and unsung heroes to go deep into the postseason and show everyone that they won't settle for anything less than the World Series championship trophy.
But to do that, they have to keep Detroit from becoming a feel-good story. The pitching, from the starters to the bullpen, has to be on top of its game. The hitters need to connect ball and bat. Russell Martin has to be an ace behind the plate.
There is no room for giving the Tigers any hope. Can the Yankees step on the Tigers right away?
Enjoy the series!