More than any other league or sport, the regular season in Major League Baseball truly is a marathon. Every team has its ups and downs throughout the summer. The teams that have the most highs and fewest lows end up contending in the crapshoot known as October baseball.
This year's version of the New York Yankees surely emphasizes this. They started the season 0-3 in St. Petersburg, Florida and were in last place as late as May 21st. The Bombers would soon surge, using a 10-game winning streak to catapult them to a 20-7 month of June and first place in the AL East.
Despite injuries to Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, the lead peaked at 10 games on July 18th, when they were 57-34. That was easily the best mark in baseball and they appeared to be favorites to win it all.
Afterward, the Yankees would begin to slide on a 19-25 run, and were caught by the surprising Baltimore Orioles on September 4th. The Bombers' season looked as if it were on the verge of disaster. Mark Teixeira, Gardner and Pettitte were still out, and Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez, fresh off injuries of their own, looked absolutely lost. Nobody on the pitching staff could keep it in the ballpark. The offense couldn't hit it out of the park.
Still, the resilient and battle-tested Bombers would not fade, and treated nearly every remaining game as do-or-die. Pettitte returned and delivered, Sabathia got back to his usual dominance and the offense was carried by seasoned vets like Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez. They would rebound and go 19-8 the rest of the way.
Even with the Yankees' best efforts, the division was still tied with four games left, and they were down 5-1 against Toronto on a day in which the Orioles already won. The Bombers stormed back and won the ballgame.
They would finish off the season strong against the last-place Boston Red Sox. They took Game 1 rather easily with Sabathia on the mound. It took late-inning heroics from Ibanez to take the middle game, and the Yankees won comfortably in the season finale
Thanks to some help from the Tampa Bay Rays, who took two of three from the O's in their final series, the Yankees are American League East champs once again after a long, brutal season—possibly the toughest road to the postseason in recent memory for the franchise.
Now the Yankees are in the best position possible. They have avoided playing a tiebreaker game in Baltimore to decide the division and risk having to venture to Arlington, Texas to play in a wild-card playoff.
Instead, they face the No. 1 overall seed in the AL and get to play the winner of the wild-card playoff between the O's and the Rangers, starting Sunday. Not winning the East would have seriously taxed the club, especially the pitching staff
As everyone (Teixeira, Pettitte, Rodriguez, Gardner and Sabathia) is healthy and back to form, the Yankees are a force to be reckoned with in the postseason. They could be a favorite to bring the franchise's 28th World Series championship back home.
They have the bats that can hit home runs and deliver clutch hits one through nine. They have plenty of speed in Jeter and Ichiro, along with Gardner and Eduardo Nunez coming off the bench. They have the hottest hitter on the planet in Robinson Cano. And if A-Rod and Teixeira can get hot, they're even more dangerous.
Their veteran rotation—anchored by CC and Andy, while also featuring Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes—is as good as anyone's in the postseason. After having to give starts to the likes of Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia all year, the Yankees now have a deep staff one through four.
And even without Mariano Rivera, the bullpen is still among the elite in baseball, thanks to Rafael Soriano stepping in the shoes of the greatest reliever of all time. They also have a dominant setup man in All-Star David Robertson, who strikes out 12 batters per nine innings.
Former phenom Joba Chamberlain is back as well, and he could play a big role building the bridge to the eighth inning. Clay Rapada and Boone Logan are as reliable against left-handed batters as any LOOGY.
Momentum is only as good as tomorrow's starter, but the way the Yankees ended the season, they are already in playoff mode and know what is at stake. Now that everyone is healthy, they are a very dangerous team for anyone to beat.