5 Reasons New York Yankees Will Win the AL East as Usual

Ryan Clutter@@RyanCluttContributor IIIFebruary 18, 2013

5 Reasons New York Yankees Will Win the AL East as Usual

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    The New York Yankees are going into the season as underdogs in a division they’ve owned since Derek Jeter arrived in the Bronx.

    Age has caught up with them and we’re beginning to see some competition from teams other than the Boston Red Sox. Remember the days when it was just Boston and New York battling for the division?

    This season, Toronto might have the best team in the history of their franchise, on paper at least. Many are saying the Blue Jays are the team to beat.

    Still with the same core of players, the Yankees are being written off and, according to a Bloomberg article, Las Vegas projects them to win 87 games. They haven’t won less than 87 games since 1992.

    Despite all the talk about the Yankees ride coming to an end in 2013, they still have all the pieces they need to continue to be contenders.

    While not making any big splashes in free agency, they have leadership and a winning atmosphere in the clubhouse. For comparison, if the Blue Jays start to lose, they may get rattled, but the Yankees will keep calm all season, no matter what the media is talking about. They’ve been there before.

    Reigning division champions, the Yankees will fight to keep that title.

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the Yankees will continue to make the playoffs as usual. Here’s some reason why.

Experience

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    First and foremost, the Yankees are experienced. That also means they’re getting older.

    However, experience in baseball is vital. This whole team knows how to win. They’re poised, professional and willing to do whatever it takes.

    General Manager Brian Cashman spoke to Bob Nightengale of USA Today regarding the age of the players they’ve signed this offseason:

    People say we're old, but that story is written on a yearly basis. We have a lot of talent here. They're good players. You have to make choices, and sometimes we take the older guys. Just because they're older doesn't mean they're not better than the young guys.

    Led by captain Derek Jeter (who is set to be ready for Opening Day after rehabbing a broken ankle), the Yankees have a player with over 3,300 hits, five Silver Slugger Awards and 13 All-Star Game appearances. He’s the backbone of the team and the Yankees will only go as far as Jeter takes them. Having him back will make the other players motivated and energized. 

    If you look at the lineup, you’ll see All-Star after All-Star and a medley of Gold Gloves. Plus, there’s three bona fide Hall of Famers on the roster: Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Ichiro.

    The Yankees, who won the division last year with a 95-67 record bring back the same starting rotation and the same bullpen pieces (minus Rafael Soriano). Yet because the other teams made headline deals this offseason, the Yankees have become an afterthought with all the attention the Blue Jays are getting.

    The experience aspect is crucial when it gets late in the season.

    While there is young talent on all teams in the AL East, the experience of the Yankees should propel them over the edge and lead to their continued success in the division.

Offensive Variety

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    In recent years, we’ve come to expect the Bombers to smash home runs. It seemed like all their runs came from the long ball last year, hitting a team record 245 home runs.

    While they still have power hitters in the lineup, they lost 94 home runs in free agency through Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.

    They now possess a unique variety of power, speed and contact hitters. 

    With Brett Gardner back to full health after elbow problems derailed the majority of his 2012 campaign, they get a player who stole 49 bases in 2011. His speed can change an entire game while setting up his teammates for RBI opportunities.

    Adding Kevin Youkilis brings a player with tremendous plate discipline. He is primarily a contact hitter, but has displayed some power. Though his production has tailored off in recent years, he can still work a count and is never an easy out. That’s something that goes unrecognized in the stat sheets. His veteran leadership and winning attitude is also something that will benefit the Yankees.

    Some power will still be there. Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson can go deep at any time and newly-signed Travis Hafner should have a field day with the short porch in right field.

    This new variety will cause some changes to the offensive scheme. They won’t be relying too heavily on the three-run home run as there will be other means to score runs.

    We could see sacrifice bunts, hit and runs, steals and walks. All will manufacture runs.

    While Yankee small ball will be new, we’ll still see the Yankees of old.

    Variety is a good thing for the Yankees who will look to build on the success of last year and take it one step further.

Robinson Cano

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    Robinson Cano is arguably the most important part of the Yankees in 2013. In the middle of his prime—at 30 years old—Cano is in a contract year. 

    The big contract can only come with a dominant season. Cano hit .313 with 33 home runs last year and an 8.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

    If he is able to duplicate that performance the Yankees will be in good shape.

    He needs to put it all together this year and turn in a complete effort. Over the years, he’s gone through slumps that last months. The Yankees are going to rely on Cano to pick up any slack the lineup may have.

    He can’t afford to go through long slumps. He needs to contribute early and often. 

    With Alex Rodriguez slated to miss the first half of the season, Cano is going to shoulder an extra load. I fully expect him to rise to the occasion and make it hard for the Yankees to say goodbye.

    His defense is a strong point and his smooth hands can make plays the crowd will ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at.

    He’s a career .308 hitter and someone who makes it all look easy. He’s the “young” player on the Yankees and absolutely pivotal to their success.

    Trying to get as much money as possible in his next deal, Cano will have a career season and help the Yankees win the AL East, again.

Mariano Rivera/Andy Pettitte

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    Rivera and Pettitte will be enshrined in Yankee glory when it's all said and done. This year could very well be the last we see of both of them.

    Rivera has said he will let us know his plans beyond this year prior to Opening Day.

    The best closer of all time, Rivera is coming off a torn right ACL, an injury that ended his season in May. 

    The good news for the Yankees is he’ll be back. Newsday reports Rivera has already begun intensifying his bullpen session to make sure he's ready for the regular season.

    He’s a guy who’s achieved success from one pitch—the cutter—so even though he’s coming off a serious injury, he’ll still have that nasty movement on his pitches. 

    If this is indeed his last year, he’s going to make sure close games are won. His simple presence will give a boost to the overall performance of the Yankees.

    As for Andy Pettitte, he’s the most valuable starting pitcher on the team. CC Sabathia is clearly the ace and the workhorse, but Pettitte is the most important. 

    He’s set lofty goals for this season, according to Andy McCullough of the Newark Star Ledger. He wants to throw 200 innings and win 20 games. 

    Retiring after the 2010 season, Pettitte came back last year and pitched well in 12 starts, compiling a 2.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and striking out 69 batters in 75.1 innings. 

    He’s another veteran, at 40 years old, and this could be his last shot. Pettitte will be relied on to take the mound every fifth day. 

    Really all he needs to do is pitch six solid innings per start and let the bullpen take care of the rest.

Bullpen

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    The Yankees bullpen has been solid for years. Last year they saw contributions from a variety of different players—from long relievers in David Phelps to specialists like Clay Rapada.

    With Rivera back, the bullpen just needs to bridge the gap to the ninth and this group has the talent to do that.

    David Robertson has been one of the best eighth inning pitchers in baseball. He had a down year last year for his standards, posting a 2-7 record, but he did hold 30 games and save two of them while striking out 81.

    Robertson was named an All-Star in 2011 and went on to strike out 100 hitters, becoming the first Yankee since Rivera to record 100 strikeouts in a season. He didn’t pitch terribly last season so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him pitch again like he did in 2011.

    Joba Chamberlain is slated into the seventh inning role. He’s had an inconsistent career after being bounced around from starter to reliever, plus his injuries. He was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery when he broke his ankle jumping on a trampoline. He’s since sold the trampoline, so that’s a good sign.

    After coming back from two surgeries, Chamberlain didn’t allow an earned run in his last 15 appearances including his four appearances in the playoffs. The Yankees are hopeful he can take that into this season as he comes into Spring Training 100 percent healthy.

    Don’t forget about David Aardsma, who is also coming back from Tommy John surgery. He saved more than 30 games twice for the Mariners, 38 in 2009 and 31 in 2010. While its unclear whether he’ll be back to that pitcher, he adds experience to an already-deep bullpen. 

    Factor in Rapada, Cody Eppley and Boone Logan, this bullpen has the potential to be very dangerous and give the Yankee starters some insurance.

    In Spring Training, Shawn Kelley, Francisco Rondon, Cesar Cabral, Adam Warren and perhaps Manny Banuelos will be fighting for a spot on the roster, which only furthers the depth of the Yankee bullpen.

    We could also end up seeing Mark Montgomery and his dynamic slider at some point in 2013.

    With this bullpen bridging the gap to Rivera, the Yankees will prove to be the team to beat yet again.