Yankees Face October as $200M Underdogs in 1st Postseason Since 'Core Four' Era

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterOctober 2, 2015

New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez, left, celebrates with New York Yankees right fielder Carlos Beltran in the locker room after the Yankees clinched a wild car berth in the playoffs after defeating the Boston Red Sox 4-1 in a baseball game in New York, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015.   (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Alex Rodriguez said they were underdogs, and for once we didn't laugh at the thought.

The New York Yankees as underdogs?

It's a crazy concept, given their $200 million-plus payroll and their history. It's fair to say the Yankees never should be underdogs to make the playoffs, but it's just as fair to say that this year they were.

And it's even fairer to say they're bigger underdogs now that they're in.

Seriously, is anyone picking this club to win the World Series? Has any Yankee team in recent memory entered a postseason with lower expectations?

Oh, they could be favorites in Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game, especially if the Minnesota Twins can somehow emerge with the AL's other wild-card spot.

But after that?

A-Rod as underdog?
A-Rod as underdog?Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Maybe we're all wrong, the same way we were all wrong in March and April. I went through every preseason prediction I could find, from Bleacher Report's Scott Miller (he picked them last in the AL East) to 15 writers and broadcasters at ESPN to five guys at CBSSports.com to 12 at FoxSports.com to five at Yahoo Sports to seven at USA Today.

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All those people making picks, and just two of them (Gabe Lacques of USA Today and Buster Olney of ESPN) had the Yankees in the playoffs.

I didn't make picks this spring, but I won't lie. I wouldn't have picked them, either. And I'm not picking them now.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Yankees don't get the benefit of the doubt they once did, because they aren't the same team they once were. It's been three years since New York even made the playoffs, and the roster has turned over so much that only three guys who were active for the club's last postseason series in 2012 will be active this October (Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner).

This is the first Yankee playoff team in 20 years with no Derek Jeter, and the first time the Yankees have gone to the playoffs since Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte retired (although Rivera was hurt in 2012 and didn't pitch). This is a team whose playoff experience almost entirely was earned elsewhere, in Boston (Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Miller) or in Atlanta (Brian McCann) or even in Japan (Masahiro Tanaka).

They do have Carlos Beltran, who has had plenty of October success in multiple places, and if they're going to surprise us this month, perhaps it will be because of what he does. They wouldn't have gotten this far without what he has already done.

Carlos Beltran had playoff success in Houston and St. Louis. Can he do it again?
Carlos Beltran had playoff success in Houston and St. Louis. Can he do it again?Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira got far more credit as comeback veterans, but Jack Curry said on YES that after an awful April, Beltran has been the Yankees' best player. There's little doubt he's been their most important hitter in the second half, and it seemed totally appropriate when Beltran's home run gave the Yankees their first lead in Thursday night's playoff-clinching 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.

"He has a knack for big hits," Chase Headley told YES' Meredith Marakovits. "Obviously he turns it up in the big games, and he did again [in September]. We're hoping he keeps it up for the next month or so."

They're hoping Beltran keeps hitting. They're hoping Tanaka can look like an ace, Sabathia's September revival is real and the bullpen can put them over the top. Manager Joe Girardi still won't commit to having Adam Warren in the pen full time in October, but how can he not? Girardi has no one he trusts after the big three of Miller, Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson, and Warren's three shutout innings of relief Thursday night showed what an addition he would be to that group.

Yes, you can make a case for this team (though few will). You can point out how wild-card teams have won before (two of them met in the World Series last year).

But whatever case you make for the Yankees, it's the same one you'd make for any underdog. Could they win? Of course, because in October, any team that gets there could win.

Will anyone pick them to win?

Probably no more than picked them in April.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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