Daily Archives: October 3, 2012
The 2012 New York Yankees looked down and almost out in the beginning of September. They weren’t able to hit with runners in scoring position, the pitching had been on and off and players had been injured. The Yankees had a tough year when they lost OF Brett Gardner and closer Mariano Rivera within the matter of weeks. It was even tougher when the Yankees lost pitcher Michael Pineda before he event threw a pitch for the 2012 season. Things were looking slim and some writers and fans were questioning whether the Yankees would make the play-offs. But then–everything started to come together. Brett Gardner returned, Mark Teixeira returned, Alex Rodriguez returned, Robinson Cano became the hottest hitter in the universe and the pitching started to come together. All of a sudden, the American League East looked as if it was coming down to the wire at first between 3 teams; the Yankees, the Orioles and the Rays. But then, the faded picture started to look clearer. Tampa Bay was knocked out of the Wild Card spot, the Red Sox and Blue Jays tried to play spoiler and the Orioles tried to keep up. The Blue Jays took half a series from the Yankees, the Rays took the series from the Orioles and the Red Sox couldn’t play spoiler vs. the Yankees. In the end, the Yankees became the American League East Champions after brutally beating the Boston Red Sox 14-2 in Bobby Valentine’s final game as manager.
In years past the American League would usually be decided in a couple of days before the season ended, but the American League came down to Game 162. The Yankees had champagne chilled in the clubhouse fridge sitting there until they were certain that they had the Division Series in their midst. The Yankees made it clear that they weren’t going to open the champagne if they won anything less than a division but now that there is another division title in the Bronx, you can expect the champagne to fly.
The Yankees still have a huge question that has been left unanswered. The question? Who do the Yankees play against? Since the Yankees are the number one seed in the play-offs, they will have the home field advantage but because of the new play-off format, they won’t be able to start a series at home. Until then they will be working out at the stadium or watching from the comfort of their homes who will be their opponent. But for now–clinching the AL East and home field is a great start for a team that is on a chase–for 28.
One month ago, many people including myself were incredibly worried about the Yankees potentially missing the playoffs. The Bombers’ huge ten game lead in the division had dwindled down to one, as the Baltimore Orioles played their best baseball in 15 years. Not only that, but the Yankees themselves were playing absolutely terrible baseball, and many were calling for Joe Girardi’s head.
But by re-gaining some important sidelined players and taking advantage of an easy schedule to end the year, the Yankees came together and wound up making the playoffs and could clinch the A.L. East tonight with a win over the Red Sox. The calendar has now flipped to October, and this postseason is shaping up to be an uphill battle for baseball’s winning-est franchise.
As displayed in September, this Yankees team is not one to be taken lightly, and very easily could the club come together on all aspects and make a fierce run for their 28th world championship. For that to happen, the team will need to play as one unit, consistently producing by way of clutch pitching AND hitting – something we haven’t seen from the Yankees on a nightly basis really all year.
And ironically every time the playoffs roll around, the Yankees go about it saying, “it’s just another game on the schedule”. Yet for the past few years, they’ve played their worst baseball in October. Last year they couldn’t buy a run with men on base; and in 2010 their pitching (besides Andy Pettitte) tanked against Texas in the ALCS. Besides the glorious season of 2009, you can trace every Yankee playoff loss in the past 10 years to a lack of either clutch hitting/pitching, or both in the same series. Don’t even get me started about Jaret Wright or Chien-Ming Wang.
I’m not saying the Yankees lie about their approach to the postseason, but clearly something changes in them over the course of the days following Game 162 and Game 1 of the ALDS. They just aren’t the same Bombers we see throughout the summer.
Maybe this year though, that would be a good thing. No, a great thing.
I’m not saying it’s as simple as the law of averages, but the Yankees really haven’t been the consistent, overpowering force in the American League they normally are each regular season. Sure, they wound up on top of the division again, and you bet they were right there in the standings for the best record in Major League Baseball. But more often than not there was uncertainty and inconsistent play by New York. They’d sweep a series versus a pennant chaser, then lose 2 of 3 to a non-contender. The injuries piled up as well, largely the reason why the Yankees faltered in mid-August and nearly lost a grip on control of their playoff destiny.
Now, the Yankees are a much healthier and complete team then they were. Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira have returned and (for the most part) really haven’t skipped a beat. Not only that, but the past couple weeks the Yankees played some of their best baseball, getting hits with runners in scoring position that aren’t also known as “home runs”. Sure, they still heavily rely on the long ball, but guys who can’t crush a fastball 400 feet every night are learning to be better situational hitters, and looking to rather move a runner to third then trying to score him on one swing of a bat. As I mentioned, hitting with RISP has been the Yankees’ Achilles heel for most of this season and certainly a prime reason for their first-round exit last year. Hitting well now should have some level of a positive impact on how the Yankees swing the lumber as the playoffs begin in a couple days.
Not forgotten is also the pitching staff this year, which has had some streaks of success and streaks of utter failures. As mentioned earlier, the rotation is now re-stocked with the clutch southpaw Andy Pettitte returning from the freak injury he suffered in late June. He’s come back and shown no signs of slowing down, and is absolutely essential to any World Series run the Yankees want to make this year. If he didn’t come back from retirement, the Yankees may not have been back in the postseason.
The other pitchers who haven’t been gone as long – CC, Kuroda, and Hughes, all had solid seasons, Kuroda especially. From May on, he arguably was the ace over a hobbled and inconsistent Sabathia, posting a 3.34 ERA (as of the morning of October 3rd) with 15 wins. Hughes, as I tabbed him the Yankees “Comeback Player of the Year”, looked like his 2010 self here in 2012, hovering around a 4 ERA but putting in a number of quality/dominant outings. More importantly, CC has clearly re-gained his health and strength, as he finished the season with three outstanding starts following an up and down second half of the year.
Say what you want about them, but the Yankees’ bullpen still has many quality relievers who have postseason experience. That’s not something you can say about the Orioles and A’s, of course. It’ll certainly be bittersweet when instead of the Sandman entering, we have Rafael Soriano jogging out to some mamba music in the 9th inning. But he still did a fantastic job as the first successor to the great Mariano Rivera. Sori has been mostly automatic all year for New York, but of course, nothing is certain with closers in the postseason, so all we can do is hope Girardi doesn’t over-use him and he stays fresh enough to produce just as well as he did in the regular season.
The supporting cast, as I like to call them, also had good years, and should be able to transition into the fall. Set-up man David Robertson pitched to a tune of a 2.67 ERA, once again shutting down hitters and building the bridge to Rafi’s entrance in the 9th. Joba Chamberlain has emerged as the Yankees’ 7th inning man, returning back to pumping his 96 mph fastball and getting outs when needed. He’s nowhere near the superstar status he nearly achieved when he first burst onto the scene in 2007, but he’s definitely already had his share of moments in the playoffs and should be able to be relied upon to help the Yankees in those close game situations.
You’d figure the Yankees’ top flight starters of CC, Kuroda, and Andy should be able to get the Yankees to the 6th inning at the very least, but if not, you still have other options out of the ‘pen. Boone Logan, Cody Eppley, and David Phelps can all too contribute to the Yankees’ quest for another world championship.
All in all, this Yankees team is absolutely good enough to win it all. When they are firing on all cylinders, they are a very hard team to beat. The problem is, normally they aren’t. Stranger things have happened in the playoffs before, but the Yankees are going to have to do some quick soul searching and quick rebounding to try and play as a complete team and get those 11 more wins needed, for #28.
A thrilling Yankees season has come down to the final day today. If the Yankees beat the lousy Red Sox today they will win the AL East and have home field advantage until the World Series. The road they have taken to get to this point may not have been the prettiest road, but you cannot argue with the results. The resiliency the Yankees have shown down the stretch of this season is something you have to feel good about heading into the playoffs.
The Yankees have overcome a lot of tough obstacles to get where they are at this point and deserve credit for that. They still need to finish it off with a win today, but what they have overcome so far makes you think that this may be a tougher team than in years past. Every team has injuries, but the Yankees have had an inordinate amount of key injuries to key players. Their prized offseason acquisition Michael Pineda has never thrown a pitch, the greatest closer in the history of MLB went down early and they lost Brett Gardner for basically the entire year. Those are just the injuries at the beginning of the season. The Yankees lost Andy Pettitte for over two months, Alex Rodriguez for about five weeks and Mark Teixeira for about a month. How many teams can overcome loosing their starting left fielder, two of their middle of their order guys, their closer and one of their best pitchers and still be in position to have the best record in the AL?
The injuries are only part of what the Yankees have had to overcome this season. On July 18th the Yankees were 57-34 and had a 10 game lead in the AL East. It looked like yet another season that they would cruise to the division title, but then something strange happened. The Yankees started to crumble and slowly but surely their lead over the Orioles kept dwindling and dwindling. Between July 18th and September 6th the Yankees went 20-26 and allowed the Orioles to catch them. However, Baltimore never passed them and still haven’t, which is significant. Every time they had a chance to overtake the Yankees they have not allowed it to happen. During that awful stretch the Yankees faced severe pressure that they were able to overcome. If they had completely collapsed, they would have gone down in Yankees history as one of the biggest disappointments ever and big changes would have been made. It was equivalent to playoff pressure.
Instead of crumbling under that pressure, they embraced it and played really resilient baseball. What has seemed like night after night of extremely tense baseball, the Yankees have showed that they are capable of winning those types of games. Last night’s thrilling comeback was not the only example of that. Sunday’s huge comeback from being down 5-1 against Toronto was huge. Also their victory on September 22nd was incredible, as they were down by four heading into the 13th inning and won it in the 14th. Also, ag the beginning of the month they split a four game series with Baltimore, but their two victories came after heartbreaking losses the night before, which once again showed resiliency.
All these tense September moments should remind Yankees fans that making the playoffs is no guarantee. The Yankees’ run of making the playoff in 17 of the last 18 seasons, in a league that is tougher to make the playoffs than in any other sport is incredible. Many people take that for granted, but they really shouldn’t For a team that could finish with the AL’s best record the lack of perspective from some fans at times during the season was scary.
Brian Cashman deserves credit for three huge pickups in Hiroki Kuroda, Raul Ibanez, and Ichiro Suzuki because without those they are not where they are without those three players. If you are going to kill him for moves that haven’t worked out, which you are justified to do for sure, then you must give him credit for the ones that work out.
The fact that the Yankees have had to battle throughout September to get here they are should be a positive in the playoffs. Hopefully they can continue to ride this wave of momentum into the postseason. All the teams in the AL have flaws just like the Yankees, so they can beat any of them, but they can certainly loose to any of them as well. It should make for a crazy October, but if they can continue to play with this resiliency their dreams of a championship are possible.