Yankee fans, prepare for the postseason. Pre-sales for playoff tickets has been made available online, indicating that the organization is already preparing for a postseason berth. Owner George Steinbrenner has announced that he’ll be attending some playoff games at the new Yankee Stadium. It’s all about clinched for the Yankees as they cruise through an easy schedule and inch closer to 100 wins on the season. It was a shaky start to a dominating season, so now, without drama and in stellar fashion the Yankees are scorching their way through the last month of the regular season. Of course, as we near the post season, the Yankees need to pay attention to their strengths and weaknesses before they fall victim to the overconfidence that has deprived them of a World Series ring the past eight years.
The Yankees have been in this position before. In 2006 the Yankees controlled the American League East Division and finished with a MLB best 97-65 record. They were expected to represent the AL in the World Series and win it all in the end. For instance, Yahoo Sports had five columnists predict the winner of the World Series on the first of October and only one of those five believed the Yanks wouldn’t win it (this columnist, Mark Pesavento, predicted the Twins would win it, which was wrong anyway). It’s happened before, this hype that follows the Yankees into the postseason, but they haven’t won a World Series since 2000 and it was 2003 since they won their last postseason series. So despite the assurances that, yes, the Yanks will be making the postseason, who knows if they’ll be the team to beat moving into their first series?
The Yankees might not know how they’ll perform in the playoffs, but the organization may feel that this is their year. The Yankees are 36-12 since the All-Star Break and have ripped through Chicago White Sox (effectively ruining their chances at the wildcard), and the Baltimore Orioles these past two weeks. They swept the White Sox, outscoring the team 23-5 in the three game series. Chicago’s manager, the always-entertaining Ozzie Guillen said of game two of the series, “I watched Little League this morning and they played better. This is not major league ball.” But honestly, most any team that has played the Yankees’ late this season has looked like a minor league team. Just ask the Orioles who were swept and outscored 24-9 in the three games. The Yankees have scored more runs (779), more homeruns (212), more hits (1341), and more RBIs (748) than any team in the majors this year. They’re second in the MLB behind the Los Angeles Angels in batting average (.281), and are on top in slugging percentage (4.81). It’s easy to praise the Yankees and, for some fans, it’s easy to worship them unconditionally, but this year, they really do deserve to be called the best of the best.
Even the best have their weaknesses though and the Yankees have their own Achilles heel, which have been brought to light in the recent series versus the Texas Rangers and in this past weekend’s series versus the Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees came into the Rangers series with Joba Chamberlain on the mound. The starter left in the fourth inning of the 10-9 loss after a seven run pounding. So, the first weakness is not only Chamberlain, but also his mishandling by management. Now we’re getting into what many have called “Joba Rules.” According to the rules, because the 23-year-old pitcher is too young to start so many games on so little rest, toward the end of the season he should be limited to the bullpen in relief, and then short inning starts (three-inning max as of late), which, in my opinion, is ridiculous. Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants is pitching in his third year with the team and is 25-years-old. In 2007, at 23-years-old, his innings and duties were limited, but in his second year (this is Chamberlain’s second year), he was given an opportunity to pitch the entire season with no extended rest. In his first full year he won the NL Cy Young Award and in one game he pitched a MLB high 138 pitches. Lincecum wasn’t babied like Chamberlain, but apparently Chamberlain is no Lincecum.
Yankees management needs to keep Chamberlain active and in the starting position, otherwise he’ll crash and burn in his starts (as he did in the Rangers game, and in the Yankees next loss versus the Blue Jays). He needs to be a regular otherwise he’s not worth the number three spot in the rotation come the playoffs. So, the Yankees’ streak was interrupted in the loss to the Rangers, but they picked up the slack in game two with a 9-2 win where the surging Andy Pettitte limited Texas to five hits in the Yanks’ 9-2 win. They won that game the way they always do, by pounding the ball behind a strong arm. The Yanks cruised through this game, but lost game three of the series 7-2 thanks to the tenacity of Rangers and some unlucky pitches on part of A.J. Burnett and Phil Coke. The Yankees had a bad game and they were playing a team that needed the win, so it was the mood and demeanor of each clubhouse from the beginning to the end of the game, plus a few lucky hits, that brought down the Yankees. Chalk this one up to bad luck. On another note, this is the first time since June that the Yanks have lost a series at home.
The Yankees picked up the slack after the series loss with a sweep of the White Sox and the Orioles. They traveled to Toronto to take on the Blue Jays for a four games and split the series. Though the Yankees handled the fourth place Jays, they couldn’t get a handle of All-Star pitcher Roy Halladay who served them a 6-0 shutout loss in game two. This just goes to show you that when facing an ace, the Yankees are no better than any team out there. This game was a Halladay gem, and the Yankees proved to be vulnerable at the plate in the loss. They won the third game of the series 6-4 off Andy Pettitte’s fifth straight W in which he allowed only four hits and four earned runs in six innings pitched. It was the unpredictable pitching of the fifth spot, under Sergio Mitre, that lost the game for the Yankees in the fourth game of the Toronto series.
The Yankees pretty much as their starting pitching set-up this year and it was expected to be the most imposing rotation of the majors. C.C. Sabathia has lived up to his side of the bargain in his $161 million deal with the Yankees, and won 16 games up to this point. Burnett was brought over from the Blue Jays and was expected to win them over ten games, which he has with a 10-8 record. The problem is he’s lost three of his last four games. Pettitte was expected to be a winning pitcher, seeing as he’s never had a losing season in his career, and it looks like the trend won’t end this year as he sits with a 16-3 record to this point. Chamberlain is 8-5 this season, but needs to be given the starts and innings in a game to keep himself prepared for the postseason. So it’s the fifth spot in the rotation that sits as one of the Yankees only other weaknesses. Chien-Ming Wang has just been terrible after coming off last year’s partial tear to a ligament in his right foot. He left the season 1-6 (9.64 ERA) with another injury to his shoulder, which needs surgery. Wang, we hardly knew you. Mitre has taken Wang’s spot on the rotation and has performed surprisingly well, leading the Yankees to a shared one-hitter win versus the White Sox. He was 3-1 going into the Sunday’s game versus the Toronto Blue Jays, but he was hammered by the Jays over four innings after giving up 11 hits and nine earned runs. Mitre just won’t give the Yankees any confidence in the fifth spot as they near the playoffs and will leave the team vulnerable through the rest of September.
All in all, what’s wrong with the Yankees isn’t enough to drag down the team. They have too many tools right now that make them just plain stupendous. The Yankees will figure out Chamberlain’s situation and can suffer the uncertainty of the fifth spot as they play down the stretch. So start buying your tickets to the post-season, we’ll be seeing the Yankees play come October. New York, the Bronx Bombers are the goliaths of the game once again.