Team Profile – New York Yankees
There’s not much that you can say about the Yankees. Every year, they’re pretty much the same team. The cash is there to pay the best and brightest stars in Major League Baseball obscene amounts of money to come play there, meaning that the majority of the talent accumulates in the Bronx. Thus, they’re always in contention for the A.L. East title, and a perennial favorite to be World Series Champions. This year is no different, even if there is some unexpected competition from the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees are starting to feel the injury bug again as the season winds down, so what do they need to make a strong showing the last two weeks?
The odd part of this season seems to be that two of the perennial Cy Young candidates are having mediocre years (by comparison to previous outings). That comes from a few more slipups than usual, as well as an unusual lack of run support this year. Whatever the reason, Justin Verlander and New York’s own C.C. Sabathia are pretty much out of the Cy Young conversation for 2012. Both only have 13 wins, but despite their secondary numbers other guys are just having stellar seasons (like Jered Weaver, David Price, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer). When your ace is struggling to rack up wins and just isn’t quite himself, the hope is for the rest of the rotation to be better than normal.
So far, that’s happened. Ivan Nova is having a little bit of a backslide in his sophomore season (11-7, 4.92 ERA), but Phil Hughes is finding a lot of run support, sitting at 15-12, and Hideki Kuroda is having a bit of a bounce back year at 13-10 with a 3.17 ERA. Hughes is having an interesting year. He’s either getting a lot of run support, or none at all. He’s only had two starts without a decision. Whatever way you look at it, the Yankee’s rotation is probably best described as mediocre this year. They’re not bad, but we’re not seeing the lights out starters that most are used to. It helps that this offense (and 81 games at Yankee Stadium) can come back in absolutely every game they play.
It’s amazing how Derek Jeter looks like he’s 10 years younger this season. Almost a little too amazing. I’m not going to make any accusations, but it’s odd how he just suddenly figured out the entirety of the American league pitching corps again to the tune of a .323 average and 15 home runs. It’s great for New York, but everyone better hope there isn’t some trouble in the next couple years with a little “something extra” for the 2012 season. Anyway, moving on from the Dark Lord of New York, Robinson Cano is doing what he does every year, too, with a .299 average and 30 home runs. Then, of course, there’s former Tiger Curtis Granderson. I think most people in Detroit have forgotten that he was traded away in his prime for rookie talent, especially because that rookie talent has turned out to be better and more consistent early in his career than Granderson was. Of course, Curtis then immediately found new life in the Bronx, aided in large part by a stadium that seems designed to help the Yankees cheat a little bit towards higher power numbers. Case in point is Granderson’s 38 home runs this year. He always had some latent power, but there’s no way that he’d have ever put up that many home runs playing in a park that had a fairly normal distance to the fence in right field.
There was no lack of “the sky is falling” mentality in New York when closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL earlier this season. He was simply out shagging fly balls during batting practice (something fairly common for pitchers to do), and all of a sudden it tore and he was down and out. Considering he is, without question, the best closer of all time, it was a huge loss. He has ever intention of returning next year, and making next season his final trip. But losing such a big piece of the puzzle definitely set the Yankees back early.
Luckily, the rest of the bullpen really picked up the slack, and is probably, collectively, one of the best out there right now. Especially Rafael Soriano, a one-time closer for the Tampa Bay Rays, who was acting as a setup man until Rivera went down. He then took over the closer’s role, and has done an amazing job. He’s 38/41 in save opportunities, with a 2.14 ERA. That’s outstanding, by any standard. Back that up with Clay Rapada and his 2.78 ERA, and David Robertson, who, despite taking the brunt of the bullpen losses, only has a 2.79 ERA. It’s a solid group of pitchers, and one that has served well in the absence of any remarkable year from a starter or two.
Keys to Success
No one would have expected the Baltimore Orioles to be the greatest competition for the Yankees with only two weeks left to go. Yet, here we are, with both teams tied atop the A.L. East. If the Yankees want to succeed, they’re going to have to just keep playing the way they have all season. The toughest challenge will be this coming weekend, when the Oakland Athletics (another surprising team that’s very much competing for its division right now) come to Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, there are no more head-to-head matchups left with the Orioles, so the Yanks will have to hope for a little spoiler help from the rest of the division down the stretch.