Will late playoff push help Yanks in post-season?
In recent years, the Yankees have had the luxury to often glide into the playoffs and set things up the way they wanted. They had the luxury of resting injured or tired players and set up the pitching staff to their liking. But this year with the addition of the Wildcard play-in game, the Yankees have had to fight for the division when previously it really didn’t matter if they were the Wild Card. In fact ever since mid-August when Baltimore tied them in the standings, the Yankees have been playing meaningful games every night.
The disadvantage of having to fight until Game 162 is a guy like Derek Jeter, who has been playing through a bone bruise on his ankle, couldn’t be rested. Andy Pettitte had to be rushed back from his broken ankle and players in the every day lineup and bullpen have not been able to get a few days off to recharge. However, with the exception of Jeter not getting some days off the ankle, I believe losing their 10-game lead and having to fight for the playoffs will help this team. It reminded them that they can’t take things for granted and it also forced them to make some changes in their style of play.
When the HRs stopped flying at the same rate, they were forced to manufacture some runs and to give prominent roles to guys like Ichiro and Eduardo Nunez. Getting many of their regulars back from injuries and having to keep the foot on the gas, this team is starting to come together at the perfect time in the season. They now head into the playoffs with several key players playing well and have some solutions to some of the areas they were struggling in. Here are some of the positives.
Robinson Cano……Don’t ya know?
He’s had a career year with a .929 OPS and has been absolutely on FIRE as of late. He has had 9 straight multi-hit games going 24 for 39 with 7 Doubles, 3 HRs and 14 RBI. He’s hitting .615 with a 1.654 OPS while crushing both LHP and RHP. Cano has been the team’s best post-season hitter the last 2 years hitting .333 with 6 HR – 15 RBI and a 1.104 OPS in 14 post-season games and will be the 1 guy every oppossing Manager and Pitcher will circle as the guy to not let beat them in the playoffs. But the fact that the Yanks have their best weapon at the top of his game is a big plus.
The 2 Big Lefties
CC has had his most difficult season as a Yankee this year with 2 separate stints on the DL. He had some rough outings in early September which had many people questioning his health but his last 3 starts have all been superb. He’s gone 8 innings each game and allowed 2 runs or less. Hitters are batting .155 off him and he’s K’d 28 in 24 ip. CC was probably the main reason why the Yanks won the WS in 2009 as he was a dominant Ace in all 3 series that year. The last 2 post-seasons he’s struggled but if his last 3 outings are any indication, he’s armed and ready to lead this staff thru October.
The Yanks also have their warhorse back in Andy Pettitte to play wingman to the Ace. Andy always gives a good effort and keeps the team in the game and has proved he is ready after 3 strong post-DL starts with a 1.62 ERA. With CC and Andy at the top, the Yanks can favorably match up against any A.L. team’s top 2. Kuroda & Hughes are as good or better than most #3/4 pitchers also so the rotation looks promising.
The Lineup is Set
With almost everyone back healthy the Yanks have a set lineup vs LHP and RHP. Eduardo Nunez has emerged as a solid DH option vs LHP so Girardi has NO excuse to start Andruw Jones at all. Against RHPs, Joe has the choice of playing Eric Chavez or Raul Ibanez. Chavez has butchered RHP all season to a .908 OPS. and while Ibanez doesn’t have gaudy numbers, his knack for getting the clutch hit has been a huge factor this year. The other benefit is if Tex or Swish or anyone else are having poor postseason’s, Girardi has a legit option in Chavez or Ibanez to use in their place. In past years when Tex and Swish were struggling in the playoffs, Girardi always said he had no other viable options……well, now he does.
The lineup also has a nice mix of hitters now with differing styles. Earlier in the year, the Yanks were totally reliant on the long ball but now with Nunez, Jeter & Ichiro, they have 3 solid table-setters, 2 with great speed who can create opportunities. They have their masher in Cano and Martin is swinging the bat a lot better. The key to the lineup is going to be the group of ARod, Teixeira, Swisher & Granderson. At least one guy from that group has to be hitting well each series. Any of them can get hot and wreck a game with a HR or 2 and the Yankees badly need production from this group to advance. Every team is going to try to avoid Cano and this group has to make them pay.
What do you all think? Would the Yanks have been better off having clinched the division early and coasting in or has the September fight helped form the team and prevent them from easing up? I’m feeling better about the team now than I have at any point this season. This team looks more balanced now than it has all year and fending off Baltimore should give them confidence having played playoff-caliber games for weeks.