Falling into (first) placeBy
After yesterday’s blowout victory over the hapless Red Sox and a loss to the Orioles, the Yankees suddenly find themselves with a few inches of breathing room. With only two games remaining, the Yankees can assure at least a tie for the division lead by winning one of the upcoming contests, and will hold on to the division lead if they can finish up the sweep. Things have been incredibly tense over the last few weeks, driving even the most level-headed Yankee fans to the brink of panic. However, the team has held on, flirting with mediocrity at times but doing just enough to stay afloat. While anything can happen over the next two games, we can be reassured by the fact that the Yankees are for sure going to be in the playoffs in some form, and that they control their own destiny.
Last night’s win over the Red Sox was big not only because of the implications of the division race, but also because of some promising developments. Of course, these have to be taken with a grain of salt because the Yankees have not exactly faced stellar competition of late (the checked-out Red Sox fielding a AAAA lineup looked particularly pathetic), but there have been a number of encouraging signs.
After an up-and-down 2012 that saw CC Sabathia show signs of mortality, he has finished the season strong. Over his last three outings, he has looked more like the reliable ace he has been throughout his big league career, a welcome development just in time for the start of postseason play. He is potentially set up to pitch in the one-game playoff if the Yankees don’t end up winning the division, or else could start Game One of the Division Series. Whenever he ends up pitching, Sabathia getting his mojo back is incredibly important for the Yankees’ playoff chances. Another important aspect of CC’s outing today is that the Yankees didn’t have to use any of their key relievers. This leaves Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and company available as the Yankees try to lock down the division over the next two games.
The Yankee lineup also has seen the return of some key players. Mark Teixeira announced his return from the DL in loud fashion with a home run off of old friend Alfredo Aceves. He also made it through the game playing 1st base, which bodes well for his chances to play at his natural position in the playoffs. This bumps Nick Swisher back to right field, and hopefully prevents the Yankees from needing to play Raul Ibanez or Andruw Jones in the outfield. Brett Gardner is also back. Though he was hitless in his only at-bat, he played the outfield without incident, and could be a factor come playoff time. I would guess that Gardner may be a bit rusty offensively to start every day in the outfield (especially considering how well Ichiro has hit of late), but he could still have a major impact as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.
Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano have had their struggles this season, but their bats look to be coming to life at the most crucial time. Cano in particular has absolutely crushed the ball of late, racking up seven straight multi-hit games. Granderson meanwhile did not let his demotion to the #7 spot in the lineup faze him, and he can provide some valuable punch at the bottom of the order if he continues to hit in that spot. Russell Martin has also posted some valuable contributions of late. With their hitters getting healthy and starting to click, the Yankee lineup is suddenly incredibly deep and dangerous again.
Of course, there are still plenty of reasons to be nervous, and the next few days will assuredly be agonizing. However, the Yankees do at very least seem to be peaking at the right time, and perhaps this will provide just enough of a boost to outlast the Orioles. I am hopeful that the Yankees can pull it out with as little drama as necessary, if the Red Sox and Rays would only be so accommodating. Regardless, there is definitely some exciting baseball to come.