I don’t think many of us sat here at the midpoint of the season and thought the race would go down to the wire, but the Yankees finally did manage to clinch the AL East title (and the best overall record in the AL) with last night’s blowout win over the Red Sox. Winning the division is so important now with the new playoff system, and securing home field advantage in the ALCS is just icing on the cake. I, for one, and stoked.
1. Three days is an eternity in baseball, which is why having to wait until Sunday to start the ALDS is quite annoying. You can’t help but worry about hitters losing their rhythm or pitchers losing their feel, stuff like that, though I always think we make more of the time off as outsiders than the players do. Three days off is basically the All-Star break or a rainy weekend with a scheduled off-day mixed in. I’m guessing the Yankees will have today completely off before working out at the Stadium tomorrow and flying to either Texas or Baltimore sometime early Saturday. Not really a big deal, and I’m sure the older players can use the rest after the division race went down to Game 162.
2. This really flew under the radar given Robinson Cano’s scorching hot finish, but Curtis Granderson hit nine homers in the team’s last 23 games. He didn’t hit for average (.232) and did strike out a ton (195) this year, but he hit for enormous power and that’s what the Yankees need him to bring to the table. Now that everyone’s healthy and Ichiro Suzuki took off, Granderson is hitting lower in the order and is suddenly the best seven-hole hitter in baseball. It’s a great spot to sabotage some fastballs.
3. Freddy Garcia was the number three starter last postseason (he ended up starting Game Two because Game One was suspended due to rain) and this year he’s what, number seven on the rotation depth chart? CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte is a better 1-2-3 than what the Yankees had in 2009, and Phil Hughes might be the best fourth starter in the postseason. Actually, Anibal Sanchez (or Max Scherzer depending on how the Tigers line up their rotation) is the best fourth starter, but the crop is grim after that and Hughes stacks up well against anyone. The other number four starters in the AL are Ryan Dempster (or Derek Holland), Joe Saunders, and I guess Dan Straily. I’ll take my chances with Phil against any of those guys.
4. That said, I think starting pitching is really overrated these days. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obviously important, but pitching is less than half the game (half is run creation, half is run prevention, and the latter is broken into pitching and defense) and the rotation is only one piece of the puzzle. Look back at the last I dunno, ten or twenty World Series winners and almost all of them were well-rounded teams. Good offense, good starters, good bullpen, all of that. Hell, good role players will often decide a series as well. That’s sort of where the game is right now, you can’t just ride three great starters to a championship, you’ve got to be able to do more than just pitch as well. Depth is paramount.
5. As phenomenal as Rafael Soriano has been this season, this postseason will have a very different feel for me knowing the security blanket isn’t sitting out there in the bullpen for those scary late innings. We’ll get to see how the other half has lived all these years, the half that didn’t get to enjoy Mariano Rivera nailing down pretty much every big game in the playoffs. That’s the one advantage the Yankees have indisputably enjoyed these last 15 years; no matter who they were playing, we all knew they had the better closer. Soriano’s great, but it won’t be the same.