Musings about another division title

Still the straw that stirs the drink. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

I didn’t think the Yankees would win the AL East this year. I thought they could have won it, there’s always a chance, but back in March and April and even as late as August, I figured they were going to have to settle for the wildcard spot. There’s no shame in that, but like many others I figured the Red Sox were simply too good. I think I said this in a podcast or in a chat at some point before the season, Boston was better than New York, but not ten or 15 games better. Three or five games better over the course of the season, and that’s a pretty close race.

It’s better to be lucky than good, and obviously the Yankees had some luck during their run to the division title. Every division champ needs some luck, they need that unexpected breakout and surprise veteran addition, especially in a division with two other 90+ win teams. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon so far exceeded expectations that I can’t even put it into words. There was a legit chance that neither guy would make it through May, but here they are in the final week of the season with ~3.80 ERA’s in ~150 IP each. Ivan Nova exceeded expectations as well. For all the doubt about New York’s pitching staff, it was the pitching that doomed the Red Sox down the stretch.

Are we a spoiled fan base? Of course we are. Eleven division titles in a 14-year span and 16 playoff appearances in the last 17 years will do that to you. We’ve seen a 600th homerun and a 3,000th hit and an all-time saves record fall within the last 18 months, so another division title hardly seems noteworthy. However, I feel like this division title is sweeter than any of the other recent ones, I guess because I didn’t expected them to win it for the first time in a long time. I’m not going to call a $200M team an underdog, but this year is about as close as they can get to being one.

The last seven games of the season are almost an afterthought at this point. The only thing left on the agenda is clinching homefield advantage, and  that should be wrapped up by the weekend. The focus can now officially shift to getting guys rest, lining up the rotation, sorting out the last two or three playoff roster spots, and simply preparing for baseball’s biggest crapshoot. A division title doesn’t guarantee anything, and once the playoffs start next Friday, the Yankees will have the same one-in-eight chance as every other club that made it. Enjoy the stress-free baseball for the next week, now’s the time to just sit back and enjoy baseball for nothing more than the love of the game.

AL East Champs: Yanks top Rays to win division

Wednesday was a busy day in Yankeeland, eh? Everything broke the right way for the Yankees, allowing them to first clinch a playoff spot before clinching the division title. Best day of the season? Oh yeah, totally the best day of the season.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Hip Hip!

It has been a long and difficult season for Jorge Posada. The Yankee stalwart started the year as the regular DH, then got demoted in the lineup, then became a platoon DH, and by the end the of the season he had lost the job entirely. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, Jorge delivered his biggest hit of the season and was all smiles.

The inning started ominously enough, with Eduardo Nunez striking out against Jake McGee after Jeremy Hellickson held the Yankees to just two runs and two hits through seven innings. Nick Swisher pinch-hit for Chris Dickerson, and started the game-winning rally with a double into left-center. Greg Golson flew out of the dugout to pinch-run, but the chances of scoring went down when Curtis Granderson flew out to right. Joe Maddon started  mixing and matching, bringing in Juan Cruz only to watch him walk Mark Teixeira on four pitches. None were particularly close, either.

Maddon went to the bullpen again, this time to bring the lefty Cesar Ramos to face Robinson Cano, who already beat him in the first game of the doubleheader. Ramos fell behind in the count 3-1, and the fourth ball to load the bases was intentional. With the righty swinging Jesus Montero due up, Maddon again went to the bullpen, this time for the right-hander Brandon Gomes. Joe Girardi countered with Posada, who took a  first pitch splitter for strike one before jumping all over a fastball. The line drive dropped into right, a legit base hit, scoring Golson and Teixeira to turn a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 lead. At .289 WPA, Jorge’s hit was easily the biggest play of the game. Sentimentally, it was arguably the biggest of the season.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Honestly, Who Really Cares About 20 Wins?

In what is likely his last normal start of the season, CC Sabathia gave the Yankees 127 pitches (second most of the season), but they couldn’t give him a win. He allowed just two solo homers (to Kelly Shoppach and Sean Rodriguez) over 7.2 IP, but Girardi really pushed it in an effort to get his ace that milestone. I don’t like it because getting Sabathia ready for the ALDS is far more important than an individual achievement, and CC would be the first to tell you that. What’s done is done though.

Sabathia allowed seven hits and two walks in those 7.2 IP, and David Robertson bailed him out of a bases loaded jam with a one-pitch  double play ball. CC didn’t get his 20th win, but who really cares? It’s a nice round number, that’s it. Remember, we’re trying to win a ring around here.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Leftovers

The first two Yankees runs came on a solo homer (Cano) and a double play (Montero). Cano had been intentionally walked to loaded the bases with no outs to get to Montero, and I guess it worked since only the one run scored. The Yankees only had four hits, a Granderson double in addition to the previously mentioned Cano/Posada/Swisher knocks. The six walks really helped.

With Mariano Rivera unavailable after pitching in the first game of the doubleheader, closer duties fell on the shoulders of former Ray Rafael Soriano. Robertson had warmed up in the first game and twice in the second game, so I guess that’s why he couldn’t continue after throwing that one pitch in the eighth. Soriano did allow a hit, but he struck out Matt Joyce to end the game and the AL East race.

Like I said earlier, the Yankees have clinched the AL East thanks to their two wins and the Red Sox’s loss to the Orioles. Big ups to Buck Showalter and crew, they showed up for that series. Many thanks. The only thing left on the regular season checklist is homefield advantage, and magic number for that is just three. Still some work to be done, but expect to see a hangover Triple-A lineup tomorrow.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerdy score, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

One more game with the Rays, and it’ll be played Thursday night. Bartolo Colon gets the ball against Matt Moore. Jeff Niemann has been scratched due to some soreness/stiffness. If you want to catch the fourth to last regular season home of the regular season, RAB Tickets can help get you there.

Yankees beat Rays to claim AL East title

Step two: complete. For the first time since 2009 and the 11th time in the last 14 years, the Yankees are AL East Champs. Wednesday night’s win over Tampa combined with the Red Sox’s loss to the Orioles gave the Yankees a division title that a whole lotta people figured they had no chance to win six or so months ago. Drink it in, division titles always go down smooth.

MRI shows inflammation in Hughes’ back

Update (6:50pm): Via Mike Ashmore, Phil Hughes went for an MRI on his back this afternoon, and it revealed inflammation from a herniated disc he suffered way back in 2004. He received an epidural, and Brian Cashman said he will “maybe” pitch this weekend.

Original Post (4:45pm): Joe Girardi said after this afternoon’s game that Phil Hughes did not throw a bullpen session today as expected, and he was instead sent for tests on the back that his been keeping him out of action. Girardi wasn’t clear if it was an MRI, but the bottom line is that he went to have it checked out. Backs are tricky, so hopefully this is nothing serious.

Game 155: Step Two

We're trying to win a ring around here. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Playoff berth? It’s in the bag after this afternoon’s comeback win. Now it’s on to the second order of business, winning the division that no one seemed to think the Yankees could win six months ago. A win and a Red Sox loss will give New York the AL East crown tonight. Let’s do this. Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, LF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jesus Montero, DH
Eric Chavez, 3B
Russell Martin, C
Chris Dickerson, RF
Eduardo Nunez, SS

CC Sabathia, SP

Game two of today’s doubleheader starts at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Update: The game will not start on time due to the rain. No idea on a potential start time.

Update Part Deux: They’re saying the game will start at 8:05pm ET.