Left out of the postseason for the first time in over a decade last season the Yankees came into 2009 with a chip on their shoulders and one goal in mind: reclaim the AL East from Boston. New York did just that and more on Sunday night, securing homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a 4-2 victory against the Red Sox while winning the division for the first time since 2006 and becoming the first team in the majors to 100 wins in the process.
While the Yankees’ roster was overhauled in the offseason it was some familiar faces that helped the Bronx Bombers complete a sweep of their arch rival Boston. The Yankee’s new all-time hit leader Derek Jeter went 2-4 in the leadoff spot, Andy Pettite pitched 6 innings of 2-run baseball and, of course, Mariano Rivera was there to shut the door in the 9th. Along with Jorge Posada, those three players are the only remaining members of the last Yankees team to win a World Series (2000), and will be leaned on heavily as New York moves into the post-season to face the winner of the AL Central (Detroit or Minnesota). If tonight, and the other 155 games of the season are any indication, the Yankees will be a handful for opponents come October.
The key to New York’s resurgence this season has been their new look lineup. The Yankee’s offense has been unstoppable all season, leading the American League in runs, slugging, on-base percentage and OPS. The indefatigable Jeter is putting up one of his best seasons ever at age 35, hitting .333 with 17 HRs, 65 RBIs and 30 SBs. Newcomer Mark Teixeria has been on a tear since the return of Alex Rodriguez to the lineup, and will likely garner some MVP votes with a line of .294-38 HRs-120 RBIs. A-Rod, despite the steroid scandal and a balky hip, is still one of the game’s most feared sluggers and will look to shake a track record for inconsistent playoff production. In addition to the big three, New York boasts a wealth of talented hitters throughout their order, from a revitalized Robinson Cano (.321-24 HR-80 RBI) to spark plug Nick Swisher (.250-27 HR-79 RBI-.370 OBP) and the seemingly ageless Johnny Damon (.284-24 HR-79 RBI-106 R), New York’s potent combination of left and right-handed hitters may prove to be too much for any pitching staff this postseason.
Though much maligned throughout the season for their inconsistency and lack of depth behind C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees’ pitching staff has still managed to post strong numbers, ranking 2nd in the AL in batting average against, 2nd in WHIP and 6th in ERA. Sabathia was signed in the offseason for a king’s ransom and so far has proved his mettle with a record of 19-7, 3.21 ERA and 194 Ks. First-year Yankee A.J. Burnett has had his ups-and-downs this season, but has the stuff to dominate games (184 Ks in 195 innings) if he can keep the walks to a minimum. Joba Chamberlain’s first season as a starter has been a disappointment (9-6, 4.72 ERA), and New York may try to keep his post-season starts to a minimum as he reaches a career high in innings pitched but fellow youngster Phil Hughes has thrived since being converted to a reliever (8-3, 2.99 ERA) and has led a surprisingly effective Yankees’ bullpen. New York’s stalwart starting pitcher Pettite has been consistent all season long (14-7, 4.11 ERA) and has a strong postseason track record that includes winning the ALCS MVP in 2001.If New York does have an Achilles heel, it’s their pitching staff, but with their prolific offense all the Yankee’s pitchers need to do is keep the games close and hand the ball off to Rivera in the 9th; he’s as good as ever with 44 saves and a 1.82 ERA in 2009.
After another win over the suddenly old Boston Red Sox, few will argue that New York’s offseason spending spree was a success as the Yankees march into October on the strength of acquisitions like Sabathia and Teixeria. New York has looked nearly unbeatable in the 2nd half of the season, and with the ever-clutch Jeter and Rivera hungry for another taste of glory, will anyone stand in the Yankees way in the playoffs?
New York fans sure have plenty of reasons to smile these days as their beloved Yankees return to the postseason and look like a favorite to capture their first World Series in nine years. Who says money can’t buy you happiness?
Filed under: AL East, Baseball, world series | Tagged: 2009 world series, a.j. burnett, AL East, Alex Rodriguez, andy pettite, Boston Red Sox, C.C. Sabathia, derek jeter, joba chamberlain, johnny damon, jorge posada, mariano rivera, mark teixeria, melky cabrera, New York Yankees, Nick Swisher, phil hughes, robinson cano, world series |