Next Stop: The World Series? Red Hot Yankees Clinch AL East with 100th Win

Derek Jeter has played a major role in helping the Yankees return to the postseason.

Derek Jeter has played a major role in helping the Yankees return to the postseason after a one-year absence.

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.

Mark Teixeria has led a potent Yankee's offense that is first in the majors in runs.

Mark Teixeria has led a potent Yankee's offense that is first in the majors in runs.

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.

The Yankees will need Sabathia to come up big if they plan to return to the Fall Classic.

The Yankees will need Sabathia to come up big (no pun intended) if they plan to return to the Fall Classic.

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?

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April’s Fantasy Sizzlers and Fizzlers: Who’s Hot? Who’s Not?

Is Grienke this year's Cliff Lee?

Is Grienke this year's Cliff Lee?

The Royals are leading the AL Central! Jorge Cantu is on pace to drive in 203 runs! Swine Flu will destroy us all!Alberto Callaspo is hitting .379! Although a strong April doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good season (yes I mean you Chris Shelton), it’s never too early in the season to be on a roll (or in the midst of a horrific slump). The following players may be posed for a breakout year or a fiery, violent return to earth (Nate McLouth’s torrid start and following crash last season is thought to be the real reason dinosaurs went extinct). Regardless of which way their season goes it’s worth noting how good or bad these players performed in the first month, speculating on whether they can keep things up or turn them around, and what effect this will have on your fantasy squad. Should you sell ’em while their hot or keep them all season for a shot at the title? Read on to find out!

SIZZLERS

1) Zack Grienke (SP-Royals): Everyone who had a Royal’s pitcher on your short list of Cy Young candidates coming into the season, raise your hand, because those who bought into Grienke during spring training are being richly rewarded thus far. He is looking like this year’s version of Cliff Lee after posting a 5-0 record, 0.50 ERA and 44 Ks in April. Grienke has always had the stuff to be an ace, but has struggled with command and confidence issues. After finishing last year on a tear it looks like the 25-year-old is finally putting everything together for a monster season. Although he won’t repeat Bob Gibson’s 1968 otherworldly performance, look for KC’s defacto ace to mow down hitters all season long. Sell high, but expect a consistently strong season from ZG; somewhere in the neighborhood of 17-19 wins, sub 3.50 ERA and over 200 Ks.

2) Kevin Youkilis (1B-Red Sox): Beantown’s big fella has been crushing the ball in the early going to the tune of a .405 BA, 5 HRs and 15 RBIs. Additionally, the Greek God of Walks has drawn 14 bases on balls for a ridiculous, Barry Bonds-esque .516 OBP. Somebody call the HGH hotline!! After a MVP-like 2008, it is time to take Yook seriously as a fantasy threat. As part of one of the best lineups in baseball, Youkilis should be a constant source of RBIs and a high batting average all season long. Expect the handsome devil to post career highs in most offensive categories, finishing with a BA in the neighborhood of .320, 30 HRs and 120 RBIs.

Aaron Hill has spearheaded the surprising Jays.

Aaron Hill has spearheaded the surprising Jays.

3) Aaron Hill (2B-Blue Jays): The spunky secondbase for Toronto has made everyone forget about his injury plagued 2008 campaign and is a big reason why the Jays have raced out to an early lead in the division. Hill may be short in stature, but he has been towering over the competition in the AL East so far, hitting .365 with 5 HRs and 20 RBIs. He will have his ups-and-downs throughout the season, but should be a solid contributor at a position that is usually lacking depth. Look for Hill to hit .300-20 HRs-90 RBIs, not shabby numbers for a pint-sized middle infielder.

4) Dan Haren (SP-Diamondbacks): Despite dismal run support Haren has been the class of NL starting pitching in April. Don’t let the 2-3 record fool you, the rest of his numbers are spot on—1.54 ERA and 36 Ks in 35 innings. Haren has shown consistent improvement season to season throughout his short career, including decreasing his walks and increasing punchouts over the past two years. If the D-backs offense decides to wake up, Haren should break his career high of 16 wins. Enjoy this run while it lasts though, and prepare to sell him off at the All-Star break because Danny boy has historically struggled in the dog days of summer (2006-2008: Pre-All Star ERA-2.85; Post-All Star ERA-4.42).

FIZZLERS

There haven't been many reasons for Teixeria to smile in April.

There haven't been many reasons for Teixeria to smile in April.

1) Mark Teixeria (1B-Yankees): Sexy Texy has been anything but in the early going, stumbling out of the gate with a paltry .200 BA, 3 HRs and 10 RBIs. Those numbers might be OK if you play first base for the Washington Nationals, but not if you just signed an 8-year, $180 million dollar deal to play for the Yankees. Teixeria has shown good patience at the plate, drawing 16 walks against 11 Ks, but hasn’t been striking the ball with his usual authority (only 5 extra base hits). He can’t be this bad all season long (his BABIP suggests bad luck in the early going), so buy now before he starts playing like he’s worth $20 million a year.

2) Jake Peavy (SP-Padres): Although the Padres have been red-hot in the first month of the season (granted “red-hot” by San Diego standards isn’t saying much), their best pitcher has spent all of April getting knocked around. Peavy has been uncharacteristically wild, leading to a 2-3 record, 5.74 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. It hasn’t been all bad though, as he is still striking out around a batter an inning. He struggled with an arm injury last year and many are wondering if there aren’t some health issues for Peavy once again. Keep a close eye on him and be prepared to sell if he continues to struggle with control and coughing up gopher balls.

3) Lance Berkman (1B-Astros): The Big Puma has been playing much more like a housecat in April, hitting .162 with 5 HRs, 10 RBIs and no SBs. Berkman struggled down the stretch last season (he hit .347 before the break last year and .259 after) and it appears whatever issues he was having at the plate have carried over into 2009. Berkman is only 33 and has been incredibly consistent throughout his career so this prolonged slump should raise some red flags. He ran more than usual last year, stealing 18 bases but only 3 of them after the All-Star game, leaving some doubts about the condition of his lower body. Although Berkman will almost certainly turn things around, he is no longer the prolific fantasy producer he once was; wait for him to get on a hot streak and then sell high.  

C.C. has struggled in April, but he should turn things around soon.

C.C. has struggled in April, but he should turn things around soon.

4) C.C. Sabathia (SP-Yankees): The hefty lefty hasn’t been carrying his weight so far, with a record of 1-2, a 4.73 ERA and a pedestrian 19/14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. As the face of the new Yankee Stadium, he has been a disappointment in the early going and is major reason why New York’s pitching is sporting an atrocious 5.79 ERA. It’s a little early for fantasy owners to hit the panic button though, because Sabathia has a track record for slow starts (He posted a 7.76 ERA in April last year but finished the year with a 2.70 ERA). Try to buy low now, because Sabathia is too talented of a pitcher to struggle for much longer, and won’t finish the season ranked lower than Frank Francisco and Kyle Loshe.