Rafael Soriano may be looking for a new number.
When Joe Girardi was hired prior to the 2008 season, the New York Yankees manager took No. 27, noting his goal to bring the Yankees their 27th World Series title. When that happened in 2009, Girardi switched to No. 28. Time for the Yankees to get No. 29 ready for the skipper.
With a win Oct. 3 against the Red Sox, or an Orioles loss, the Yankees will win the American League East. They lead the Orioles by one game heading into the final day of the regular season. No matter what happens, the Yankees will make the playoffs.
Here's why the New York Yankees will win the World Series:
The Lineup - It's true that the Yankees have been awful this year with runners in scoring position (.255 average through Tuesday), and they rely far too much on the home run. That may hurt them against the quality pitching they'll see in the playoffs. But they have also used the home run (241 through Tuesday) to win games, like the four they hit in the second inning of Monday night's win over Boston, or the two-run homer by Raul Ibanez last night that tied the game in the ninth. There are times when you need the big hit, however, and that's where the Yankees will have to improve. Leaving runners in scoring position has become a nightly ritual for the Yankees this year.
But this is a lineup that's been reworked a bit by Girardi. Let's take a closer look: Derek Jeter has been a great leadoff hitter this year (.367 average in the first inning), and with Ichiro Suzuki now hitting second, there's more speed and flexibility at the top of the order. While Alex Rodriguez's power is nowhere to be found, and Mark Teixeira struggled mightily in just his second game back from a calf injury, Robinson Cano is about as hot as a player can be heading into the playoffs (20 hits in his last 33 at-bats); Nick Swisher has had his best year as a Yankee (92 RBIs); Russell Martin has picked up some big hits lately in an otherwise down year; and despite the fact that he has struck out 193 times, Curtis Granderson leads the team in home runs (41) and RBIs (102). Also, Brett Gardner (injured for most of the year) and Eduardo Nunez (sent to the minors) are back, giving the Yankees the speed they have lacked sorely for most of the year.
It took six months, but the lineup is far more balanced today than it was earlier this season. That bodes well for a team that will need the big hit, not necessarily the big home run, in the playoffs.
The Pitching - Ivan Nova has struggled so much that he was passed over for his scheduled start last night. CC Sabathia was hurt and until recently hasn't been his usual self. And Mariano Rivera has missed most of the season after suffering a knee injury during batting practice in May. Maybe things haven't worked out exactly as planned, but I'll gladly take a rotation of Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes. Even without the irreplaceable Rivera, the Yankees have a strong bullpen, from long relief (Derek Lowe) to setup men (David Robertson) to specialists (Boone Logan) to Soriano, their closer, who has filled in admirably for Rivera.
The championship Yankee teams of the late '90s had great pitching -- stars at the top of the rotation and depth throughout. The Yankees will need Sabathia to be a star in the playoffs, and if his last three starts are any indication, he's ready to assume that role.
Playoff Baseball in September - The additional wild card, added to the mix this season, has made for a very exciting September in Major League Baseball. It gave more teams an opportunity to make the playoffs. It also put more importance on winning your division. The Yankees and Orioles had a classic September. They faced each other seven times from August 31 to September 9, with Baltimore winning four games. But even when they weren't playing each other, both teams were scoreboard watching to see how the other was doing. That's because for most of the final month, they were separated by no more than one game. The Yankees, who at one point led the division by 10 games, have been playing meaningful baseball for a long time now. They're already in playoff mode.
The Wild Card (or Wildcat) - Let's have a little fun with this one. Every time since 1949 that the Kentucky Wildcats have won the NCAA college basketball championship, the Yankees have won the World Series. It happened in 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, and 1998. The Wildcats won it all in April. The Yankees have their shot in October.
I'm a realistic Yankee fan. Even though this is a team that has ended up winning over 90 games playing in the ultra-competitive American League East, I have to admit that if you watch the Yankees every day, you know there are holes. But this can be said about any team. The bottom line for me is that I'll take the Yankees' lineup and pitching staff over anyone else's.
There's nothing better than October baseball.
Charles Costello is a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees. He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the team during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
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