As the calendar turns from September to October, a few things remain constant. The temperature begins to drop, the leaves begin the change color, and the New York Yankees continue to play baseball long after most teams have started to hit the golf course. This dominance in the regular season has lead to a bloated idea of what October should hold in the minds of Yankees fans. The Yankees are truly the only championship or bust franchise in professional sports.
It makes perfect sense, really. From the 1920s on the Yankees have owned the World Series. The inflated payroll, marque names, and the fact that they play in a city that does not lack an ego have all contributed to a boldly perfectionist fan base. Is this logical? In a town where simply making to October is not enough, what constitutes a successful season or not? I am here to tell you that this may be the season Yankees fans have to tinker with their expectations. This team is entitled to nothing, and is not the best team in baseball like we all thought in June or July.
Of course the last statement is an obvious one to anyone who has watched baseball in the last two months. The Yankees have been on a slide that Terry Francona and Josh Beckett are laughing at. In the last two months of the regular season the Yankees have seemed like an old, decrepit homage to the 2009 World championship Yankees. That team had fight, they displayed a certain hunger of a team starved of a championship for nine years (which is like 86 in Bronx years), while this team looks old, flat, and checked out.
The whispers were all there during spring training, as one skimmed through the Yankee media guide, you couldn’t blame anyone for going: “wow, this team has a lot of mileage.” The optimistic Yankee fans pointed to now, and said that this would be a time when this mileage (they called it “experience”) would come in handy. I don’t know if I buy that line of reasoning. What I’ve observed is a team that has had a hard time staying healthy, and frankly, when your most reliable pitcher is Hiroki Kuroda, history has shown your chances for October success are slim.
I usually trust C.C. Sabathia with any big game. This season has been different. First of all, I don’t really trust the big lefty to stay healthy. His two stints on the DL are unsettling, and although his outing against the Red Sox on Monday was a positive one, going forward in the postseason when he probably will be going on short rest more often then not my trust in him is less than in previous years. His problems with the Red Sox have been well documented over the years, and even though the Red Sox have struggled this season there is no bigger game in the regular season than one against the Red Sox. If I can’t trust you to beat the Red Sox in July or August, it’s hard to put a lot of faith in you winning crucial games in the postseason.
Going down the rest of the rotation, there are far more questions than answers. Phil Hughes holds the most wins on the team (16) but his 13 losses make him a little better than a .500 pitcher, not to mention his 7.15 ERA in his last two starts going into the postseason. Last night the Yankees turned to David Phelps over Ivan Nova to try to clinch the American league East. What does that say about Nova? Phelps was literally the last man to make the Yankees roster coming out of spring training, and the Yankees trust him more than the guy who is supposed to be the brightest young star on the staff.
This Yankees team is built the way that every Yankee team that didn’t win the World Series from 2001-2008 was. The Yankees can knock over walls with their sheer power. Even with a down year by Alex Rodriguez (another Yankee plagued by injuries) Curtis Granderson has hit 41 home runs, Derek Jeter is hitting above .300 and Robinson Cano is showing he may be the best all around hitting second basemen in the American League. That being said, this is not a new roster philosophy for the Yankees. It doesn’t work. We have years of evidence to support that once the leaves begin to fall, so do batting averages. If the big lumber in the Yankees lineup are silenced as they were in 2006, 2007, and even last year, do they have enough pitching to win? It is a simple question; with an answer that I think is even simpler. No, they do not.
The American league may seem like a wide-open race, and to a degree it is. One thing to remember about the Yankees is that they have proceeded to lose a 10 game lead in the American League East. There are fundamental flaws with this team. Jim Leyland last night called the postseason a “crapshoot”. That’s a hard sell for Yankees fans, which are accustomed to an early November parade down the canyon of heroes. To those Yankees fans I say it may be time to adjust your expectations, because unless a pitching messiah emerges the Yankees rotation is in trouble.