After a two year hiatus, the New York Yankees are heading back to the playoffs. The team clinched a playoff berth Thursday, defeating the Boston Red Sox 4-1. Amazingly, the victory was also the franchise’s 10,000th win.
With the Toronto Blue Jays clinching the AL East on Wednesday, the Yankees are essentially locked in to the top wild card spot in the AL. That won’t prohibit the club from winning its 28th World Series title, but it will make their first postseason run since 2012 more difficult. That seems fitting, though, as nothing about the club’s surge to the postseason has been easy.
The Yankees entered the season with a number of questions. There were concerns about whether Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda could stay healthy, and whether CC Sabathia would revert to his former levels coming off knee surgery.
The offense didn’t look much better. Coming off his record-breaking suspension, no one knew how Alex Rodriguez would perform. Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran appeared to be in a sharp decline phase, and Jacoby Ellsbury, while still effective, was an injury concern. Even if all those guys played well, there was still a question of whether they would hold up over the course of the year.
The only area of the team that looked dominant entering the year was the bullpen. With Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in tow, all the Yankees needed to do was get through seven innings unscathed.
Some of those concerns proved to be valid during the regular season, but it didn’t really matter. Sabathia struggled, and both Tanaka and Pineda missed time due to injuries. Teixeria’s resurgent bat carried the club early on, but an injury will leave him unavailable in October. Ellsbury also dealt with injuries during the season, which hampered his numbers.
That leaves Beltran and Rodriguez. Beltran, while no longer in his prime, has been better than expected this season. Through 519 plate appearances, the 38-year-old is hitting .274/.333/.466, with 18 home runs. Few expected him to play this well considering his age and struggles in 2014.
Rodriguez has been fantastic. The 40-year-old has hit .252/.356/.492, with 33 home runs, over 606 plate appearances. Those numbers are unheard of for someone his age. Offensively, he’s been the best player on the club. The fact that he’s held up over the course of the season means he’ll be the team’s main threat at the plate during the postseason.
Is that enough to get it done? Losing Teixeira hurts, especially after his resurgence. While Brian McCann and Brett Gardner are good players, Ellsbury has struggled mightily since the trade deadline. If he can’t pick it up, the club will need A-Rod and Beltran to keep producing, and hope Greg Bird is as good as he’s shown in a small sample.
The rotation, while still uncertain, still boasts Tanaka and Pineda at the top. While both are legitimate injury concerns, they have also proven themselves to be ace caliber pitchers when healthy. Combine those two with the team’s excellent bullpen, and there’s some hope here.
On paper, the Yankees don’t have the same offensive firepower as the Toronto Blue Jays, and can’t match the Los Angeles Dodgers two aces. At the same time, the Royals proved last season that a fantastic bullpen can almost singlehandedly carry a club through the postseason.
The Yankees certainly have that. With a couple of well-placed hits, all the Yankees need to do is get through six or seven innings before their bullpen gets to work.
It’s not going to be easy, but that same strategy lifted the club to at least 87 wins and a postseason berth this season.
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