If the Yankees continue to play like this, they just might be able to erase all memories of recent failures, including a 9 year world series drought and a failure to make the postseason for the first time in 13 years. Although they play in a new stadium, and the team is filled with many more ‘superstars’ than the teams of the late 90s and early 2000s, the feelings and the aura surrounding this team are very comparable. The 2009 Yankees are playing like a championship team, and it all has come together at the perfect time.
At the start of the regular season, there were numerous questions surrounding this team. Would the big signings of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira all live up to their contracts, and handle the pressures of New York? Were older players like Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera past their prime and too injury prone? Who would be reliable options in the bullpen?
As the season unfolded, all of these questions were answered. Posada played well, Matsui slotted in as the normal DH, and Pettitte and Rivera had superb seasons. All 3 of the big signings lived up to the hype, and as a result the Yankees finished the year with 103 wins, and the best record in baseball. However, this meant nothing; not until they could prove they could win in the postseason again.
Last night’s sweep of the Minnesota Twins answered all of these questions, and showed the rest of the league that this year’s team might be the best in a while. The Yankees won with dominant pitching, as starters CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte gave up 2, 1, and 1 earned runs respectively. The bullpen has taken shape, and it has turned out to be one filled with reliable power arms. Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Rivera make a great 7th, 8th, 9th inning combination, with other dependable guys such as Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson fitting in as well. It will be interesting to see whether the Yankees keep Chamberlain in the bullpen or move him back to a starting role for the championship series, as they will not be able to get by with only 3 starters.
There are several reasons why this team appears to be as good, if not better than the World Series teams of the late 90s and early 2000s. The starting pitching and bullpen have been great, and are filled with power arms, which are extremely useful during the postseason. There are no holes in the lineup 1-9, with a 7-9 combination of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Melky Cabrera being the best in baseball.
Most important of all, is the fact that Alex Rodriguez has been the best player on the team thus far. Always criticized for being a player who can put up stats, but not perform in the clutch, (I will be the first one to admit I thought the Yankees would never win anything as long as he were on the team) A-Rod contributed some of the biggest hits in each game of the ALDS. In game 1 he had a big RBI single that tied the game, in game 2 he hit a bottom of the 9th, 2-run homerun off Twins closer Joe Nathan to tie the game, and in game 3 he hit a 7th inning solo home run to tie the game at 1. If A-Rod continues to play like this, this lineup will be difficult to beat.
The Yankees now advance to play the Angels in the ALCS. Yes, the Angels have owned the Yankees in recent years, but so had the Red Sox owned the Angels. The Angels outplayed the Sox and advance to play the Yankees with all the confidence in the world. The Yankees were 5-5 this year against the Angels, but on a positive note they won the last series in Anaheim in September, taking 2 out of 3.
This series will come down to starting pitching, and whether the Yankees can control the Angels on the basepaths.
While the Yankees have not shown the ability to beat the Angels in recent years, especially in the postseason, I think this year’s team has a much different feel to it. The pitching has vastly improved, and while anyone could see the Yankees boast one of the best lineups in baseball, maybe the most important thing is the fact that the team never believes its out of a game. With 13 regular season walk off wins, and 3 comebacks late in games in this year’s postseason so far, the Yankees have a good chance to recapture the October glory that has recently escaped them.