Monday, September 20, 2010

Should Yanks be Concerned about Late Season Stumbles?

The 2010 season has seen a number of ups and downs (much more ups than downs) for the Yankees, but coming into this four game series with the Tampa Bay Rays (which will likely determine who wins the AL East unless it’s an even 2-2 split) the Yanks have stumbled a bit. Before winning 2 of 3 from Baltimore the Yankees had hit a rough patch going 4-9 in their previous 13 games against teams like the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rangers and Rays. Add to this the obvious struggles of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeria (due to injury), Nick Swisher, Lance Berkman and Javy Vasquez and the curiously unknown incident that left A.J. Burnett with a black eye and bruised cheek (maybe he ran into K-Rod and was mistaken for his Father-In-Law?) and there should be cause for some concern.

The Yanks righted things to a point with a winning series in Baltimore this past weekend and winning the first game of the 4-game series with the Rays (extending their lead in the AL East to 1.5 games) but overall, between health (Teixeria’s thumb and toe, Posada’s head, Swisher’s knee, Gardner’s wrist, Pettitte’s groin) and some slumps, the Yankees have to be a little worried headed into the last stretch before the playoffs.

To hear them talk, they are not. Brian Cashman is “not concerned at all” and Jeter said “we are right where we want to be, controlling our own destiny”. I wouldn;t expect anything but these sort of comments from this team, but I do think there is something to the fact that this is not a good time to suddenly hit the skids. You want to go into the playoffs on at least a fairly smooth run. Cashman has said that the Yankees focus is much more on winning a World Series than on winning their Division and I have to agree to a point that it would make more sense in the last week of the season if the division is still in doubt it would be better to set up for the playoffs more than worry about finishing in first, but do not discount the Yankees advantage at home, something they would basically not have at all if they won the Wildcard instead of the AL East.

It also seems that A.J. Burnett is going to have a spot in the rotation in the playoffs no matter what, according to Cashman. This makes sense, seeing as the alternate would be rookie Ivan Nova or the banished to the bullpen Vasquez. It seems that manager Joe Girardi is wary of Burnett, but there really isn’t too much of a choice.

The Yankees have had late season slumps before and flipped the switch once the playoffs started (at the horrible finish in 2000 for a perfect example) but this is a weird team. They really should be considered the overall favorites as the team is strong and sound, but there is that nagging little voice that seems to worry just enough about things to keep the expections from being a slam dunk.

It’s hard for me to say the Yanks are in trouble. They still have an excellent record and they still feel like that team that will always find a way to win in the end. However, the Twins have the best record in baseball since the beginning of August (without their MVP 1st baseman), The Rangers have a big time offense and a Cy Young caliber ace and the Rays pitch and catch the ball a little better than the Yanks do (although they do not hit and score as well). The Phillies, with two legit #1 aces in ‘The Roys” (Halladay and Oswalt) and a solid #2 in Cole Hamels are a team to watch out for and are streaking at the right moment and the Braves pitch just about as well as anyone. This isn’t going to be a cake walk by any stretch.

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