Once October starts, teams change. No team came into their ALDS in very good shape, and the team with the best September record, the Twins, was swept for the second straight year. Let’s take a look at what we’ve learned about the defending champs, the New York Yankees:
- Experience makes a difference. Andy Pettitte is living proof of that. Unsure of what they would get from the 38-year-old veteran, Pettitte secured his 19th career postseason victory, adding to his MLB record, and notching his 25th quality start, breaking a tie with Tom Glavine for first. Against an explosive Rangers offense, with or without a healthy Josh Hamilton, the Yankees will have to use every ounce of their experience to win.
And they’ve got a lot of it. Obviously most of the team took it the distance last season, and new additions like Curtis Granderson, Kerry Wood, Lance Berkman, and Marcus Thames have seen plenty of postseason action themselves.
- This offense is pretty near unstoppable. So you shut down Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Brett Gardner, the team’s biggest clutch, power, and on-base threats? Prepare to get beat by Lance Berkman, Marcus Thames, and Curtis Granderson. This is the most versatile, relentless, and circular lineup in the majors.
- The bullpen is deep. Joe Girardi didn’t even need to call for Joba Chamberlain, and used his trusted relievers in David Robertson, Kerry Wood, and Boone Logan to get the ball to Mariano Rivera. The Rangers will have to get runs off of the starters, or the Yankees will shorten the game.
- Nobody trusts A.J. Burnett. By acquiring Javier Vazquez, Brian Cashman thought he’d landed his fourth starter for the playoffs, eliminating the need for another run to the World Series on short rest. He was mistaken. In a trade that will now be remembered as the trade that netted the Yanks Boone Logan, Vazquez proved to be a colossal flop, yet again, but for entirely different reasons than his first disappointing trip through the Bronx.
His ineffectiveness meant that he has become an afterthought in Yankee-land, not even included on the club’s playoff roster. This forced Joe Girardi’s hand, and the Yankees, who moved Burnett to the bullpen for the division series, will have to start him in Game 4 of the ALCS, the very game Javy Vazquez was acquired to start. In a rotation that was filled with question marks entering the postseason, A.J. Burnett might as well have an exclamation point too.
- Phil Hughes is good at throwing fastballs. In his first postseason start, the Yankees youngster blew away Twins hitters all night, leading to seven innings of shutout ball from the 18-game-winner. On that particular night, Hughes looked every bit the ace the Yankees have envisioned him becoming for years.
The root of that success came from the effectiveness of Hughes’s four-seamer, resulting in the most impressive outing of the 24-year-old’s career so far. If Hughes can’t replicate the electricity of his fastball in Game 2 against the Rangers, though, the Yankees bullpen could be in for a long night. Encouraging for the Yanks, though, is that Hughes is coming off two straight big starts, the last one against the Twins and his last of the regular season against Boston where the Yankees secured a playoff berth.
It’s hard to imagine the ALCS being a disappointment with these two powerhouses going toe-to-toe.