Thursday, May 14, 2015


In this the most improbable of seasons, the New York Yankees could end up winning their 28th World Series trophy in October.

Yes, they are coming off our second loss to the Tampa Rays that leaves the Bombers two games up in the East, and yes,  Joe Girardi continues to blindly play Stephen Drew (.184 batting average) at second base in spite of Jose Pirela’s presence on the bench (the best hitter in the organization according to Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson).

Yes,  Masahiro Tanaka causes each of us to hold our breath with every pitch – not because of his immense talent – rather, we wonder if said pitch could be his last for a couple of years, and yes, the regular lineup has four players (including Drew) hitting .220 or lower.

In spite of these things, I really think they can do it.  No, I’m not completely crazy.  Just hear me out. The Yankees entered the game with the best record in the American League.  Even I had to double check that fact.  Quite simply, I’m still trying to figure out how that is possible.   A short time ago, we were 21 – 12 and a half game ahead of the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros (yes, I did a double take on that too) entering play.

Looking through the roster and the starting lineup, one would never suspect that this team of aging players would even be sniffing a post season berth.  Yet, here they are.  A team that ranks 18th in MLB in hitting and 20th in fielding has a three game lead in the American League East Division.  Is it because the rest of their division stinks?  Well, kinda, but that’s not the whole story.
There’s an adage that says “Pitching wins championships”, and this Yankees team has some really good pitching.

If you were to look solely at the Yankees’ starting rotation, you’d say that they are above-average, but not great.  They rank 14th in ERA (3.93) and 15th in WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) overall – pretty much middle of the road stuff.  The starting five is led by Michael Pineda (yeah, I think we can safely now say that we won that deal) who is 5 – 0 with a sparkling 2.72 ERA.  The most impressive thing about “Big Mike” is that he has walked just three batters in over 46 innings pitched.

When healthy, Tanaka (3.22 ERA, 0.94 WHIP) makes a nice one-two punch with Pineda, and they are followed by fire-baller Nathan Eovaldi, constantly improving Adam Warren, an erratic CC Sabathia, and promising Chase Whitley (3.06 ERA filling in for Tanaka).

But, the rotation isn’t the real story here.  It’s the bullpen.  The Bombers’ relievers rank 5th in baseball in ERA (2.22 - third in the AL) and fourth in WHIP (1.03).   Their eighth and ninth inning guys are the best in the business.  Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have yet to yield an earned run over 35 innings pitched (33 appearances).  Combined, they’ve struck out 57 batters and hold a 0.78 WHIP.  D-Rob who?
As a group, the bullpen is tied for first in saves with 15, and is first in strikeouts with 122 in 110 innings.  They rank seventh in baseball with 21 holds and are 4th in holding opponents to a minuscule .179 batting average. 
Impressive, to say the least.  All we need is for our starters to get us to the seventh inning either tied or in the lead.  If that happens, our chances at winning a game increase exponentially.

Basically, this team will go as far as it’s pitching will take them.  Let’s face it; our offense really isn’t scaring anyone.  Chances are pretty good that if we don’t get our runs from the first 5 spots in the order, we aren’t going to score much.  Sure, we have a great lead-off combination of Ellsbury and Gardner, and Rodriguez, Teixeira, and  McCann are proving to be RBI machines (all three rank in the top 30 in MLB), but the bottom half of the lineup isn’t able to hit its weight. 
How then, will this team win it all?
This season is one of “turnover” in Major League Baseball.  The Royals were the improbable AL champs last season, and again find themselves fighting the Tigers for the Central crown.  The Astros are the newbies to both the American League and winning, and as I alluded to earlier, the AL East is probably the weakest it has been in 30 years.  All these things provide the Yankees with a window of opportunity.
History has shown that the teams who reach the post-season with a strong front-end to their rotation often are the ones who advance the deepest.  While the back-end to the Yankees starting five has been erratic at best, there is no argument that their opening two or three hurlers can shut down the best offenses in the game.  Get us into the short series of October, and we’ve got real opportunities to advance with Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi (maybe even Ivan Nova?), regardless of the opponent.  I can’t help but recall the harsh reality of the 2001 World Series.

The bottom line to the Diamondbacks defeat of the Bombers was that they had the best two starters in the game (Johnson and Schilling), and with it all on the line, they had no problem using them often in the seven game Fall Classic. 
We have an even better chance than that great Diamondback team.  While we might not possess the two best starters in baseball, our bullpen is infinitely better than that 2001 club from Arizona. 
Pitching wins championships - remember that.  We just need to find a way back into the post-season.  There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but with the first 20 percent of the 2015 campaign already behind us, that goal is getting closer.  Should we manage to achieve it, don’t be surprised if we are hoisting a trophy when it’s over.


--Steve Skinner, BYB Senior Writer
Twitter: @oswegos1

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