Who Will Stop the Yanks?
As much as it pains to me to say so, the Yanks enter the postseason as the odds-on favourite to win the World Series. As unpalatable as it may seem, is there really any team that is capable of standing in the way of the Pinstripers’ 27th World Series title?
For frig’s sake, this is a team that has arguably the best player of our generation batting sixth. Their ninth place hitter almost won the batting title. Sure, there are questions about the pitching, but this lineup is relentless.
When the Yankees open against Detroit tonight — amazingly, the first time the two teams have ever met in the playoffs (which says more about Detroit’s futility over the years than anything else), manager Joe Torre’s lineup will have Alex Rodriguez batting sixth.
This has created quite a commotion among the New York media, but then again, everything that involved A-Rod seems to create a commotion. Still, it’s pretty shocking when a .290 hitter with 35 homers and 121 RBI has to hit sixth. But Rodriguez’s post-season failures and inability to handle pressure situations is famous in the Bronx. This is the team deep enough to be able to move him down — clearly a message that says, “Alex, don’t try to carry the team” — and still be potent.
Gary Sheffield, out most of the year with wrist problems and learning a new position (first base), gets plugged into reinging AL-MVP A-Rod’s normal clean-up spot. Sheffield, who has over 1,500 RBI, reminded the media that he knows a thing or two about wielding the lumber when they dared question him about batting cleanup: “I’m not some castoff,” he said. “I’ve done a few things in this game. Don’t forget who you’re talking to, brother.”
Don’t forget, indeed. Nice to see Sheff hasn’t lost the ‘tude.
Whether Sheffield can deliver in the four-hole or not, this is a huge playoff for Rodriguez, who’s future in the Big Apple may ride on it. If he struggles again this October, you can bet those trade rumours will really heat up. Don’t be shocked if he’s an Angel next year.
But for now, let’s sicken ourselves by checking out the highest-paid lineup in baseball, a team that has a current or past All-Star at every single position. Feel free to prepare a bucket for this vomit-inducing lineup of doom (at least for the Bosox’ fans or Yankee haters among us):
- Johnny Damon, CF: Although a late-season slump dropped him to .285 (after he hit .316 last year) and he struck out a career-high 85 times, Damon’s first season with the Yanks was a resounded success. He launched a career-high 24 homers, while reaching 115 runs and 35 doubles for the fifth time. He drove in 80 runs for a third time, and rediscovered his running game, swiping 25 bases for an eighth time. He gives the Yanks the first bona fide lead-off man they’ve had since the days before Chuck Knoblauch forgot how to throw.
- Derek Jeter, SS: Some suggest this has been “the Captain’s” finest season yet with the Yanks, worthy of MVP consideration. Personally, I think he was better in 1999, but this was close. Jeter finished second in the AL with a .344 mark, and was caught stealing just five times, while swiping 34 bases. He only stole 14 last year, so this seemed to be a waning part of his game, but the re-emergence of Jeter’s running game really helped increase his value. A 900 OPS was nothing to sneeze at either — among shortstops, only Carlos Guillen had a higher mark.
- Bobby Abreu, RF: Many point to this trade deadline deal (that also brought Cory Lidle to help solidify the rotation and cost the Yanks just second-tier prospects) as the move that really helped the Yanks turn the corner on their way to a share of the MLB lead with 97 wins this season. With just 15 homers this year, Abreu is no longer a power threat (and hasn’t been since that stupid Home Run Derby in 2005), but he did start to show signs of life in that department down the stretch. Regardless of his pop, Abreu’s ability to hit (.330 after the deal), get on base and make things happen (a fifth 30-SB season), adds a dimension to the Yankee attack that really seems to make it an unstoppable force.
- Sheffield, 1B: As mentioned, he’s still learning the ropes at first, but has a pretty good teacher in Don Mattingly. Sheffield’s power may not be at full capacity thanks to the wrist, but he can still hit. As long as he gets on base, he’ll be doing his job in this lineup.
- Jason Giambi, DH: Sheffield’s ability to play first (sort of) has allowed the Yanks to get a defensive liability off the field. Giambi has battled wrist woes of his own down the stretch — bad enough that they have required multiple cortisone shots, but he’s had a great comeback season. Giambi had 25 doubles for the ninth time and continued to be an on-base machine, drawing 110 walks for the fourth time. He also proved he can still go deep with the best of them.
- A-Rod, 3B: Sure, Rodriguez’s numbers were down across the board, and with 15 steals (down for the second straight year), he’s no longer an elite power-speed threat, but you can’t look at his 2006 season and say he sucked. I mean, c’mon. He reached 35 homers for the 10th time, hit .290 and recorded a 915 OPS for the ninth time and drew at least 90 walks for a third time. It’s hard to believe he’s stuck batting sixth in a lineup like the Yanks, but this guy can still carry any team.
- Hideki Matsui, LF: Godzilla busted his wrist and missed most of the year, but he hasn’t skipped a beat since his return. Although he only played 51 games this season, Matsui had more walks than strikeouts for the first since coming to North America. His return, unfortunately, sends Melky Cabrera to the bench. Disturbingly, the Yanks have two flyhawks — Cabrera and Bernie Williams — who could probably start on most teams. In New York, they ride the pine. Sickening.
- Jorge Posada, C: At 35, he’s probably nearing the end of the line, but Posada still enjoyed a fine renaissance season and proved he wasn’t wearing down by hitting .316 with six homers in September.
- Robinson Cano, 2B: This is perhaps the most hideous element of the Bronx Bombers lineup — the fact that their last-place hitter almost won the batting title. Despite missing 35 games, Cano still set career highs with 165 hits and 15 homers. He developed a bit of a running game with five steals, got on base at a .365 clip and showed his power with a .525 SLG. Cano will win a batting title very soon.
Oh yes, there are the pitching questions. Randy Johnson’s back could be a problem, but for now, he’s good to go for Game 3. Mariano Rivera, out for three weeks down the stretch, will be limited to one-inning appearances, and that could prove problematic if Scott Proctor, Kyle Farnsworth et al., don’t step up this postseason. But given that this team has perhaps the greatest playoff batting lineup ever assembled, I find it hard to envision that it couldn’t just bludgeon its way past any pitching issues.
And so we sit here, trying to cling to some hope that a team that’s won nine straight AL East titles can somehow meet their playoff demise. But considering they beat Detroit five out of seven this year, outscoring them by 15 in the process, it’s hard to imagine that the Tigers will offer anything more than a whimper of resistance against this beast.