On Monday, John (aka jscape2000) from Pinstripe Alley (SB Nation's dedicated New York Yankees site) asked if I'd do a question exchange leading up to the ALDS. Check out my answers to his questions at their place, and be sure to leave your troll at home. Thanks to John for his time--and away we go.
1. The Yankees, according to their MLB.com site, still haven't officially announced their starters past C.C. Sabathia. How do you see New York's rotation shaking out?
In between the time you emailed me and I got to write my response, the rotation has been announced: CC, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes for games 1-3. The chatter I've heard is that the Yanks intend to come back with CC for game 4 and Andy for game 5, if necessary.
I'm thrilled to be skipping all the combinations of AJ Burnett, Javy Vazquez.Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, and Ivan Nova.
While I'm glad to have CC and Andy lined up to pitched 4 of 5 games, I'm also a little nervous about Phil Hughes starting Game 3 at New Yankee Stadium, where he's given up 20 of the 25 homers he's surrendered this season.
2. What's happened to Derek Jeter this year? Is it something other than age?
He was striding toward the plate instead of toward the mound, and moving his head more than ever before. There's a lot of speculation that this bad habit came from an unknown injury.
On September 11th, Jeter took a long session with hitting coach Kevin Long (who has quietly built himself a brilliant reputation among Yankee fans), and the result are stark: before .260/.326/.366, after .342/.436/.392. Now that comes with a variety of warnings (small sample size, he had equal or better 20 game stretches, his Sept/Oct LD% was just above his lowest month of the season), but it gives Yankee fans great hope for his postseason success. And hopefully, he'll work with KLong during the offseason for the first time, and come to Spring Training 2011 ready to return to his career numbers.
3. The Yankees have owned the Twins, ousting them in Minnesota's last four post-season appearances (including sweeps in the most recent two). From the Yankee fan perspective, is there any reason to think that 2010 will be any different?
First of all, I don't know a single reasonable Yankee fan who is writing off the Twins; there are many who are happier to be facing Liriano and the Twins, rather than Cliff Lee and the Rangers in the short series. But one hit (say a Mauer double, for instance) and an entire game and the series can swing the other direction.
On July 31st, Yankee starters finished another strong month: 15-5 in 26 starts, averaged 6 IP per game, 3.41 ERA with a 1.31 WHIP. For the rest of the season, the rotation went 18-23, 5.2 IP, 5.33 ERA with a 1.45 WHIP. Is it a coincidence that Andy Pettitte hit the DL on July 19th?
The offense hasn't been much better: after the July 25th game against the Royals, the Yanks were hitting .274/.357/.445 as a team. For the rest of the season, they hit .256/.340/.423.
Can the Yankees get back into peak form? I have no doubt that over 162 games, this team is the best in the league (Joe Girardi's decision to concede every game after locking up a playoff spot not withstanding). But is this the team to bet on to win 3 of 5?
If CC Sabathia is merely mortal, or if Andy Pettitte struggles, or if the hitters look like they did through August and early September, and we'll be golfing soon.
4. How would you compare this Yankee team to previous incarnations, in terms of how they're build for the post-season?
This rotation looks much more like the 2005- 2007 rotations than like 2009 or '96-'03. A lefty and a prayer.
On the other hand, Brian Cashman has quietly used the draft to build one of the best bullpens in baseball around baseball- now we just have to hope that Joe Girardi uses the best reliever at the high leverage moment, rather than giving the ball to Sergio Mitre in the 6th inning because it's the 6th inning and he's saving the good guys for the 7th and 8th.
To be more positive, the offense is incredible- just a notch below '98 and '09. The defense is easily the best defense I can remember the Yankees ever having. Jeter's range remains a liability at short, but Arod is around average at third. The right side of the infield is legitimately Gold Glove worthy, and the outfield of Gardner-Granderson-Swisher covers an incredible amount of ground. The Yankees have strong arms at every position except catcher.
5. What do you see as New York's keys to success in this series?
If you didn't pick up on the theme: it's all about starting pitching. If CC, Andy and Hughes pitch to their potential, our streaky offense won't be a concern. If the starters struggle, we'll be counting on the bats to bail us out, which is not something I'd bet on against your pitching staff.
6. Predictions on the series outcome?
Yankees in 4. I think the Yanks will win either game 1 or game 2 at Target Field, then take care of business in front of the home crowd, with CC wrapping up the series.