This past Sunday, the best team in Major League Baseball completed a sweep of their arch-rivals, won their 100th game of the season, and clinched a division championship along with home field advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs. You could say it was a relatively decent day for the New York Yankees in what was just the first step in a process that, if everything goes right, could end in the 27th World Series championship for the franchise.
The way this season has come together, it should seemingly be difficult to find many reasons not to be excited for the playoffs. But this is sports, and strange things happen. The Divisional Series is a best-of-five, not seven, meaning fewer margins for error in every game, which is one reason why I don’t trust the MLB playoffs. They have been synonymous with “weird, fluky things happening” over recent years (I mean, Geoff Jenkins won a ring last year, what could be stranger than that?). If you’re a fan of a 100-win, heavily favored team, this is not good news. No, I’m not concerned at all.
Granted, this year’s version of the Yankees is almost certainly their best when compared to recent years’ playoff flops. Mark Teixeira has basically fulfilled even the loftiest of Yankee fans’ expectations, and that is saying something. They accidentally found an eighth inning bridge to closer Mariano Rivera in Phil Hughes, which may have been the most important personnel move of the season. And then there’s Alex Rodriguez, who has somehow found a way to play baseball while maintaining some semblance of a personal life. I had always thought the two were mutually exclusive. To me, that was probably the surest sign that things were going pretty well in the Bronx this season.
Even still, I have no idea what to expect in the playoffs. Will a swarm of bugs attack A.J. Burnett, causing him to throw wild pitch after wild pitch, similar to what happened to Joba Chamberlain two years ago in Cleveland? Will somebody from the Twins or Tigers, presumably someone I have never heard of, step up and make a name for himself? And what the heck are they going to do with Chamberlain? I get the feeling this guy shows up at the ballpark on some days wondering if the coaching staff is going to ask him, “How about you pitch underhanded today? We really want to save that arm of yours.” The fairly comfortable lead the team enjoyed the past few months may have led to the decision to basically bubble wrap Chamberlain’s arm, but at some point it would be nice to see the restrictions lifted just a tad. Maybe it’s just me, but the playoffs seem like as good a time as any.
Regardless of the questions I ask and concerns I may have (both real and imagined), I know this team is good. I have seen them prove this in just about every way a baseball team can during the season: pitchers’ duels, high scorers, walk-offs, late-inning comebacks, run-of-the-mill 7-2 or 9-4 games, and games they had no business winning, but somehow, usually did. What's more, this Yankee team seems to actually like each other, like a legitimate lets-spend-the-off day-together type bond, which was not always apparent with previous, more uptight, Yankee teams.
Something is certainly different this year. That is probably what worries me most: what if everything that seems so lined up for a deep playoff run suddenly disintegrates, and this team ends up being remembered as nothing more than the other recent playoff busts? They deserve a kinder fate than that in Yankee history. I hope.
(Note: As I wrote this, the Yankees completed their 15th walk-off victory of the season, this time against the Kansas City Royals, 4-3. Let’s try to save a few of those for the playoffs, alright guys?)