Is the Yankees’ season a tragedy waiting to happen or a charmed, magical ride to a 27th crown, just like the fabled days of Mantle, Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Munson and, well, Jeter and Rivera? There exists a form of literature and drama called the tragedy. Some of the most famous works throughout history have embodied this form: Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Oedipus Rex, Paradise Lost, and Dr. Faustus, among many others. In these works, there is generally a central, tragic figure who is often is placed in a position of grace, who has many, if not all the attributes one could want in life: wealth, power, physical attractiveness, skill, wisdom, wit, intelligence. There is always a flaw, however, the character possesses that winds up tripping the mighty personage and unravels all their success, leading ultimately to their downfall and often death. Hamlet, for instance, was indecisive; Lucifer was arrogant; in the Greek plays, well, everyone was arrogant (they were obsessed with a form of arrogance called hubris). Arrogance was big with them – it’s more fun to watch the arrogant fall.
This brings us the the 2009 incarnation of the New York Yankees. A team seemingly destined to win a championship. Everything seems to be going right for them: walk-off homers and walk-off hits in abundance, big pitching performances when they most need them, pies in the face, comebacks from injury, clubhouse chemistry, renaissance years from veteran players, lightly regarded rookies coming up and getting big hits. They’ve got it all, right?
Not exactly. As amazing as this year has been, we are perpetually reminded every day, by our own eyes, as well as the media “experts” that, while the Yanks run off victory after victory, there are flaws on the team that continue to be causes for great concern. Which side will out in the end? That’s my question to you. The Yankee fan side of me says that the pinstriped uniform I’ve been rooting for since my youth has the same magic quality that the late 90′s team had and will win yet another trophy at the end of the year, because that’s what the Yankees do. The Jets, Rangers, Knicks fan part of me, however, says that there are tragic flaws that can’t help but be exposed in the playoff grind of October. Let’s take a quick look at both sides of the argument and you can decide.
- Walk-offs: Is there anything more magical than a walk-off hit? The Yanks have had so many that they’ve instituted a tradition involving pies in the face to commemorate the occasions… and there have been enough pies wasted to bankrupt Sara Lee. Everytime I see another walk-off, by yet another different player, I shake my head and say, “Magic! There’s something magical about this team.” Clutch hits are certainly an attribute of a successful playoff team. The late-90s dynasty embodied this as well as anyone.
- Big pitching performances: Who could forget those 4 huge games against the Red Sox at Fenway, when they got three huge outings back-to-back-to-back from CC, AJ, and Pettitte. Last night Joba, in the midst of a storm of criticism, tosses an absolute gem against those same pink hosed villains. Though Andy, Burnett, and Joba have all struggled at various points in the season, they’ve also come up huge in some big spots.
- Comebacks: A-Rod began the season on the DL and in the firestorm of a steroids controversy, with many doubting he’d ever produce like a superstar again. What does he do, but hit a home run in his very first at-bat. For a guy accused of never coming up in the clutch, he’s gotten as many big hits as anyone on the team and he’s managed to post stats that would look like full-season numbers for a top big league hitter, despite missing out on about 200 at bats. Pundits also counted out Jorge Posada (thankfully, because he fell into my lap during my fantasy draft) who is merely putting up elite stat for a catcher once again, despite his age and injury last year. Hideki Matsui was also supposed to be done, but apparently someone forgot to tell him that players who are done don’t put up .900 OPS years. Jeter and Damon, while not extensively injured last year, have put up surprisingly huge seasons, with Jeter actually improving his defense at an age where most shortstops’ defensive metrics are beginning to drop off a cliff.
- Clubhouse chemistry: Every since A-Rod arrived on this team, the clubhouse has been split between Torre’s old guard and A-Rod and some of the new guys who didn’t quite fit into the personality-type of the dynasty teams. Tthe grand infusion of Burnett, Sabathia, and Teixeira, however, has allowed the team a kind of chemistry reboot. CC’s renowned leadership skills have rallied the whole pitching staff together, while Burnett’s off-beat persona seems to have loosened up the free spirit types like Damon, A-Rod, Melky, Cano, etc. to the point where everyone just seems comfortable being themselves and not worrying about fitting in. I guess an idiot throwing pies in your face can have that effect on people – who knew? Maybe AJ has a corporate team-building retreat career in his future after baseball.
- Lightly regarded rookies coming up and getting big hits: Cervelli? Pena? These guys didn’t even make most pundits’ list of best Yankee prospects, yet time-after-time, they’ve come up to supply defensive help and big hits when the team needed them most. Magic teams need these guys. Anybody remember Brian Doyle or Shane Spencer? In order to win it all, you often have to get production from spots you’d never have expected.
- homers and walk-off hits in abundance, big pitching performances when they most need them, pies in the face, comebacks from injury, clubhouse chemistry, renaissance years from veteran players, lightly regarded rookies coming up and getting big hits. Nobody thought these kids would ever produce, yet every time I turn around, Cervelli is pressed into duty and getting a huge hit. It must be magic, baby.
There are a few things that stop me in the midst of my celebratory lap around the new stadium, however:
- Joba: Which Joba Chamberlain will show up in the post-season? Your guess is as good as mine. The man with the variable velocity was averaged 93mph, topped 95 on several occasions, and made the Sox look generally foolish through 5 innings, before running out of a gas a little in the 6th. Conversely, an ERA of 4.72 over the course of the full season and over 8 in the last month+ makes Yankee fans sweat and sports radio anchors drool. My opinion? I think the kid’s holding back a bit to avoid injury and we may see something more closely approximating last year’s Joba in the playoffs. – just bloggin’
- AJ Burnett: No one was a bigger fan of the move to get AJ than I was. I thought the guy had matured and finally figured out how to harness his considerable repertoire. I think I was half-right. He seems to have matured in the sense that he’s figured out how to stay healthy and take the ball every 5th day, and he’s been great in the clubhouse. Consistency, however? That’s a completely different animal. With his stuff, I have no idea why he gets knocked around so badly some games. Having that much volatility out of your #2 has to make JoeG break out in a cold sweat on the eve of the playoffs.
- Bullpen volatility: Coke is great one stretch and terrible the next, Marte was a pyromaniac to begin the season before he got injured, who knows whether Dave Robertson can come back 100% healthy, Mark Melancon hasn’t figured out major league pitching yet, Alfredo Aceves looked unhittable at first but hasn’t looked the same following some injury/tired arm issues, Gaudin and Mitre are… Gaudin and Mitre. Thank god for Hughes and Rivera, but if one or more of the Yankee starters flame out, can JoeG patch together some long relief?
- The LOB issue: One of the primary issues with the team in the past few years has been the runners in scoring position (RISP) issue. Why do they leave so many guys on base? They’ve been better this year, but even so, they’re 5th in the A.L. in batting average with RISP, despite being tied for first with the Angels in overall batting average. Do you know who’s first in batting average with RISP? That’s right, the Angels. The Angels are also first in slugging and OBP with RISP. Does that worry you, at all? Me, too.
Magic or Tragic, what do you guys think? From an utterly unscientific perspective, I think magic. Those beautiful, wonderful walk-offs just do it for me. It just seems like fate. Of course, the last time I felt this way was 2001 when it seemed like Scott Brosius hit a walk-off homer every other playoff game, and we all know what happened THAT year. If you’re more in the tragic frame of mind, what do you think is the Yanks’ tragic flaw that will cost them the crown?
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TagsA.J. Burnett Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Austin Romine Baltimore Orioles Bartolo Colon Boston Red Sox Brett Gardner Brian Cashman Bullpen CC Sabathia Chien-Ming Wang Cliff Lee Curtis Granderson David Robertson Dellin Betances Derek Jeter Francisco Cervelli Freddy Garcia Game Recap Hiroki Kuroda Ivan Nova Javier Vazquez Jesus Montero Joba Chamberlain Joe Girardi Johnny Damon Jorge Posada Manny Banuelos Mariano Rivera Mark Teixeira Melky Cabrera Michael Pineda New York New York Yankees Nick Johnson Nick Swisher Phil Hughes Prospects Rafael Soriano Red Sox Robinson Cano Russell Martin Tampa Bay Rays Yankees