With the Yankees having all but clinched the AL East, the results of the individual games become almost secondary to certain events and performances that take on a higher significance as the season closes and the playoffs approach. Here are a few things that might be interesting for a Yankees fan to watch for over the last 22 games:
1) Ramiro Pena’s playing time: The amount of time that Pena gets will clue us in to the roster construction that the Yankees plan to have for the postseason. Assuming Brian Bruney continues pitching adequately and David Robertson returns, there are 13 position players and 11 pitchers who are locks to make the playoff roster. The final spot will be filled either by Pena or by another reliever, likely Chad Gaudin. Personally, I would go with Gaudin, who is tough on righties, but I could see why the Yankees may want an additional pinch runner off the bench. Thus far, Hairston and Hinske have gotten the bulk of the playing time available to bench players in recent days, suggesting that Joe is trying to get them plenty of action prior to the playoffs. Pena, on the other hand, has barely seen the field, which suggests that he may be the odd man out come October.
2) Bullpen Usage: It seems that Brian Bruney is beginning to regain the manager’s trust, which would be a nice development for an already strong bullpen. With Damaso Marte pitching well and Phil Coke struggling, their roles have likely flipped for the time being, and David Robertson’s injury seems to add a bit more uncertainty into this equation. How these pitchers are throwing heading into the playoffs will likely determine how they are used in October.
3) Joba Chamberlain and AJ Burnett: The Yankees will need 4 starters at some point in the playoffs (more on that later today), and these two are the wuestion marks in the rotation. Burnett looked a lot better his last time out, and if he is truly beginning to heat up, we could be in for an amazing postseason. Joba, on the other hand, continues to struggle, and has even spurred suggestions that Chad Gaudin get his rotation spot in the playoffs. How he pitches over his final starts may determine whether he remains in that role for the ALDS or if he gets relegated to bullpen duty.
4) The Award Candidates: Joe Mauer is likely the MVP, but the Yankees do have two legitimate candidates. With voters often insisting on the MVP coming from a winner, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter have a real shot. A great September from either player can propel him to the top of the race. The Cy Young Award belongs to Zack Greinke, but win totals blind many of the voters, giving CC Sabathia a puncher’s chance. A September similar to his August might allow him to steal the award from Greinke.
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