2009: The last year the New York Yankees won a World Series.
It’s sort of weird, right?
The late ‘90s were dominated by the Bronx Bombers, beginning in 1996 when closer John Wetteland won MVP as the Yankees began their dynasty beating the Atlanta Braves in six games. They won three more times by the year 2000, and after a few years of falling short, the Yankees retooled ahead of the 2009 season with big money signings like Mark Texiera and C.C. Sabathia. Tex slugged a team-high 39 HRs in the 2009 regular season, Sabathia won 19 games and in the end the Yankees captured their 27th World Series, getting past the Phillies in six games.
Almost 10 years later, Tex is in the ESPN booth and Sabathia is still on the Yankees (and won’t be suspended five games until next year for surrendering a half million dollar for this gesture against the Rays). The hitters that support Sabathia and the Yankees pitching rotation just completed a magnificent feat, surpassing the 1997 Seattle Mariners for the most total home runs in a season. Even more impressive, every position 1-9 through the lineup hit at least 20 HRs, which has never happened in MLB.
So the hitting is impressive, and the bullpen featured the highest WAR in 2018, but what about the pitching staff? That will be key if the Yankees want to get past a daunting potential postseason schedule.
First up: The Oakland Athletics in the Bronx Wednesday in a one game Wild Card playoff to see who plays the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS. As of Monday afternoon, manager Aaron Boone had not announced a starting pitcher for that game, but you figure it will be decided between Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ or Luis Severino. Oakland has not made their decision yet either but this game could come down to which bullpen cracks first: The Athletics relievers carried the third lowest ERA during the regular season.
If the Yankees are able to get past the A’s, their next opponent will be the Red Sox. Boston finished the season with the best record in baseball and is definitely the favorite no matter who their ALDS opponent is. For the Yankees to knock off Oakland AND Boston, the following scenarios need to play out for their pitching staff:
Severino can’t have a blowup start. The last time this happened was against Oakland on Sept. 5, when he didn’t even last five innings. He’s earned wins in his last two starts and needs to ride this momentum through October.
A. Happ needs to own the Red Sox like he has all season. Before his Sept. 28 start against Boston (an outing he still won despite four earned runs on one swing of the bat by Steve Pearce) Happ had a 0.54 ERA against the Red Sox in 2018.
Masahiro Tanaka needs to find his splitter again. He blamed his last two poor outings on tinkering with his best pitch, and he’ll need to give the Yankees at least 4-5 innings of competent pitching in order to get to the strong bullpen arms of Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman.
Sabathia figures to be the fourth playoff starter on a team that is strong enough to make a postseason run that could erase the painful memory of last year’s ALCS exit in seven games to the Houston Astros. If the Yankees get past both the A’s and Sox, then a rematch with Houston is certainly likely as they’ll be a heavy favorite against the AL Central champion Cleveland Indians. But none of this matters if Oakland’s magical season continues with a road victory in the Bronx on Wednesday night!