The New York Yankees won't be winning their 28th World Series title this October.
As a lifelong Yankee fan, I would love nothing more than to be wrong about that statement. Reality is, though, that when I take a good, hard look at this team I don't see how I could be. I just don't see how this version of the Yankees can do what the 2009 version did.
This is, simply, not the same team. There are too many questions and, right now, it looks like too few answers.
Let's analyze some of those reasons why the Yankees won't be adding a 28th championship to the best resume in all of sports.
Last season the Yankees rode the sturdy three-man rotation of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte to their 27th world championship.
This season? Right now their starting rotation is Sabathia and a bunch of question marks.
Pettitte? Nice numbers (11-3, 3.17 ERA), but Pettitte has pitched twice since spending two months on the disabled list with a groin injury. One good start, one bad one. You want to believe that the veteran left-hander will give the Yankees solid October efforts, but there is no guarantee. He is almost in spring training mode at this point, and you can't be completely confident that he will be effective in October.
Burnett? Pul-eeze! If there was any way possible the Yankees could get around pitching him, they would do it. But, they can't. After failing to get out of the third inning Monday night against the Blue Jays Burnett is 10-15 with an ERA well north of 5.00. He has won once since the beginning of August and has failed to get through the fifth inning five times in that stretch, including his last two outings. The Yankees can't feel good about using him in a post-season game.
Phil Hughes? Seventeen wins, and he pitched a terrific game Sunday to get the Yankees a much-needed victory over Boston, but the Yankees never wanted to have to start the young right-hander in the playoffs. He has already pitched 175 innings this season, and if he is playoff starter there is potential to push him up around 200 innings -- which might not be the best idea for the 24-year-old in his first full season of starting at the big-league level. If they want to win, though, the Yankees have little choice but to push him and hope there are no long-term ill effects.
Really, what choice do the Yankees have but to cross their fingers and hope for the best with all three of these guys? Javier Vazquez, Ivan Nova and Dustin Moseley are not getting postseason starts.
The Postseason Schedule
Bud Selig did the Yankees a huge favor last season, building so many off days into the postseason schedule that the Yankees never needed a fourth starter. That was good, because they really didn't have one. Obviously, they don't have one this year, either. They might not even have three. Problem is, there are fewer off days in the postseason this time around -- the right decision for baseball fans, but one that will hurt the Yankees. They will be forced to use four starters, whether they want to or not.
There is also Mariano Rivera. The great Mo is 40 now, and showing some wear and tear as the season winds to a close. All the off days helped Rivera last season as the Yankees could extend him and not have to worry since there was almost always an off day after a game. Not the case this year, so Joe Girardi will have to be much more careful with his use of Rivera.
Having to be careful with Rivera means needing more outs from the other members of the bullpen, and Joba is the one you have to worry about. He has pitched to an ERA of 4.46 this season and given up a hit per inning. He is a 50-50 bet to implode whenever he takes the mound, and he is going to be called on to get key outs more than once during the postseason. Do you trust him? I don't.
The Yankees don't have any, unless it's the wrong kind. They are in the midst of what looks like it will turn out to be their only losing month of the season. The starting pitching has, largely, been abominable. Rivera hasn't been sharp. They just don't look like a team ready to go on a long playoff run.
Texas, Tampa Bay and Minnesota loom in the upcoming American League playoffs. The Rangers and Rays have to be particularly worrisome for the Yankees.
The Rangers have Cliff Lee, the legitimate ace the Yankees tried so hard to get at the trade deadline this season. That makes them formidable because it takes away the Yankees edge if Lee matches up with Sabathia, and gives the Rangers a huge advantage if Lee pitches against anyone else on the Yankee staff. C.J. Wilson might be a better No. 2 starter than anyone the Yankees have, as well.
The Rays, with David Price, Matt Garza and James Shields, have a better top three starters than the Yankees at this point. They have a ton of terriific players. They also have the speed to run wild on Yankee catchers Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli, neither of whom has thrown the ball well the second half of the season. Tampa Bay can create easy runs on the basepaths, and the Yankees really can't do much about it. With Rafael Soriano, the Rays can now close games. That's something they could not do a year ago.