As the New York Yankees head into Game 5 of the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers, we've seen A.J. Burnett become a hero, CC Sabathia struggle and Jorge Posada turn into an on-base machine. Who could have predicted any of that? At any rate, here are five themes or talking points that have surfaced for the Yankees in the series.
1. Things Don't Always Go As Planned
One rain storm wreaked havoc with the Yankees' plans. Sabathia was more than rested and ready to pitch twice in the series, the rest of the rotation was all lined up and A.J. Burnett was hiding out in the bullpen, with a "Break Open Only in of Emergency Only" sign hanging above him. But the postponement on Friday had far-reaching implications: Sabathia could no longer pitch the remainder of Game 1, having to be moved to Game 3, and he had to go on (sort of) two days' rest, and Burnett had to be called into action for Game 4. But not only did the Yanks now have Sabathia for only one game, he was clearly affected by the disruption in his schedule, unable to find any command of his pitches nor could he hang in there and eat up innings. While his counterpart, Justin Verlander, wasn't vintage Verlander, he did last longer than Sabathia and dominated at times, winning the battle of aces. The silver lining in Friday's rain, though, is Sabathia will now be on regular rest for the first game of the ALCS on Saturday if the Yankees win on Thursday.
2. Ya Never Know
Every Yankee fan's nightmare became reality with these words: "The whole season rests on A.J. Burnett's shoulders." The day before he took the mound, Burnett stated, "I've been proving people wrong my whole career." While it may be a stretch to say that he's been doing that his whole career (unless by "people" he meant those who thought he was a good pitcher), he proved everyone wrong with his performance in Game 4, with a lot of help from Curtis Granderson, who bailed him out of a couple of jams with two spectacular catches. Was there anybody associated with the Yankees who had any confidence in Burnett? Doubtful, though the bar has been set so low for the erratic righty that five and 2/3 innings, with four walks, four hits and one run is seen as an exceptional outing for him. But he came through and did enough to win, as unpredictability often plays a hand in the postseason. Which brings us to Posada. On the fence to even make the playoff roster, with most clamoring for Eric Chavez to DH vs. righties, Posada has started all four games and has been the team's most consistent presence at the plate, with a team-high 1.200 OPS (not counting Jesus Montero, who has only two at-bats).
3. When The Stars Play Like Stars The Team Wins
Robinson Cano had a game for the ages in the opener with his grand slam, six RBIs and two doubles. While Brett Gardner had a key two-out, two-run single, it was Cano who put the game away and turned it into a blowout. In the team's second win, it was Jeter, Granderson and Alex Rodriguez (finally getting his first hits of the series) who knocked in the first batch of runs before the team piled up six more runs making the contest a laugher. When three or four of the key players hit in the same game (not to mention playing defense, like Granderson did on Tuesday) an easy win can be had. Now if Mark Teixeira (2-for-15) and Nick Swisher (3-for-15) can find their way out of their doldrums, then all the better.
4. You Still Need Clutch Hitting
While the Yankees have been on the long side of a pair of blowouts, they had their chances to win the other two games, as well. One or two well-placed hits and the series could be over. Though the game conditions were like a scene out of Caddyshack at the end of Sunday's game, Cano grounded out to second base to end a rally and the game, and Jeter whiffed for the final out of Monday's game with runners on base. While Jose Valverde didn't blow a save all year long, he's certainly no Mariano Rivera when it comes to locking down games. If Game 5 is close, whether the score is 1-0 or 11-10, the Yankees may have to do some damage off Valverde to win the series.
5. Ivan Nova Won't Be Nervous
Thrown into a Game 1 "start," Nova looked about as nervous as if Andy Pettitte or Whitey Ford were on the mound. After all the rotation shuffling, the Yankees are right where they planned things for the series finale with Nova taking the hill. The rookie was stellar in Saturday's start, only allowing two runs (which were scored after he came out of the game), and just as importantly, he was unruffled, with the pressure of his first postseason start nowhere to be found in his demeanor. In Game 5, he'll have already had the experience of pitching in a playoff game, not to mention having the Yankee Stadium crowd on his side, with all the pressure being on the Tigers. And Nova and the Yankees will have a well-rested David Robertson and Rivera, who could potentially throw a combined three innings if necessary.