The New York Yankees open the 2011 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium Friday with Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers (8:37 p.m. ET, TBS). Here are five players who could make a difference for the Yankees, good or bad, this postseason.
1. Alex Rodriguez -- The Yankees have to be concerned about what they will get from the future Hall of Fame third baseman this October. This was the least productive season of Rodriguez's illustrious career, as the 36-year-old hit just 16 home runs and drove in 62 runs while playing 99 games due to knee and thumb issues. The Yankees have tried to carefully get Rodriguez ready for October, but alarm bells have to be going off after Rodriguez was scratched from the regular-season finale against Tampa Bay due to soreness in his surgically-repaired knee. A healthy, productive Rodriguez in the middle of the Yankee lineup is a nightmare for the opposition. If he is limited by the knee that is a problem for the Yankees.
2. CC Sabathia -- The Yankee ace gets the unenviable task of opening the series Friday night against Detroit's Justin Verlander, baseball's best pitcher this season while compiling a 24-5 record. Sabathia (19-8, 3.00 ERA) is capable of matching Verlander, but Sabathia has not been the dominant guy the Yankees have been used to the past two months. Over that time period Sabathia has pitched 68.2 innings and given up an alarming 87 hits. Sabathia gets Verlander once in the ALDS and possibly twice, and he will have little to no margin for error.
3. Robinson Cano -- Yankee manager Joe Girardi finally moved Cano into the No. 3 spot in the Yankee batting order during the past few days, finally acknowledging that Cano is the Yankees' best hitter. To be honest, that's a move Girardi should have made in the middle of the 2010 season, not the end of the 2011 season. At least, though, he made the move. Now it is up to Cano (.302, 28 home runs, 118 RBI) to deliver like the best player on a team needs to during the postseason -- especially with A-Rod's health being questionable and Curtis Granderson having tailed off over the last month.
4. Rafael Soriano -- The Yankees signed the right-handed reliever to a three-year, $35 million contract to set up for Mariano Rivera. After struggling early, largely with elbow issues, Soriano has been much better the past two months. The Yankees need Soriano and All-Star setup man David Robertson to be solid in getting the ball to Rivera, and right now Soriano is the much more questionable of the two.
5. Mariano Rivera -- Of course, you knew we had to get around to Rivera, the all-time saves leader and commonly considered the best closer ever. Rivera's postseason numbers are unmatched in the history of the game (8-1, 42 saves, and ERA of 0.71 in 139.2 innings). Rivera had another stellar season, 44 saves in 49 opportunities and and ERA of 1.91. As great as he still is, he isn't the Rivera of old. He pitches fewer innings that he used to, the Yankees can't ask him to get five or six outs as often as they used to and you have to wonder how well his 41-year-old arm will withstand the increased postseason workload. With the Yankees it is always about getting the ball to Mo. The Yankees hope he can still work his postseason magic.