When we last saw the New York Yankees in the postseason, in the 2010 ALCS against the Texas Rangers, they were looking old. And tired. And like their time had passed. Alex Rodriguez batted .190 in that series, with two RBIs. Derek Jeter hit .231. Nick Swisher's average was .091. Mark Teixeira's average was a Bluto Blutarsky-like .000 in 14 at-bats before getting injured. CC Sabathia had a 6.30 ERA. Phil Hughes post a 11.42 ERA. And the aura and magic that often surrounds the Yankees was nowhere to be found.
With their best playoff pitcher from last season being the now-retired Andy Pettitte, and their starters for the second and third games of this year's ALDS matchup with the Detroit Tigers being the inexperienced Ivan Nova and the does-he-have-anything-left Freddy Garcia, it's imperative for the Bombers that Sabathia pitch like Sabathia this postseason. The Yankees can score runs in bunches, that we know. Though even the most potent bats in the league can go silent in a short series, with a rejuvenated Jeter, Curtis Granderson in the midst of a career year, an in-his-prime Robinson Cano and Teixeira almost assured of not going hitless again this year, they should be able to overcome a rusty, injured A-Rod or a slump thrown in here and there. But they have to stop the other team from scoring, of course. The Tigers can slug right along with the Bombers as they were fourth in the league in runs scored, on-base percentage and slugging percentage (the Yanks were second, second and third in those categories). Last year's big three in the bullpen -- Mariano Rivera, Kerry Wood and Joba Chamberlain -- did their jobs in the postseason, while the depth guys let them down. This season, Robertson moves up in the pecking order to replace Wood, and should be just as trusted, to pair up with postseason legend Mariano Rivera to close out games, but Rafael Soriano and Luis Ayala take over Chamberlain's role, along with Hughes, Cory Wade, A.J. Burnett, Boone Logan and Raul Valdes thrown into the mix, so there's no telling how the middle innings will turn out.
The offense and the Robertson/Rivera combo are strengths for the Yankees, so the starting pitching is where they need to overachieve. And it looks like Girardi will be going with a three-man rotation, so it's up to Sabathia to pitch like an ace. He may potentially get two starts in the series, and if he falters in even one of those, that may be the team's downfall. Nova may be as cool as a savvy veteran on the mound or he may melt down at the pressure. We won't know until he takes the mound. Garcia may be his crafty old self or he may throw batting practice out there. We won't know until he takes the mound. Of course, if they both flame out, not giving the bats or bullpen a fighting chance to cover up for them, the Yankees could be in trouble. But it's doubtful Joe Girardi will let those games get out of hand. We know he has no problem yanking a starting pitcher early (see: Burnett, A.J.), and he may have to do the same with Nova and/or Gracia, and then let the bullpen keep the team in the game.
But Sabathia's another story. They can't afford their ace to be anything less than an ace. If their bullpen is logging extra innings because of the other starters, Sabathia will be counted on to give them length and quality and to outpitch Justin Verlander as well. It may be a lot to ask of him, but CC Sabathia's the only sure thing the Yankees have in their rotation, so it's crucial that he pitch like a sure thing, too.