The New York Yankees (95-60) look as dominant as they have all season, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays (85-70) in both games of today’s double-header and securing both a playoff birth and a division title in the process. New York will be heading in to the postseason for the third consecutive season and for the sixteenth time in the last seventeen years.
Though Phil Hughes’ ailing back forced manager Joe Girardi to use eight bullpen pitchers in the day’s first game, the club was able to overcome the obstacle on the strength of Robinson Cano’s bat and their impressive pitching. Cano drove in three of the team’s eight (combined) runs today, hitting a home run, a double and reaching base four times in eight plate appearances.
Today, the Yankees’ bullpen proved once again to be one of the team’s biggest strengths and one of the primary reasons the club boasts the best record in the American League. Between both of today’s game, bombers relievers combined for a 2-0 record and eleven strikeouts through 10 2/3 innings, allowing just two earned runs– both charged to game one’s spot-starter, Hector Noesi.
Out of the ten relievers Girardi used today, only Noesi and Soriano have ERA’s above 3.00– Noesi is at a 4.14 mark after today’s game while Soriano is at a very solid 3.62. David Robertson, the second game’s winner, needed only one pitch to induce an inning (and rally)- ending double-play. Robertson is now 4-0 with an unbelievable 1.11 ERA, a downright ridiculous 13.5 K/9 and .14 HR/9, and a miraculous 90% LOB%. His 2.8 WAR is the highest mark of any American League relief pitcher since Mariano Rivera’s 3.1 WAR in 2008, and the highest of any non-closer since the Indians Rafael Bethancourt in ’07 (3.2).
Though C.C. Sabathia’s effort in today’s second contest wasn’t enough to earn him his 20th win for the second straight season, the Yankees couldn’t have asked for more from their ace. Sabathia pitched 7 innings of 2 ER ball against a talented Rays club, battling for a playoff spot. Though the Rays’ scrappy hitters did their best to wear him down, forcing him to throw 127 pitches in seven innings, Sabathia looked to be in postseason form and did a fine job of keeping baserunners to a minimum and making his pitches when he needed to.
With today’s wins– both by a score of 4-2– the Yankees have now won seven of their last ten contests. In that same span the Red Sox have lost seven of their last ten games and have posted a ugly 5-16 record in September, allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to inch within 2.5 games of them in the AL Wild Card race. Though the odds of the Red Sox missing the playoffs aren’t higher than 17% (according to Baseball Prospectus), Boston’s injury-crippled pitching staff is pushing the club toward a horrendous collapse.
Boston’s rotation ERA in September is pushing 6.8, while their bullpen’s is over 5.00. Injuries to Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Erik Bedard have left manager Terry Francona scrambling for serviceable arms for his rotation for the stretch run. Though Buchholz is doing his best to return to the rotation before season’s end, there’s no telling how effective he’ll be- especially in a pressure packed Wild Card race.
Heading in to the postseason, the Yankees are looking the strongest they’ve looked all season. Alex Rodriguez is finally set to resume full-time duty as the theme’s third baseman, and with rookie Ivan Nova collecting his twelfth consecutive win yesterday, Girardi looks to have found a reliable sidekick for Sabathia in the rotation. The team’s bullpen is the American League’s best and the lineup is arguably the games’ most well-rounded and most formidable.
Hughes’ back spasms do pose a threat to his place in the postseason rotation, though Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman both believe he should be ready for the playoffs. Even if he isn’t, the club’s pitching staff has proven they can perform at a top-shelf level without him.