Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yankees Clinch AL East

The New York Yankees defeated the Boston Red Sox 4-2 to win their 100th game of the 2009 season and clinch the AL East Division in the process. Although it is the Yankees 11th AL East title since 1996, it is the first they've won under manager Joe Girardi.

And yes, I'm the guy who predicted the Yankees would finish in last and that Luis Sojo would be managing the team by mid-June.

The Yankees did get off to a slow start in 2009. They were 13-15 before Alex Rodriguez returned to the lineup in early May after having off season hip surgery. While Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira are favorites to win the AL MVP, the Yankees returned to their winning ways only when A-Rod was put in the cleanup spot. Teixeira was hitting under .200 and feeling the heat in the new Yankee Stadium before A-Rod returned to third base. The Yankees won nearly 70% of their games after the return of A-Rod and that as much as anything else warrants the baseball writers giving him votes for the AL MVP.

Of course, C.C. Sabathia gave the Yankees a bonafide ace and with a league leading 19 wins he could win his second AL Cy Young Award in three seasons (although Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals is considered the frontrunner.) Although I think the case can be made that Mariano Rivera should win the AL Cy Young.

At the age of 39, Rivera has saved 44 games (tying him with Joe Nathan of the Minnesota Twins and Brian Fuentes of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.) Rivera has never won a Cy Young. Relief pitchers traditionally don't win Cy Youngs. The last American League relief pitcher to win the Cy Young was in 1992 when Dennis Eckersley did it with the Oakland Athletics. It should be noted that Rivera finished runner up to Bartolo Colon in 2005 and finished third in the balloting in 1996, 1999 and 2004. So he'll get votes. As some believe Jeter winning the AL MVP would be sort of a lifetime achievement award the same argument could be made for Rivera regarding the AL Cy Young.

The emergence of Phil Hughes as Rivera's set up man somewhat quieted talk of why Joba Chamberlain was in the Yankees starting rotation. Robinson Cano had a much improved season with 200 hits and counting. Nick Swisher also proved to be a nice addition to the Yankees outfield and the clubhouse.

The Yankees will face the winner of the AL Central Division which will either be the Detroit Tigers or the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers currently have a two game lead over the Twins. However, the Twins and Tigers will play four games in Detroit beginning tomorrow. Honestly, I don't think it matters who wins the Central because the Yankees will smoke either team.

In which case, the Yankees would face either the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. The Angels have given the Yankees fits over the years and have twice eliminated them from post-season play (2002 and 2005.) A Yankees-Red Sox ALCS would be the first since the Red Sox came back down three games to none.

I was uneasy when the Red Sox won their first eight games against the Yankees this season. Traditionally, the season series is nearly even and there would inevitably be a correction. Sure enough, the Yankees have beaten the Red Sox nine out of their last ten games. Yet at the end of the day the season series will read 9-9 and the ALCS will start out at 0-0 as it always does. But as usual I am getting ahead of myself. So I will stop here.

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