Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Previewing the Playoffs: The American League, Part One

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 1:17 PM

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So not too long ago I previewed the most likely playoff teams in the National League, trying to assess how much of a threat each one might be to the Cardinals come October time. Well, in the interest of completeness, and to try and educate my readership as best I possibly can, today I'm going to take a look around the junior circuit and make a bold, can't-possibly-go-wrong prediction as to who I think will be the Cardinals' punching bag in the playoffs. (Hey, I'm feeling expansive today. Smacking the shit out of the Astros will do that to you. Just let me have my momentary optimism, okay?) 

I'm not going to try and put these in order based on how good they are or anything like that, as by the time the Cardinals might see any of these teams it no longer really matters which one is the most dangerous, so let's just make like the Sun and move East to West, shall we? 
American League East: New York Yankees

The Yankees are the only team in baseball to have already sewn up their playoff spot, and honestly, that isn't a fluke, or the product of a bad division. If the Yankees aren't the best team in baseball this year, they are almost assuredly as least the most complete, a team with very few weak points. Of course, that's what the biggest payroll in the game will buy you; whatever Bud Selig and his cronies in the MLB offices may say, the playing field is not level, nor will it ever be. 

Offense
click to enlarge Is there a reason to have this picture here? Not really. But I think it's kind of funny, so it stays.
  • Is there a reason to have this picture here? Not really. But I think it's kind of funny, so it stays.
This is where the Yankees really shine; their ability to simply club teams into submission with their big bats is virtually unparalleled. Derek Jeter is having a career year with the bat, Mark Texeira is actually proving to be worth the contract lavished on him in the offseason, and Jorge Posada just refuses to get old and stop hitting. Even more impressive than the top-end talent the Yankees have, though, is the depth of their roster. Of their nine regulars, the only player posting an OPS below .850 is Melky Cabrera, their center fielder. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have only two players out of eight posting an OPS that high

Beyond just the talent level, the Yankees are also a very smart offensive team, with very few free swingers. Robinson Cano refuses to take a walk, but he also hits .320 and has 23 home runs on the season. Outside of Cano, though, every other Yankee hitter has a patient, sound approach at the plate. And power? Cabrera is the only regular slugging under .450. 

Bottom line, the Yankees will bash your brains in with their lineup. It's the deepest lineup in all of baseball, and the elite talent is there as well. You want a reason to be really, really scared of the Yankees? Well, here it is. 

Defense

New York is a decent defensive club, though not a great one. Mark Texeira has made a huge difference to the infielders with his ability to dig poor throws out of the dirt. Tex and Albert are the best defensive first basemen in each of their respective leagues, hands down. The rest of the infield is okay but not great, with Cano probably the weakest of the three. He's not a butcher, by any means, but tends to be inconsistent with his throws and footwork. 

The outfield is a bit iffy, with Johnny Damon in left field continuing to lose range and arm strength at an alarming rate. Cabrera is good in center, and Nick Swisher is underrated in right field. This is a defense that won't hurt the pitchers, but also won't bail them out of trouble very often. 

Pitching 

The Yankee rotation is a talented one, anchored by CC Sabathia at the top. Sabathia is a true ace, and one of the leading contenders for the AL Cy Young this season. He's overpowering at times, with mid-90s heat and a nasty slider to boot. Even at 37, Andy Pettitte continues to roll right along, tossing solid ball all year long. Beyond the lefties, though, it gets a little more interesting. A.J. Burnett has some of the best stuff in the game, but has always struggled with consistency. This year has been no different; he was bad in May, brilliant in July, and has been exactly half and half for August and September. In four September starts, Burnett has given up six runs twice and one run twice. Joba Chamberlain is an enigma himself, possessed of some of the best stuff to ever grace a baseball mound but maddeningly inconsistent. A guy with his stuff should never have a WHIP of 1.5. Of course, he is still only 23 years old, but the point remains. 

In the bullpen, well, there's really only one thing to say: Mariano Rivera. Rivera is probably the greatest closer in baseball history, and he doesn't look to be slowing down too very much in his old age. Philip Hughes has been a revelation in the setup role, further depressing me the Cardinals never found a way to get him. Beyond Rivera and Hughes, the Yankee bullpen is solid but unspectacular. Still, with those two staring at you from the back end, getting behind isn't a very good option. 

Overall 

As I said before, the Yankees are probably the best team in baseball, thanks in large part to their ability to simply outspend every other team. They're a remarkably deep team, with solid top-end talent as well. Let me put it this way: if the Yankees don't make it to the World Series, the world may very well end. Just saying. 

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