By Michael Parente
Yankees GM Brian Cashman has added serious pop to New York's lineup with the free-agent signings of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury. Welcome back to the mid-2000s!
Even in the aftermath of their most irrelevant season since they kicked Mel Allen out of the broadcast booth for no reason whatsoever, the Yankees remain baseball’s most polarizing franchise by simply opening their checkbook and making it rain like Pacman Jones in midtown Manhattan.
Every free-agent signing, trade or bowel movement by the Yankees elicits one of two reactions – the vapid “27 rings/mystique and aura” analysis from the pink-hat portion of the fan base, or the equally-insufferable, rose-colored criticism from contrarians convinced the team can’t possibly win more than 71 games without five Bob Gibsons in its starting rotation.
Every team, every season has some pitching needs, and in the rare event a team thinks it has too much pitching when it flies north, it inevitably finds itself scrambling for healthy arms in April when its No. 2 starter or ace reliever winds up under the knife.
Around this same time every season, we’re told pitching wins championships. The Detroit Tigers held the Red Sox scoreless for the first 14 innings of this year’s ALCS until one swing by Ortiz turned the series on its ear. The Red Sox only scored runs in four of the first 27 innings and still found themselves up 2 games to 1 heading into Game 4. Pitching, schmitching – big hits win championships, and few players have gotten more big hits in October than Beltran, a lifetime .333 postseason hitter with an unearthly 1.128 OPS in 51 playoff at-bats. That’s better than Ortiz or anyone else you want to compare him to. For further reference, he’s hit 16 playoff home runs, too – one fewer than Ortiz in 31 fewer postseason games.
The Yankees failed to make the playoffs last year because they couldn’t hit, not because they didn’t have enough pitching. They finished with a team ERA of 3.94, only two spots behind Boston and slightly below the American League average of 3.99. The pitching was more than adequate. The ghastly team on-base percentage of .304 and 25th-ranked OPS of .686 with runners on base was not.
With Beltran, Ellsbury and McCann in the fold, this year’s lineup will invoke memories of the perennial Joe Torre playoff teams from 2002 through 2007, which were always good enough to slug their way to the postseason. We tend to pooh-pooh that stretch because of their playoff failures, but during those six years, the Yankees won at least 94 games each season while finishing among the top three in the AL in runs per game despite ERAs north of 4 in five of those six seasons. Even if the Steroid Era has long since passed, the idea of bashing your way into the playoffs is a proven formula for success in the Bronx, and getting there sure as hell beats sitting at home watching, so if the Yankees have inched closer to returning to the postseason by stacking their lineup with real talent, they’ve already won half the battle.
You can’t put the cart before the horse in baseball. You can’t set your playoff rotation without getting there, and you can’t get there if you can’t hit your way out of the inevitable doldrums associated with a 162-game season. Even the 2011 Cardinals with four double-digit winners in their starting rotation needed a dramatic ninth-inning jolt off the bat of David Freese facing elimination in the World Series. This year’s Yankees need hitting and they’ve spent a lot of money to ensure they’ll be stronger and deeper in 2014.
These are the Yankees we should’ve learned to appreciate during the latter half of Torre’s tenure in the Bronx. They’re relevant again, even if it took more paper than patience to get there.
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