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Friday, August 23, 2013
My god, the Yankees might make playoffs

By David Schoenfield

Like any true-blooded American who didn't grow up rooting for the Yankees, I don't exactly root for them now.

The Yankees have all those World Series pennants, all that arrogance, all that rub-it-in-your face history. Ruth! Gehrig! DiMaggio! Yogi! Mickey! Reggie! Jeter! They've bought championships, tried to buy others. They have the greatest closer of all time and you can't help but like the guy, and that makes you even more chafed.

But this 2013 team ... how are they in this playoff race? How are they 6 games behind the Red Sox and just 3.5 games behind the A's for the second wild card? This team should be 15 games under .500, mopping up the season alongside the likes of the Blue Jays, Twins and Mariners, not battling for a playoff spot.

It's a team you can almost root for -- an underdog, albeit still an underdog with a huge payroll. I did say almost. I mean, Alex Rodriguez is still here. (Cheap shot there. I'm not even rooting all that much against A-Rod at this point.)

You're probably familiar with the litany of disaster that has struck the pinstripes this year, but let's run through it one time and then dull our pain be watching highlights of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series:



Amazingly, the Yankees have just eight players with 1.0 rWAR or higher -- Robinson Cano (5.8), Hiroki Kuroda (5.1), Brett Gardner (2.9), Ivan Nova (2.4), Ichiro Suzuki (2.2), David Robertson (2.2), Mariano Rivera (1.6) and Alfonso Soriano (1.2). Not exactly the 1998 Yankees there.

Above all, aside from the superb performances from Cano and Kuroda and some timely hitting with men on base, the biggest key has been the bullpen -- and not just Rivera. The Yankees have actually lost three games they led heading into the ninth inning, which is exactly the major league average (the 30 teams have combined for 90 losses). Their big advantage has actually come in the middle innings. They've lost just four games they led entering the seventh (MLB average: 7.6) and three they led entering the eighth (MLB average: 5.4).

Collectively, the bullpen is 21-11 and has blown just eight saves (at any point in the game), tied with the Rangers for fewest in the majors. The unsung heroes of this club have been Robertson and Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan and Preston Claiborne.

Fans in Seattle or Kansas City, who haven't seen the playoffs in forever, have to be wondering how a team with over-the-hill Vernon Wells and 36-year-old Lyle Overbay and Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez and Sabathia and mediocre Andy Pettitte can be in this position while their teams are looking at another non-playoff season. It's enough to make you start watching the "Desperate Housewives of Wichita."

Can the Yankees actually make it? Logical analysis says no, even with Soriano tearing it up at the plate and Granderson back and hitting well. This weekend's series in Tampa is a big one, and then they go to Toronto (and they're 12-1 against the Jays this year; thank you, Blue Jays). They still have seven games against Boston and six against Baltimore -- but they also have series against the awful White Sox, Giants and Astros.

One thing I've learned: Never, ever bet against the Yankees.

The rest of the AL should have kicked them while they had the chance.