The Yankees are officially going to have to do it the hard way now, after the Red Sox avoided a potentially historic choke on Saturday, which means surviving the angst-inducing wild-card game on Tuesday and then taking on a team that never loses anymore in the Indians.
So the odds are against them making a deep run in October, but that won’t faze a team that nobody saw coming this season, with its 91 wins and counting.
You can feel it in the clubhouse, hear it in the words of CC Sabathia after he finished his season with a flourish in Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Blue Jays.
“There’s just something about this team,” he said. “The chemistry. It’s a great clubhouse, one of the best I’ve been in. We’re on the right track to being able to put a run together.”
Sabathia doesn’t say such things just to say them. He’s been around the block, from the pain of blowing a 3-1 lead in the ALCS with the Indians to the glory of winning a World Series with the Yankees, so he has a feel for what it takes to win in October.
He notes that Aaron Judge has galvanized the offense again with his hot September, making the Yankees dangerous heading into the post-season, and believes the bullpen can make them especially tough to beat, in the manner of the Indians a year ago.
“That’s the strength of our team,” he said. “That’s what you want at this time of year.”
What he doesn’t say is that the old guy, as Sabathia enjoys calling himself these days, is no small factor himself, as he continues to enjoy a career renaissance at age 37, finishing off a season on Saturday that was nearly as unexpected as what Judge has done.
Indeed, in going 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA, the big lefty put together his best season since 2012. And more remarkably, since that knee scare in Toronto on Aug. 8th had him worrying his career might be over, he hasn’t taken a loss, going 5-0 with a 2.91 ERA over eight starts.
With his knee brace once again working its magic, in fact, Sabathia has been so solid that if he’s the No. 4 starter behind Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Masahiro Tanaka, you can make the argument the Yankees have a starting rotation as deep as any of the four teams in the AL playoffs.
In fact, Joe Girardi made the case that the Yankees’ starting pitching is being overlooked a bit, overshadowed really, by their home-run power, as they now lead the league with 237 long balls, including Judge’s 52nd on Saturday that was a sight to behold – a 484-foot rocket into the left-field bleachers.
“Yes, we have power and we score runs,” Girardi said, “but we have a pitching staff capable of getting on a run for us.”
In the postseason, especially, where off-days abound, the Yankees won’t need length from their starters. If they can do what Sabathia did on Saturday, holding the Blue Jays scoreless into the sixth inning, the bullpen is equipped to do the rest.
But here’s the thing: Sabathia has been so consistent that you wonder if Girardi will consider having him start Game 2 on Friday in Cleveland – if the Yankees get to the ALDS.
Remember, Severino won’t be available until Game 3 on Sunday, after pitching the wild-card game. It appeared Girardi lined up Gray to pitch Game 1 and Tanaka Game 2 – which would leave Game 4 for Sabathia.
And certainly Tanaka made his own statement of sorts that he’s ready for the postseason with his 15-strikeout performance on Friday, yet his home/road splits are so striking that I’m sure Girardi will take note.
Tanaka is 4-7 with a 6.48 ERA in his road starts this season, compared to 9-5 with a 3.22 ERA at home. Even more troubling, his WHIP (walks and hits per inning) is 1.011 at home, 1.500 on the road.
Sabathia, meanwhile, has pitched to a 3.18 ERA on the road, compared to 4.20 at home even after yesterday’s start.
As much as Girardi leans on such statistics, it will be surprise if he doesn’t save Tanaka to pitch Game 4 at home, and go with Sabathia in Cleveland.
Wherever all of that leads, Sabathia has pitched well enough that the Yankees might be well-served to try and bring him back, now that his mega-deal has run out, on a one-year contract next season.
As much as Sabathia seems to love pitching here, it’s probably something he’d consider.
For now, though, he’s just enjoying the ride into another October that even he didn’t expect.
As he put it: “It’s fun to sit back, be the old guy and watch these young guys do their thing.”
As Sabathia spoke at his locker on Saturday, it was clear he believes these Yankees have a lot more baseball ahead of them. If that proves true, the old guy likely will continue to play a big part.