11:25 am Sep. 27, 2012
No matter what happens over the final seven games of the 2012 regular season, the Baltimore Orioles are surprising the baseball world in a way few teams have.
But the Yankees are simply winning, as they should, right on schedule.
After an 18-9 August by the Orioles made the American League East essentially a break-even race, the Orioles have followed with a 16-9 September. Holding off a team playing that well is extraordinarily difficult. With most of the month over, the Yankees have done so with room to spare.
The Yankees moved to 15-9 in September themelves with an 8-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins. CC Sabathia dominated, with 10 strikeouts over eight innings. Yankee backups like Chris Dickerson, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez have homered in recent days; Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson each had extra-base hits in Wednesday night's win. Everybody is pulling their weight.
The starting pitching has gotten stronger as the month went on, thanks in large part to Andy Pettitte, though the team has still seen struggles, particularly at the rotation's back end. The relievers have been generally reliable.
But the hitting, this team's best asset all year and the primary source of their August slump, has been especially effective over this recent stretch, averaging more than six runs per game over the past seven, a 5-2 stretch for the Yankees. Considering that includes wins of 10-7 and 10-9, that makes the offensive surge vital. Considering that losing those two games would have meant the Yankees trailed in the A.L. East, that makes the offensive surge the likely difference between an easy playoff path, and a difficult one.
And the offense is what will be coming, intact, with the Yankees into the playoffs. The rotation doesn't need to go five-deep once the playoffs start; a Sabathia/Pettitte/Hiroki Kruoda combo will be just fine, with a Phil Hughes start as needed, depending on how the off days fall. The offense should only get better as Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira return; both are expected back shortly.
They're a couple of wins (or Orioles losses) away from being able to rest players and set their postseason rotation up as they see fit. It was the expected outcome for the Yankees back when their lead in the A.L. East was a luxurious ten games; things are almost back to normal in the Bronx.