The Yankees' path to the playoffs was bulldozed
In case you were wondering, as many were while the Yankees let an August slump eliminate their 10-game lead in the American League East: yes, they're still the favorites to win the A.L. and advance to the World Series.
The Yankees emphatically ended all suspense about the playoffs Wednesday night with a 14-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox and their lame-duck manager, Bobby Valentine.
The win gave the the Yankees a 95-67 final record, which was best in the American League. And they came by it, more or less, by overpowering the competition.
Their offense finished second in the A.L. in runs scored, first in O.P.S. It boasts hitters with an O.P.S.+ better than league average in eight of the team's nine hitters with the most plate appearances, giving them unmatched offensive depth. The one who is below 100, Russell Martin, checks in at a still-reasonable 92, and a poor first half is primarily responsible for his low overall total. And that doesn't even include Ichiro Suzuki, acquired midyear, who gave the Yankees a 114 O.P.S.+.
The pitching finished fifth in the A.L. in E.R.A. But even this understates the level of talent the Yankees will be bringing to the playoffs. In a short series, teams usually start only three pitchers. So while Phil Hughes (E.R.A.+ of 99), Ivan Nova (83) and Freddy Garcia (80) are unlikely to see any time on the mound, certainly not as starters, the Yankees will be starting CC Sabathia (124), Hiroki Kuroda (126) and Andy Pettitte (146) in every playoff game. And their top six relievers--Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley and David Phelps--all boast E.R.A.+ marks of at least 112, with all but Logan at 125 or higher. There's not a weak link in the bunch.
In the playoffs, strange things can happen. That's a product of precisely the small sample size that, for a few weeks in August, produced such anxiety about the Yankees.
But now, the Yankees have home field advantage throughout the A.L. playoffs, and a roster that doesn't seem to offer a below-average link at the plate or on the mound.
When they take the field on Sunday against the winner of Friday's wild card matchup between the Orioles and Rangers, anything can happen. But the inside money will be on the Yankees. As it usually is.