Throughout the 90's, the Yankees ruled October baseball amassing four championships in five years. However, they haven't been to the World Series since 2003, and they haven't made it past the ALDS since 2004.
Despite their efforts to bolster their team to return to postseason glory, the Yankees have fallen short in 2005, 2006, and 2007. 2008 was the first time that the Yankees weren't in the playoffs since '94.
Falling short is what made Brian Cashman step up his efforts in the offseason this year. Cashman's goal was to sign some legitimate pitching, have a solid bench, and have someone who could actually play first base.
He landed free agent aces CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, he traded for 1B/OF Nick Swisher, and he signed free agent Mark Teixeira, the switch hitting first baseman who can actually throw and catch the ball.
As most seasons go, injuries happened, people under performed, and the plan that Cashman and the Yankees had envisioned for returning to October baseball seemed like it might not happen.
The bullpen couldn't hold a lead that the starters had struggled to keep, nor could they get the ball to Mariano Rivera. The big aces, Sabathia and Burnett, weren't living up to their hype, Wang was a mess mentally and physically, and Joba Chamberlain could barely get through four innings every time out.
The lineup was struggling without Alex Rodriguez for the first month or so, and the depth that the Yankees thought they would have was relatively nonexistent.
And then, things took a turn for the better. The rotation got its act together, and Sabathia and Burnett started pitching up to expectations. The bullpen got turned over and Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, and Phil Hughes started shutting down opposing hitters, and turning the ball over to Rivera with great ease.
Alex Rodriguez returned to the lineup which ignited Mark Teixeira and the rest of the Yankee hitters. The Yankees started scoring runs, and put the fear back in opposing pitchers.
More than any of that, the Yankees started to show something that fans haven't seen since the championship years... team chemistry and unity. From Kangaroo Court to the pie in the face after walk off wins, the Yankees look like a team that genuinely enjoys playing baseball together. That may seem like an unimportant aspect, but it has made a huge difference for the Yankees this season.
If the Yankees want to return to October glory they need to keep with all the things that have earned them the best record in baseball.
The pitching staff needs to keep the Yankees in the game. Good pitching is usually the key to teams prevailing in the playoffs, and the Yankees have been without it for some time. Now that they finally have some, they really have a chance to go the distance.
The offense needs to not drop off the face of the earth. They have to manufacture runs when possible and realize that the long ball isn't going to win them a championship.
The years that the Yankees won their championships, they did so not only with home runs, but with bunts, hit and runs, base stealing, and clutch hitting. Those things really matter come October, and the Yankees need to keep them in mind if they want to win.
The team finally has a decent bench to call on. Brett Gardner should be returning from his thumb injury within a week or so, and with him in the lineup, he can steal bases and provide a spark the Yankees may need late in a game.
Not to mention, they have Eric Hinske and Jerry Hairston Jr, whom Cashman traded for in July. They can play a multitude of positions and provide a little pop with their bats. Girardi is going to need to utilize these players correctly, but the fact that he has them at his disposal makes the Yankees that much more of a threat.
The bullpen needs to keep doing what they've been doing since June. Aceves, Coke, Robertson, and Hughes have been pretty much lights out. Bruney has flashes of brilliance and then deflates. If he's not cutting it come October, Girardi is going to have to stick to the guys that are able to get the ball to Mariano, and if Bruney can't be effective he's going to have to deal with sitting on the bench.
For the first time in years, the Yankees have a well put together team that can fend off opponents in a variety of ways. They have a real chance to return to post season glory, and everyone around baseball knows it.
There is no doubt that the Yankees and their fans were starting to wonder if we'd ever see the semblance of a championship team, and it looks like we might finally have one.
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