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With the help of a lavish, $423 million wintertime spending spree that landed them Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees have rebounded from their third-place finish of a year ago and have run away in the American League East after passing the Boston Red Sox on July 21.
The Yanks have the best record in the majors. They will become the first team to reach 90 wins, possibly this week. They are a juggernaut, the favorite to host Game 1 of the World Series. (Who knows? Maybe it will be an Amtrak World Series against the Phillies .)
There are a lot of reasons to believe the Yankees will be the AL champion.
"Two hundred million of them," one slightly envious executive chortled on Friday. "They're the best team - the best team money can buy."
There's no doubting that deep pockets have helped the Yanks assemble (and retain) their talented club, but this is not about Baseball's haves and have-nots.
This is about how good the Yankees are.
They lead the AL in runs and homers. They project to have eight players finish with 20-plus homers and 70-plus RBIs. Eight! They have frontline starting pitching, the best closer in the game, and a wealth of postseason experience.
That experience has already come up huge. Shortstop Derek Jeter is having another tremendous season that will likely earn him a place in the top 10 of the league's MVP voting. Catcher Jorge Posada has been on fire lately. Closer Mariano Rivera - 38 for 39 in save chances entering Friday - might be having his best season. All three were part of Yankees' World Series championship teams in 1996 and 1998-2000.
And then there's Andy Pettitte, another four-time World Series winner. Pettitte has had rough times over the last couple of years. His career accomplishments were questioned when it was revealed he used human growth hormone. He issued a public apology in spring training 2008. Last winter, Pettitte dangled as the Yankees debated whether to re-sign him, which they did with a sizable pay cut.
The 37-year-old lefthander has endured. He is 5-0 with a 2.96 ERA over his last seven starts. The Yanks have won all seven of those games, including yesterday's against Toronto.
In terms of talent and stuff, Pettitte would be the Yanks' fourth starter in a postseason rotation. In terms of postseason experience, he'd be their ace. The lefthander is 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA in 35 postseason starts.
Pettitte's experience could be a boon for the Yanks because the balance of their rotation is not exactly filled with postseason stalwarts.
Sabathia has a 7.92 ERA in five postseason starts. The Phillies helped plump up that ERA with five runs against the lefthander in the second inning of Game 2 of last year's NL division series at Citizens Bank Park. Shane Victorino highlighted the rally with a grand slam off Sabathia, then with Milwaukee.
Burnett, who has struggled recently, has never pitched in the postseason. Joba Chamberlain's postseason experience totals 32/3 innings of relief.
So Pettitte could end up being valuable to the Yankees in October, just as he was in 1996, when, at 24, he outdueled Atlanta's John Smoltz in Game 5 of the World Series.
Of course, playoff experience isn't everything in October. Talent rules.
The Chicago White Sox blazed through the 2005 postseason on the backs of pitchers Freddy Garcia, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, and Jose Contreras. Only Garcia had ever started a postseason game before that October.
A young Josh Beckett, then with Florida, showed the importance of talent when he completed his first postseason by shutting out the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.
But there's no denying that postseason experience can help a pitcher. It helped Beckett four years later with Boston, just as the experience Cole Hamels gained in 2007 helped him last year.
Pettitte pitched 81/3 shutout innings in a 1-0 win in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, giving the Yankees a three-games-to-two lead. Afterward, he said he felt as if the Yanks were destined to win the Series, and they did.
With Pettitte, Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and catcher-turned-manager Joe Girardi complementing a nucleus that includes Teixeira (an MVP candidate) and Alex Rodriguez, these Yankees have the feel of the dynasty Yankees of 1996-2000. All that's missing is Joe Torre, who's now managing the Los Angeles Dodgers. As neat as that Amtrak World Series might be for Phillies fans, a Yankees-Dodgers World Series, with Torre facing his old team, would have more spicy subplots.
But we're getting ahead of things here. A lot can happen before the first pitch of the World Series. The Yankees might not even get there. But if they do, they might benefit from experience, Andy Pettitte's included.
Trade deficit While the Cliff Lee trade has been celebrated in Philadelphia, it has been scorned in Cleveland.
Infielder Jason Donald, one of four players the Indians got for Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco, has been on the disabled list in triple A with a back strain.
Pitcher Carlos Carrasco was hammered for six runs, including three homers, in three innings in his big-league debut Tuesday at Detroit.
On top of all this, righthander Jason Knapp, the key piece in the deal, was shut down last week with shoulder soreness. Knapp, a 19-year-old whose fastball reaches the high 90s, is already being referred to as damaged goods in Cleveland.
The Indians wouldn't have much of a leg to stand on if they tried to grieve the trade. Knapp had spent time on the disabled list with tendinitis and discomfort in his shoulder before the trade, and the Indians knew that. Their medical people did their due diligence on his condition and still made the deal. As in all trades, it is buyer beware.
The one hope in all this is that Knapp recovers, comes back healthy, reaches his tremendous potential, and has a great career.
Opportunity seized Cincinnati Reds righthander Justin Lehr had a nice week. The 32-year-old veteran, who had never started a big-league game before being promoted on July 31, improved to 4-1 with a win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
Lehr was also named the International League's pitcher of the year after going 13-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 20 starts with two triple-A clubs. He has a chance to win 20 games before the season is over.
If Lehr's name sounds familiar to Phillies fans, it's because he was in big-league spring-training camp with the club and opened the season pitching for triple-A Lehigh Valley.
In late May, Lehr found himself in a numbers pinch. The Phils promoted Antonio Bastardo to triple A and Lehr was the odd man out. The Phils traded him for cash to the Reds, who assigned him to triple-A Louisville, where he was 8-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 11 starts.
Clearly, Lehr has made the most of his opportunity after leaving the Phillies organization. He has expressed his thanks to the Phillies for dealing him instead of sticking him in the bullpen.
Phillie phodder Being added to the 40-man roster while recovering from elbow surgery was a nice windfall for minor-league reliever John Ennis. The righthander will receive major-league service time and a month's pay at the prorated major-league minimum - about $70,000. Adding Ennis gives the Phils roster flexibility in the postseason, as they can replace him with any player, even one not on the 40-man roster, who was in their system by Aug. 31. . . . Shortstop Freddy Galvis, 19, is just the 11th teenager to play for double-A Reading in the club's 43-year history. Galvis has a sweet set of hands, right there with those of Jimmy Rollins. Phillies scouts Sal Agostinelli, Jesus Mendez, and Carlos Salas began building a relationship with Galvis when he was 14. They signed him for $90,000 when he turned 16. . . . It's clear that the Phillies' bench has been less productive this season than last. How much less? Last year, Phils pinch-hitters hit .253 (64 for 253) and had a .309 on-base percentage. This year, they entered Friday hitting .156 (30 for 192), with a .256 on-base percentage.
Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury
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