- Last Updated: 9:44 AM, April 4, 2012
- Posted: 12:12 AM, April 4, 2012
Most years, you think about the Yankees and the American League and the image that springs to mind is Forrest Gump on the football field, legs churning, head up, running straight ahead through the heart of the enemy, not much caring about who’s in the way, or what their intentions are.
Run, Forrest! Run!
This is a different challenge. The AL is no longer softer than a tomato can’s jaw, no longer meekly compliant to the Yankees’ wishes. There have been years when it seemed every time you looked up, the Yankees were dropping 12 runs on the A’s, or taking batting practice against the Royals, or treating the Orioles like worn-out sparring partners.
But lookie here: the AL is a beast now. The AL East? It was already a cauldron of competition, the Rays and the Red Sox providing 36 tests of mettle and masochism, and now you have the Blue Jays rising as a mega-market power and even the Orioles don’t look like pre-Hobbs New York Knights anymore.
Fun fact I: The last three years, the Yankees are 39-15 against the Orioles. Extend that to 10 years, and the record is 122-62. They are 104-79 against the Blue Jays in that time. On average, that means the Yankees begin every year with a minimum of 22 wins in their back pocket.
That’s a helpful jump-start to 90 that you might not even have known was there.
Look out west: to Anaheim, where the addition of Albert Pujols means the Yankees no longer have sole claim to the best player of the generation in Alex Rodriguez ... and also no longer have the indisputable, impossible-to-top, worst contract in baseball. To Arlington, Texas, home of the first back-to-back AL champions since the Yankees finished their reign of 1998-2001, which added Yu Darvish, which was a strike away from winning the whole shebang a year ago.
Look toward flyover country, where the Tigers added Prince Fielder and may well pack even more punch than the Yankees do, where the Royals and their ballyhooed farm system are expected to produce a legitimate major-league franchise for the first time since before the strike, where the White Sox still have some arms and the Indians had enough to own first place for four months last year, where the Twins are starting to get their version of the M&M Boys back.
Suddenly, we are reminded of another movie scene, this one from “The In-Laws,” where Peter Falk and Alan Arkin are trying to avoid the bullets of a band of desperadoes and Falk’s CIA operative, Vince, has a simple piece of advice for Arkin’s dentist, Sheldon.
“Run serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!”
Fun fact II: The Yankees’ average record across the last 10 years is 97.5-64.5. If that sounds pretty dominant, it should: the only other 10-year period in Yankee history that produced more a more dominant mark was 1996-2005, which yielded a 98.2-win average a number that’s skewed by the 114-win team from 1994.
Does this mean the Yankees will struggle to make the playoffs?
Maybe. But here’s the thing: where is it written than making the playoffs isn’t supposed to be a struggle? The Yankees are still as well-equipped and well-fortified to take on the 162-game examination as anyone; they are excellent up the middle ‹ name three teams that can surpass the Yankees’ Fab Four of Russell Martin, Robbie Cano, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson ‹ and deep in both the rotation and the bullpen.
They play in a ballpark perfectly designed for their power-surge batting order.
“I think we’re as balanced as you could ask for,” Brian Cashman said late in spring training. “I like our makeup and our character. And I really like these players.” He should. The Yankees are awfully good. There’s a hell of a lot to like about them.
And if it means they have to work a little harder to get to 95 wins? Will you enjoy the ride any less? If anything, it should allow you feel what most fans are allowed to feel at the end of a successful season:
satisfaction instead of relief. Now that would be something.