This wasn't supposed to be Yankees' season. After missing out on Cliff Lee and watching the Fraud Sawx beef up their lineup with Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Yankees were pretty much written off for 2011 as a team who would battle for the Wild Card and be an afterthought in the postseason, if they even made it, because of the weak pitching staff. It was all aboard on the Philly and Bahhston bandwagons and about as much as a team with a $200 million payroll can, the Yankees were an afterthought as the offseason wore on.
Cash rebounded from the Lee miss and filled the gaps on the roster with cheap, veteran alternatives. Freddy Garcia was brought in on a Minor League deal to compete for a rotation spot. Bartolo Colon was pulled out of Witness Protection in the Dominican Winter League and also offered a non-guaranteed deal to try to make the team. Russell Martin was signed on the cheap to be the bridge to Jesus as catcher. Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez were added on 1-year deals to fortify the bench. And Rafael Soriano, for better or worse, was handed a big contract to beef up the bullpen. All of these moves went largely unnoticed and were largely underappreciated, especially by people like me, and the Yankees headed into the 2011 season as a $200 million underdog.
Fast forward to today. Yes, the season is over and there will be no more Yankee baseball in 2011, but if you look at it objectively, it's not unfair to say that the Yankees had a better season than almost everybody expected and had a better season than those of the Fraud Sawx or Phillies. Philly suffered the same fate as the Yanks, losing their ALDS series in 5 games, but did it as a much bigger favorite than the Yankees were, and the Fraud Sawx failed to even make the postseason after suffering the worst September collapse in baseball history (still fun to say that). The Yankees used their collection of cheap signings, returning players, and strong farm system to turn themselves into the team with the best record in the American League, and did it in a year where they had just as many obstacles to overcome as everybody else.
They experienced down years from Teix and A-Rod, the #3 and #4 hitters in the lineup, thanks to a combination of injuries and pull happiness. They watched Phil Hughes, expected to be their #2 starter this year, deteriorate and spend the bulk of the season on the DL with shoulder problems. They watched Jorge Posada continue to devolve into a platoon player as he transitioned to DH. They lost Joba for the season. They lost Soriano for a big chunk of time. They had Derek Jeter struggle early and then hit the DL in the summer. They watched a repeat performance of Bad A.J. chew up another 190 innings in the rotation.
But they also saw Curtis Granderson have a career year, MVP-caliber even, from the 2-hole in the lineup. They saw Robbie Cano quietly repeat his monster production from 2010. They had CC continue to be the big-time ace that they paid for a few years ago, leading the AL in pitching WAR and putting in another Cy Young-caliber performance. They had Jeter come back like a man possessed from his injury and hit over .330 for the rest of the year. They had Mo still being Mo as the closer, and D-Rob taking a huge leap to the top of the relief pitcher mountain. They got an all-around solid rebuild year from Russell Martin behind the plate, likely to lead to him being the starting catcher for the near future. They got a combined 311 innings of 5.1-WAR pitching from Garcia and Colon, 2 guys who weren't expected to do much of anything. They got solid production from young guys like Ivan Nova, Hector Noesi, Eduardo Nunez, and Jesus Montero, painting a brighter picture of the future moving forward.
It didn't end in a World Series victory, something that is always the measuring stick for the Yankees each season. But in a year like this, where even the most diehard fans and smartest analytical baseball minds amongst us were resigned to the fact that this team more than like WOULDN'T reach the World Series before the season even began, I think there's nothing wrong with that. This team exceeded most of our expectations, and they did it with contributions from players who weren't expected to do much and without contributions from some of the most important players on the team. Making the playoffs in baseball is damn hard to do, let's not lose sight of that. And in a year where plenty of people didn't even have confidence that the Yankees would do that, you have to look at the final result and call it a success.
Everybody deserves credit for what this team accomplished this season, and we as fans should appreciate the job that this crew did. It sucks that they didn't make it all the way, but the results of this year should serve as a reminder that the Yankees are still one of the best teams in the business and will continue to be one of the best moving forward. If anything, the outcome of the 2011 season has me even more confident and excited about the prospects for 2012.
Yankees game 81: Walking off on July 4th
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