Despite all current visual evidence to the contrary, the New York Yankees' postseason hopes are still very much intact (man, that sounded weird). But as everyone south of the imaginary Red Sox/Yankees border knows all too well, it's not getting into the playoffs that matters, it's taking home the World Series Trophy that defines a successful season in the Bronx. So let's examine the reasons why or why not the Yankees can be successful in October.
Reason #1 Why: No team has done more to improve their roster since April
Clemens, Hughes, Duncan, Molina, Betemit, Chamberlain, Ramirez. It's incredulous at this point that some were actually counting on Pavano, Cairo, Nieves, Myers, et al to contribute to this team. No major changes to the starting lineup, but 1 through 25 the Yankees have taken huge steps towards improving the roster during the season.
Reason #1 Why Not: They're not forcing the action
No team is better at waiting the pitcher out and getting on base combined with power, but too often there is no attempt to force the action on offense. Other AL contenders (Angels, Tigers, Red Sox, Mariners, Indians) are all better at "manufacturing" runs or making plays than the Yanks, in spite of some statistics to the contrary (NYY's 99 SBs rank 4th in the AL). In the post-steroid era, more aggressive offensive play does seem to matter more.
Reason #2 Why: Who cares how bad Mussina is?
The new postseason schedule will allow teams to get away with a short pitching staff even more than in previous years. Wang, Pettitte and Clemens are going to get almost all the postseason starts and can prepare for six inning stints which will maximize effectiveness.
Reason #2 Why Not: Good pitching beats them
Kazmir, Guthrie, Halladay, Escobar, and Verlander (twice) are all top 20 in the AL ERA and have all beaten the Yanks since the All-Star break. These are the guys you have to face every game in the playoffs.
Reason #3 Why: The Bullpen
Despite Torre's inability to think further than the next out in managing a pitching staff (see: Scott Proctor getting used and thrown away and the strict "Joba Rules" that Cashman and crew have mandated for their prized, yet tenderly young, phenom), there is a lot of reason for optimism this year. Chamberlain to Vizcaino to Rivera is as good a bullpen bridge as the Yanks have had in recent memory, and that allows for high ceiling types such as Ramirez and Farnsworth to work the other situations.
Reason #3 Why Not: The Bullpen
Time has finally caught up with Mo Rivera's ability to shut down teams over multiple innings. I used to think that they should play the outfield at shallow depth behind Rivera since the only way opposing batters got on base was broken-bat bloopers to the outfield. No longer. Mo is letting up a .367 SLG this year, which doesn't sound like much until you realize that his highest previous SLG against is .300. In addition, there is no reliable lefty.
So what does this all add up to? We'll all have to wait and see if it even matters.
By the way, 94 wins (22-9 the rest of the way) is what it's going to take to get in.