At this point, the Yankees will likely be joined in the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Rays, the Texas Rangers, and the Minnesota Twins. The only one of those teams with a worse rotation than the Yankees is the Twins, and even that’s arguable. They might not be top-heavy (their ace this year has been Carl Pavano!), but the Yankees would take Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, or Kevin Slowey in a heartbeat. Not that the Yankees should be particularly terrified of the Twins: They’re 14-2 against Minnesota (counting postseason) over the past two years.
The Twins are certainly preferable to the Yankees’ other possible ALDS opponent, the Rangers, with their bona fide Yankee killer, Cliff Lee, the man who shut down the team in the World Series last year and their No. 1 off-season free-agent target. (The Yankees and Lee have been leering at each other for so long they’re like a Mormon couple waiting to consummate a marriage.) With the Yankees’ rotation problems, the nightmare scenario involves losing Game 1, despite Sabathia, then having to rely on the mystery second starter to keep them out of a massive hole.
If the Yankees do advance, they’ll likely face the Rays, a team that can match up with Sabathia in Game 1 (with David Price), has better secondary starters (Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, James Shields), plays equally good defense, and has an offense that’s just a tick or so behind the Yankees’—not to mention a virtually identical record to the Yanks’.
The Yankees have had a wonderful season, and because of Cashman’s prudence and measured decision-making, they’re set up to continue their domination for years to come, even as players like Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte age and ultimately retire. The Yankees are currently operating at an optimum level: in first place at the big-league level and investing in a farm system that will keep the model sustainable for the next decade. Next year, Cliff Lee (and Carl Crawford?) will more than likely join a restocked Yankees team, replete with (maybe) top prospect Jesus Montero and new superstar Cano, for another run to the playoffs, and then another after that, and another after that. That’s franchise-building, and Cashman has finally mastered it. But, as we may find out soon, that shit don’t work in the playoffs.