Everybody loves an underdog story. All great sports movies derive from disgruntled and wayward players coming together to create an improbable title run (except for The Bad News Bears, who finished in second place.) The 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team remains the largest underdog in Olympic history, consisting of a bunch of college kids facing off against professional, and proven, European ice superpowers. Even Finding Nemo fits the dark horse stereotype!
Unfortunately, these scenarios are few and far between in reality. As much as we want the new look Yankees to finish 162-o this regular season, it won’t happen. Instead, let’s examine a few of the common themes from previous World Series winners (mainly the last five, for brevity’s sake) and see how close the Bombers are to replicating these feats.
The players must be nearing their prime ages. Over the past five seasons, every World Series-winning team has had an average team age between 27 and 30; this year the Yanks average age is 28.7. Additionally, the main power producer was at or above the age of 28, except for Buster Posey at the age of 25 in 2012. In this regard, the Yankees have satisfied this requirement, as sluggers Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira, and dare I say Alex Rodriguez are all past their prime but not over the hill. For the WS victors, the (from most recent) Red Sox, Giants, Cardinals, Giants again, and Yankees, each team (except for the anomalistic 2012 Giants) had a batter older than 33 produce prodigious power numbers, with David Ortiz, Lance Berkman, Aubrey Huff, and Hideki Matsui. Basically, the Yankees will have at least one of the aforementioned Bronx hitters lead the club with significant offensive totals.
Catchers must contribute. Using the same champions, each team had offensively-minded catchers with potent bats, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Buster Posey (twice), Yadier Molina, and Jorge Posada all swinging a decent stick. Interestingly, all of the catchers were average in terms of gunning out basestealers. No catcher threw out more than 30% of swipers, except for Posey once, in 2010. For good measure, Carlos Ruiz of the 2008 Phillies and Jason Varitek of the 2007 Red Sox follow the same trend. This year, with Brian McCann arriving with the Yankees, the catcher’s position strikes fear into the pitcher’s heart for the first time in several years. Bottom line: it is more important to create runs that to prevent people from reaching second or third base. After all, has a player ever won MVP solely for his defensive prowess?
A solid game must end with a lights-out closer. Imagine a manager having difficulty sticking with a closer… for an entire 162 games? Then imagine, after somehow making the playoffs, the skipper still being unable to commit to a closer for the rest of the playoffs? Disastrous, to say the least. Coaches and players alike love handing off the ninth inning, the most crucial inning, to somebody who will, for sure, close the game. As usual, that 2012 team is different (the Bay Area team used two closers in Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo, both of whom were effective). However, the other closers of the last seven years were studs: Koji Uehara, Fernando Salas, Brian Wilson, Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge, and Jonathan Papelbon also shut the ninth inning door contest after contest. Assuming David Robertson settles nicely into his new closer digs, he could become a very dependable endgame option.
Basically, the Yankees aren’t quite World Series bound. If history does in fact repeat itself, then a team with these components should go far in October. However, the New New York Yankees seem to be much improved from last year, and provide a winning atmosphere and championship postseason experience. No doubt the Yankees will be fun to watch; if all the offseason pieces fall neatly into place, then the 2014 season could be a very pleasant “underdog” to watch.