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The New York Yankees are about to win their first title in almost a decade

Originally Published: October 6, 2009
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

You'd probably have a tough time convincing, say, Ernie Banks that it's been a lonnnnnggg time since the Yankees won themselves a World Series.

Nine years. Nine. Doesn't seem like much.

To you, maybe.

But in the universe of the mighty Yankees, it feels like a century. About nine centuries, actually.

When you're built to win it all, paid to win it all, ordered to win it all, there isn't much worse in life than not winning it all. So it's been a rough nine years in the Bronx.

In those nine seasons, since the last time they won, the Yankees have laid out (you might want to sit down for this) nearly 1.8 billion in negotiable Steinbrenner-family payroll dollars -- that's more than double the Gross National Product of Liberia -- for teams that have won only one more postseason series in that time than the Marlins.

But here's the good news for those New York Yankees: Their nine-year, $1.8-billion nightmare is about to end.

This is their year. This is their time. The mighty Yankees are about to win it all again. It says so right here.

Now this is where you readers with long memories will point out that this prediction officially dooms the Yankees -- most likely to getting swept in the first round by the Twins.

Yeah, it's true that last year, in this annual exercise in fortune-telling frustration, I picked the Cubs to win the World Series. And they forgot to win a single stinkin' game.

And the year before that? Oops. Picked the Cubs to win that World Series, too. That team also managed to lose 'em all instead of win it all.

So fine. We've established that the Amazing Kreskin I'm not. But just so you know it isn't only me, I polled 16 people from all over baseball in the past week about which team they'd pick to win this year. All but two of them picked the Yankees. So if they don't win, at least I'll have company at the next Not Nostradamus Club meeting.

Why the Yankees? Here's just a sampling of the reasons I heard:

• "A hundred and three wins in the AL East is pretty incredible," said an American League assistant GM.

• "I think the Yankees are the most balanced team in the AL," said another AL assistant. "I think CC [Sabathia] will put his past postseason demons behind him and lead the rotation. The lineup is as deep as any in the AL. And they have some guy named Rivera in the back of the 'pen."

• "They can pitch, and they can hit," said an NL executive. "And when you match them up with anybody, for me they win that matchup."

So where exactly are the gaping holes in this team -- the holes you seem to find in every other club in this field?

The Yankees led the big leagues in runs scored, home runs, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, extra-base hits and walks.

They had the best team ERA, the best second-half ERA and the lowest opponent OPS of all the AL postseason pitching staffs.

They have a closer (Mr. Mariano Rivera, ladies and gentlemen) with a 0.77 postseason ERA.

They're riding the best clubhouse vibe, the best grade in chemistry class, of any Yankees team in maybe a decade.

They put runs on the board at home (5.7 runs per game). They put runs on the board away from home (5.6 per game).

They hit left-handers (.286 AVG./.365 OBP/.480 SLUG). They hit right-handers (.282/.360/.476).

They can bludgeon you early (.828 OPS in the first inning). They can mug you late (15 walkoff wins -- second-most in franchise history).

They win at home (57-24). They win on the road (46-35).

They crush the bad teams (29-12 against the Orioles, A's, Royals and Indians). They beat up the good teams (27-17 against the Angels, Red Sox, Tigers, Twins and Phillies).

They even won a series in Anaheim -- for the first time in five years. And they went 9-1 in their last three series against the Red Sox.

"So when you add it all up," said the same NL executive quoted earlier, "it's hard not to pick the Yankees."

Yep. Couldn't agree more. But …

Where it could all go wrong

Stuff happens. It always happens. Every single October. One crazy bounce of the ball in one October baseball game can shift the alignment of the planets faster than you can say, "Dave Roberts."

Over the past 18 postseasons, dating all the way back to 1990, the team with the best record in baseball has only won the World Series twice. Just the 1998 Yankees and the 2007 Red Sox escaped that hex. So those standings mean zilch right now. Zilch.

And nobody needs to send a math major over to Yankee Stadium to explain that to the Yankees. Of the seven teams to eliminate them in October since the last time they won a World Series, only one (Cleveland, in 2007) won more games in the regular season than they did.

So there's that -- the Stuff Happens Theory. But that's not the only doomsday theory. There's also …

Oh say can you CC

If the Yankees get beat somewhere along the line, said one AL assistant, "I think we'll be talking about their starting pitching." Good bet.

Oh, it's also possible we'll be laughing uproariously at that suggestion in a few weeks. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain could put on a domination festival in this postseason. That's also a definite possibility.

Sabathia, Burnett and Joba averaged nearly eight strikeouts per nine innings this year. And Pettitte has made 35 postseason starts. His team has won 21 of them. But …

Here's the doomsday part:

Just suppose Sabathia loses Game 1 -- of any series, but especially Game 1 of the Division Series.

Uh-oh.

Think how fast the storyline changes. Then CC's 7.92 career postseason ERA becomes the topic in New York. Even more ominous, it means it's up to A.J. Burnett -- their Game 2 starter -- to salvage the season.

Uh-oh.

"I know A.J. has great stuff and everything," said one scout. "I know that. But I wouldn't want my eggs in his basket. He can get thrown off kilter very quickly, and everyone knows it. You get a couple of hitters on early and disrupt him, and he can crater very easily."

So there's A.J. crater, Pettitte's shoulder, Joba's psyche and CC's history to worry about. Or there's always …

A-Rod meets October

For a guy who had major hip surgery and dropped a steroid bomb on the entire sport not so many months ago, Alex Rodriguez has had as easy and as upbeat a ride these past few months as he's ever had as a Yankee.

"I really think the pounding he took early in the year helped him," said one friend of A-Rod. "I think, for the first time in his career, he realized that life -- and his teams -- are about more than just him. I really think he's in a good place. But now we're going to see."

Exactly. Now we're going to see. How long do you think it would take for this tale to shift out of happy-face mode into A-Rod Can't Win The Big One mode if this postseason starts all wrong?

"I'll say 0-for-8," said one scout. "I'll give him two games. One bad game he can write off and say it's just one game. But two games? Especially at home? Trouble."

In that sense, A-Rod is a symbol of all the ghosts that still hover over all the Yankees in this postseason. It's been a fun year. But this is the Yankees. It's no longer Games 1 through 162 that are relevant. It's those eight empty Octobers, 2001 through 2008.

But the good news for him, said another scout, is "he's got so many guys around him now who can pick him up. That's the thing they've got now that they didn't have those other years. This lineup just has so much depth."

And it does. Which might be the biggest reason I'm holding firm on this pick. Nevertheless, there's still one other not-so-minor concern for the Bombers. Namely …

The field

Despite the LDS danger zone posed by The The Metrodome Won't Die Factor, it's hard to find anybody who thinks the Yankees will lose in the first round. In fact, one of the AL assistants quoted earlier called this first-round matchup a potential "all-time walkover."

But after that, it's the Red Sox or Angels. Either team would attempt to turn that series into a track meet. The Angels stole 17 bases in 10 games against the Yankees. The Red Sox swiped 16 in 18 games.

The one member of our panel who took the Red Sox -- an American League GM -- said he sees Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and their bullpen having the ability to shut down the Yankees in a short series. And of course, said the NL exec quoted earlier, all Yankees-Red Sox series are required to "become a five-hour war every night." Where anything is possible.

Meanwhile, the Angels "aren't intimidated by the Yankees," said one scout. "They seem like they're intimidated by the Red Sox. But they're never intimidated by the Yankees." And he's right. The Angels are 19-11 against the Yankees over the past three years, 36-23 over the past six. So that's no Caribbean cruise, either.

If the Yankees survive the AL mine field, though, everyone we polled likes how they match up with whichever NL team makes it to the World Series.

The Cardinals got about two-thirds of the votes to meet them there. But St. Louis is also a team without a left-handed starter. And that's trouble against this lineup.

The Phillies got virtually all the other votes for NL champ. And because the Phillies have an AL-type lineup and a staff that can load up on left-handed starters, they might be the one NL team that can match up with the Yankees.

But on the other hand, a half-dozen other people who were polled don't even see the Phillies -- with their bullpen engine already leaking fuel -- making it past Colorado. So the Yankees may not have to worry about them again 'til next March in Tampa.

Not that they won't find something else to worry about. They're the Yankees. If they can't, their always-helpful media will find something for them.

But it won't be enough to stop them this October (and, we regret to add, November). That's how this fearless forecaster sees it. These Yankees are the best team in baseball. It's about time they prove it.

And that confetti-cleanup crew down in the Canyon of Heroes -- unemployed for the past 102 consecutive months -- would be eternally grateful if they do.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com