David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Listening to Derek Jeter after games recently, it's hard not to imagine him in a ROTC uniform, much like Kevin Bacon's "Animal House" character Chip Diller, trying to quiet the rising panic building around the Yankees.
"Stay calm -- all is well" makes for a nice September slogan, and Jeter, owner of five World Series rings, is not much for hysterics. But we all know what happened to the arm-waving Chip -- the galloping crowd flattened him.
Don't expect that to happen to Jeter and the Yankees, despite a lineup hitting like cardboard cutouts lately and a freakish rash of injuries that tend to make people wonder if the worst is yet to come. So here are five reasons to believe the Yankees will rally off the ropes to the American League East title.
1. Dancing in September. Relying on the schedule is not a foolproof way to skate into the postseason, but the Yankees do have a slight edge down the stretch. Their remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .503 (414-409) and after the upcoming four-game series with the Orioles, which begins Thursday at Camden Yards, the only real challenge left is three at home against the Rays. The Yankees get seven more with the Blue Jays, and they also have the weakest single opponent left in the Twins (56-81). As for the Rays, their opposition's percentage is .528 (429-384) -- including the Rangers and White Sox -- and the Orioles' foes are at .515, with a nine-game road swing left through Oakland, Seattle and Boston.
2. On the Mark. Just when the Yankees believed they were past Mark Teixeira's wrist woes, the switch-hitting first baseman pulled up lame with a calf strain that has kept him out since Aug. 27. Of course, the Yankees were burned that same night when Eric Chavez couldn't field a low pickoff throw that led to the winning run, and they haven't been the same since, losing six of nine. If Teixeira can return this weekend, as the Yankees hope, he'll immediately add depth and flexibility to a lineup desperately needing both, while giving Joe Girardi an excuse to stop playing mad scientist with the healthy pieces he does have.
3. OK, for starters. The Yankees have weathered two DL stints from CC Sabathia as well as the two-month absence (and counting) of Andy Pettitte, yet their rotation's 4.05 ERA was still fifth best in the AL heading into Wednesday's series finale against the Rays. That's still better than the White Sox (4.21), the Rangers (4.22) and Orioles (4.54). Staying in games hasn't been a problem, even though winning them has.
4. The Binder abides. Sure, Girardi may tend to overanalyze things on occasion, prompting him backtrack on a few lineup decisions, such as Curtis Granderson in the leadoff spot. But Girardi remains a smart game tactician, knows how to manage a bullpen, and tends to keep a lid on any combustible language during this volatile stretch. The Yankees usually follow suit, and at this time of year, the blowups are better directed at the umpires rather than showing any other signs that could be construed as melting under the pressure.
5. No Mo, no problem. Crucial to any team's September survival is a reliable back end to the bullpen, and Rafael Soriano has made losing Mariano Rivera seem like a minor inconvenience this season. Soriano is 36-for-39 in save opportunities, and rebounded from his most recent one with arguably the most dominant of the year. Nothing staggers a wobbly club like a blown save down the stretch, and as difficult as it has been for the Yankees to score enough for a lead these days, Soriano has proved himself a capable security blanket.