We all know a division title is not the ultimate goal for the team with baseball's highest payroll. So how can the Yankees win it all?
1. Root for the Twins to overtake the Tigers for the AL Central crown:
The Yankees should beat either of these teams in the ALDS, but Detroit has something Minnesota doesn't: Justin Verlander. The 19-game winner could dominate a five-game series, especially one with three off days. He's that good. Verlander has a 1.29 ERA in two starts against the Yankees this season, although the Yankees won one of those games. The Twins can't match that.
2. Pick the ALDS with three off days, but not for the reason you think:
Baseball should change this rule, because it's a no-brainer that the team with the best record is going to want more off-days. Just give it to them. The Yankees should choose it. Not just because it will keep them from having to use four starters, but because it will allow them to use Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera for more pitches and innings. Instead of locking up the eighth and ninth, now that combo can lock up the seventh, eighth and ninth. That's a huge advantage.
3. Pick Andy Pettitte to start Game 2 over A.J. Burnett:
Let's see. Pettitte has started 35 times in the postseason, Burnett zero. Pettitte is reliable, Burnett is not. The Game 2 starter also would start Game 5. Whom do you want in an elimination game? If Pettitte's shoulder can withstand two full-on outings in a five-day span, he's the one.
4. Find a way to keep Joba Chamberlain busy until Game 4 of the ALCS:
What to do with Joba in the ALDS? Put him in the bullpen? Leave him off the roster? Make him the third announcer in the booth with John and Suzyn? If all goes well for the Yankees, Chamberlain could go weeks between appearances. For that reason, he should be in the bullpen in the first round. But don't get the idea he can be a lights-out reliever, because he hasn't done it in a year and a half. If the Yankees are trailing in a game and you need some innings eaten up, use him. It will help you in the next round.
5. Root for the Angels to beat the Red Sox:
Yes, we know the Yankees never beat the Angels, but that's in five-game series. The Yankees' pitching and lineup depth is superior to past years and they should do better in a seven-game ALCS. Those two wins in Anaheim earlier this month should have done a lot to soothe the Yankees' fears about the Rally Monkey's favorite team. The Angels don't have Boston's awesome 1-2 punch of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, either of whom at his best could throttle the Yankees. And the Red Sox don't just think they can beat the Yankees, they know it (you can't get all giddy about the Yankees winning nine of the last 10 meetings between the teams unless you agree that Boston's winning the first eight is just as important). Yankees-Red Sox would be the best series from a theater sense, but spending the middle three games of a Yankees-Angels ALCS in laid-back SoCal would be better for those Yankees who are somewhat fragile of psyche in October.
Yes, we're talking about you, A-Rod, which leads us to . . .
6. Make sure Kate Hudson attends every postseason game:
Alex Rodriguez seems genuinely more relaxed than at any point during his Yankees tenure. We're going to give the credit to the Oscar-nominated actress ("Almost Famous"). Whatever the reason, A-Rod will need to be Zen-like because you just know the October spotlight is going to find him in a very big spot.
7. Make sure Joe Girardi doesn’t revert to a humorless automaton:
It might work for Tom Coughlin, but the players need to know that Joe Girardi isn't going to tense up in his first postseason as manager. He's done a terrific job of loosening up in Year Two in the Bronx. If he gets tighter as the games get hotter, he could become the Yankees' version of Grady Little instead of a worthy successor to Joe Torre. Girardi also has shown a gambler's confidence in handling his bullpen, which will be key in the postseason.
8. Avoid an intensity letdown in the World Series:
A series against the Angels or Red Sox likely will be plenty grueling, just as the Yankees' last successful ALCS appearance was. In 2003, they beat the Red Sox on Aaron Boone's home run but lost to wild-card Florida in the World Series. The Yankees can beat any NL team, but St. Louis would be the toughest matchup for one reason: Albert Pujols. The best matchup for the Yankees might be the Phillies, with their patchwork bullpen and homer-friendly stadium that will remind the Yankees of their own home bandbox. The most intriguing and emotional matchup would be Torre and the Dodgers. The Rockies (or Braves) wouldn't be a worthy foe for any of the AL powerhouses.