There is a perception that the Yankees deliberately lost games in order to face the Twins in the American League Division Series.
Of course, if it were true it worked like a charm. The Yankees entered the ALDS as the wild card and played the Twins, who seem to play the Yankees like they are in such awe they are eliminated before they even realize the national anthem is over.
Meanwhile, the first-place Rays of the A.L. East were left to have to battle the A.L.. West champion Texas Rangers and Cliff Lee. The Yankees seem to hit Lee as if they do not realize the national anthem is over, too.
So while the Twins were being swept out of the playoffs like a dust mite and the Yankees were a Hoover vacuum, the Rays and Rangers were left tied at two games apiece and both team’s aces (Lee and David Price) will pitch Tuesday night to determine which team will face a well-rested Yankee team.
Lee or Price, depending on which team wins, will be limited top pitching Game 3 and Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees, meanwhile, have their rotation set up with CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes ready to pitch in the same order.
However, I am not so sure the Yankees really did throw the opportunity to finish in first place as much it was manager Joe Girardi and the organization determining that September was a time to get their players healthy for the playoffs.
Remember the Yankees entered September with a significant number of injuries.
Alex Rodriguez, Lance Berkman and Pettitte were each on the disabled list. But, in addition, the Yankees had some walking wounded like Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner.
Berkman was activated Sept. 3 and Rodriguez was activated on Sept. 5. Pettitte was activated on Sept. 19 and he made three tune-up starts to prepare him for the playoffs.
Teixeira played most of September despite two injuries: a sore left thumb that made it hard for him to hit and a broken little toe on his right foot, which also affected his swing.
Swisher missed seven starts in the field and had to DH twice due to recurring inflammation in his left knee. Swisher fouled a ball off his left knee in August and spent nearly a month trying to rehab the injured knee, which affected his swing and hurt his mobility in the outfield.
Gardner also has had recurring issues with his left wrist and thumb. Gardner broke his thumb last season and missed two months of the season. It never has properly healed. This season Gardner revealed his wrist also was bothering him.
Both issues cropped back up and Gardner sat out four games in September at the same time Swisher was out of the lineup. That means for four games the Yankees were without two-thirds of their starting outfield.
In addition, Girardi was obligated to continue to rest Jorge Posada two games each week to keep his 39-year-old body ready for the postseason.
Girardi also was dealing with a starting lineup that featured two everyday players well over 30: Derek Jeter and Rodriguez. They required regular rest. In Rodriguez’s case it was because of his hip surgery in 2009 as well as his calf injury.
In Jeter’s case it was less about health that it was about a terrible slump at the plate. Girardi hoped by resting Jeter some in September, he would come around with the bat.
The starting rotation, already minus Pettitte, was also dealing with issues since Pettitte’s injury in July. The most important ones were the ineffectiveness of A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez.
Vazquez was removed from the rotation in September and replaced by 23-year-old rookie Ivan Nova. Burnett was left in the rotation but he continued to struggle.
There also was an innings limit placed on Hughes, which forced the team to skip him a few starts in September. The Yankees used Dustin Moseley to replace him and he was inconsistent at best in those starts.
Nova showed promise in his early starts but he continued to struggle the second time through the batting order and had to be removed from games early because of rising pitch counts.
The flux in the starting rotation forced Girardi to use his bullpen more than he ever had all season. It also took a toll in September. The overwork ended up taxing the staff and they, in turn, were ineffective at times.
It is no wonder that the Yankees from Sept. 6 through the end of the season recorded a record of 9-17, given all the injuries, the flux in starting rotation and the overuse of the bullpen.
Girardi had to make a choice heading into the last week of the season: Do I continue to play my starters, run out my best pitchers and continue to use up my bullpen to win the division. Or do try to win these games the best I can while resting players and not taxing the bullpen and keep an eye on getting the rotation ready for the postseason.
He did the latter and it has paid off.
The Yankees entered the playoffs as healthy as they have been in months. To be sure, Teixeira, Swisher, Gardner and Rodriguez feel tweaks every now and again. But, by and large, they are all able to perform at their best when it counts.
It also worked wonders for Pettitte to make sure his groin injury and subsequent back issues were not a problem when he faced Minnesota.
The same can be said for Hughes, who looked refreshed and renewed in pitching seven dominant innings to put the Yankees into the championship round. It could arguably be called the best start of his young career.
So the pundits and critics can still keep harping on Girardi and the Yankees for deliberately losing the A.L. East in order to avoid Cliff Lee.
The truth is that the rest the injured and the veterans received in September allowed the Yankees to get well at just the right time and put their best foot forward in the playoffs. Isn’t that what is really important anyway?