Hard to say the Yanks are a Goliath vs. O's
BALTIMORE -- The New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles were 9-9 in the 2012 regular season. It is difficult to see from those numbers which team is the obvious Goliath, which is the natural David.
But certainly, to some portions of the non-Yankee world, the New York American League baseball team will always be something like the Gotham Goliaths.
This is what will happen when you lead both leagues in financial resources. Then there is the overwhelming force of the Yankees' 27-championship history, the occasional comment referring to the Yankees as "the evil empire," the ever-present references to the size of payroll, it all adds up to the Yankees never getting to be David in any of these baseball dramas.
At the end of the day, the baseball game is played between the two rosters and, on the field itself and after "Play Ball!," none of the monetary issues matter. If they were the determining factors, the Oakland Athletics wouldn't be part of baseball's Elite Eight now. The Tampa Bay Rays wouldn't have been in the 2008 World Series. The 2012 Boston Red Sox would have been second, instead of fifth in the AL East.
But David vs. Goliath is with us again in the minds of many, as the Yankees meet the Baltimore Orioles in an AL Division Series starting Sunday night in Camden Yards. The problem is, the Orioles are only partially convincing as David, and the Yankees are less so as Goliath.
The O's haven't been in the postseason for 15 years. The pre-season prognosticators picked them to finish in the International League. They make a convenient underdog, even though their play over 163 games says they are something more.
But these Yankees are not some scary behemoth. These are not the '27 Yankees, the '39 Yankees, or the '98 Yankees.
The Game 1 starter for the Yankees in this series is CC Sabathia, who has the largest pitching contract in the history of the grand old game. Against the Orioles this season, Sabathia, in three starts, was 0-2, with a 6.38 ERA.
"They have a great lineup, and I've faced these guys a lot, and they know what I am trying to do," Sabathia said Saturday before the Yankees worked out at Camden Yards. "It's just up to me to go out and execute pitches, and you know, make sure I keep the ball down and get the ball in where I need to and go out and make pitches.
"I mean, it's a good team. Adam Jones has gotten a lot better, obviously; Mark Reynolds has gotten adjusted to the American League and is swinging the bat well. [Matt] Wieters has gotten better over the years, so they've just gotten a bunch of talented guys that have gotten a lot better and they've made it tough on me. Hopefully [Sunday] night, like I said, I can go out and command the baseball like I want to and make pitches and be successful."
There is the ace of the Yankees rotation, having to explain recent difficulties against the Orioles. Does this sound like the setup for a completely one-sided situation? Sabathia is very likely to pitch much better against the O's in this series than he did during the regular season, but just the fact that this conversation existed put a little dent in the notion of Yankee infallibility.
The Yankees don't have an offensive superstar, someone who towers over the game, on their current roster. Derek Jeter will go to the Hall of Fame as a winner and a leader and a presence, a singular combination of skill and will, but the truly big guy is not there. No Ruth, no DiMaggio, no Mantle, and really, no Alex Rodriguez in his prime, either. Manager Joe Girardi was asked if the Yankees could win without A-Rod returning as a true force in the middle of the lineup.
"Oh, I think so," Girardi said. "I think there's a number of capable players in that lineup to score a lot of runs, so I don't think it falls on any one guy's shoulders whether we win this series or not; it falls on all 25 guys in that room, the coaching staff and myself. That's who it falls on.
"I don't think you can say, 'If one guy doesn't hit, are the Yankees going to win?' It takes a lot of guys to win series like this."
That is so true. These are the Yankees now, requiring real contributions from all 25 spots on the roster to get it done. It reminds you of the way teams of mere mortals have to play the game.
The Yankees should win this series, but not because they are the big bullies on this particular block. They have better starting pitching than the Orioles, by any reasonable measurement, and that is where these series typically can be determined.
But if this series went in the opposite direction it would not be the upset of the century, or the millennium, or the modern age. A lot of people would say that, anyway, but the facts no longer support the whole David vs. Goliath deal in the case of the Yankees.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.