By Sweeny Murti
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Could this be the last stand of the Core Four?

2009 was a renaissance for the old guard, but they are another year older now it’s been starting to show.  Derek Jeter had the worst year of his career, Jorge Posada was banged up at various points during the year, Andy Pettitte missed over 2 months to a groin injury, and Mariano Rivera even seemed human in September, a time he usually is tuning up for another spectacular October.  Let’s face it…there were times in 2010 that they seemed more like the Sore Four.

There are contract issues to deal with after the season.  Although none of us doubt that both Jeter and Rivera will re-sign with the Yankees, we start to wonder for the first time really how long each will be around.  Pettitte will go through his now annual winter ritual of deciding to pitch one more year.  And Posada will head into the last year of his contract, after which he will be 40 years old.

One of the things that made 2009 so special was that these guys weren’t just wallflowers.  They weren’t veteran hangers-on just looking to enjoy the ride to another ring.  They were integral parts enjoying seasons equal to many of those in their prime a decade earlier when the Yankees were building the legacy this team has clung to.  They were glimpses into the past, turning back the clock and letting us bask in the glow with them.  Watching the Core Four in 2009 made us feel young again.

But does Jeter have one more big October in him?  Can Posada come up with a few more clutch hits? Can Pettitte will himself through another 30 innings of intensity?  Can Rivera keep being automatic?

We all know the time is coming.  They won’t be our Boys of Summer forever.  Maybe last year was what we were waiting for, to see them have one more great autumn ride.  Maybe we should have all savored that one a little more.  Because I just wonder if it’s too much to ask them to do it again.

Other Murti Musings:

*With A.J. Burnett out of the rotation for now, one big decision is taken out of Joe Girardi’s hands—Jorge Posada will be starting behind the plate for every one of these games.  Posada hit just .182 over the final month of the season, but you know he’s hungry for a big postseason.

*Jerry Crawford is the crew chief for this series.  Also on the crew: Hunter Wendlestadt, Greg Gibson, Brian O’Nora, Gary Darling, and Chris Guccione.

Note to those who think there are no repercussions for making bad calls:  Phil Cuzzi is not on any of the four umpiring crews for the Division Series, and neither is Jim Joyce.

*The Yankees bad finish to the season raises serious red flags.  The Yanks were only 13-17 after September 1st.  Only 3 teams in the last 15 years have won the World Series after a losing September (’06 Cardinals, ’00 Yankees, ’97 Marlins).  Last year’s Yankee team went 20-11 in the final month.  Of the four AL playoff teams, the Twins finished this year the best (18-12).

*Last year we saw fundamentally sound teams like the Twins and Angels crumble in front of the Yankees in the postseason.  Whatever happens in this series, the Twins were once again a regular season team that didn’t beat themselves.  They walked only 383 batters this season, best in the majors by far (only 9 other teams managed to walk fewer than 500, the Twins were the only one under 400).

The Twins also allowed only 33 unearned runs this season, second lowest in the majors.  Only the Padres were better (32).

*Two key players in this series for me: Curtis Granderson and Delmon Young.  Granderson’s late-season rejuvenation made his post-season potential very intriguing.  While the Yankees stumbled down the stretch, Granderson hit 10 home runs with 26 RBIs over his final 30 games.  Joe Girardi even went so far as to start batting Granderson in the two-hole by the end of the year, something you’re likely to see in the postseason too.

Young is 25 years old now and just had the best year of his career, while hitting .355 with runners in scoring position (only Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford were better this year in the AL).  Young will bat cleanup between sluggers Joe Mauer and Jim Thome.  The Yanks only have one lefthander in their pen (Boone Logan), so they will likely find themselves in a position to pitch to Young in big spots.

*Also look for an intriguing pitching matchup in the pivotal Game 3—Phil Hughes vs. Brian Duensing.  Both pitchers struggled in last year’s Division Series.  The series could very well hinge on which one pitches better in the Game 3 start.

Sweeny Murti

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