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Yankees’ Postseason Phobia: Trying to Win Without Mariano Rivera

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The Yankees are close to clinching another postseason berth, but if they're going to win, it will be without their greatest weapon.

Stephen Dunn - Getty Images

As part of SB Nation United, you're going to be seeing some new voices around both Pinstriped Bible and the network, writing about issues both local and national. Think of them as guests in the community. We're beginning this week with Michael Bates better known as one of the minds behind The Platoon Advantage.

I don't have anything against the Yankees or their fans. The Yankees beat my beloved Twins fair and square pretty much every time we play, but that's understandable, given that they are consistently the much, much better team.

Nevertheless, every day I give thanks that I wasn't born a Yankees fan, because along with all the ridiculous success comes ridiculous expectations at this time of year. There is no doubt the Yankees will be headed to the playoffs again (both Baseball Prospectus and Cool Standings give them more than a 99 percent chance of making it), but with the first couple stages of the postseason more dependent on luck than ever, it's got to make you nervous, doesn't it? No matter how much you talk about non-championship seasons inherently being failures, or want to believe that the Yankees are somehow above the entire concept of randomness, or want to attribute every loss to some character flaw in the players you watch, you have to acknowledge that the Yankees' postseason fate could well be decided on a ball that stays fair by inches, or a pebble that kicks a ball out of someone's reach, or by a fickle gust of wind.

I mean, that's baseball. That's what's so simultaneously glorious and terrifying about the entire game. You can't account for everything. You can't predict the unpredictable.

And yet, for the last 16 seasons, Yankees fans have had one thing they could rely on, one thing to bring order to the chaos. When nothing else could be controlled, they still had Mariano Rivera, the absolute epitome of consistent excellence. Everyone knows how tremendous Rivera has been: 608 career regular season saves, plus another 42 in the playoffs; 0.70 ERA in the postseason; two homers allowed in 141 playoff innings. You may not know offhand that he's only given up a lead five times in his 96 postseason appearances, but you're probably not surprised to hear it. Mo was the Yankees' Penny (five year old "Lost" reference to The Constant? Five year old "Lost" reference to The Constant!). He was your Gibraltar, your Gandalf, around whom none would pass (yeah, my geekery is starting to worry even me).

And now, he's not there. The Yankees have a great closer, mind you; they were absolutely covered in the regular season. Rafael Soriano has had a campaign almost as good as any of Mariano's best. He's saved 42 of 46 chances, struck out more than a batter per inning, and has a park-adjusted ERA that's half the league average. He has been an absolutely terrific bullpen ace for the Yankees.

And yet, in the back of your mind, are you really comfortable with Soriano closing games in October? I don't believe that there's anything inherently different about the playoffs, except that you have to face better teams than you normally would in the regular season. But I do believe that, in a situation where a small mistake can change the fate of an entire season, a weapon as precise as Mariano Rivera is precious.

Ultimately, there's nothing to do at this point, of course. Mariano's not going to walk through that bullpen door, and it's too late to supplement what has been a surprisingly effective bullpen (the Yankees have a 3.45 bullpen ERA, their Fair RA-relief is second in the league, and have allowed the lowest percentage of inherited runners to score in the Majors). It's a top-heavy staff, to be sure, but in an environment where teams can thrive by going to their best arms again and again and again while skipping over the Derek Lowes who make up the back end, the Yankees should get a lot of mileage out of Soriano, Boone Logan and David Robertson-but they won't get certainty, and that would make me very nervous.