A-Rod set to have breakout postseason

I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you that while the Yankees are are piling up the regular-season wins and are so far meeting expectations, Alex Rodriguez is in place to have a monster postseason.

By any stretch of the imagination his regular season has been very representative: a .285 batting average, 28 homers, 93 RBIs, a .403 on base percentage, a .524 slugging percentage and a .927 OPS when the latter two statistics are combined. That would be a fine season for anyone, but A-Rod was not inserted into the lineup until May 8 because of a hip injury that may (or may not) require off-season surgery.

Not coincidentally, the Yanks’ turnaround began when A-Rod came back. On May 7, they were 13-15, 5 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. Since then, they are 88-41, having clinched the East. Going into play today, they own a 9 1/2-game lead on the Red Sox, a massive 15-game turnaround.

Consider the fact that on July 19, 1978, the Yanks trailed Boston by 14 games. What ensued was the most memorable comeback in Yankees’ history that ended with the Bucky Dent, one-game playoff at Fenway Park that broke more than a few hearts because the Beantowners had blown a certain division title.

Of course, those Yankees won their second consecutive World Series, defeating the Dodgers in six games in both cases. That’s the rubric now that all Yankee teams are judged upon, which certainly was not always the case. If their 101-win season does not translate into their 27th World Series title, the season will be considered wildly disappointing.

That’s where A-Rod comes in. He’s had a quiet season off the field. He is no longer the focal point of the lineup that boasts Derek Jeter with 207 hits at the top of it and Robinson Cano with his 202 hits near the bottom of it. When A-Rod returned to the cleanup spot, Mark Teixeira started seeing a lot of pitches. He has 38 homers and a league-leading 120 RBIs. On May 7, Teixeria had five home runs and 15 RBIs.

The point is, this postseason A-Rod doesn’t have to be the guy. He can fly under the radar and is under no pressure to perform save for the head games he plays on himself. Yes, the Yanks have only won one playoff series since he arrived in 2004 and have won none since the ignoble collapse to Boston that postseason when they were three outs away from a sweep only to lose that series in seven games. In his five postseason series with the Yankees, he’s had four homers and nine RBIs.

But I hark back to the young A-Rod, whose Seattle team lost to the Yanks in the 2000 AL Championship Series. He hit .409 (9-for-22) in the six-games with two homers, five RBIs and 17 total bases, looking like what he is — the best overall player in baseball. So another good postseason series is certainly buried in there somewhere. My prediction is that he finds it this postseason. For the Yanks, there couldn’t be a better time for that happen.

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