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Rotation among keys to Yankees' playoff chances

The Yankees could win the World Series, but not on history, not on tradition, not on any of those components that are typically mentioned in the context of this one-of-a-kind franchise.

No, the Yankees could win the 2012 World Series by being very solid in the most important portions of the game. It is that simple and that difficult.

When the Yankees won their 27th World Series in 2009, they used a three-man postseason rotation. It will be difficult to maintain that format in the 2012 postseason because of the more compressed schedule, brought on by the addition of a Wild Card playoff game in each league.

But for the purposes of comparison, that 2009 three-man rotation was CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. This season, Sabathia, who has pitched like a true ace for the vast majority of his Yankees career, regained his better form late in the year. Pettitte returned from not only a one-year retirement, but a leg fracture, to pitch at a level that was remarkably reminiscent of his prime. And as a reminder where one may not be needed, Pettitte is the all-time leader in postseason victories.

This October, instead of Burnett, one of the top three starters in the Yankees' rotation will be Hiroki Kuroda. He had proven his Major League worth in three seasons with the Dodgers. But when the Yankees signed him there were doubters who suggested that Kuroda would not be able to have the same level of performance in the American League East that he had in the National League West, due to tougher lineups and ballparks with smaller dimensions.

But, in fact, Kuroda's performance this season has bettered his career norms in most categories. He has been, overall, a source of stability in the Yankees' rotation. He should be, by any reasonable measurement, an upgrade from Burnett for the club's postseason rotation.

If all three of these pitchers are working at the top of their games, the Yankees will be extremely difficult to defeat in any postseason series. This statement could be made by some other top-three pitchers in some other rotations, but this particular trio has a proven track record that puts its postseason potential near the top.

Are these Yankees as good as the 2009 Yankees? Not by the basic numbers in the wins and losses columns. But that isn't the issue. This is about how well a team could play for a period of no longer than 19 games in autumn.

It is easy to say that the Yankees can't be the same because they don't have the ultimate closer, Mariano Rivera, this time around. But nobody else has him, either. The Yankees have been the best in the AL East this season, with a nicely improvised bullpen and Rafael Soriano closing.

Offensively, the Yankees are probably too dependent on the home run. But this is not a matter for hysterics, either.

Postseason games are typically lower scoring than regular-season games because of the quality of the pitching staffs that were able to bring their teams to this level. Games are often decided by one at-bat, one swing of the bat.

The record will show that the Yankees, who led the Majors in home runs by 31 over the second-ranked Orioles, are the most likely team to make that one swing of the bat a home run. Yankee Stadium is a perfect fit for this kind of performance, and the New York lineup is in its own class when it comes to power.

There are 10 Yankees with 14 or more home runs, nine with 15 or more home runs and five with more than 20. The Yankees can find power in any portion of the lineup. The Bronx Bombers, indeed.

Prominent players have been injured, but the Yankees have had sufficient quality and quantity of depth to withstand those absences. Derek Jeter seems to have regained his prime, yet another remarkable achievement in one of the game's most admirable careers.

Add it all up and the Yankees' annual aspirations for winning the World Series don't seem to be at all out of range in 2012. Their shot is realistic and their chances are real, as long as they get the best out of the trio at the top of their rotation.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

New York Yankees, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte