By Jeff Labrecque
Updated October 16, 2012 at 07:07 PM EDT
Derek Jeter Ankle 2
Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images

Tonight in Detroit, the Yankees dynasty might very well be given its last rites.

Down 2-0 to the Detroit Tigers in the best-of-7 playoff series, missing their captain Derek Jeter after a fractured ankle, and featuring a lineup of high-priced, underperforming sluggers, the New York Yankees are seemingly doomed. On the mound for the Tigers is their ace, Justin Verlander, he of the 100 m.p.h. fastballs that Alex Rodriguez will need to start swinging at now to have any prayer of contact. If Verlander stomps the Yankees tonight in Detroit, the writing will be on the wall. As Yankee fans know all too well, only one team in baseball history has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit (that would be the magical 2004 Red Sox who stunned the Yankees) and these Yankees seem too bloated and tired to dig out of such a ditch. Jeter is finished. Human cyborg Mariano Rivera is gone. Alex Rodriguez, unfortunately, remains in uniform.

It’s worth noting that the Yankees have been written off before. Back in 2004, right before their epic playoff collapse, ESPN’s Buster Olney published a book titled The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty that pointed to the team’s 2001 World Series loss as the end of an era. But while the faces in pinstripes soon changed, the Yankees continued to win, making the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 years and winning the 2009 World Series.

This time, though, the future is not as bright. None of this year’s everyday starters will be under the age of 30 when next year begins. Jeter will have to mount his comeback at the age of 38. At 42, Rivera, the invincible closer who recorded crucial — if not the final — outs in all five Yankee World Series championships during his career, might never throw another pitch after a season-ending knee injury in May. And Rodriguez is 37, but that’s hardly the number that terrifies most Yankee fans. Once the greatest player in the game, A-Rod is now a shell of his former self — especially during the playoffs where he’s hitting .130 with 12 strikeouts so far — and the Yankees are on the hook to pay him at least another $114 million over the next five seasons. Oof. You think he’s tough to watch now; just imagine him at the plate in 2017!

Rest assured, there’s no real chance that the Yankees will turn into the lowly Mets anytime soon. The Yankees will maintain the highest payroll in the sport and that should keep them in the hunt each season. Until it doesn’t. Look no further than this year’s Boston Red Sox, who finished last in the division and dismantled a nine-figure payroll as the team melted down midseason.

The Yankees decline might not be as seismic, but make no mistake: change is coming to the Yankees, and not for the better. Jeter, Rivera, and Pettitte are at the end of their runs, the last remnants of the championship teams that dominated the last decade of the 20th century. Many spoiled Yankee fans under the age of 25 have never really known a Yankee team that wasn’t the class of the American League. They don’t truly appreciate Seinfeld jokes about Jay Buhner; they remember George Steinbrenner as a benevolent great uncle, not as his era’s Donald Trump; and they have no recollection of Stump Merrill, Andy Hawkins, or Ed Whitson. Those dark days might never return… but there’s always hope they do!

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