I forgot to mention this, but commenter Howard and I once again have a $50 donation to Planned Parenthood riding on whether the Yankees make the playoffs. Harvey Araton’s highly unconvincing comparisons to 1965 notwithstanding, I would definitely make the bet again in a second. Especially with Posada looking out for the year, I don’t think it’s quite the lock it was at this time last year, but I still think it’s much better than 50/50. In particular, with the collapse of the Indians the competition is a lot weaker. The West is a write-off: with over-their-heads pitching and a pathetic offense, the A’s (as Beane correctly saw) have as little chance to make the postseason as a team in their position could have, especially after their meek surrender in the Bronx. (Speaking of pathetic offenses, is the jig finally up on J.P. Riccardi?) The Tigers might outscore the Yankees going forward, but with their pitching I can’t pick them to be 4 games better the rest of the way. The Twins have two players who could start for the Yankees and have allowed more runs. And while I would still pick the Red Sox, one can’t rule out the possibility of the Yankees winning the division outright.
This leaves us with Tampa. I’ll be rooting hard for them, not only to beat the Yankees but because they remind me of my beloved early-90s Expos. But I think they’ll be good but not quite good enough. The historical hurdle is formidable: indeed, I think they would be the most unlikely miracle team ever. The only other miracle team with 95 Pythagorean losses the previous year is the ’91 Braves, and the Rays face tougher competition and don’t have a Hall of Fame manager in their first year. (The ’69 Mets and ’61 Reds did have a manager who wasn’t new and had no previous credentials, so it’s not impossible, just something working against them.) If their young starters hold up under the strain, Percival stays healthy, and Wheeler, Howell and Balfour all keep pitching brilliantly, they’ll win…but myself I wouldn’t bet on that. Not impossible, but significantly less than 50/50.
Whether they make the playoffs this year or not, though, they’ve still had an amazing season. And like the ’91 Braves, I think the key lesson is that when you have a team with talented young pitching, putting a real defense behind them is absolutely crucial.
Hmm, bases loaded, none out, one run down, maybe Rivera will finally blow one, and…oh, Gawd, Crisp is up. One should take the hint and just turn the game off. The puzzling thing is how that stiff even hits his empty .260; combining the bat speed of the beyond-washed-up current version of Varitek’s with Alfredo Griffin’s plate discipline makes for unwatchable atbats. I guess there is a lot of bad pitching around.
Anyway, the outcome of the game can hardly be surprising. Given the chance to deal a serious blow to the Yankees’ playoff chances in recent years, we’ve established conclusively that the BoSox will inevitably extend a hand, help them of the canvas, and stitch up their eyes. At least today didn’t involve getting shut down for several innings by Kei Igawa…
Hank Steinbrenner. Actually, I think baseball also needs to revise its antiquated rules and ban stolen bases, just like intramural softball, so that poor widdle Posada doesn’t get a boo-boo having to throw! Waaaaaaaaaah! Sniff.
It’s hard to get much worse than getting swept at home by an Angels team without Guerrero (and not pitching Lackey). But I’m sure McLaren and company can find a way!
In other news, this has been building since several commenters argued last year that it was logically impossible for him to have allowed a run in Game 2 without the bugs, but Sweet Jeebus am I already sick of Greatest Pitching Prospect In Known World History Joba Chamberlain and the ceaseless hype surrounding him. If Saint Derek of Pasta Diving goes on the DL I think he can slide into the Most Irritating Yankee role right away.
“I think the most important thing is, whoever we hire, give him a chance. Because he’s not getting the ’96 Yankees. He’s getting a younger team, and for the most part, it’s a transition period, so give him a little while.”
Yeah, you have to show great patience with a manager given that paucity of talent to work with. Right. Assuming the major free agents return, the ’96 Yankees are clearly better than the ’08 Yankees at the following positions:
First base, assuming they don’t sign someone better than Tino “Even More Overrated Than Mattingly” Martinez
And, er, that’s it. O’Neill and Abreu are a wash, although I grant that Abreu has much lower Water Coolers Destroyed and Bitching Incessantly About Belt-High Pitches Down the Middle Called Strikes averages. Jeter ’08 is obviously better than Jeter ’96, even granting the regression in his defense. And some of remaining edges are, of course, massive: one of the 10 best players ever against the shell of Wade Boggs and Charlie Hayes, Cano against Duncan (although Duncan did have a fluke season in ’96 itself,) Matsui/Damon against Ice Williams, bordeline HOFer Jorge Posada against Joe Girardi. The ’96 Yankees did have a veteran rotation, but apart from Cone’s 11 starts it was merely good; Petite was a little better, but it seems likely that Wang/Hughes/Chamberlain will outpitch Key/Rogers/Doc (ERA+s of the latter 3: 107, 107, 100.)
Even granting that the earlier team had an excellent bench (one thing Torre deserves credit for, and which largely got away from him in later years) and more bullpen depth, please. Whoever manages the team in ’07 ’08 will have far more to work with and merits a high level of impatience.