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July 13, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

No salt needed. Jeff Weaver now has pitched well in three straight games, and he shut down the Toronto Blue Jays today in a game the Yankees really needed to win. Weaver's two best games this season, in fact, have come against the Blue Jays. Go figure.

Of course, Weaver was lights-out in a game where they didn't need him to be lights-out, because they did end up getting to Escobar. Weaver had a lead before he ever took the mound, and by the time he got through the Jays order for the first time, he had a 6-0 cushion to work with. Hopefully Weaver has turned the corner headed into the All-Star break, but it's possible that his good pitching was a result of the comfort of a big lead. Unfortunately, scoring 6 runs in the first three innings isn't a particularly reliable strategy, so let's see him do it without the help before we pronounce the patient fully cured.

In Motown, the Red Sox gave the Yankees a gift, getting shut-out by the woeful Tigers 3-0. The loss puts the Yankees two games up, which is precisely where they were at the All-Star Break last year. The last two seasons the Yankees kept their pace, while the Red Sox stumbled and fell behind. Is that going to happen this year? What's the prognosis?

The Yankees aren't as strong as they have been in previous years, and the Red Sox are stronger. A collapse is unlikely, so if one of the teams is going to pull away, they'll have to do it on merit. The best opportunity for the Red Sox to do so is from the day after the break until August 10th, when they play 18 of 24 at home, 14 against sub-.500 teams, four against the awful Tigers and D-Rays, and four others against the fading Blue Jays. The Yankees have some easy games during that stretch as well, but also have to face the A's and Mariners.

If the Sox haven't taken the lead in the division by then, they might be toast. Starting the 11th, they play 14 straight against the A's and Mariners, while the Yankees play the Orioles 8 times and the Royals 6 times. After that, it's a fairly easy schedule the rest of the way for both teams, so if it's not decided by the end of August, the race will likely come down to the last week. I think the Yankees have a slight advantage in the schedule, but the Red Sox are more likely to make a decisive trade, because they have more tradable talent.

Still, with Nick Johnson and Jose Contreras coming off of the DL, I don't see the Red Sox improving any more than the Yankees will. They won't finish 10+ games in front like the last two years, but I see them finishing on top.