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September 17, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

At this point in the season, it becomes a little less interesting. You know the Yankees are going to make the postseason, and that they're probably going to win the division. The only thing that could go wrong is for them to collapse down the stretch and get passed by the Red Sox and Mariners, and considering the competition, that's not going to happen. But it's not October yet, and so it's almost like the games don't count right now. You'll turn on the game, but the wins aren't as satisfying as they were a couple of weeks ago, and the losses are a pain, but you forget about them almost immediately. It's not like they make that big a difference either way. It feels almost like Spring Training.

The only thing left, really, is Home Field Advantage, and that's not really that important. If the Yankees win the AL East, which seems certain, they'll play the AL Central winner or the Mariners, and they'll host that series, whether they have the best record in the AL or not, and who they face will be determined on who wins the Wild Card, not anything the Yankees do. If they win the ALDS and the A's lose their series, they'll host the ALCS whether they have the best record in the AL or not. If they win the pennant, they'll have Home Field Advantage in the World Series, whether they have the best record or not. All the having the best record will do is decide the location of one game in a series that they might not get to, and only if they play one team that they may not play. It's not exactly crucial.

Joe Torre has figured that out this year. He's already said that he's not going to play for Home Field down the stretch, he feels that trying for it last year wore the team out going into the ALDS. Maybe that's the case, but I think that takes a lot of credit away from the World Champions, who really did play great last October. Still, I agree with his approach--if it happens, great, if it doesn't, it's not the end of the world.

Of course, there's the entire issue of whether hosting postseason games is really that much of an advantage for the Yankees, anyway. They're 47-31 at home and 47-27 on the road. They have a .782 OPS at home, and an .832 OPS on the road. This doesn't mean that the Yankees are actually a better team on the road, the numbers may just be a result of timing--the Yankees were on the road when they got hot, and at home when they slumped--but what it does say is that playing at home isn't a huge advantage for the Yankees by any means, and that it doesn't matter if they win Home Field Advantage.

Now, what's really silly is that, if the Mariners overtake the Red Sox for the Wild Card, the Yankees have to play them, rather than the Twins or White Sox, even if they have a better record than Oakland, even though the Mariners will almost certainly have a better record than the Central winner. That's because the rules say that the Wild Card can't play a team from its own division in the first round. I suppose this is supposed to be fair to the team that won the division, or maybe to create a little diversity in the playoffs, but it seems silly to me. It punishes the Yankees by making them play a team with a better record in the first round than Oakland has to, even though they had a better record, and rewards the AL Central team and the A's by letting them play lesser teams than they would have to.

Not that it's likely to matter. The road to the World Series isn't going to be easy for the Yankees, even if they play the Twins in the first round, who they haven't lost to since May 2001. If they win the ALDS, they'll have a tougher opponent in the ALCS, and likely an even tougher one in Atlanta or San Francisco for the World Series. Sooner or later, they'll have to be challenged, and if they lose in the ALDS because they have to play Seattle, you're not going to hear me complaining about the unfairness of the system.

And that's pretty much all there is to talk about for the Yankees. As much as we'd like to see it, Jorge Posada probably isn't going to get much serious MVP support. Alfonso Soriano isn't challenging 40/40 (but he is likely going to see his run production drop less than 10%). Derek Jeter's battling for a batting title, but it's not something that is particularly compelling, especially to those of us who see batting average as a statistic of secondary importance to the value of a player. Really all that's left is to count down magic numbers, and hope nobody gets hurt.

It's largely for this reason that I haven't been writing much lately--which is probably dramatically noticable because I've written pretty much every day since May. There's also a lot of stuff going on in my personal and work life that's distracted me from my writing, and overall, I'm physically and mentally exahausted. I apologize to my loyal readers for the dropoff in production, and promise to work to return to my previously established levels. Just please don't option me down to Columbus.