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September 9, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

If there ever was a team this season that needed a three game series at home against the Detroit Tigers, it's the Yankees right now.

And if there ever was a team this season that you felt nervous about going into a three game series against the Detroit Tigers, it's the Yankees right now.

Yesterday's 9-run outburst excepted, this is a team very much in a slump, and they need a series against a team that they can sweep, they need some good starts, and they need to hit the ball hard. And they need to win a couple of games without relying on their bullpen, and if the bullpen does come into the game, they need to be able to shut a team down. And the opponent that fits that description is the Detroit Tigers.

But a series loss here would possibly be more devastating than two or three losses, it could send the Yankees into a spiral that knocks them out of the postseason. Losing this series would be worse than getting swept by the Red Sox at the Stadium by a wide margin. Simply put, they have to win this series, and even further, they really need a sweep.

The series does line up pretty well for the Yanks--they've got Jose Contreras, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens going for them in the three games. If they get good starts out of all three, which I expect they will, they are almost certain to win all three games. As for the offense, yesterday's 16 hits included only 2 doubles and no HRs--it was a very quiet 16 hits, and it did nothing to convince me that the Yankees are out of their offensive slump, but rather, that the Blue Jays pitched really poorly. But nothing bad came out of yesterday--Jason Giambi got two hits, Hideki Matsui had three, and if nothing else, it might make them feel like they're out of their slumps, and the psychological aspects of the slump will be removed, and they can just go back to hitting. I guess we'll find out in the next couple of nights.

The Red Sox got back into the race on merit, by playing .800 ball against great teams for two weeks. But if they finish the comeback and overtake the Yankees for the AL East title, it'll be because the Yankees gave it to them. There are only three games left on the schedule against a team that offers a serious challenge to the Yankees, and that's not until the very end of the season, where hopefully it won't matter. The Red Sox are good, but they're not so good that they can expect to keep winning 80% of their games against even the weakest competition. If the Yankees win 2/3 of their games like they should expect to, it would take a miracle for Boston to win the division--a miracle that seems even more unlikely after last night's collapse. But if it were to happen that way, I don't think you can blame the Yankees for blowing the East (they'd be in the playoffs anyway), you'd have to give the Sox the credit they deserve.

But I don't want to give the Sox any credit, and I don't want to give them any chances. The Yanks have to win these games.