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October 3, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Again, the Yankees played poorly, and again the Twins got excellent starting pitching, and again, the Twins nearly won the game. Disaster was averted by the Yankees--and an opportunity was lost by the Twins.

The Yankees have been a very streaky team this season, sometimes looking like an unstoppable force, and at other times rolling over and playing dead for inferior competition. They haven't quite done that in this round, but while the offense has been anemic and the defense even more pathetic than usual, the pitching has been brilliant, and it's the only thing that's saved them (that and the mediocre Minnesota offense). That type of play has gotten them a 1-1 split so far against the Twins, but against almost any other team in the playoffs, they would be down 0-2 after two blowout losses.

There's good and bad news for the next two games. The good news is that the Yankees are the best road team in baseball this season, by a lot, and better there than they are at home. For some reason, their bats come alive on the road, and that's going to be vital. That's because the bad news is that the Metrodome isn't going to do anything to help the Yankees' middle infield. Jeter and Soriano are going to have difficulty fielding anything not right at them. Exacerbating that problem is the fact that Joe Torre has said that David Wells will pitch Sunday, win or lose tomorrow.

The good thing about that is that the Twins are poor against lefties, and Wells in particular has had success against the Twins--hell, he's had a Perfect freaking Game against the Twins. That undoubtedly affected Torre's decision to start him. But the fact that he's been struggling with back problems in the second half, and the impact his low-BB, high balls-in-park style will have on the Yankees' defense makes him very risky to me. I would have gone with Mike Mussina, who strikes out more batters, and has been better than Wells in the second half, then gone with Pettitte in Game Five, if necessary. Hopefully, Wells' back will be fine, and the defense won't be seriously tested, but I think Torre's taking an unnecessary risk.

The Yankees are alive and kicking, but they need their bats to wake up. Maybe they can win this series without them--they beat an Oakland team that was at least as good as the Twins in 2000 without hitting--but they'll be knocked out of the ALCS in short order.

Speaking of the ALCS, Oakland is, once again, in a position to eliminate their first round opponent and advance there, having beaten the mighty Red Sox for the second consecutive game. First of all, it's kind of silly that so many people thought the A's were overmatched when they had won the season series from the Red Sox--and it wasn't because of Mark Mulder, who was 0-1 against them. The A's always had a good chance in this series.

But the Sox aren't dead, not by any means. I think that this is a team that can come back from 0-3 in a 7 game series, and this is a team that is absolutely dominant at home, while the A's are a losing team on the road. I think it's a better than even chance that the Red Sox will be going back to Oakland for a Game Five, with Pedro on the hill. You can't count that team out until the last out is made. I sure as hell am not.

Not that I wouldn't mind seeing them swept, of course.