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July 5, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

It's easy enough to blow off this weekend's sweep: the Yankees were ripe for a letdown after whipping Boston, the games meant more to the Mets, Boston lost two of three, so the Yankees are still 7½ games up.

It's easy enough to do that, but you shouldn't. The Yankees should take what happened this weekend with deadly seriousness, and approach tonight's game against the Tigers as if their playoff hopes were riding on it. The Yankees can't afford to get complacent, because if they do, the next thing they know, you're heading into Boston on September 24th with the season on the line.

7½ games is a large enough lead to crow about -- it's a larger lead than any team but Oakland and San Francisco has over the 4th place team in their division -- and it's a large enough lead that you can, say, wait out the Giambi and Brown parasites a couple of weeks without having to make a move. But it's not a large enough lead to go into cruse control. Boston's not the 28-31 team they've been since May 1st, and they might be able to catch the Yankees on their own, just by playing insanely red-hot baseball. The Yankees sure as hell don't need to be giving them any favors.

The Yankees now only have nine off days for the remainder of the season -- and three of those are next week for the All-Star Game. If serious injuries are going to start taking their toll, this is when it's going to happen, when they don't have time to rest up. To say the division race is over is nonsense, and ignorant of history. The Yanks are in great, great shape, but they can still lose.

Moving on to happier things, the Yanks had six players named to the All-Star Team:

1B Jason Giambi (.238/.377/.460/.837, .285 GPA)
SS Derek Jeter (.278/.340/.453/.793, .266 GPA)
3B Alex Rodriguez (.273/.367/.506/.874, .292 GPA)

Gary Sheffield (.300/.401/.489/.890, .303 GPA)

Tom Gordon (2-3, 2/4 Sv/Opp, 21 Hld, 1.66 ERA, 2.27 dERA)
Mariano Rivera (0-0, 29/30 Sv/Opp, 0 Hld, 0.86 ERA, 2.92 dERA)

Giambi, of course, is wholly unworthy of the honor this season, and Jeter really isn't, either, though if he keeps up the last month's worth of hitting through the break, he'll be a defensible pick.

A-Rod and Sheffield, are, of course, no-brainers (even though they're both playing below their standards this season), as are Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera.

I'm a little surprised that Hideki Matsui (.280/.383/.495/.878, .296 GPA) didn't at least get voted in by the Japanese fans, who enthusiastically voted for Ichiro!, with his .265 GPA, but I guess even Japanese fans are blinded by batting average (last year, Matsui wasn't as good at the break, but had a .299 BA).

I'm also surprised that Javier Vazquez (9-5, 3.50 ERA, 4.38 dERA) didn't make the cut, but I suppose he might be called on as a fill-in if someone drops out.

And then there's Jorge Posada (.267/.410/.507/.917, .311), who might not be quite as worthy as Pudge and Victor Martinez, but his track record and overall great numbers this year indicate that he should at least be on the team. If you want to say someone on the Yankees got snubbed, then Posada's your man.

The amazing thing is that the Yankees are playing this way -- on a pace to win 103 games -- or 108 if they keep up their pace since the April Sweep, without anyone other than perhaps Posada, Rivera and Gordon having great seasons by ordinary standards, and even with them, there's nothing that amazing about what they've done by their own standards. Does that indicate that the Yankees should play even better, or that they'll decline in the second half? We'll see.