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September 29, 2004

Godzilla's Revenge
by SG

Hideki Matsui was the most feared native-born slugger in Japan. With the nickname Godzilla, and his 50 homerun power, he was a matinee idol. When he indicated an interest to try himself at the highest level in the sport, it was the Yankees who pursued him most aggressively. They courted him for close to a year before signing him from the Yomiuri Giants for three years, and $21 million.

While superficially, Matsui had a decent rookie year thanks to some impressive counting stats like RBI, most sabermetrically aware fans realized that he really wasn't all that good. His .788 OPS and below average defense for a LF were rather mediocre. The mainstream New York media raved about his RBI and his clutch hitting, but the more statistically inclined fans griped about his propensity for hitting into double plays (second in the AL with 25 last season), calling him Ground-zilla.

This season, it's a different story. Matsui has quietly improved his game across the board, and done it with a minimal amount of fanfare and hype. In addition to his higher batting average, OBP, and SLG, there are other statistics which I think are more telling:

2003 3.75 38.9 0.124 0.091 0.73 0.148 0.249 25 2.17
2004 3.86 20.3 0.157 0.127 0.82 0.212 0.387 11 1.11

P/PA is the number of pitches he is seeing per plate appearance.
IsoP is his Isolated Power, (SLG - Batting Avg)
SecA is Secondary Average, a Bill James stat which looks at a player's stat line besides batting average.
G/F is his groundball to flyball ratio.

One thing that stands out is he's not seeing many more pitches, but his BB rate has spiked up considerably. My guess would be that he isn't just trying to hit the first good pitch he sees, rather looking for pitches that he can drive. This has caused him to strike out a bit more often, but that's a tradeoff that is worth it.

The most obvious difference, and this is something he claims he hasn't done, is that he's hitting the ball in air nearly twice as much as he did last year. League average G/F ratio is 1.18, Matsui's is at 1.11, compared to 2.17 last year. This probably is the main reason his power has spiked so significantly.

Matsui's improvement this season has really helped the Yankees compensate for the missed time and ineffectiveness of Jason Giambi. His VORP of 53.2 compared to 30.9 for all of last season means he's helped account for two more wins this year.

Matsui was the man of the day in two great wins over a good Twins team.

Game 1
In the first game, the Yankee offense was stagnant after scoring in the first off Johan Santana, until Matsui homered in the 7th to cut the deficit to 3-2. That sparked a four run rally, and the Yankees went on to a 5-3 win.

Mike Mussina settled down after a shaky first inning, holding the Twins to three runs over six effective, if less than impressive innings. Quantrill pitched a scoreless 7th, although less than stellar. I'd be surprised if he pitches in key playoff situations based on his recent struggles, but a strong finish could change that. Tom Gordon appears to have recovered from his post All Star game woes, throwing with good velocity in the mid 90s and he is using his curveball more now, to great effect. Rivera recovered from a four pitch leadoff walk to record his 52nd save of the year.

Game 2
In the nightcap, Matsui started the game off with a bang, with a two-out, three run opposite field home run. Lieber gave two of those runs right back in the second, but Alex Rodriguez hit one out to increase the lead to 4-2. A Sheffield sac fly in the fifth increased the lead to 5-2, but an ineffective Lieber gave back two more runs. With two outs in the sixth, Torre went to The Run Fairy™. While he did the job in retiring Jacque Jones, it had the feel of a pyrrhic victory to me. Torre seems adament that he is taking Heredia to the postseason, and every reasonably good outing is positive reinforcement for that. I have no faith in him being effective in the postseason. Nursing a one run lead in the next inning, who does Torre bring in? Tanyon Sturtze, another guy who is not a good pitcher, but has pitched well of late. He cruised through five batters, and appears to have also pitched his way onto the postseason roster. This is another Torre decision that I'm not particularly enamored with, but I'd guess he'll be used in low leverage situations if at all, so his presence is less likely to be as harmful as TRF™'s presence could be. Flash Gordon came in to get the last out of the eighth before handing the ball over to the The Sandman for his 53rd save.

With Boston getting crushed by Tampa (thanks Tino), the magic number for clinching the AL East is down to one. Since the Red Sox won the season series, the Yankees can't "clinch a tie", but I will go out on a limb and say the the Yankees will win at least one more game this year or Boston will lose at least one more. They also picked up valuable ground in the pythagorean standings.

Looking ahead, there's a lot of talk about the Twins being a tough first round opponent due to them having the best pitcher in the American League able to start two of the five potential games, and while that is a legitimate concern, it needs to be tempered with the fact that the Yankees have one of the most talented offensive teams in baseball, and that the Twins offense is not a juggernaut, ranking 20th out of 30 teams with an EQA of .255. The Yankees lead baseball in EQA at .278 (tied with St. Louis). Also, the Yankees don't have to beat Santana, they just have to keep the game close while he's in there, then hope to win against the Twins bullpen, which is solid, but not nearly as good as Santana is. Kind of like how they did it tonight, although Ron Gardenhire made it easy by pulling Santana after five innings. At this point I'd expect Torre to start sorting out his roster choices, and we'll probably be able to get some insight into his thought process by his use of the guys who are on the bubble.

September 28, 2004 Cooperstown Confidential: Why They Hate Jeter
by Larry Mahnken

I don't hate Jeter, indeed I like him very much. But he's overrated, and I wish to correct misconceptions of him. If it comes across as hate, well, that's my error. But I don't hate him.

But there's a lot of statheads who loathe him, that I won't deny.

I'm feeling better, but there's some signal quality issues with my cable company right now, so I'm at the library computer today. I'll be back ASAP.

September 27, 2004

Kevin Brown
by Larry Mahnken

Comment on Brown's lousy start yesterday here.

I'm willing to reserve judgement until after his next start. Back to bed for me.

September 26, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

I've been very ill the last couple of days, so no comments, other than I'm satisfied with the weekend's results. They won 1 of 3, the division is all but clinched, and I have no fear of facing Boston or anyone else in October.

September 25, 2004

Brown will start series finale
by Larry Mahnken

Great, great news. If he pitches well, it's even better news.

No bitching about Brown's stupidity allowed in this thread.

September 24, 2004

The Sound and the Fury: Postseason Rotation Edition
by Sean McNally

In this edition, Sean and John bicker about the Yankees' postseason rotation, Joe Torre's annoying roster habits and how sweet it'd be for Texas to make the playoffs.

Sean McNally: Well, first lets look at the possible match ups - who do you like facing more: the Twins or the AL West Leader Du Jour?
SJohnny: AL West, without question. The Angels can't hit anymore and A's can't pitch …
SM: and Texas has buck?
SJ: Exactly
SM: Er, Buck "147 pitches" Showalter
SJ: I expect Ryan Drese to throw 211 pitches in Game One
SM: That's all? Well, I'd like to see the Gambler pitch in NY during the postseason... I think he may cry during his warm-ups
SJ: I think we were a little rough on the Gambler, Torre had a short hook on him.
SJ: One game in '96 Torre pulled him in the third, and he had only given up one run.
SJ: Check that, 2 runs
SM: What are you Michael Kay....
SJ: I am not.
SM: Check that, yes you are.
SJ: Did he invent the phrase?
SJ: Check that, he actually did.
SM: Moving on, on the topic of pitchers who can't pitch in NY what the hell is wrong with Home Run Javy?
SJ: I am guessing it's one of 3 things: A) injury B) mechanics
SM: check that. That’s two
SM: C) Mel Stottlyemyre is senile?
SJ: But anyway, if it is those two, there is nothing to be done, this is like John Lennon's year in Los Angeles, away from Yoko. The lost summer, or whatever. Javy is going to have to fix it in Winter Ball.
SM: *sings* Imagine all the people...
SM: Right, so who do you like in the rotation (I suspect we're going to agree a lot, so this may suck)
SJ: I want Moose going in Game One.
SM: Are we both still convinced he's back to being "Good Moose?"
SJ: Moose has given a couple interviews these last couple weeks, and in them he sounds confident, in both his health and his stuff. I think that is important.
SM: I agree, plus, El Duque starting would have me drunk by the third inning... for all his brilliance, he is quite Wetteland-esque.
SJ: Yes, it's almost he gets bored with getting up in the count, and he throws three balls to the Jay Gibbons of the world for shits and giggles.
SM: Right, but he goes in Game Two, right?
SJ: He has too.
SM: Right, the problem there is neither Moose nor Hernandez has been known to be very accommodating when it comes to short rest
SJ: But that is ok, if Kevin Brown can pitch in the regular season.
SM: Right, now I hate to agree with him, but Gammons had an interesting idea the other night on BBTN - Kevin QuanGorMo
SJ: I was thinking a similar thing, Brown pitched in relief for the Dodgers on his way back from his 14th surgery the other year (2002?) and he was effective. Although, I would prefer BrownTomMo, with Quantrill getting the blowouts
SM: Yeah, well look at this: Brown in pitches 1-15 holds hitter to a .230/.288/.393 line and in pitches 16-30 it skyrockets to .370/.400/.548
SM: So, if you could get Quantrill straight, you could have a situation where you only need your starter to go for five innings, then one of Quantrill, one of Brown, one of Gordon then big Mo at the end....
SJ: Right, but you can't do that every game, you can do that to steal one.
SM: Well, do you expect to have all five-inning starts?
SJ: No, but present day Moose and Duque do make more pitches to get the same number of outs than they used too.
SM: Yeah, which is nerve wracking.
SM: So do we like Brown in the rotation or in the 'pen? Call me Natalie Imbruglia... I'm torn
SJ: I don't want to give him an invite just yet, lets give him too starts. He hasn't pitched in a while, he won't have the dead arm.
SM: Ok, so who ya got in Game Three -- TLE or Lieber?
SJ: Maybe there will be a rainout?
SM: Ha, not bloody likely
SJ: Actually, I think there is a day off between games one and two, if we get that series, that's Moose and El Duque in Games Four and Five on regular rest.
SM: That would be nice
SJ: Not if we draw Minnesota, which I don't think we will.
SM: God I hope we don't. Santana-Radke-Repeat would suck
SJ: Side note. OK, you’re the Yankees, and you sweep the Red Sox, but they still have a four-game lead on the Wild Card. Do you tank versus the Twins?
SM: I don’t know if tank is the right word, but I wouldn't be stunned if the House Money lineup saw a lot of time.
SJ: I would throw Loaiza on zero days rest, twice
SM: I'd probably throw Loaiza, Graman and Halsey, with lots of Dioner Navarro behind the plate.
SJ: Perhaps The Run Fairy could play third base, Alex needs a rest.
SM: Your man crush, Mr. Phillips could get some time and bring up Cano too.
SJ: Did we ever decide on a Game Three starter?
SM: I'd like Lieber to show me another good start... but I'd be just as comfortable with Home Run Javy, particularly on the road in Oakland ... if that’s how it shakes out
SJ: Oakland would be OK with me, it a massive space of land.
SM: Exactly...
SM: Then Lieber in the pen or fourth starter if Joe feels like it,
SJ: The problem with Lieber in the pen, he doesn't strike many people out
SJ: Can't bring him in with runners on
SM: He does get lots of tasty ground balls though
SJ: It’s too bad the Yankees play behind him
SM: Hey, Jeter's been doing just fine, Wilson's been shelved for Cairo and the corner infield is fairly solid.
SM: Derek Jeter, Gold Glove Shortstop... just practice that with me now.
SJ: He may get it this year, because people are dumb,
SM: Hey, he may not be Rick Burleson or anything, but he’s improved a lot.
SJ: I think a lot of that is Willie Randolph. He seems to be in better position this year.
SM: Yeah. Plus, no dead kittens in the Bronx this year, which I like.
SJ: Yup.
SM: So to summarize, we've got Moose, Duque, HR Javy and Lieber or Moose again. How much does Brown need to show us to bump Javy?
SJ: He needs to show control of the strike zone
SM: Right
SJ: Do you remember how dire it seemed when Brown went down? They had just lost three in a row by a combined score of 60 runs
SM: Yeah, that’s why I love baseball... everything can change at the drop of the hat.
SJ: Exactly
SM: Now to the weekend.... any chance the "Nation" will be forced to watch Mo, Jeter and Co. spraying champagne all over Fenway? A sweep would do it.
SJ: Sure would.
SJ: The pitching match up on Sunday is less than favorable.
SM: Loaiza vs. Anyone?
SJ: Yeah.
SJ: Although, if the Yankees take the first two, Brown could come in and sweep the leg. That would be nice.
SM: Yeah, I think there are two situations where he pitches Sunday: If the Yanks win first two or Yanks lose the first two. If it’s a split, then he'll go vs. Minnesota
SJ: I would imagine that is the worst place for him to make his return, the ground ball factor and all.
SM: Well, since they are home games.
SJ: I thought they were at the dome.
SJ: Never mind then.
SJ: They should probably start him on the road first, but they don't have enough time really.
SM: Right.
SM: So that's it then... Rotation as of right now is Moose, Duque, HR Javy and Lieber
SJ: I don't know, I probably start Lieber first, especially if there is a day off after Game One
SM: Right.
SJ: And by first I mean before Javy.
SM: Right.
SM: Well, Brown mucks up the back end of the rotation anyway.
SJ: I guess, I am wondering how he would do on back-to-back days though.
SJ: And Karsay doesn't seem available, I doubt they would use him in this series.
SM: I hate Torre for that.
SJ: Torre seems to have changed from the manager that played Ledee and Rivera and Spencer…
SM: To the manager that essentially uses a 19-man roster?
SJ: Yeah
SM: I hate that, but that's for another rant
SJ: Yeah.

Last Stand
by Larry Mahnken

The Yankees split their four games since Sunday, and the Red Sox split their four games since Sunday. That's good for the Yankees, not so much for the Red Sox. I've gotta say, I'm dumbfounded by Boston's struggles against the Orioles, they never play them as well as they should, and this season they've played them poorly, period.

Anyway, by maintaining the status quo, the Yankees have forced the Red Sox into a must-sweep mode. If the Yankees sweep the series, they clinch the AL East -- something that ain't gonna happen, but it would be pretty neat to do it in Fenway -- but if the Yankees win just one game, Boston needs to gain 3½ games in a week. Hey, that could happen, but... probably not.

A sweep seems more likely that that to me, and it could happen. The Yankees rocked Pedro last Sunday and Moose shut down the Red Sox, but that was Sunday and Pedro will probably be much better tonight. Saturday is Wakefield versus the Little Enigma, Javy Vazquez, and Sunday is Curt Schilling against Warren Beatty. I don't expect a sweep, nor do I expect the Yankees to win the series, but they should be able to pull out one, maybe two wins.

If Boston does sweep it should make for an exciting stretch run, but I'm pretty sure the Yankees will pull it out anyway. If the Yankees were to go 3-3 in the last six, the Red Sox would have to go 5-2, and I'm not sure either of those would happen. But it would be exciting.

Now here's something you don't usually hear, but is something I feel is important to say:

Michael Kay was right, and I was wrong. I made a stupid, stupid mistake.

You see, when I said the Yankees had clinched a playoff spot, I had completely ignored the Rangers, because they were so far out of the race that they're not catching the Yankees. Even if the Yankees had lost yesterday, Texas still wouldn't catch the Yankees, but the Yankees would not have clinched.

If the Yankees had lost all of their remaining games, the Angels could catch the Yankees and the A's could catch the Yankees, but they couldn't both catch the Yankees. Because of that, the Yankees were assured to finish ahead of one of them, and since one is certain to finish first in the AL West and the other second, that meant that they'd win the Wild Card. Unfortunately, I neglected to factor in the fact that Texas could win out and tie the Yankees, while if the A's won all but a couple of their non-Rangers games, they'd finish ahead of both the Yankees and Rangers. Then the Yankees would be in a playoff for the Wild Card (assuming that the Red Sox had won 2 non-Yankee games, which is highly likely), which isn't elimination, but isn't clinching, either.

On the Yankees' broadcast Wednesday, Kay said that the Yankees could clinch with a win, and he was right. Now, he almost certainly didn't come up with that fact, someone else did, but he said something that was right, and I said something about the same thing that was wrong. And so I admit it. Moot point now, though -- the Yankees have actually clinched.

They clinched by beating up the Devil Rays one more time yesterday, Jon Lieber pitched pretty well, and Derek Jeter cracked three more hits to bring his average up to .293, his OPS up to .829 -- .339/.400/.562/.963 since May 25th. To hit .300, he needs to hit .421 the rest of the way. Hey, if he goes 6 for 6 tonight, he'll be at .300. It's not at all important that he reach it, but it would be really cool.

September 22, 2004

Ten Years In A Row
by Larry Mahnken

Mathematically, the Yankees' Magic Number to make the playoffs is 2, because the Angels could win 96 games if they won the rest of their games, one more than the Yankees' current 95.

But if the Angels were to win out, the A's would lose all six games they have remaining head-to-head with Anaheim, and finish with only 93 wins -- two behind the Yankees. If the A's were to win two of the head-to-head games and tie the Yankees, Anaheim would have only 94 wins, second in the AL West, and while still alive for the Wild Card, that's only if the Red Sox go 4-8 down the stretch, because they ain't catching the Yankees.

The Yankees' magic number is two, but it isn't. For the tenth straight season, the Yankees are in the playoffs. The only other team to do that is about to celebrate their 13th straight postseason appearance. The last time the Braves missed October, they had the worst record in baseball -- and the Yankees had the second worst (which garnered them Brien Taylor -- remember him?)

Anyway, no need to worry about that, all that's left is who they play and where they play. That would have been a little easier to secure if the Orioles hadn't screwed up royally in Fenway, lifting B.J. Ryan for Jorge Julio to get Mark Bellhorn and wasting a dramatic comeback. Still, that magic number is 8 (mathematically and practically), and while it would have taken a huge miracle for Boston to come back with a loss last night, it will still take a small miracle to do it with the win, even though they're far better than the Yankees.

Last night the Yankees bounced back from an irritating loss with a pretty nice win. Early on, Esteban Loaiza pitched like the mediocre pitcher he is, almost letting the Blue Jays blow it open in the second, but in the bottom of the second he died and had his spirit replaced by Warren Beatty, and he didn't allow another runner on base, finishing with 5.1 IP, 2 ER, and his first Yankee win (and 100th in his career).

Some other Yankees came alive, too, most notably Jason Giambi, who broke out of an 0-32 slump with a homer in his first at-bat against a Cy Young winner... wait, didn't this happen before? Why yes, I believe it did...
Derek Jeter jumped on Barry Zito 's first pitch of the game and sent it flying deep to left-center field when a disturbing thought suddenly entered his mind.

"I thought, 'Don't catch it!"' Jeter said. "I thought a bird would hit it or something and someone would catch it."

But this ball was out of everyone's reach as the Yankees shortstop broke out of an 0-for-32 slump with a leadoff home run and helped New York complete a three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics with a 7-5 victory Thursday night.
Heh, that's a pretty nifty coincidence. It took Jeter another month to wake up, though, so hopefully Giambi deviate from that script somewhat.

Gary Sheffield wasn't slumping -- he had homered off of Pedro on Sunday, but took Monday off after getting cortisone shots in his shoulder -- but he came up in the first inning after ICR had been robbed of a homer by Vernon Wells, and hit a ball into the left field upper-deck, out of Wells' reach. Halladay was pulled after 59 pitches and the Yankees tacked on a couple more runs to win 5-3.

And if that wasn't enough good news, Kevin Brown is getting the pins taken out of his hand Friday, and while it's highly unlikely, Joe Torre didn't rule out starting him instead of Beatty on Sunday. I think there's now a decent chance he pitches before the playoffs and in them, and I don't think there should be much rust if he can get one regular season start in.

Hey, if you're going to the first game he pitches, boo the hell out of him when he first comes in, but cheer him the rest of the way. He could pitch the Yanks to a World Championship.

September 21, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

I don't have data or anything, but it sure seems like the Yankees take the day off when they're facing a rookie they've never seen. It's probably not all that bad, but worse than expected, which makes it seem a lot worse than it is.

Well, they lost to a rookie last night, and while they were able to come close to a nice comeback in the 8th and 9th it just wasn't enough, and they followed up a couple of great wins against a great team with a lousy loss against a lousy team. Gotta love baseball.

The Yankees haven't clinched the AL East yet, and if Boston sweeps next weekend they need only make up 1½ games to win the division. But considering that the Yankees have a relatively easy schedule outside of the series next weekend, and that they'll be facing the Twins in their last three games with almost nothing of importance at stake for the Twins, it's not going for Boston to even do that.

And sweeping isn't going to be easy, either. While the decision to keep Hernandez on his normal rest and having Esteban Loaiza lose today and next Sunday in Fenway will make things a bit tougher on the Yankees, I don't think anyone should be expecting a sweep.

So everyone who was worrying about the division title in the last month can give it a rest, they've got to screw up royally to blow this thing, and there's no reason to expect they will.

Now we can look forward to the playoffs, and the possible opponents. Oakland and Anaheim are duking it out in the West, while the Twins clinched the Central last night. Who would be a better matchup for the Yankees?

The A's have the "Big Three", some dangerous hitters, and a decent lineup overall. The Yankees won two classic five-game series' against Oakland in 2000 and 2001, which seems ages ago. This year the Yankees have handled the A's very well, but they haven't dominated them. Obviously, you'd like to have the choice to bypass the first round completely and move on to the ALCS, but if you had to choose the team you'd least hate to play, I'd say it's Oakland. They can take these guys, even though it won't be easy by any means.

The Angels are in pretty much the same position for the division title that the Red Sox were on Friday, without having the Wild Card to fall back on. They'll only make the playoffs if they catch Oakland, but six remaining head-to-head games make that a lot more possible than it would be if those games weren't there.

The first two times the Yankees and Angels faced off, the Yankees won 2 of 3 games, but it was hardly easy. Then in August, the Halos swept into the Bronx and swept the Red Sox back into the AL East race. The Yankees are almost certain to make a better showing against Anaheim should they meet again, and Anaheim's starting rotation doesn't inspire fear, but they have such a dangerous lineup you don't want to have to face them.

And then there's the Twins, who the Yankees knocked out in four games last season. The final result of that series belies the closeness of it, as the Twins appeared to be in control at first before the Yankees took Game 2. In August Minnesota crushed the Yankees in a couple of games at the Metrodome before their great comeback was overcome by a Yankees comeback in the ninth. The Yankees are better than that, and they're better than the Twins, but there is a Wild Card in this matchup, and that Wild Card is Johan Santana.

Santana is the AL Cy Young Award winner this season, unless the voters are stupid. So, he's probably not the AL Cy Young Award winner this season, but he should be, because he's been the most dominant pitcher in the American League.

We've played this game before, though. Obviously, having a great pitcher is an advantage in a short series, but it's not the automatic win that it's hyped as. Yes, if Santana wins both his start, the Twins only need to win one of the other three, but it's never that simple. Boston is 2-3 in postseason series' in the Pedro era, and they were 1-4 in the Clemens era. Seattle was 1-2 with Randy Johnson, and while the Diamondbacks won the World Series with Johnson and Schilling in 2001, they were taken to the brink twice that postseason, and got swept in the first round the next year. The Braves were only 10-8 with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.

I don't want to face Santana, it's going to be tough to beat him and frustrating to lose to him. But if the Yankees play the Twins and sneak out a win in a Santana start, then the advantage swings heavily in their favor. Brad Radke's not a bad pitcher, he's had a very good year and has generally been quite good in his career, but he's not the type of guy you fear going up against. None of these matchups is going to be easy for the Yankees to get past, but even with the great starter for Minnesota, none of these matchups is going to be monumentally tough to win, either.

The Yankees can win the World Series, even without Brown, even without Giambi. I don't know if they will, but if I did it wouldn't be much fun to watch, would it?

September 20, 2004

"They're better and it's not even all that close"
by Larry Mahnken

When the Red Sox were super-hot a couple of weeks back, some Sox fans tried to read more into their hot streak than was really there. These were the real Red Sox, not the team that had played .500 from May 1st to August 6th. They hadn't made up 8½ games in 24 days because they had been hot while the Yankees were playing .500, they did it because they were better -- "and it's not even all that close", in the words of a Sox fan reader and fellow blogger.

The Red Sox have a better Pythagorean Record than the Yankees this year, a much, much better record. Going into this past weekend, the Red Sox's Pythagorean Record was 9½ games better than New York's. Head to head, the Red Sox were 8-5 against the Yankees coming into the weekend.

So they're clearly better than the Yankees, right?

No, not clearly. For one, the head-to-head record between the Yankees and Red Sox is misleading, as the Sox caught the Yankees in April when they were hot and the Yankees were cold, and won 6 of 7. Since then, the Yankees are 6-3 against the Red Sox. There have been several close games in the season series which could have gone either way, and anything more than a quick glance at the overall series would tell one that these teams are very evenly matched.

They're so evenly matched, in fact, that their best starters haven't been enough to win games for them. For the Yankees, in games started by Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown or Javier Vazquez, they're 2-5, while the Red Sox are 2-3 in games started by Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez. Even odder, the Yankees are 3-0 in Jon Lieber's starts, the Red Sox are 4-0 in Bronson Arroyo's starts. What I'd draw from all that is that both of these teams can win any time they go out there against any pitcher thrown out there. They're evenly matched.

But Boston still has the Pythagorean advangtage, a run differential 61 runs greater than the Yankees, an expected record 6½ games better. But Pythagorean Record is a tool, and a blunt one at that. Pythagorean Record correlates exceptionally well with winning, but that doesn't mean it's a better indication of a team's quality than their actual winning percentage. A team that's overperformed or underperformed their Pythagorean Record may be lucky, but they aren't necessarily lucky, becuase there are other reasons that could explain that result.

The number of runs a team scores and allows reflects the participation of their entire roster, including players who are no longer with the team, or who no longer play a meaningful role with them. The runs given up by your mop-up pitcher count every bit as much as the runs given up by your starting pitcher, the runs given up by your fifth starter count as much as runs given up by the first starter. But you don't measure the quality of a team by their mop-up relievers or fifth starters.

It's been pointed out that the Yankees have two bullpens, the one that pitches in close, winnable games, and the one that pitches in games that are out of reach one way or the other. The bullpen that comes in when the game is out of reach sometimes puts it even more out of reach, giving up meaningless runs that count just as much as the meaningful ones. When they come in with a big lead, they sometimes make that lead much smaller, and the good bullpen comes in and shuts down the rally. It leads to wins, but close wins.

Thus the Yankees' 44-21 record in games decided by 2 or fewer runs. You usually expect teams to play around .500 in games like that, like Boston has, but the Yankees have had some blowout games turn into close ones because of their bad pen, and some close losses turn into blowouts because of it. And QuanGorMo has helped the Yankees do better in normal close games.

All this doesn't necessarily add up to the Yankees being better than the Red Sox. The Red Sox may well be better, and they certainly aren't really that .500 team, but after getting crushed in back-to-back games, one thing is for sure -- it's close.

* * *

Mike Mussina's September ERA is 1.20, Orlando Hernandez's is 1.88, Jon Lieber's is 2.96. They gave up a combined 5 runs to the Red Sox this weekend.

Next person to complain about the Yankees' rotation gets a punch in the face.

September 15, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

OK, this is bizzare. I moved my computer into the other bedroom in my apartment, and it appears the floor is on a slight slant. I feel like I'm falling over while I'm sitting here. Weird.

The Yanks have given up 14 or more runs three times in their last 16 games, each time in the first game of the series, but each time they've won the last two games of the series. That probably doesn't mean anything, except maybe it shows the character of this team -- what happened yesterday doesn't really impact how they deal with today.

Javier Vazquez threw 7 scoreless innings yesterday as the Yankees shut out the Royals for the second game in a row... but let's not go overboard here. 17 runs or no 17 runs, these are still the Royals, and shutting them out isn't a glorious feat worth shouting about from the rooftops. Javy pitched well, but not great, not like Moose did on Tuesday. It's not the kind of performance that will get the Yankees crushed like they did in two of his previous three starts, but it's won't shut down anybody in the playoffs. It's a step in the right direction, but it wasn't a special outing.

Still, it's a win, and the Yankees lead by 4 games heading into the weekend. They're in first place now, they'll be in first place Monday, and this weekend is no longer a must-win for the Yankees, it's a must-win for Boston.

Still, this is Boston's chance. The pitching matchups are pretty even this weekend, but if Boston sweeps this series, and especially if they crush the Yankees in this series, they're not only breathing down the Yankees' necks for the division title, they'll have gotten revenge for the "Boston Massacre". No doubt there are fans in Boston hoping for that to happen.

I certainly don't expect that to happen, of course. For the Yankees, this is their chance to prove to a skeptical public that they're still the team that has the best record in the AL. By taking two of three from the Red Sox, who've quite fortunately cooled off recently, they'll send a message to everyone that they're a force to be reckoned with.

* * *

The Blue Jays agreed to move up their Thursday game to Monday so the Yankees could play the Devil Rays on Thursday without having to play a split doubleheader. It doesn't change how the rotation shakes out, but it makes things a little easier going into the second Boston series, not having to blow their bullpen the day before it.

Well, I hope.

by Larry Mahnken

Reader Chris A. emailed me yesterday:
The Angels won the World Series in 2002 with a rotation that was almost certainly worse than the one the Yankees are throwing out there right now.

Statistically, the Yankees' rotation is far worse. If you can see past the bright lights and big names, the Yankees' starters are nowhere near as good.
In a matchup between the Yankees' likely postseason rotation (without Brown) and the Angels' rotation, comparing their ERA's, Anaheim seems to have a clear edge:
2004 Yankees  ERA    2002 Angels  ERA

Mussina 4.76 Washburn 3.15
Hernandez 2.49 Appier 3.92
Vazquez 4.94 Ortiz 3.77
Lieber 4.46 Lackey 3.66
Now ERA's a fine stat, but there are other factors involved in how these pitchers posted these numbers. Anaheim's starters had a .275 Batting Average against on Balls in Play, the Yankees' starters have a .302 BABIP. While BABIP against is partially under the pitchers' controls, there's other reasons. Anaheim had a better defense than the Yankees do, but luck also plays a large role in BABIP. If you compare by DIPS, it becomes clear that the Yankees' rotation is not only better, but much better:
2004 Yankees DIPS    2002 Angels DIPS

Mussina 3.96 Washburn 4.09
Hernandez 3.67 Appier 4.57
Vazquez 4.77 Ortiz 5.22
Lieber 3.91 Lackey 4.24
Only one starter, Vazquez, has been inferior to any of Anaheim's starters, and is still superior to Ortiz. His career 3.90 dERA indicates that there's more there than he's shown this year, but there's not much time for him to get straightened out. Regardless, the Yankees' starters have a cumulative 4.16 dERA compared to Anaheim's 4.57 in 2002.

In the postseason, Anaheim's rotation fell apart, posting a 5.38 ERA and a 5.38 dERA -- their defense didn't help there. And yet they still won the World Series, albeit in seven games. How'd they manage that?

Productive outs, of course. Their diverse offense moved runners along and... I'm kidding. They won by pounding the hell out of the ball, and shutting down their opponents when they got the lead. They had a ridiculous .879 OPS in the postseason, and Francisco Rodriguez was the Angels' Mariano Rivera, posting a 1.93 ERA and winning five games.

The Yankees could post an .879 OPS, though that's unlikely, and their bullpen may in fact be better than the 2002 Angels, with Gordon and Rivera being as good or better than Rodriguez and Percival, and Quantrill and Karsay can match the results of the rest of the pen. But even if they don't quite measure up to that, the rotation will probably do better than Anaheim's did, I think they'll do better than 5.38.

* * *

Mike Mussina went a long way towards solidifying the postseason rotation today by pitching 8 shutout innings, dropping his ERA by 0.27 and his DIPS by 0.18. Yeah, it was against a generally weak Royals lineup (that beat the crap out of them a day earlier, but is still generally weak), but it was complete dominance. He struck out 11, walked only one, and worked out of the only jam he faced without any difficulty. That's the third straight great start for Mussina, and it would have been four had he been pulled a few batters earlier against Toronto. If he and El Duque pitch like this in October, there's the two dominant starters that can carry you all the way to the World Series.

The Yanks won, the Red Sox lost, and I am now a fan of Jim Duquette -- at least until Scott Kazmir pitches against the Yankees next. It was Duquette who traded Kazmir to the D-Rays for Victor Zambrano, and it was Kazmir who shut down the Red Sox last night. That extends the lead to four, and makes it that much tougher for Boston to come back. If the Yankees can win tomorrow afternoon, they'll guarantee themselves at least a 3½ game lead going into the weekend series, and Boston will pretty much have to win the series to stay alive in the division. If Boston loses one of the next two and the Yankees win tomorrow, well, then they'll pretty much have to sweep.

Jason Giambi came back yesterday, hit a ball to the warning track in his first at-bat and drew a walk in the ninth. From how he says he feels, I don't think it's unreasonable to see him being a factor in October, once he gets his timing down. If he is an impact player, that changes the postseason equation, big-time.

September 14, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

It's simply frustrating to watch a game like that, one that you not only going in that they should have won, but by actually watching it, they should have won. They got Brian Anderson in trouble again and again early, but couldn't make him suffer for it by getting the big hit. Halsey struggled again, and when Joe Torre tried to get Tanyon Sturtze to vulture one more win, it just wasn't there for him. Before you knew it, the game was out of reach, and the Yankees just stopped trying.

For what it's worth, this doesn't have any meaning other than a loss, because the players who lost this game (the pitchers), aren't going to play an important role in the postseason, and are not likely to even make the roster. It would take a major disaster of historic proportions for the Yanks to miss the postseason, so it's just a game. It's just a loss. Yippee.

But the Yankees now need to win the next two games, they can't head back to New York Friday to face the Red Sox having lost a series to the Royals, they have to come in strong.

On the bright side, Derek Jeter's batting average is back up to .285, his OPS is up to .804, both of which are respectable numbers for a shortstop. Stick his improved defense into the mix, and he's having a year that's not that much worse than his previous seasons.

And since May 25th, when his line was .189/.249/.279/.528? He's batting .332/.392/.545/.937. Hey, if he keeps doing that in October, then we might have a shortstop worth keeping around for a while.

September 13, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Ever see a team give up on a game? No? Then you weren't watching tonight.

A Star Nobody Wanted To See Twinkle
by Mad Mike

The Phenom

“Some men are born great, others achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Roger Maris didn’t ask for much. He wanted to play baseball and do it to the best of his abilities and of course -- win. Nobody knew better what Roger Maris had to do to achieve that than Roger Maris.

Maris was never afforded that luxury.

Roger Maris was initially drafted and signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1953 and was considered a five-tool talent. He could: hit, hit with power, run, catch and throw. He was also known as being a very strong willed, strong minded young man. Generally youthful talents in that era were deferential when they first entered the professional ranks because they were awed and grateful that a major league team had shown enough interest in their skills to offer a contract.

Not Maris.

The Indians initially wanted to send the talented youngster all the way down to their Class D affiliate in Daytona Beach Florida. Maris simply let it be known that it was unacceptable for personal reasons and wouldn’t budge until the Indians sent him to Class C, their team in Fargo of the Northern League. Maris proved he belonged there by displaying his incredible talent and was not overmatched at that level batting .325 and posting an OBP of .429. He also drove in 80 runs in 418 at bats despite hitting just nine home runs. So the Cleveland front office decided to keep him Fargo for another season to be certain that it wasn’t a “fluke” campaign on Maris’ part.

Maris wouldn’t hear of it.

He demanded, and ultimately got a promotion to the Indians’ Class B club in Keokuk in the Triple I league. As he had the previous season, Maris proved he belonged, having a monster campaign batting .315. He also showcased his power stroke hitting 32 home runs, driving in 111 [runs] and when pitchers grew tired of pitching to him he’d simply take a walk to first base, which he did 80 times that year. In 1955 he split time in both the Texas League and the Eastern League hitting 20 home runs, batting .300 and reaching base 42 percent of the time. He finally graduated to the American Association, one rung below the major leagues. He had a decent enough year in Indianapolis hitting in some tough pitcher’s parks slugging .494. This earned him two things: a major league job in 1957 and the attention of New York Yankees’ scouts. Yankees general manager George Weiss made some inquiries about the young man’s availability and the Indians informed him in no uncertain terms that the Yankees wouldn’t get him in this world or the next one for that matter. The Indians had a difficult enough time keeping pace with the Yankees without developing players on their behalf.

Of course that didn’t slow Weiss up one bit.

Weiss wasn’t only knowledgeable about players in his own farm system, he also made it his business to know everything about players in everybody else’s minor league organizations. Not just their batting or fielding percentages either, he’d go so far as to amass a comprehensive file on all of a player’s characteristics and personality. He knew that Maris was strong willed, stubborn even and it didn’t bother him a whit. That was one of the reasons he had hired Casey Stengel in the first place, Stengel could handle “difficult” players. The Yankees field boss had managed enigmatic Joe Page, the idiosyncrasies of Yogi Berra, the sometimes sullen, often moody Mickey Mantle, the dark brooding hot tempered Vic Raschi, the truculent red-assed Gene Woodling not to mentioned the fiery, insecure Billy Martin. If a player had the tools, Weiss knew Stengel could handle the peripheral matters in the clubhouse.

Weiss also knew that a lot of teams couldn’t handle players of that stripe. He knew that soon enough Maris, because of his personality, might become available -- not to the Yankees of course, but available nonetheless. Weiss had allies that few knew about. Weiss let it be known to good friend, and Kansas City Athletics owner Arnold Johnson (who once owned Yankee Stadium) and Weiss’ previous employee of two decades and current Athletics’ general manager Parke Carroll that if they were to acquire Maris, that Weiss and the Yankees would sweep them off their feet with the sweetest deal imaginable.

Maris opened his major league career in promising fashion. Although he didn’t hit for a high average that year (.235) he showed excellent power in Cleveland’s cavernous Municipal Stadium swatting fourteen home runs. Maris also showed a keen batting eye drawing sixty walks and striking out just 79 times, excellent ratios for a young slugger. The mark of a good batting eye is oft evidenced on whether a hitter can post an on base percentage 100 points over his batting average. Maris did just that finishing his rookie campaign with a .345 OBP -- not impressive of itself unless you take into account that young Maris batted less than .240. The bottom line was: Maris didn’t disappoint. What was disappointing to the Cleveland brass was how badly he tailed off in the second half after breaking a couple of ribs in an on field collision raising questions about his talent and desire.

Maris however brought more than just his batting eye to the major league level, he also brought his strong willed nature along with him. Despite a sparkling sophomore season where -- despite a low batting average (.240) -- he still doubled his home run output from the previous season, Maris ultimately did become available after a falling out with the Cleveland Indians’ front office. The Indians, still suspicious about Maris’ pedigree after his injury plagued second half in 1957 began to platoon him with another promising young right fielder -- Rocky Colavito. When Maris butted heads with the Indians’ GM Frank Lane over this situation the Tribe then decided to keep Colavito and part with Maris. St. Louis Brown’s owner Bill Veeck was aghast and asked if Lane realized he‘d just sent Maris to the Yankees? Lane did and replied that it was a trade he had to make for the good of his club.

Kansas City was ready and waiting.

After a one year apprenticeship in Kansas City where he sparkled in all aspects of the game setting career highs (up to that point) in batting, on base and slugging percentage and as an added bonus, walked more than he struck out -- all despite a nasty second half slump, the Yankees shipped two promising youngsters: Marv Throneberry and Norm Siebern plus two solid veterans in Hank Bauer and Don Larsen for Maris and a couple of throw-ins.

The American League’s Most Valuable Player

After the debacle better known as the 1959 season the Yankee roster underwent a number of changes, the biggest one in right field. Hank Bauer had served that station with excellence clouting over 150 HR for over a decade all the while batting right handed into the jaws of “Death Valley” where 425 foot blasts became outs. Having played in nine World Series made Bauer’s footsteps big ones to follow in. However Bauer made his career on grit and hard work whereas Maris -- also a hard worker -- was blessed with obvious physical gifts.

Maris’ style of play was straightforward enough -- he was reckless. The right fielder knew only one way to play ... all out. Maris realized the obvious fact that baseball doesn’t operate by the clock, until the opposition had registered 27 outs there was still the possibility of tasting victory and he handled himself accordingly. By the end of May Maris was leading the league in longballs and was the offensive catalyst. Hank Bauer was a fine ballplayer but when somebody with the firepower of Maris was inserted into the middle of a lineup with the likes of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Bill Skowron then you’ve have the recipe for ravaging opposing pitchers’ ERA’s, not to mention their psyches.

Maris’ linebacker approach to baseball inadvertently affected Mickey Mantle’s 1960 season for the worse in mid August against the Senators. Mired in a slump, knees aching and growing frustrated Mantle -- with Maris on first -- hit a sharp grounder on the infield to Washington shortstop Jose Valdivielso and Maris, in typical Maris fashion tried his utmost to knock Senators’ second baseman Billy Gardner into the vicinity of left field. However Mantle didn’t hustle down the first base line and Maris -- who had suffered broken ribs earlier in his career playing for the Indians -- reinjured himself and was lost until mid September. Stengel was livid and took a strip of Mantle in the press, the reaction of the Stadium crowd could be politely referred to as vitriolic.

However Maris came back into the lineup and the Yankees kicked it into high gear shaking off the Orioles and winning their final 15 games of the season making an utter shambles of what initially appeared to have the makings of a spine-tingling pennant race.

The October stage better known as the World Series has humbled many a great player. Ted Williams in his only Fall Classic batted .200. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and even Joe DiMaggio had suffered October humiliation where they couldn’t even hit the (.200) “Mendoza Line.” It didn’t appear to phase Maris much however as he homered in his first post season at bat off Pittsburgh Pirates’ ace Vernon Law who’d won 20 games for the National League champs. He would connect again in Game Five off Harvey Haddix however, it all went for naught as Bill Mazeroski sent the Forbes Field crowd into ecstasy by launching a home run in the bottom of the ninth off of Ralph Terry.

Chasing the Babe

1960 ended in disappointment but Maris could at least celebrate being named the American League Most Valuable Player, however he’d have preferred to have a ring that proclaimed him a member of the World Series champions. In 1961 he’d get to enjoy both, but even in this his achievement was bittersweet. The beginning of the 1961 season, despite speculation that he had a chance to beat the unbeatable -- Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 circuit clouts -- was quiet for the reigning league MVP May 3rd against the Minnesota Twins was only notable due to Roger Maris hitting just his second four-bagger of the season. On the penultimate game of the month Maris slugged two more against the Boston Red Sox and hammered one the following day for good measure giving him 12 to that point of the season.

He was just getting warmed up.

He slugged two against the expansion Los Angeles Angels on June 11th and finished June with 27 homers. On July 2nd he slugged a pair against the Senators and on the 25th blasted a trifecta against the Chicago White Sox. He finished the month with 40 HR and a proclamation from commissioner Ford Frick. If Babe Ruth’s 60 HR season was not accomplished in the season’s first 154 games (the schedule had been increased to 162 games because of league expansion) then the record would have an asterisk affixed to it. Maris went on another run slugging five more dingers from August 13-16. As he neared the Babe’s record the media crush became unbearable. Reporters from around the world came to cover the great home run chase and when Mantle became ill and injured then the spotlight focused squarely on Maris. Maris fell short of Frick’s imposed deadline finishing with 59 at the 154 game mark. On September 20th at Yankee Stadium in the third innings off flame throwing youngster Milt Pappas Maris launched the aforementioned 59th. The game clinched the American League flag for the Yankees and Maris could only shake, partly from relief because the chase was over, at least by the commissioner’s criteria. However Maris still had eight games to reach 61. He got 60 against another promising young Oriole named Jack Fisher and finally topped the Babe on the final game of the season off Boston’s Tracy Stallard and the record was his, asterisk and all.

The World Series was anticlimactic as the Yankees completely overwhelmed the Cincinnati Reds.

Maris wished he could’ve enjoyed it.

The most crushing aspect of a professional athlete’s life is expectations. “What have you done for me lately?” is the anthem of the fans and the media. Maris for his heroics won his second consecutive MVP award, wore a World Series ring and the one question everybody seemed to ask: could he hit 62 HR in 1962? Maris had a stellar year in ‘62, his numbers not far off his 1960 totals when he copped his first MVP trophy. He added another World Series ring and was named “Flop of the Year” by the media ... expectations unfulfilled is a curse Maris would never be able to get out from under. The Yankees added two more American League flags in 1963 and 1964 and nobody was willing to let him get out from under 1961. Maris never thought he was better than the Babe yet everybody seemed to be determined to remind him of that fact. He just wanted to play baseball.

The Pariah

Maris often said that he’d have enjoyed his career a lot more if he had hit 59 HR in 1961. Since he couldn’t duplicate his achievement he was labeled a bum. He broke his hand in 1965 and the test results were kept from him, his performance suffered and finally the fans and media drove Maris out of New York and he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for a journeyman infielder named Charlie Smith. However, despite no longer being able to play full time he contributed to a Cardinals’ World Championship in 1967 and a National League pennant in 1968. He heard cheers, not boos. They only expected him to be Roger Maris, the fans in St. Louis appreciated him and when he finally retired, Cardinals’ owner Gussie Busch set him up in a beer distributorship in Florida.

To say he was crucified in the media would be accurate. Maris was a private individual, more artisan than artist despite his gifts. The sometimes heartless New York press wanted Maris to be something that he wasn’t. Maris was too honest for that. He knew he was best at being Roger Maris. The pressures of 1961 would’ve destroyed a lesser man. With the perspective of history it becomes clear that he handled himself with both dignity and class despite press reports to the contrary. Very few people that year seeking a story went away empty handed. However whatever Maris gave whether on the field or in the media was never enough for some people and those people sought to hurt him, to punish him because he wasn’t what they wanted him to be.

He was Roger Maris, he deserved better.


  • Maris was recruited by legendary coach Bud Wilkinson to play football for the University of Oklahoma, he once scored four touchdowns on kickoff returns to set a national high school record.
  • Among eligible players Roger Maris is the only back-to-back winner of the MVP not to be inducted into the Hall-of-Fame
  • His best performance in World Series play was in 1967 for the St. Louis Cardinals: he batted .385 with a home run 7 RBI and three walks giving him an OBP of .448 against the “Impossible Dream” Boston Red Sox.
  • Maris 7 RBI in the 1967 World Series is the most ever for a Cardinal in World Series play until Keith Hernandez broke it in 1982.
  • in 1961 Maris homered off Detroit 8 times, Minnesota 4 times, Los Angeles 4 times, Washington 9 times, Cleveland 8 times, Baltimore 3 times, Boston 7 times, Kansas City 5 times and Chicago 13 times.
  • Of the three HR hit off the Baltimore Orioles, two of them were numbers 59 and 60.
  • Roger Maris won the Gold Glove in 1960.
  • Despite being named “Flop of the Year” in 1962 he hit more home runs and drove in more runs than Mickey Mantle who won the MVP.
  • On July 21st 1984 the New York Yankees retired his number.

Good for what ails ya
by Larry Mahnken

If Joe Torre had brought in someone who was actually skilled in throwing a baseball past a batter in the third inning on Friday, the Yankees might have swept the Orioles this past weekend. There's been a few of those moments this season, a few decisions could have been made differently and the Yankees might still have a big cushion in the AL East.

Well that big cushion is gone. They're not going to lead by 10½ again, not this year, so take a look at what they do have, and take comfort. A 3½ game lead with 19 games left isn't anything to be nervous about -- Boston could cut it to 1½ by winning both of their remaining series' against the Yankees, but they'd still have to gain another game and a half somewhere, and we shouldn't expect them to win 4 of 6 anyway.

With their win yesterday afternoon, the Yankees have played .700 baseball in their last 20 games (since the sweep by Anaheim), the problem is that Boston's played .800 ball. By all rights the Yankees should have tacked on a couple of games in the standings, not dropped a couple. They did their part, Boston didn't hold up their end of the bargain.

But the upside is that the Yankees pretty much locked up their playoff berth with yesterday's win -- if Anaheim wins every game left, the Yankees can still tie them by going 11-8 -- making the AL East a fun run. '97 Marlins were the Wild Card, the 2000 Yankees had the AL's 5th-best record, and the 2002 Angels and 2003 Marlins were the Wild Card, too. Home Field Advantage is something, but it's not always that important.

Nor is, regardless of what Jim Kaat says, having great starting pitching vital, either. The 2002 Angels won with mediocre starting pitching and great relief pitching. The Yankees have a slightly stronger rotation, a slightly weaker bullpen, and a much stronger lineup. They can do this thing. Don't jump overboard, there' s no real reason to. Not yet.

The Yanks now head into Kansas City for a series that's not going to be as easy as it looks, if they win two of three, they're in very good shape heading back into The Stadium to face Boston. The matchups are slated as: El Duque vs. Arroyo, Lieber vs. Lowe, and while the CBS schedule says Halsey vs. Pedro, it's almost certain to be Moose (on full rest) vs. Pedro. No clear edges to Boston there, so if you're tempted to look ahead fearfully, don't. They can win that series. (Hey Erik, how is Houston/Milwaukee the Sunday night game???)

September 10, 2004

Insert Stupid Sweep Pun Here
by Larry Mahnken

I was awfully worried about having to play a doubleheader against the Devil Rays, not because the Devil Rays give anyone any particular cause to worry, but because doubleheaders are tough to sweep. You only get to use your first-string catcher for one of the games (an issue when it's difference between Jorge Posada and John Flaherty), and if the first game is close then you might have to use up your bullpen before even getting into the second game. Tough to win, easy to lose, they say. That's not logically correct, but it still makes sense in a Yogi Berra type of way.

I guess we didn't have to worry, huh? The Yankees won the first game easily thanks to a steady offensive attack and another brilliant start by Mike Mussina (he's baaaaaaaaaack...), and then they went out and won the second game easily thanks to another steady offensive attack and... well, a cruddy start by Brad Halsey, but great relief pitching by Tanyon Sturtze. With the Red Sox getting shut down by a 28-year old rookie (there, someone finally brought their A-game against the Sox -- keep it up), the Yankees were able to make up the lost half-game from Wednesday's rainout, and tack on an insurance game -- the first game they've added in the standings in 17 days.

After all that happened this week, the Yankees and Devil Rays ended up losing only one game, one that MLB wants them to make up in a two-team split doubleheader during one of Tampa Bay's off-days. If the Yankees can take care of the Rays as easily as they did this week, it won't be a problem, but let's hope that it's Monday and not the 23rd. Monday, the Yankees take on the Royals in the evening, and have two more games against them afterwards. KC beat up on Detroit big-time today, so they might not be a total pushover, but it's better than the alternative.

On the 23rd, the Yankees will be playing the Blue Jays in the evening, before heading to Fenway Park the next day. Two games the day before the Boston series could wreck the Yankees' bullpen, and have a negative impact, it's less likely to hurt them next week. We'll see how that turns out.

My friend Chrissy, the official hot babe of the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, and future Mrs. Jeter, went to California with her brother last week, while the Yankees were playing the Twins and Angels. As she was leaving, the Yankees were comfortably in first place, by about 10 games. As she was getting on the plane to come home, her mother told here the Yankees were trailing the Indians 7-0; they would eventually lose 22-0.

When I talked to her the other day, she wondered why the AL East went all to hell while she was gone. During that time, Jeter batted only .226 with a .705 OPS, and the Yankees dropped 7 games in the standings.

And since then, the Yankees have gone 7-2, kept pace with Boston, and Jeter's batting .476 with a 1.219 OPS. We're not letting Chrissy leave the state anymore.

Maybe we should lock the state.

September 9, 2004

Let's Try this Again
by SG

Thanks to the remnants of Frances, yesterday's doubleheader has been rescheduled for today at 3 p.m., with the second game scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

The weather is still crappy, so it's going to be iffy that both games will get played. From the YES Network web site:

If postponement occurs, things get complicated for a couple of reasons: 1) this is the Devil Rays’ final trip to New York; 2) the teams don’t have any mutual off days for the remainder of the season. The Yankees are off on Sept. 16, 20 and 27, while the Devil Rays are off on Sept. 13 and 23.

Among the options being discussed are playing a split doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, with one game in the afternoon against the Devil Rays on one of Tampa Bay’s off days, and the night game against whoever is scheduled. Pushing a game to Oct. 4, as the Yankees intended, is a last resort.

The best news out of all this, no Esteban Loaiza start. Mussina and Halsey will get the starts instead. I'm very surprised by this. Tampa will still go with Brazleton and Rob Bell.

In other news
Kevin Brown was supposed to throw yesterday for the first time since he broke his left hand. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. Brown will try again today. The right-hander, who will need someone to catch the return throws when he pitches, will likely throw every other day for the next 2-3 weeks. Brown hopes to be able to make a start for New york before the end of the month.

Also, Giambi's rehab game with Columbus got rained out, so they'll try again today.

Boston won again last night, and now sit just two games back. Remember when Boston once lost a game? That was awesome. They are mowing through the toughest part of their schedule, and I don't think anyone expected that. All the Yankees can do is try and match them, then win the majority of the remaining six games between the two teams. It certainly seems that they won't be getting help from any other teams.

For the best in up to the minute New York weather maps, always come to Larry's blog.
And yes, is in the forecast all day today.


Radar map courtesy of

September 8, 2004

Maybe the Wild Card ain't such a bad thing after all...
by Larry Mahnken

Yankees vs. Oakland: 7-2
Yankees vs. Minnesota: 1-2

Boston vs. Oakland: 7-1
Boston vs. Minnesota: 2-4

by Larry Mahnken

At some point this month, the Yankees will have immunized us to their being behind in a game early. They give up a couple of runs in the first inning, and you won't really worry, because they're still likely to win.

This season, the Yankees have scored the first run of the game 62 times, and they've won all but 16 of those games. However, they've given up the first run 76 of their games, and impressively, won 40 of those games. When they score the first run, they're the '98 Yankees, but when they give up the first run, they're still more than breaking even, and that's pretty impressive.

Last night, they did it again, giving up two runs right away in the first inning on a soft home run by Rocco Baldelli. But after that, Jon Lieber was as good as he's been in any game this season, and the Yankees rolled to victory, 11-2. If they keep winning games like that -- although it ain't gonna be easy when they're not playing the D-Rays -- then that 2½ game lead ain't gonna look that bad. It would be nice if some team could bring their A-game against the Red Sox one of these days, though. I guess, however, if there's a choice between the Red Sox being unbeatable now and losing in the playoffs or vice-versa, I'll take the former.

Now the Yankees are getting good pitching, but they need their lineup to start clicking again. A-Rod has been spectacular in the last couple of weeks -- he has a 1.181 OPS since the ninth inning of the first game in Toronto, and a 1.276 OPS with RISP since then. Jeter's hitting better, Cairo's hitting better, but Kenny Lofton, Hideki Matsui and Ruben Sierra are ice-cold and negating all that goodness. They need the hot guys to stay hot and the cold guys to play better. They've got a few weeks to get that working, and if their pitching keeps up what they've done this past week, then we're in business.

September 7, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

For the record, I don't think any Yankees fan, certainly not me, thinks the Devil Rays should have to forfeit a game yesterday. The Yankees asked because by the rules, they should be awarded a win. If you think they shouldn't have, you're incredibly naive, and probably think the players shouldn't have gone on strike in 1994 for the good of the game, and taken their screwing in 1995 when the owners would have locked them out, even though MLB was breaking the law.

However, our point is that if Tampa Bay hadn't been able to show up at all on Monday, even if it was because of the hurricane, they absolutely, positively should have forfeited one game.

Forfeit to be tied
by Larry Mahnken

What happened yesterday afternoon was a failure on the part of Major League Baseball.

Last weekend, before Hurricane Frances hit Florida, MLB "suggested" to the Devil Rays that they get out of Dodge and head up to New York. On at least someplace that wasn't going to be hit by a hurricane. They didn't do anything official or formal, they just said that maybe it would be a good idea, because, you know, it would have been a good idea.

According to MLB, the Devil Rays spent Friday and Saturday trying to get out, but they couldn't. According to reports out of Tampa Bay, they had no intention of trying to get out, and the statements of the Devil Rays' management support that version. They told the MLBPA that they were going to stick it out in Florida to "be with their families". They'd try to make it out on Sunday night or Monday morning, so MLB pushed back the start of the first game to 3:00. They boarded the plane 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the game.

Should the Devil Rays have forfeited the first game? I don't think they should have, because they were able to make it to New York in time to play a second game, but if they hadn't, I do believe they should have been forced to forfeit one game, and if MLB had decided to make them forfeit a game anyway, that wouldn't have been out of line. As it is, MLB has screwed up anyway.

By saying that they wanted to be with their families, the Devil Rays are spinning this situation to make anyone who disagrees with their decision look like an asshole. I mean, what, do you hate families?

You see this in politics, the right-wing spin on President Bush's actions in a Florida classroom on 9/11 is that he didn't want to scare the children, and that he did the right thing. I've actually had people argue to me that he shouldn't have scared those children, as if that was the most important responsibility he faced that day! If you think he should have gotten up and done something, then you must hate children! Who cares that the only man able to order civilian planes shot down when civilian planes are being used as weapons is not doing anything, even informing himself? Do you want children to cry?!

OK, I digressed majorly there, but that's just ridiculous spin -- but they've actually made it, and half the country buys it.

Of course, the Devil Rays weren't facing the same situation as the President on that day, but that they invoked their families doesn't excuse them. The best thing for their families would of course have been to GET OUT OF FLORIDA. Again, this wasn't a surprise, they knew the hurricane was coming, they knew that this would be dangerous. The best thing to do would have been to get them out of the state and to a safe place.

When they decided to stay in Florida, MLB cut them some slack in pushing back the first game. The Rays expected to leave at 9am on Monday morning, but at noon they were still at the ballpark. Not at the airport, at the ballpark. When they finally left the ballpark, they were delayed even more because the bridge across Tampa Bay was cut down to one lane. They finally left around 3:00.

At some point that morning, the Devil Rays should have called MLB and the Yankees and told them that they weren't going to be able to make it, to call off the first game, and move it later in the week. Whether they did or not, I don't know, but MLB certainly didn't make that decision. That decision was delayed until it was clear that only one game could be played, so the players and fans sat around waiting for the game, whenever it was going to be.

When the Rays made it in the evening, MLB declared that they wouldn't declare a forfeit, because they don't believe in those, and think the pennant race should be decided on the field. Not declaring a forfeit is fine, but their reasoning was idiotic. Of course there's a point where you have to declare a forfeit -- what if the Diamondbacks decide they don't want to show up at the park today because Randy Johnson's not available? Should that be okay? Of course not. If there's a point at which a forfeit needs to be declared, then where that line is should be established.

If MLB had said that the Rays shouldn't forfeit because the situation was difficult and they were able to play one and push the other one to a later date easily enough, that would be okay. But saying, "Hey, we don't believe in forfeits" is moronic. Some sort of precedent needs to be set, and their reasoning sets the precedent that anything goes.

And even though they made the right decision on the forfeit, they still screwed it up overall, by not rescheduling the lost game, instead saying that the Yankees will have to play it after the last game of the regular season, if necessary. So now, because of the Devil Rays' decision, the Yankees might not get a day off between their last game and their first playoff game, because they need to decide home field advantage. They'd better get the Wednesday game for Game One now instead of Tuesday.

If for some reason the Rays couldn't make it all and missed both games, then MLB would have had to forfeit one game, otherwise they'd be punishing the Yankees by making them play 5 games in three days because of Tampa Bay's decision.

Anyway, the Yankees asked MLB to forfeit the game to them, and they were refused. While MLB was right to deny the request -- the game can be made up easily enough with no real negative impact on the Yankees, although they found a way to do that anyway -- but the Yankees were absolutely right to request the forfeit. There was a game scheduled at 3:00, their opponents didn't show up. Circumstances out of their control caused their delay that morning (to a degree -- who knows if they could have shown up if they had waited at the airport instead of across the bay at the ballpark), but they could have very easily have avoided the whole situation by spending the weekend somewhere else, and they could have brought their families with them. They should have done it anyway, even if Monday was an off-day.

As for the game, El Duque was brilliant again, giving the Yankees their sixth straight good start since the 22-0 debacle. Since then, their starters have had a 2.41 ERA and a 3.17 DIPS (depressingly, the best DIPS outing was Brown's Friday handbreaker). With the exception of Brown (and only because of his rage), all their starters have pitched seven innings, and they've averaged a Game Score of 69.

ICR got a bases-loaded double to drive in three runs, his first bases-loaded hit this season. Bernie, Posada and Olerud each got two hits, an it was an all-around solid win. But one that's overshadowed by what happened earlier in the day.

Boston keeps winning, so the lead is still 2½. If the Yankees keep playing like they did last night, though, they'll do okay.

September 6, 2004

Devil Rays Can't Get Out of Florida
by Larry Mahnken

"Let's get a grill," Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina said. "Hot dogs and burgers on the field."

This should be at least one forfeit, maybe two. Tampa Bay should have left Saturday, they knew what was happening. This is their own fault, and the Yankees shouldn't have to play two doubleheaders because of this.

Everything is coming up Red Sox.

by Larry Mahnken

Well, the Yankees had a bad weekend any way you spin it. Kevin Brown is out for most of, if not all of the rest of the season, Jason Giambi appears unlikely to return this year, and for the third straight series the Yankees dropped a game in the standings, again while playing a team they should have beat while Boston played a team they shouldn't have beat up on.

This is, sadly, the nature of the game. The unexpected happens, sometimes you don't play as well as you should, and right now the Yankees are paying for it. We can take comfort in it's transient nature, and know that eventually the Yankees will probably start beating up on teams again, hopefully just in time to play the Red Sox.

But it's frustrating as hell, and it's getting to the team. It cost them a starting pitcher.

Now, I'm not trying to say that what Kevin Brown did was okay, but it is, to me, understandable. Fits of rage are my area of expertise, I've punched many walls and thrown many chairs in my day. Seriously, I'm mentally disturbed. But I know what it's like to feel like Kevin Brown did on Friday night.

You're full of frustration, things aren't going like you want them to, and you can't do anything about it. The rage and frustration builds up inside of you and overwhelms all your emotions and thoughts, you need to get it out. Yelling can sometimes get it out, but the quickest and most effective way to release it is to physically attack something. It's easy to say that he should have taken a bat to a water cooler or thrown a chair, but you're not thinking when you're feeling like that. He didn't think about punching the wall, he just did it because he had to do something.

What he should have done was realize ahead of time that this rage was boiling up, and find something to destroy before he was unable to think. That, not the actual wall-punching, was the really stupid thing, because that was when he would have been able to do something about it, and he should know himself well enough by now to see the rage coming, and that he might end up hurting himself.

But we've gotta let it go, it happened, it's over. If the Yankees void his contract, then they void his contract, and they can spend that money on Pedro (just as fragile, more effective), Carl Pavano or Matt Clement. But for now, let's not worry about it.

People are talking about the Yankees' remaining postseason rotation as if it's the worst ever assembled. Mike Mussina and Javier Vazquez haven't pitched well this year, but they're not bad pitchers. They do have the ability to dominate, they've done it for several years in the past. They can do it in the postseason. Will they? I don't know, but they very well could, so don't tear your hair out over it. I have much more confidence in a Duque/Moose/Vazquez/Lieber postseason rotation than most people. They don't need to be great, they just need to be good enough, and that they can be.

As for the relatively unimportant division race, the Yankees might catch a break if the Devil Rays have trouble getting to the ballpark today. The start of the game has been pushed back to 3:00, but if they can't make it in time, then the Yankees might press for a forfeit. And they should.

Tampa Bay knew days ago that their weekend games were cancelled, and they had to be in New York for a 1:00 start. They knew there was a hurricane coming, and that getting out of town was going to be tough. If they can't make it, it's nobody's fault but their own, and they deserve to forfeit. If you're a Red Sox fan, and this happens, don't get pissed at the Yankees, get pissed at the Devil Rays.

September 3, 2004

Brown breaks hand punching wall
by Larry Mahnken

Bit of advice, Kev. Throw a chair, it's much less likely to break your hand.

On the positive side, it's his non-pitching hand, and if he doesn't need a cast, he should be back fairly soon.

Well, we'll see.

Update: Brown says he'll wear a splint and pitch Wednesday. The Yankees are also looking into possibly voiding his contract for next season because of this.

Updated Update: No, he ain't pitching Wednesday. Surgery to put in a pin, he'll be out three weeks at least. I'd guess he's 50/50 for the playoffs.

Back in Business
by Larry Mahnken

The recent Yankees collapse has, of course, not been so much a collapse as it's been a crazy surge by the Red Sox. Oh yeah, they lost six of seven, and they lost 22-0, but if Boston had only been hot instead of crazy-insane hot, the Yankees would still have quite a big lead. And, of course, 3½ ain't so bad a lead, either. It just sucks in comparison to a 10½ game lead. Or a 4½ game lead, for that matter.

Anyway, when the problem is not so much with your team as it is with the fact that the team you're battling in the standings is seemingly incapable of losing, it's a kind of hard to fix things. You just have to go forward with the expectation that, eventually, the Red Sox will lose a game, and normalcy will return. Let go of the 10½ game lead, because it's gone and ain't coming back. Don't press too hard, because, as I said, there's not that much you can do about it, and if you try too hard, you might make things worse. All you can do is go out and win, and it won't matter one damn bit what the Red Sox do.

While the collapse has been more Boston's success than the Yankees' failure, the fact remains that they hadn't been playing very well at all for two weeks entering Tuesday's debacle. Maybe, from that perspective, something positive came out of the disaster, it woke the Yankees up to the fact that they're not playing as well as they should. It relieved Joe Torre of the difficult task of calling attention to what's gone wrong, and trying to fix it, and made every player realize that everything went wrong, and to fix it, they need to play better.

And so they have. While the newspapers and sports shows have been decrying the Yankees' lack of starting pitching, they've gotten two spectacular -- not good, spectacular -- starts in a row from Orlando Hernandez and Jon Lieber. They got off the pavement with a solid win on Wednesday, and last night, they administered a much-needed beating. They took the series the hard way -- the really, really hard way -- and won the season series 4-2. 22-0 was an abberation, and they proved it to everyone, themselves in particular.

While the Yankees were getting off their asses against the Indians, the Angels were getting theirs handed to them by the Red Sox. Now, it's tough to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand the Yankees are still only 3½ up, but on the other, their postseason berth is essentially secured. On someone else's hand, so is Boston's. Ask me again in a month. There might be other hands out there.

Now the Yanks head into the weekend against the Orioles, who they've been beating on this year. If they keep that up, things should be all right.

* * *

OK, that homer screwed things up, but Steve Karsay's return last night was pretty much everything the Yankees could have hoped for. His fastball was in the low-90's, his curve ball was breaking hard, and I think the Yankees' long middle-relief nightmare is coming to an end.

* * *

Inexplicably, Joe Torre is giving Esteban Loaiza another start in one of the doubleheader games on Labor Day. I would have given Sturtze or Halsey the start personally. Hell, I've got the day off from work, I'm available.

* * *

Breaking up is hard to do. You only hurt the ones you love, the ones you shouldn't hurt at all.

September 2, 2004

The Sound and the Fury: Crafting the Postseason Roster
by Sean McNally

With a three-and-a-half game lead in the division and a seven game lead in the Wild Card, it's probably safe to think about who the Yanks should take into the postseason ... Sean and John debate this point in the first of a possibly, sort-of regular series, "The Sound and the Fury."

Sean McNally: The Yanks have 25 spots to fill for the second season... who's on the bubble?

sjohnny: The givens are ARod, Jeter, Cairo, Posada, Sheffield, Lofton, Bernie, Matsui, Brown, Moose, El Duque, Vazquez, Mo, Gordon and Quantrill. I guess Flaherty and Wilson are givens too.

SJ: That's 17 there, we need 7 more.

SM: That's all well and good, but you have no first basemen. Plan on playing Flash Flaherty behind the plate and Posada at first?

SJ: You have to pick two of three. Flaherty will have to be on the roster, right?

SM: It's 8 more, Math boy.

SJ: Riiiiight.

SM: Anyway, first the first baseman - Giambi's really the x-factor here. If he's healthy, he should make it. But if he's not 100%, I'd rather have Clark and Olerud.

SM: And if Torre does take Giambi, who do you leave home - the well-oiled Clark or the formerly ancient Mariner?

SJ: Would you carry all 3?

SM: No way in hell.

SJ: Giambi won't be 100%, but what "percent" does he need to be to be greater than Olderud or Clark?

SM: My gut says 10% of Giambi is better than Tony Clark... but I'll say mid-to high-80s.

SJ: I would say 70%. Earlier in the year, pre-diagnosis, pitchers were getting Jason out on fastballs over the plate. As long as that isn't happening in the two weeks prior to the playoffs, I take Giambi.

SM: I'll buy that for $20 million a year.

SM: So in our scenario, is that happening... we have to make a decision.

SJ: I leave Olerud home.

SM: Any real reason, or do you just hate his ice cream bowl-type helmet?

SJ: Clark is a switch hitter, with power potential. Clark can also go from first to third on a triple, barely. Olerud can not.

SM: 180 feet is far... if I had to cover that distance, I'd drive, or get one of those Segway thingies.

SM: Speaking of power, we taking Ruben?

SJ: Heh, yeah, I forgot to add him.

SJ: So that is the hitters right, that is 12? Five outfielders, two catchers, five infielders.

SM: Yes that's 12, now how many pitchers do we need to get to 25?

SJ: Andy Phillips or Bubba Crosby? Who gets the last spot?

SJ: 25-12? Let me get my excel spreadsheet.

SM: (aside) I'm not so sure he's kidding about this...

SJ: That is 13 pitchers, too many, we need to add a batter.

SM: Well, you need to go get rid of your chubrock for Andy Phillips. He's lucky to be getting a AAA paycheck, and he's certainly not gonna get on the postseason roster.

SM: So, it’s Bubba Crosby.

SJ: Crosby? Isn't that like 9 outfielders?

SM: You're being nice to Ruben by calling him an "outfielder" aren't you?

SJ: Crosby had 40 big league ABs.

SM: That's at least 39 more than he'll have in the postseason.

SM: He's on the team to be legs if Bernie and Lofton are already in the game. It's one more reason not to give Enweaque playing time.

SJ: Phillips can do that.

SJ: Twice this year, Gary Sheffield has played 3B.

SM: So let's count him as an infielder, just make the number more equal.

SJ: What happens if Captain Dreamboat hurls himself in front of a vehicle to save a box of kittens? And Sierra bats for Wilson? Who plays third?

SM: If Jeter did that, the kittens would go sliding right past him into traffic.

SM: Why don't we take all the first basemen then, assuming Giambi's healthy enough?

SJ: That still doesn't solve the Jeter/Kitten scenario, but I can accept that.

SJ: Just give Phillips a shot these last two weeks, that is all I ask.

SM: Bigger infatuation - you with Andy Phillips or me with a certain Padre farmhand?

SJ: I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I think Phillips went .600/.800/1.400 at AAA this year.

SM: Well, I do have his AAA numbers in front of me and they are -- .383/.564/.947

SJ: Phillips > Sliced Bread > Crosby > WNBA > Enrique Wilson.

SM: You are high like Dock Ellis.

SJ: Well, I wasn't that far off.

SM: Yeah, only 500 points of OPS, or roughly the difference between Barry Bonds and No. 2 in the NL.

SJ: Well, I was estimating.

SJ: He is still a better option than Crosby.

SM: So we've got Posada and Flaherty behind the plate, Wilson, Jeter, ARod, Cairo, Olerud, Clark and Giambi on the infield and Matsui, Sheffield, "Sierra," Lofton and Bernie in the outfield. That's 14... How many to go?

SM: Need an abacus?

SJ: That's 11 pitchers.

SM: So with El Duque, Brown, Home Run Javy and Moose, plus QuanGorMo -- that's seven... four left.

SJ: Lieber is the long man.

SM: That's three... do you take Karsay?

SJ: This is where it gets iffy.

SM: I agree, the middle of the pen is the soft underbelly of the staff.

SJ: Karsay, Halsey, Proctor, Prinz, Sturtze and Heredia are the candidates.

SJ: The outer crust of the staff is pretty soft too.

SM: Yeah, yeah... well let's do this the easy way -- who are we least comfortable with?

SJ: I say lets see how Karsay looks. If he even gets one batter out once, we take him. I take Karsay, Halsey and Proctor.

SM: You are least comfortable with them?

SJ: No.

SM: OK, so no Sturtze, no Run Fairy, no Prinz?

SJ: Well, if you give Sturtze to Torre, he may use him. So that cannot happen.

SM: Good point, same for Heredia.

SJ: Halsey is a starter, so I would like to see him work some out of the bullpen before I commit to him.

SM: Fat chance of that happening.

SJ: He has to use him at least a couple times. But if it comes down to the final pitching spot, I am more comfortable with Heredia than Prinz or Sturtze. And I can not believe I just wrote that.

SM: That's like saying you're more comfortable with the drunk as your cabbie than the junkie.

SJ: So that’s the team?

SM: Well, we could take Padilla, but the DFA'ed him.... asshats.

SJ: Padilla isn't special.

SM: He's specialer than Proctor.

SJ: Proctor throws cheese.

SM: Hey, what about Come to Jesus?

SJ: CJ should be dropped now.

SM: C'mon now, with Warner under center, it’s been a great summer for hardcore Christians in New York - Maybe Chad Curtis should get a look by Torre and Cashman?

SJ: And Bean should be given his spot. Seriously, if you were Colter Bean, why wouldn't you quit?

SM: You like paychecks?

SJ: I just reread Moneyball on my plane trip, his numbers are exactly what Beane and DePo were looking for, why wouldn't they take him in the Rule V?

SM: Boston did... and threw him back

SJ: But Boston took him in the second round.

SM: I think he should get a shot, but I'm just a schlub with a computer.. what the hell do I know.

SJ: or maybe third round, anyway, everyone passed on him. So predictions?

SM: *Mr T voice* I predict pain. Seriously, the Yanks should win the division and home field, which is key

SJ: I think that squad beats Texas in the first round, loses to everyone else they may play.

SM: That's funny, since Texas isn't making the playoffs. It'll be New York, Minnesota, Oakland and Boston just like last year. New York beats Minnesota and Oakland finally gets through the first round. After that, it’s a coin flip.

SJ: But Texas has BUCK!

SM: What, he's gonna have Ryan Drese throw 147 pitches? How's that gonna help?

SJ: No, Texas isn't making it, I just meant that’s the only favorable match up.

SM: I think healthy Brown, good Moose and non-home run Javy make any of those match ups good.

SJ: Yanks are a coin flip with Team Orange County, Minnesota and Oakland. They are not the favorite against Boston, unless Kevin Brown rights the ship.

SJ: Non-home run Javy is like Santa Claus. I am not sure he exists.

SM: Oh he does, but he only comes around a couple times a year.

SM: You are drinking the kool-aid my friend. You really think the Sox are going to continue .933 baseball?

SJ: No, but break down the pitching match ups, and I give it to Boston in seven.

SM: It is too late to get Aaron Boone back?

JM: Yanks 1-3 in the Pedro and Schilling starts, 2-1 in the Arroyo and Wakefield starts. Before you get pissy, I left Lowe out as a joke

SM: Either way, I think we're getting ahead ourselves... let's win in the first round first.

SJ: Deal.

by Larry Mahnken

It's a subscribers-only interview, but BPro asked J.P. Riccardi about defense:

I know you guys talk a lot about whether Jeter is a good shortstop or not. But I'll tell you, if it's the bottom of the ninth, I want the ball hit to Derek Jeter.

Well, of course you do. You're the Blue Jays' GM.

The Empire Strikes Back
by Larry Mahnken

There have been a lot of must-win games for the Yankees in the past ten years. They've won a lot of them, they've lost some of them. But I don't think that they've had a single must-win during the regular season.

Last night was a must-win game. Losing would not have knocked them out of first place, it would have knocked them out of the playoffs, it would not even have brought them closer to being knocked out of the playoffs.

But a good effort in defeat would not have been enough last night. Of course they were going to do better than they had done Tuesday, the Clippers would have done better than the Yanks had done Tuesday. No, the Yankees had to win so everyone could move past Tuesday's loss.

The nearest the Yankees have come to a regular season must-win in the past decade is the Sunday afternoon game against the Red Sox almost exactly a year ago, when David Wells brought the Yankees back from two humiliating losses and shut down the Red Sox. Last night, that task fell to a man who had succeeded in that role previously, Orlando Hernandez.

If there was an emotional turning point for me last night, it wasn't Jorge Posada's two-run homer that gave the Yankees the lead, it was Coco Crisp's groundout.

With the Yankees trailing 1-0 in the top of the third, El Duque fell behind Crisp 2-1, and Crisp hit the ball softly up the first base line. Hernandez raced to grab the ball, and then cut Crisp off in the baseline. Crisp faked going outside the line, tried to go inside, all the while leaning around to elude Hernandez's tag. Finally, with his feet firmly planted on either side of the baseline, Hernadez held his arms out on either side of his body, as if to say, "come on". Crisp conceded defeat, turned and walked away -- without ever being tagged, and as he walked back to the dugout, El Duque remained standing in the baseline in front of first, stood up straight, and crossed his arms. He then turned, stepped on the bag, and went back to the mound.

It was just an out -- and El Duque quickly fell behind Omar Vizquel 3-0 -- but as the crowd cheered, the announcers chuckled, and Crisp laughed in the dugout, all the weight from Tuesday was lifted. This was a new game, and if they hadn't figured it out already, El Duque showed the team that all they could do about Tuesday was move on, play baseball, and have fun. From that point on, I was confident that the Yankees would win.

Of course, there was the whole matter of winning the ballgame to take care of, and it wasn't exactly easy. The Yanks had blown a golden opportunity in the first, failing to score with runners on second and third with nobody out, and it wasn't until the fourth that they finally broke through, when Jorge Posada smacked a two-run homer to put them up 2-1, and John Olerud hit another to make it 3-1. A Miguel Cairo homer in the the 7th made it 4-1, and with El Duque putting together a brilliant start, it seemed like that would be enough.

But Tom Gordon came in for the eighth, and after retiring the first two batters in the inning, he reverted to the troubling form he's shown the past couple of weeks, and gave up two runs, allowing the tying run to get to second. Enter Sandman.

Now, I didn't have any worries about Rivera getting smacked around, but a broken bat blooper to the wrong spot could mean a tied game, but Rivera got Hafner to ground out to second, and the threat was ended. The Yanks tacked on an insurance run in the eighth, and while Cleveland got a runner to third in the ninth, Rivera didn't give up a run, and the Yankees had won 5-3.

Anaheim rolled over for Boston again, sort of, and the Yanks couldn't up their lead, but they did move a little closer to clinching their playoff berth. At least the pitching matchups look more favorable tomorrow.