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September 13, 2004

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???)