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June 20, 2005

by Larry Mahnken

A week ago I was ready to give up. I didn't want to give up, but I was pretty much reconciled to the inevitability of the Yankees' season being lost. Most teams would see being two games below .500 -- and "only" 6½ games out of first -- as an opportunity to contend. But the Yankees are in a tough position, because they simply don't have the same flexibility that those other teams have. The Blue Jays may not be able to take on a lot of payroll, but they have pieces that can be moved to make a deal. The Yankees' most valuable parts are expensive, and it would be difficult for the Yankees to move them and get anything of value in return.

So if the Yankees were going to get back in the race, they'd have to do it with the team they have, and the only way that was going to happen was for the players who weren't performing to their previous levels to pick it up.

Randy Johnson, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Bernie Williams were the primary failures, and in the past week all four have stepped up their game. Bernie Williams had six hits over the weekend, Hideki Matsui slammed 3 HRs (including a game-winner Friday night) and hit .455 with a 1.538 OPS for the week. Randy Johnson has been as good as ever in his past two starts, completely dominating the Cardinals and Pirates, while Jason Giambi's bat has awoken for a year-long slumber. He clubbed only the one homer, the walk-off against the Pirates Wednesday, but he hit .333 for the week with a 1.140 OPS, hitting the ball hard with regularity, looking confident and controlled at the plate, giving more than a glimmer of hope that he can not only be a good hitter again, but a great hitter.

The Yankees have won six straight going into tonight's game against the Devil Rays and have gained four games on the Wild Card leading Twins to move within 2½ games of the playoffs, and a very doable 5 games of the division.

(As an aside, it was mentioned last week by a person in my comments that the Yankees would have to play .600 ball just to win 90 games, which probably wouldn't be enough to make the playoffs. Well, now they just have to play 3 games better than the Twins to make the playoffs. They're 100% in the race now.)

Now the Yanks have four games against the Devil Rays while the Sox play the red-hot Indians and the Orioles the Blue Jays, who just lost a series to the Brewers but had won 2 of 3 from the Cardinals before that. It's a chance for the Yankees to make up some more ground on the division leaders before their big series' against them just before and after the All-Star break. Sweeping a good team like the Cubs feels good, but it's these games against the bad teams that the Yankees really need to win.