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September 12, 2005

by Larry Mahnken

I'm inclined to believe at this point that the Yankees are better than the Red Sox, although just a little better. As flawed as the Yankees are, I think the Red Sox are just a little more flawed. Boston's rotation has been more stable and is more balanced, but none of their pitchers is as dominant as Randy Johnson has finally become. The Yankees have nobody in their bullpen other than Rivera and Gordon, but the Red Sox, at this point, don't have much other than Timlin, either. Both lineups are fantastic, but I'll take the Yankees' over Boston, assuming Sheffield comes back.

Still, all that's irrelevant, because the Red Sox have a three game lead with only 20 games left in the season, and that's a fair margin this late. Of course it can go away very quickly, and hopefully the A's can help the Yankees out there. But let's not get our hopes up.

The reason the Yankees are in second is their failure against the weak teams. They're 3-0 against the Pirates, but 8-14 against the Royals and Devil Rays, a combined 11-14 against the three worst teams they've faced this season. Conversely Boston has gone 18-7 against those same three teams, a 7-game swing. Against teams over .500, the Yankees are better than the Sox are (39-30 to 38-33), but it's those 22 games against Tampa Bay and Kansas City that have killed them.

There's no good reason for it. The Yankees have made the Devil Rays look good. Eduardo Perez has nearly doubled his OPS against the Yankees -- he's batting .837 against the rest of baseball, 1.584 against the Yankees, with 4 HRs in 16 ABs. Jonny Gomes has a .888 OPS against everyone else, 1.274 against the Yanks. Carl Crawford's OPS goes up from .750 to .968, Nick Green from .660 to .826, Alex Gonzalez from .703 to .817. The whole team's OPS jumps from .749 to .818 against the Yankees.

Overall, Tampa Bay's pitching is worse against the Yankees, but take away two 13-run innings, and the Devil Rays have a 4.60 ERA against the Yankees, compared to a 5.30 ERA against everyone else. Casey Fossum drops his ERA from 5.06 to 2.66, Doug Waechter from 5.34 to 3.38, and Mark Hendrickson from 6.38 to 4.61. This is pathetic.

Predictably, there have been people applauding Joe Torre for the "great job" he's done this year, some have said that it's been his best managerial job. Um, why? What exactly has he done to give anyone the impression he's done a great job this year? Sure, there have been injuries, but the guys who've stayed healthy haven't been doing that good a job, and the Yankees still have a very talented roster. There have been some games this year that have been lost due to a bad decision by Torre, and none that I can think of that have been won because of a great decision. Is he responsible for this? Not necessarily, but when this roster is playing like this, and especially this badly against teams this bad, it's stupid to say that the manager is doing a great job.

Tomorrow, the Yankees face the Devil Rays for the last time. They haven't won a single series against the last-place team in the division, and just winning isn't going to do it this week, they really need to sweep. They need to win every game they're supposed to the rest of the way, they have to win games they're not supposed to. They have to hope Boston and Cleveland slip up a little bit. If Joe Torre's doing such a great job, he's going to have to do a little better, or this team won't make the playoffs. Time is running out.