Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why The Indians Can Beat The Yankees

So, the Yankees are making the playoffs. Am I upset about them not playing the Angels? Not really.

Of course, conventional wisdom favored them playing the Angels. Cleveland went 0-6 vs. New York this year, while LA has given the Yanks trouble in the regular season as well as '02 and '05.

But I wouldn't have been too excited about LA this year. One big difference between this year's Angels team and those of years past? The bullpen. In 2002, their bullpen ERA was 2.98. In '05, it was 3.52. This year? 4.07, 19th in baseball. Cleveland's pen? 3.76.

In terms of pitching, the Indians have the best 1-2 punch in the AL, in Sabathia and Carmona. After that, it's shaky. Do you trust Paul Byrd in a big game? Carmona is similar to Wang, a sinkerball pitcher who's successful inducing grounders. But Carmona is better (for starters: .248 BAA vs. Wang's .265). The Yanks, after Wang, have very questionable starting pitching. Pettitte has had mixed results in the postseason. Clemens has been hurt, and you don't know what you'll get from him. Mussina's had a good September, but can he bring it against a good offense in October? The rookies? Unclear.

But whoever's starting, the Yankees will take a lot of pitches. They'll wear out the starter, and feast on a team's crappy middle relief. We've seen it time and time again.

The Angels pen is not what it used to be. Scot Shields has had a bad second half (9.00 ERA in August; 6.17 in September), and Justin Speier has injury issues. They won '05 on the strength of the bullpen, and while it didn't hurt them in the regular season, it's a concern in October.

The guy who worries me most on the Indians is Joe Borowski. No question. Yanks have a huge edge in the closer department.

But their middle relief is much better, in Betancourt and Rafael Perez. I think those are two guys that can match up very well against Joba.

Overall, good pitching beats good hitting. And the Indians had the second-best ERA in the second half this year, at 3.58. Toronto beat them with a 3.55 mark (and if McGowan and Marcum can continue to progress, Halladay bounces back, and Burnett stays healthy, the Jays might have the best pitching in the East and possibly the entire AL come 2008).

As for the hitting: Pronk had an off year this year, but a .970 OPS in September is encouraging. They've got a balanced lineup, and guys like Garko, Blake, and Asdurbal Cabrera make it hard to find an easy out in the lineup.

Clearly, the Yanks have the better lineup, but the Indians can hold their own. And I think Sabathia and Carmona have a better chance at quieting the Yankee bats than Wang and Pettitte quieting Cleveland's.

Prediction: Indians in 5.

Monday, September 24, 2007

1978? Not This Year

With the Sox having clinched a playoff berth, we can finally put the 1978 talk to rest. Now, we've just gotta worry about the Sox pitching, but I think they'll be fine come October. As will Manny.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Last Year's Lessons

Can it get any worse? Who knows. Talk about the Yankees picking up games like candy. Unbelievable.

I didn't think they could play .650 ball for the second half. I was wrong. But how many of you thought they were gonna be in this position when they looked dead in June?

The only thing that gives me hope right now (and this goes for Mets fans too) is that last year's World Series teams, the Tigers and Cardinals, had rotten Septembers. So did the 2000 Yankees. If the Red Sox get into the playoffs, it doesn't matter how. Yes, it would be embarrassing if they lost the lead, but does any Red Sox fan feel like '04 is less legit because they were only the wild card winner? No.

Unless the Sox totally fall apart over the next two weeks, they're making the playoffs. October's a brand new season. This month has been brutal, and I give a lot of credit to Cashman and the Yankees - but there's still a lot of baseball to be played.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Manny Factor

After a brutal series against the Yankees, Dan Shaughnessy says, "if you like the Red Sox you do not like the idea of facing these Yankees again in October."

I know the Yanks just won 5 of 6 from Boston, but most of those wins were close games. It's not like the Yanks blew away Boston.

And one factor I haven't heard anyone discuss: Manny did not play any of those six games. I'm not making excuses for the Sox, but his absence was definitely felt. Especially in a one-run game.

And granted, Manny hasn't been vintage Manny this year, but if you slot him in there with Ellsbury, and maybe use Drew for matchups, the lineup gets a lot better.

So I'm not thrilled with how this series turned out. But is it a sign of things to come? Not if Manny's in the lineup.

- And with the Yanks 2.5 up in the wild card with series coming up against Baltimore, Toronto, and the Rays, forget about a Yankee-free October. But if they get knocked out in the first round again, then hey, I'll take it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Hate Is Back

With the Red Sox safely in first for much of the summer, I wasn't feeling the Yankee hate as much I have in the past. In fact, there were certain points early in the year when I almost felt sorry for the team. And as they got better over the summer, it was frustrating to see them vault into the wild card lead, but again - the Red Sox were in first, so I couldn't go too crazy.

But after Friday night's gut-wrencher, the hate is back. I'm taking the gloves off.

That instant "YES classic" was easily the most brutal game of the year for me. Especially seeing them tee off against Okajima and Papelbon. In the big scheme of things, I didn't think it was a big deal - if Mariano can have his off days, so can anyone else. I'll still take Okajima and Paps in a playoff game against the Yanks over almost anyone else out there. But to see them blow it against the Yankees in Fenway, to see the glee on the Yankee fans' faces - it was too much for me.

- One saving grace: the Red Sox can beat Yankee starting pitching. They hit well against Pettitte and Wang, the Yanks' two best arms.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Not Looking Good

Yanks pulled off an impressive series against Seattle, and now stand 3 up in the wild card. Seattle looks done, and their lack of pitching caught up to them.

- What scares me most is, the Yanks have the easiest schedule of the three wild-card contenders. Let's have a look:

-3 at KC
3 at Toronto
3 at. Boston
3 vs. Baltimore
3 vs. Toronto
3 at TB
3 at Baltimore

In the second half, the Yanks have gone 6-1 vs. KC and 5-2 vs. Toronto. Baltimore has beaten them in two series, but the O's look dead right now. Aside from Boston, Yanks have it easy the rest of the way.

3 at Detroit
3 vs. A's
4 at TB
3 at A's
4 at LA
4 vs. Cleveland
3 vs. Texas
The Mariners have three tough series, and the rest isn't too bad. (They're 10-3 vs. Beane's team this year.) Although the way Seattle has been playing lately, even the A's might be a challenge.

3 vs. Seattle
1 vs. Toronto
3 vs. Texas
3 at Minnesota
3 at Cleveland
3 vs. KC
3 vs. Minnesota
3 at White Sox

The series vs. Seattle can go either way, and the rest isn't too bad, although Minny might be tough. Detroit has been 7-5 vs. the Twins so far, but they'll have to do better for the wild card.

Right now, I think Detroit has a much better shot of catching New York than Seattle. But with the Yankees having a soft schedule coming up, the Tigers will have to be red-hot. Otherwise, we'll have to hope for another 1st-round embarrassment by the Yankees.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The YD Reverse Jinx - Yankees 12, Mariners 3

Sometimes I feel like we've got a variation of the SI cover jinx going on here. Whenever I talk about a guy who's slumping, he gets a few hits the next night. Yesterday, I had what to say about Abreu and Cano's struggles. And last night, they exploded for 4 hits each. And if I talk about how great the Yanks are doing, do they slow down? No. It only works one way.

Anyway, the Yanks have Phil Hughes taking the hill tonight. I like the Mariners' chances.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Bats Slowing Down? - Mariners 7, Yankees 1

Clemens is gonna miss a start? What were the odds of that happening? After dominating the Red Sox last week, the 45-year old version of Roger Clemens came back. And Mussina didn't look much younger following him up. King Felix kept the Yankee bats at bay, and Seattle broke a losing streak with a big win.

Key here is, Seattle now can't lose much ground in the series. Even if the Yanks win the next two, they'll still be only 3 games out. Yanks now face a couple of must-win games, or else their October slot will once again be in jeopardy.

- In the past seven days, only one team has had a worse average than the Yanks (.235) - the Giants at .215. Key guys are struggling, such as Damon (4-last 24, .167), Abreu (4-25, .160), and Matsui (4-25). Cano had 2 homers in the Yanks win last Thursday, but aside from that, he's 2 for his last 21.

The Yankee bats were hot all summer, but it was inevitable that they'd slow down. And that just might doom their playoff hopes.

The Manager Without The Mystique

One guy who doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves? Terry Francona. He's arguably a better manager than Torre, certainly when it comes to managing a bullpen. And Dan Shaughnessy has an excellent piece on Francona in today's Globe. Read it; it really makes you appreciate the guy and the job he's done.

Meanwhile, Wally Matthews says the next month will determine whether Joe Torre will be brought back next year.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

If You Thought ... - Devil Rays 8, Yankees 2

... that the Yankees would sweep Boston then lose two of three to Tampa Bay, please stand up. And if you thought Ian Kennedy would be the Yanks' best starter over the weekend, stand up too.

Weekends like these are why I love Tampa Bay. Even though they got thoroughly trounced last time they played the Yanks, this time they showed up, taking two of three.

They beat up on Phil Hughes, whose ERA is up to 5.65. At this rate, he's not looking much better than Jeff Johnson, who had a 5.95 mark as a rookie in '91. I can give the guy a bit of a pass for being young, but if he turns out to be the next Bobby Munoz, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.

- Kennedy pitched well in his debut, but so did Tyler Clippard and Chase Wright, both of whom have become afterthoughts. When Mussina was taken out of the rotation, I was surprised that their names weren't mentioned. After all, they weren't great, but they weren't horrible, either. They weren't nearly as awful as Kei Igawa. And for all the talk you hear about Joba and Kennedy, you hear nothing about Wright or Clippard. Those four homers in a row against Boston probably doomed Wright, and both guys will probably get traded sooner or later.

- Highlight of the weekend was Buchholz's no-hitter. For all I know, the guy might fade into mediocrity like Wilson Alvarez, the last guy to pull off the feat in his second ML start. But it's always great to see baseball history be made at Fenway, and steal some thunder from the Yanks. More importantly, it got Boston back on track after four straight losses.

- And speaking of teams that need to get back on track, I have no idea what to expect from the Yanks vs. Seattle this week. The Yanks who played Boston so well might show up, and put the wild card race to rest. Or the Yanks who played the Rays might show up, and Seattle might be able to turn things around. Gonna be one of the best series of the year.