Monday, May 23, 2005

Off the Subway and Onward

The weekend's Subway Series came and went, leaving the Yanks up on the season series against the Mets 2-1. I'm not much of a fan of interleague play, but this weekend's action made a creditable showcase for baseball. You had a close game in the opener, with Garbage Time pitching much better than we've come to expect of him. You had Dae Sung Koo making a case for the abolition of the DH, with a shot off of the (right now) Not-So Big Unit. You had the Yanks coming back in the late innings of Sunday's game.

On the downside, both teams played brutal defense. The two games the Yanks won were largely won on errors. Koo scoring from second on a sacrifice was the kind of brain lock you haven't seen the Yanks commit over the past eight years. The two star pitchers in the matchup disappointed in different ways: Pedro Martinez by leaving game 3 after 7 innings, to avoid his pre-100 pitches/post-100 pitches split against the Yanks; Johnson by being so hittable that even a lefty-batting pitcher could rope him.

Also, both teams leave this weekend series diminished from where they were when they came in. Sheffield, Jeter, and Posada couldn't start Sunday's game because of injuries. The injury bug took the Mets star centerfielder, Carlos Beltran.

In the jarring way the 2005 schedule has, the first weekend of interleague play now gives way to two weeks of regular play against the teams' respective leagues, before the Yanks return to interleague madness with a swing against bits of the NL Central, then a series against the D-Rays, and then a second Subway matchup. The Mets have a similar row to hoe, including a similar showdown with the Big Division Rival. For the Yanks, that's next weekend's hypefest against the Red Sox.

For the Mets, that's their current series against the Braves. The Braves are approaching the Freddy Kreuger/Jason Voorhees point, where you just scream to the heavens "Won't you just die?" I picked the Braves to win the NL East this year, just because logical analysis of this team doesn't ever seem to work. The Braves haven't been the logical first place team in their league for what, three years now? In 2001, it looked like they had no offense, starting stiffs like Rico Brogna and the petrified remains of BJ Surhoff in power positions. Didn't matter, their pitching was strong enough to win 88 games, and the division. In 2002, they brought on Vinny Castilla and Julio Franco, in a bizarre attempt to court Hispanic senior citizens to come out to Turner Field. Still too much pitching, a 100 win season.

So in 2003, Glavine and Millwood leave. They're done, right? The mighty pitching has abandoned them!

Wrong. The Braves now become an offensive powerhouse behind Gary Sheffield and Marcus Giles. Plus, they get above league average pitching from Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, and Horacio Ramirez. Another 100+ win season.

2004. Now Maddux is gone, Sheff is gone, Javy Lopez is gone. The offense is in tatters, the pitching loses its ace. They can't possibly absorb this kind of talent drain. The run is over, right?!?

Nope. This year? They're a game and a half behind Florida, while starting the corpses of Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi in the outfield corners, and leading off a guy with a .286 OBP. Logic fails, plain and simple.

So I give up on trying to forecast the Braves. I'm just short of believing that you could give Cox and Mazzone a pickup roster of random softball players, minor league pitchers from the 1980's, and Baseball Prospectus staffers, and they'd still field a winning team. One that finishes higher in the NL East than the Phillies, at least.

We'll talk about the Yanks tomorrow, I hope.

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