Monday, October 02, 2006

Week In Review: End of the Marathon


Record for the Week
: 4-3 (32 RA, 55 RS)
Overall: 97-65, 1st Place, AL East; Tie, Best Record in MLB (with the Mets)

Player of the Week: Alex Rodriguez had a great week (.600/.684/1.000) but only played in five of the Yanks' seven games against the Rays, O's and Jays. Jorge Posada (.333/.368/.944) only played one more game, but he smacked three homers in the season's final week, to go with right RBI. He's the player of the week. Bobby Abreu matched the homer and RBI numbers, but not the overall performance (.346/.346/.692). Robinson Cano surged (.370/.357/.630) as he made a final kick to win the batting race, although he gets dusted by Derek Jeter (.458/.519/.583) in this regard. Hideki Matsui (.444/.545/.611) did a good job of showing that he's ready for the postseason, as did Gary Sheffield (.300/.300/.650), with the bat at least. Mike Mussina had a good final tune-up (6 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 4 K) and Mariano Rivera showed that he's ready for the ALDS, with three scoreless one-inning appearances, allowing three hits and striking out three.

Oh, and in less happy news, Miguel Cairo hit .333/.429/.500, bringing his season averages to .239/.280/.320. He makes the postseason roster. September is a lot like Spring Training when we talk about sample size illusions.

Dregs of the Week: Melky Cabrera, facing the somewhat unfair loss of his starting job to Hideki Matsui, didn't finish strong (.235/.278/.294). Darrell Rasner might not have had a shot at the postseason, anyway, but allowing five runs in less than three innings during his start this week didn't make the decision difficult on the brass.

I could regale you with "Octavio Dotel this" and "T.J. Beam that," but let's finish up on a positive note, shall we?

Story of the Week: Nine straight division titles. Twelve straight years in the playoffs. Five straight years without a World Series ring.

The first two facts are simply overwhelming. When I came up as a Yankee fan, in the 80's and early 90's, a run like this was simply unimaginable. You didn't dare think of such a thing. But this Yankee team has kept its nucleus together, has reaped the rewards of good decisionmaking and survived a good number of big errors, and has spent a ton of money in the process.

The last, I have a hard time getting all worked up about. I was upset when the Yanks lost the World Series in 2001--one out away in the ninth inning--but I was comforted that the team had played as well as it could, lost with its best pitcher on the mound. C'est la vie, right? In 2003, it was a bummer to lose to the Marlins, but the games were close, the team had shown a lot of heart escaping the was difficult to take things too hard. In 2004...well, we don't talk about 2004. The other years, 2005 and 2002, the Yankees weren't anywhere close to the class of the league.

But it's always do or die for some New Yorkers, and this Yankee team will be judged on whether or not the team gets a victory parade through downtown Manhattan. Reputations will be made or destroyed based upon whether or not this set of Yankees get World Series rings. Nothing else will matter.

The crew they take on this mission is pretty much what I sketched out two weeks ago, just with Gary Sheffield on the roster in place of Darrell Rasner. This gives the Yanks the best lineup of all the playoff teams, perhaps the best lineup of any Yankee team over the past 12 years. It's also a squad that's weaker defensively than what the Yanks have carried around much of the year, with Jason Giambi stuck at DH due to a torn tendon in his wrist, Gary Sheffield starting at first despite a dearth of experience, and Hideki Matsui playing left instead of Melky Cabrera.

The starting rotation, meanwhile, could be the worst of the last twelve years. The Yankees' best starter is Chien Ming Wang, who is probably on a par with a young Andy Pettitte. Like Pettitte, Wang has a talent for going late into games, also like Pettitte, Wang can be very inconsistent from start to start. That's an asset, a very good pitcher, but not a great one. Mike Mussina's been effective in the Jaime Moyer phase of his career, but not quite as good since going on the DL in mid-August. Mussina hasn't pitched seven innings in a start since July.

Then comes the real wild card of the rotation, Randy Johnson. Johnson sucked down the stretch, but it was recently revealed that he has a bulging disc in his back. He's received an epidural shot, and will try his best to make his start in Game 3 of the ALDS. Anyone's guess which Randy Johnson, if any, will show up. Cory Lidle's on the roster in case Johnson falters. That leaves Jaret Wright as the number 4 starter, which is better than most playoff teams can put out there, but, like Johnson, not exactly someone you can count on.

In the bullpen, we hope that Mariano Rivera is well-rested. Since the Tigers are a pitching and defense team (as are the A's, and to an extent the Twins) we're probably going to be looking at some close scores in the late innings. Rivera's frequently-used right hand man will be Scott Proctor, followed by Kyle Farnsworth. Brian Bruney might have passed Farnsworth on the depth chart given a little more time. Mike Myers will be there for LOOGY purposes--on the Tigers, that means "to get out Curtis Granderson." And Ron Villone will be a ticking time, second lefty out of the pen, long relief guy.

So, how is all this going to work out? The key is Johnson. If he's able to give the Yanks six or seven solid innings per start over the next few weeks, then I think the Yanks can and probably will beat any team they face. If not, the Yanks will fall, perhaps as soon as the ALDS, if not almost certainly in ALCS against either the A's or the Twins.

What do I think will happen? This might be my heart rather than my brain speaking, but I think that Johnson will somehow manage to keep his stuff together, and the Yanks will win the ALDS in five games against a surprisingly tough Tigers team.

In other Division Series news, I think the A's will take down the Twins in a pretty big upset, payback for a ALDS beatdown a few years back. In the NL, I think the Mets--who became underdogs pretty quickly after Pedro Martinez's shoulder injury was revealed, will win a tough series against the Dodgers, and the Padres will beat St. Louis, setting up a Mike Piazza reunion NLCS. But we'll make the LCS predictions when we get there, not before.

Back tomorrow with September in Review.

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