Thursday, June 7, 2007

Don't Call it a comeback

The Rays wrapped up their series with the Toronto Blue Jays with a little afternoon delight. Ed Jackson pitched 6 innings and only walked 2 in the matinee affair. However, he had left the game long before Delmon Young’s 2 run single made a winner out of Gary Glover. The Rays are now 4 and 3 in June and 2-0-1 in their last 3 series. Despite the bullpen implosion that led to Tuesday’s atrocious 12-11 loss they are playing well as a team. The offense has picked it up and the starting pitching has seen a marked improvement since the beginning of the season.

That’s all well and good, but I’m not going to talk about the Rays today, or at least in this post. Instead I’m moving up the east coast to talk about the dreaded New York Yankees. That’s right the dynasty that is currently lying in ruins. Or so the national media would have you believe. With a sub .500 record and trailing the Boston Red Sox by double digits one would think that most storied of all baseball franchises has descended into the depths normally occupied by the likes of the Royals, the Nationals and yes our beloved Rays.

I submit to you that the reports of the death of the Yankees are a tad premature. The calendars rolled to June a week ago. Kids abandoned schoolrooms for swimming pools mere days ago. Network news has only had two measly tropical storms to over hype. With the season just passing the 1/3 mark the Yankees have plenty of games left to make their run.

Within a month, when New York has crept to within 5 or 6 games of the Red Sox the talking heads will begin cranking up the talk. Remember that you read it here first. The Yankees are going to make this race exciting. You may think I’m talking crazy at this point, but bear with me for the next few paragraphs while I lay out a few points why this is going to happen.

1. It’s Happened Before – That’s right. I’m talking about 1978. I was 2 years old and didn’t know a baseball from my elbow. However, all of you Red Sox fans know….wait…I’m talking to the real Red Sox fans. You all know what I’m talking about. Bucky “Bleepin’” Dent. His October home run capped an amazing comeback by the Yankees that crushed the souls of Boston fans for years to come. It was one of the main cornerstones of the mythical “curse” that the 2004 Red Sox club lifted from the organization with their World Series win.

What happened between July and October of that year could have similarities to this season. In 1978 the Yankees found themselves 14 games behind the Red Sox on July 19th. This season they’re only 10.5 games behind them and it’s only June 7th. New York has an entire extra month to run down the AL East leaders.

2. They’ve already made up 3 games this month – At the end of the day on May 31st, 2007 the Yankees were 22-29 (tied with the Rays!) and found themselves 13.5 games behind the Red Sox. Fast forward to June 6 and the Yankees are 26-31 and only 10.5 games behind Boston.

Boston currently finds themselves in a bit of a slump. A win on Thursday snapped their 4 game losing streak. However, the last week hasn’t been kind to them. They lost 2 of 3 to the Yankees and 3 of 4 to the A’s. The Yankees took the two games from Boston and are looking to take three from their four game series with the Chicago White Sox. If the Yankees keep winning series they will make up ground in a hurry.

3. They’re not this bad – The Yankees aren’t a sub 500 team. They are an old team and a team with holes, but they are one of the top two teams in the AL East. Toronto is too schzioprentic to be taken serious and Baltimore plays like the season ends in August. The Rays, well have you met their bullpen?

Not enough has been made about how damaging it was for the Bronx Bombers to be without the services of Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang early in the season. Add in the freak injury to Jeff Karstens and the continued debacle that is Carl Pavano’s Yankee tenure.

Without two stalwarts in the rotation (Mussina seems to win 18 games every year and Wang was their best starter a season ago) the Yankees were forced to use 11 different starting pitchers in 57 games. Starting such luminary pitchers as Darrell Rasner, Chase Wright, Karstens and Matt DeSalvo has forced manager Joe Torre to overuse his bullpen. Now that the rotation has stabilized look for the bullpen to be more effective as the starters chew up more innings.

Speaking of the bullpen much has been made of the struggles of future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. Overall his numbers are less than impressive. Three losses, two blown saves and a 4.87 ERA are not what the common fan comes to expect from the whip thin reliever.

Yet with the warm weather the native of Panama has had a bit of a resurgence. In his three appearances he has two saves and no runs allowed. He’s faced 9 batters and only one has reached base. Four consecutive seasons of more than 70 innings pitched has taken it’s toll on the reliever so he won’t reach the magic number of 50 save, but don’t be surprised to see him around the 30-35 save mark.

On the offensive side Bobby Abreu is not a .252 hitter and for the remainder of the season Josh Phelps will be more productive at first base than Jason Giambi. Alex Rodriguez is not going to cool off. His final average will be around .300 and he will hit 50 homeruns.

On the flip side Josh Beckett is going to lose games. His 8-0 record is nice and sparkly but this is the same pitcher who has never won more than 16 games. There is an extremely good chance that he will see some time on the Disabled List as well. His history or arm troubles and blister issues aren’t going away.

Curt Schilling is not getting younger. Despite the one hitter on Thursday his season has been marked mostly by his inconsistently. He even admits it. Just read his blog.

Those are only three points. Don’t count Brian Cashman out. He may make a move to kick the Yankees into another gear (Mark Texeria anyone?) Joe Torre may have had his head in the guillotine early this season, but it could turn into his finest coaching job ever. He may have benefited from a debilitated George Steinbrenner more than anyone on the club.

Another reason, a reason that has no basis in fact whatsoever, is that it would make me happy. I despise the Yankees as much as the next kid who grew up in Baltimore. They’re “mystique and awe” are annoying. Their wild spending is repulsive to a fan who believes in team chemistry and fundamentals.

Besides haven’t Boston fans become a little full of themselves. As if one World Series victory washed away 87 years of failure. With their pink hats and condescending sneers it seems they feel entitled to post season play. For fun ask your local Red Sawwwwwx fan when the last time they won the AL East was. If they say 2004 laugh at them. It was 1995.

Besides blowing a double digit lead to their heated rivals would bring them back to reality. When they surpass Yankee fans as the most obnoxious fans to attend games with you know something is wrong with the sporting world. Losing the division would bring some of the “woe is us” attitude that made Boston fans so adorable for the last few decades.

Finally, I have a dream. It’s not as noble as Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, but it is still a dream. I dream that in November the Yankees are lifting the World Series trophy and a champagne covered Alex Rodriguez is being honored as MVP of the post season. As drunken New Yorkers look on A-Rod kisses his wife, then kisses his stripper mistress, then watches as his wife kisses his stripper girlfriend and rips off the storied pinstripes revealing a Los Angeles Dodgers T-Shirt, looks into the camera and says, “F--- You, New York I’m going to Disneyland”.

That’s my dream. It won’t solve world hunger or bring peace to the mid east. But it will make me happy.

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