What's wrong with the Yankees? (05/02/00)
The Yankees are once again leading the AL East and seemingly cruising to a another division title and a World Series berth. But looking more closely at their numbers, they've scored only 7 more runs than their opponents. So how are they winning so much? Are they just that good? Is it simply a matter of knowing how to win? Or are they just very lucky?
Well, the starting staff is OK... maybe. El Duque is still one of the better starters around. But Roger Clemens and David Cone don't seem to be themselves. Clemens already has three starts in which he's given up 5 runs. He's yet to pitch past 7 innings in a game. Cone has two starts in which he gave up 8. They will occasionally pitch brilliantly, but the days of them dominating for stretches are likely past. Also gone are the days when they can give the bullpen a lot of rest. I'd be very surprised to see more than 3 complete games between them this year. Ramiro Mendoza might be good enough to fill in to give them extra days rest, but that leaves the bullpen thinner.
The reason the Yanks have done so well the past 4 years is the strength and depth in their pitching, and they simply don't have that anymore. Eddie Yarnall was supposed to be their fifth starter but he got whacked around in spring and was demoted to AAA. Apparently, his spring performance wasn't just a blip because he's getting beaten like a rented mule. They talk about Ryan Bradley being really good, but he just doesn't have the stuff to make an immediate difference. Career #3 at best.
The bullpen is still solid, but if Mendoza has to help in the rotation, then it suddenly becomes thin and vulnerable in the middle innings.
What about the offense? It's gonna get going right? I mean these guys are great at manufacturing runs. So what if left field isn't producing anything. This offense is one of the best in the league. You said so yourself.
Frankly, if they have to manufacture runs to win, they're screwed. In this climate where teams can hit 55 homers or score 180 runs in a month, if you have to play little ball, you're not going to win many games. But yes, I did think they were going to be one of the better offenses in the AL. But that was assuming they'd get production out of left and DH.
In 1998, they had Tim Raines, Chad Curtis and Darryl Strawberry platooning in left. Last year was Ricky Ledee, Straw and Curtis. This year, it's Ledee, Shane Spencer and Roberto Kelly. Call me crazy, but that's not the direction I'd want to go.
It's probable that the Yanks won't get as much production from right and third as they did last year (age and injuries), and probably no better than they did at short, center and first. Knoblauch had an off year with his glove, but he posted the best numbers in four years with his bat. A drop off would not be unexpected. Last year, they had Chili Davis at DH. Who do they have now? Shane Spencer and Felix Jose. Ouch. Posada will be a lot better than the Posada/Girardi platoon. So if the Yanks production is likely to drop off at 4 positions, remain the same at three and increase at only one, I'm not sure they can shrug off getting little or no production out of left field. Especially if their starting pitching starts to show its age.
Well, they still have to be the favorites to win the World Series, yes? Maybe, maybe not. They still have to get past the Red Sox and the Blue Jays in their own division. The Red Sox offense is much better than it was last year and the Jays are much better period. The Mariners and A's could be pretty tough in the West and the Tribe looks like they have the right formula - Finley and Colon and hope for one really good start out of Nagy, Wright or Burba - to win a 7 game series.
The Yanks have been lucky the past two years in the Series. That's not why they won, but it certainly made it easier. In 1998, Caminiti, Joyner, Gwynn and Vaughn were playing with injuries that, during the regular season, would have landed them on the DL. Ashby and Brown also got food poisoning in New York. Coincidence? Hmmm....
Last year, the Yanks faced a simply awful offensive team. Outside of Chipper and maybe Jordan, that team had very little going for it. I mean, when Ozzie Guillen, Walt Weiss, Keith Lockhart and Brian Hunter are starting games for you, and Jorge Fabregas is your primary lefty off the bench, you have no business being in the World Series! And Glavine got food poisoning in New York to boot.
That's not to say that the Yanks weren't the best team. They were. But they also caught a lot of lucky breaks. This year, they'll need a lot more than that.