Well, Not Quite  (10/22/01)

I'm sure everyone is looking at the D-backs/Yankees matchup and thinking, "the Yanks have got this one in the bag."

Well, I'm not sure they do.  In fact, I think because the D-backs wrapped up the NLCS so quickly, they have a very real shot of pulling off a huge upset and winning it all and for 2 very good reasons:

Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.

I have always felt that most of the Yankee hitters have slider speed bats.  That is, they hit guys who throw in the high 80's-low 90s, but when it comes to the guys who throw serious cheese, they have problems.  Especially guys who use the upper part of the strikezone.  Yes, I know they beat Pedro Martinez rather often and he throws in the mid-90s... but to beat Pedro, you really only have to score 1 or 2 runs.  The poor guys never gets any run support when he faces the Yanks.  That won't be the case here, which I'll explain in a moment.  Anyway, if you had to pick two pitchers who could really bring it and who are effective up in the zone, who would you name?   Well, there are a good number of starters who can throw a chest high fastball in the mid-high 90s, but only 2 are left in the playoffs.

Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.

The Yanks have a number of fairly patient hitters who can make a pitcher throw a lot of pitches.  So which pitchers are the most likely to be able to throw a lot of pitches and still remain effective?  Perhaps the two guys who've not only thrown more pitches than anyone this year, but also over the past two years.  The same guys who have thrown the most 120+ pitch, 130+ pitch and 140+ pitch games in the last 2 years.

Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.

Thanks to free agency and interleague play, we have a little history that might give us a glimpse of what to expect: the Yanks have faced each of these pitchers before.  Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Scott Brosius, Chuck Knoblauch and Paul O'Neill have hit a combined 9 for 56 (.161) with 2 homers against Schilling.  David Justice (.357 with 4 homers in 28 ABs) and Bernie Williams (3 for 9) are the only Yankees who've had any success against him.

Knoblauch, Jeter, Brosius, O'Neill, Martinez, Justice and Bernie Williams have gone a combined 18 for 101 (.178) with no homers against Johnson.  Gerald Williams (.233 with 3 homers in 43 ABs) and Randy Velarde (.452) are the only Yankee players who have had any success against The Unit.

And who will the Yanks face at least 4 times in this playoff series?

Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.

The Braves, who just finished a series with these two have actually hit both of them well over the course of their careers.  And yet, they could do nothing with them when it mattered most.  Yeah, the Yanks are better in the postseason than they are in the regular season, but the Braves wouldn't have been in all those NLCS and World Series the past decade had they not been pretty good in the postseason as well.

As for the D-back hitters, Luis Gonzales, Jay Bell, Matt Williams and Reggie Sanders have gone a combined 6 for 21 (.286) against Mike Mussina.  Bell, Williams and Sanders are 3 for 8 (.375) against Pettitte.  Bell, Williams and Finley are 9 for 22 against Clemens (.409).  The wildcard in all this is Danny Bautista, who has gone 10 for 36 (.278) against Pettitte, Clemens and Mussina.  The only D-back regular who has faced one of his potential Yankee mound opponent and not had at least decent success is Luis Gonzales against Clemens - 2 for 12 (.167).  Even so, one of those hits was a homer.  You can talk about sample size all you want, but if you're going into a playoff series against a guy you've had good success against, even in limited exposure, you're gonna have some confidence when you face him again.

So even though the Yankees will have a decided advantage in the bullpen, it may never get to that.  For once, the Yanks will face a team that has at least one favorable match-up against them.  It could also be argued that the D-backs have a deeper bench than the Yanks.  Two factors that the Yanks usually have in their favor aren't necessarily in their ledger this time.

If the D-backs can steal one of the other 3 games with either Albie Lopez or Miguel Batista on the mound, the Yanks could be in real trouble.  Well, at least as much trouble as they've been in the last 5 years.  So as odd as it may sound, it may be the Yanks who have to perform above expectation in order to win this series.

However, the D-backs will have to overcome a huge spectre of their own in order to win.  No, it's not the Yankees.  It's the Cubs.  Yes, it's the dreaded Curse of the Cubbies.  No team since 1945 has won a World Series with 4 or more ex-Cubs on the roster.  About 20 have tried and all have failed, usually quite spectacularly.  There a currently 4 ex-Cubs on the D-backs roster: first baseman Mark Grace, outfielder Luis Gonzales and pitchers Mike Morgan and Miguel Batista.  Hopefully, D-back GM will realize that fateful alignment and leave one of them off the World Series roster.  The Yankees are tough enough in the playoffs.  Arizona doesn't need to take on the Cubs, too.