Monday, October 4, 2010

Bring on the Twins (gulp)

How will we ever defeat...


For real, though, we're in a jam. Here's how the Yankees fared in their last series against quality opponents. 'Quality' opponents are defined as teams that finished above .500. We'll start with the most recent:

1. Lost 2 of 3 to Boston.
2. Lost 2 of 3 to Toronto.
3. Split 4 with Tampa.
4. Lost 2 of 3 to Tampa.
5. Got swept in 3 by Texas.
6. Won 2 of 3 from Toronto.
7. Lost 2 of 3 to Toronto.
8. Split 2 with Texas.
9. Split 4 with Boston.
10. Lost 2 of 3 to Toronto.
11. Lost 2 of 3 to Tampa.

That takes us back to July 30. So in two months and 11 series, the Yanks went 1-7-3 against good teams. The overall record was 13-21.

Needless to say, I don't believe this team will win a World Series. Last year, I picked the Yanks to sweep Minnesota (they won in 4), beat LA in 5 (it took 6), and sweep Philadelphia (again, took 6). It was a wonderful season, full of walk-offs, good pitching, and other magic, and I was really, really optimistic about a World Series win. This season was less wonderful, but still solid since we made the playoffs. And obviously I will be rooting for the Yanks like a lunatic. But deep in my gut, I don't believe the magic's there. Here are two reasons why:

1. Starting pitching. Really, this is far and away the most important category. Any way you slice it, the Yanks come up short. It's sort of like evaluating a sprinter, and saying he doesn't quite have the speed. Yeah, he has sweet shoes and he's good with the media and he trains really hard, but ultimately he just can't run that fast.

We have CC Sabathia. That's it. If we ever lose game one of a series when he's pitching, the series is over. And CC, despite his great season, has bad starts. He was excellent in last year's playoffs, but even then he was out-dueled by Cliff Lee twice. On Wednesday, he faces Francisco Liriano, a lefty who's capable of totally nullifying our offense. If that one goes to to the Twins, end of season, end of story.

Next is Phil Hughes, who started spectacularly but has only been mediocre since June. His ERA is above 4, and he's capable of decent games and really bad games. But I don't think you're going to see him pitch any shut-outs or one-run games, and it's pretty rare lately for him to make the seventh inning. With Hughes on the mound, you'll have to win some 7-4 or 8-5 ballgames. It's hard to score that many runs in the playoffs.

After that we have Andy Pettitte, and he's a giant question mark. I like to think his experience will kick in, and he'll bear down and throw some vintage gems, but I have no evidence to indicate it will happen. In three starts since returning from his injury, he's 0- with a 6.75 ERA, and opponents are batting .361.

Last is AJ Burnett, a total bust this season and, considering his $82.5 million contract, a money pit. If we have to rely on him to stave off elimination, things have already gone bad.

2. Hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP). The Yanks have scored 859 runs this season, which is the most in the majors. It's an average of 5.3 runs per game. We're batting .268, good for 8th. Not bad. But with runners on base, the Yanks are hitting a meager .258, which is 16th in Major League Baseball. That's a difference of -10 on the average scale. Let's take a look at the splits from other playoff-bound teams:

Minnesota: .273 BA, .285 with RISP, +12

Tampa Bay: .247 BA, .266 with RISP, +19

Texas: .276 BA, .276 with RISP, Even

Philadelphia: .260 BA, .260 with RISP, even

Atlanta: .258 BA, .262 with RISP, +4

Cincinnati: .272 BA, .278 with RISP, +6

San Francisco: .257 BA, .248 with RISP, -9

So: the Yanks have the second-lowest batting average with RISP, and the worst margin when compared with their regular batting average. Among all 8 teams, they're one of only two with a negative margin. And we're about to face a team with the second-best margin, and they have homefield advantage.

Why does this matter? Because in the playoffs, the stakes are higher and the pressure is more intense. It becomes even harder to hit with runners on base, and a deficiency in that category can be accentuated by the pressure cooker environment. Opportunities can't be missed. If the Yanks don't flip a switch and reverse a season-long trend starting on Wednesday, we have absolutely no shot to even advance past the first round. I'm terrified.

Predictions will come tomorrow. In the meantime, let's talk Ryder Cup.

The golfers have already headed out to finish the singles matches, but the US is buried. After taking a 6-4 edge into the last round of pairs golf, the Euros won 5.5 out of a possible 6 points ot jump up 9.5-5.5. Back in '99, the US came back from down 10-6, but that was an absolute miracle, and it was on American soil. Bottom line, there's no chance today, and all because of a Sunday choke job. Europeans are tougher, and they're better putters. Bubba Watson is a giant coward.

I'd love to grip more, but time is short and I don't care since the playoffs are about to start. Here's a picture of a British prick:

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