Friday, September 19, 2003


The Twins finished off a sweep of the White Sox last night, putting them up by 3 1/2 games in the Central and further increasing the likelyhood of a Twins @ Yanks ALDS. Aaron Gleeman takes a look at this matchup from the other side of the Mississippi.

Meanwhile, the Braves clinched without playing as the Phillies beat the Marlins to come within 1/2 game of the NL Wild Card lead.

Tonight the Yanks get a rematch of Sunday's loss to the Rays as Contreras faces Tampa Bay's pitcher of the future, Doug Waechter. Tomorrow Andy gets the first of his two chances to win #20.

posted by Cliff at 9:52 AM

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Sister Kisser 

So due to the boneheadedness of major league baseball and, likely, the greed-induced stubbornness of the Baltimore Orioles organization, the Yankees and Orioles played to an official tie. The game was rained out at 1-1 after five innings. The stats count, which just means a few random hits, walks and Ks, doubles for Sori and Giambi, an extra RBI for Jason, and six more strikeouts and some help in the ERA column for Mussina. Moose will only make one more start (in Chicago), so this didn't cost him a shot at 20 wins. But it was a waste of time, money and effort and brought the players, fans, umpires and team and stadium employees out to the park when they should have remained safely in their homes, or in the case of the Yankees, in the clear in Tampa. The game will be replayed from the beginning if it's needed to determine postseason positions, which is how it should have been to begin with. Yet another idiotic move by the Selig administration. They should be embarrassed and ashamed.

posted by Cliff at 3:29 PM

The calm before the storm 

The Yanks lost to the O's 5-3 last night. David Wells pitched great for seven innings, but was in the game for eight. It wasn't Torre's fault, the bad inning was the second. The offense scattered eleven hits, two of the three runs scored on a Juan Rivera homer. Fortunately the Red Sox got shut out by Victor "Carlos" Zambrano and the Devil Rays 7-0, bringing the magic number down to six.

Going back to the big picture scenario, the Sox have to win today to match the Yankees 3-1 record at home against the Devil Rays. The Yanks for their part have matched the Red Sox vs. Baltimore at 2-1. As I said a few days ago, the Yanks can afford to lose today's game, which makes it all the more ridiculous that it's even being played. Because of Hurricane Isabel, which is quickly approaching the Carolina coast, today's game has been moved from a 7:05 start to 12:35. The Yanks have to play the game (Moose takes his turn going for career win 200), then find the safest way to fly to Tampa for their series against the Devil Rays which starts tomorrow. Meanwhile, just about everything else in the area (schools, the Federal Government fercryinoutloud!) is shutting down. Gee, what's the big deal? So why are they playing? Simple, really, the tickets have been sold and if they don't play today the game probably won't be made up and all that revenue will be lost.

Last night's game was over by 9:20, but even with that distraction gone I just couldn't get into the Twins game. It was too one sided and, frankly, there wasn't enough at stake. ESPN2 did a good job of detailing the two teams' remaining schedules before the game started and it simply took the wind out of my sails. I mean, I knew the Twins had an easier schedule, but when it's right there in black and white, Cle & Det vs. NY & KC . . . throw in a 1 1/2 game lead in the standings and a 3-0 lead in the 3rd inning and I'm pretty convinced that the Twins are gonna have an easy time winning this thing. Meanwhile, Kenny Rodgers vs. John Garland just isn't gonna hold my attention.

Here's a breakdown of the rest of the season for the remaining postseason contenders:


The Yanks and A's have magic numbers of six.

The Twins have a 2 1/2 game lead, having beaten the White Sox in their last two games. After facing the off against Chicago again tonight (Lohse v. Colon) they'll play Cleveland twice and the Tigers seven times while the Chisox face the Yanks three and the Royals seven.

The Mariners gained a game on the Red Sox in the Wild Card race yesterday. They now trail by 1 1/2. They play the Rangers, who beat them Monday and Tuesday, again tonight before finishing up with three against the Angles and six against the A's. The Red Sox, meanwhile have nothing but Indians, Orioles and Devil Rays left on their schedule.

Based on the above, the Twins look to have the Central sewn up and the Red Sox look to have an iron grip on the Wild Card. There's an outside chance, however, that the Mariners could upset the A's for the AL West title. It's highly unlikely, as the M's have not been playing good baseball lately (they're 12-16 over the past month), but they only trail by 4 1/2 games and have six head-to-head matchups with the A's remaining, including the final three games of the season at Safeco. Oakland's other three games are against Texas. Still, it would take a minor miracle for the ALDS not to look like this:

Twins @ Yankees
Red Sox @ Athletics


The Giants clinched last night. The Braves are up by 10 and have clinched a tie.

The Cubs trail the Astros by just 1/2 game in the Central, but their remaining schedule has them facing the Reds thrice and the Pirates seven times while Houston takes on the Rockies tonight, then the Cardinals and Giants three times each before finishing up with four against the Brewers. I've been rooting for the Cubbies to pull this one out all season (partially because of the underdog factor, partially because I want to see Wood and Prior in the post-season) and they have an excellent chance to do so. At the same time, the Giants have nothing left to prove and the 'Stros swept St. Louis (who are 6-11 this month) just last week. This one's too close to call.

As for the Wild Card, the Marlins lead the Phillies by 1 1/2 games after splitting the first two games of their series which wraps up tonight. The two teams then play three more against each other in Miami next week. Otherwise Florida has four against Atlanta and three against the Mets while the Phillies have three against the Braves and three against the Reds. The Cubs are only 2 1/2 games out of this picture, the Dodgers 3 1/2. It's not impossible for the Cubs to go on a tear against Pit and Cincinnati while the Phils and Fish scrap against each other and Atlanta. The Dodgers, however, have seven games left against the Giants, which basically closes the door on their postseason chances.

Meanwhile, the Braves have not been playing their best ball of late (they're 8-9 on the month) and are actually in danger of losing home-field advantage to the Giants. Still, both of those teams will host in the first round, giving us something solid to grab onto for the potential NLDS match-ups:

Cubs, Astros, Phillies or Marlins @ Braves
Cubs, Astros, Phillies or Marlins @ Giants

It's really a shame that only two of those four teams will make it. It was great to see so many teams stay in the hunt this year, and particularly encouraging to see so many teams choose to go for it at the trading deadline. I'm thinking of the Marlins and Royals especially. I was really hoping the Royals would hold on longer than they did (Rob Neyer blames Tony Pena for their September swoon), but they need just three wins to vest Mike Sweeney's contract, and they have three games left with the Tigers. The Marlins, meanwhile, held onto Mike Lowell, then lost him to injury, made a last-second trade to get Jeff Conine as a stop-gap, and are still in the driver's seat for the Wild Card. Fantastic! Credit also to the Phillies organization for their work in the off-season, for not resting on their laurels and assuming that their new ballpark would do their work for them. At the same time, despite "Stand" Pat Gillick's wonderful sense of irony, it looks like Jeff Nelson hit the nail on the head when he criticized the team for not making any moves at the trading deadline. Lastly, anyone else notice that the Blue Jays' record is comparable to those of the Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Royals, three teams that were until very recently players in the post-season picture?

posted by Cliff at 9:41 AM

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Another day, another dollar 

Yanks beat the Orioles 6-3. Sox beat the Devil Rays. Magic number is 7.

Soriano hit another dinger. Heredia pitched a three-up, three-down eighth. Mo got an eight pitch save.

Clemens pitched seven strong innings to earn his 15th win of the year and 308th career, putting him one behind one of my all-time favorites, the ultimate nineteenth-century workhorse Old Hoss Radbourn, who had this otherworldly season for the Champion 1884 Providence Grays:

75G 73GS 73CG 678.1IP 59-12 .831 441K 98BB 0.93WHIP 1.38ERA

In addition to those 75 games as a pitcher Radbourn, who was just 5' 9" 168lbs., played 7 in the outfield, 5 at first, 2 at short and one at second base. He also pitched every inning of the three-game World Series between the NL Champ Grays and the American Association Champion New York Metropolitans, winning all three without surrenduring a run in 22 innings.

Clemens, meanwhile, will get two more starts (against Tampa Bay and Baltimore), giving him a chance to pass Radbourn and find his final resting place one behind his former teammate Tom Seaver. Of course, Clemens is under the impression that he's already tied Radbourn with 308, and the Hall of Fame lists Radbourn at 310 wins (giving him 60 for 1884), but such is the nature of nineteenth-century baseball stats. Seaver has 311. That we know for sure. Clemens will not be able to pass Steve Carlton for second place on the strikeout list and could very well be passed by Randy Johnson in the next year or two, provided the Big Unit can bounce back from a disappointing injury-plagued season at age 40. It's also unlikely that the Rocket will reach 200 strikeouts for a final time, or be able to pass Pedro Martinez for the league lead. It would be great, however, if he could drop his ERA under 4.00 and finish with 17 wins . . . and a ring, of course.

David Wells goes for win 200 tonight. Mussina does the same tomorrow. I like their chances.

posted by Cliff at 9:53 AM

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

And rolling . . . 

Yanks beat the O's 13-1 last night and racked up some nice counting stats:

* Giambi's 39th homer and 100th RBI (remember this is an off year for him)
* Matsui's 100th RBI (finally!)
* Pettitte's 19th win (he now gets two shots at #20, against Tampa Bay and Baltimore)
* Soriano's 30th (and 31st) homer, making him only the second American Leaguer (Bobby Bonds) ever to go 30-30 in consecutive seasons. That first homer was also his 11th to lead off a game this year, he's one behind Brady Anderson's single season record there.

Speaking of Soriano and his lead-off homers, it delights me that Joe Torre has finally figured out that Nick Johnson is a top-of-the-order hitter, and that he should stay a top-of-the-order hitter. He's also figured out that Matsui doesn't have to hit fifth and that Bernie can be moved around. All that's left is for him to realize that Jeter is his lead-off hitter. That is to say that, with the way Torre's coming to his senses about the line-up, Sori better get that record from Brady "#&$@" Anderson right quick.

Other game highlights included two more hits from Ruben "I'm Your New Right Fielder" Sierra, and two more homers from Aaron Boone. Boone is on fire. Word is he started hitting after he started using Bernie's bats (he pulled a similar trick with Cincinnati last year with Adam Dunn's bats), which means in the little over one week since Bernie hit that homer to win the final game against Boston, Bernie's bats have launched eight home runs (4 for Bernie, 4 for Boonie). Meanwhile, in four consecutive starts, Ruben Sierra is 7 for 16.

These are good times for the Yanks. Almost too good, one worries about complacency. The Red Sox have sort of faded from the rearview due more to the dwindling schedule than an increase in the Yankees' lead. One assumes those final eight games on the magic number will tick off easily and the Yanks will waltz into the playoffs just as they've been waltzing all over the Tigers, D-Rays and now the Orioles. In fact, I spent far more time watching the Giants embarrass themselves on Monday Night Football last night than I did the Yankees play ring-around-the-bases in Baltimore. I won't be home tonight to watch the Yanks and I'm actually hoping I can catch the AL Central showdown between the Twins and Chisox tomorrow on ESPN2, rather than watch Wells go for career win number 200. For his part, Joe Torre thinks this sort of thing is good for the team. Rather than exhausting themselves in an attempt to secure home-field advantage (something they will very likely claim anyway, they currently lead the A's by 2 1/2 games for the best record in the league) like they did last year, Torre would rather take it easy and set things up for the divisional series.

posted by Cliff at 1:17 PM

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Single digits 

The Yanks won the nightcap last night 6-3 behind some strong pitching from Mike Mussina (his 17th win of the season and 199th of his career) and big hitting from Jason Giambi (2 for 3 with homer) and Ruben Sierra (2 for 4, 3 RBIs), thus pulling off the rare double header sweep. Sierra, for his part, is providing some unexpected offense from right field going 5 for 12 with a homer, two doubles and four RBIs in three consecutive starts over the past two days. Anytime you can add a veteran switch hitter with power to your line-up and have him produce, good things should happen.

Despite two hits from Sierra today (including that second double and a potential ninth-inning rally starter), those good things didn’t happen today. Contreras pitched well for six innings, tiring some in the seventh, giving up just two runs and striking out eight in seven full. The Yankees, meanwhile scored two of their own on a two-out, two-run jack by Derek Jeter (note to the fan who failed to catch the ball: two hands). Things fell apart in the eighth, however. With Heredia on the mound Enrique Wilson made a bad throw on a hotshot to third by Devil Ray rookie and enemy of the letter "h" Jonny Gomes. Heredia then proceeded to walk Damien Rolls and give up a single to Marlon Anderson scoring the go-ahead run. Torre, thankfully, had a quick hook for Heredia who allowed four hits and a game tying run in 1 1/3 in yesterday’s day game. Unfortunately, Antonio Osuna gave up a two-run double to his first batter, Toby Hall, he then walked Julio Lugo before getting the third out on a good play by Soriano in the hole behind second. 5-2 Devil Rays, and that’s how it would end (but not before Osuna gave up two more hits to lead off the ninth, resulting in the phrase “batting practice” being bandied about the stands).

In the excuses department, the day was tremendously humid, partly due to the sun evaporating the water from the wet field and stands, partly due to the intermittent showers. Thus, the air was very heavy and the ball did not carry well (though Rocco Baldelli, who went 3 for 4 with two stolen bases—one of which looked from the bleachers like a bad call by the second base ump—didn’t have much problem launching a Contreras pitch into the left field box seats). John Flaherty, Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams all hit balls to deep center, much like Giambi’s 400-foot double on Friday, that would have sailed out on a dryer day. Flaherty’s ball evaded Baldelli for a double, though Flaherty didn’t score, Giambi and Williams simply made impressive outs. Bernie’s shot was hit with a man on. There’s your four runs.

At any rate, in a four game series with a double header, even against the Devil Rays, 3 out of 4 is just dandy. The Yanks did their job and so did the White Sox, who took 2 of 3 from Boston, helping to drop the Yankees magic number to 9. Thus, fulfilling my highest hopes for the weekend. Wells, Moose & Contreras all pitched well. My one concern is that this run of 23 games in 22 days could wear out the pen. At the same time, the larger sample size could save Torre from falling in love with someone like Heredia or White based on a handful of clean appearances. Those guys will have to earn it.

The Yanks now travel to Baltimore while the Devil Rays head to Boston, both for four game series. Going back to our big-picture scenario, the Yanks had to play no more than four games worse than Boston against (nearly) identical competition over the final three weeks of the season to win the division. After the first two series, the Yankees went 3-0 against Detroit (equivalent of the Sox three game series at Cleveland) and 3-1 against Tampa Bay at home. The Red Sox thus have to sweep Tampa Bay in these next four games and Cleveland in the following three to gain just one game on the Yanks. Meanwhile, the Yankees can now afford to lose their series against the only winning team left on their schedule, the White Sox, and could even afford a sweep provided they can do as much as split with the Orioles in Baltimore, as the Red Sox went 2-1 in Baltimore (they’ll play their extra game with the Orioles at home in a four-game series) and 1-2 against Chicago. Assuming the Red Sox win that extra game against Baltimore, and the Yanks and Bosox match results in their other six games, the Yankees would still win the division by a game if that more-or-less worst-case scenario (Red Sox run off a seven-game win streak, Yanks split Baltimore and get swept by Chicago) plays out. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have just a half-game lead on Seattle for the Wild Card, which is a far more pressing concern for them than their 5 ½ game deficit in the east. The Yankees, meanwhile, have the best record in the AL by 2 ½ games over Oakland and trail the Braves by just a half game for the best record in the bigs.

posted by Cliff at 10:55 PM

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