Monday, August 6, 2012

The Story of the Season Is Taking Shape

There's an old saying in baseball: "Good pitching beats good hitting, and vice versa." It's usually attributed to Yankee Legend Yogi Berra, but I'm guessing he didn't say it.

Over the weekend, there was a lot of good pitching at Yankee Stadium II, in the series between the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners.

On Friday night, CC Sabathia started against Kevin Millwood.  CC is still one of the best pitchers in baseball.  Millwood used to be, but not anymore.

Eric Chavez -- remember, he's supposed to be neither the starting 3rd baseman nor the starting designated hitter -- hit his 10th home run of the season off Millwood.  Robinson Cano hit his 30th double (remember, it's the first week of August), Derek Jeter hit his 21st, and Russell Martin doubled as well, going 2-for-4, to bring his average up to... .195.  But when he does hit, he usually comes through.

CC, meanwhile, went the distance.  He took a 6-1 lead into the 9th, before Dustin Ackley hit a 2-run homer to make the game interesting.  But CC bore down and gave the bullpen a much-needed night off.  Yankees 6, Mariners 3.  WP: CC (11-3).  LP: Millwood (4-9; his ERA is only 4.01, so he hasn't been awful this season, but he needs to get out of Seattle any way he can).

*

On Saturday, Hiroki Kuroda went up against Felix Hernandez.  What Kuroda did would usually be more than enough to give his own team's hitters the chance to win the game: He got into the 7th inning having allowed just 1 run, and between them, Boone Logan, David Robertson and Clay Rapada allowed no more.

But Hernandez showed why some people (who don't seem to grasp that he's never pitched a game under Pennant race pressure in his life) call him "King Felix": He threw a complete-game 2-hit shutout.  He allowed a Cano double in the 1st, and Ichiro Suzuki single in the 3rd (erased by a double play), a Curtis Granderson walk in the 6th, a Raul Ibanez walk in the 7th, and that's it: 4 baserunners in 9 innings.

Mariners 1, Yankees 0.  WP: Hernandez (10-5).  LP: Kuroda (10-8, who really deserved a better fate).

*

Felix or no, it would have been very bad for the Yankees to drop a home series against the Mariners, who are well over .500.  And who was scheduled to start for the Yanks yesterday afternoon? Freddy Garcia, the former Mariner ace now barely hanging on to his spot in the Yankee rotation.  And when the Mariners scored in the top of the 1st,  it seemed deflating.  There was a "Here we go again" mentality.

But the Yankees struck back immediately in the bottom of the 1st: Granderson walked, Jeter grounded into a force play, Cano singled Jeter to 3rd, and Mark Teixeira singled Jeter home.  In the 2nd, Granderson scored on a throwing error.  Jeter singled home a run in the 4th.

The Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda trade, in which the Yankees gave up their biggest prospect for a pitcher whose injury won't allow him to pitch for them at all this season, came back to bite them again, as Montero singled home a run in the top of the 5th.  But an Ibanez homer -- his 15th, in the first week of August, and did I mention he's 40 years old? -- canceled that out.  He singled home 2 more in the 6th, off former Met Oliver Perez, in relief of starter Hisashi Iwakuma.

Garcia went only 5 innings, and was really laboring, but allowed only the 2 runs.  Logan, Robertson and Soriano pitched the remaining 4, and retired 12 of the last 13 batters, allowing only a walk given up by Robertson.

Yankees 6, Mariners 2.  WP: Garcia (5-5 -- the 150th win of his career).  LP: Iwakuma (2-3).

*

So the Yankees take 2 out of 3 from the Mariners.  Reward? They get to go to Detroit, for 4 games, before 3 more in Toronto.

They are 6 1/2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles (7 in the loss column), 7 1/2 (8) ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, 10 (11) ahead of the Boston Red Sox, and 10 1/2 (11) ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Elimination numbers: Sox 43, Jays 44, Rays 47 and O's 48.  That's right, the Yankees' Magic Number to clinch their 20th American League Eastern Division Championship (their 49th first-place finish overall) is just 48.

If the regular season ended today, this would be the Playoff matchups, with the team with the home-field advantage listed first:

Yankees vs. winner of Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers.

Texas Rangers vs. Chicago White Sox.

Cincinnati Reds vs. Atlanta Braves, if Braves win Wild Card play-in game vs. Pittsburgh Pirates; if Pirates win it, Reds vs. San Francisco Giants.

Washington Nationals vs. Giants if Braves win; if Pirates win, Nats vs. Bucs.

If we're going by who deserves it the most...

* The Nats have never won a postseason series, including in their earlier incarnation as the Montreal Expos.  They haven't even won a postseason game since 1981, their only berth.

* No Washington team has won a Pennant since the 1933 Senators, and none has won a postseason series since the Senators went all the way in 1924.

* The A's haven't won a postseason series since 2006, an ALCS game since 1992, a Pennant since 1990 or a World Series since 1989.

* The Tigers haven't won a postseason series since 2006, or a World Series since 1984.

* The Rangers have won the last 2 AL Pennants, but have never won a World Series since they began play in Texas in 1972, or at all since they began as "the new Washington Senators" in 1961.

* The Braves haven't won a postseason series since 2001, a Pennant since 1999, or a World Series since 1995.  Hard to believe, since they were a paragon of stability for so long, reaching every postseason that was played from 1991 to 2005.

* The Reds haven't won a postseason series since 1995, and haven't won an NLCS game, a Pennant or a World Series since 1990.

* The Orioles, only a game out of the 2nd AL Wild Card spot, haven't reached the postseason since 1997, and haven't won a Pennant or a World Series since 1983.


* The Blue Jays, 5 games out of the 2nd AL Wild Card spot, haven't reached the postseason, or won a Pennant or a World Series, since 1993.

* The Los Angeles Dodgers, 3 games out of the 2nd NL Wild Card spot, haven't won a Pennant or a World Series since 1988.

* And the Pirates haven't reached the postseason, or even had a winning season, since 1992, and haven't won a Pennant or a World Series since 1979.


The story of this season is beginning to take shape.  What it will end up as, is anybody's guess.

It wouldn't be good for the Yankees to stand in the way of someone like Washington or Pittsburgh.  It wouldn't be fair to beat either of them, and I certainly don't want to lose.

On the other hand, the Pirates did win the last Series against the Yankees, in 1960.  And the Yanks have been looking for a rematch with the Reds since 1976 and the Dodgers since 1981.

So, not being a team owner, whose first priority is making money, regardless of what it does to the team and the fans thereof, I want to win.

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