Thursday, August 31, 2006

And They Called It...

I promise that this is the last time I'm going to write and article defending Arod this year. My friends are now convinced that I have some sort of man crush on him. He just broke out of a miserable slump that saw him go something like 1 for 24 with 16 strikeouts. Today he was 3 for 4 with a home run and 2 rbi's. He even got a curtain call from the fickle NY fans. Arod has been suffering through his worst year as a professional player. It's probably the first time in his career that he has had such a prolonged stretch of absolutely wretched play. His defense, which up to this year has always been stellar, has been terrible this year. He has made the most errors of any third baseman in the majors and is on pace to better his total over the past two seasons combined. So what is there to defend, you say? Well even at his current pace he is on pace to hit 33 home runs and drive in 118. That would be a career year for most players in the majors. Matsui has never driven in 118 runs for the Yankees. Neither has Jeter or Posada. Giambi and Bernie have only driven in that many runs once each for the Yankees. Bobby Abreu has never driven in that many in his career.
33 home runs in a single season. Again no for Williams, Abreu, Posada, Matsui or Jeter.

Arod is having a subpar season FOR HIM. For anyone else on the team, it would be a fantastic year. The expectations are set so high for him, that he simply isn't allowed to fail. The worst thing that could happen is that he begins to press so much that he simply can't produce in NY anymore. If that fans and the press were to run Arod out of town it would really be a shame. I can't say at this point that Arod is going to go down in history as the greatest hitter ever to play, but he certainly has a chance to hit more home runs and drive in more runs than any player in history. I'm just going to glad to say that I got a chance to see him play everyday.

Yankee fans have a history of booing some of their greatest heroes. Mantle was constantly booed in NY for not being Joe Dimaggio. It wasn't until Maris came along that the fans found someone else they liked booing more. And Maris won back to back MVP's in '60 and '61. Jeter was booed in 2004 when he got off to a very slow start. Giambi was booed mercilessly at the beginning of last season until he began to hit home runs again. Every great pitcher the Yankees have had has been booed after a bad outing on the mound. The fans here just like to boo. It's not that they hate the player, but there is a certain percentage of the fans who feel that since they have paid for their ticket and their $8 beer, that they have a right to boo. And of course they do. Booing, like cheering is part of the game. The problem is that some players take that kind of response to heart. I'm not saying that Arod is such a wimp that a little booing is affecting him, but it certainly isn't helping.

Arod is going to be fine. In fact the Yankees need him to be fine if they plan on getting anywhere in the playoffs this year. I just hope that the boo birds at the stadium realize that the next time he strikes out.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

It's a Fine Line Between Pleasure and Pain

Carl Pavano recently revealed to the NY Yankees that he had been in a car accident. He actually suffered a couple of broken ribs in the accident and had it not been for the lingering pain, he wouldn't have told them about the incident at all. In fact he pitched effectively for one the Yankees minor league teams the same night of the accident. This is latest in a series of setbacks for Pavano. He was signed for $40 million for four years in the offseason two years ago. He has given the Yankees 17 starts at the Major League level for his $10 million a year salary. His injuries have ranged from bone chips to a bruised butt. The question becomes whether he even wants to pitch in NY anymore. He was actually out for a year without even having surgery. Octavio Dotel, who is currently pitching for the Yankees, had Tommy John surgery after Pavano went on the DL last year and has recovered enough to pitch again in the Majors.

Baseball players almost always play with some pain. The daily grind of the season usually produces more than a few bumps and bruises along the way. Players have to learn to tell the difference between being hurt and being injured. Johnny Damon has played most of the season with a broken bone in his foot. Jorge Posada gets hit by foul balls almost every time he catches. Both players and a host of others could have asked for time off to heal, but for the most part, they don't. Pitchers almost always feel some discomfort in their arms during the season. Pitching is not a natural motion and the force exerted with each pitch is extraordinary. The pressures applied to the elbow, wrist and shoulder are going to cause some discomfort over time. After games, pitchers arms are wrapped in ice for a reason. I won't say that it's unprecedented, but I have certainly never heard of a pitcher missing more than a year without having some type of surgery. The myriad of injuries that have seemed to plague Carl Pavano become more and more suspicious as they continue to pile up.

Back pain, elbow pain, butt pain, shoulder pain, Pavano is starting to sound like someone who is looking for a reason not to pitch. I guess that's fine when you have a guaranteed $40 million coming your way. I wonder how quickly he would have been back out on the mound if his contract wasn't guaranteed. The NFL doesn't guarantee contracts because of the violent nature of the sport. Baseball players can sit back and collect their salaries even if they don't play as long as they are in rehab from an injury. Pavano has lost all credibility with the fans at this point. He is in an almost no-win situation. When he finally does decide that he can pitch, the fans are going to be very unforgiving. He must be perfect in order to win them over and that is just not possible. He is going to be subject to the harshest criticism from the public. It won't be on the level of Arod because he will only pitch once a week, but when he's out there, it's not going to be pretty. Although the market for an oft injured pitcher who makes $10 million a season is going to be fairly thin, I don't think that Yankees have much choice but to pursue a trade in the off-season. Cashman has worked miracles before and I certainly hope that he can pull another one off here. Carl Pavano looks like the second coming of Ed Whitson (although without the porn star mustache), whose name is synonymous with athletes that couldn't handle the pressure of New York.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Down the Stretch

The Yankees have just finished their marathon stretch of 21 games in 20 days. They have just come back from an eleven day road trip in which they went 7-4 and saw their lead over the Red Sox grow from 1-1/2 to 6-1/2. All in all a very successful stretch of games. The Yankees magic number now stands at 27 and their postseason odds still stand at 98% while the Red Sox odds have dipped to 4%. Even with all the good news, there are still problems that need to be overcome before the team can start planning their 12th straight trip to the playoffs.

Chief among those concerns are the continuing struggles of Arod. To call his west coast trip dismal would be an understatement. He is currently mired in a 1 for 17 slump, in which he has struck out 12 times. At this point, he looks totally lost at the plate. Taking pitches down the middle for strike three and swinging at pitches in the dirt. He even made an errant throw which cost the Yankees three runs yesterday. He was not charged with an error because the Yankees did get an out at first base, but not turning the double play allowed the Angels to score runs which they would not have had. Thankfully the Yankees went on the win the game or his error would have been back page fodder. Arod's errors always seem to be very costly. Everyone is going to make errors, but for some reason his always seem to come back to haunt the Yankees. There is no disputing that Arod is a hard worker. In fact after yesterday's game, he went to the batting cages for 45 minutes to work on his swing. His problem is in his head. He is perhaps the most talented baseball player alive and yet his failures seem to be affecting his performance. He needs to remember why he loves the game. Why he loved the game to begin with. It just can't be that the played baseball because he was good at it. There has to be more. He needs to remember what attracted him to the game and he needs to start having fun again. New York has broken many a player, but it should not break Arod. And most importantly, the Yankees are going to need him if they plan to advance this October.

The Yankees pitching staff is not in the best of shape either. Mike Mussina is on the DL for another week, the bullpen has been overworked and they are relying a couple of rookies for important innings. Carl Pavano, who has been making rehab starts in the minors, is once again complaining of pain. He hasn't pitched in the majors since June of last year and at this rate, it may be next June before he does again. The Yankees paid him $40 million to be a solid contributor to the starting staff, but have seen little return on their investment to this point. Pavano has to be losing as much credibility with his teammates as he has with the NY press and the fans. I'm not sure he wants to pitch in NY anymore. He is scheduled to start on Thursday, it remains to be seen if he will pitch for Columbus, the Yankees or be shut down for what seems like the 100th time.

The Yankees have had good news on the Matsui front, as his rehab continues to proceed without a hitch. He is still hoping for a return by mid September. I think it would take a miracle to get Sheffield back before the end of the season, but the lineup will definitely get a boost from the return of Matsui. Melky Cabrera has done a good job of filling in and is actually a much better fielder than Matsui is (regardless of the constant harping of Michael Kay about the fielding prowess of Matsui), but he simply doesn't hit with enough power to be a corner outfielder. He is currently carrying an OPS of .767. Matsui provides a slugging percentage approximately 100 points above what Melky has done this year.

The Yankees come home and get a much needed day off today, but starting tomorrow they will face the Tigers and Twins for 6 games. It's a good test for the Yankees, because it seems that their most likely 1st round opponent will come out of the central division. The Tigers have the best record in baseball and the Twins have the best record for the past couple of months. The schedule gets easier after these six games with the Royals and the Devil Rays upcoming. The Yankees played .500 ball over their recent punishing stretch, but they must play better if they are to keep the pressure on the Red Sox. The magic number is 27, but the team should remember that it's easier to shrink that number when you win.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Simply the Best

Ali-Frazier III. The Thrilla in Manila. The final meeting of boxing titans. Ali had christened the fight in his then famous "poetry". He said, "It's gonna be a killer, and a chiller and a thrilla when I get the gorilla in Manila." As if the fight needed any more buildup, Ali decided to dub Frazier the gorilla, which did nothing to lessen the already substantial animosity from the Frazier camp. On October 30, 1975 Ali and Frazier would wage the greatest heavyweight fight of all time. The battle was so monumental that neither man would ever be the same again. They left not only their blood and guts in the ring that night, they left whatever was left of their youth as well.

Ali and Frazier fought for the first time on March 8, 1971. The fight that was billed as the fight of the century and lived up to that billing. It was quite possibly the greatest sports spectacle of the century. It featured the first meeting of undefeated heavyweight champions. Ali was coming back from a three year layoff after having his title stripped and being prohibited from boxing due to his refusal to enter the armed services. Frazier had stepped into the void created by Ali's absence and had won the title in the heavyweight championship tournament. Ali had a couple of tune up fights and declared himself ready to reclaim his rightful place atop the heavyweight division. Ali and Frazier were friendly during Ali's boxing exile, with Frazier even giving Ali money during a particularly rough stretch. Once the contracts were signed however, Ali began to taunt Frazier in public. He called him ugly and an Uncle Tom. He painted Frazier as the "white man's champion". He claimed to be the people's champion. He turned the fight into a battle between the status quo and the voices for change, between the old and young, between black and white, between rich and poor. Frazier didn't want any of it and he grew to hate Ali because of the taunting. The fight itself was an epic battle. Ali dominated the early rounds with his speed and his jab. Frazier, a notoriously slow starter came back in the middle rounds. The fight was fairly even as they entered the last five rounds of the fight. The years away from boxing had robbed Ali of his ability to dance around the ring for 15 rounds. As the latter rounds became more of a flat footed slugfest, the fight swung in Frazier's direction. Frazier knocked Ali to the canvas in the 15th and final round with a thunderous trademark left hook. Ali somehow managed to pull himself up at that count of 4, but the decision was never in doubt. Frazier had defeated him and could now lay rightful claim to the true undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.

The second fight in the trilogy took place in January of 1974. Neither man was champion at that point. Frazier had been knocked senseless by George Foreman in Jamaica a year earlier and Ali had lost to a previously unknown boxer named Ken Norton. Both were at the crossroads of their careers. The fight was held at Madison Square Garden in New York, which was the same venue as their first fight, it had none of the majesty of that fight however. Ali continued to taunt Frazier and Frazier continued to build animosity toward Ali. They even tussled on Wide World of Sports while doing an interview with Howard Cosell. Ali was probably just acting, but Frazier was dead serious. The fight in the ring was neither as interesting nor as close as their first fight had been. Ali won easily, although Frazier did score with a number of punches. The fight was really the beginning of the end for Frazier. He would fight only four more times before retiring. Ali went on to fight 15 more times after the second Frazier fight.

The third fight was supposed to be easy for Ali. He had just recently regained the heavyweight title from George Foreman in Zaire and Frazier was perceived to be at the end of the line. Ali didn't train heavily for the fight but Frazier threw everything he had into preparation. He wanted to shut Ali up once and for all. The fight took place at an indoor arena that had no air conditioning. Under the TV lights the temperature soared well above 100 degrees in the ring. The humidity was stifling. The only ventilation in the building was in the form of fans that were ineffective in battling the heat and only served to circulate the already searing air. Ali was confident as he entered the ring. He felt that he would be able to take Joe out in the early rounds. Joe had another thought in mind. The fight started in the familiar pattern of Ali - Frazier fights. Ali dominated the early rounds. He peppered Frazier with jabs and power punches that Frazier seemed unable to stop or dodge. The fight began to turn once again in the middle rounds. Frazier pinned Ali to the ropes and began to pound at Ali's midsection and score left hooks to the head. Ali tried his rope-a-dope technique which had been so successful against Foreman, but Frazier proved too smart an opponent to simply punch himself out. He was much more economical and precise in his attack than the outclassed Foreman had been. As the fight wore on Ali knew that he was in for a battle. In one of the clinches he said, "Joe, they said you were done", "They lied to you champ" was Joe's only response.

The later rounds saw Ali's punches begin to take a toll on Frazier's face. His head became a misshapen lump of bruises. His eye were swollen and his vision became compromised. Ali seized the advantage. He produced pinpoint power shots to Frazier's head and started to build a lead. Frazier did not stop punching however. He hurt Ali on numerous occasions as the fight wore on. Ali was later quoted as saying that those later rounds were as close to death as he as ever felt. The heat and Frazier's relentless attack pushed him to the brink of quitting. His corner pushed him out for each round and he continued his attack on Frazier's face. A series of shots in the 13th round sent Frazier's mouthpiece flying into the crowd, but he never stopped coming forward, absorbing punishment, but also dishing it out. Frazier's corner wanted to stop the fight after the 13th round but he convinced them to give him one more round. In the 14th round a nearly blinded Frazier absorbed a vicious beating from Ali and his corner did indeed call it quits before the start of the 15th. In the tape from the fight, you can see Frazier arguing with his corner about stopping the fight, but in the end his trainer, Eddie Futch, had the final say. Frazier was so upset by that decision that he never spoke to Futch again. Ali, upon seeing that the fight was being stopped, got off his stool, raised his hand and then collapsed onto the canvas.

Both men had absorbed a tremendous amount of damage in the fight. And while Frazier's face looked the worse for wear, it was Ali's body that had suffered the most in the fight. Ali always gave up his body in order to protect his face and Frazier exacted an enormous toll during the fight. Ali was under a doctors care for several days after the fight, while Frazier was able to walk away in generally good condition. Joe Frazier would once again lose by knockout to George Foreman in his next fight after which he retired. Frazier had a short lived comeback a few years later in which he fought only once, but basically his career ended that night in Manila. Ali said after the fight that he was going to quit and most people believe that he should have. Of course he wouldn't. He would go on to lose and then win the title one more time and he would suffer ignominious defeat at the hands of Larry Holmes in an ill advised comeback. Ali is now afflicted with Parkinson's Syndrome, which means that although he doesn't have Parkinson's he has all the symptoms of a sufferer of the disease. It's a more scientific term for what used to labeled "punch drunk". His speech has been affected to the point that he doesn't speak in public anymore. His limbs shake uncontrollably and his movement is limited. His continued boxing activity after that night in Manila is probably the main reason for his condition today.

The thrilla in Manila was an epic struggle between two extraordinary fighters. Both men were past their primes, both had already secured their places in boxing history, both had nothing left to prove, but on that night they showed the world something more than just a championship bout. They were no longer fighting for the heavyweight championship, they were fighting for the championship of each other. They had split the first two fights and the winner of this fight could forever claim victory over the other. Neither of them was willing to give up that fight. They both fought to the edge of death to prove something, not to the world, but to each other. Ali won that night, but paid a heavy cost by continuing his boxing career. The effects of his decision to continue to fight have made him a shadow of the person he used to be. Frazier is still relatively healthy today and while he says that he harbors no ill will toward Ali today, there has to be a lingering thought in his head that perhaps by losing, he was the ultimate victor that October night in Manila.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Race to the Finish

I wanted to tackle the issue of race in sports in a couple of ways. First, Tiger Woods won another major championship last weekend in his seemingly inevitable march toward Jack Nicklaus' record. It was another dominating performance by Tiger and I'm sure CBS reaped the benefit of Tiger being atop the leader board. The questions was raised by someone, as it practically always is, about Tiger's effect on African American participation in Golf. What exactly has been the effect of Tiger's domination on black Americans? Secondly ESPN's Outside the Lines had a show devoted to the dwindling number of African Americans in baseball. The percentage, which once topped out at about 20% has shrunk to 8%. The question is why has this happened and what can be done to reverse the current trend.

Tiger has increased the viewership of golf by African Americans, but he does the same to white Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Eskimos. Tiger brings people to the TV set. The effect among blacks is probably greater than the other ethnicities, but it is felt across the board. Tiger has done clinics for inner city kids and he has the standard "famous athlete charities", but has he made a difference as far as African American participation in the sport. I would have to say the difference in negligible. Golf is all about access. The easiest way to play golf is to be a member of a country club and play on a private course. That, of course, costs a lot of money and membership is obviously limited. So his effect at the country club level would be practically zero. There are, however, a lot of public courses around the country and that in theory would allow everyone has a chance to play. Most public courses are in suburban areas. They are not readily accessible to urban dwellers. Kids without cars would have practically no chance to get to a golf course. If they did manage to make their way to a course, they would have to then compete for tee times with everyone else who isn't a country club member. There is also the cost of clubs and greens fees which all add up to a lot more than buying a basketball and heading to the local court. Tiger has done day clinics at public courses and driving ranges for inner city kids, but after he's gone, I don't think that there is any long term effect. The courses aren't any closer and the cost isn't any less. If you've watched any golf on TV lately you'll also notice that the makeup of the galleries hasn't changed either. The "Tiger effect" can be seen in the TV ratings but for all intents and purposes, that's the extent of his influence.

Baseball faces a similar problem which is access. Baseball fields are basically non existent in urban areas. Real estate is far too valuable to be "wasted" on a baseball field. Urban kids can't readily get to a baseball field to play. Plus it requires 18 people to play a baseball game. That means that unless there is some sort of supervised league to play in, the game simply isn't played. Baseball has become, like golf, a suburban sport. In the suburbs there are well manicured field and easy access for kids to play in leagues. In the city, kids face a lot of blacktop, which is great for basketball, but not quite as comfortable for baseball. I don't believe that we've reached a crisis point for baseball among blacks in America. The percentage of participation has dropped, but that has a lot to do with how kids are scouted for major league teams. Teams spend millions of dollars in scouting for Latin American players, but they barely spend anything on scouting for urban players.

Today, the majority of major league players are drafted out of colleges and high schools. Teams aren't particularly interested in fostering growth of the game in the inner cities. Major League Baseball does have a program in place to try and grow the game in the cities, but the money spent on that program pales in comparison to the money spent scouting kids playing in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The participation level of African Americans at the major league level will probably bounce back at some point as the levels of blacks in the suburbs increases. However, the inner city is probably lost forever as a major supplier of players to the Major Leagues.

The last thing I want to discuss is whether today's athletes have a responsibility to their community to help affect some change, whether it's in participation in the sport or social change. There was a time (I think it was called the 60's), when black athletes spoke out about political and social issues which affected their community. They felt an obligation to try and affect some change on society (Ali, Jim Brown, Kareem, Bill Russel, Rafer Johnson, Curt Flood and a whole host of others) and in doing so they actually helped pave the way for today's athletes.

Today's star black athletes are corporations. The bottom line is the bottom line. Michael Jordon has make hundreds of millions of dollars by selling his image. His biggest contribution to urban youth is convincing them that spending $150 on sneakers is a good thing. Jordan didn't grow up in the inner city, he grew up in suburban North Carolina. Whatever racism he experienced growing up was subtle and personal not overt and institutionalized. He grew up wanting the American dream of money that so many of us aspire to. He never felt the need to help the black community. The same can be said of Tiger Woods. He also grew up in the suburbs. His father once said that Tiger would change the world. I don't think Tiger has those kinds of aspirations. His goal is to be rich and happy. And he's definitely got the rich part down. He is going to be the first athlete to surpass $1 billion in earning. Derek Jeter is another suburban kid. He does have the requisite charitable organization (I believe it's called "Turn Two"), but for the most part he does all his talking on the field. Derek has never even taken a stand on the steroids issue, which directly affects the game that he plays. Let's not even get into Barry Bonds or Mike Tyson. Today's athletes stand as the legacy of the athletes from the 60's. They have gotten the benefits from the struggles of those who came before them and are basically living the "dream".

Ultimately, I don't believe that athletes bear any special obligation to try and affect change in their "community". Athletes are in the public eye because of their athletic gifts, not because they have anything important to say. Take Curt Schilling for example. He felt the need to lend his support to President Bush and the war against Iraq. Curt Schilling is a junior college dropout. Do we really need to hear his views on politics? I don't think so. Tiger, Jordan, Derek Jeter, etc. may not have anything to say either. And if they did have anything to say, why should we listen? Do they need to be positive role models for kids? As far as I can tell they are positive role models for kids. They are rich, successful athletes and businessmen. I can't think of a more positive role model. Should they be doing more for inner city kids? They could do more, but they shouldn't have an obligation to do so. They aren't politicians or crusaders. They are just athletes. Athletes like Ali and the times he lived in don't come along very often. Ali didn't set out to be a symbol, he just wanted to box. The situation was trust upon him and he rose to the occasion, but if there were no Vietnam war and no draft, he would never have had that opportunity. He would have just been a polarizing figure for his involvement with the Black Muslim movement.

Race is always going to play a part of everything in America but it should not be the defining issue of sport? Kids will play whatever is easiest for them to play. Currently that means basketball in the urban centers. Will that change? I don't know and I'm not sure that it needs to change. So in the end, will Tiger Woods change the world? Probably not, but I also don't think that he needs to.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Good News

Just a quick note here. Peter Gammons was at the game on Saturday. It was great to see him at the ballpark again. Hopefully his recovery from a brain aneurysm is going well. Good luck and God speed, Peter.



It's panic button time in Red Sox Nation. The Red Sox just got swept in a five game series by the hated Yankees. The pitching staff is in shambles, the starting lineup has been decimated by injuries and they sit 7 games behind the Yankees in the loss column. People all over New England are now sizing up buildings all over the region for their maximum velocity speed potential. There's a suicide watch over the entire city of Boston. Fenway Park is now a full fledged mourning zone. The papers are once again bringing out their usual "stick a fork in them" headlines.

It's amazing how quickly Theo Epstein went from boy genius to moron. Terry Francona has apparently become the worst manager in baseball. According to the fans and the Boston papers, outside of Manny,Ortiz, Schilling, Papelbon and Varitek the rest of the team is basically a bunch of triple A rejects. Every move by Epstein and Francona is being second guessed at this point. The fact that the Sox have had a number of major injuries is dismissed. The finger pointing has reached epic levels. It's as if the Red Sox didn't win the World Series less than two years ago. It seems all that good will is now gone. They have returned to being the team that perpetually lets down it's fans and loses to the big bad NY Yankees.

It's not unexpected, but it's still somewhat disappointing to see the change that has taken place in "Red Sox Nation". All the polls on the sports sites are now running about 80-20 against the Red Sox making the playoffs. Just a few weeks ago the same polls said that the Yankees were the team that would be most likely left out of the playoffs. A short five weeks ago the Yankees were looking up at the Red Sox in the east and White Sox in the wild card standings. On July 13th the Yankees trailed the Red Sox by three games and the White Sox by six games. Five weeks later the Yankees are 2.5 games ahead of the White Sox and 6.5 games ahead of the Red Sox. Things can change that quickly.

"Nothing is over is until we say it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? No! And it ain't over now." I use the famous quote from Animal House to illustrate a point. The race is not over. The Yankees magic number is 32. The Red Sox have 38 games to make sure that they never reach that number. Why would anyone want to give up when there is still about 1/4 of the season to be played. I can't believe that Red Sox fans and the Boston press are so quick to bury their own team. This manager and GM got a World Series championship for Boston in '04. They pulled off a miracle against the Yankees to get there. No team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a post season series in baseball history until the '04 Red Sox (that is still very painful for me to write). Sure this is a different team. But Manny is still there, Ortiz is still there, Mr. bloody sock is still there (by the way, I'll always believe that he put that blood on his sock just so that he could appear to be more heroic). So perhaps they should be cut a little bit of slack.

I don't know, maybe I'm just trying to make sure that I don't take anything for granted, but it has been such an even struggle between the Yankees and the Red Sox over the past 4 years that I can't imagine that this year will turn out any different. People are comparing this last series to the famed "Boston Massacre" of '78. What people don't remember is that while the Yankees did sweep that series and then actually build a small lead on the Red Sox, that team came back to play close to .900 ball over the remainder of the season, including winning on the last day of the season to force the now famous (infamous in Boston)one-game playoff. We all know how that ended (Bucky Dent is a dirty word in Boston), but the fact that the team came back after being humiliated on their home field shows that anything is possible. I haven't counted out the Red Sox and I would hate to think that the people who are supposed to show the most loyalty already have. That would be a real shame. The team deserves better.

Today's odds for the playoffs: The Yankees:98%, The Red Sox 11%. The Yankees magic number remains at 32 pending the outcome of the games on the west coast tonight.


Monday, August 21, 2006


Let's talk about one the best stats in baseball. The Magic number. What is the magic number you ask. It's the number that tells you how close or far your team is from winning it's division. Currently the Yankees magic number is 34. That means any combination of Yankees wins and/or Red Sox loses that total 34 means the Yankees win. So the question you are no doubt asking yourself is, "how do you calculate the magic number, Michael?". Here's the formula, you take the number of wins of the second place team (The Red Sox (69)), add the number of games they have remaining (39) and then subtract that number from the number of wins of the first place team (The Yankees (74)) and add 1. So from that formula you get (69+39) - (74+1) = 33.

Pretty simple don't you think? So you're saying to yourself now, Michael, you're an idiot, just a couple of lines earlier you said that the Yankees magic number was 34. Good catch, faithful reader, I did say that. There is one more part to the magic number formula and that is that both teams must have played the same number of games. In the Yankees case they have played one less game than the Red Sox, so you just add the number of games fewer that the Yankees have played to the magic number derived from the formula. So the formula gave us 33 and you add the one game the Yankees have in hand and you get 34.

There you have it. The magic number simply enough calculates the maximum number of games the team in second place can win and then gives you number of games the first place team would have to win to beat them. Therefore, each win by the first place team or loss by the second place team makes the number smaller. The Yankees are currently beating the Red Sox and if they hold on their magic number will be reduced to... anyone, anyone, anyone, that's right 32. I'm so proud of all of you for being such good students. Come back to tomorrow when I'll be explaining the theory of relativity.

P.S. The odds before todays game was played: The Yankees:96.6%, The Red Sox:12.6%
Also the Yankees just completed the sweep of the Red Sox, so their magic number does indeed now stand at 32.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Odds and Ends (cont.)

Just a quick update. As of today, the Yankees odds of making the playoffs have dropped to 82%. The Red Sox chances have climbed to 33%. I don't really have a comment. I just thought that I would keep track as a public service to the three people who come back every day.


Thursday, August 17, 2006


The Yankees and Red Sox are about to get back to playing their version of the shootout at the O.K. Corral. The Yankees (the Earp gang) are heading to Fenway to take on the Red Sox (the Clantons). This series could signal the end of the Red Sox as a serious threat to the Yankees this season. The Yankees will go into Boston with the advantage of a lead (1.5 - 2.5, depending upon the outcome of today's game with Baltimore), but the Red Sox have the comfort of being at home.

The Red Sox are banged up right now with their most serious injury being to their catcher and captain Jason Veritek. They have pitching problems and they are not exactly playing their best ball of the season right now. All of that goes out of the window when the Yankees come to town. The Yankees and Red Sox play only two types of games either close and tense or blowouts. The Red Sox will blow the Yankees out in one game during this series. That always seems to happen. I'm talking about a game where they beat the Yankees by 10 runs or more. If I were a betting man, I would say the most likely candidate is the Randy Johnson start. Outside of that game however, I expect that the other four will be close.

I never really look forward to these games with the Red Sox. It just pisses me off when the Yankees lose and there is only a sense of relief when they win. There is no joy for me in these games. 19 games against the Red Sox just seems like too many to me. I know that the unbalanced schedule forces teams to play their own division for half of their schedule, but it just seems like overkill to me. The Yankees vs. the Red Sox is the best rivalry in baseball, but there is a point where it just becomes too much. The games are very draining on both teams. Closers end up pitching for more than an inning, bullpens are taxed, players press too much. It may be good for ESPN and Fox, but it ends up hurting the teams in the long run.

Let's hope that as at the O.K. Corral, the good guys come out on top. Did the Earp gang fire on the Clantons and McLaury's first? We'll never know. But hopefully the Yankees come out firing with both barrels against the Red Sox tomorrow. The second game of tomorrow's day/night doubleheader features two pitchers with ERA's over seven! By all definitions, that should be a shootout. Of course, the Yankees do have a way of making subpar pitchers look like world beaters (look no further than last nights loss to the Orioles for an example of that). Let's just hope that they aren't firing blanks over the weekend.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Odds and Ends

I was looking at the projections for the postseason in baseball. There are various sites that calculate the odds daily. The odds are based on programs that simulate the baseball season a million times from whatever start date you enter. As of today, the Yankees have a 90% chance of making the playoffs. 87% of the time in the simulation, they win the division and 3% of the time they win the wild card. The Red Sox have a 23% chance of making the playoffs. 12.5% of the time they win the division and 11% of the time they win the wild card. According to the computer simulations, the Blue Jays don't factor into the equation as either the Yankees or Red Sox win the division 99.9% of the time. So after the usual off season changes from the Blue Jays and Orioles, we have once again come down to the Yankees and Red Sox.

The daily projections are a great tool. They can also give your team hope even if they've fallen on some hard times. The computer always had the Yankees winning the division even when they were a couple of games behind the Red Sox. My friend Wayne Deming is a Padres fan and he can take heart in the fact that even though the Padres have fallen out of first in the NL west, the computer still picks them as the team most likely to make the playoffs besides the three division leaders. The Mets have the tightest hold on a playoff spot with a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs.

The Red Sox have finished second to the Yankees for the past eight years and have had a stranglehold on the wild card in the AL for the past three seasons. This season is going to be tricky. For most of the season the baseball commentators have been saying that winning the AL east was going to be the only ticket to the playoffs for the Yankees or Red Sox. That is not necessarily the case anymore. The Yankees and the White Sox are currently in a virtual tie, and the Red Sox trail them both by only 3 games. The Yankees and Red Sox still have nine games left against each other. They will more than likely basically split those games. I don't see either making a significant move on the other in those games. Their head to head record over their last 81 games against each other is 41-40 in favor of the Red Sox. I don't see that trend changing in the next nine games. The White Sox will have to deal with both the Twins and the Tigers in the next month and a half, so the central teams should have fun beating up on each other as well.

The odds are in the Yankees favor and that's a good thing. I'm always happy when the Yankees are projected to win. However the games are not played in computer or on paper. The games are played on the field by less than perfect human beings. I know what the computer says, but anything can still happen. The Yankees could suffer a major injury, they could just start playing like crap. The Red Sox could go on a long winning streak and they could also fall apart. The computer says the Yankees are going to win the division by 6-1/2 games. I say, I'll believe it when I see it.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's Just a fantasy

In a recent ruling a federal court Major league baseball lost a suit in which they were claiming that a fantasy baseball site owed them licensing fees for using the stats and players names on their service. The ruling basically held that the stats and names of the players are in the public domain and therefore major league baseball does not have the right to charge for them. Major league baseball was of course planning to appeal the decision.

It's a tricky issue that is being decided. There is a certain element of baseball that is in the public domain. Every baseball game has a disclaimer where they say that the events, descriptions and accounts of the game cannot be disseminated without the express written consent of the team broadcasting the game. Well if that were the case, then every blogger or person who discusses the previous nights game with their friends would be guilty of copyright infringement. According to that statement, you and I would have to call the Yankees and get their permission to discuss the game with our friends. Clearly this is a blanket statement meant to prevent people from rebroadcasting the games for profit, but it is also over broad.

The Players association should have the right to control the image of it's members. I think it's perfectly logical that if the images of players are going to be used than some type of compensation is in order. If however, the only thing being used are the names and statistics, then this gets into a grey area. The stats are available in every newspaper across the country and in countless sites on the web. Should MLB be able to charge some for this information and not charge others. Newspapers don't pay MLB in order to publish game information. MLB already has agreements with a couple of the big fantasy sites (ESPN, CBS, Yahoo). Those sites pay millions of dollars to MLB in order to be "official" partners, but should they have to? The court currently says no, but I'm very sure that we haven't heard the last of this one yet.

I personally don't feel that MLB should have the right to charge for the statistics that are available to everyone for nothing. The real issue is whether people should be allowed to use those statistics for profit. Clearly MLB doesn't care if fans discuss or even write about the games. They only care when there is money being made and they aren't getting a piece of it. In the early days of fantasy baseball there was no money to be made and MLB didn't pay much attention to it. It's only been the last five years that the money aspect has begun to appeal to MLB. Fantasy baseball is now a billion dollar industry and that is what got MLB's attention. When the game was played by baseball stat geeks MLB didn't care.

MLB, which is exempt from the anti-trust laws wants it both ways at this point. They want people to have access to game information but only if they won't profit from it. It really should be one way or the other. Either we can all have the stats for free or none of us can. Baseball is played in public, it is discussed in public and the public is invited to view it. It's impossible to keep that facts of the game private. Unless baseball suddenly becomes an invitation only affair, it seems logical to me that the events, descriptions and accounts of the game should be free to the public, even if that public turns a profit on them.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Myth Making

The MVP debate is starting to heat up again. At this point the national press is all over David Ortiz. They seem to think that because he is having a better year than Arod that he was somehow robbed of the award last year. They love to point to his 20 home runs that tied or put the Sox in the lead last year. The fact is that Arod had the exact same number of home runs that tied or put the Yankees in the lead last year. This year Ortiz is all about the walk off. He has produced wins for his team in the last at bat so often that the "New England" guy, Bill Simmons, had the audacity to compare him to Boston's ultimate clutch performer, Larry Bird.

Walk off home runs are very sexy. They make Sportscenter, there's a big celebration and the crowd goes home believing that one hit won the game for the team. The thing is that an RBI in the first inning that gives your team a lead they never relinquish is just as valuable as a home run in the bottom in the ninth. Is David Ortiz even the most valuable player on his team? Not according to Bill James' Win Shares system. The win shares system uses a somewhat complicated formula to quantify performance. Win Shares have become a common tool used by baseball writers and fans to discuss the relative merits of various players. According to Win Shares, Manny Ramirez is the most valuable player on the team. The Win Shares system takes into account fielding as well and since Ortiz is the DH he gets penalized under that system. However,If we discount fielding and just look at hitting, Ortiz is third in the league behind Manny and Jim Thome. So we have a player who is not the most valuable player on his team and not the best hitter in the league.

Ortiz leads the league in home runs and rbi's and that is usually a ticket to the MVP award. There have been very few years in which a player led the league in both of those categories and didn't win the award. Of course, most times those players were on a team that got into the playoffs. If, for some reason the Red Sox don't make the playoffs, will it still be in fashion to vote for Ortiz? Why do I have to read articles on about Ortiz getting robbed last year and so this year the award should be given to him as some sort of consolation prize. First of all according to Win Shares Arod was a better hitter than Ortiz last year and he played defense. There is no reason to feel sorry for Ortiz about losing last year. He lost to a more deserving player.

Ortiz' reputation is built on clutch hitting. Statisticians will tell you that clutch hitting doesn't exist. That it's a random occurrence. Ortiz has been on quite a run during the past three years. He was sixth in all of baseball in BA/RISP in 2004. He was eighth in 2005. This year he ranks 34th in the American League. That would translate into something like 70th in all of baseball. He is actually must worse this year in situations with runners in scoring postion. He is hitting .304 with runners in scoring position. .304 is good, but it's not otherworldly. If you only got your information from ESPN you would think that he is batting .900 with runners in scoring position. It's simply not true. Derek Jeter, by comparison, is hitting .380 with runners in scoring position. Ortiz does lead the majors in rbi's, but that is more a function of opportunity as opposed to great production. Announcers always talk about his numbers in the late innings of close games and they are fantastic. The truth is that in order to get to a close and late situation, you have to fail in the close and early situation. Success early in games is just as important as success late in games, however that kind of hit seldom leads off Sportscenter.

I'm going to blame primarily ESPN for creating and proliferating the Big Papi myth. They have even convinced the sports writers around the country that Ortiz is doing something special. If a one dimensional player is going to be named MVP of the league, then he needs to do that one thing better than anyone else. Ortiz is not the best hitter in the league (or on his team for that matter) and when he's not at bat or on the bases, he spends the rest of the time with his ass firmly on the bench. Ortiz is a big part of the Red Sox team, but Manny is more important. What do you think his numbers would look if they switched the batting order and had Manny batting ahead of Ortiz? By the way, Manny, Jeter and Joe Mauer are tied for the league lead in win shares. Ortiz is tied for fifth.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lupica is a Midget

Our favorite "reporter", Mike Lupica wrote an article today about Paul LoDuca and his current marital issues. He started the column off this way:

"This is how fast it changes for everybody and how fast it changed for Paul Lo Duca, a good Brooklyn-born catcher and a good guy this season batting No. 2 for the Mets, the No. 1 team in the National League and maybe in town."

There are two things wrong with this column. First of all, I don't care about Paul LoDuca's problems with his wife. This has nothing to do with sports. I already wrote about this when the press decided that Randy Johnson's illegitimate daughter was front page news. The second problem with this article is that Lupica is just hell bent on once again proclaiming that the Mets are the best team in NY. I don't know if the Mets are the best team in NY, but here are the facts:

The Yankees are 24 games over .500, the Mets are 22 games over .500
The AL East is a combined 24 games over .500, the NL East is a combined 12 games under .500
The division leaders in the AL are a combined 73 games over .500
The division leaders in the NL are a combined 36 games over .500
The NL has 2 teams that are at least 9 games over .500
The AL has 6 teams that are at least 9 games over .500
The NL has 1 team that is at least 19 games over .500
The AL has 5 teams that are at least 19 games over .500
The AL held a 154-98 advantage during interleague play
The AL won the All-Star game for the 10th year in a row (one year was actually a tie)

Those are the facts that Lupica had on hand when he decided to make his comment about the Mets' standing in New York. The Yankees have a better record, play in a tougher division and play in a superior league. Where did Lupica come up with that statement? I'm not sure but I'm going to attribute it to the fact that he is too short to reach the shelf at the Daily News that contains the actual baseball facts.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Losing My Religion

I read an article by Gary Gillette on about the fact that Baseball isn't as popular as it used to be. Wow, newsflash. I'm glad I pay every month to get those keen insights from the ESPN insiders. He also says that the commissioners office is trying to cover up this fact by pointing out that Baseball set an all time attendance record last year and are on their way to another record this year. That is a more valid point. Overall attendance is at an all time high, but average per game attendance has never reached the high of the pre-strike '94 days. The bump in attendance comes from the fact that a couple of new teams have been added since those days. While the Marlins and Devil Rays haven't done much for attendance, the Colorado Rockies (who basically sold out all their home games for their first two years of existence) certainly have.

It's fairly clear that the NFL is the dominant sports league in the US, and it has been for some time. The Superbowl is the preeminent sporting event in the US every year. Millions gather at parties and bars every year to watch or not watch the game, but it is an event. The World Series simply can't compete with the Superbowl as far as events go. Does that mean that there is some major crisis for baseball? I don't think so. TV ratings for baseball pale in comparison to those for football, but football ratings pale in comparison to those it used to get twenty years ago. Some will claim that Baseball lost a lot of fans because of the strike of '94. It's undoubtedly true that some people did stop watching the sport because of that strike, but it's also true that the majority of fans came back when the players did. All of the major sports have had strikes and despite a lot of grumbling and protest, the fans have come back to the stadiums and arenas every time.

National TV ratings are not necessarily the best measure of the health of baseball. There was a time in baseball when teams only went as far south as Washington D.C. and as far west as St. Louis. Baseball was a regional game then. If you lived in the west you rooted for the Cardinals, Cubs or White Sox. If you lived in the South, perhaps the Yankees, or Dodgers were your favorite. You didn't get to see them much, and local media coverage was pretty poor. The World Series and All-Star game on TV were a much bigger event because it was your first time all year to actually see certain teams and players. Baseball is much more of a local sport now. Most areas of the country now have a team within driving distance. Outside of the Yankees and Red Sox who both have a huge national following, most teams now just have a local following. ESPN has made it possible for fans in all cities can now see every other team in the country. The novelty of the World Series and All Star games simply doesn't exist anymore.

Baseball averages about 31,000 people per game. There 162 games on the schedule of each team. The Yankees average over 50,000 people per game. 75,000,000 people will attend major league baseball games this year. The fan interest, at least on a local level, is certainly still there. Perhaps America's attention span has just gotten shorter over time and baseball as a TV sport doesn't fit that span anymore. Regardless, there is no reason for Baseball to feel bad about losing it's spot at the top of the sports pyramid in America. It's still a great game. There are still millions of people who watch the game on TV and go to the stadiums. Baseball isn't Football or Basketball and it can't be marketed the same way. It's a game that takes some time to understand and unfolds at it's own pace. There's no game clock, no 30 second clock, no play clock. Fans looking for the constant action of Hockey or Basketball or the violence of Football won't find that at a Baseball game.

Baseball isn't the national pastime. It never was. Here is the definition of a pastime; An activity or diversion that occupies one's spare time pleasantly. Baseball certainly works that way for some, as does Football, Basketball, gambling, knitting, skateboarding, reading, writing, watching TV, Sailing, Golfing, Tennis, Hiking, Camping, Theater going, Sleeping, Drinking, Eating, Sex, Cooking, Soccer, or any of a thousand things would qualify as a pastime. There is no such thing as a national pastime. In a country of over 280 million, outside of the things necessary for survival, there could not possibly be one thing that would keep everyone pleasantly occupied. Except for religion, that is. I think Marx was right about that. Although it really never seemed that pleasant to me.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Dream a Little Dream

USA basketball has put together the latest "Dream Team" to try and regain the US supremacy in world basketball. After the last team only came home with the Bronze at the Athens Olympics, the call went out to change the process by which the teams were picked. This time around they have asked the players to make a two year commitment to the team and they selected role players as well as scorers to try and make the team more well rounded.

The team is filled with young, enthusiastic players. That should make the difference from previous teams. The US is no longer under the delusion that it can just put a team of all stars together and have them practice for two weeks and then go out and dominate every game. Since the original "Dream Team" the rest of the world has made great strides. The "Dream Team" concept came about when the college players won only a bronze in the previous Olympics. The US decided to show the world that they were still the dominant basketball power. When Larry Bird, Michael Jordon, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkely, Patrick Ewing and the rest of the squad showed up at the Atlanta games, teams were just happy to be on the court with such great players. Every game was a blowout and the US players put on a basketball clinic. After Atlanta the US continued to dominate, but the games got closer and closer with every international competition, culminating in a 3rd place finish at the last Olympics. The teams were no longer just happy to be on the court with the US players, they wanted to beat them. A 19 point loss to Puerto Rico in the opening game of the Athens games was a clear signal that the rest of the world was no longer there just there to be whipping boys for the US.

The current US team started their exhibition schedule last night by manhandling Puerto Rico and beating them by more than 40 points. The Athens team also started out their exhibition schedule by destroying Puerto Rico, the same Puerto Rican team that they would lose to once the Olympics got under way. Therefore, it's not a foregone conclusion that this team will be able to just plow through their competition. The fact that the NBA has so many foreign players is just a testament to the growth of international basketball. David Stern's dream of making basketball and international game has grown to fruition. The cost of that dream has been the dwindling of US dominance.

The current team should get better with the addition of Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and a healthy Amare Stoudemire. They are the best collection of players on the planet. It still remains to be seen whether they can continue to play like a team or whether it becomes a collection of individual stars trying to prove that they are better than everyone else. It'll will be an interesting show for the next couple of years. Hopefully coack K can keep everyone focused on the goal, which is to win a Gold medal. It sounds easier than it will prove to be. These guys didn't get to where they are by taking a back seat in favor of someone else. They all have gigantic egos and that is going to be the main stumbling block to the US regaining it's place at the top of the world basketball pyramid.


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Down for the Count

I read an article today in the Daily News which basically proclaimed that the race for the AL East is all but over. According to the article it's a forgone conclusion that the Yankees will win it. The knee jerk reactions of sports writers continues to amaze me on a daily basis. The Yankees are playing very well right now and they did make a couple of good trades at the deadline, but to declare the race over is asinine. The Red Sox and Yankees have played to a virtual stand still over the past 3 years. Their head to head record is practically dead even (I think a game separates them) and they both have to deal with injuries and various question marks going forward. I think it's fairly safe to say that neither team is going to get a jump on the other.

The Yankees did get stronger at the trade deadline, but that doesn't mean that the race is over. Currently the teams are in a virtual tie for first (the yankees lead by a couple of percentage points), and they both have the toughest parts of their schedule upcoming. They still have nine games against each other and if you've been paying attention over the past three years, then you know realize that those games are probably going to decide the division. Nothing has been decided because the Yankees added a couple of players. If history has shown us anything, it's that these two teams are joined at the hip. They finished with the exact same record last year (the Yankees won the division by a tie breaker). At this point in the season they have almost the exact same record.

Curt Schilling said earlier in the season that the Red Sox needed to take advantage of the Yankees injuries and put some distance between the two teams. That didn't happen of course, but Curt Schilling is an idiot, so his comments generally don't mean anything. It's not really possible for these teams to put much distance between each other. They are just very evenly matched. I wish that the Yankees could put some distance between themselves and the Red Sox, but unless there's an injury to either Schilling or Beckett then it simply isn't going to happen. Beckett has been a mystery this year. He has 13 wins, which is good for second in the league, but his road ERA is over 6. He's also given up 28 home runs this year. Schilling has 12 wins but he's given up 22 home runs this year. They do continue to win however and Paplebon has been amazing out of the pen. He leads the league in saves and has an ERA of about 0.50, which is otherworldly at this point. David Ortiz seems to come up with a game winning hit every night and Manny is just being Manny, which for the most part, is exceptional.

The Yankees have question marks as well. Arod has not produced up to his normal standards, although he seems to have gotten past his defensive problems for the moment. Randy Johnson has been somewhat inconsistent. He seems to be at about a 3-1 ratio for good to bad starts. His bad starts are truly awful, however. He usually does not give the Yankees any chance to win in those games. Robinson Cano has taken about 10 years to come back from a strained hamstring and Matsui and Sheffield are still out with wrist injuries. On the plus side Wang and Mussina have been steady and spectacular at times. Jeter is having an MVP type season and has a real shot at winning the batting title (he has been denied twice by Red Sox players in the past and is currently 10 points behind the league leader). And Rivera has been, well, Rivera.

There are still almost 60 games to go and I'm fairly sure that the story of this season in the AL East won't be told until the majority of those games are done. The Yankees VS. the Red Sox is the best soap opera in sports. I'm not sure why anyone would want to call this one before the final bell. You can trust me when I say that It'll be a dog fight until the end.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Trade Winds

The Yankees picked up the best player available to them at the trading deadline. Bobby Abreu is a pretty good player. He used to be a great player, but he's still a pretty good player. There are "better" players who might be available (Soriano, Oswalt, Tejada, Zito), but the Yankees don't have the prospects to pull the trigger on a trade for any of those players. Abreu was available to the Yankees because they could afford him. It's as simple as that. The Yankees first inquired about Abreu a couple of months ago when Matsui went down with a broken wrist. They were told at the time that the asking price was Phillip Hughes. The Yankees decided that was too rich for their blood and went about putting together a patchwork outfield. Two months later and with the Phillies 14 games out of first and facing the prospect of having to pay Abreu $20 million over the next two seasons, the asking price came down significantly. The Yankees also picked up Craig Wilson from the Pirates for Shawn Chacon. Chacon provided the Yankees with a boost last year and helped them make the playoffs by going 7-3 after coming to the team. This year started out well enough for him, but after getting hit on the shin by a batted ball, he was never the same. His ERA since that incident has hovered near 10.

So how will the changes affect the Yankees? Well, on paper they have improved the club. The changes might be worth 3-4 wins over the remainder of the season and that might be enough to get them into the playoffs for the 11th straight season. Of course the games aren't played on paper. Many players have been unable to perform up to their abilities when they come to NY. The pressure here is different than in any other city. Suddenly every mistake is magnified. The press and sometimes the fans can be merciless. It's a tough place to play. It's also the best place to play if you win. The fans never forget a champion.

Abreu is a big upgrade in the lineup. His power numbers this year are way down from his previous seasons, but his OBP is well over .400. He can provide either protection for Arod in the number 5 slot or get on base ahead of Giambi in the 3 slot. Either way he should help make the Yankees a better offensive team. The same can be said of Wilson. While he's not the impact player that Abreu is, he will provide a significant upgrade over Andy Phillips. Phillps has been horrible this year against left handed pitching (to the tune of a .195 average). Wilson has an average over .300 against lefties and has much better power numbers than Phillips.

Cory Lidle is the last piece the Yankees picked up. He came over in the Abreu trade. His ERA was 4.74 in the national league, which does not bode well for his chances in the better hitting American League. He was playing in a hitters paradise in Philly, but I'm not sure that he will have much success in NY. He was brought over to be the fifth starter and considering that he is essentially replacing Shawn Chacon, I guess whatever he can provide will be an upgrade. If he can pitch 6-7 innings a game and keep the opposition under 5 runs a game, he might just end up being "the key to the pennant" (I put that in quotes because it's my friend Tom Stolfi's favorite line about every player he picks up for his fantasy team. I wanted to give him credit for the phrase).

The Red Sox talked about a couple of major trades over the last few days, but in the end did not make any. The Red Sox are in first and are on the verge of Wakefield and Wells returning (wells actually came back last night and got shelled), so they are hoping that their returning players provide them with the bump that a trade would have provided. Once again on paper it looks like the Yankees have made the moves that would make them the favorites to win the east. Not only did they fill their outfield gap, but also they added a fifth starter and strengthened their bench. Matsui may be able to come back by the end of the month and if Sheff does come back then they would have the best lineup in baseball. The lineup for September may look something like this; Damon, Jeter, Abreu, Giambi, Arod, Matsui, Sheffield, Posada, Cano. Every single one of those players has been an all star and all are capable of carrying the team for a short stretch. The problem with that scenario is that the Yankees have to play a five game series in Boston in August. At that point Sheff and Matsui won't be back and those five games may very well decide the Yankees fate.

I don't think the Yankees moves are going to separate them from the field, but they should help to keep the Yanks in the thick of the race. As I said at the beginning of the season, the difference between the Yankees and the Red Sox is minimal. The winner of the east will come down to who gets the breaks. And given the number of injuries that Yankees have sustained, I mean that literally.