Wednesday, September 20, 2006

100%


The Yankees have a magic number of one and are now at 100% for both winning the division and making the playoffs. That means in one million simulations of the season, the Yankees win every time. I was not one to jump the gun and start talking about the playoffs, but at this point, I guess it's okay.

The Yankees have activated Gary Sheffield and he is taking 1st baseman lessons from Don Mattingly. It appears that if he is healthy for the playoffs, he will most likely be playing that position. On the down side, Giambi's wrist is still acting up. Giambi hasn't hit a home run in over a month and his average has slipped to the low .250's. The Yankees have the luxury of resting Giambi for a few days to see if his wrist responds. Hopefully he will be back at full strength by the time the playoffs roll around. His role will be limited to DH with Sheffield taking over at 1st base, which is probably a good thing. Matsui appears to be back in midseason form. He hit a home run last night and is hitting well over .300 since his return.

If Sheffield, Giambi and Matsui are healthy for the playoffs, that means that Melky Cabrera's role will be limited to late inning defensive replacement and pinch running. Bernie Williams will basically be a pinch hitter. While both players have played a significant role since the injuries to Sheff and Matsui, it's clear that will have to accept diminished roles in the playoffs. The projected playoff lineup will look something like this:
Damon - CF
Jeter - SS
Abreu - RF
Arod - 3B
Giambi - DH
Sheffield - 1B
Matsui - LF
Posada - C
Cano - 2B
Besides having a legitimate all-star at every position, this lineup would be a nightmare for bullpen matchup purposes. It would mean that an opposing manager couldn't have a lefty match up specialist come out of the bullpen and face more than one lefty in a row. In fact, with everyone at full strength, the Yankee lineup is potentially the most potent in the history of the game and that includes the famed Murderer's Row of the mid 20's and the Gehirg, Joe D teams of the 30's. There in fact is no weak spot in the lineup and it would cause fits for any opposing pitcher.

On the pitching front, Mariano Rivera is apparently over his muscle strain and is ready to start pitching again. As I've stated before, he is the most indispensable player on the team. Without him, the Yankees have no chance of winning a playoff series, much less the World series. If you've watched the bullpen struggles over the past few days, you realize just how much he means to the team. The front three starters, Wang, Johnson and Mussina all seem to be in good shape for the playoffs. A fourth starter will not be really necessary in the playoffs, but Jaret Wright seems to have nailed down that spot if it is needed. All in all they Yankees should head into the playoffs with the rotation in as good a condition as it has been all season. The bullpen has been overworked, but the time off for Rivera will hopefully mean that he will be able to shoulder some extra workload.

The defense has been very solid of late. Arod seems to have worked out his problems at 3rd base, which was the biggest issue during the season. Replacing Cabera with Matsui will mean a downgrade in LF defense. Cabrera does lead AL LF'ers in assists and Matsui certainly does not have the arm or the legs to match him. The difference in offense will hopefully be enough to offset the change. 1B is going to be the Sheffield experiment. He did come up as a third baseman, so hopefully he still has enough of those skills left to handle first base. He may make some errors in positioning however, but hopefully he'll get a lot of practice at the position over the last 10 games.

Joe Torre has done some good things this year. He utilized a lot of players to fill holes and kept the team moving in the right direction through a few major injuries. His handling of the bullpen has been suspect at times and I still think that he overworks a couple of the guys out there (namely Scott Procter). All that being said, he is still the best man for the job. He keeps all the egos in line and has a general calming effect on the team. I don't think that he's going to be out managed in any post season series.

So there you have it. I think it's safe to say that if everyone is healthy, the Yankees enter the post season as the favorites. The World Series isn't always won by the best team however (I'm not sure, but I think '98 was the last time that the World Series was won by the team with the best regular season record). The playoffs magnify every mistake and in a short series, it's sometimes the team that gets the breaks that ends up winning. The Red Sox and the White Sox have also shown over the past couple of years that a team that gets hot at the right time can plow their way through the playoffs. It's been 6 years since the Yankees last won a World Series. They've lost in the 9th inning of the 7th game and they blew a 3-0 lead in the ALCS since then. Gone are the days of Yankee invincibility. They have to grind out wins and hope that luck is on their side. Anyway, I'm still sticking with my preseason prediction of the Yankees vs. the Mets in the World Series. I really wouldn't appreciate playing the Mets, since their is no upside for the Yankees in that series, but I can only hope that the Yankees would find a way to prevail.

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