Thursday, September 28, 2006

Counting Chickens

Baseball is too unpredictable a game to ever feel confident heading into a playoff series. At this point, the Yankees first round opponent is yet to be decided. It's either going to be the Tigers or the Twins. The Yankees handled the Tigers pretty well during the season, going 5-2. They probably should have swept them, but the two losses were 9th inning collapses by the bullpen when Mariano Rivera was unavailable. Against the Twins they were 3-3 and lost twice to a rookie named Scott Baker who has an era over 7 against the rest of the league and probably won't be starting a post season game.

So should the Yankees feel confident heading into their first round match up? They should feel good that they don't have to play the Angels. For some reason, they just can't seem to beat that team. The Twins pose a problem because of Johann Santana. He is clearly the best pitcher in baseball this year and is absolutely unbeatable in Minnesota. The good thing is that he probably wouldn't get to pitch there in the first round. He would start game one at the stadium and god forbid, he would also start game 5 at the stadium. He could be brought back for game 4 on short rest if necessary, which would take place at the metrodome, but hopefully the Yankees only have to face him once. The Tigers don't have a dominating starter like Santana, but they do have a very balanced staff. Verlander and Bonderman are both very good and can shut down an opponent on any given day. Kenny Rogers has the most playoff experience, but a lot of that has been pretty bad. However, he has been very consistent this year.

The Yankees trotted out their Murderer's Row II lineup last night and scored 16 runs on their way to an easy victory. Playoff baseball is different though. The lineup will be facing better pitching and it is not reasonable to expect that they will put up double digit runs against the best pitching staffs in the AL. As the saying goes, good pitching will beat good hitting. The Tigers have a staff that is capable of shutting down the Yankees lineup and the Twins have a pitcher who is capable of doing the same. A first round win for the Yankees is certainly not guaranteed. As I have said before, they will certainly enter the playoffs as the betting favorite, but they have entered the playoffs almost every year as the betting favorite. That does not mean that they will win the World Series or even get there.

In order to have the most potent lineup, Joe Torre is going to be sacrificing defense for offense. That means a Giambi/Sheffield platoon between 1B and DH. Sheffield has played first for less than a week and Giambi is no Don Mattingly in the field. Matsui has reclaimed the LF position and has relegated Melky Cabrera to the bench. Matsui is an adequate outfielder, but he is not the defensive equal of Cabrera. Both Cabrera (LF) and Andy Phillips(1B) will probably be used as late inning defensive replacements. However, playoff baseball games can turn on a single play, hit or error. Putting less than your best defensive team in the game, can result in the mistake that can turn a series around. All we can do is keep our fingers crossed and hope that is not the case. Joe has been more than willing in the past to change his lineups during the playoffs if something isn't working, so he will definitely be keeping a close eye on the defensive developments. I'm sure that Matsui will be in the DH mix along with Sheffield and Giambi. It would not surprise me at all if Cabrera is given a couple of starts during the first round of the playoffs.

I'm not going to look past the potential first round opponents at this point, because it's a waste of time until it actually materializes. It's not that I don't want to jinx the team, but the last time I actually looked to the next round, the Yankees gave up a 3-0 lead against the Red Sox. So I think it's best to just take it one round at a time.



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