Rivals in Exile: Until We Meet Againby Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken
September 27, 2004
Larry Mahnken: Playing four games against the Blue Jays and Devil Rays in between the home-and-home series' with Boston, the Yankees gave the Red Sox a golden opportunity to atone for their series loss last weekend, dropping the first and third game with Toronto, giving the Red Sox the opportunity to pull back to within 2½ games, and giving them the opportunity to take first place with a weekend sweep, rather than having to sweep just to stay alive.
Boston fumbled the opportunity, dropping 2 games to the Orioles, and allowing Baltimore to be in position to win the other two. Now, the Red Sox would have no choice but to sweep, it would take a miracle for them to make up 3½ games with only 7 games on the schedule -- and divine intervention hasn't been too kind to the Red Sox in the past. Even a sweep would leave them in a tough predicament, but one that's not entirely unimaginable.
A look at the matchups makes that needed sweep look attainable, Pedro and Moose is a push at worst, probably an edge to the Red Sox, Saturday's Wakefield/Vazquez matchup is a meeting of two terribly struggling pitchers, but Wakefield usually pitches well against New York, so a Boston win's not tough to see there. Sunday is Curt Schilling versus Esteban Loaiza, who pitched exceptionally well Tuesday after pitching exceptionally poorly in the first two innings of that game. I don't see that Loaiza showing up again, and I don't see New York winning this game.
Of course, Loaiza might not start the game, with Kevin Brown having had the pins removed from his broken left hand on Thursday and cleared to pitch again, there is a very slight chance that the Yankees will pitch him, though I don't see it happening. It does seem likely to me, though, that he will pitch at some point in the next week, and the Yankees will have the choice of using him in the postseason. While having a few weeks off leaves him something of a question mark in terms of what he'll give them, and that broken hand might cause him trouble -- might even be broken again with a batted ball or throw back to the mound -- that makes me feel really, really good about October.
And so did Friday's game, which the Yankees won 6-4, essentially ending any real hopes of Boston winning the division. It was a great comeback attempt by Boston, but their insanely hot streak ran out of gas just as they got past the toughest part of their schedule, and they just didn't have enough time to crank it back up again.
Not that it really matters, of course. It would take a bigger miracle for Boston to miss the playoffs than it would for them to win the division, and the only thing they're missing out on is two potential home games, they might even end up with the "easier" opponent. They lost some bragging rights on Friday, but the big bragging rights, which trump anything won this weekend, are still out there for them to take.
Ben Jacobs: Yeah, congratulations on your team's seventh straight AL East title, because this thing's over. As you said, it was a nice run by the Red Sox, but it was just too much to ask for.
In the scheme of who makes the playoffs and even what opponents those teams get in the playoffs, these two games this weekend have zero meaning whatsoever. The media will try to pump up their importance, because that's kind of their job, but these games really aren't going to affect anything in any measurable way.
That said, it would be nice if the Red Sox could win both games. After jumping out to leads of 6-1 and 9-6 in the season series with the Yankees, losing the series would just feel terrible and winning it 10-9 wouldn't feel all that special either.
Fortunately, I won't have to be agonizing over what happens this weekend because I couldn't watch either game even if they were important. Saturday, I'll be driving from upstate New York to Cleveland and Sunday I'll be attending a game that's actually more meaningful -- Minnesota at Cleveland.
As you're well aware, the race for the number two seed is still very much alive between the Twins and whoever wins the AL West (probably the A's after they beat the Angels and the Rangers also lost, but you never know). At the moment, the Twins are half a game ahead of the A's for the right to host Boston instead of traveling to New York.
Let me start off by saying that I think the Red Sox can beat the Twins in a five-game series. Yes, they'd have to face Johan Santana twice, but the Twins would have to face some combination of Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling three times. And if this is the series with a day off between the first two games, the Twins would have to face that duo four times. Plus, Boston has a much better offense than Minnesota.
With that said, I'd rather face the AL West winner. None of those three teams really scares me, and while Minnesota doesn't scare me, Santana does. When one pitcher has the potential to win two games by himself, he makes a team dangerous (like Pedro did for the Red Sox in 1999). None of the western teams have a pitcher like that, which makes them less scary, if not necessarily worse teams.
But, the Red Sox don't have any control over that. They key for the Red Sox these last nine games will be setting up their playoff rotation, figuring out which relievers they really trust, figuring out which bench players they want in the playoffs and, most importantly, figuring out which of Bronson Arroyo, Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield goes to the bullpen.
It would be nice if they could win some games while doing those things, but the 2000 Yankees proved that you don't need to enter the post-season on fire to win the World Series. Just showing up for the post-season gives you a chance at that, and the Red Sox will show up unless something truly catastrophic happens.
LM: The terrible start by Brown on Sunday doesn't really change the October equation for the Yankees much in my eyes, getting Brown back was never more than a possible bonus, and he's still got one start left to show he can be useful this postseason.
In 1996 I was worried that the Yankees had to face the Rangers, who they had played poorly against all season and had always been terrible against in Texas, but the Yankees won in four, sweeping the two games in Texas. In 1997, I was thrilled that they got the Indians instead of the Mariners and Randy Johnson, but the Yankees lost the series in five, while the Mariners went down to the Orioles. The 2002 Diamondbacks had the same Johnson-Schilling combo that carried them to a title in 2001, they got swept in '02.
I'm not going to worry much about who the Yankees face, though I think a Red Sox/Yankees ALCS is more likely if Boston faces Minnesota than if the Yankees do. I'm not afraid of any team, though, this Yankees squad is good enough to win the title, and nobody should be surprised if they do.
Ben Jacobs and Larry Mahnken are staff writers for The Hardball Times. Ben can be contacted here, Larry can be contacted here.