AL East Points
(Note: this is the last piece I wrote for my blog, published on June 18)
The Yankees won nine straight and 11 of the last 12 to get back within 8.5 games of the Red Sox. With the Mets sliding and the Yanks taking two of three in the Subway Series this past weekend (a solid Roger Clemens outing resulting in the only loss), Yankees fans have re-acquired that winning two-step. (And of course the swagger comes complimentary.) They really believe it’s only a matter of time before they’re back knocking on the door of first place in the division. It’s certainly not out of the question, and a pennant race in September is imminent. But it’s still an uphill climb like these Yankees have never known.
Two years ago around this time the Red Sox took decisive control of the division (from the Orioles believe it or not) while the Yankees were mired in a prolonged stretch of losing baseball. Behind A-Rod and Jeter the Bombers made their token late-summer run and beat the Sox in the first two games of the final series of the season, to clinch the AL East. The two clubs finished with identical 95-67 records (the Yanks took the season series 10-9 for the tiebreaker).
An impressive/expected comeback? Indeed. Will history repeat itself? I doubt it. Why? First, because of the sheer numbers. I picked the Red Sox and Yankees to each win 98 games this year, so let’s work with that number. For the Sox to win 98 they must go 54-40 the rest of the way, which is a .574 clip. The Yankees on the other hand, need to string together three and a half months of .663 baseball (or a record of 63-32), in order to win their 98. Truthfully, I think the Yankees can do that. They’ve done it before.
As opposed to ’05, however, the Red Sox are not going to fall drastically off their current pace, which is 105 wins. The reason is pitching. The ’05 team had a front four of Matt Clement, David Wells, Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield. There wasn’t even a single viable number two starter in that rotation. Then there was Curt Schilling, who spent half the season on the DL before returning as a very pedestrian closer. Their horribly insufficient pitching staff was the explanation for both their sustained mediocrity over the last two months and for the thrashing they took in the ALDS against the White Sox.
When you look at their top four right now (Beckett, Schilling, Dice-K, Wakefield) there still may not be a viable number two, only because there are arguably three number ones. All have pitched like aces more often than not. And most important, they pick each other up. Opponents have yet to solve them in succession, which is why the Sox have not been swept this year. With Papelbon anchoring the best bullpen in the league there is simply no reason for the Red Sox to cease playing at least .600 ball the rest of the way (which would assure them of their first 100-win season since 1946).
Are the Yankees starting to hit their stride? Sure seems so. Will they be participating in October festivities? Umm, is Derek Jeter still a Yankee? Nuff said. All I’m saying is for once, I really don’t care. Curt Schilling declared the ’04 squad the “best Red Sox team ever”. And you know what? He was absolutely right. But this one just may be better. Only time will tell.
For now all I have to say is enjoy that wild card race, Yanks.