Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Why It's Always Easy Being a Yanks Fan

As a Yankees fan, I just had arguably the worst week of my fanatical experience with the team. Everything is magnified of course because this is a club that is still clinging to the leftover glory from the late '90s. But a terrible week regardless.

We lost Joe Torre. We lost A-Rod. We could still potentially lose Mariano, Posada and Pettitte. Donny Baseball refuses to come back to coach, which will hopefully not strain his relations with the team.

And some team in Boston won some sort of championship.

Not being a major sports fan, you'd assume ESPN was a Yankees network, and might be left saying that very line.

I turned on SportsCenter yesterday and watched a special (and lengthy) report: Yankees -- A Dynasty in Transition. The only mention of the Sox win came following the special, when Bob Ley on "First Report" began previewing his show, mentioning first Torre/Girardi, then A-Rod, and finally "and oh yeah -- the Red Sox completed their second World Series sweep in four years."

As much as I like Girardi and think he'll be a great fit with all our young pitching (if his Manager of the Year award from Florida was any indication), and as much as I like the idea of spending that $300 million the Yanks save by not signing A-Rod on pitching instead, it was still a week in which all hope could have been shot to hell. The manager was fired, an unproven replacement hired, and the best player in the game decided to leave the team. A-Rod's numbers can only be replaced if done so by multiple players next season.

And don't get me started on all those annoying Sox fans I've had to deal with around my Hartford, Conn. campus.

But I have to say this -- it's still easy being a Yanks fan. I still feel like we'll make all the right moves and get back to the playoffs. Who knows? Maybe we'll build another team like the late '90s squad, one centered around the team concept rather than individuals and big names. But if I can wake up following a week of disaster for the team to see their logo broadcast more frequently on national television than the recently-crowned Red Sox, I can't feel too bad about moving forward.

Look, I'm not spending the money to replace A-Rod and any other free agents who decide to leave. If I were, we'd be starting that homeless guy who takes out my garbage for me on campus at third base, and my 6'4" roommate Tim -- whose quickest athletic move lately has been switching from TV to DVD with the remote -- would be our first baseman. The bottom line with the Yanks, though, is that we know the team will do everything it can to build a winner. We aren't forced to deal with a Peter Angelos like Baltimore or a 25-man roster like Kansas City's. We're lucky.

And luckily for me and for every Yanks fan, we've got a front office who not only spends more than any other team's, but cares more.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dear Red Sox Fans - Let It Go

Yesterday, one of my Red Sox-loving friends (whose numbers, I'm sad to say, have grown significantly over the years) sent a jab my way that was apparently meant to anger me as a Yankees fan. All it did was prove my theory on the post-2004 Sox fans.

My friend informed me with a smirk on his face, "We've been to twice as many World Series as you the past four years." True. Two appearances is indeed twice as many as zero. Unless you want to count the fact that it's not. (Two is twice as many as one, not zero, but we're mincing words here...)

At any rate, I saw in this remark the inability of the Sox fans to let go of the past. Too often I've cited the Yanks' 26 championships and had Boston fans retort with, "We're not focusing on the past. How many have you won recently?"

A message to all Sox fans - if you're so unconcerned with the past, then please let the past go. There was no reason, for example, for Sox fans to start chanting "Yankees Suck" throughout the campus of Assumption College in Worcester after the Sox beat the Indians in Game 7, which they did according to reports from my confused sister. In '04, when the Sox beat the Yanks after being down 3-0 in the ALCS, I thought it ludicrous to chant against the other team more heartily than for your own, but at least I could understand. This year, Boston was ahead of New York the entire season and never played them in the playoffs.

How, exactly, do the Yankees still apply to Sox Nation? Was a curse lifted or not?

The Red Sox have reached two World Series in the past four seasons. The Yankees have struggled in Division Series play and haven't been to the Series since 2003. They haven't won it all since 2000. Not long stretches of time by any means, but if you want to view yourselves as the heir to the baseball world's throne, oh mighty Red Sox, then you need to stop giving the Yanks so much power by continually mentioning them every time you win. You still hold them up on a pedestal. They haunt you still. Two World Series appearances be damned.

Once cursed, always cursed. It's gone but not forgotten.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Long Live Joe Torre

It took me a couple days to let the news sink in -- Joe Torre is no longer the manager of the New York Yankees. I couldn't bring myself to write about this until today. It was too painful.

The last time the Yanks were under the guidance of somebody besides Torre, I was 10. He's been a fixture to me and to every Yankees fan since he joined the club. I've met fans who don't like Posada, who think Jeter's overrated, who want A-Rod gone, who hate the Giambi signing -- but I have never met a fan who hates Joe Torre. How can you? All he did in 12 years as manager was reach the playoffs each year, win 9 consecutive divisions and 10 overall as well as six pennants and four World Series titles. Say what you want about his outward appearance on TV, but the man could win ballgames and motivate a group of talented and overpaid middle-aged men like nobody in the game right now.

I agree with what Torre seemed most ticked off about during his press conference -- the fact that the Yankees offered him incentives in his contract. First of all, a one-year deal meant that he'd wind up right back where he was at the end of this season in 2008. Second, the deal offered Torre an extra million for winning the division, then the pennant, and finally the Series. Look at his last 12 years!!!! Does this man really need incentives to WIN!?!?!?

But there's more than a baseball loss here with the loss of Torre for us Yanks fans. There's this sentimental attachment rooted in the great memories. The '96 title. His brother's triumph over cancer, as well as his own. The tears he shed with Paul O'Neill over the loss of the right fielder's father after Paulie played in the deciding Game 4 of the '99 Series against Atlanta. The steady hand with which he calmed Steinbrenner over the years while digging the Yanks out of an early-season hole. The bond he shares with Jeter, with Mo, with Jorge, and with all those "true Yankees." And that bond he shared with us, the fans, who feel so completely cheated by Steinbrenner and the front office.

To sum up how we feel, it's like dating a girl who everyone recognizes as a great catch. From the start, you've got nothing but great memories. But there was always this other guy (Steinbrenner) who gave your great catch fits from time to time. It never was a huge problem, but you couldn't help but think that eventually he'd be the reason you'd break up. The worst part is, you both want to get back together, but that other dude's influence is just too great. So you're left standing there with your jaw dropped and the wind knocked out of you feeling cheated.

Long live the Joe Torre era.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Championship Series Outlook

I like the title of this post - "outlook" is a lot safer to say than "prediction," don't you think? Mike Francesa of WFAN's "Mike and the Mad Dog" sports talk radio program out of New York made a great point last week. In the NBA, the better team usually wins in the playoffs. The Warriors upsetting the Mavs was a huge deal (bigger than most people made it) because of its rarity. In baseball, the better team doesn't always win, and they aren't always so easily distinguished.

Cleveland pitching was brilliant against New York, no? And the Yankees couldn't have gotten a win at Williamsport. But guess who led all playoff teams in homers in division series play? The Yanks, who hit seven (all solo except for Damon's three-run job in Game 4, which was coincidentally the team's lone victory). So Mike makes an excellent point: there's just little to no way of predicting the outcomes in these playoffs.

So, without further qualification and tip-toeing around the impossible, here are my MLB Championship Series predict--err, outlooks...

Red Sox 4, Cleveland 2
If it's pitching you want, it's pitching you've got in this series. Game 1 features the top two candidates in the AL for the Cy Young in Boston's Beckett and Cleveland's Sabathia, and Fausto Carmona went 9 innings of 1-run ball against New York and faces Curt Schilling in Game 2. No one is sure what Dice-K vs. Westbrook and Wakefield vs. Byrd hold, but neither side has tremendous edge in either of Games 3 and 4 with their starters.

If both the rotations and middle relief match up well, then it comes down to timely hitting and the closers. The edge has to go to Boston, whose timely hitters include one man who collects a clutch hit for every FrankTV commercial (David Ortiz) and another who has had reason to celebrate seemingly after every longball he hits this postseason in Manny Ramirez. (Are you like me? Can you picture Scott Proctor somewhere with a full beard and Bud Ice in hand throwing darts at a photo of Manny every time he raises his arms?) One thing is for certain about this series -- big-time hitters like Big Papi, like Manny, and like the Indians' Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore all need to be given the chance to win the game and have their clutch RBI hold up. And nobody is more apt to preserve a tie or a win than Jonathan Papelbon (37 saves, 1.86 ERA in the regular season; 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, K, 2 BB this postseason).

Arizona 4, Colorado 3
In a seven-game series, the D-backs have the luxury of throwing the best pitcher in the NL up to three times. Brandon Webb provided the lone blemish in the Rockies' biggest asset -- their momentum. They've won 17 of 18 but lost to Webb, who snapped the team's longest winning streak ever at 11 games, during the regular season. If Webb can dominate the same way in Game 1 and cool off Colorado, they'd need to bounce back and pick up some of that lost steam to have any chance of advancing.

Arizona and Colorado have a combined 11 players who started the season in the minors, so a loss in Game 1 would be a test for either club and, in a way, decide the series. Overcoming adversity at the Major League level is just something with which neither team has much experience. The righty with the game's heaviest sinker may be just what Arizona needs to gain THISMUCH advantage in a series that is so close even the players themselves can't decide who is the underdog.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

MLB Division Series Predictions with a Twist

Forecasting the MLB playoffs, as I've said before, is about as easy these days as watching Stephon Marbury give a television interview -- you really want to do it, but it's impossible to know what's coming, and it borders on painful.

Now, Steph is clinically off his rocker. The MLB, at least, has some semblance of normalcy to it. There are at least three teams you can look at and say to yourself, okay, this is definitely the playoffs (the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels).

The insane factors, however, include the recent success of the Wild Cards (the Angels in '02, the Marlins in '03, the Red Sox in '04), the apparent ability of a team that looks dead to win it all (the Cardinals in '06), and the playoff-parched clubs now contending (the Phillies, Cubs and Rockies). And don't forget about the two teams absolutely loaded with young talent in the Indians and D-backs.

Without further confusion or monkey wrenches, here are my Division Series predictions, with a twist that may make everything I'm going to say about as accurate as the bad guys' shooting in "Walker, Texas Ranger":

Red Sox 3, Angels 1
While the Sox throw perhaps the best pitcher in the league this year in Josh Beckett (20-7, 3.27 ERA), the Halos can counter with another proven Cy Young candidate in John Lackey (19-9, 3.01) and a second potential winner in Kelvim Escobar (18-7, 3.40). Once past the starters, though, Boston's bullpen will be the reason they beat this team from LA of Anaheim. Their six relievers on the DS roster boast a combined 2.74 ERA -- 2.53 if you don't count Eric Gagne, but where'd the series drama be without him? Oh yeah -- having David Ortiz in the middle of your lineup helps too.
The Twist
The Angels small-ball the Sox to death, Vladimir Guerrero goes Reggie Jackson on Boston pitching, and Jonathan Papelbon relives his disaster game against the Yanks this year and can't get a batter out.

Yankees 3, Indians 1
Everybody is talking about how C.C. Sabathia (19-7, 3.21 ERA) has yet to face the Yanks this season and how he could be the difference-maker depending on his performance. Both true. However, why is nobody mentioning just how good Chien-Ming Wang (19-7, 3.70) has been? That aside, the Yanks have pounded on the Indians, going undefeated against the Tribe during the regular season. If it all comes down to the bullpen and Sabathia and Fausto Carmona have left the games, Cleveland closer Joe Borowski, despite his 45 saves, has a whopping 5.07 ERA. This is a guy who has to face the most potent offense in the majors. The Yanks scored 76 more runs than anybody in baseball this year (968 to the Phillies' 892).
The Twist
The inexperience of the young Indians becomes irrelevant and the Yanks can't get anything from their number-three guy (Clemens or Mussina). If this scenario plays out, A-Rod will hit .700 with 3 HR and 12 RBI in the series. (Haters: "Sure he played well, but they didn't win!) Just the man's luck.

Cubs 3, D-backs 2
Maybe it's because the other historically pained/comedic teams (Boston and the ChiSox) have gotten their redemption in recent years. Maybe it's because Derek Lee volunteered to star in an episode of ER in exchange for an ep entirely dedicated to the eye disease which afflicts his daughter to raise awareness (read about that here). For whatever reason, I'm going with the Cubs because they deserve it. Arizona was 14th in the league in scoring, while the Cubs were second in team ERA with a collective 4.04. Pair Arizona's inability to score with the Cubs pitching, and throw in a little youth inexperience for the D-backs (only four players on their roster are 30 or older), and Chicago gets to the Championship Series.
The Twist
A fan reaches out and grabs an Arizona foul ball and the Cubs go on to blow the game and lose the series, causing all sorts of uproar and excuses and scapegoats which lead to Lou Piniella's head exploding.

Rockies 3, Phillies 1
This is a tough choice here because both teams were streaking coming in, Colorado having won 12 of 13 and the Phillies 13 of 17, plus their leap past the Mets after being down seven games with 17 to play. But after seeing Game One of the series, the Rockies looked to be a stronger team. And, surprisingly, their pitching was much better all year than Philadelphia's, with a 4.32 team ERA compared to a 4.73. Neither is stellar, but the bullpen of Colorado could become the difference-maker.
The Twist
Major League Baseball reviews footage of the Rockies/Padres one-game playoff and realizes, like all of America, that Matt Holliday was actually out at the plate, his hand having touched nothing more than Michael Barrett's cleat, making every game the team plays null and void.