Friday, October 14, 2005

A Little Imperial Perspective

Talk about trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.

That's what the NY tabloids are trying to do in trying to goad Joe Torre into a confrontation with George Steinbrenner. Because Joe said that he wouldn't comment to any of King George's criticism until the end of the season. Now that the Yankees have finished their fifth straight season without a World Series Title, the writers want their winter war in the Bronx to sell to the readership.

Joe's doing the right thing. Laying low and enjoying time with his family. Whatever he has to say to or about George can wait. Screw the writers. Don't let them bait him into a war of words with George. The only one who wins that war is the tabloids. Everyone else, the fans, the Yankees...lose if that exchange goes down.

They're also starting blather about how the Yankees aren't a team, they're a collection of all-stars. Garbage.

Members of the Empire...I beg you...don't buy into it.

We lost. Deal with it. Suffer in silence. Don't write to these stupid tabloids regurgitating you've heard on Mike and Mad Dog or what that jackass Lupica might have wrote this week kicking dirt on the Yankees and their season. There's very little useful analysis in any of it.

If you want to talk about how the Yankees were a flawed team, fine. But if you want to talk about how they weren't a team but rather a collection of all-stars, stop right there. You don't win 95 games in the majors with just a collection of all-stars. The Dodgers, Orioles, Mets and others have tried it and failed miserably.

This wasn't a perfect team, but it was a good team. Just not good enough to keep playing. Despite what all these Gene Mauch/Whitey Herzog wanna-bees say. These were the same idiots who would criticize the way the Cardinals played ball in the 80's. Now they're crowing for baseball to have their own OzzFest. Ozzie Smith that is.

The bottom line is this, the team that pitches better, wins. Period. If you want to talk about timely hitting and moving the runner over, yes that plays a part. But in the postseason, it's all about pitching. You have to have either excellent starting pitching or a deep bullpen. The Yankees in the 90's had both. Outside of Clemens, they didn't have a one hall of famer. But they had guys who were gamers. Guys who could give you quality starts. And they had a solid bullpen that would take over in the later innings. Their offense was good, but as Torre has said in the past, their foundation was pitching. There were plenty of games where they only scored a couple of runs but still got the win. The reason was solid pitching.

In game 5 of the ALDS, they got two runs versus Anaheim in the top of the second. Now you can argue that they could have scored more versus Ervin Santana. And I agree. But the flip side is that it should have been enough for the time being. Instead Mussina gives up a 2 run shot to Anderson, a hit to Molina and a walk to Finley (who's even more shot than Bernie). Then with two outs, you have the collision between Crosby and Sheff on the Kennedy flyball to right-center that scores two. The collision aside, Moose can't give up a homer to start off the second after he was spotted a 2-0 lead. He can't walk someone hitting .222 for the season. There's no excuse for that. He has to put up a goose egg in that frame. Give his team chance to scratch some more runs across the board. Instead they go into the third down 3-2 instead of up 2-0. Momentum shifts from one dugout to the other.

We gave up too many runs with two outs in that series. You can't do that and expect to win. Yeah some errors hurt their cause, but even with the errors, the starters had a chance to end the frame with little or no damage. Instead they gave away the store and the games with two out hits. Good pitchers don't do that.

Whitey Herzog liked to say that momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher. The reason the Yankees were such roller-coaster ride this season was because you never knew what you'd get from your starters from start to start. The Angels series showed the world what Yankee fans have known all season. That our starting pitching was very, very erratic.

And don't even get me started on our middle relief. If you said, "What middle relief?", you're right. At the end of the season, there were two guys that Torre trusted in the pen...Mo and Flash. Sturtze's arm problems caught up to him and the rest of the flotsam and jetsam that made up the pen isn't worth mentioning in this blog. Even when Randy Big Bird lays a big egg in game 3, we didn't have one pitcher to hold the fort after we took back the lead. Even with Small giving back the lead, there should have someone in the pen to stop the bleeding. Instead a 7-6 deficit became an 11-7 loss.

In the glory days, when the starters laid an egg (and they did occasionally in the postseason)the bullpen was deep enough to keep the damage to a minimum. Now? It's 22-0, 17-1 losses.

A-Rod, Matsui and Sheff deserve their sharr of blame in this as well. They had opportunities to bury the Angels. They got good pitches to hit, but ended up fouling them off or popping them up. But good pitchers are going to find a way to good hitters out more than times than not. And even if you do get a good pitch to hit, the best hitter is going hit it at somebody more than he crushes it into the stands.

The Angels are playing now and the Yankees aren't for one reason and one reason only. They pitched better. Vlad did nothing in that series. Chone Figgins did just a touch better. But he didn't make anyone forget about Rickey Henderson or Lou Brock with his performance. The reason they won is that their pitching made little they did with the bats stick.

If your offense spots you a lead, any lead, it's the pitchers job to hold the fort until they scratch together more. In the playoffs, you don't see many 11-10, 8-7 games because the best pitchers are on display. So if your team gives you a 3-0 lead in the first, you better make it for a couple innings until they can get some more.

I don't know if any of you have noticed, but the quality of teams in the American League is much better now than it was in the late nineties. The lineups are much more balanced and the pitching is much deeper than it was. These teams took the Yankee model of building a winner and ran with it. You don't see the Indians and Rangers of the nineties anymore. Teams with mediocre pitching and big bats. The Angels, White Sox, Twins, Indians are all very balanced offensive teams with solid pitching. The Red Sox, last year, were as well.

The American League right now is the stronger league by far. Don't be fooled by the renaissance of Clemens and other pitchers who have changed leagues. The National League is a very top heavy league right now. Want proof? The Mets had the fifth best record in the NL at 83-79. Two teams finished with 90 or more wins. In the AL, five teams had more than 90 wins. It's a lot tougher to get out of the AL than it was five years ago. I guarantee that whoever comes out of the AL will beat the NL representative in no more than six games.

These teams are much better than any of the teams the Yankees beat in the AL playoffs from 1996-2000. The only teams that were comparable were the 2000-2001 Mariners teams that the Yankees beat in the ALCS. They had the pitching, but their offenses paled in comparison to these teams.

The Yankees? They've had the worst luck when it comes to pitchers the last two years. It all started with letting Pettitte go to Houston. They should have locked him up as soon as the season was over. Don't give him a second to even think about going home. That way Clemens stays retired and we don't have to watch the Astros go to the World Series with two of our starters (Yes, they're going to beat St Louis).

They never forgot the fact that pitching wins championships. But because they traded away prospects (Jake Westbrook and Zach Duke among them) and lost compensatory draft picks to teams like Oakland because they signed their free agents, they had to replenish their pitching staff with veteran free agents instead of young prospects. As opposed to someone who has been reared and indoctrinated into the Yankee way of doing things, you get a veteran who used to doing things their way and might or might not buy into what you're doing (i.e Randy Johnson). Or you get somebody who just can't handle the rigors of pitching in NYC (Jose Contreras and Javier Vasquez). If he's raised in your system like Pettite, Wang or Guidry, he knows what to expect and is more likely to thrive than an outsider.

Sometimes you get lucky with free agents and trades. Key, Wells, Moose, Cone and Roger were a huge part of the Yankees sucess in the nineties. But it can't be a one or the other sort of approach. There has to be a balance. Free agents are cool. But you have to have a strong farm system and a smart front office who can pull the trigger on trades that can help the team.

The Yankees are victims of their own success. All the trades and free agent signings that enabled the Yankees to stay competitive have left them with a very few strong prospects above the Single-A or Double A level. Meaning they're several years from away being able to help the big league club. It's the main reason that they have a $200 million payroll. Filling holes with free agents instead with your own farm hands or young inexpensive players via trades.

This year, I think they've finally seen the light with the success of Cano and Wang. They see two players that can be part of a foundation of the future. Hopefully, they won't be used as trade bait for the next Javier Vasquez. Or Jeff Weaver.

Call them overpaid. Call them underacheiving. Call them flawed. But this was a good baseball team. Not a collection of all-stars. A baseball team. Like I said before, a a collection couldn't have won 95 teams and overcome as many injuries and assorted maladies as this team did. An all-star collection wouldn't have been as devastated as this team was when they lost. They got beat. But they weren't the first good team to lose and they won't be the last. The Big Red Machine got beat in the playoffs three times before they finally won it all in 1975. The Braves lost three times before they finally won 1995. 14 straight postseasons. That's the only title they have to show for their efforts. The Orioles won in 1966 and 1970 but lost to two inferior teams in 1969 and 1971. The Red Sox averaged over 95 wins from 1975-1978. They have only one pennant and no World Series to show for it. Good teams lose from time to time when they shouldn't. That's the great thing about the game. On any given day, you can expect the unexpected.

The difference between those teams and the Yankees is their payroll. Because of the money, they are judged by a different standard. Forget the fact that they've made the playoffs 10 straight years and won 8 straight division titles. They're looked at as failures because they've failed to win their last game for the last five years. Forget the fact that teams like the Mets, Dodgers and Mariners are all in the top ten in payroll but were out of contention in July. Criticize the Yankees for doing what they have to do stay competitive and having the resources to do it.

The hypocrisy among infidels sickens me. Praise the Mets and the Red Sox for trying to acquire A-Rod but fail to pull the trigger. But curse the Yankees for getting it done.

But when the Mets pay a very good, not great player franchise money off of one good postseason, it's a blessing from the baseball gods. Until said player puts up numbers slightly better than a shot Bernie Williams. Even then it was still the right thing to do. And it's ok to trade for the Mets to try and trade for Manny Ramirez and his $20 million salary. That's just a good baseball move. When the Yankees do it with A-Rod, it's the end of baseball civilization as we know it.

Don't let the infidels make you feel guilty about the Yankee payroll. Is it too high? Absolutely. But any infidel who tells you that they wouldn't want their team to raise their payroll to an uncomfortable level to get a player of the caliber of a Manny, a Vlad, an A-Rod or a Pujols is a liar. The Mets had the third highest payroll in baseball and had 83 wins to show for it. If they trade for Manny, sign a closer and another bat, their payroll could go upwards to $130 to $140 million. If that means that they could possibly finally knock the Braves off, do you think Mtestradamus or any of his little crew will shed one tear about it? If the Red Sox add payroll to sign either Billy Wagner or BJ Ryan, do you think anyone from Infidel Nation will be crying about competitive balance? About how the small market teams can't compete under this collective bargaining agreement? Please.

This is the baseball equivalent of Donald Trump saying that he can't compete with Warren Buffett or Bill Gates because they have more money. If he said that, you know what you would do? You'd laugh at him and tell him to get lost. But because baseball is a business veiled in sport. And unlike other businesses, in sports you actually need your competition to be...well competitive. So John Henry can whine about competitive balance and not be laughed out of the room.

And guess who has the highest ticket prices in the majors? If you guessed the Red Sox, you would be correct. So much for caring about the fans.

But you know what John Henry would do if he had the Yankees resources? He'd spend more money. So would the Mets and every other team.

So don't get caught up in the numbers. Are they too high? Yes. But you still have to pay to play. There isn't one team left standing with payroll less than $70 million. There are no Twins or A's standing in the winners circle. Maybe you don't have to pay $200 million. But you're paying more than $40 million, I can tell you that much.

The games are still won and lost on the field. Judge the Yankees by that standard instead of by what someone was dumb enough to pay them. They're all overpaid. Even the ones making the minimum. But who among us would turn that down much less $25 million if someone offered it to us. Good for them I say. Make that loot. Someone's got to make it.

I like this team's chances for next year despite what happened last week. We need some bullpen help to be sure and we need to figure out what we're getting out of Pavano and Wright. But I like the rest of this team. There's no reason why we can't be competitive next year with a little fine-tuning.

Ask yourself. Would you rather be in our situation or would you rather be like the Mets? Wondering how you're going to fill the right side of your infield, get a closer and a big bat for middle of lineup. Or would you want to be a Red Sox fan? Trying figure out if Johnny Damon's worth $50 million over five years, fill the holes in your starting rotation and bulpen and find protection for Big Papi if you trade Manny. Papi is Maris to Manny's Mantle. A very good player who put up MVP numbers because he hit in front of a first ballot hall of famer. Trust me, Theo trades Manny and lets Damon go and Papi becomes mortal. The .300 40 homer, 140 RBI years are a distant memory. He'll probably be a .290 30 HR 100+ RBI guy. Still good. But not good enough to get the Sox into the playoffs. Not with their pitching problems. He and Manny are the reason why they made the wildcard this year. They're a second or third place team if they trade Manny. And I could totally see the Jays overtaking the Sox and challenging for the wildcard and the division even with Manny there. With Roy Halladay healthy, they have one of the better rotations in the American League. Their lineup is solid as well. Throw in the fact that GM JP Ricciardi has the blessing from the ownership to raise the payroll to $80 million, you could have a contender in the making.

So despite the challenges we face in the off-season, I refuse to take a Chicken-Little attitude toward this team. I'm as pissed as anyone about losing. I thought we had the better team. But I still have faith that we'll be back in the winners circle soon. This isn't the 80's redux.

We'll be back next year, brother of the Empire. And the infidels will have a new reason to hate us other . We'll be back on top. Again.

5 Comments:

Blogger Karen said...

The thing is, the only people I see freaking out about this are the writers. I have yet to talk to a fan who thinks this year's team was "a collection of all stars". The writers were the same ones freaking out about A-Rod, when the rest of us were like "dude, there's enough blame to go around." So, yeah, I think the object here is to stoke ire and sell papers. I don't believe a word out of them anymore, especially when the only sport left in town plays once a week (because when was the last time hockey was a backpage best-seller?).

3:59 AM  
Blogger Darth Marc said...

I agree...

You're starting to see some of the misinformed chiming in on the whole Collection of All star line on the websites and on WFAN. All they're doing is regurgitating what Lupica and the rest of the crack-committee continues to repeat.

I would hate to see the fans turn on this team because the writers are trying to create news. The season's over. Let's move on, people.

I agree with you, there are very few columnists that I can take seriously anymore...

4:41 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

You'll be back next year . . . and YOU WILL FAIL!!!!

1:04 PM  
Blogger Darth Marc said...

We know that you'll fail next year infidel....

3:39 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

see thats just it.. the writers NEED something to write about. That's New York sports for ya. Personally, I've stayed away (far far away) from the papers these last couple of weeks. For my own sanity of course.

8:45 AM  

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