— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Saturday, October 18, 2003
World Series Preview - Why the Yankees Will Win
I?ll admit two things right up front. I like underdogs and I don?t like the New York Yankees. Of course, for an American League fan, those two tenets are mutually reinforcing concepts.
Except for a few glorious years from 1965-1973 when they were lost in the wilderness, the Yankees represent everything that?s been wrong about the twentieth century. From the self-congratulatory teams of the 1920s; to the "corporate team" of Gehrig, DiMaggio and McCarthy, to the institution of mass-produced minor league ballplayers; to the crass commercialism of Mickey Mantle; to their half-hearted and belated efforts at integration; and, finally, to the capitalistic triumphalism of the Steinbrenner years, the New York Yankees are the team that all people who live west of the Hudson and north of Block Island Sound, all sensible people love to hate.
Along this path, the Yankees have destroyed the dreams of a host of underdog AL teams. The Yankees shattered the last, best hopes for nearly every piteous franchise, whether they are the old St. Louis Browns, the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago White Sox or, of course, a certain New England team.
This October the Yankees will pillage the hopes of another Cinderella team, the 2003 Florida Marlins. And I am strangely happy about it.
First things first, while I recognize the usual disclaimers about anything happening in a short series, the 2003 Yankees are a far-superior team to this year?s Marlin?s squad. The have a superior pitching staff, not just a superior starting squad. They have a much better lineup than the Marlins. Even their justifiably much-maligned defense is better than the Marlins in a few spots, although this has the sound of damning with faint praise.
The Yankee pitchers have much more experience against Marlin hitters than vice-versa and, for the most part, Mssrs. Wells, Mussina, Clemens and Pettitte have done extremely well in those matchups. Pudge has lit up Wells, but aside from a handful of homers against Clemens, hasn?t had much success against the current Yanks. Ditto for Jeff Conine. Interestingly, the one Marlin who has had the most success against New York has been Juan Encarnacion, who has beat up on all four of the projected Yankee starters. I would expect that former-Yankee farmhand Mike Lowell will have a strong series and that the fleet Fish at the top of the lineup should be able to acquire more than their fair share of bloops and bleeders given the Yankees defense. Of course, those are just guesses, not supported by any facts. The facts are mostly on the side of the Yankees.
The beleaguered Yankee bullpen also stands a much better chance at success against the Marlins than the Red Sox or Twins. Rivera is obviously healthy and able to pitch for extended stretches, if need be. Felix Heredia has been great during the post-season and has a history of success against the Marlins. Ditto Gabe White. Jose Contreras has pitched well despite his hiccup in game six of the ALCS. And it?s quite likely that the Yankees will have secret agent Davis Weathers (nee Chris Hammond) back for the Series.
I?m finally convinced that Derek Jeter is Joe DiMaggio, but the rest of the Yankee batters have struggled through the playoffs. That is, except when it counted. In the playoffs New York has been out-hit by their opponents, 245/316/380 for NY to 247/299/404 for Minnesota and Boston, but they have still out-scored those teams, 46-35. Why? With runners on base, the Yanks are hitting 284/354/400 to a paltry 230/288/324 for Minnesota and Boston. With runners in scoring position, they Yankees have a .761 OPS while their opponents have hit .159 with a .443 OPS. Whether that is a testimony to Yankee "experience" or a product of random luck, I can?t say for certain, but I do know that I?d rather far rather have Jeter, Giambi, Bernie, Posada or Matsui at the plate in a crucial situation than Derek Lee, Conine, Encarnacion or Cabrera. Wouldn?t everyone?
To say this again for the third time, the Yankee defense is awful. In the three games in Florida, New York will be very bad at every infield position except third and their outfield is notoriously weak-armed. A couple of things mitigate any Florida advantage here though. First, the Yankee pitchers strike out a ton of batters, meaning that there will fewer balls in play for the fielders to let drop for hits. Secondly, the Yankee lineup rests upon the walk and the blast, rather than on putting balls in play. And finally, most of this advantage only pertains to games in Miami.
And what about the matchup of owners? Steinbrenner is evil. But the Boss?s malevolence has a certain imperial grandeur to it. He?s as rapacious as Caesar; as insolent as Napoleon. Like Stalin, he may have destroyed any autonomous entity that got in his way, yet he still rebuilt and reestablished the dominance again a languishing empire. But Jeff Loria? His despotism is of a boorish quality. He?s Nero to Steinbrenner?s Julius Caesar. He?s a Quisling to Steinbrenner?s Hitler. A Ceaucescu to George?s Stalin. A Diem to the Boss?s Ho Chi Minh; a Chang Kai-shek not a Mao. Steinbrenner is a leader. Loria is a toady. Personally, I prefer an autocrat to a petty dictator. I prefer my despots to be larger than life, not venal worms. Long live the Boss and his Yankee legions!