Yankees need sweep to compete

Talk around baseball is that the New York Yankees have to take two out of three from the Boston Red Sox in this series in the Bronx.

But in order to feel good about their position, in order to really put themselves in a spot to compete for a playoff spot, they need a sweep.

The Yankees are currently five games behind Boston in the American League Wild Card race.  Taking two out of three would put them four games back with 29 to play.

And the final three games of the Yankees’ regular season are against the Red Sox in Boston.

Realistically, the Yankees have to be one game back going into that last series to even have a chance.  Being one game back, the Yankees would have to take two out of those three to force a tie and a one-game playoff.  So to win a playoff spot from a position of one game back, the Yankees would have to win three of four.

But to even get to that point, the Yankees, from four games back, would have to play three games better than Boston in the next 26 games after this series.

That’s going to be very difficult to do.

But if the Yankees sweep the Red Sox this week in the Bronx, they’ll find themselves just two behind.  That means that the Yankees would have to play just one game better than the Red Sox in the next 26 games to get to that position of one game back entering the Fenway series.  And if the Yankees could play two games better than Boston in those 26 games, they would go into Fenway tied, and then it would be a two-out-of-three winner-take-all series.

And for the record, if the Yankees drop two out of three to Boston this week, they’d end this series six games back in the Wild Card race.  And if the Yankees get swept here, they’d be seven back.  Either way, their season would effectively be over.

To have any kind of chance at all, the Yankees need two out of three this week.  But to really have a legitimate shot to live to see October, the Yankees must sweep the Red Sox this week in Yankee Stadium.

Instant Replay necessitates further rule changes

Instant Replay is a good idea for Major League Baseball.  It’s a major change, however, and it’s going to take some time to get used to.  Therefore, I am proposing another rule change.

I am concerned that this drastic a change might be prone to certain problems, even some that can’t be foreseen.  I am worried that players, managers, and even the umpires themselves will be be less than fully informed or will have less than full understanding of the Instant Replay process.  Furthermore, I am concerned that the rushed nature with which it has been implemented will result in an idea that is not fully thought out and, again, prone to certain problems.  Surely, there are plenty of kinks that need will need to be worked out.

While Instant Replay is supposed to affect the outcome of games, these problems are bound to affect games negatively rather than the positive way for which it was designed.  And as the season winds down, pennant races are developing, which will lead into the playoffs–and all those games are much too important to be jeopardized.

So I am proposing another rule change–really a schedule change.  I know it’s drastic, but I want Major League Baseball to create an entire month’s worth of baseball games–games that, and here’s the kicker, actually count for anything at all.  This would be a perfect time to experiment this type of a rule change, when the kinks in a radical new system could be worked out without risking negatively affecting a team’s season.

Now surely, problems are bound to arise with this schedule change as well.  But I think I’ve worked out most of the problems.  As I said, this to take up an entire month.  But instead of pushing the playoffs into November, I suggest we start this new “exhibition” schedule a month earlier, in March, leaving the current season unchanged.

But won’t it be too cold to play games in March?  I’m glad you asked.  I suggest that we play all these games in warmer climates–namely Florida for East Coast teams and Arizona for West Coast teams.  In fact, many teams already have ballparks in these locations for their minor league teams, and those stadiums would serve as perfect hosts for these exhibition games.

Furthermore, we should allow teams to sort of work out issues on their roster, and to do this, we could allow teams to bring their entire 40-man roster to this early season and perhaps even invite players not currently on the roster to play.

If such an exhibition schedule existed, it would undoubtedly be the perfect setting to introduce new rule changes such as Instant Replay–at the start of a season with time to get used to it when games don’t actually count.

I know it sounds crazy, but trust me, it’s a can’t-miss.

And for one last order of business, I propose that we call this new idea Spring Training.

15 runs, 17 hits, but just one win

The Yankee offense has been asleep for a large part of the season, but it came alive today in the Bronx.  Derek Jeter went 4-4 with four singles, an HBP, and three runs scored.  Alex Rodriguez went 3-3 with a three-run homerun, two singles, two walks, three runs scored, and five RBIs.  Jason Giambi collected all four of his RBIs on a grand slam homerun in the second inning.  In all, the Yankees scored 15 runs on 17 hits in eight innings while starting pitcher Mike Mussina held the Kansas City Royals to three runs over six innings in the Yanks’ 15-6 rout.

But all that added up to just one win.

And that has been the Yankees’ problem, not just this year, but in the past several years.  Even when they were at the top of the league in runs scored, they’d have big-run breakouts among games where they couldn’t buy a run.  This season, those big breakouts seem to be few and far between.

Still, it was good to see the Yankees not just break out, but also come back.  Mussina, the soft-tossing veteran right-hander, gave up all three runs in the top of the first innings, and the Yankees were in a hole before they even came to bat.  But after Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter singled to start the game, A-Rod hit a game-tying three-run homerun.  After Giambi grounded out for the second out of the inning, Xavier Nady hit a go-ahead solo homerun.  Then Robinson Cano singled, Jose Molina doubled, and Brett Gardner–the hero of the Yankees’ extra-inning 4-3 win over the Royals the day before–tripled, and by the time the first inning was over, the Yankees had a 6-5 lead.

The Yankees picked up four more in the second on Giambi’s grand slam, putting them up 10-3, and the game was effectively over at that point.  The Yankees added another run in the third and one four more in the bottom of the seventh, highlighted by a two-run homerun by recent call-up Cody Ransom.

The Royals, meanwhile, picked up a wild-pitch-aided run in the top of the eighth and two in the ninth on a two-run blast by Ross Gload, and the game ended with the Yankees scoring 15 runs on 17 hits and the Royals six runs on 10 hits.

For Mike Mussina, it was his 16th win, his highest total since 2003, when he won 17 for the Yankees, who beat the Boston Red Sox in an emotional seven-game American League Championship Series before losing the World Series in six games to the Florida Marlins.  Mussina, who has won 19 games twice and 18 games three times, will need four wins in the Yankees’ final 38 games to reach 20 for the first time in his career.

The Yankees now stand at 66-58, third place in the American League East Division and third in the American League Wild Card race.

With the Boston Red Sox losing to the Minnesota Twins, the Yankees are now five games out of the Wild Card race and nine games out of the AL East race behind the Tampa Bay Rays, who play the Rangers tonight in Texas.

Despite the lopsided score, and despite the prowess of the Yankee offense on one Sunday afternoon in August, the Yankees still have plenty of work to do.  Since August 11, the Yankees have gone 3-3 in two series that I said they had to go 5-1.  Now at 66-58, the Yankees will have to go 24-14 to reach that 90-win mark.  And still they will need help.  The Tampa Bay Rays, currently 74-48 will have to go 16-24 for the Yankees to tie for the division.  And the Red Sox, currently 71-53, will have to go 19-19 for the Yankees to tie for the Wild Card.

It was a great afternoon for the Yankees, a great game, but it did little to improve their prospects of playing baseball in October.  The game today, on Sunday afternoon, August 17, 2008, may be one of the last good memories of Yankee Stadium.

Mike without the Mad Dog

So the news has come down that Chris “Mad Dog” Russo has been released from his contract with WFAN.  No more “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand, good afternoon, everybody!”  No more rants that have you glued to the television, almost positive that you’re about to witness a man drop dead from a heart attack right before your very eyes.

From now on, it’s just an arrogant fat guy berating callers and boring us to death with his lack of vigor on Mike Francesa’s brand new solo show, “Francesa on the FAN.”

Perhaps in their day, each could have held a radio show by himself.  But in the year 2008, when each have decades of experience under their belts, when you get the impression that each–especially the big guy–has one foot out the door, when their hearts just don’t seem to be in it, neither can.

Russo probably has the best chance to make it on his own.  Regardless of how he might be on a day-to-day basis, you can tune in hoping to catch a wildly insane opinion or a hysterical rant, which are becoming fewer and farther between but still happen enough to satisfy the casual listener.  Basically, Russo is a raving lunatic, and they can be fun for a laugh every now and again.

Besides, it’s Russo who has the better chance of adding an interesting sidekick to try to recreate the chemistry he had with Francesca.  Dog always seemed to be kind of like Mike’s little brother, always on the short end of any argument.  So if he gets someone to play the straight man to his insanity, someone with a little less arogance than Francesa, someone that Dog can be the big brother to, it has a shot to work.

On the other hand, Francesa, the one the station decided to keep, will find it harder to bring in a new partner.  The last thing he needs is someone as monotone and boring as he is, and if he brings in someone with a little flavor, it will look like a blatant attempt to find another Mad Dog.

Let’s face it, while Mike may be the better overall host and the more knowledgable sports fan, it was Dog that brought the excitement to the show, and it was that polar opposite with their ability to somehow get along in spit of those differences that set the show apart from all the others over the last twenty years or so.  The bottom line is that neither will be able to recreate what they had together.  United, they stood for nearly two decades.  Divided, they will fall quickly.

Besides, Mad Dog has the advantage of going to a new format with a fresh start, and he can choose a suitable time slot for the show.  Mike, still with WFAN where the show ran every weekday from 1 to around 6:20pm, will find it very difficult to fill those nearly five-and-a-half hours all by himself.  If there’s anything worse than listening to a boring man talk, it’s listening to a boring man talk for too long.

With the breakup of Mike and the Mad Dog, WFAN falls far behind ESPN 1050 in terms of quality of programming.  In the mornings, from 6-10, WFAN’s Boomer and Cartin are even with Mike and Mike on ESPN.  But from there, it’s edge ESPN, as Max Kellarman and Brian Kenney embarass Evan Roberts and Joe Beningo in the 10am-1pm slot.

That’s where Mike and the Mad Dog used to own the afternoon.  Mike solo might still be better than Terico and Van Pelt from 1-3, but then Michael Kay, as annoying as he is, is the better listen from 3-7.

From there, weekday night baseball usually starts, and so we’ll call it a wash until 10pm.  At that point, two old women talking about their aches and their medications are better than Steve Somers.  And Tony Paige is okay, but I’d rather listen to Jim Rome reruns.

Without Mike and the Mad Dog, WFAN and each host is in for a long stretch of trouble and a huge dip in the ratings.  Mike Francesa and Chris Russo were a great team, and they had a great show for nearly two decades.

And now that era is over.

And then there was done

It’s the morning of August 12, and what has been looming like a dark cloud of the New York Yankees all season is now blatantly obvious.  Their season is done.

The Yankees came out strong early in last night’s game in Minnesota against the Twins, who led them by two-and-a-half games in the AL Wild Card race going into the day.  Against struggling Twins’ lefty Glen Perkins, the Yankees picked up two hits in a scoreless first and then put runners on the corners with nobody out in the second.

In Chicago, meanwhile, the Red Sox, the Wild Card leaders and four games better than the Yankees, were being no-hit by John Danks of the White Sox.  Things looked good.

And by the end of the night, the Yankees–who managed just one hit from the third inning on–had lost, and both the Red Sox and the AL East leading Tampa Bay Rays had won.

The events of the day left the Yankees in third place in both the AL East, where the trail the Rays by nine games, and in the Wild Card race, where they trail the Red Sox by five.

And that spells a wrap for the Yankees, a team whose offense–which just can’t seem to get going and, even worse, seems to routinely blow the few opportunities that they do create–and suddenly horrific bullpen ruin good start after good start from a rotation that’s pitching way over its head.

A team that’s trying to make up that kind of distance in such a short period of time can’t rely on Sidney Ponson, Dan Giese, and Darrell Rasner–and they certainly can’t squander the games that those guys actually pitch well.  And as the icing on the cake, Andy Pettitte has struggled recently, leaving right-handed veteran Mike Mussina–whom many at the beginning of the season dismissed as being done and a sure bet to be banished to the bullpen–as the only reliable starter in the rotation.

With their experience and the talent of names on the roster, no matter how bad it looked on the field, it was impossible to count the Yankees out–until today.  Today the Yankees are officially done.  For the first time since 1994–the strike-shortened season which the Yankees finished with the best record in the American League–and for the first time since Buck Showalter was the manager, the Yankees will not make the playoffs.

The Yankees, despite all that talent and all that experience, have played themselves right out of the postseason picture.

The teams ahead of them are too good and have built up too much of a lead.  And there’s just too little time to overcome the defecit.  No matter what kind of a run the Yankees put together, they just won’t be able to make it to October.

The Yankees have put themselves in a bad situation.  And the way they’re playing, it might have more of a chance of getting worse than it does of getting any better.

Doing the math: Can the Yankees make the playoffs?

With the Yankees coming off a crushing three-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Anaheim Angles, with the Yankees reeling–2-5 on their current road trip, 4-6 in their last 10, and 5-10 after going 8-0 coming out of the All-Star Break–with the Yankees 8.5 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays Rays in the AL East and four behind the Boston Red Sox and 2.5 behind the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card race, it’s a good time to look at the Bronx Bombers’ remaining schedule and how they might fare in those remaining series.

Now with the future so bleak, the Rays and Red Sox so far ahead of them and playing so well–8-2 in their last 10 for the Rays, 6-4 for the Sox–while the Yankees struggle, we’ll give the Yankees the benefit of the doubt in these games to give them the best record that can reasonbly be expected at season’s end.

Aug 11-13, 3 at Minnesota Twins: 2-1

Aug 15-17, 3 vs Kansas City Royals: 3-0

Aug 19-21. 3 at Toronto Blue Jays, 1-2

Aug 22-24, 3 at Baltimore Orioles: 2-1

Aug 26-28, 3 vs Boston Red Sox: 2-1

Aug 29-31, 3 vs Toronto Blue Jays: 2-1

Sept 1, 1 at Detroit Tigers (makeup game from May 11): 1-0

Sept 2-4, 3 at Tampa Bay: 1-2

Sept 5-7, 3 at Seattle: 2-1

Sept 8-10, 3 at Los Angles Angels: 0-3

Sept 12-14, 3 vs Tampa Bay: 2-1

Sept 15-18, 4 vs Chicago White Sox: 3-1

Sept 19-21, 3 vs Baltimore: 3-0

Sept 23-25, 3 at Toronto: 2-1

Sept 26-27, 3 at Boston: 1-2

Total: 27-17

Add that to their current 64-55 record, and the Yankees will finish the season at 90-72.

In order for the Yankees to just tie for the division at season’s end, the Rays will have to go 19-26 the rest of the way.

And for the Yankees to tie for the Wild Card, the Red Sox will have to go 23-21, and Minnesota will have to go 25-20.

The Wild Card is still plausible, but the Yankees will need both the Red Sox and the Twins to play significantly worse than they’ve played to this point; the Yankees will need a team that’s currently 16 games over .500 to play just two games over .500 for the rest of the season, and a team that’s 13 games over .500 to play five games over .500.  And even if that happens, the Yankees, eight games over .500 to this point, will have to play over their heads and go 10 games over .500 for the duration of the season.

The division, however, is done.  The Tampa Bay Rays, with an 8.5 game lead over the third-place Yankees in the division, even if they falter, will not play seven games under .500–not when they’ve played 25 games over .500 to this point, good for the second-best record in the American League behind the Angels.

Really, all the Yankees can realistically hope for is to leapfrog Minnesota and whittle the defecit to Boston down to three games by September 26, and then go into Fenway and handle their business three straight games and then also in a one-game playoff.

But realistically, what the Yankees need is to forget about the math; math is for fans, not for players.  The Yankees don’t need a certain record, they need a win.  Every single day, they need a win.  They have to go out there every single day and just outplay the team in the other dugout, whoever it might be.  The Yankees need to win games.

Unfortuantely, they haven’t been doing that too often.

It’s no Hollywood ending for Yanks’ trip to California

It took place in California, near L.A., but the Yankees’ trip to Anaheim had anything but a Hollywood ending.

After getting blown out on Friday night, the Yankees had a 2-0 lead in the sixth and a 3-2 lead in the seventh on Saturday, and they took an early 2-0 lead on Sunday.  They were in prime position to go into Anaheim and take two out of three from their nemesis, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  But there was a late script change, and the edit was not a crowd-pleaser–at least not in the Bronx.

Instead the Yankees, who trail both the Rays and the Wild-Card-leading Boston Red Sox in the AL East Division, were swept–swept out of Anaheim, and swept, perhaps, out of the 2008 Postseason.

The Angels boast baseball’s best record to this point, but for the Yankees, it doesn’t matter who they play.  Whether it’s the 1927 Yankees or the 1962 Mets that sit in the other dugout, the Yankees need wins.

And this weekend, the Yankees picked up exactly zero wins in three important chances.  And as Monday morning approaches, the Yankees, the team that won eight straight coming out of the All-Star Break are eight-and-a-half games behind the Rays in the division and four-and-a-half games behind the Boston Red Sox–albeit Manny-less, but still the defending World Champions–in the Wild Card race.

The Yankee offense still struggles to drive in big runs in important situations.  But the additions of Xavier Nady and Ivan Rodriguez have left Melky Cabrera as the only weak spot in the lineup.  The real problem is Alex Rodriguez and his failures in clutch situations, but the bottom line is that the offense is what it is, and it’s not going to get an external lift.

The bullpen has been a soft spot for the Yankees this month.  What was once a surprising strength has come back down to earth–hard.  Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman has already made his moves to improve the bullpen, shipping out Kyle Farnsworth and bringing in Damaso Marte.  There may be some internal options for the bullpen, but they’re not likely to arrive until the rosters expand in September.

The real issue for the Yankees is the starting rotation.  Chien-Ming Wang is now done for the year.  Joba Chamberlain is on the Disabled List, and it’s uncertain whether or not he’ll pitch again this season.  Ian Kennedy was hurt earlier in the season, but now he’s back and as bad as ever, still searching for his first win of the season after getting shelled against the Angels this weekend.  Phil Hughes is supposedly on his way back, but he’s not here yet, and every single game is critical if the Yankees are going to dig themselves out of this hole.  The rotation now falls on two veterans, lefty Andy Pettitte and right-hander Mike Mussina.  But the cold reality is that even if both of them pitch at the top of their game, the Yankees just can’t win enough games with Sidney Ponson, Dan Giese, and Darrell Rasner making up three-fifths of their rotation.  And the internal options are limited at best.  Kennedy is apparently just not as good as either of those three, regardless of how bad they may be, at this point in his career.  Hughes can come back, but it would be foolhardy to expect him to immediately pitch as though he hasn’t been hurt for the majority of the season.  And it would be even more foolhardy to expect that from Carl “The Invisible Man” Pavano, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since . . .

It’s the starting rotation that the Yankees have to improve.  That is what is going to make or break their season.  And that’s what, for all the credit he got at the trading deadline, Brian Cashman failed to address.  He has lost time, valuable time, but he has to do something now.

The stage is set for a Hollywood ending, even after the team’s California collapse.  They’re way behind, but they have tons of talent, and this is their legendary Stadium’s final season.  The script they’re reading from has them plummeting into straight-to-video oblivion.  If they’re going to make it to the final credits, they’re going to need a re-write.  And to do that, they’re going to need a new screenwriter or two.  I hear there’s a guy named Jarrod Washburn from the West Coast who might be able to write a scene or two.

Yankee ‘pen is a bunch of bull

I said it–mostly jokingly–at the time, but when the Yankees made a pair of trades shortly before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline that replaced right-hander Kyle Farnsworth with left-hander Damaso Marte in the bullpen, but the Yankees had fixed something that didn’t appear, at the time, to be broken.

Farnsworth, who shortly thereafter lost a game for his new Detroit Tigers by giving up a game-ending homerun against the Tampa Bay Rays, and Edwar Ramirez were in the midst of hitless-innings streaks.  Jose Veras had emerged as a reliable reliever, the seventh-inning guy before Farnsworth in the eighth and then, of course, legendary Mariano Rivera, perfect in save opportunities.  The bullpen was cruising, slamming the door on opponents, running like a well-oiled, hard-throwing machine.

The one thing that the bullpen didn’t have was a lefty, but it had been pitching so well that no one seemed to care–no one, that is, except Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman.  Cashman pulled the trigger on a deal that brought Marte and outfielder Xavier Nady, who would take over the outfield duties and banish Brett Gardner back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for four minor leaguers.  One of those minor leaguers was Jeff Karstens, who, ironically, has thrown fifteen shutout innings in two starts for the Pirates, allowing just seven hits and five walks, at a time when the Yankees’ rotation, ravaged by injury, includes Sidney Ponson, Dan Giese, and either Darrell Rasner or Ian Kennedy.

And while Nady has been unquestionably good for the Yankees’ offense, providing a huge offensive upgrade over Gardner, Marte–who had an ERA of almost 3.50 in the National League at the time of the trade–is 0-2 for the Yankees, with an ERA of 9.00 and a WHIP.  He has thrown seven innings in eight appearances for the Bronx Bombers, allowing seven runs on seven hits and five walks.  Even lefties are hitting Marte since he came to New York, posting a .368 On-Base Percentage Against, the same as righties.

Maybe it’s chemistry, or maybe it’s coincidence, but the two other go-to-relievers in the Yankee bullpen have faltered since the trade deadline.  Jose Veras followed up an outstanding June by posting a 2.61 ERA in July, allowing three runs on eight hits and five walks while striking otu 13 in 10.1 innings.  In August, however, his ERA is 4.15, and he as allowed two runs on four hits and two walks in 4.1 innings.

The splits are even more pronounced for Edwar Ramirez; he threw 11.1 innings in July without allowing a hit while striking out 16.  This month, however, he has allowed nine runs, eight earned, in just 3.1 innings, lowlighted by a grand slam surrendered to Mark Teixiera of the Anaheim Angels, and then a five-run, no-out debacle less than a week later also against the Angels.

Is it coincidence?  Is it chemistry?  It could be either, but that doesn’t really matter.

All that matters is that the bullpen was a stength–a tremendous strength.  But then Brian Cashman fixed it, and now it’s broken.

The Yankees are going to need that bullpen to find a way to pull it together if they want to make it to October Baseball.  But who’s going to fix that bullpen now?

First Things First: Predictions and a Preview of Yanks-Sox ’08

American League

East: New York Yankees

Central: Detroit Tigers

West: Anaheim Angels

Wild Card: Boston Red Sox

 

National League

East: New York Mets

Central: Chicago Cubs

West: Arizona Diamondbacks

Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers

 

Division Series

ALDS: New York Yankees over Anaheim Angels, Boston Red Sox over Detroit Tigers

NLDS: New York Mets over Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks over Chicago Cubs

 

League Championship Series

ALCS: New York Yankees over Boston Red Sox

NLCS: New York Mets over Arizona Diamondbacks

 

World Series

New York Yankees over New York Mets

 

We’ll talk more about this when it happens — and it’s going to happen — but it will be a very special year for New York as we see a repeat of the Subway Series, both teams hosting World Series games in the final year of their respective stadiums.

First I’ll breeze through the other divisions, giving mostly the reasons I think , and then I’ll get to the debate that everyone reading this wants to read about — the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox in the American League East Division.

I like the Tigers in the American League Central.  Their offense, now with Miguel Cabera, is among the best in the league.  Their top two hitters, Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez, aren’t quite as intimidating as David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez for the Boston Red Sox, and they certainly don’t have a player as good as the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, but when you go position-by-position, they match up very evenly with either team.

The AL West is relatively tough to pick, but I have to go with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim until they prove me wrong.  They’ve won the division three out of the last four seasons, and this season only the Seattle Mariners with Erik Bedard and “King Felix” Hernandez appear to be a threat, but not a very big one.

The Mets were the best team in the National League last season, and I think if the last month was replayed, the Mets would win nine out of 10 times.  Their collapse was embarassing but flukey.  On November 1, 2007, they were the best team in the NL, and all they did since then was add the best pitcher in baseball.  The Phillies are a good team, and if Brad Lidge can stay healthy, he’s going to be a very good pickup for them, but they won’t catch the Mets in the division race this season.  The Phils will have to settle for the Wild Card this season.

The NL Central is also tough to predict.  I really like the Brewers, but I just have to go with the Cubs.  I think the Brewers win the battle of the aces in Ben Sheets versus Carlos Zambrano, but Sheets just can’t seem to stay healthy and hasn’t thrown 200 innings in a single season since 2004.  I also like Brewers shortsop J.J. Hardy and first baseman Prince Fielder, the son of former Yankee Cecil Fielder.  But the Cubs’ offense — with Derek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Aramis Ramirez — just has more firepower.  Overall I see it going down just like it did last year — Cubs in a tight race.

The NL West is probably the toughet division to predict, with four of the five teams as strong candidates for the division title, but I think the acquisition of Dan Haren, who will form a very solid one-two punch with ace Brandon Webb will be the difference-maker.  I’d like to give the Wild Card to one of the other NL West teams, but I think they’re going to beat each other up so much that no one will be able to claim the Wild Card.

I went with the New York Yankees over the Boston Red Sox in the American League East Division as much because I just can’t bring myself to kick off a new Yankees blog by picking the BoSox to win the division as any other reason.  Listen, folks, these two teams are very evenly matched, and as long as it’s agreed that they’re better than the Toronto Blue Jays — who are very good, but not quite good enough — it’s a crapshoot in deciding who will finish first and who will finish second.

The Yankees have a lot of questions in their rotation.  How good Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy will be is just about anybody’s guess.  We all know what they project to be in the future, but it’s hard to know what they’ll give you this year, right now, when they have a combined 91.2 innings of big league experience.  But Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, two-thirds of the Red Sox’ rotation, have just 167 innings of combined big league experience (not counting the four innings that Lester recorded in the Sox’ series against the Oakland Athletics in Japan last week).

Behind the youngsters, there’s the matchup of the old guys.  39-year-old Mike Mussina re-signed with the Yankees after a very impressive 2006 — 3.51 ERA, 1.11 WHIP — and delivered a very disappointing 2007 — 5.15 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.  The Red Sox counter Mussina, who features the knuckle-curve, with their own veteran knuckleballer, 41-year-old Tim Wakefield.  Wakefield made 31 starts for the BoSox last season, throwing 189 innings and going 17-12 with a 4.76 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP.

Andy Pettitte put together a solid 2007 — 15-9, 4.05 ERA, 1.43 WHIP — and he’ll match up against Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Red Sox.  Matsuzaka’s overall 2007, while not quite the “ace” level that some predicted, were solid — 15-12, 4.40 ERA, 204.2 IP, 1.32 WHIP, 8.84 K/9.  Could Dice-K’s 2007, hindered by adjustment to a new country and a season much longer than what he’s used to, be a jumping-off point for a much better 2008?  Sure, but the more a pitcher is exposed to hitters, the more it typically favors the hitters.  In fact, many of Daisuke’s countrymen starting pitchers that came before him, like Hideo Nomo and Chan Ho Park for example, saw their ERA and WHIP climb steadily in their second and third seasons, counting their first season as the season in which they first threw over 150 innings.  Which way will Matsuzaka go in 2008?  That’s just another question mark for the Red Sox that won’t be answered until later in the season.

The spot where the Red Sox have the advantage over the Yankees in the starting rotation is the matchup of the aces.  Chien-Ming Wang is a very good pitcher, but Josh Beckett is a bona fide ace.  Wang lives and dies by the sinker.  Typically if he has that pitch working, he’s going to have a good day, but if it’s not, it’s going to be a long day.  And since the sinker is such a fickle pitch, it’s pretty much unknown what he’s going to bring to the mound on any given day, and it’s very possible that he could get lit up at any time, as evidenced by his 2007 postseason.  Josh Beckett, on the other hand, followed up a very disappointing 2006, with an impressive 2007 — 20-7, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.70 K/9 — and cemented his legacy in the postseason, picking up four wins in as many starts and posting a 1.20 ERA while striking out 35 batters in 30 innings.

The Yanks and the Sox are also very similar in the bullpen.  They each feature setup men who had eye-opening 2007 seasons but are otherwise unproven — Joba Chamberlain for the Yankees and Hideki Okajima for the Red Sox — handing the ball to dominant closers — Mariano Rivera for the Yankees and Jonathan Papelbon for the Red Sox.  After that, there are question marks for each team.  The Red Sox are probably slightly better; Manny Delcarmen posted a 2.05 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 44 innings last season, and Mike Timlin and lefty Javier Lopez each posted ERAs under 3.50 and WHIPs under 1.35.  The Yankees, meanwhile, will rely heavily on LaTroy Hawkins, who went 2-5 with a 3.42 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 55.1 innings for the Colorado Rockies last season; those numbers aren’t bad for a pitcher in Colorado, but Hawkins also posted an ERA of 4.48 and WHIP of 1.46 in the AL East in 2006 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.  The Yankees will also go heavily to Kyle Farnsworth, who struggled greatly in his first two seasons in Pinstripes but has apparently earned the confidence of new manager Joe Girardi.  Beyond that, the Yankees will go to Brian Bruney, who has not yet in his career been able to harness his great stuff, and Billy Traber, the lone lefty whose career consists of a 5.41 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in three years spent with the Cleveland Indians and more recently the Washington Nationals.  The Yankees’ bullpen will also house some inexperienced hurlers like Ross Ohlendorf, 6.1 career big league innings, and Jonathan Albaladejo, 14.1 career big league innings all with the Washington Nationals.

Even the batting orders are remarkably similar.  Each team has an exceptionally deep lineup with no-one that can be cansidered an “automatic out,” and while the Red Sox have the better one-two punch in David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez is the best overall player.

These two teams are very evenly matched, each with unbelievable strengths and plenty of question marks.  With my life on the line, I’d probably have to give the slight edge to the Red Sox because their bullpen is a little deeper — and they’d have to get the edge in a close call considering they’re the defending AL East and World Series Champions.

But like I said, this is a Yankees blog, and so, at least in the first year, I predict the Yankees to win the division and the head-to-head postseason battle for the pennant.  Better luck next year, Boston.

Bronx Bombers Blog

It’s a brand new season, and there’s a brand new blog.

Welcome to the Bronx Bombers Blog.  This is the ultimate place for brutally honest opinions about the New York Yankees and the rest of baseball, and there is no better place to stay on top of the action.  Sometimes it will be good, and sometimes it will be bad, but it will never be boring.

I’ll be your host, the Bronx Bombers Blogger, and I’ll be guiding you through and beyond the 2008 season.

Join me, and follow along as the Yankees push for the 27th World Championship in franchise history.