Your new playoff seeds:
AL: Yankees (1) vs. Minnesota (3), Texas (2) vs. Tampa Bay (4)
NL: San Diego (1) vs. St. Louis (3) or Cincinnati (4) , Atlanta (2) vs.St. Louis (3) or San Francisco (4)
As for the Yankees...is it just me, or is there a considerable amount of skepticism surrounding these guys? I'm basing this more on stuff I hear in and around the yakosphere (copyright Neil Best) than from conversations with officials from competing teams. Those officials from competing teams generally think the Yankees are in excellent shape.
We are by nature an anxious species, and the beauty of baseball is, so I hear, you can't predict it. But we can take stock to try to measure - in three very simple categories - how the defending World Series champs are doing. And by attempting to compare those to last year, when things worked out very well for them.
1. Statistical. After last night's loss, the Yankees'' run differential is 595-458, giving them a Pythagorean record of 69-43..which is their actual record. Last year, they far exceeded their Pythagorean record of 95-67 with a 103-59 mark. So if anything, last year's season was more of a relative mirage than this year's.
To measure them against the rest of the league, the Yankees' OPS+ is 115, and their ERA+ is 105.. Last year, as a point of comparison, their OPS+ was 122, and their ERA+ was 101. On the surface, therefore, this team has a slightly worse offense and slightly better pitching staff than the '09 group - producing, again, a better run differential, for now.
In the simple "room for error" area, the Yankees' AL East edge might be just a half-game over Tampa Bay, but they lead Boston by five games (six in the loss column) for a playoff spot. Last year, at this point in the calendar, they owned a far more comfortable 5 1/2-game lead over Boston in the AL East, and and their wild-card lead was seven games (six in the loss column) over Texas.
The Yankees rank third in the majors and first in the AL with a "secret sauce" score of 19. Last year, they also ranked third in the majors and first in the AL, with a secret sauce score of 22. As you can see here, "secret sauce" is a formula that uses pitchers' strikeouts, defense and closers to measure a team's likelihood of playoff success.
Determination: Quit your bellyachin'.
2. Health and depth. The Yankees' most serious injury is Nick Johnson's right wrist. As you saw by the Yankees' acquisition of Lance Berkman, the team doesn't expect Johnson to return as a significant contributor this year, even though he stillis rehabilitating in an attempt to come back. Andy Pettitte appears on track to return from his left groin injury by the end of this month. Even Alfredo Aceves pitched in a minor-league game last night, as you can see at the end of Erik Boland's Yankees notebook.
Meanwhile, while I still contend the Yankees' late-July trades were gluttonous, extraneous, superfluous and perhaps even obnoxious - to channel Jackie Chiles - there's no disputing that Joe Girardi has superior options on his bench in Berkman and Austin Kearns. And so far, Kerry Wood has displayed promise out of the bullpen.
Remember, after all, that the Yankees used a three-man starting rotation in last year's postseason and managed to win it all. This year, barring an injury epidemic, such a strategy won't be necessary.
Determination: I understand the worry, but I think they'll be all right.
3. Visceral/spiritual/chemical. Thanks to last year's sucess, doubts no longer surround Girardi (as a manager), Alex Rodriguez or CC Sabathia. Of course, new doubts surround Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez. In general, though, there seems to be less uncertainty surrounding this team's inability to "deliver in the clutch," or whatever your favorite cliche is, than the 2009 group.
Is there the same fire? That's always a question for clubs attempting to repeat. I think so.
Determination: I haven't heard much of this, anyway. I'm sorry I even brought it up.
Conclusion: The Yankees were due for the sort of slowdown they've experienced the last couple of weeks, and sure, as a fan, you want the Yankees to have homefield advantage through the first two rounds, and that's in doubt now. In the bigger picture, however, it's hard to see the Yankees blowing a five-game lead (six in the loss column) to miss the postseason altogether.
And once they make the postseason? You know what they say: The hottest team wins it, rather than the best one. So who knows? But it's pretty much indisputable that the Yankees have the pieces necessary to win it all again.
Shoot, for $213 million, they'd better have the pieces. Am I right, people?
--Great win for the Mets last night, and really, while the manager and players should be thinking about winning every single night to make a miracle run, the front office should be thinking about getting this team in a place where it can feel at the end of the year that it has made progress. That means that Mike Pelfrey should build off last night, and approach the excellence he displayed at the start of the year, and it means young 'uns like Jon Niese, Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and Bobby Parnell build their cases that they can be viable major-league contributors, if not All-Stars.
Then, this winter, they should shop Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes - they'd be out of their minds to extend Reyes beyond his $11 million club option for 2011, IMO - and determine from there what direction to go in '11.
--How awesome was that Reds-Cardinals fight? Best I can remember seeing in a long time, and I can't ever recall one that was predicated by an off-the-field issue of a player (Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips) talking trash about the opponent to a newspaper. Of course, maybe the tension resulting from those words would've dissipated if not for Phillips' tradition of tapping the shin guards of the umpire and opposing catcher, which set off St. Louis' Yadier Molina.
--I'll check in tonight from Citi Field.