Friday, September 08, 2006

Movie Review: "Eight Men Out"

by Matt Sandler

“Say it Ain’t So, Joe”

There is much talk nowadays about the integrity of baseball, of how the recent home run records are tainted. There was also a minor scandal brewing a few weeks ago, in which Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca was said to have run up gambling debts, a charge he vehemently denied.

With this backdrop in mind, I recently viewed John Sayles’ “Eight Men Out” (1988), which shows the lowest moment in the sport’s history, the White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series to the Reds. Yes, I am including the Pete Rose scandal and all the strikes and lockouts when I say this is the low point in baseball history.

The movie does a wonderful job of evoking the time and place. We see kids playing stickball in the street, and needing just “two bits” (one quarter) to get into Comiskey Park. The players walk home from the ballpark into the neighborhoods where they live with the fans they know on a first-time basis. In general, it is a romanticized view of what many people miss about the game and players’ relationships with fans.

But of course, the movie does not shy away from showing the dark side of Chicago and other cities. Prohibition was on the horizon, but that did not stop people from willingly breaking the law. Some White Sox are amusedly shocked when one of their teammates decides to spend time with his wife on the road; clearly that is the time to spend with another woman. And then there is all the gambling, with the most powerful bookie being the New Yorker Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner). To these gamblers, talking about the integrity of the game would be laughable; it is all about maximizing their profit, no matter the damage to the sport.

The players are tempted to fix the World Series because, in short, their owner, Charles “Commie” Comiskey (Clifton James) is a greedy bastard. The most telling example of his greed is when respected veteran and family man Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn) approaches Comiskey at the end of the 1919 season to collect on a bonus Comiskey had promised if Cicotte won 30 games that year. Comiskey reminds him that he only won 29, but Cicotte points out that Comiskey forced manager William “Kid” Gleason (John Mahoney) to rest him for two weeks during the season. It is this act of naked greed that convinces Cicotte to join the fix.

The scam is led by first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil (Michael Rooker), who shows a remarkable lack of compunction about his acts. For him, it is all about sticking it to “Commie.”

The movie does a good job of keeping some of the figures sympathetic. Third baseman George “Buck” Weaver (John Cusack) is implicated as one of the eight, but seems to give maximum effort in the Series, and insists that he never took any money. The manager, Gleason, at first can’t believe at how poorly his favored Sox are playing in the Series, then he starts to catch on and is furious. But he can’t stop playing his best players, many of whom are among the eight, so he is in a no-win situation. He doesn’t know who is in on the fix. And then there is poor catcher Ray Schalk (Gordon Clapp), who plays the game with the fiery determination that we expect from all players, and knows something is amiss. He would eventually make the Hall of Fame.

Even the manager, Comiskey, has some redeeming qualities in that he cares about the integrity of his team and his sport. The scandal would lead the owners to install Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first commissioner to oversee the sport.

Most of all, the movie reminds us that besides being entertainment, baseball is a business. In business, there is money to be made, both aboveboard and illicitly. The idea of the romanticized old times is clearly a myth. At the beginning of the film, Comiskey is discussing his powerhouse of a team with reporters as it is about to clinch the pennant. Odds are already being set for the World Series, and Comiskey is confident. He says, “A bet against my White Sox is a sucker’s bet.” Well, the entire American public turned out to be the suckers.

Matt Sandler's column, "The Critical Fan", appears alternate Fridays.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

My Take on the NL Wild-Card Race

by Scott Silversten

If you are reading this column, you are probably a fan of a particular team: The New York Yankees or Mets, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland Athletics, the Cincinnati Reds.

However, if you are reading this column, chances are you are also a fan of the sport of baseball. Not just your particular team, but everything the word “baseball” encompasses.

Count me as someone who definitely falls into that second category, a lover of everything the sport has to offer, from the dusty fields of the minor leagues to the cathedrals that are major league ballparks, from the first tosses of spring training to the chill of postseason October action.

All this brings me to the National League wild card race. Since I love everything about baseball, I have always had a hard time rooting against any particular team. Sure, I have my allegiances, but for the most part, I root for great stories, longer series and more intrigue.

However, when it comes to the NL wild card race, I don’t know how to really root. There are so many great stories and so many teams that I would like to see reach October, that even now, with just 3 ½ weeks remaining in the regular season, I’m unable to decide which NL teams I’d like to see reach the postseason.

I do know which team I’m not rooting for to reach October (more on that later), but trust me, it’s nothing personal.

There are currently six teams (and that is being very kind to Atlanta) looking up at the top of the NL wild card chase, which still have a reasonable chance of catching the San Diego Padres, and all of them present an intriguing storyline for October:

Philadelphia Phillies – It appeared the Phillies had given up with the trade of outfielder Bobby Abreu and starting pitcher Cory Lidle prior at the July 31st deadline. But the Phillies have gotten hot since dealing the duo and are being led by probable-NL Most Valuable Player Ryan Howard, who could reach the 60-homer mark.

Florida Marlins – This would be the best story of them all. Many were predicting back in March that the Marlins would be hard-pressed to surpass the 50-victory plateau. Now in early September they find themselves hovering around the break-even mark. With every win, manager Joe Girardi is adding zeros to his future paychecks.

Cincinnati Reds – Much like the Marlins, the Reds were a hot pick to finish last in their division prior to the season. Their pitching staff was supposed to be horrendous. But despite recent struggles, Cincinnati is well within striking distance of the Padres, who they will host for three games next week. In addition, who wouldn’t welcome the chance to see center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. perform in October for the first time since 1997?

San Francisco Giants – I must admit, there are just two words that can sum up why we should root for the Giants to reach the postseason … Barry Bonds. Even those who despise BALCO’s favorite son must admit that it’s hard to take their eyes off of him. Bonds has started to hit with more power in the last two weeks, and it would be fun to watch opposing managers finagle their way around him in crucial October situations.

Houston Astros – Although they wouldn’t admit it, the Astros are definitely the team that likely scares other possible NL opponents the most. If Houston does find its way into the playoffs, the trio of starting pitchers (Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte) will make it a real tough out, especially in the short five-game Division Series.

Atlanta Braves – While the Braves run of regular season success was bound to come to a conclusion sooner of later, it doesn’t make what they have accomplished over the last decade and a half any less remarkable. It’s impossible not to root for the organization, even if most non-baseball fans who only embrace the sport come October would be bored by another year of postseason competition in front of a less-than-enthusiastic Turner Field crowd.

As for the one team I seem to be rooting against, that would be the Padres. As stated, it really isn’t anything personal. Having Mike Piazza in the postseason would be nice, and San Diego features an intriguing young rotation of Jake Peavy, Clay Hensley and Chris Young. Maybe I’d feel differently about the Padres if they would have put up more of a fight in last year’s NLDS, but they didn’t- so at least for now, they are the ire of my eye.

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On the 25th Anniversary of Baseball's Craziest Season- 1981

by Alan Eliot

This week on Wild-Card Wednesdays, we profile the year 1981- a year where most teams played between 100-110 games and where eight teams made the playoffs- a group that did not include the Reds, holders of the best record in MLB. A crazy year, indeed.

On a cursory glance, 1981 seems like one of the more interesting in this history of baseball (rather than one of most embarrassing). The highlights of the year that most people remember- WS Champ, hitting/pitching awards, are interesting in and of themselves, and belie the oddity of the season:
  • The Dodgers were World Champions, beating the Yankees in six games. There was major history between the two clubs- between 1941 and 1980 they had met in the World Series a whopping nine times, with the Yankees going 7-2 in those contests (wins in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1977 and 1978, and losses in 1955 and 1963). Yankees and Mets rivalry? Nothing compared to what the Dodgers have historically felt towards the men in pinstripes. So a win in 1981 was huge for the men in Dodger blue.
  • NL MVP went to Mike Schmidt who hit .316 with 31 HR. He'd retire with three total MVP awards. Nothing abnormal here.
  • NL Cy Young went to a rookie. Fernando Valenzuela beat out four men for the award- all future HOFer's: Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and Bruce Sutter. It goes without saying that FV also won ROY.
  • AL MVP was also the AL Cy Young Award winner: Rollie Fingers, a reliever.
Still, with underdogs turning the tides on dominant Pinstripe history, with rookies winning Cy Youngs and Cy Youngs winning MVPs- these things still pale in comparison with what actually occurred in 1981.

A strike called by the player's union on June 12 led to no baseball for two months. Every team missed 50+ games. The issue at hand was free agent compensation: owners wanted more control over their players becoming free agents and signing with other teams, so the owners were pushing for legislation that would give them rights to take a player in return from the team that signed their FA. Under this agreement, teams would be able to protect 12 players from being taken as compensation, but any other player, including rising minor league stars, would be open game.

Ridiculous. This meant that signing a FA meant losing a player of your own- and of course, from a player's standpoint, this would significantly curb the FA market.

Without going into gory detail, an agreement was finally reached where owners would get some compensation for losing a "premium" player, selected from a pool of all MLB teams.

So baseball resumed. Of course, now into August, and looking at a 110-game-maximum schedule, decisions had to be made. Will there be playoffs, and who goes? What should have been a very simple decision (Yes, there should be playoffs. The team with the best record overall in their division goes to the playoffs, just like every other year) was not.

Instead, it was decided in August that
1. retroactively, teams who were leading their divisions when the strike started in June would automatically have playoff spots. They would be "First-half division champions", and there would be four of them: Phillies, Dodgers, Yankees and A's. Hence, those four teams knew, in the beginning of August, that they were playoff bound.
2. All other teams would be fighting for four more playoff spots during the second half of the season. Essentially the season would start anew, and only second-half records would count for playoff eligibility.
3. All eight teams would be paired up in an ALDS/NLDS of five games, before the winner moving onto the normal ALCS/NLCS and then the World Series.

Of course, this begs the question- what if the same team, say the Phillies in the NL East, were to win the two halves of the season? Logically, one would say, "give then a bye to the NLCS". Logic, however, did not predominate in the 1981 season. Instead, owners decided that even if a team won both halves of the season, they would still have to play the 2nd place team in their division from the 2nd-half of the season. Following?

These rules were in place before play resumed. One can imagine that incentive for the four teams already "in the playoffs" was nonexistent- winning all or none of their remaining games had zero effect on any possible outcomes- someone else in their division would make the playoffs no matter what, and they would have to play them. Records demonstrate that those four "champion" teams hovered right around .500 for the rest of the season . Here is the breakdown of that year's two seasons, according to B-Ref:

First Half of Season, NL

East Division
Team W L WL% GB
Phildlpa PHI 34 21 .618 --
St.Louis STL 30 20 .600 --
Montreal MON 30 25 .545 --
Pittsbgh PIT 25 23 .521 --
NewYorkM NYM 17 34 .333 --
ChicagoC CHC 15 37 .288 --
West Division
Team W L WL% GB
LosAngls LAD 36 21 .632 --
Cincnnti CIN 35 21 .625 --
Houston HOU 28 29 .491 --
Atlanta ATL 25 29 .463 --
SanFranc SFG 27 32 .458 --
SanDiego SDP 23 33 .411 --

Second Half of Season

East Division
Team W L WL% GB
Montreal MON 30 23 .566 --
St.Louis STL 29 23 .558 --
Phildlpa PHI 25 27 .481 --
NewYorkM NYM 24 28 .462 --
ChicagoC CHC 23 28 .451 --
Pittsbgh PIT 21 33 .389 --
West Division
Team W L WL% GB
Houston HOU 33 20 .623 --
Cincnnti CIN 31 21 .596 --
SanFranc SFG 29 23 .558 --
LosAngls LAD 27 26 .509 --
Atlanta ATL 25 27 .481 --
SanDiego SDP 18 36 .333 --

Overall Record
East Division
Team W L WL% GB
St.Louis STL 59 43 .578 --
Montreal MON 60 48 .556 2.0
Phildlpa PHI 59 48 .551 2.5
Pittsbgh PIT 46 56 .451 13.0
NewYorkM NYM 41 62 .398 18.5
ChicagoC CHC 38 65 .369 21.5
West Division
Team W L WL% GB
Cincnnti CIN 66 42 .611 --
LosAngls LAD 63 47 .573 4.0
Houston HOU 61 49 .555 6.0
SanFranc SFG 56 55 .505 11.5
Atlanta ATL 50 56 .472 15.0
SanDiego SDP 41 69 .373 26.0

First Half of Season, AL

East Division
Team W L WL% GB
NewYorkY NYY 34 22 .607 --
Bltmore BAL 31 23 .574 --
Milwkee MIL 31 25 .554 --
Detroit DET 31 26 .544 --
BostonRS BOS 30 26 .536 --
Clvlnd CLE 26 24 .520 --
Toronto TOR 16 42 .276 --
West Division
Team W L WL% GB
Oakland OAK 37 23 .617 --
Texas TEX 33 22 .600 --
ChicagoW CHW 31 22 .585 --
Califrna CAL 31 29 .517 --
KansasCy KCR 20 30 .400 --
Seattle SEA 21 36 .368 --
Minnesta MIN 17 39 .304 --

Second Half of Season

East Division
Team W L WL% GB
Milwkee MIL 31 22 .585 --
BostonRS BOS 29 23 .558 --
Detroit DET 29 23 .558 --
Bltmore BAL 28 23 .549 --
Clvlnd CLE 26 27 .491 --
NewYorkY NYY 25 26 .490 --
Toronto TOR 21 27 .438 --
West Division
Team W L WL% GB
KansasCy KCR 30 23 .566 --
Oakland OAK 27 22 .551 --
Texas TEX 24 26 .480 --
Minnesta MIN 24 29 .453 --
Seattle SEA 23 29 .442 --
ChicagoW CHW 23 30 .434 --
Califrna CAL 20 30 .400 --

Overall Record
East Division
Team W L WL% GB
Milwkee MIL 62 47 .569 --
Bltmore BAL 59 46 .562 1.0
NewYorkY NYY 59 48 .551 2.0
Detroit DET 60 49 .550 2.0
BostonRS BOS 59 49 .546 2.5
Clvlnd CLE 52 51 .505 7.0
Toronto TOR 37 69 .349 23.5
West Division
Team W L WL% GB
Oakland OAK 64 45 .587 --
Texas TEX 57 48 .543 5.0
ChicagoW CHW 54 52 .509 8.5
KansasCy KCR 50 53 .485 11.0
Califrna CAL 51 59 .464 13.5
Seattle SEA 44 65 .404 20.0
Minnesta MIN 41 68 .376 23.0
You may have noticed in the above records that the Reds and Cardinals, who possessed the two best overall records in the NL, nonetheless did not qualify for the playoffs due to the owners' kooky rules. In crazy 1981, 31% of teams made the playoffs- and arguably the two best ones had to watch from home in October. At the very least, this injustice did not extend to the AL, where the overall AL East and AL West best-record-holders had won a "half-season crown" and made the playoffs.

Lastly, notice that the Royals, at 50-53 overall, made the playoffs- in 1981, 9/14 AL teams were .500+ overall, but baseball watched the Royals play postseason ball.

In January 1981, Whitey Herzog noted:
"Before long, you can look for some teams to go bankrupt, like the Minnesota Twins. The Twins and some other clubs just can't afford to compete for salaries the way things are set up. I think the bankruptcies will start in two or three years. (source)"
We all know how badly the Twins performed in the late 80's and early 90's, proving Whitey to be true. All joking aside, however, this feeling of looming crisis by baseball management led to a disasterous season based in panic and illogical thinking. It was baseball at its most base- selfish- and players from 1981 should take the blame with the owners. The issue of staying competitive for clubs still remains, however, 25 years later. Let's hope whatever crises loom for baseball in the future get handled with more foresight and class than those in 1981, or the mid-90's for that matter.

In the end, as 1981 passes into distant memory, baseball would do well to remember more than just that the Dodgers won it, or that Schmidt and Fingers were MVP's.

"Wild-Card Wednesdays" appears alternate Wednesdays

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What Are the Chances the Team with the Best Record Makes the World Series?

by Alan Eliot

Is there a correlation between having the best league record and making the World Series (WS)? How about winning it?

Right now, it's a pretty good time to be a Mets fan. Barring catastrophe, at 84-52, a full 11 games ahead of the 73-63 Cardinals, they should easily finish with the best record in the NL. In the AL, we're looking at possibly the Tigers or Yankees taking home best record in the AL. Most likely.

The question is, however- does it matter? I mean, other than (short-lived) bragging rights?

To answer this question, it is very useful to look at the history of the postseason. The postseason has always been a time of high drama, but not all postseasons have been created alike. In fact, to better analyze the facts, I'd separate the history of the playoffs into three distinct eras: 1903-1968, 1969-1993, and 1995-present. The reasons why will be evident momentarily.

1. Survival of the Fittest: 1903-1968
Chances, of making the World Series (WS), if you had your league's best record: 100%
No, this is not a typo. And it has nothing to do with ridiculous playoff luck. From 1903 (with the creation of an official World Series) up until 1968, there was no such thing as "playoffs". There were no "divisions". There was an AL. There was an NL. Every team in the AL was vying for one spot in the "postseason", aka the WS. Same goes for the NL.

Until 1960, the AL had 8 teams (became 10 in 1961). Until 1961, the NL had 8 teams (became 10 in 1962). In this era, from 1903-1968, the team with the best record in the AL played the team with the best record in the NL in the WS. It actually makes bookkeeping very easy- if you know that the NY Giants played in the 1954 World Series, you know they had the NL's best record that year. Simple.

Did record have any impact on predicting a winner in the World Series? Let's take a look. In that era, 65 WS's were played (the only skip occurred in 1904). In 63 of them, the two teams had different records. The team with the better record won 35/63 of the WS's or 55.6% of the time.

In that dog-eat-dog era of "be the best or else", the team with the better record was more likely to win the WS. But not by much.

2. The Age of Divisions (1969-1993)
Interesting Percentages:
a. Years where team with NL's best record did not make WS: 12/25, or 48%
b. Years where team with AL's best record did not make WS: 9/25 or 36%

In 1969, MLB decided to try a new format, dividing each league into two divisions: West and East. Most of us are familiar with this format, where the teams with the best record in each division would make the playoffs, and play each other. Hence, from 1969-1993, four teams made the postseason (as opposed to two in the years prior), and it meant that there would be teams in contention for a championship who did not have their league's best record.

Some interesting facts from this era (25 WS):
a. As noted earlier, the NL team with the best record reached the WS 13 times (52%), and won it 6 times (24%)
- they didn't make the playoffs one memorable time (more below)
b. The AL team with the best record reached the WS 16 times (64%), and won it 8 times (32%). Note, however, that in two years the best record holder was guaranteed to reach the Series, since both AL teams had the same record: 1971, with the A's and O's and 1992, with the A's and Blue Jay's.
c. The above means that 44% of the time, the World Series Champ did not even have their league's best record. Under 1903-1968 rules, they would not have even been eligible to play in the World Series.
d. Crazy 1981 - This season was infamously split into two "mini-seasons". The respective winners of each mini-season met in the playoffs that year (each division had two mini-season winners), meaning that eight teams made the playoffs that year. However crazy it sounds, the holder of the best record in baseball, the Cincinnatti Reds, did not even make the playoffs. This is because they didn't "win" the West in either mini-season, even though overall their combined record of 66-42 was tops in MLB. St. Louis, which had the best combined record in the NL East, was similarly shafted from the playoffs. That year, having the NL's best record gave you a 0% chance of winning the WS!

Of the teams that met in the WS, the team with the better record won 12 times, or 48% of the time.

This era saw teams who had dominated the leagues not make the World Series - for the first time in history. Granted, we have a small sample size of 25, but a few things were apparent:
1. the team with the best record in their league more often than the other team made it to the WS (in the NL not by much, in the AL more so)
2. surprisingly, more often than not the team with the worse record among the two competitors won the WS.

That is, having your league's best record meant you were slightly more likely than the other team to make it to the WS. Once there, records didn't matter in determining the winner.

3. The Age of the Wild-Card (1995-2005)
Interesting Percentages:
a. Years where team with NL's best record did not make WS: 7/11 or 64%
b. Years where team with AL's best record did not make WS: 6/11 or 55% (This group famously includes the 116 win Mariners in 2001, who lost in the ALCS)

Following a year in 1994 when many fans got fed up with the game, baseball execs decided to spice up the game in 1995 by adding a Wild Card, and by splitting each league into three divisions. Now, the best non-division winning team would also get a berth in the playoffs. This created some more

Interesting Facts (11 total World Series):
c. Years an NL Wild-Card team won the WS: 2 (Marlins, 1997 and 2003).
Years an NL-best-record team won the WS: 1 (Braves 1995)
d. Years an NL Wild-Card team made the WS: 5 (Marlins 1997, Mets 2000, Giants 2002, Marlins 2003, Astros 2005)
Years an NL-best-record team made the WS: 4 (Braves 1995, 1996 and 1999, Cardinals 2004)

e. Years an AL Wild-Card team won the WS: 2 (Angels 2002 and Red Sox 2004).
Years an AL-best-record team won the WS: 3 (Yankees 1998 and 1999, White Sox 2005).
f. Years an AL Wild-Card team made the WS: 2 (Angels 2002 and Red Sox 2004)
Years an AL-Best-Record team made th WS: 5 (Indians 1995, Yankees 1998, 1999 and 2003, White Sox 2005)

Other fun facts:
a. The team with the better record between the two only won the WS 4/11 times.
b. The Yankees are 3-0 in World Series where they have the worse record (1996, 1999, 2000). They are 1-2 when they have the better record (1998, 2001, 2003).
c. The NL-best-record team has lost in the first round 4/11 years (Giants 2000, Astros AND Cards-tied- 2001, Braves 2002 and 2003). The NL-Wild Card team has lost in the first round only 4/11 years, and haven't since 2001. (Rockies 1995, Dodgers 1996, Cubs 1998, Cardinals 2001)
d. The AL-best-record team has lost in the first round 3/11 years (Indians 1996, White Sox 2000, Yankees and A's 2002). The AL-Wild-Card team has lost in the first round 5/11 years (Yankees 1995 and 1997, Red Sox 1998, A's 2001, Red Sox 2005)

As number of teams making the the playoffs has increased, we start to see a trend toward randomness, where teams with the best records are doing no better than Wild-Card teams. Over time, the more teams that have been added to the playoffs, having the best-record becomes more and more meaningless. So far, in the Wild-Card era, if you make the postseason, it very much is anyone's playoffs. Once again, we also see that in the World Series, record is also meaningless.

Overall Conclusion:
People who claim that records become meaningless in the playoffs are right, sort of. This has panned out in the recent Wild-Card era, but remember that this is a very small sample size. The relative abundance of Wild-Card teams in World Series since 1995 may be fluky, or it may point to a true phenomenon (if you make it, everyone has an equal chance of winning). Only time and more statistics will shed light on this matter.

What we do know is that (again, keeping in mind sample sizes) before 1995, having the best record did confer a playoff advantage, albeit slight- you were more likely to make the World Series: from 1969-1993, this was more obvious with AL teams, and less so with NL teams. Before the modern era of divisions from 1968 and before, where only the AL's and NL's best record teams made the World Series, the better record teams between the two were more likely to win the WS, also albeit slightly. This World Series advantage based on record has not proven to be the case since divisional play, and in fact record has no predictive value since 1969 in determining the outcome of the WS.

What does this mean for the Mets, or Tigers, or Yankees? No matter how strongly they dominated their leagues this year, many just like them in the Wild-Card era have made quick exits from the playoffs. Given how well Wild-Card teams have fared recently, they might do well to hope that the Wild-Card team comes from their own division, so as not to have to face them in the first round. Having the best record, when all is said and done, probably correlates with a very slight advantage in the playoffs. Historically, this has been so. That being said, given eight teams, the team with the best record in their league is far, far more likely not to make the World Series than to make it- much less win it.

That is, the Mets may be most likely of all four NL teams to make it to the World Series, but the other three teams combined are far more likely to make it than the Mets. Individually, no. However, no matter who makes it to the World Series, we can say with confidence that at that point, records don't correlate with winners.

Alan Eliot
's column, "The Stories We Tell", appears alternate Tuesdays

Monday, September 04, 2006

Yanks vs. Mets: A Subway Series Preview

by Doug Silversten

It is hard to believe, but it was just a few short weeks ago that there was a real question of whether or not the New York Yankees streak of eleven consecutive years of making the playoffs was going to come to an end. Well, there answer is now clear. As painful as this realization is for the entire Yankee-hating world, the answer is…“Yes.” The Yankees will be playing October baseball.

And so will the Mets.

That’s all we know for certain. As I have argued in previous columns, the playoffs are a crapshoot. Nothing is guaranteed. Yes, the Mets are by far the best team in the NL. And that means….pretty much nothing when game 1 of their NLDS begins. I would not be shocked if the Mets go three and out. I would not be shocked if the NL Wild Card team, who barely has an above .500 record, goes on a hot streak, knocking out the Mets and the AL Champion. That’s how it works in baseball. It is part of the reason why baseball is the best sport.

However, having said that, it’s always fun to speculate, and a rematch of the 2000 Subway Series is a real possibility. Thus, I thought it would be fun to do a little position-by-position comparison of the two teams. And, before we get to it, one big disclaimer: this also means….pretty much nothing when the first pitch is thrown. The Red Sox, even with all their injuries, would certainly win a position versus position analysis vs. the Royals, Mariners and Devil Rays, yet they were recently swept by the last-place Royals and the last-place Mariners and lost two of three to the last-place Devil Rays. It happens. That’s baseball. So, everything you are about to read is absolutely meaningless if they ever met on the field. But it’s still a fun idea for a column…

First Base
Carlos Delgado has had a resurgence in recent weeks, and is still one of the most dangerous hitters in the Mets lineup. However, I’d still give the advantage to the Yankees. Since his early season struggles last year, Giambi has been on fire and hasn’t really slowed down. While Delgado has some solid numbers – 35 HRs, 98 RBIs – his OBP of .369 is actually his lowest since 1997. On the other hand, Giambi is an on-base machine (.410) and has a higher SLG (.576 to Delgado’s .565) to boot. Advantage: Yankees

Second Base
I know Jose Valentin has been a pleasant surprise for the Mets, but he is still Jose Valentin. And while I think Robinson Cano is overrated, he has been on fire since coming off the DL. And he’s certainly better than Jose Valentin. Advantage: Yankees

Regular readers of Baseball For Thought know that I am not the biggest Reyes fan. However, I have to say, he’s won me over. My biggest concern was always his inability to take pitches and draw walks. Well, with a healthy .351 OBP, he is now one of the best leadoff hitters in all of baseball. I admit, I never thought his OBP would get this high. Having said that though, he’s no Captain Intangibles. Derek Jeter is having an MVP-type season. He is in the top 10 in the AL in AVG, OBP, R, H and SBs. A .421 OBP from your shortstop is a powerful weapon. The Yankee lineup really is amazing. Advantage: Yankees

Third Base
Do the Mets have an advantage in at least one infield position? If it’s anywhere, it’s at third base. David Wright has been pretty disappointing since the All-Star break, but his overall numbers are still solid across the board. I think he may soon be the best player in New York, although he is not quite there yet. But is he at the point that he is superior to A-Rod? Well, it’s close. For all A-Rod’s struggles, and he certainly has struggled this year, his numbers are comparable to Wright’s. I’m not going to get into the whole “clutch” thing, as that is another column in itself, so let’s stick to the numbers. So, who has the advantage here? Let’s take a quick comparison of the two most important numbers:

D-Wright: .379 OBP, .533 SLG
A-Rod: .379 OBP, .505 SLG

Hmmm. Close. All the counting stats are similar: HRs, RBIs, Rs, etc. OK, I’m taking the easy way out. Advantage: Push

Another close one. Posada is still one of the best catchers in all of baseball, but the gap is not that big and Lo Duca has put up solid numbers in his first season in New York. His defense has been stellar as well. What do the numbers say?

Posada: .371 OBP, .455 SLG
Lo Duca: .355 OBP, .425 SLG

Not much difference there. If you put stock in “playoff experience,” you certainly take Posada. Of course, I think that is meaningless. But you know, I’d still rather have Posada. I just think he is better. Advantage: Yankees

Who would you rather have: Beltran, Green and Chavez or Damon, Cabrera and Abreu? Tough call. Beltran is the best of all six players, but if I ranked them top to bottom, 2 and 3 would be Abreu and Damon. Green is fading fast, but I’d rather have him than Cabrera, so I’d put him 4th. And Cabera is superior to Chavez. However, if Matsui and/or Sheffield come back, the advantage certainly swings to the Yankees. Who knows with injuries though? But I am about to be very optimistic with some Met injuries in the Starting Pitching section, so I am going to be just as so here. Advantage: Yankees

Starting Pitching
This one depends on the status of the Mets injured starters. With Pedro out and Glavine unimpressive in his first start back from an injury, I’d have to give the advantage to the Yankees. Wang has been impressive all-year, Mussina is still and above-average starter and Randy Johnson is, well….Wang and Mussina are two solid starters. For both ballclubs, the starting staff is the biggest question mark. Both teams have solid offenses, but who can they rely on come October on the mound. If, and this is a big if, Pedro and Glavine are fine, I’d have to give the advantage to the Mets. Maybe this is false confidence, but I don’t get too worried about Pedro. I just have a feeling he is going to dominate come the playoffs. Glavine has plenty of time to get back in the groove. Trachsel’s season has been incredibly fluky, as discussed in Rob’s column on Friday, but he is still fine for a Game 3 start vs Randy. El Duque, Lidle, and all the other 4/5 starts on both teams are a dime a dozen. So, who has the advantage? Right now. Yankees. But in this hypothetical World Series which may never come, I am allowed to also say hypothetically that Pedro and Glavine are in top form for its start. Advantage: Hypothetically, the Mets

If either team takes a 1 run lead into the 9th inning, I’d certainly feel safer with Rivera on the mound than Wagner. However, that’s only one piece of the bullpen and the Mets middle relief – Mota, Heilman, Hernandez, Bradford, Oliver etc. – has been superior all year than the Yankees mix of Farnsworth, Proctor, Sturtze, Villone, Myers etc. And while I absolutely feel Rivera is the best closer in the history of baseball (and still is the best), Wagner is not exactly chopped liver. The advantage the Yanks have in the 9th is not enough to make up for the gap in the middle innings in case a start can’t go 8. Advantage: Mets

There you have it folks. In a meaningless comparison, the Yankees certainly prevail. No surprise here. Despite the absence of Sheffield and Matsui, the Yankee lineup really is absolutely unreal. Despite losing arguably two of their best offensive weapons, the Yankees still lead all of baseball in runs scored. And while the Mets have the arms advantage, it is very close, and one can easily argue in the other direction for the starters and bullpen, especially given the uncertainty around Pedro and Glavine. In fact, the Yankees could have the advantage in every category above. Overall, one thing is clear: the Yankees are a superior team. And since the playoffs are indeed a crapshoot, that won’t change no matter what happens come October.

Doug Silversten's column, "The Big Picture", appears alternate Mondays
"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine

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