Friday, September 15, 2006

Unless you can take a Subway to Detroit, I opt to skip another Subway Series

by Rob Hyman

Unlike many of the Mets fans who write for Baseball For Thought, I'm not a Yankee hater by any means. I don't root for them, but I don't root against them either. To me, they are just another team in the American League - a league that I pay much less attention to.

So when I say I do not want the Mets and Yankees to play in the World Series, it's not because I don't want the Yankees to make it for any spiteful reasons. I'd just rather see another team in the spotlight.

Here are my Top 5 reasons that I don't want to see the Mets play the Yankees in the World Series:

1) It's the Mets' turn to own the city. For once it would be nice if New York could focus its energy on the Mets. They're always in the background and regardless of what happens this season, they'll continue to be. But for a couple of weeks, it would be nice if the Yanks weren't even a topic of discussion. The Mets most recent post-season run became less about them and more about the Yankees and the Subway Series. All that extra attention is a distraction from what the World Series is supposed to be.

2) As someone who is not in favor of a salary cap, having a mid- to low-range salary team make the World Series helps to prove the point that a salary cap is not necessary. The competitive balance in baseball is just fine without it. At the same time, the Yankees not making the World Series helps prove that there are diminishing returns to spending money on talent. The Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and Oakland A's are 14th, 19th and 21st in team payroll respectively.

3) There are some real superstars west of the Hudson river that get little national exposure. The Twins' Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are two of the best hitters in the game today, but who in New York has heard of them? Then there's Detroit's pitching staff of Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson. This trio could become a dominant force for years to come and it would be great for them to be able to shine on a national spotlight.

4) The Mets, as any home team does, deserves to have 100% of the crowd behind them at their home games. If there's a Subway Series, there will inevitably be a 50/50 split in the crowd.

5) Okay so the biggest reason that I don't want the Mets to play the Yankees is very simply - the Mets will lose in six games.

And unfortunately, I think that is just what is going to happen.

Rob Hyman's column, "The Weekend Warrior", appears alternate Friday's.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Perception vs. Reality: Yankees can win without Rivera and Jeter

by Scott Silversten

Perception vs. Reality.

Oh, what a fierce battle they wage.

And no place does that fight occur more often than in the Bronx, where supporters of the New York Yankees have for decades felt they were smarter or more cerebral than their counterparts in other cities. If only that was actually the reality of the situation.

In New York, the perception is that Alex Rodriguez NEVER gets a big hit and that David Ortiz ALWAYS comes through in the big spot.

During his years in pinstripes, Paul O’Neill was considered the ultimate warrior who would do anything to win. In reality, if he had worn a different uniform, Yankees fans might have realized that O’Neill hardly ever ran hard when it appeared he would be out, and by taking out his frustrations on the nearest water cooler or bat rack, he often put himself at physical risk.

The perception that pervades Yankee Stadium in current days is that the two most valuable members of the team are Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, and that without them in the lineup or on the mound, there is no chance of success. Once again, it is another perception that carries no truth.

Let’s start with Jeter, who according to all the baseball pundits, is in the running for this year’s American League Most Valuable Player honor. In the Bronx, they don’t yell, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Rather, the battle cry is, “It’s the intangibles, stupid.”

Well, call me stupid, because I would have a hard time casting my MVP vote (if I had one) for a player with fewer home runs than Jose Valentin. Jeter is an incredibly gifted player, especially when it comes to baseball intelligence, but does that intelligence really equal the difference in homers between the Yankees shortstop and Chicago outfielder Jermaine Dye (41).

The fact of that matter is that in one of Jeter’s best offensive seasons, his numbers pale in comparison to the likes of Dye, Boston’s David Ortiz and even teammate Rodriguez, who has suffered through arguably his worst campaign at the plate (we’ll save the defensive discussion for another day).

While it came off as petty and stinking of sour grapes, there is a lot of truth to the recent comments by Ortiz that Jeter should try life in the Red Sox lineup. Swap Ortiz for Jeter, and the Red Sox would have been playing meaningless games in June.

The notion that the Yankees can’t win without Jeter is nonsense, simply because of the shear amount of talent with which he is surrounded. When the Yankees lost their shortstop for 36 contests following an Opening Day injury in 2004, all they did was start 26-10.

There is no apologizing for circumstance, but Jeter has always been in a lineup with superior hitters, from O’Neill to Bernie Williams to Jason Giambi to Rodriguez. Not once in his sterling career has he been the most valuable offensive player to his team, let alone in the AL.

As for the intangible aspect, that’s impossible to measure, and it’s also what makes this year’s MVP debate so delicious.

Then there is Rivera, who has often been proclaimed the most valuable Yankee of the Joe Torre era. While I’ll always side with a position player like Williams or Rodriguez who is in the lineup for 160 games and posts tremendous numbers with strong defense, there is no doubting Rivera’s value. He is the best ever at his position.

However, once again, it’s silly to assume the Yankees can’t win without their closer, who has yet to pitch in September this year. And with October creeping up quickly, it would definitely behoove the team to get the right-hander back on the mound soon.

But even without Rivera, I give you five reasons why the Yankees could definitely still win the World Series without him at the back end of the bullpen:

1. The Arizona Diamondbacks
2. The Anaheim Angels
3. The Florida Marlins
4. The Boston Red Sox
5. The Chicago White Sox

Those five teams have won the last five World Series titles, and none of them had Rivera and all of them had fewer marquee stars in both the lineup and on the pitching staff. In fact, I had to look up who closed for the 2003 Marlins (Braden Looper or Ugueth Urbina, depending on your point of view), and let’s not forget the pitiful performance of Arizona’s closer in the 2001 World Series.

The point is this: No one player is so valuable that a strong team cannot overcome his absence. That’s especially for true baseball, an essentially individual sport in which the performance of one player is independent of the performance of his teammates.

Take away Jeter or Rivera for any length of time this season, and a strong case can be made that the Yankees position in the standings would be exactly the same.

If you want to know what a true MVP looks like, take away Ryan Howard from the Philadelphia Phillies. Now that’s an MVP.

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

NL Wild Card Race (Ryan Howard is Awesome)

by Sam Sowl

At this point, I don't care about the AL Wild Card race. If the White Sox deserve it, they'll win it. If they don't, the Twins sure as hell deserve it. Of course, there's a good chance both teams will make the playoffs and it will be the Tigers that fall off (which is my prediction). There's really not much else to say about it; three of the top teams in baseball, two spots (one being the AL central crown) = a pretty awesome team is going home. Which leads me to the juxtaposition that has been the American and the National Leagues this year. In the NL, it's six mediocre teams, one spot = somebody's gotta win it, right? So I guess the only question we have left is who...

Houston Astros (4.5 Games back):

Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: In 15 starts this season, Roger Clemens has a 2.27 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP, and opponents are hitting .228 against him. And he has six wins. Six wins! With those stats he should have twice that many. It appears the Astros' hitters are allergic to giving him run support. And they might have those small seasonal allergies for the rest of their pitching staff. Thus, it's no surprise they are last in the NL in batting average, and have barely scored more runs than the Brewers.

Why they might still make it in the NL: They came out of nowhere last year and ended up in the World Series. They have basically the same team, and they're pitching is only getting better. Oh, and they have this guy on their team named Lance Berkman, too.

Cincinnati Reds (2.5 Games back):

Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: So far this year, 28 different pitchers have pitched for the Reds. I think I heard that they've dismantled their Triple-A club, put that team's entire pitching staff in their bullpen, and somehow convinced Bud Selig that it was OK because they were called "Reds 2.0". A week ago, Sun Woo-Kim made his first start for them since being cut by the Expos (that's right, I still call them that) back in June, lowering his ERA to 12.75 after a five inning performance. At least they haven't signed Sidney Ponson 2.0 yet.

Why they might still make it in the NL: It seems like every other day, one of their seven backup catchers hits a walk-off home run. These guys can rake. Every guy in their lineup is a good hitter with power, except definitely Royce Clayton, who makes up for his lack of power with bad haircuts.

San Francisco Giants (1.5 Games back):

Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: Barry Bonds. He makes 70 million dollars a year to have a Matt Stairs like season. Ever wonder why their next biggest superstar is Omar Vizquel?

Why they might still make it in the NL: Barry Bonds. I remember when this guy came back at the end of last year, when his team had nothing to play for. He still hit the ball, and far. This year, it's crunch time, and somehow his team is still there. The greatest players of all time show up in times like these. Wouldn't pushing the Giants into the playoffs and possibly beyond be a great way for Barry to put all his critics to rest?

Philadelphia Phillies (2 Games back):

Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: Didn't these guys trade one of their best players a month ago? Somebody in charge there must have thought they were out of it. I doubt it's easy for players to have a winning attitude on a team that's already given up on them.

Why they might still make it in the NL: And yet they're still here, right in the thick of it. There is also three big reasons why the Phillies could win this thing. 1. Ryan Howard. 2. Ryan Howard. 3. Ryan Howard. This guy is the real deal. NL MVP in my book even if he doesn't play another game all season. I read something the other day that the Maris family will acknowledge Ryan Howard as the true record-breaker of Roger's home run record, since McGwire and Bonds use supplements to make them stronger. Which is illegal... Anyways, I think the Maris family just likes getting free tickets to games so they can give these home run hitters a bunch of hugs. I know I would.

Florida Marlins (2 Games back):

Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: How long have you been watching baseball? There are no feel good stories in the AL. The Yankees win every year. Teams that attempt to spend as much as the Yankees have chances of winning every year. And teams that have Billy Beane as their GM have chances of winning every year. Not one of those teams? Sorry, try joining the NL (hey, it's starting to work for the Brewers). Have a feel good story? Try moving to Florida.

Why they might still make it in the NL: Because they're my new favorite team, and I hope they win it. Need any more reasons? How about because just about everybody else feels the same way as I do! I would have to say if there were a prayer/luck department, the Marlins would be on top. They seem to have everything going for them. They have 20 year old rookies tossing no-hitters, rule-5 draft picks hitting 25 homers, and Joe Girardi is their manager (still, for all you Cubs fans with your tongues out),

San Diego Padres (Current leader):

Why they wouldn't cut it in the AL: Yes they have good pitching, but quick - name the 3,4,5 hitters on the Padres. Yup, thought you couldn't. I think Ryan Klesko might lead their team in home runs, with 22. Whoops, it's actually Adrian Gonzalez with 21. Just to put that in perspective, Ryan Howard has 56. Sorry, I just can't get over how awesome he is. This is only his second year!

Why they might still make it in the NL: They won't, actually. Sorry Padres fans, this team isn't going anywhere. They wasted everyone's time being in the playoffs last year (yeah, that's the team you always forget about when you try to recall what happened last year), and I don't think the baseball Gods will allow that to happen again. Well that's what they told me...or at least that's what I've surmised.

Sam Sowl's column, "Sowl's Surmisings", appears alternate Wednesdays

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Carp making bid for repeat Cy

by Jeremy Bird

Chris Carpenter should be in the running for his second straight Cy Young Award and the NL MVP (not win it, but be in the running). And here's why:

Carp is the main reason the Cardinals will make the playoffs this season. Without him, the Cardinals finish third in the NL Central. (And, he will be the only reason the Cards will not get swept in the first round by the Mets or Dodgers).

The Cardinals are 57-57 when anyone but Chris Carpenter starts a game. With Carp on the hill, the Redbirds are 19-10. He leads the NL in ERA (2.84) and is second in wins (14). He leads the NL in complete games and is tied for the lead for shutouts.

Carp is as valuable to his team as any player in the majors right now. Last night was another perfect example.

On Monday night, the Cards started a huge series against the Astros coming off three straight loses, the last being an ugly, ugly loss to the Diamondbacks. The team needed a win with the Reds and Astros hanging around in the NL Central. Carpenter came out and stopped the slump with one of the most dominating performances of the year. He threw a complete-game, six-hit shutout - his third complete-game shutout of the year.

Since becoming a Cardinal, Carp is 50-16. The team has won 64 of his 89 starts over the past three seasons (an amazing .719 win percentage).

The problem with the Cardinals is that Carpenter is all they have. If they make the playoffs, Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols are the main reasons. If they win any games in the postseason, Carp will be the only reason.

He is making a strong case for the repeat Cy Young. And he's not so far out in the MVP considerations either.

Jeremy's column, "Bird's Eye View", appears alternate Tuesdays
"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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