Passing thoughts from a week off

The Yankees are good at baseball:

Most of the second half of this season has felt like a long, hard, slog for Yankee fans, watching the team muddle through injuries and inconsistent play to come down to the pack in the A.L. East, but that was not the case this past week. The Yankees took five of the six games they played, including both ends of the double-header on Tuesday and two out of three from the very talented A’s, including obviously that thrilling comeback on Saturday. Yes, they missed a chance to make it a clean sweep for the entire week yesterday, but I’d wager that everyone is still feeling pretty high as the final legs of the season moves on to Minnesota tonight.

So are the Orioles:

On the other side of things, the Yankees didn’t make any hay with respect to the standings over that time, because Baltimore continues to match them step for step. I’ll be honest, I have continued to expect the Orioles to hit a skid at some point this month, and I thought it was going to happen in Seattle, but the Orioles swept that series and took two out of three in Boston to match, so I’m now willing to concede that it’s time to stop waiting for them to choke. They’re for real, they’re not losing games they need to win, and the A.L. East race is essentially a toss up right now. We all know how easy the Yankees’ remaining schedule is on paper, but the Orioles’ isn’t much harder.Like the Yankees, they have four games with Toronto and three games with Boston remaining, but their tough games are the final three of the season, when the Rays come to Oriole Park. The way things look right now, however, Tampa Bay could well be eliminated from postseason contention by then, so they may well not be going all out to win that series. A not-so-bold prediction: the loser of this race is going to be the team who makes a major mistake and blows a game they should win over the next ten days.

Pitching will make or break the Yankees:

I don’t want to say that the offense is bad, per se, but be honest: do you have any semblance of faith in their ability to carry the team for the rest of this year? I mean, they have the talent to do it on any given night, but they’ve still got so many holes (and Ichiro Suzuki isn’t going to stay this hot forever) that they can also be shut down and/or fail to come through when they need to. The starting rotation, however? I suddenly feel very good about them. C.C. Sabathia finally had the dominant performance we’ve been waiting to see from him, Andy Pettitte made his triumphant return from a long stint on the disabled list and was about as sharp with his stuff as you could have possibly hoped for under the circumstances, Hiroki Kuroda has been solid all year long, and Phil Hughes suddenly seems like the proverbial guy who gives you a chance to win every start, which is a huge plus from a fourth starter. Yeah, Ivan Nova was bad again, but as a fifth starter he’s only marginally relevant now, at least if the other four guys are at the top of their games over the next couple of weeks. If they can get the best of those guys, they shouldn’t have much trouble nailing down the division crown, and that’s not exactly an unrealistic proposition right now.

The rest of the league? Not that impressive:

I typically don’t get a chance to watch a lot of games outside of the A.L. East that are played at the same time as the Yankees’ games, so I took the opportunity to watch a lot of other teams’ games last week, and the conclusion that I drew is that there just isn’t any sort of clear favorite for the postseason out there. Texas still has a great offense and Cincinnati has all of the core pieces you want to see a team built around for the playoffs, but they’ve got weaknesses as well, and I can more or less see any team with a shot at making the playoffs going all the way. For the Yankees and Orioles, winning the division and avoiding having to expend their number one starter in the one game wildcard round is going to be crucial, although the Yankees’ rotation is deep enough that I think they could easily survive it on paper. Either way, this should be an incredible fall for MLB.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

10 thoughts on “Passing thoughts from a week off

  1. Bill

    Welcome back. Keep in mind that the Orioles actually travel to Tampa, so that's a point that may work in the Yankees favor. We all know what a house of horrors it is for the Yanks. The O's have gone 3-3 there this year, so it's not far fetched to think Tampa can take one game at least. Other than that, it's a case where the Yanks have to hold serve the rest of the way.

    As far as the postseason goes, there is no team out there that is overly scary (including the Yanks), so if the Yankees play up to their capabilities (which means getting Granderson and Cano out of their respective funks), then I see no reason why a deep October run won't happen. Cincinnati would be the least favorable NL opponent, given the back end of their bullpen.

  2. matt

    the way Miguel Cabrera has been swinging the bat, i'd say the Tigers qualify as scary. Verlander twice in a 5 game series plus Scherzer and Fister and a bullpen where every guy seems to throw 100mph does not sound like a fun matchup for anyone.

    • Bill

      True, but the Yankees haven't been exactly overwhelmed by Verlander (as they have been by King Felix) and you work around Cabrera (and Fielder) as best you can. Actually, Scherzer would worry me more because the Yanks have had problems with him, but he's has some shoulder issues. Fister is good, but he's a ground ball pitcher and the Tiger infield defense is mediocre at best and is frequently an atrocity. And their bullpen, while they throw hard, has imploded far more this year than last. It would be a good rematch, but the Tigers still have to get there. As do the Yanks. And after losing a doubleheader at home to the Twins when they could have taken over the AL Central lead, you have to wonder.

    • michael

      Similarly to last season, the rest of the Tigers' lineup and rotation are as mediocre as Cabrera and Verlander are great. Though, Scherzer's results are starting to match his peripherals and his k rate is scary.

  3. "One thing I noticed very quickly: You watch games quite differently when you aren’t looking for angles to write about."

    Apparently you didn't know it, but you were still looking for angles to write about. ;)

  4. Keith

    I completely agree with you about how the loser of the AL East race will be determined. I analogize it to one of those 10000 meter races from the Olympics. There really are only 2 or 3 competitors who have any chance at winning, but everyone stays all bunched up until last 500 meters or so, and as a result there is a chance that one of the runners who has no chance at winning will step on the heal of one of the competitors causing the competitor to stumble and/or fall and lose the race. I understand that the Orioles and Yankees are not exactly "bunched up" with the teams that they have to play, but they still have to make their way through the other teams without getting tripped up to get to the finish line in first place.

    The other thought that I had, is that while it is obvious that winning the division is favorable, and having to settle for the wild card is distasteful, what are everyone's thoughts on being tied in the division and having to play an extra game to determine the division winner? Assuming the loser of that extra game would still get the wild card, is that even more distasteful than having to settle for the wild card? Or is it more favorable since you essentially get two chances to make it to the "real" postseason?

  5. Norm

    That's a good point, but what about this? Let's say the loser of a playoff for the division gets the second wild card slot. They'd have two play-in games in a row, which would make it impossible to set up your rotation for the ALDS. They'd possibly have their #3 starter starting game one, and game 5, if it got that far. Of course, there's a lot of ifs there, and I could be wrong in my thinking (just ask my wife, she'd tell you that's very likely).

    • ProfRobert

      Norm, I think you're right, but I think that's a good thing. If you get stuck as a wild card, there should be some serious downside, including extra games and a jumbled rotation. With just one wild card, an inferior fourth-place team that happens to have one, big arm can use the two starts to squeak past a No. 1 seed. That's really just not fair to the division winners. Indeed, I'd like the Division Series to expand to seven games to give the best overall teams a better chance to win.

  6. michael

    Don't look now, but Texas' offense has declined sharply since I regularly check wRC+ leaders over the first half of the season. I'm more concerned about Darvish becoming what many thought he would become.

    Any thoughts on what to do with all the extra depth? Nova, Phelps, and Garcia are starters without a spot. Do the better two of those three become swingmen, and who else from the bullpen makes the roster?

  7. ProfRobert

    Soriano, Robertson, Logan, Joba, Phelps, Rapada for sure. Then I'd go to Nova over Eppley if they go with 11 pitchers (as I think they should), and add Eppley if they go with 12.

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