It’s official, the Yankees have the best record in baseball. Since the All-Star break, the Yanks have ripped through the American League and topped the AL East Division as they hold more than a five game lead above the Boston Red Sox.
The Sox may have dominated the Yankees early on this season (winning 8-0 over the Bronx Bombers), but the Yankees came in and swept the last series at Yankee Stadium. It looks like the Yanks will make it to the postseason, while the Mets pack for an October vacation. The Yankees became the team they were expected to be, and the Mets were never quite the team that we saw on paper before the season started.
In this tale of two boroughs, the Yanks are still the aristocrats and the Mets are still the peasants, but at least one will represent New York during the business end of the season.
The Yankees entered the Red Sox series on top, but with the stigma of a few smack downs at the hands of their rivals earlier this season. The difference this time around was the confidence levels of both teams had shifted, and the Red Sox are beat up and worn down.
All-Star outfielder Jason Bay is day-to-day with a hammy strain, J.D. Drew was day-to-day with a strained groin, Tim Wakefield was out with a lower back strain, Mike Lowell was day-to-day with a strain as well, and Daisuke Matsuzaka was out with a bad shoulder. Ouch. So the Yanks already had the advantage going into game one, especially considering they were batting against replacement starter and over-the-hill star John Smoltz.
That was a cheap shot. Smoltz is one of the most illustrious pitchers in baseball history. He deserves respect with a 212-152 record in his 20-year career, but after the first game of the series versus the Yankees, he’s likely done as a starter.
The Atlanta Braves realized they were losing a starter after sending him in as relief beginning the 2001 season (though he had returned as a starter here and there through the years), but the Sox wanted to give him a shot.
In game one the Yankees blew him out of the water and off the rotation for the season with a nine hit, eight-run night in the Yankees 13-4 win. It was a brutal night for the Sox and their manager, Terry Francona, said that it was “an unforgiving lineup in an unforgiving ballpark.” The Yanks lit up the ballpark with homerun off the bats of Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, and Melky Cabrera to back Joba Chamberlain in his eight win of the season. So long Smoltz, but who the heck is going to replace you?
The Red Sox went back to the backbone of the team when Josh Beckett took to the mound in game two against A.J. Burnett. What a pitching duel this was. Put this game into the books as one of the most entertaining of the season. It was a 15-inning marathon in which both starters went at least seven innings on the mound. Beckett gave up four hits, but no runs, and Burnett gave up only one hit and no runs in a game that saw all zeros on the board until Alex Rodriguez knocked a two-run homerun out of the park in the bottom of 15th inning. It was simply one of the greatest games this season, and any Yankee or Red Sox fan should give it up to both teams for their effort. The two former Florida Marlins put on a show though the Yanks won the day.
It was another pitcher’s duel in game three, and another shut-out at the hands of the Yankees or the Sox. C.C. Sabathia dominated the 5-0 win with one of his most impressive performances of the season. He ate up the Yanks biggest rivals in seven and two-thirds innings, allowing only two hits, no earned runs, and nine strikeouts. There was just nothing the Red Sox could do, even with the newly acquired Victor Martinez in the lineup (by the way, the Sox have shown their desperation lately by picking up very paltry position players in former Met Chris Woodward and so-so shortstop Alex Gonzalez from the Cincinnati Reds to cover for the injured Jeb Lowrie). It was a down-in-the-dumps day for the Sox after their second shut-out in a row and a media downer where David Ortiz had to deny using steroids (though his name appeared on the dreaded list). It was bad news before a bad final game in their fourth loss of the series, and the season, versus the New York Yankees.
Boston finally scored a run off their rivals in the eighth inning with a Victor Martinez two-run shot off Phil Coke to left field. They must have felt at least some consolation in the fact that they could actually score some runs, but it must have been a terrible blow to lose their only lead in four games with back to back homers in the eighth by Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira. The game was all Andy Pettitte’s though as he went seven innings on five hits and no earned runs. Jon Lester did his part to limit the damage, allowing only five hits and one earned run, but the bullpen blew it and the Yanks took the series. It was a good week to be a Yankees fan, and it must have been an annoying one to be a Sox fan. While Boston may have swept the Yankees through those eight games, the past is the past and the Yankees take any excuse to forget it (unless their talking about their 26 World Series rings) while they mock their rivals all the way until the end of this week where they square off against them for the second to last time this season. That is, unless the Sox can’t maintain their lead of the wildcard spot through September.
Well, while the Yankee fans have their jollies, the Mets fans can stew in their lament. It’s been a disappointing season in general, and a lame way to start their inaugural season at Citifield. The Yankees were 23-6 since the All-Star break and the Mets have been 12-17 through the same time period which has pushed them back to a 54-62 record on the season and roughly 12 games back behind the first place Philadelphia Phillies. So, no postseason for the Mets, no wildcard hunt possibilities as of now (they’re ten games behind the Colorado Rockies on that list), and so we need to look forward to next season. Does that include firing General Manager Omar Minaya? What about Manager Jerry Manuel? Should they make some big moves with their players, or is there core still strong when Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Delgado are healthy again? There’s a lot that can be done, but if I had to make a prediction, I’d say nothing ground shaking will occur in the Mets organization between this year and next.
The Mets aren’t going to make any moves with their core players. Delgado may not last another season if he can’t get healthy enough to come back toward the end of this season, but we have a solid option in the up and coming Daniel Murphy anyway. They could have scooped up versatile Victor Martinez before the Red Sox, but they seemed confident in Murphy, or satisfied with the return of Delgado. I resent myself for saying it because I’m a fan of him as a player and his personality and work ethic he brings to the field, but he isn’t a part of the long term solution for this team. Too bad there’s not designated hitter position in the National League. So, in general, the core is fine, but the reason for having a core of the team in the first place is to have a cornerstone to build the team around. Minaya’s continuous issue filling the corners of the outfield with solid offensive bats has always been a problem. Now, as for Minaya or Manuel leaving the organization? I’d say there’s less a chance for Minaya’s firing than Manuel’s, but I’d bet they’ll be around in the 2010 season. The injuries have been unfortunate and really nobody’s fault, so we haven’t seen the real Mets on the field for most of the season. Though I’d guess the Mets still wouldn’t be in first place this season even with their lineup healthy.
The Mets may not have been a contender this year anyway with the Phillies cruising at 65-49 record (last year the Mets had a 67-56 record and that was when they were healthy). I’d say if Minaya and Munuel do return next season, their jobs were saved by the injuries and the ability to use them as an excuse. Either way, there’s plenty of people we can point the finger at, but it won’t save this season. Mets fans, if you see your team as a spoiler, it’ll make the season a lot more viewable down the stretch. In the meantime, take notes on the Yankees and their management. They’re the best in baseball, and they’ll represent New York in the postseason.