Monday, August 8, 2011

A Missed Opportunity, But Not A Big One

One of the many things I will not miss when we no longer write this website is having to recap a Yankees/Red Sox weekend series the following week. We don't write on the weekends so it all goes into one post the following week and there is usually a lot to talk about, too much so for one post. Here's an attempt.

Going into the bottom of the 9th last night, either Rivera was going to get three outs before the Sox scored, or the Sox were going to score and extend the game or win right there. If he got those outs and the Yankees won, it would have cued the hyperbolic Yankees storylines. The Yankees own the Sox late in the season (They entered this series 27-14 against the Sox after August 1 since 2006). 1-8 doesnt matter, taking first place by winning a series at Fenway does. 67-34 against the rest of the baseball vs. 60-41 against the rest of the league is a bigger sample than the first 9head to head games.

Since the Sox won, it's their hyperbolic storylines. The Sox just LOOK like they are playing like they KNOW they are going to beat the Yankees. 10-2 says it all. Despite a one game lead in the standings, the Sox are just simply a better baseball team this year.

Seems like a lot of conclusions, no matter how the game turned out, for one half inning, right? Right. Marco Scutaro hitting a 260 foot pop fly that scrapes 15 foot up the monster certainly doesn't change much for me. And it sure wouldn't have changed much for me if Mariano Rivera had gotten those last three outs. It's one game, one series. That's likely exactly what Dustin Pedroia was referring to on Friday. These teams know that there are 50 games left and one game and a one game lead on August 7 isn't going to mean much in 7 weeks, no matter what the hyperbolic storylines are. If Mariano Rivera blowing a save is the Yankees biggest obstacle from winning two of three instead of losing two of three, that's an okay place to be. It would have been nice to take 2 out of 3, and it was a missed opportunity not to, but it's really not likely to have a big impact in the scheme of things. The Sox won the season series from the Yankees outright for the first time in 7 years, and that hasn't stopped them from having a lot of success in that time period. It's what these teams do from here, and it's what these teams do across 7 games if they get to and see each other in October.

On that front, I thought the interesting take away from this weekend was how these rosters are starting to shape up in terms of strenghts and weaknesses (especially in terms of a potential head-to-head matchup down the line).

The starting pitching is fascinating. On paper the Yankees should have the best starter and the Sox counter by having the next two before their is a fairly significant falloff in talent in both rotations so far in 2011. But what nobody talks about is that, with Buchholz out, the Yankees probably have the 4th and 5th best starters. After all, they won a Colon/Lester matchup and were a Rivera blown save away from winning a Garcia/Beckett matchup. Potential Games 3 and 4 could be very interesting. What this thing hinges on is obviously Sabathia. A lot of theories are flying around, but I don't think this is something that's in his head. It's four starts. He was 3-1 against the Sox with a near sub-2 ERA in 2009 and didn't lose a single game to them in 2010. This is purely conjecture, but I think the Sox may have something on his fastball. All but one hit on Saturday was off the fastball, and I remember a similar trend in previous starts this year. Maybe they have him tipping it. Because they have guys up their taking aggressive swings on fastballs, including lefties sending it for extra bases. And this is a guy who doesn't give up extra base hits to lefties at all, and a team that has maybe 1-2 true power hitters. If he's not tipping anything, then it's a matter of mixing it up more and making sure the fastball is down and to corners, because they are all over it. But I would not be surprised if he's tipping it, the contrast in his performance against them and against everyone else is too stark.

On that offensive front just mentioned, these are two different baseball teams. Playoff games swing on two things offensively: game changing homers and manufactured runs. Each team does one well and one not so well. The Sox have one player (Ortiz) in the Top 25 in homers, while the Yankees have two in the Top 4 and one of the games All-Time homerun leaders a week away from returning. The Sox hit a decent amount of homers as a team, but they don't really have a game-changing home run guy that you worry about hitting a homer every time up besides Ortiz, where the Yankees probably have 3. In a well-pitched game last night, the difference before the blown save was that the Yankees popped two solo homers, which sometimes is the only way you are going to beat a good starter. Conversely, the reason the save was blown and the game was ultimately won was because the Sox manufactured two runs (I'm not sure about intentionally walking a guy in Crawford with a .294 OBP, no matter how many groundball hits he had racked up in small sample, to get to a guy hitting .331 in Reddick, but what's done is done). This is something they do extremely well, especially late in games. This makes sense because they have a lot of high average guys. The Yankees do not have a lot of high average guys and do not manufacture runs well. Hence, as I said in my comment yesterday, the Yankees leaving men on 2nd and 3rd in every inning from the 3rd-6th, leaving the bases loaded in the 7th, and going 0-10 in RISP. The stats say they have the second best RISP average in baseball as a team, and I just don't know how. Beckett had one clean inning, and other than that the Yankees had baserunnres all over the place but couldn't get them in. I know the Sox had the same issue last night, but I think that is less consistently an issue for them.

Finally, the bullpen. This is one place where I think the Yankees have established an edge. I thought Girardi was brilliant in going to his bullpen aggressively Friday, and the Red Sox didn't touch them for 4.1 innings when all they needed was 1 run. The back end was similarly untouchable Sunday, and Scutaro's fly ball against Rivera of all people isn't going to change that, even though it did obviously cost the Yankees the game. The Sox have Bard and Papelbon, and the Yankees have Soriano, Robertson, and Rivera. It's a numbers game. With the way the five of these guys are pitching, the Yankees can shut a game down one inning earlier. In a playoff scenario, this is huge, especially with the uncertainty of the starting pitching after Sabathia, Lester, and Beckett.

On the one hand there's 10-2. On the other hand, despite spotting them that 10-2 and 8 games in the standings, the Sox have a one game lead on August 8. As long as that 10-2 isn't in the Yankees head - and they certainly didn't strike me as a team playing this weekend like something was in their head, rather they looked like a team ready to take 2 of 3 before their most consistent player did something he inconsistently does - 10-2 isn't going to mean anything the rest of the way. All that matters is that 1 game lead, and I agree with Bandi that the division matters. The Sox have been a much more consistent home/away team than usual this year, but their offense is more worrisome at home. In addition, that the Angles and Rays are hanging around just enough that the Wild Card is not a foregone conclusion, especially if these teams starting beating each other up in the divison. On that front, the Yankees have an important week coming up with 6 home games against the Angels and Rays. There's a lot of baseball to be played, and it should be a lot of fun. This is the best time of the regular season baseball calendar in my opinion.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

the one last thing i'll say is that, after looking around some boston outlets, you definitely get the sense that boston fans feel differently, that 10-2 does matter, and that they are a much, much, much better team. i saw around the trade deadline the starting pitching conversations, you would have thought boston had 5 all-stars to 5 AAA guys for the yankees, and that boston had the lower rotation era (they don't). today on PTI i saw the sports guy had one of his three main points from the weekend that boston's bullpen is "just better" for the first time in a long time. typically well-researched sports analysis from him (where he really just struggles, if it's pop culture or being funny he's spot on) as the yankees have the best bullpen era in the AL. and to read and listen to what's being said about ellsbury you'd think johnny damon never played in boston, because it's like they've never seen a guy hit .319 with 19 homers from the leadoff spot. and that's all great. listen, i in no way think the yankees are definitely better than the red sox. but the red sox definitely think they are better than the yankees, for reasons that don't have a lot of basis. and that's a terrific thing. being a legit underdog has its virtues, but being a perceived underdog when you aren't at all can really be a good spot to be in.

- pf

the gm at work said...

Pat,

When it was Scutaro who got the hit off of Mariano, the first thing that came to mind was one of the funniest posts you've ever put on here. It's from April 15, 2007, and it's entitled "Scutaro gets his own post for his lack of class." Not sure where I'm going with that, but I figured I'd call attention to it.

There's been a lot of irrational exuberance around here regarding this team, with much of it centered around 46's ability to play major league baseball. I say this even without my clear bias against the player. This team apparently has that "it" factor that I think the Gunn mentioned and many have mentioned over sports radio. I can believe that but only to a certain extent - maybe something that's addressed later on this week.

Look at the numbers from Jenks and Wheeler before telling me that the Red Sox' bullpen is "better" than anything. I also think Miller has the ability to be downright combustible as a reliever.

Red Sox have the ability to be a better team than the Yankees, but that's due to the offense, nothing else. The pitching is a wash at this time and the Yankees have an edge in the bullpen at this time. I still pick the Yankees to win the East, because the Red Sox will not have the "yay" switch on for all of the next two months, while the Yankees will play more consistent baseball.

CC is a bigger story than you give it credit for. I'm glad you mentioned tipping pitches, because that's the only thing I can come up with besides a mental thing. The Red Sox shelled this guy when he's in Cleveland as well, remember.

Anonymous said...

PF

I don't put too much stock in head to head records. The Angels owned the Sox in 2008 and the Sox went out and crushed them in the playoffs. It matters because of how it affects the division standings, but beyond that I doubt the players get that worked up about it.

Also, as good as Johnny Damon was in Boston he never had one year as good (for the Sox) as Jacoby Ellsbury is having thus far. His 2004 is the best comparison, but Ellsbury is on pace to exceed all of Damon's 2004 counting stats and his triple slash numbers are all better as well. Plus, you can make a legitimate argument that Damon's best years were in New York.

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

dv/gunn -

a lot of really good and well-reasoned points. to respond to a few in no particular order:

- i totally agree with gunn that head to head is not something we should put much into, because i don't think it's something the players put much into. the players understand that total record and how you play head to head when it matters most is what the season is going to turn on.

- on that front, one thing i did not mention in this post but should have: by winning the season series the one thing the sox have done that does matter is essentially given themselves an extra game lead in the final week or two, because they have the tiebreaker. if the division goes down to the wire the way it has to this point, you can't understate how big it is being down 2 games instead of 1, 3 instead of 2, etc. the yankees were in this situation with tampa last year and it stunk.

- related, i'd like to reiterate that i think this division really matters. i think there is a point where, if you are the team trailing and you have the wild card secured (which is, again, not a foregone conclusion at this point) you pull of the reigns and concern yourself more with lining up for the playoffs as opposed to scratching tooth and nail to win a division you might not be able to. but i think that is something that happens in the last week or so if you are 3-4+ games back. otherwise, this division, and homefield throughout the AL playoffs, is something these teams should really be after. i think they are both more dangerous in their own park, particularly the sox.

- you have to tip your cap to scutaro, he does a good job of dropping the bat and lifting rivera's cutter when rivera tries to front-door it at scutaro's front hip. espcially when rivera gets too much of the plate with it like he did sunday. you have to give him more credit for the 3 run walk-off homer in oakland, because that was a legit rocket whereas sunday was a pop-fly. at the same time, scutaro acted without any class after that walk-off and did no such thing sunday, so perhaps it evens out the legitimacy of the respective hits.

Anonymous said...

- i agree that the red sox have the abiblity to be a better team than the yankees, but i also think that the yankees have the ability to be a better team than the red sox, and i agree that it comes down to who can be better offensively. i don't think one team has a higher offensive ceiling than the other, i just think it's a matter of who gets closer to reaching it offensively at the right time.

- cc will only be a big story if he can't striaghten it out. we aren't talking about years of struggles against one team here, we are talking about 4 starts. there was so much hoopla coming in about his handful of starts against the sox coming in, and he flat out dominated them in 2009 and 2010. now they are getting him, and it's a profound difference from his performance against the rest of baseball. i hope he and rothschild are really taking a look at what the sox are doing against his fastball, because it's not like he can't get out of his own way. two starts ago, he gave up 2 hits through 6 before they started teeing off on his fastball. this past start it was again 1 big inning that got him, and it was off the fastball. needs to be ironed out.

- finally, i was not trying to suggest that what ellsbury is doing so far isn't better than what damon did. his counting, rate, and total sabermetric contributions (war/vorp) are in line to surpass any one season damon had in boston. my point was more that, ellsbury is likely to finish somewhere in the mid-20's in homers with a good batting average and around 100 rbi out of the leadoff spot. outstanding, but not like we are talking .350 with 35 homers and 120 rbi. it's going to be in the range of the types of seasons damon had: good average, good speed, good pop, but not blowing you away in any one category, more across the board good. which is fantastic, but nothing worthy of stopping the presses over. we've seen this before.

- pf

John said...

Whether any player would admit it or not, I do think it's important to be comfortable against an opponent if you are losing late in the game. Now that doesn't mean that you treat the game as a foregone conclusion, but knowing you can beat them can be an advantage. To bring up 2004, that group of players were confident they could come back from 0-3(even if no one else was), and I think that helped them. Maybe I'm overestimating that most teams would have a sense of panic around them and possibly play worse in tight situations like that, but confidence can be important. That obviously doesn't only imply to 0-3 situations.