Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Only Perfect Nights at Yankee Stadium Make Me Break Down the Schedule Series-By-Series, I Promise

My first post in the month of July.

Rinky-dink fireworks are going off in my neighborhood as I type. The air is a tad sticky tonight, but otherwise a near-perfect summer evening.

The Yankees just wrapped up a tidy, efficient and convincing 8-0 drubbing of the Twins. My attention shifts to the Tigers and Indians who are knotted at 4 in the bottom of the 9th.

I don't know who I'm pulling for.

My pessimistic outlook on the Yankees' chances were well-documented about 10 days ago in my last post. That was before the crushing losses in San Franciso, the mind-numbing performances in Baltimore and the embarrassment that was the last two games of the Oakland series. Suffice to say, it feels like I counted the Yankees out long ago now. In fact, that event occurred after the Saturday extra-inning loss in San Francisco - the 2nd most gut-wrenching loss of the season, after the first Boston game, and the worst loss of the season considering the timing.

The Daily News counted them out after Sunday's debacle with the headline, "They're Done"

A spur-of-the-moment trip down to Yankee Stadium last night reinvigorated my baseball bones a bit, and New York has now won the first two games of this four-gamer with the Twins.

Last night was a beautiful night at the Stadium. The traffic scenario was surprisingly tame, despite not hitting the Stadium exits until well after 6:00. We were in our seats with time to spare before the first pitch.

The Tigers and Tribe are now in the 10th at Comerica. A good night for extra innings with the holiday on tap for tomorrow.

A patient, subdued crowd at the Stadium last night, almost as if anger, resentment, disappointment and booing would amount to spitting into the wind. It made the late rally, and the brilliant performance by Roger Clemens that much sweeter. Instead of a gloomy and doomy, "let's see how they blow this one" mentality, it was more like, "let's just sit back and see what happens."

And Clemens was awe-inspiring on the mound. Clearly the best he's thrown since beginning his Yankee Stint #2. His mechanics were great, as he was really able to rear back and get great drive from those behemoth calves of his.

I'm not the biggest Clemens in the world, but I would've felt silly staying in my seat as he walked off the field after ringing up another zero in the top in the 8th. It was as deserved a standing ovation as the Stadium has given this year.

Bottom of the 10th in Detroit

I have a friend who's a Yankee fan, and a good one, who may be the last soul that has kept post-season hope alive through the most recent desolate stretch of the Yankees' season. I give him credit, but even he admits to wondering if it's not wasted hope.

For fun, and out of a bit of boredom on my lunch break today, I decided to give my friend the benefit of the doubt and play a little game with the Yankees' remaining schedule.

With the target of 95 wins, this is a rough sketch of what I came up with.

Starting with tonight's game, I decreed the Yankees have to go 4-2 in their last six games before the All-Star break. With one in the bag, that number is now 3-2. That includes one game against Johan Santana, another game started by Kei Igawa and three games against the seemingly-impossible-to-deafeat LAAnaheim (kudos to David Pinto) Angels. Possible, but not easy.

That would give them a record of 42-42 at the All Star break.

Detroit has runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out in the 10th, and the Indians walk the bases loaded to pitch to Guillen. He's a .407 career hitter with the bases loaded.

A great baseball atmosphere in Detroit right now. In a place that was devoid of excitement for nearly 20 years.

Guillien popped up in the infield. 2 outs for Pudge.


And the tension builds some more after a couple of foul balls.

Phenomenal job by Cleveland's reliever Mastny, as he induced a ground ball back to the mound.

It's funny, the more I see things like that (not scoring with the bases loaded, 1 out in the 10th), the more I'm going to start wondering about this Tigers team - specifically their fate when it comes to the division title.

I'm shocked they're not in first place as it is by this point in the season; a loss tonight puts them three behind the Indians, who have handled Detroit impressively so far this season.

Back to my Yankees point as we head to the 11th.

Alright, putting New York at 42-42 after Sunday's action, leaves them with the task of having to go 14-7 in their last 21 games in July. Keep in mind that I'm looking at each individual series, trying to stretch optimism to the limit, keep some realism in the mix, and basically figure out how the Yankees could possibly win 95 games.

14-7 is a tall order for a team that has not sustained any period of success for very long.

Home run, Indians. Casey Blake solo shot.

However, looking at the teams on the slate after the All-Star break for the Yankees, it's not out of the realm of possibility. In order:
at Tampa (four games)
Toronto (four games)
Tampa (four games)
at Kansas City (four games)
at Baltimore (four games)
Chicago (first game of a three-game series)

Borowski in for Cleveland, 7-8-9 hitters coming up for Detorit: Casey, Monroe, Inge.

3-2 this week, and 14-7 after the break would give them a record of 56-50 heading into August.

Casey strikes out swinging.

Their target record for August? A robust 19-10. That would give them a record of 75-60 heading into the final month of the season.

Monroe strikes out on three pitches.

This would be a bad loss for Detroit.

I'll continue with my Yankee babble in a minute . . .

Popped up and that does it.

Cleveland wins 5-4.

August is fraught with landmines for the Yanks: two four-game series with the Tigers; a three-gamer at home with Boston; a trip out west to play the Angels; and three games at the Jake vs. Cleveland.

In this group of 17 games, I'm giving them a record of 9-8. Against the other teams they play that month (White Sox, Kansas City, Toronto, Baltimore), they have to go 10-2.

Moving to September. If Yankees fans who haven't thrown in the towel yet want to hang onto something tangible it's that the Yankees' September stretch, along with their last three weeks of July, are prime territory for piling up wins. On the September slate:

Tampa (3)
Seattle (3)
at Kansas City (3 - the Yankees have 10 games left with the Royals this year, and probably have to go 9-1 in those 10 games to have any hope of the post-season)
at Toronto (3)
at Boston (3)
Baltimore (3)
Toronto (4)
at Tampa (3)
at Baltimore (3)

As of this date, the only teams with winning records on that September schedule are Seattle and Boston.

Target record for the month? 20-7.

That would put them at 95-67 for the year, and give them a legitimate shot at the Wild Card.

Do I think all of this is likely? Hell no! Improbable? Definitely. Possible? Potentially.

Two years ago the Yankees had a torrid September, going 20-10, which helped stave off the Red Sox and the fading Indians and claim the A.L. East on the last weekend of the season.

So months when the Yankees beat the heck out of their non-Bostonian A.L. East brethren are not events on the level of the appearance of Halley's Comet. It's just that this time they're going to have to beat up on the American League's Sisters of the Poor for a good three months. And they're going to have to do it at a very high rate.

Case in point: the Devil Rays.

As I moved through the schedule, I obviously weighted games against the Tigers and Red Sox, for example, as much more difficult and gave the Yankees a .500 record against these teams the rest of the way: 4-4 vs. Detroit, 3-3 vs. the Red Sox. Fair, right?

Of course, if they went 6-2 vs. the Tigers and 4-2 vs. the Red Sox, that would alleviate some of the need to be absolutely perfect against the Royals or Orioles. But sticking with the idea that they won't play much better than .500 against their remaining quality competition, I see them having to go:

9-1 vs. the Royals
10-4 vs. Tampa Bay
11-2 vs. Baltimore
9-5 vs. Toronto

Total record vs. these four teams: 39-12

Granted all four teams will be playing out the string by mid-August, but those are some heady records no matter what the competition is.

As Steven Goldman noted yesterday in his blog, Baseball Prospectus now has the Yankees pegged at about a four percent chance to make the post-season.

Besides piling up wins against the dreck of the American League, the Yankees will have to hope the Wild Card number doesn't climb any higher than about 95 wins. Because then it will truly be a waste of a chase no matter what they accomplish in these final three months of the season.

Hope everyone has a happy, safe, enjoyable and memorable 4th of July.

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