Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Beware the Easy Schedule

One analyst put it best, saying it seems like every day we say the Yankees need to turn it around right now. Under .500 at the All-Star break for the first time in the Torre era, with three superior teams showing few weaknesses atop the standings, the Yanks no longer have room for error. Another 1-8 road trip will spell the final kiss of death, if the last one was not already.

When the injuries hit, sending the team into an early tailspin, we pointed to the weak post-All Star game schedule as the time when a rested, healthy Yankee team would make their run. Analyzing the schedule, the Yanks play the next 28 games against teams currently under .500, half of those at the Stadium. Before handing the Bombers 20 wins, look at their record against Baltimore, Tampa, and Toronto this season, 3-10. That is right, three wins. The Rockies have more AL East wins than the Yankees. The Colorado Rockies. Weak schedules guarantee nothing, that is why they play the games.

Even if New York beats up on weaker opponents over the next month, Detroit, Cleveland, and Boston get the same chance during the second half. After the 28 game stretch the Yanks hit a rough patch with 8 games against Detroit, series with Boston, Cleveland, and the Angels. Essentially, relying on the schedule is another crutch to hold onto. A reason to believe they can climb out of the hole.

Bottom line, the Yankees need to play better. Hitting, pitching, defense, consistency. That will win games, not easy opponents. Clutch hitting and shutdown bullpen performances, hallmarks of the championship years, are sorely lacking, evidenced by a 6-14 record in one-run games. Throughout the Torre era, the team carried a swagger, confidence, sense of invincibility into the late innings, we grew to expect the Yanks to pull out every close game. This season, the team panics late in games, makes crucial fielding errors, and never seems to combine clutch hitting with good bullpen pitching, it is usually one or the other, sometimes neither.

Given the level of competition, and the first half performance of the 2007 edition, a playoff run this season would be more remarkable than 1978. In ’78, the Bombers were reigning champions that played decent in the first half, while Boston played off the charts. The 2007 Yankees have won nothing, ask Jeter or Posada, this team has nary a playoff series victory. The first half performance ranks with the most disappointing ever, and the teams they are chasing may only get better. A miracle comeback requires not only an unbelievable second half run, but also a semi-collapse by Boston, Detroit, or Cleveland. For some perspective, the Yanks need to go 50-25 just to reach 92 wins, while Cleveland only needs to go 40-34 in the second half to match that. A .667 winning percentage means winning almost every series over the second half of the season, without any lapses. Do you get the sense this Yankee team can do that?


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