I’ve spent much of the last week at Shea Stadium now, and I’ve just gotta say, that’s a bunch of likeable guys they’ve got over there.
Neither they nor the Yankees have played especially well since clinching, but, of course, it doesn’t matter – unless you believe that momentum is important for heading into the postseason, and idea that seems logical but which, as far as I can tell, statistical analysis doesn’t support (if it is true, meet your 2006 World Series Champions, the Minnesota Twins). Still, it’s good that the Yankees snapped out of their mini-slump tonight, with a ridiculous 20 hits, and won 16-1. It seems wrong to score 12 runs against a team, especially a young and piteous one like the Rays, and then throw Mariano Rivera at them in the seventh, doesn’t it? I know they need to get Mo tuned up for the playoffs, and Tampa killed them over the weekend, but it’s still sort of mean, like beating a smaller guy up and then inviting Mike Tyson to come over and take a shot just to study his technique.
The bad news is that Randy Johnson’s back has been giving him trouble and he’s been scratched from his next start. Uh-oh. There’s no guarantee he wouldn’t utterly implode in the playoffs anyway, of course (as he did last year, though he came through later with a stellar if futile relief outing), but as uneven as he’s been, he still inspires more confidence in a crucial playoff game than Cory Lidle or Darrell Rasner.
Besides which, I don’t think I like this Sheffield-at-first-base experiment. The playoffs are not the time to screw with your defense. According to the mad geniuses at Baseball Prospectus -- a pay site, I’m afraid -- strong defense is one of the few accurate predictors of a team’s postseason success (along with power pitching, which I’m afraid bodes ill for the Yanks, and a good closer, which... well, yeah). I’m not smart enough to check their math, unfortunately, but they make a convincing case. Andy Phillips and Craig Wilson aren’t extraordinary defenders, but they’re solid, and with Damon, Jeter, Rodriguez, Cano, Abreu, Posada, Matsui, and, assuming he’s healthy, Giambi, offense shouldn’t be the Yankees’ biggest concern. Sheffield hasn’t done a horrible job; he has the fundamental skill, he seems determined, and I don’t doubt that eventually he could become a decent first baseman, but two weeks isn’t exactly a lot of time to learn a new position. And just think about what a sick bat he’d be to have on the bench -- remember the impact Daryl Strawberry had in that role for the Yanks back in the day? -- and imagine how terrifying it would be for an opposing pitcher expecting, say, Aaron Guiel or Miguel Cairo to suddenly find himself face to face with Sheff’s bat-waggle.
More on Manny and the Sox (good band name): Gordan Edes wrote a harsh piece in the Globe calling for Boston to trade him. I’ve said this before, but I still think they’d be crazy to do it, unless they got Hafner or Pujols in return, which they won't. Listen, Miguel Tejada is a great player and all, but he’s no replacement for probably one of the 15 or 20 best hitters of all time, however irritating his flakiness and semi-fake-seeming injuries might be. I assume Edes knows vastly more than I do about what’s really going on with the Red Sox, so maybe Manny really is bringing the team down -- maybe they do need him out of there. But they’ll never be able to get equal value for him in a trade, offense-wise.
It all comes down to whether or not you believe team chemistry has a real impact on winning, something the Mets have made me think about recently as well. The answer, as far as I can tell, is “sort of.” More on this another time.