The Oakland Athletics have been on an incredible tear lately, winning 18 of their last 22 ballgames. They have taken over sole possession of the wild card spot in the
, and appear to be hitting their annual second half stride. So why then do I think that the A’s team will be on the golf course come October? Well two reasons really. One, I can’t stand the guy in my office telling me everyday about how hot they are and how great they are. And two, and more precisely, two with a bunch of sub points, is as follows: they got hot too early.
What the heck does that even mean? Is it possible to get hot too early? Most out there would argue that a win is a win, regardless of when it happens in the schedule. At the end of the year, the wins from April count just as much as the wins from September. Well yes, and no. True the wins count just as much towards the record, but when a team is in the playoff hunt at the end of the year, those wins are more important to ensure that your team stays in the race, puts pressure on their competitors to win, and gathers momentum for the end of September push into the playoffs. Ideally a team would play their best baseball for the months of September and October, while remaining above .500 the rest of the year.
The A’s got hot in the middle of July. The law of averages dictates that a team playing baseball at an .818 clip is not going to keep it up for 3 or more months. In fact, let’s say that the A’s were to play at a .600 clip from the middle of July through the end of the year (encompassing 75 games). To put .600 baseball into perspective, a team finishing the season with a .600 winning percentage will have a record of 97-65. At that pace, the A’s would post a record of 45-30 over the 75 game span. That translates into a 27-26 record from this point out when one considers their 18-4 record in their last 22. 27-26 is not going to get them into the playoffs with the Yankees, Indians, and Twins having yet to hit their hot streak.
So I’ve made a lot of assumptions in the previous paragraph. One could easily say, “what if they play .625 (29-24 the rest of the way) or .650 (31-22) baseball the rest of the way out?” I would argue that .625 baseball is certainly plausible, but would going 29-24 the rest of the season be enough to get them in? I for one don’t think so. In fact I think they would need to play .650 ball to assure themselves the wildcard spot, and I’ll believe they’ll play at a .650 clip for 3 months when I see it.
Plus, let’s take a closer look at their current .818 run. They have played
(7-1), LA (2-1),
(1-0). With the exception of LA, they haven’t faced the stiffest of competition.
is pretty good, as is
are sub par teams. I can’t penalize the A’s for taking care of business against
and KC. And they played well against LA,
. However, let’s look at the schedule moving forward for
the rest of the way.
Opponent Opp. W% Games Remaining
Angels .578 10
Red Sox .574 4
Yankees .542 3
Indians .527 3
Twins .514 6
Rangers .500 6
With 32 games against opponents at .500 or better, both the timing of their hot streak and their schedule are certainly against them.
Less than a week after the All-Star game, three teams stand separated by 1.5 games atop the American League East. Holding two of those spots, surprise, surprise, are the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. However, wedged in between those teams in the standings, which may have surprised anyone who does not follow the AL East, is the Baltimore Orioles. None of these teams are perfect by any means, so like any guy going into his senior prom, we should expect to see some action before July 31st. What will it take to put one of these teams over the top? Pitching, pitching, and more pitching.
The Boston Red Sox are in first place with a 50-40 record. Their offense has produced as expected scoring a MLB high 500 runs through their first 90 games. They may be able to grab another bat off the bench, but with the likes of John Olerud, Doug Mirabelli, and Kevin Youkilis available to pinch hit, and Gabe Kapler and Alex Cora bolstering the defense, the Sox should have plenty of late inning options. What has prevented this team from building and maintaining a large lead is their bullpen. Before Keith Foulke went on the DL, he was atrocious. He had 5 losses, and ERA of 6.23, WHIP of 1.56, and opponents are slugging .528 off of him. To put it into perspective, the Red Sox barely allow John Halama to have some meaningless innings, and statistically he has pitched much better than Foulke. Things are so bad at closer that the Sox have actually placed a starter that is not even ready to compete at AAA yet in the closer’s role. Yankee’s boss George Steinbrenner for the first time had praise for the Sox front office. Other duds in the Sox bullpen this year have included, well, everybody but Mike Myers and Mike Timlin. The Sox recently acquired Chad Bradford, who if healthy should give them at least a third option in the bullpen. What do the Sox need to win the East? A healthy and effective Foulke back, along with 2 more quality relievers.
What was said about the Red Sox offense basically goes for the Yankees, who have scored the 2nd most amount of runs in baseball. The Yankees need a little pitching help in the bullpen, maybe picking up 1 more quality reliever to compliment Rivera, Gordan, and Sturtze. The Yankees are also hurting for a quality starter, but that is more a function of Brian Cashman building a rotation with more guys that should be part of the American Association of Retired Persons instead of Major League Baseball. If these guys could ever stay healthy, who knows how good they might be? We have Randy Johnson (41) and Mike Mussina (36) pitching well enough for this offense to win a lot of ballgames. Kevin Brown (40) has only pitched 65 innings this year due to an assortment of injuries, and the young pickups, Carl Pavano (29) and Jaret Wright (29) have missed significant time on the DL as well. Their most effective starter, 25-year old Chien-Ming Wang, just went onto the DL and may miss the rest of the season. So what was the Yankees response to this news? They went and grabbed Al Leiter whose not only old (39), but horrible (6.64 ERA, 1.85 WHIP). He is making his Yankees debut today against the Red Sox, and if I were a Yankees fan, I would not even bother turning on the TV unless you enjoy seeing runs scored on the level they were Friday night (17-1 Sox win). The Yankees need a healthy and effective Pavano or Wright to come back from the DL, otherwise they will be shopping for two very elusive quality starters.
That brings us to the Orioles. Though they don’t score the same number of runs as the Yankees or Red Sox, they have a potent lineup. They could use another bat off the bench, but their overall offense should be plenty to get them into the post season. Their starting rotation is solid, with Bruce Chen and Rodrigo Lopez pitching well, and Cabrera pitching better of late. The O’s need Sidney Ponson to start pitching better, and if Erik Bedard can return to the same form he had before his trip to the DL (5-1, 2.08 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), the Orioles will have their legitimate ace, and a very impressive starting 5. Their bullpen is actually a strength. BJ Ryan has saved 21 of his 24 opportunities and boasts a 2.40 ERA. In addition to Ryan, Jorge Julio, Todd Williams, James Baldwin, and more recently, Chris Ray have pitched very well. Overall, the best bullpen in the East and a starting rotation right up there with the Red Sox. What do the Orioles need to put them over the top? Sidney Ponson to pitch better and Erik Bedard to return healthy will give them all the pitching they need. Otherwise, the O’s will need 1 quality starter, and a bat or two off the bench. Red Sox and Yankees fans better start watching the O’s very closely, because they might very well win the East.
Prediction? It’s going to be the best AL East race in decades as pennant fever will grip 3 of the top baseball cities on the East Coast. The Red Sox win the AL East, Orioles win the wild card finishing 3 games out, and the Yankees just miss out on the playoffs, 5 back from Boston and 2 back of Baltimore. Things are going to get really exciting down the stretch.
What’s black and pinstripe and red all over? George Steinbrenner after spending $204 million to field a team that is currently 3 games under .500, and only 1/2 a game ahead of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The Yankees have ensured their first losing April since 1991, and in the process have probably sent Joe Torre, and the entire front office running for the Pepto to calm their very uneasy stomachs. After not even a whole month, is it fair to criticize the Yankees for their performance? After all, we are only 13% of the way through the 2005 season, and Bronx Bombers would only need to go 86 and 59 the rest of the way to win 95 games (a .610 winning percentage from here on out). Should anyone be concerned?
The answer is yes, we have the right to criticize, and yes, the Yankees should be worried. When a team spends more than double the league average on payroll, has an all-star at virtually every position (2-former MVP’s), and sports 5 former cy-young candidates in their starting rotation, there is no way they should ever fall below .500, even after just 21 games. They should lead the MLB in runs scored and in ERA (or WHIP, whichever metric you want to use to measure quality pitching) from the beginning of the season to the end. The offense has done its part, scoring 118 runs through the first 21 games, for an average of 5.6 RPG, however the pitching has been non-existent. Through their first 21 games, the Yankees have allowed 121 runs, or 5.76 RPG. To put that into perspective, the Yankees biggest weakness last year was their pitching, and in 2004 they only gave up 4.99 RPG while scoring 5.54 RPG in the process. Their pitching needs to improve dramatically, by roughly a run per game, in order to compete not only for the Division, but also for a Wild Card spot. Having to compete with baseball’s other juggernaut, the Red Sox, and another of baseball’s best hitting clubs in the Orioles for 38 games, does not help matters either.
It is true that we are early in the season and given the relatively small sample size of events to this point, cannot use the first 21 games to learn anything statistically significant about this Yankees team. However, there are some aspects that should downright scare Yankees fans. Randy Johnson, who is used to dominating hitters, has faired ok so far in his short tenure. However, according to many recent reports, his fastball, which has regularly been clocked between 96-98 mph, has averaged 93-95 mph this season. He still has the velocity necessary to dominate, and will probably crank it up a notch come the warm summer, but until that time, he needs to realize that a 93 mph pitch catching the inner ½ of the plate is a home run pitch, where he can get away with a 98 mph pitch catching the same inner ½ against many MLB hitters. Likewise Mike Mussina’s velocity has been down considerably, with gun readings of his fastball in the 86-88 mph range. Kevin Brown has yet to find success in the Bronx, Jaret Wright is on the DL, and that leaves only Carl Pavano, who only has 1 solid year in his track-record (though he has looked good early on). The Yankees bullpen has not faired much batter with Rivera and Gordon, two staples of the pen, of to slow starts.
It is still early and the Yankees have plenty of time to turn things around, especially with the likes of Randy Johnson pitching every fifth day. I don’t believe his struggles will continue because everything in his history indicates that he will find his groove, and when he does, he will be the best pitcher in the AL East. As for the other four starters, if 2 of them don’t find their groove by the beginning of the summer, it will be a very hot, very long summer in the Bronx for the Yankees and their fans, and a very short and disappointing fall as well.
On the brightside, the season is only 21 games old, so no permanent damage has been done, especially considering that they are only 5 games out of first place. The Yankees are 9-12 through their first 21 games. The Pythagorean formula suggests they should be 10-11, so they should theoretically be a game ahead of their current position. However, whether they are 9-12, 10-11, or even 11-10, they are performing far below expectations.