Saturday, July 28, 2001

A Look at the AL Competition: Is the Yankees Reign Over, One Month Into the Season? By Jeff Herz

As a Yankee fan, you always have to face the inevitable question, when will this current reign of division championships and world series wins eventually end. Will it be 2001? Well after watching the first month of the season, I am a bit concerned.

AL East, Red Sox and Blue Jays. Everyone talks about the Boston Red Sox with Pedro, Manny, Everett and the currently injured Nomar, but lets face it, they are the Red Sox, and although they have played very good for the first month, they are the same Red Sox who have not found a way to win the World Series since 1918, this is not going to be their year. No one is taking the Blue Jays seriously, and I think that is a mistake.

The Red Sox had controversy before they even left spring training. Carl Everett was missing buses and showing up late; Manny Ramirez was complaining about having to play left field (the easier position in Boston) instead of his more familiar right field even though playing right in Fenway is like playing center in another park, and Manny for as good as he is with the bat, he is no center fielder; Nomar was having wrist surgery to fix a split tendon in his wrist that would keep him out 2-3 months; finally they have no proven pitching behind Pedro. Joe Kerrigan, the pitching coach, has done a great job band-aiding a rotation together. However, Nomo is streaky and pitching a second no hitter, even against the Orioles is impressive, but I bet he hits the wall before the end of the year. Castillo, Paxton, and Ohka are either to old or too unproven. On the DL, they have Saberhagen, who has been injured since 1989, and David Cone proved last year that he is washed up. Conclusion: the Red Sox are one small spark (Everett in general, Nixon or O’Leary start complaining about playing time) away from imploding. While Jimy Williams will do his best to keep this team together, alas this will not the year of the Red Sox.

The Blue Jays, on the other hand, I am impressed with and a bit scared of. They have a potent lineup, which includes Delgado, Mondesi, Stewart, Cruz Jr, Gonzalez, and Fullmer. Round out the lineup with solid producers of Bautista, Bush and Fletcher, and I realize that this is a lineup that can hurt you in one way or another top to bottom. The pitching staff, is coming into its own with Loiza, Carpenter, Michalek, Hamilton and Escobar and one of the league's best closers in Billy Koch. Don’t let anyone fool you, this team is for real. The biggest problem with this team is going to be rookie manager and former broadcaster, Buck Martinez. Now I must admit I don’t understand this recent trend to hire broadcasters and put them in the booth, but if you look at the small sampling (Larry Dierker of the Astros) that have made this move and then look at their playoff records, I am not impressed. Broadcasters may understand the team, since they cover and report on the team everyday. But I don’t think that helps them when it comes to strategy that often needs to be employed in the playoffs and the World Series that you may not need in the AL during the regular season. However, Martinez has surrounded himself with very good baseball people, including Cito Gaston, the former Blue Jay manager who led Toronto to back-to-back World Series titles in 1991-1992. Conclusion: Blue Jays are a legitimate threat to win the division this year and with the schedules it is doubtful that the wild card team will come from the AL East, so they pose a definite threat to the Yankee dynasty.

AL Central, Twins, Indians, White Sox. Regardless of the outcome of the rest of the season, I am so happy that a small market team like the Twins can make such a large impact on the rest of baseball with the way they have played this first month. The Indians are always a concern, but their pitching will prove to be their Achilles heel down the stretch or in the playoffs. I am concerned about the inconsistent play of the White Sox (they are currently in last place behind the AAA Royals and Tigers) and am only mentioning them because of the unbalanced schedules almost assures that the wildcard will come from this division.

I really like the Twins, I am not sure how any baseball fan could not like them. They are a bunch of young kids, being managed by one of the best ever in Tom Kelly. They don’t know that they are supposed to lose like the rest of the teams with similar economic outlooks. They play hard, have fun, and get quality starts from their pitchers which in my opinion these should be the only factors that go into a successful team, but alas we know that is the not the case. They are lucky to play in the AL Central, but they have played the Red Sox and the Yankees straight up so far and have not buckled under those behemoths, which is a good sign for the Twin Cities, and might be bad news for the folks in Cleveland. I think if the Twins make the playoffs, they will be satisfied since no one picked them to be here. I think they have a legitimate shot of making the playoffs, if their pitching remains strong and they are able to keep some of their players (Mientkiewicz, Lawton, Hunter, Guzman, Radke, Milton, and Hawkins) off the DL and injury free. Conclusion: Twins will win the division, but will be like the Oakland A’s last year, not able to get out of the first round. Therefore they don’t pose a threat to the Yankees.

The Indians are a perennial thorn in the Yankees side, but they are getting older and don’t have as much gas left in their tank (depleted minor leagues, huge salaries, etc) to continue for much longer. If you go back to Zisk #1, I proclaimed the eventual demise of the Cleveland organization and it is started last year, with the White Sox winning the AL Central pennant last year and will continue this year with the Twins (even though I forecasted the Tigers rising to the top, well I was half right). That does not mean that they are not a dangerous team, which they continue to be. Juan Gone, Roberto (don’t spit in my face) Alomar, Lofton, Burks, Branyon, Fryman and Thome are still quality hitters and Vizquel is the best defensive SS in the AL. But as always pitching is a problem. Last year The Tribe went out and hired the Yankee Killer, Chuck Finley, but unfortunately he could not consistently kill any other team. Jarret Wright is still injured, as is Charles Nagy. Burba and Colon will get you some quality starts, but I would not want to base my playoff success (or failure in this case) on these chumps. The closer is Yankee and Brewer reject Bob Wickman, how sad. Conclusion: Indians will win the wildcard because they play in the weakest division and because of the experience of the team they should beat any team other than the Yankees in the divisional series, then they will lose to whomever they face in the ALCS.

I have included the White Sox in this analysis, since I believe they are better then their last place record currently indicates. They have kids with playoff experience (Ordonez, Singleton) and veterans that have been through the grind before (Alomar Jr, Clayton, Durham, Baines) and with David Wells, finally have a pitcher that lives for the big time and can have a calming effect on the rest of the young staff. However Wells may never get the chance since they have come out of the blocks stumbling badly. Conclusion: Long shot at wildcard, but since they play the Royals and Tigers a lot of times, and they should hope that the Twins stumble, however in the end not a threat to the Yankees.

AL West, Mariners. I just have to laugh at how mediocre the Rangers are since they spent ¼ of a BILLION (with a B) dollars on one player, and did not spend one dime to upgrade their pitching. Apparently, folks in Texas don’t learn from recent history, that pitching wins games when they count. I understand the economics of signing A-Rod, in that it puts fannies in the seats, but that won’t last if your team is not in contention. On the other hand, the Mariners have lost 3 studs in the last 3 years and have only gotten better. I credit Lou Pinella, who should still be managing the Yankees, with this success. The A’s are young and hungry, but getting killed by the new strike zone, and great expectations of last year.

The Mariners will win the AL West. They are the 1984 Tigers, jumping out to an almost insurmountable lead of 9 games in one month. They have hitting (Edgar, Ichiro, Olerud, Cameron, Boone), they have starting pitching (Garcia, Sele, Moyer, Tomko and Meche) they have relief pitching (Nelson, Paniagua, Rhodes, Charlton, and Sasaki), and serious playoff experience which they showed last year in the ALCS against the Yankees. Conclusion: Yankees better beware, especially after getting swept by these Mariners in Yankee Stadium already this year.


If the Yankees are able to outlast the Blue Jays and win the AL East, they will face the Mariners in the ALCS. The ALCS will go 7 games with the Mariners winning at Safeco Field since they will have home field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. They will be tired and worn after a 7 game series with the Yankees, but I see them prevailing in the World Series against any NL team.

If the Blue Jays win the East, then the Mariners will waltz into their first World Series with relative ease, beating the Indians in the ALCS and win the whole enchilada, embarrassing the NL team.

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