October 9, 2007

Youth is Served - Yanks Go South

It is telling that the big story in the national media today is about the losers instead of the winners in the Indians-Yankees series.

We should be accustomed to the unrelenting media focus on the Yankees' every move by now, even as they were dominated by the Indians in four games, but it's still galling to us small-market fans. The TBS announcers were finally giving a grudging nod to the Tribe's team superiority last night, when it became apparent that their desired dream matchup in the ALCS wasn't going to happen.

Prior to that, it seemed like every New York baserunner was saluted with a "here come the Yankees!" pronouncement. Tony Gwynn likened the Yankees offense to a shaken liter bottle of soda pop...one that just had to eventually explode. Turns out that when the cap came off, the stuff was flat.

When the Indians drilled them convincingly in Game 1, it was the Yankees' hitting slump that dominated the narrative. And the already infamous "bug" debacle in Game 2 was written about as if the bugs were following Joba Chambelain around all night, and retiring to their clubhouse when Fausto Carmona took the mound.

It does look like the end of the Yanks strong second half run may also signal the end of the Joe Torre era in New York. Firing Torre seems like an idiotic reaction to what has happened to the Yankees this year, but it's par for the course for The Boss. Steinbrenner and Cashman have re-tooled the farm system in recent years, and it is producing good young talent for them now.

But the fact remains that the payrolls of three of the four remaining playoff teams (Arizona - $52 million, Colorado - $54 million and Cleveland - $61 million) combined are less than New York's. And it was their grizzled (read old, expensive) veterans, Clemens and Mussina especially, who faded down the stretch. The tens of millions paid to Clemens for his cameo role were essentially flushed down the drain. The perils of having more money than sense, I suppose.

If ever the old adage that "good pitching beats good hitting" was verified, it was in this series. The Indians two aces pitched like aces, while Wang, the Yanks' number one starter, had a 19.06 ERA in two starts. All year the Yankees' starting pitching has been suspect, and there's no way to hide that deficiency in the playoffs, no matter how awesome the offense. The Indians will have no such mismatch in the series with the Red Sox, who can throw out quality starters in every game. As usual, the teams with the best starting pitching will end up in the World Series.

On a side note: Much has been made here in the Cleveland area of Lebron James showing up for Game 1 with a Yankees hat on, and then leaving early with his entourage when the outcome was decided. He has been accused of being a front-runner, or for being insufficiently supportive of the other teams from Cleveland. Others have criticized him for generating bad "PR" in the city whose sports fans pay his salary (which pales by comparison to his endorsement earnings, by the way.)

Enough already. James has been a Yankee all his life according to reports, and while the front-runner tag may be justified, at least he's an unabashed fan of a baseball team. More power to him for flying his favorite team's colors in a hostile, if awestruck crowd. And it's actually refreshing to see a professional athlete take a position for something other than reasons of pure self-promotion and P.R. Cleveland fans should climb off his back.

My ALCS prediction: The Tribe in seven.

UPDATE: Good stuff at DiaTribe...go read it all:

Stunning? Not if you looked at the pitching staffs for the two participants of the ALDS.

Shocking?
Not if you were informed enough to ignore the payroll disparity and focus instead on the talent disparity of the two teams, particularly on the pitching staffs.

An Upset?
Not to people who recognized the Yankees for what they were – a flawed team with an old and shallow rotation, an unproven bullpen, and a “historically great” offense reliant on the contributions of one singularly great regular season by the A-Rod.

Goliath crashing to the Earth?
OK, I really like this one – so I’ll go along with it; but only if you count the ridiculously biased media (I believe that TBS’ Chip Caray was actually wearing a Yankees hat in the booth and Jon Miller’s call of the final out on ESPN Radio sounded like the Indians had just won a meaningless game in April, before turning his attention to what this game means for…wait for it…the Yankees!) as part of the giant brought to its knees. The way that they portrayed the series as the Indians “surprising everyone” to beat an inferior opponent in 4 games, with the clincher coming on the road was nothing short of (sadly) exactly what was expected from the national perspective.

Also via Diatribe is this Tribe Fan in Yankeeland post with links to New York media accounts of the first two games. On the bug matter, TFIY's Ron Vallo says:

For me, the bottom line is this. Fausto was not flustered. Mariano had no problems (other than a nasty 14-pitch at-bat by Grady). The bugs were a factor to be dealt with. Like crowd noise, catcalls and the bright media lights that accompany the post-season.

Everyone else coped. Joba didn't.

Maybe the Yankees should think twice before filling their post-season bullpen with guys who were called up in August and September.

Touché

UPDATE 10/10: Bill Simmons feels much like I do on the LeBron James kerfuffle .

Posted by dan at October 9, 2007 11:23 AM