Amidst some uninspired games, a tie for first place

Yanks drop rubber game, fall 7-1 to Phillies
Some scoring distribution inefficiencies
The standings say first place, but do the results?

After beating Roy Halladay on Tuesday night, I figured the Yankees would have an easy go of it against the Phillies. Yet, the team’s offense could not oblige. The A.J. Burnett/Jamie Moyer mismatch came out the wrong way, and although Andy Pettitte threw seven strong innings, Kyle Kendrick made himself out to be an NL Cy Young award contender. By all accounts, it was a trap series.

As the usual post-game reaction unfolded on Twitter, Mark Feinsand of the Daily News let slip an interesting comment. Constrained by the medium’s 140-character limit, he said, “Tampa Bay has lost, so the Yankees will remain in a first-place tie if they lose. Not that they deserve it – or that it matters on June 17.” It seemed to be an overreaction at first by someone in the media who knows that the Yanks are under pressure to steamroll their way to the AL crown ever year, and the fans grew defensive. Yet, after some back-and-forth with Feinsand, I began to understand what he’s saying.

In essence, no team has played “deserving” baseball yet this year. Through that phrase, Feinsand didn’t mean that the Yankees were a bad team; he simply meant that they’ve not been an impressive team yet. They haven’t made a statement against teams they will need to beat to reach the World Series. With the best record in baseball, they’re not a bad club, but they haven’t shown the ability to dominate as the club did during its second-half run in 2009.

The Yanks have seemingly reached first with the highest win total by beating up on the little guys. In their 25 games against teams currently under .500, the Yanks are a whopping 20-5. As the Mets learned last weekend, it’s good to play the Orioles. Against teams that are currently over .500, the Yankees are just 21-20. Comparatively, the Tampa Bay Rays, co-leaders of the AL East, are 17-13 against teams currently over .500 and just 24-12 against teams under .500. The good teams will, as the Yanks have done, beat up the bad teams, but the great teams should also beat up the good teams.

But the question isn’t actually one about deserving first place. Rather, the question is a little more meta than that. Should we, on June 18th, care that the Yankees aren’t playing particularly well against good teams? Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer is no. Last year’s World Series championship Yankees went 51-24 against teams under .500 and an impressive 52-35 against teams that finished over .500. Getting there was the hard part.

As Joe detailed in a post on a similar topic in mid-August, the Yankees were just 24-29 against teams that were, at that point, over .500 and 40-13 vs. teams under .500. (Some of the teams that were over .500 in August ended the season below .500, and thus, the team’s total losses vs. .500 teams actually declined from August to October.) Joe noted that of the nine previous World Series winners, only four had winning regular season records against .500 teams. The Wall Street Journal had inspired Joe’s post, and the relevant piece of information remains so today: “The typical profile of a World Series champion in recent times is a club that cleans up on the weak and breaks even against everyone else.”

Right now, the 2010 Yankees fit that profile to a tee. They’re playing .512 baseball against the good teams and .800 baseball against the bottom-feeders. If those trends keep up, the Yankees should have a date with the dance in October, and at that point, as we know, all bets are off. The current club may suffer from bullpen problems, and it may have a weak bench. But today, they deserve a share of first place.

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Yanks drop rubber game, fall 7-1 to Phillies
Some scoring distribution inefficiencies
  • Pete

    I kinda disagree. For much of the season, yes, but for the first month they were dominating just like they did last summer, where the pitching would be excellent and the offense would “pass the baton” all the way to 7/8 runs. There was a point this year where it seemed like they were going to win 4 of 5 forever

  • Rose

    The Kyle Kendrick experience we have seen time and time again. A rookie pitcher the Yankees can’t seem to accurately study due to never seeing them before.

    The Jamie Moyer situation is clearly the most frustrating as he’s been seen time and time again…and then some more. The fact that he turns 48 in November is only a little piece of the frustration. The fact that he went from pitching 1 inning and allowing 9 earned runs…to immediately throwing 8 very solid innings of 3 hit-2 run ball (both runs of which were by solo HR)…that’s perhaps more frustrating.

    But it’s baseball and that’s what happens I guess. One day you beat up a perennial Cy Young candidate…and the next you’re getting schooled by a soon-to-be 48 year old. Gotta love baseball.

    • Rick in Boston

      Rose, just a correction, but Kendrick’s in his fourth major league season.

      • Rose

        True. But up until last night, the Yankees had never faced him.

      • Rose

        But you’re right. He isn’t a rookie. My mistake.

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      A rookie pitcher the Yankees can’t seem to accurately study due to never seeing them before.

      This is really a case of remembering the outliers and not the norm, as the stats simply do not back this media narrative up. The Yankees have crushed pitchers they haven’t seen before the last few years, but it only takes one start like last night for the media to claim otherwise.

      • Rose

        Agreed…but I think it’s a perception based on similar “rookie” pitchers lines against other teams. Numerous random young inexperienced pitchers tossing 1-run ball games on a more than usual basis against the Yankees opens some eyes I guess.

        Sure, it happens with the veterans too…but since they are the majority…perhaps its expected? I don’t know.

        It’s all perception anyway I guess.

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime (Optimovelist Primus)

    Just get to October. After that, what happens is anyone’s guess.

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    If you really wanted to cherry pick, you can find a “weakness” in just about every teams schedule ever. Over 162 games even the best teams will have peaks and valleys. They can only play the schedule they are given, and they are on pace for 100 wins.

    The 1999 team was .500 in interleague. The 1998 team’s winning percentage dropped 100 points in the 2nd half of the season and August and September were their two worst months. The 2000 team won 87 games and was terrible in September. No team is going to go through a 6 month season dominating bad teams and consistently beating good teams.

    It doesn’t matter on June 17th (or any date for that matter) what a team has “deserved”.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      Over 162 games even the best teams will have peaks and valleys.

      This is a mantra that should be repeated often, especially by those unschooled in zen baseball.

      • Rose

        Zen baseball, not to be confused with the “Zen Master” aka Phil Jackson. His constant practice in tantric sex enable his abilities to reach their max.

        The same should be said for baseball…

    • Chris

      They can only play the schedule they are given, and they are on pace for 100 wins.

      That’s technically true, but there is still value in looking at the strength of schedule part way though a season. An especially weak or strong schedule could suggest that a team is likely to rebound (or struggle later in the season).

      As for deserving it… the Yankees have the best run differential in baseball. The Rays are a close second, but the Yankees have played 11 more games against teams with winning records than the Rays.

  • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

    I think the qualifications for being “deserving” of first place in the middle of June are arbitrary and, well, silly. To be fair, Feinsand acknowledged as much.

    It’s easier to be critical of a team like the Yankees that one follows game-by-game than a team that has similar record but isn’t watched inning by inning. You see every bullpen blowup, unimpressive pitching performance and offensive no-show in detail and real time. But that’s baseball. It’s going to happen that the Yankees don’t steamroll every team. Maybe the Yankees have underperformed so far in the season but that doesn’t give a blueprint of how they will play against teams over .500 in the future.

  • nsalem

    Our lack of firepower off the bench, (which is caused by our need to
    carry a third catcher, our injury situation and having a 13th pitcher) is scary. This maybe the biggest difference between this year (up to now) and last year(after June 15). Hopefully
    the return of Nick and or/and the addition of a decent offensive bat can
    return us to the level we played on last year.

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      No team ever has much firepower off the bench though. Players are not starters for a reason. If that’s the biggest weakness, I’m thrilled.

      • Rose

        Although the combination of Jerry Hairston Jr. and Eric Hinske was pretty good I must say. A lot better than Kevin Russo, Ramiro Pena, or whoever else.

        Albeit, they cost significantly more.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

          Eric Hinske and Jerry Hairston: not on the Yankees on June 18, 2009.

          • Rose

            Very true…but I was just replying to Steve H saying that “no team ever has much firepower off the bench”. Which is certainly usually the case…but we had some good firepower off the bench last year…although, you’re right, they weren’t present on June 18th.

            • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

              Eric Hinske and Jerry Hairston are good for bench players, but there is a reason they are on the bench. I wouldn’t consider them any great firepower. There will be a ton of Hinkse’s and Hairston’s available if needed, so again, if the bench is the biggest concern for the Yankees right now, I’m thrilled.

              • Rose

                I agree with you. But “bench firepower” is a relative term. If you’re talking about “bench firepower” in relation to the starters firepower, of course it isn’t going to equal out…but if you talk about “bench firepower” among all of the other bench players in the majors…then guys like Hairston Jr. and Hinske start to stand out above the rest a little more.

                But you’re right. If you’re looking for actual firepower the starters bring most teams…you probably won’t find it on the bench.

      • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

        To be fair, I think Yankee fans got spoiled way back when with the likes of Darryl Strawberry and Ruben Sierra coming off the bench.

  • steve s

    One clear difference between 2009 and 2010 is that even at this point in the season last year (even though the Yanks record is better this year after the same amount of games) the Yanks had established that “pie in the face” mojo and feeling that they could/would rally no matter how far behind. That late inning feeling certainly has not been prevalent so far this year.

    • Rose

      That late inning feeling certainly has not been prevalent so far this year.

      That’s true. But I think it’s because there has been so many injuries…and a few guys have been struggling as well. Could be a small sense of personal frustration amongst a few players…but they’re still winning which is all we can ask for I guess.

    • AndrewYF

      Right, but last year’s Yankees relied on the ‘come-from-behind’ mentality to win games.

      This year’s Yankees have not had to come from behind in such dramatic fashion in order to win games. Honestly, I view this as a good thing.

      • deuce bag poster

        I don’t view it as a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just a thing. All it proves is that the 2010 Yankees and 2009 Yankees are two different teams.

      • steve s

        Even though I agree a “win is a win” there was a real intimidation factor as to how the come from behind stuff worked last year and, importantly, it carried through in every playoff series as well.

        • deuce bag poster

          I disagree. The way you judge the “intimidation factor” is how many more wins it caused. Obviously since we have a similar amount of wins this year that “intimidation factor” wasn’t that significant.

        • mike c

          the yankees had what, 14 walk-offs last year? that’s definitely not going to happen this year. no team can bank on a number like that

    • http://www.soxandpinstripes.net JGS

      I’m not sure if that is true–they seem to stage late inning rallies a lot, but they are falling short because they dug themselves too much of a hole earlier. They brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth last night, but there were already two outs and that was just too much to ask.

  • http://yanksdraftsandprospects.blogspot.com/ Jake H

    That game was frustrating along with the one before. It seems that the only people who are hitting right now are Cano and Swisher.

  • AndrewYF

    The Yankees are tied for the best record in baseball. People are disappointed?

    • Slugger27

      you new to the franchise?

      • Sweet Dick Willie

        Yeah, that Curtis Granderson isn’t getting criticized enough.

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      DSIRONYYF got many an update last night. It was the best part of the game for sure, other than the Pettitte fistpump.

  • mike c

    just for perspective, last season we looked weak by the ASB, the offense was anemic until the atlanta series when cashman went ape-ass and tore up the club house. boston looked like the best team in baseball, and arod was back but slumping hard

    • mike c

      oh and the CMW injury stung badly, we had mitre + gaudin in the 5th spot, and an underachieving joba in the 4th

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        Joba thru June 18th last year was doing great as a back of the rotation starter. Team was 8-5 in his starts and he had a 3.89 ERA.

        • mike c

          good point– i forgot about his good start honestly, but having a real 5 man rotation for the 2nd half will be much more promising then our pitching staff last year. CC and AJ are known quantities now, and the sky’s the limit for andy + hughes at this point

          • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

            aj has never beena nd will never be a known quantity.

            \nitpick

            • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

              He kind of is. He’s consistently inconsistent.

          • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

            Yeah, though there certainly has to be concern with Hughes when he hits an innings total he has never hit before. That’s when Joba fell off a cliff last year, his previous high was around 110 IIRC, and it was all downhill after that.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        Another thing about 2009 no one remembers: Andy was pretty much God-awful in the first half, his ERA was near five.

  • http://myspace.com/lincolnsworld Link

    The Yanks are 21-20 against .500+ teams. If they were 10-31 then I think there would be greater cause for concern.

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      I think during the ASB last year they were something like 4-17 against teams in first place. So, eh, not really cause for concern either way for me.

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    For a little bit of perspective, the 2009 Yankees would currently be 4 games behind the 2010 Yankees, and things seemed to work out alright for them.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      Eh, I get your point, but that fact is irrelevant.

      The Yanks won 103 games last year. If they win 105 games this year, but Tampa and the Sux each win 106, I won’t take solace in the fact that the Yanks improved their record over the previous year.

  • nsalem

    The Yankees with their weak bench are still a very good team that still maybe the best team in baseball. As a fan I would love to see them upgrade the bench with a big veteran bat presence as in a Strawberry
    or a Sierra. Obviously this would make them a better team and increase their chances to go deeper into the playoffs. With the age and health problems, nagging injuries should be anticipated. Last year depth was all important and the state of our rested vets were key in the playoff run. Having no one pinch hit for Pena in the 8th inning on Wednesday was troubling. Casey Stengel once pointed out the difference between
    “replacement” players as oppossed to “substitute” players. He attributed much of the Yankees success to the FO’s sbility to find
    him replacement rather than subsitute players. I believe we have subsitutes when there are replacements available.

  • http://riveravenueblues Jethro

    Gee, Rose–Looks like you screw up virtually everything you say here. First you think pitchers who have been in the league 4 years are rookies, and then you don’t know who was on the bench for the Yankees at this time last year. You’re a real baseball whiz, Rose. Next you’ll be telling everyone that it was good to trade away an outfielder who is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, along with a servicable lefty reliever who is better than at least 2/3 of this year’s bullpen (and who is currently 4-0, with an ERA a touch over three) and a 25 year old starter who is sloted as the number 2 starter on the team—-all for a .236 hitter, a strikeout waiting to happen flunky–a low on base percentage guy–a low runners in scoring position guy. In layman’s terms –a BUM. Good job Rose–you’ve my man.

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    • nsalem

      unkind

    • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

      I suspect you’re making a lot of people feel bad for Rose. That’s rather difficult, but you’re pulling it off.

      • deuce bag poster

        I love that facepalm thing.

  • Philly Joe

    I was at the game last night rooting hard for my Phils. I hate to say this, but I was surprised at the Yankee fans. So much classier than Mets fans, and I had a great time interacting with them without anybody taking it (and dishing it as well) as anything more than good fun.

    I also greatly enjoyed the interaction the players have with their fans. Good fans, great stadium and a great team.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      Interesting comment on Yankees fans, but I’m wondering, are there any fans LESS classy than Mets fans?

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        Can I jokingly say “Phillies fans”? Sorry Philly Joe, I mean it in jest. =P You seem cool, thanks for the compliments.

      • Philly Joe

        Well…ever been to a flyer’s game?

    • nsalem

      Hope your back in October, with a different outcome of course.

  • Sleepykarl

    Saying the Yankees don’t deserve to be in first place seems ridiculous to me as I sit in North Texas and watch the 1st place Texas Rangers (who would be 4th in the East). Talk about a ridiculous fanbase, a team that has won a collective 1 playoff game gets on top of a terrible division and all I hear are WS predictions.

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    I admit I was pretty annoyed when I first read that comment. I mean… best record in baseball, best run differential, what else do they need to do? I do get what he, and this article, means about out-and-out dominating, but no team has done this consistently.

    And I cannot worry about the “ZOMG they only beat the bad teams!!!” stuff because that was the dumbest meme from last year. There’s still a loooot of baseball to be played.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUvg7Empjfg Captain Jack

    Right now, the 2010 Yankees fit that profile to a tee. They’re playing .512 baseball against the good teams and .800 baseball against the bottom-feeders. If those trends keep up, the Yankees should have a date with the dance in October, and at that point, as we know, all bets are off. The current club may suffer from bullpen problems, and it may have a weak bench. But today, they deserve a share of first place.

    After the offseason the Yankees had, really anything less than a WS win would be a disappointment. I know there’s a lot of baseball to be played yet, but right now the bullpen needs to be fixed post haste and Posada and Alex Rodriguez need to be able to catch and play third, respectively, full time. I also think they need a bat off the bench and a fulltime DH. The bullpen shouldn’t be too difficult to fix, there’s guys like MacAllister and Chevy in the minors that can probably help out; and if Aceves gets healthy that’s a huge win for the bullpen too. Furthermore maybe a guys like David Aradsma can be had for cheap, but I doubt it. As to the bench and DH, meh…maybe a guy like Austin Kearns can be had for not a whole lot.

    Also, Boston has made up a few games (against weak teams, albeit) while still playing at half strength. Imagine what they can do when they get Ellsbury, Cameron, and Beckett back. Yikes.