Winning the division in a roundabout way

ALCS secondary ticket prices on the decline
Fan Confidence Poll: October 18th, 2010
Red Gatorade? The Cubs can have him! (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

As the Yankees stumbled through the final month of the season, going 13-17 with a .333 team wOBA and 4.56 team FIP, a division lead that once stood at four games vanished. Joe Girardi took perhaps more criticism than any manager of a playoff team in recent history, as fans and media alike chastised him for what they perceived to be mixed signals. Girardi claimed that he and his team still had their sights set on the division, but the actions often didn’t agree. Whether it was rest for regulars or yet another Chad Gaudin appearance, it just didn’t appear that winning the division was the priority.

In the end the Rays beat the Yanks out for the division, capturing the AL East by just one game on the final day of the season. Some were upset that New York failed to win the division for the second time in three years, others had accepted what seemed like an inevitable fate by then. Instead of starting the playoffs from the comfort of home against the Twins, they were forced to travel to Minnesota and start on the road. The Rays enjoyed some home cooking and had their opponent come to them.

Two weeks after the end of the regular of the season, none of that matters anymore. The Yankees crushed the Twins in the ALDS like the fat kid at the party eating the last piece of birthday cake, and the Rangers pushed the Rays to the limit before defeating them in five games, winning all three games at Tropicana Field. Winning the AL East didn’t hurt the Yanks any more than it helped the Rays. The first two games in the ALCS were then played in Texas, with the Yanks and Rangers winning one each.

So now here we are. After all the criticism and stress of September (and early October), the Yankees in the exact same position they would have been in if they’d won the division in the first place. They’re about to start a best-of-five series against the Rangers with home field advantage in their favor. The only difference is that the first team to win three games goes to the World Series rather than the ALCS. This is it, this is what everyone was rooting for when they wanted the Yanks to go all out to win the division. Everyone upset over settling for the Wild Card got what they wanted anyway, they just had to wait another week.

For a team like the Yankees, one that competes for the World Championship year after year, division titles are nothing more than window dressing. It’s nice in a “hey look at us” kind of way, but it’s just step one of the process. Instead of focusing on that goal, Girardi set his team up to be in the best possible position for the postseason, and so far it’s worked. They’ve won four of five playoff games despite playing just once at home, and everyone is as healthy and able to contribute as can be. For all the flack he took, there’s no arguing now that his moves last month were the right ones, Wild Card team or not.

No one remembers division titles, but they all remember World Championships.

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ALCS secondary ticket prices on the decline
Fan Confidence Poll: October 18th, 2010
  • thurdonpaul

    Great article Mike !!

  • Greg

    Francessa just had a great commenton Mike’d Up

    There is a “palpable fear” coming from the city regarding Cliff Lee.
    He compares it to ’99 Pedro, the only difference being we won the first two games against the Sox.

    • mbonzo

      Well it’ll be another 10 years til we hear another great comment from Francessa. Set your calenders everyone.

    • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

      Lee =/= Pedro. Sorry, no, never.

    • http://www.twitter.com/jordan_smed JGS

      Cliff Lee this year: 3.18 ERA, 2.58 FIP (led AL), 4.3 bWAR, 7.0 fWAR (led ML)

      Pedro in 1999, same stats: 2.07 ERA (!!), 1.39 FIP (!!!!!!), 8.4 bWAR, 12.1 fWAR (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

      Pedro 1999 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Cliff Lee 2010

      • Greg

        I don’t think he was comparing the stats. He was comparing the fact that the Yankees didn’t want to face him

  • SodaPopinski

    I bet Gardner works at least one walk off Lee. You know he wants one.

    • dalelama

      Hope you are right as it will be the only way he gets on.

      • http://www.twitter.com/jordan_smed JGS

        Fact: Lee gave up the same amount of hits per inning this year as Phil Hughes, and more than CC, CJ Wilson, or even Colby Lewis.

        Getting on base against Lee via a hit is much more likely than getting on base via a walk.

        • Dalelama

          Not with Gardner at bat…..

          • http://www.twitter.com/jordan_smed JGS

            Lifetime, Brett Gardner is 3-8 with a sac bunt off Lee. That’s .375/.375/.375

      • http://www.paychex.com chris c.

        “Hope you are right as it will be the only way he gets on.”

        You can almost predict what will now happen……..the Yankees will get 5 hits off Lee, and Gardner will have 3 of them.

  • M

    has anyone here written a piece on why the Yanks suck when facing a pitcher for the first time?

    While the overwhelming focus was on Hughes sucking, to me it was equally frustrating watching the lineup score only 2 measly runs off that fat colby lewis.

    • mbonzo

      It was even more frustrating seeming them hit the ball so hard and putting so many men on base, ultimately coming up with just 2 runs!

      • larryf

        only 22 lob! heart of the order left 12 on…

        Vlad left 8 all by himself…

    • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

      http://www.baseball-reference......;t=p#oppon

      Yankees have faced Lewis before

      • Nice

        Not since 2003. Memory banks of a non name pitcher expire long before 7 years.

    • Will Crist

      I remember seeing a study earlier in the season (can’t remember where unfortunately) that examined this exact thing. End result was that the Yankees do not do nearly as poorly when facing a pitcher for the first time as it is assumed. We just remember the bad games longer.

    • http://www.paychex.com chris c.

      I don’t know why…..don’t really have the numbers to back it up, or anything like that………but for a while now, Mark Teixeira has been frustrating the hell out of me at the plate. The guy just never seems to come up with a big hit of any kind.

  • Gonzo

    I hate to be Debbie Downer. The Yanks face the Rangers in a best of fice with home-field, however, CC pitches once in the series and Lee can pitch twice.

    • All Star Carl

      Yanks will finish them in the Bronx.

      • http://www.paychex.com chris c.

        “Yanks will finish them in the Bronx.”

        I will be stunned if Burnett pitches a gem the day after Cliff Lee takes a loss. Not saying it can’t happen, but that is asking a ton.

    • Vinrae

      Can’t CC pitch in G4 and G7, if ever?

      AJ goes game 5, Phil Game 6 if needed.

      Though I guess if we enter Game 4 down 1-2, CC starts that one.

    • http://www.paychex.com chris c.

      That is absolutely correct, Debbie.

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    No one Really crappy teams remembers division titles, but they all real winners remember World Championships.

    FTFY.

    • CBean

      I was at a Rockies/Phillies game earlier this year at Coors Field and sat next to a bunch of obnoxious Phillies fans (redundant?) and at one point, they started a chant of “NL Champs!” It was incredibly lame but I guess some other teams are satisfied coming in second best.

    • http://www.paychex.com chris c.

      Oh please! I remember every Red Sox postseason series the Yankees played. Whether you want to call is ALDS or ALCS or whatever.

  • http://fmylife.com Bryan

    They’ve won four of five playoff games despite playing just once at home.

    Very, very good point.

  • Tim

    Fun Fact – since acquiring Cliff Lee from Seattle at mid-year, Texas is 8-9 in games Lee has started, including the post-season.

    But the Yankees have no chance to win. I believe it – after all, I heard it on ESPN.

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      What will the media talk about if the Yankees beat Lee?

      WITH DOC HALLADAY LOOMING, THE YANKEES ARE IN TROUBLE BEFORE THEY EVEN MAKE THE WORLD SERIES!

    • rek4gehrig

      Yeah. Giants had no chance going up against Doc.

    • http://www.paychex.com chris c.

      “Fun Fact – since acquiring Cliff Lee from Seattle at mid-year, Texas is 8-9 in games Lee has started, including the post-season.”

      I don’t care if he’s 4-12 with Texas. His postseason numbers are drop dead gorgeous. He has earned the hype.

      “But the Yankees have no chance to win. I believe it – after all, I heard it on ESPN.”

      I have never heard this, and I watch ESPN all the time.

  • MattG

    Except that Cliff Lee can pitch twice in this best of five, and CC only once. So no, it’s not the same thing.

    ed.note–it may actually be a better thing, as of this second, I have more confidence in Pettitte than CC.

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      Like Joel Sherman just said, if you want to be a champion, you find a way to beat Lee once and you find away to beat Tommy Hunter at home. That’s it.

    • http://www.paychex.com chris c.

      “ed.note–it may actually be a better thing, as of this second, I have more confidence in Pettitte than CC.”

      What choice do you have? Pettitte is the only Yankee surefire starter who hasn’t looked like pure slop in this series.

  • TopChuckie

    Seems to me Game 6 and Game 7 at home is still an advantage, theoretically.

    Also, I have a lot more confidence in CC on 3 or 4 days rest and coming off a down performance than I do CC on 9 days rest or Andy Pettitte.

    • http://www.paychex.com chris c.

      “Seems to me Game 6 and Game 7 at home is still an advantage, theoretically.”

      Of course it is. People will tell you different by showing you stats, but logically, how the heck could playing in front of your own crowd, in a stadium that was built to the strengths of your players, while having the last at-bat to win a tie game and not have the other team get a shot not be an advantage?

      The only way it isn’t is if you play like crap, and the other team plays better. But if both teams play the exact same ballgame through 9, you’d better believe you’d rather be at home!

  • rek4gehrig

    Great write-up. Couldnt agree more. Sometimes things just work out the way they should.

  • The Ghost of Phil Rizzuto

    You can say what you want about the World Series being more important than division titles but The problem with your analysis is that the current system created a clear disincentive for the Yankees to win the division. I don’t know about you but I have a major problem with a system that provides disincentives for competing. You can’t make a joke out of the regular season and then say that the playoffs are meaningful. If the regular season is so unimportant then why play it at all? Why not just seed the teams, or better yet draw lots (now that would be a real wild card) and have a large tournament like the NCAA and be done with it by Labor Day?

    I don’t blame the Yankees for gaming the system. However, I am saying that the system is rotten and needs to change.

    • http://www.paychex.com chris c.

      I don’t blame the Yankees for gaming the system. However, I am saying that the system is rotten and needs to change.

      How have the Yankees “gamed the system”? I don’t get this. Because they were on cruise control in September? That’s not gaming the system……they earned the right to rest guys and cruise in by garnering the lead they got. This is no different than back in the day before the WC, when teams had big division leads. The regular season isn’t pointless. The Yankees used it to seperate themselves from the pack, didn’t they?

      • The Ghost of Phil Rizzuto

        @chris c:

        they earned the right to rest guys and cruise in by garnering the lead they got. This is no different than back in the day before the WC, when teams had big division leads.

        Hey Einstein – the difference between what the Yankees did and “when teams had big division leads” was that there was nothing left for the teams with big division leads to compete for. The Yankees could have chosen to compete for the division title. In fact, under the rules of the game they are obligated to put forth their best effort to win games. Not doing so cheats paying fans and harms the integrity of the game. They chose not to do so because the wild card had made divisional titles irrelevant in cases where there is a choice like the Yankees had.

        The Yankees wanted to play the Twins and they did not want to play Texas in the first round. So, they chose their lineups and pitching assignments not to maximize their chance of winning a close competition for the division title but to enhance their chances of not winning the division title. And by the way they went to “cruise control” as you put it well before they had the wild card won and while they were actually leading the division! This is fraudulent, but rational under the current system which is why it’s rotten.

  • Hughesus Christo

    The Yankees just wanted to make sure they get 3 home dates out of this series.

  • Laurie

    Great analysis Mike. You said the Yankees would have faced the Twins at home, but they actually would have faced the Rangers at home, right? So they are in the exact same position they would have been today had they won the division except CC will not be pitching two. Now it is the Ranger’s rotation that is set.

    Watching Doc get beat should give Yankee fans hope.

    • http://www.paychex.com chris c.

      “Great analysis Mike. You said the Yankees would have faced the Twins at home, but they actually would have faced the Rangers at home, right? So they are in the exact same position they would have been today had they won the division”

      No they aren’t. If they won the division, the last two games of the series with the Rangers would be in Yankee Stadium, not Texas. So how is that the same?

  • Graig not Craig

    “the fat kid at the party eating the last piece of birthday cake”

    From numerous years of experience I observe that the fat kid at the party sweatily runs away from the skinny caked-up ADHD kid who is armed with a donkey-tail pin. Just saying.