Pick your poison: Boston or Tampa?

Here’s a question: if the Red Sox are performing poorly enough to miss the playoffs, should Yankee fans root for them to make it? Put another way, given that Boston has been 2007 Mets-level bad in September, are there enough flaws there that Yankees fans should root for Boston to beat out Tampa and Los Angeles and make for an easy target, should they squeak by through to the ALCS? Between the Rays and the Sox, who is the weakest link?

The Red Sox case

Boston has a myriad of problems. One problem is the lack of performance they’ve gotten from the corner outfielder slots. Carl Crawford’s first year of his big contract has been a disaster. J.D. Drew has missed time and his replacements haven’t exactly lit up the league. Drew may be back at some point, but it’s clear that the corner outfield spots for Boston currently represent a problem with no easy fix.

The Sox are also suffering through injuries, although not as many as last year. Youkilis has a back injury, a hip injury and a sports hernia. Despite the rain on Friday, Youkilis did some  batting off a tee, and Francona indicated that he “still felt it”, which makes sense since the injury will ultimately require surgery. As a result, Boston Globe writer Pete Abraham reported that it’s looking increasingly unlikely that he’ll return at all this year, perhaps as a pinch-hitter at best. Obviously this is a significant blow to the Red Sox. Youkilis is one of their best hitters, and he’s also one of the most potent right-handed hitters in a lineup dominated by lefties. One of those lefties, Adrian Gonzalez, is also hurting. Gonzalez is dealing with a rotator cuff injury that causes him pain every time he swings the bat. It’s also sapped him of his opposite-field power. If you’re keeping track at home, two of the Sox four best hitters (the other two being Pedroia and Ellsbury) are dealing with serious injuries.

There’s also the wilderness that is their rotation. In addition to not paying his child support, Erik Bedard has – surprise! – injury and durability concerns. Meanwhile, John Lackey is just flat terrible. Weiland, Miller and Wakefield all represent last-resort options, the kind of guys you’d want to kick around for the 25th spot on the playoff roster but not pencil in for a Game 3 or Game 4 start. Aceves has been well above-average, but it appears to be too late to switch him to the rotation. Even the front of the rotation, Lester and Beckett, has lost a bit of its shine. For the second year in a row, Lester’s walks are a little higher than what you’d expect from someone with his talent, and his strikeouts have dipped. Beckett’s injury created a bit of uncertainty around him, and while he did rack up the strikeouts in his last outing against Baltimore, he lost his way late in the game and gave up the lead. New York has rotation questions too, but this doesn’t diminish the fact that Boston’s issues are severe and won’t be remedied until this offseason at the earliest.

The Sox are still a decent team. Pedroia, Ellsbury and Gonzalez are exceptional hitters. Papelbon is having a great year, and if Bard regains his form they could have one of the best late game combos in the playoffs. The nature of the playoffs is wild and unpredictable, and a suddenly hot offense backed by a strong Lester and Beckett and closed with Bard and Papelbon could carry the Sox to the World Series. At the same time, it’d be silly to deny that this team has major issues.

The Rays’ Case

The case for the Rays as the weakest link revolves around their average offense and their iffy bullpen. Calling their offense average is entirely just. Their team wRC+ is 100, which defines average. Their lineup is bolstered by the likes of Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist, but there are still weak spots in that lineup. Parenthetically, one has to wonder how much closer the Rays would be to Boston had Manny Ramirez given them 500 at-bats this season.

Their bullpen is also a point of weakness, described to me by R.J. Anderson as Tampa’s “dirty little secret”. It’s simply not as good as it has been in the past. While Farnsworth had been solid for the Rays thus far, he’s dealing with elbow soreness. Set-up man Joel Peralta has been respectable, but behind him are a slew of guys best utilized in platoon matchup scenarios. Plenty of them have serious control issues, meaning that Maddon’s ability to mix and match in the late innings is compromised a bit.

The Rays are strong in their pitching staff. As frontline tandems go, it’s hard to do better than David Price and James Shields. These two would be absolutely frightening in a short series. The Yankees wouldn’t face them until the ALCS, so they’d get a crack at Niemann and Hellickson too, but the fact remains that Price and Shields are two of the best pitchers in baseball. Finally, there’s the Matt Moore factor. He’s likely headed to the bullpen, and a reprise of David Price’s usage in the 2008 playoffs would make the Rays’ end of game crew very tough, especially if they get Kyle Farnsworth back at full strength. He’s certainly the X factor.

So which team is a more formidable opponent, and for which team should the Yankee fans be rooting to make the playoffs? It’s a matter of preference. Personally, even granting all of Boston’s issues and the fact that they’re an average at best team right now, I’d like them out as soon as possible. Doesn’t the prospect of three games in Boston in October in the ALCS, with the pennant on the line, make you want to reach for a bottle of Pepto? The Rays may be just as good as Boston right now, even better. But as Moshe Mandel said to me the other day, they may be just close enough that it’d be nice to see the Sox complete this collapse and miss the playoffs altogether. No Big Papi heroics and Sweet Caroline for me, thank you very much.

Next CBA likely to add two wild card teams and one-game playoff

Via Joel Sherman, the owners and MLBPA have essentially agreed to add a second wildcard team to each league, and having a one-game playoff  determine which wildcard club advances. It would increase the importance of winning the division, but also give the owners the ability to make more money. Sherman says the two sides are still finalizing how they will create two 15-team leagues to help create a more balanced schedule, and they are also working on some draft stuff. Regardless, the addition of another wildcard team is pretty huge. The system could be in place as soon as next year.

Pitching plans after the rain out

Friday night’s rain out against the Red Sox threw a bit of a wrench into the Yankees pitching plans, but nothing major. Let’s recap what Joe Girardi said both before and after the postponement was announced…

  • Freddy Garcia was supposed to start tonight, and he’ll simply be pushed back to Saturday. That means A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova will start during Sunday’s doubleheader, but your guess on the order is as good as mine.
  • Phil Hughes played catch today and will throw a bullpen session tomorrow. If all goes well, he and his inflamed back will start one of the final three games of the season in Tampa. I’m guessing it would be Tuesday, so they could see how he feels on Wednesday and Thursday before having to make a final decision about the ALDS roster.
  • CC Sabathia will throw a simulated game before Sunday’s doubleheader, his final tune-up before Game One of the ALDS next Friday.

Game 157: No mercy (UPDATE: Rained out)

(Photo Credit: Flickr user notladj via Creative Commons license)

Already clinched the division? Big deal. Joe Girardi is running his A+ lineup out there tonight, showing no mercy against a team he has every reason to want out of the postseason. Unfortunately Mother Nature is much more kind, as the rain could force the Yankees skipper to change his lineup plans. Here’s the starting nine, which is subject to change…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Andruw Jones, LF
Jesus Montero, DH
Russell Martin, C

Freddy Garcia, SP

It’s raining in New York, and has been all day. Supposed to rain all night too, though word out of the Bronx is that they’re going to try to play. So settle in for a long night, this might be another late one. Whenever the game does start, you can watch on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Update: The game has been postponed, and they’re going to play a doubleheader on Sunday. So yeah, go ahead and use this as your open thread for the night. Talk about whatever you like.

Weather no big deal for Yanks, huge for Boston

Are the Yankees at home? Then there is roughly a 50 percent chance that it will rain, if we’re to use this season as a guide. It’s coming down consistently hard as I write this, and the forecast shows it continuing into the evening. Even if the rain stops, it could take hours to get the field back into playable condition. In other words, there is a good chance that tonight’s game gets rained out. Normally that would create an unfavorable situation, but since the Yankees have already clinched the division they have little left to play for. Of course, their opponents have plenty at stake in the final six games, and a rainout today could mangle their plans.

If all went according to plan, the Red Sox would throw Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, and Erik Bedard against the Yankees this weekend, and then have Josh Beckett, John Lackey, an then Lester again to finish out the season against Baltimore. That last start from Lester could be of great importance, since this season could very well go down to the final day. To experience a rainout tonight would create an unfavorable situation for the Sox.

A doubleheader tomorrow is tricky, since Fox has the game at 4:10 p.m. Since the Yankees will not play a single-admission doubleheader, especially against the Sox, maneuvering for one might be tough. They might have to play two on Sunday, though that doesn’t really matter. It still means postponing tonight’s game and then using two pitchers on either Saturday or Sunday. Where it impacts the Sox, and to a lesser extent the Yankees, is in the final series of the season.

If Lester starts tomorrow instead of tonight, he no longer lines up to pitch the final game of the season. The Red Sox would have none of their main five starters ready to pitch that day, meaning they’d have to use Andrew Miller or Kyle Weiland, or else start Lester on three days’ rest. If they need a win to clinch a playoff berth on that final day, it’s fairly certain that they’ll start Lester then. If they play the doubleheader Saturday they could then throw Wakefield in a potential Game 163, but if they play the doubleheader Sunday they’d again have no starter on normal rest. Erik Bedard would be the likely candidate to take the ball in that case. And then comes Game 1 of the ALDS on Friday, in which they’d either have to pitch Beckett on three days’ rest, or else go with Wakefield. It’s a mess any way you work it out.

The Yankees, on the other hand, would only be slightly inconvenienced with a rainout tonight. They can simply move Garcia back to Saturday and then go with Burnett and Nova in the Sunday doubleheader. Noesi could then go Monday, and then the final two games can go pretty much any way. Maybe they throw Colon, or maybe they give him a nice long rest before his potential playoff start. Maybe they get Hughes in for a game. Ideally, Garcia would have lined up to pitch Wednesday as a tune-up for a potential Game 3 start, but that’s not a huge deal.

This isn’t to say that the Yankees should root for a rainout tonight. Obviously it’s best to get in the games one at a time, line up Freddy for Wednesday, and generally finish the season with as few kinks as possible. But if the game were to get rained out, it wouldn’t be any big deal. The Sox might find themselves reeling, though, as their rotation currently lines up about as well as they could ask, considering the situation they’re in. One little rainout could change that. It could add yet another dimension to a wildly interesting Wild Card race.