CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.
These have been bouncing around my head all off-season; some are tempests in teapots, some a little more substantial – I just havent heard many of them asked…DID the Yankees actually upgrade? Acknowledging that a healthy Nick Johnson, freed of all defensive worries, could win a batting championship (or at least the On Base crown), is a trade-off of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera for Curtis Granderson, Johnson, Randy Winn and Brett Gardner really a win? Has Cabreras clutch late-inning hitting been forgotten, or merely written off as a statistical fluke?…ON the other end of the Granderson trade, do the Tigers know Phil Coke wasnt that great against lefties during the first half of last year, and basically stopped getting them out at all after September 1 and in the post-season?…HAS Roy Halladay ever been tested in a pennant race? Does it matter? I seem to recall several clubs drooling over the various Javier Vazquezes who pitched in obscurity in Montreal and Arizona and even Chicago…DID the Angels look at Joel Pinieros last months worth of work in 2009? Did they break out his fly-ball to ground-ball ratio? Did they note that a sinkerball pitcher who cant get the ball down will probably end up in mopup relief?…WHY hasnt anybody else written that if Milton Bradley doesnt sink the Mariners, theyll be the first?…lastly IF you are the Nats and you have as exciting a prospect as Ian Desmond and you havent unloaded Cristian Guzman, why do you go ahead and sign Adam Kennedy?
Two updates, one coming with my thanks, one with a touch of silliness.
This thing in Atlanta. This is really happening? The Braves, 8-1/2 behind the Rockies 18 days ago, have won 15 of 17, are two behind the Rockies in the Wild Card, and four behind the Phillies for first in the division, with five to play? It is of course impossible, even for a team on as much of a roll as Bobby Coxs, to pull this off – except we so easily forget: this is almost exactly what the possible victims here, the Rockies, did to San Diego in 2007. Plus there are two very relevant facts here: since Jim Tracy took over, Colorado has been so hot that they necessarily had to cool down (as will the Braves), and if Atlanta pulls this off they can thank Jair Jurrjens. After he beat the Marlins tonight he rose to merely 9-1 against the NL East (yes, its 4-0 versus the Mets; that still leaves 5-1 versus everybody else). This is one of the more remarkable stats of the last few years. And lets not even start talking about how the Phlounderin Phillies have enabled all this.
Funny that with all the big names moving before the deadline, the number of primo prospects was actually pretty low. I was particularly unimpressed with what the Indians got for Cliff Lee (and Ben Francisco) although I am only about ten percent insufficiently skeptical to address the Lee deal as I did the McLouth one – that the trading team was selling a guy, if not at peak value, then at the last moment he would be seriously overvalued, and were doing well to get anything hopeful back.
The Phillies, who have brought new meaning to the phrase “home away from home,” are in St. Petersburg tonight, giving us time to contemplate the insanity of a divisional leader having lost 22 of its first 35 games in its own park. For the record, in the NL East only the Mets are at .500 or better at home, and that 13-22 mark for the Phils compares unfavorably to Washington’s 12-23 home start.