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Posts Tagged ‘Tampa Rays’

When it comes to strange bedfellows, politics has nothing on the 2011 American League playoff race.

With only 10 games left, the Yankees sit comfortably atop the A.L. East. Barring a historic collapse, the team is all but assured of making the post season and nearly as likely to be entering October as a division winner.  However, that doesn’t mean the Yankees are no longer involved in a pennant race. In fact, they are smack dab in the middle of a heated one.

Could this be the rallying cry of Yankees' fans next week in Tampa? (Photo:

The Yankees’ magic numbers are five to clinch the division and three to secure a playoff spot. Because all 10 of the team’s final games are against the Rays (seven) and Red Sox (three), Joe Girardi can’t rest on his laurels just yet, but if the Yankees are able to clinch sooner than later, it could set up a unique final week in which the Bronx Bombers are cast as both division champions and wild card spoilers.

With the Red Sox in the midst of a September free fall (the team has lost 15 of its last 20 games), the lonely eyes of Red Sox Nation have suddenly turned toward the Evil Empire for support. Even though five more games with the Orioles should boost morale somewhat, the depleted state of the Boston rotation likely means the Red Sox will need some help from their rival in order to hold off the Rays. In other words, for the next three days, diehard Sox fans will be pulling hard for the Yankees, even if they have to hold their noses while doing it.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

With the trade deadline looming, the next 10 days could determine which teams will enter the stretch drive in the best position. For some clubs, however, the biggest impact could come from their upcoming schedule, not a potential acquisition.

After a disappointing 4-4 road trip following the All Star Break, the Yankees return to the Bronx looking to gain some ground on the division leading Red Sox. Luckily, the upcoming 10-game home stand, which includes three of the league’s worst teams, seems ideally suited for that purpose. Not only have the Yankees compiled a 10-2 record against the Athletics, Mariners, and Orioles, but those three teams have a combined winning percentage of .350 (49-91) on the road. Sometimes Yankees’ fans can be accused of being greedy, but in this case, expecting at least eight wins doesn’t seem that outlandish.

If the Yankees’ offense was firing on all cylinders, it wouldn’t be a stretch to envision them steamrolling through the next 10 games. However, the Yankees wOBA of .306 over the past 14 days ranks even lower than the rates posted by the Athletics and Orioles. The arrival of these weaker opponents could be viewed as being just what the doctor ordered, but if the Yankees can’t score enough to take advantage of the schedule, the lull could wind up being a lost opportunity.

Unfortunately, the next 10 games might not be about making hay because the Red Sox also have a very easy schedule over the same span. Although not as favorable as the Yankees’ upcoming slate, the Red Sox’ next three series are against teams that have a combined road (Mariners and Royals)/home (White Sox) winning percentage of .390 (53-83). With Boston’s offense performing at peak levels, it’s hard to imagine them losing too many games over the next 10 days, so the Yankees can’t afford any slipups.

A.L. East Contenders’ Schedule Breakdown (click to enlarge)

Note: Composite winning percentage based on the current home/road record multiplied by the number of related games remaining.
Source: MLB.com

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The Yankees hope last night's 16-inning loss to Boston turns the Rays into grumpy old men for at least one day.

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

By the time the Rays and Red Sox completed their 16-inning Sunday night marathon, the Yankees had not only landed in Tampa, but were likely nestled comfortably in their beds. During the ESPN broadcast of the game, Bobby Valentine, Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser repeatedly joked about how the Yankees’ primary rooting interest wasn’t for one team or the other, but that the game keep on going.  After all, with a four-game showdown against the Rays looming, it would stand to reason that the Yankees would benefit from facing a tired and emotionally spent team.

Are teams that play so many extra innings susceptible to a let down in the next day’s game? Based on a sampling since 1990, the answer seems to be yes. Over that period, there have been 81 games that have gone at least 16 innings. However, of that total, only 21 occurred during the last game of a series (meaning in 60, there had to be one winner and loser the next day), and four of those preceded an off day, leaving just 16 (excluding last night’s) applicable contests.

The fate of the Red Sox and Rays will be determined tonight, but the record of the other 32 teams was 13-19 in the game following their extra inning jaunt. Although consideration of several other variables, such as home/road splits and next game’s opponent, would make that record more contextually meaningful, it’s worth noting that the combined W-L percentage of those 32 teams was .521 upon completion of the extra inning affair.

“Next Day” Record of Teams Involved in Games of 16-Plus Innings, Since 1990

Source: baseball-reference.com

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

On the same day Andy Pettitte reportedly told the Yankees “to go on without him”, the Tampa Rays delivered the same message to Matt Garza.

Could both the Yankees and Rays be better off with Matt Garza in Chicago?

In an eight-player deal with the Chicago Cubs, the Rays sent Garza to the Windy City in exchange for five second-tier prospects (none of the prospects ranked in either Baseball America’s or Keith Law’s preseason Top-100 list, and only SS Lee Hak-Ju ranked among Law’s top-10 Cubs’ minor leaguers), which for some Yankees’ fans might be perceived as another missed opportunity by Brian Cashman. Of course, such sentiment ignores the Rays likely unwillingness to deal Garza within the division, but the fact remains that yet another starter has changed teams while the Yankees continue to stand pat.

Ironically, although the Yankees continue to remain patient, today’s trade of Garza actually increases their chances of making the playoffs by further weakening one of their most formidable competitors. Despite having a depleted starting rotation, and having to contend with a reloaded Red Sox team, the Yankees will probably enter 2011 with a better chance of making the post season than they did last year. Unless a surprise team emerges from the Central or West divisions (and those teams haven’t done much to improve themselves), the Yankees could face less competition for the wild card, which would allow Cashman to continue biding his time until the right deal comes along.

From the Ray’s perspective, trading Garza isn’t exactly a bad move, even if the prospects they received from the Cubs are less than impressive. Because he is eligible for arbitration, Garza is looking at a very healthy raise that could take his salary to around $6 million. Although Tampa has spent most of the offseason shedding salary, and therefore should have payroll flexibility, such an expenditure could prove to be unpalatable to a team in the process of retrenching.  Assuming the Rays believe they can not contend in the short run, it makes all the sense in the world to turn over a rotation spot to Jeremy Hellickson, shed as much payroll as possible, and accumulate prospects and draft picks in the process.

It should also be noted that Garza’s reputation seems to be a notch beyond his actual performance. Instead of being the ace that many portrayals have suggested, Garza is really more of a middle of the rotation arm. Last season, Garza’s ERA+ was a league average 101, and he ranked 77th among qualified starters with a WAR of 1.8, just behind the Phillies’ Joe Blanton. Over a three-year period beginning in 2008, Garza’s WAR of 7.9 was good for 41st among 67 comparables. Granted, simply qualifying for that comparison usually implies a level of competence needed to accumulate enough innings, but the fact remains that Garza is not an elite-level pitcher.

The point is not to malign Garza. After all, a slightly above league average starter (especially one who pitches in the AL East) capable of throwing 200-plus innings is very valuable. He just isn’t a difference maker. However, the underlying philosophy that his trade represents very well could be. If the Yankees find themselves in the post season this year, the deciding factor may not turn out to be the Brain Cashman master stroke for which so many fans have patiently been awaiting. Rather, what other teams in the American League are doing could end up having a greater impact on the Yankees than their own inaction. Think of it as addition by other team’s subtraction.

Yankees’ and Rays’ Key “Subtractions”

Rays WAR   Yankees WAR
Carl Crawford 6.9   Andy Pettitte 2.3
Matt Garza 1.8   Marcus Thames 0.6
Rafael Soriano 1.6   Kerry Wood 0.4
Joaquin Benoit 1.5   Javier Vazquez -0.2
Grant Balfour 1.2      
Jason Bartlett 0.7      
Total 13.7   Total 3.1

Source: Fangraphs.com

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