Outside of Boston, no trouble for Yanks
Superior record vs. rest of league suggests drought will end
NEW YORK -- Little more than two months into the regular-season calendar, the New York Yankees have already played two seasons. There has been the season against the Boston Red Sox, and there has been the season against everybody else.
Perhaps a third season was started on Friday night with the first Subway Series contest at the new Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won this game, which is what they do the vast majority of the time when they are not playing the Red Sox.
There was a bizarre ending, with Mark Teixeira scoring from first on a popup hit by Alex Rodriguez that was dropped in short right field by Mets second baseman Luis Castillo. The Yankees' 9-8 victory did not often seem likely on a night when they walked nine batters. Joba Chamberlain in particular lost familiarity with the strike zone, walking five in four innings.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi was completely honest about the nature of the outcome.
"[The win] is hard to believe, because we tried to give away the game all night," Girardi said. "In the end, we got a big gift. ... You can't pitch like that and expect to win."
If there is a moral here, it might be that all things are possible when you're not playing the Red Sox. The Yankees, as any member of a civilized society must know, are 0-8 against the Red Sox this season. But against everybody else on their schedule, they are 35-18. Projected over a full season, that latter pace would lead to 107 victories. New York, in these non-Boston games, is very much what it expected to be in the 2009 season.
Ideally, the Subway Series should feature two New York teams in division-leading positions. But after the Yankees dropped three straight to the Red Sox and the Mets lost two of three to the Phillies, this event -- while still emotionally charged -- also had something of the consolation-bracket feel to it. But the intensity built to completely appropriate levels through twists, turns and bases on balls, to the singular ending -- a gift for the Yankees, the Twilight Zone for the Mets.
True, at this moment beating the Mets is not the sternest test of the Yankees' quality. The Mets are without 40 percent of the rotation they thought they would have this year. They are without one of their biggest run producers in Carlos Delgado. They are without one of the leading offensive catalysts in the game in Jose Reyes. They are without their primary setup man in J.J. Putz.
That's not all they're missing in a tidal wave of injuries, but the point has been made. Still, the schedule asks the two New York teams to meet in Interleague competition six times this month. It is not the Yankees' fault that the Mets reach this point with a bunch of talent that can be located only by checking the disabled list.
The Yankees match up well against the remnants of the Queens operation. If the Yankees' Subway Series opponent is not in optimal health, a review of the talent in the rest of the Major Leagues suggests that they would match up well against the vast majority of teams. Outside of Boston, is there another American League team that is clearly better than the Yankees? No, especially not with the dramatic drop-off in performance by two of last season's best AL clubs -- the Rays, the defending AL champions, and the Angels, owners of baseball's best regular-season record last year.
The rest of the National League against the Bombers? Conjecture is hitting cleanup in most of this phase, but the Phillies and the Dodgers have clearly demonstrated quality and the Phillies have the tangible proof of that quality -- World Series rings. The Yankees are not better than those two clubs at this moment, but they are in the same area code as far as overall ability. The Phils beat the Yankees two out of three in May, but the sample size limits the longed-for sweeping conclusion.
The bottom of the NL will be on display when the Yankees play the Nationals, and the middle of the NL will be available when the Yankees play the Marlins and the Braves. If you're the Yankees -- looking at the Subway Series against a Mets team far under its normal strength and nine other Interleague games this month -- you can realistically hope to be doing business at something like a 10-5 pace. It does not matter that nine of the Yankees' Interleague games are on the road. Entering the weekend, the Mets were the only one of their upcoming NL opponents over the .500 mark.
Interleague Play, with its decided edge for AL clubs, would generally serve to underscore the Yankees' relatively strong position. So their case is strong, except in the one obvious comparison on the other side of the argument. What gives with the 0-8 record against the Red Sox? Is it a statistical fluke or the iceberg saying hello to the Titanic?
This record probably says much more about the Red Sox than it does about the Yankees. If you examine the eight losses, the Yankees hit their stride offensively only once, and that was in a 16-11 loss that was out of control in both directions.
Apart from that, the Yankees averaged fewer than three runs per game. What this reflects is Boston's pitching depth, which is unequaled in the AL. The Red Sox are the only AL club that has every inning covered. The Yankees don't have every inning covered, and neither do the other 12 Junior Circuit competitors.
The Red Sox can stop any team from scoring at any given moment in a game. They can even stop an offense as effective as that of the Yankees -- second in the Majors in runs scored. So they can beat the Yankees eight times in a row without a miracle. Of course, the Yankees ought to be able to manage more than an occasional victory over the Red Sox. The difference is that the Yankees, a disheartening 12th place in the AL in team ERA, could not stop the Red Sox consistently enough to defeat them eight straight times.
It's a long season. All of this is theoretically subject to change. All the same, observers looked at the Mets' game-ending error on Friday night and had to think that if the Yankees were playing the Red Sox, that popup would have been caught. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia would have been the logical candidate, but the way things are going, Jacoby Ellsbury may have sprinted over from center field in record time to make the play.
The Yankees are good for the intermediate future. There are the NL teams coming up, then the mere mortals in the AL. Not until August do the Yankees see the Red Sox again. True, there will be 10 more games against Boston this season, but the finish will not be 0-18. In the meantime, life is easier against roughly 28 other clubs.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.