Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
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Three Wise Men
2004-11-05 13:43
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.


Here is the second installment of the Season-Ending Review I started earlier this week. I was fortunate enough to get Allen Barra, Rich Lederer and Glenn Stout to share their thoughts about the Yankees and Red Sox. Hope you enjoy and have a great weekend.

BB: Is it fair to say that they suddenly lost their character in the final four games of the ALCS? Was it a lack of character that lost this series or did the teams flaws finally rear its ugly head? (As Tom Verducci noted last week: "Hard to find someone who hurt the Yankees more than Tom Gordon and Kevin Brown in the ALCS. The Red Sox batted .500 against Gordon in the eighth innings of the series (7-for-14), with a double, a triple and two homers. His ERA in the eighth inning was 19.29. Brown is a broken down pitcher who has no clue how to pitch without dominating stuff and alienates himself from the rest of the team.")
Allen Barra: It’s always possible to reflect on any lost series and pick the player show did not perform well and say that they lacked “character.” Character is one of those terms like “chemistry” that some sportswriters pull out when they lack anything more specific to talk about. But as I’ve said many times, chemistry is an exact science, one with results that are predictable from the start. If the Yankees lacked “character” or “chemistry” after the ALCS, why was it not known that they lacked “character” or “chemistry” before the series?
Tom Verducci was on to something when he said that the Yankees were more hurt by Tom Gordon and Kevin brown than anyone else, though I do not think Tom Gordon did the hurting so much as he was hurt. The Yankees exhibited outstanding character all season long, posting a record number of come from behind wins, overcoming the loss of their number one slugger, Jason Giambi, and a pitching staff that was constantly breaking down and getting blown out. The inability of some pitchers in the starting rotation to last three innings and the further inability of some relief pitchers to keep the team in the game was a big leak which was left unplugged all season long. You could see the sand pouring out and the sack becoming more limp. This in turn put an unfair burden on what should have been the Yankee’s strength, the trio of Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, and Mariano Rivera, all of whom had pitched in record number of games with weeks to go in the regular season. What ultimately happened in Games, 4, 5, 6, and 7 was exactly what should have happened all season long: the quality part of the bullpen faltered.
What is amazing is that the Yankees lost for the simple want of two or three reasonably good pitchers in the bullpen, the kind who would seem to be reasonably obtainable, and that the weakness went all season without being addressed. So long as the Yankees kept coming from behind, it was assumed that this weakness could be ignored. For want of a nail a horse was lost … etc.
Rich Lederer: The Yankees lost something in the final four games but it wasn't their so-called character. They lost the ALCS. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Glenn Stout: Oh, I don’t think they lost their “character” – I think they lost two close games, and after that the door was open, momentum started to swing and any narrow advantage the Yankees had going in had sort of been used up. I think it’s important to remember that from the beginning of 2003 thru the first three games of the 2004 ALCS, nearly sixty games, the Yankees won every time they had to – either to beat the Red Sox, keep them at bay or to protect their lead. That’s bound to run out at some point, just as the splurge the Red Sox had in August and early September to draw close couldn’t last, and the way the Yankees hit in games 1-3 couldn’t last. Yankee fans also keep comparing this team to the late ‘90’s team, which of course won four out of five World Series. That’s completely unfair, because that will never happen again under the current playoff setup. It’s not that this team doesn’t measure up – it’s that no team can measure up to that club. I think we’ll all realize that about twenty-five years from now when no other team as come close to duplicating that record.

BB. Were the Red Sox simply the better team all along?

Allen Barra: To assume the Red Sox were the better team all along is to simply argue that we should do away with the regular season and just play the playoffs.
Rich Lederer: You can make a case on behalf of the Yankees or the Red Sox. The Yankees won more games than the Red Sox during the regular season and finished in first place in the same division. As such, the purists would argue that the Yankees were the better team. However, the Red Sox scored more runs and allowed fewer runs than the Yankees. Based on their run differentials, Boston should have won the 98 games that they did but New York should have won only 89 rather than 101. A 12-game swing between a team's actual record and its theoretical record (based on the Pythagorean approach) is unusually wide from a historical standpoint. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that the Yankees overachieved. The odds makers in Las Vegas understood this and made the Red Sox nearly a 3:2 favorite to win the ALCS.
Let's face it, the Red Sox were a very good team. Not only did Boston come back and beat the Yankees four straight but they swept the Angels and Cardinals as well. The Sox had an 11-3 record in the postseason against teams with the first, second, and sixth best records in all of baseball. The Yankees, on the other hand, got about as much out of their season as could be expected, especially given that Jason Giambi, Kevin Brown, and Javier Vazquez were essentially non-factors in the second half and in the postseason. Had these three players performed to expectations, I think it is quite possible that the Yankees would have been the franchise holding a parade last weekend.

Glenn Stout: I really don’t think there’s a dimes’ bit of difference between them. They’re a better team because they won, but let’s face it, the World Series the last two years’ has been the ALCS.

BB. What was more surprising to you, the fact that the Yankees had a 3-0 lead to begin with or the fact that the Sox won the last four?

Allen Barra: That the Yankees were up 3-0 and the Red Sox won the last four were both incredible statistical aberrations, but in the final analysis, it could easily have been predicted – and was, by many -- that the Red Sox would win in seven regardless of the order the games panned out in. I don’t know that it’s ever fair to lay the brunt of criticism for losing a series on anyone – it’s just a handful of games. Is it fair to lay the brunt of two New York Giants World Series losses on Willie Mays? Take the batting how you will, if the Yankees had won, no one would care about assigning blame to particular hitters. If one wants to assign blame, go to the obvious place: the holes in the pitching staff.

Rich Lederer: Both were surprising although the Red Sox winning the last four after losing the first three is something that no team in baseball had ever accomplished in a postseason series. Mathematically, winning four in a row is about twice as difficult as winning three straight.
After Game Five, I felt as if the Red Sox were in the driver's seat. Boston had won the last two games and the momentum was clearly on their side. Alex sent me an email prior to Game Six, asking if I could give him some hope. I had a one-word response, "No." As much as I wanted to help out a friend who described his emotions as "fragile," I truly thought the Red Sox had the edge at that point even though they were down three games to two. The Red Sox were simply playing as if they had nothing to lose while the Yankees were playing as if they had everything to lose. Looking back, the Yankees should have won Game Four, could have won Game Five, and wish they had won Game Six.

Glenn Stout: Both are shocking in their own way, but over the last two years it seems as if every series between these two teams has trumped the last one. They’re running out “remarkableness” – I mean, what’s left? For the Red Sox to repeat in the same fashion next year? For the Yankees to do it? For it all to happen in the same way only this time the Yankees win game seven, late and in extra innings? That’s the down side of playing each other so often recently, they’re exhausting the possibilities.

BB. Is it fair to lay the brunt of criticism on stars like Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield (although I haven't heard Sheffield ripped directly) when Yankee veterans Jorge Posada (.259--7-27--with 1 double, no homer and 2 RBI) and Derek Jeter (.200--6-30--with 1 double, no homers and 5 RBI) played poorly as well? Bernie Williams had a good series and I realize why Posada and Jeter get a pass--they've already won so much--but is it fair?

Rich Lederer: No, it is not fair to criticize Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield for what happened. Heck, if it wasn't for A-Rod and Sheff, the Yankees would never have been there in the first place. The Yankees lost. Blame 'em all if you want but don't signal out Rodriguez and Sheffield.

Glenn Stout: I think in a Series so close, where fifty things happened that if they would have happened just a little bit different the result would have changed (i.e. Clark’s ground rule double, Matsui’s line drive, Roberts’ barely stolen base, etc.) it’s foolish to cast around blame. They all could have done more, but they all did quite a bit to win those first three and put the team in position to win the next two. Don’t forget how close the Red Sox were to disaster – after game three one of their key players was saying privately that if they didn’t win this year, they would never win, because the players sensed that Boston’s gonna break up the team.

BB. In spite of the way it ended, the Yankees had another successful season. It only comes up short in the minds of some Yankee fans and of course, the owner. Do you think the team will bounce back and be a force again in 2005 or will they start to fall off?

Allen Barra: If the Yankees sign Carlos Beltran and come up with one or two quality pitchers, what reason is there to believe that they won’t win the AL East again? None that I cane see.

Rich Lederer: After winning 101 games, I'm not sure what the Yankees will be bouncing back from but I get your point. As far as I'm concerned, the Yankees' fortunes (so to speak) are all up to George. If he is willing to increase an already league-high payroll to the $200 million level, then, yes, the Yankees will be a force again in 2005. Otherwise, the Yankees will regress. First of all, the team won more games last year than they should have. Secondly, they have an inordinate number of "bad" contracts. Lastly, they don't have anyone in the farm system that is capable of being a force on a championship-quality team.

Glenn Stout: Oh, they’ll be a force again. They have too many good players and too many resources to fall completely apart, barring injury of course.

BB. Now that the Red Sox have won the World Serious, how will it change the culture of Red Sox Nation?

Allen Barra: I said it before, and I’ll say it again: the co-called “culture” of the Red Sox nation will not be determined by 2004 but how this team continues to perform. If the Yankees win next year, will Red Sox fans simply say, “I knew it, it was all a dream” or something like that? I suspect so, but we’ll see.

Rich Lederer: The Red Sox Nation will grow in quantity but probably not in quality. Everyone loves a winner and there will be tens of thousands of new fans walking around the country wearing Boston hats, acting as if they were on board all along. Ten years from now, every man, woman, and child from New England will claim to have been at one of the ALCS or World Series games. At some point, the fans will no longer be the story. No more camera shots of fans shaking their heads in disbelief. That may work at Wrigley Field but it won't play at Fenway anymore.

Glenn Stout: That remains to be determined, but it will change things. Everything that made being a Red Sox fan unique, except for Fenway, is gone now, or changed. I think that after a year or two they become less attractive to casual fans and that even the hard core will be a little less urgent about them. And let’s not lose sight of the fact that for all the “Moneyball” b.s.around the Red Sox under the Triumvirate, they won by following the pattern of the Yankees – spending money. I think for fans elsewhere the Red Sox just tipped the scale from being cute and cuddly to crassly dependent on cash – Yankees lite. You know, despite NY’s larger payroll, the salaries actually on the field and available to play during the series between the two teams were nearly identical
BB. Also, how does the Sox beating the Yanks the way they did figure into the rivalry?
Allen Barra: How does the Red Sox victory figure into the rivalry? Well, you can’t have a rivalry until the other team wins, so I guess now we have a rivalry.

Rich Lederer: The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry only gets bigger and better from here. It will be more intense than ever. It may not be a good time to be a Baltimore, Tampa Bay, or Toronto fan, but it is a great time to be a New York or Boston fan.

Glenn Stout: For once, it’s a real rivalry rather than a one-way road. I suspect however that in another year or two MLB will realize the current schedule set up inevitably leads to overkill and that they’ll crank things back so they don’t meet quite so often.

BB. Finally, Theo Epstein doesn't strike me as one to rest of his laurels. What moves do you think the Sox will make to remain on top next year?
Allen Barra: I think Theo Epstein made several wrong moves last year and simply got away with it. I have a strong suspicion, for instance, that by the All-Star game next year, no one is going to be bragging about replacing Nomar with Cabrera.

Rich Lederer: Theo will end up re-signing one or two players that he would have let go had the team not won the World Series. However, he will also be in a position to add as much talent as is lost. The cast of characters may change somewhat, but the Red Sox will be as competitive next year as they were this past year.

Glenn Stout: I think Boston’s challenge will be not to confuse their plan with their players. If they think the players are interchangeable and that their approach is why they’ve won, they’re seriously deluded. Epstein’s success, just like Brian Cashman, is dependent on the credit card from ownership. If Boston wants to stay where they are, given what they will likely lose this off-season, they need to keep spending, and even increase spending. I don’t think Red Sox fans will exhibit much patience if they slip back and cut back on spending too much, which I really think is the long-term goal of ownership, in addition to parlaying this win into a new ballpark, which I think is on the horizon. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that in the season the Red Sox finally won, 2004, they did so by finally matching, or nearly matching, the Yankees in spending, something they had never, ever done before, and something that if they had done in the past, and I’m talking for most of the last seventy years, they would have, and should have, won a number of times. Not that they didn’t make other smart decisions (Ortiz, Mueller, Millar) but they went out and bought the best starter and the best reliever, then could still afford to have several starting players from playoff teams on their bench (Roberts and Mientkiewicz). That gave them what they had never had before – enough pitching and enough depth to compete with the Yankees and win in the playoffs.

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