Reasons to Bet Against the Yankees
by Trevor Whenham - 09/22/2006
It took until Wednesday night for the Yankees to officially clinch the American League East crown, even though that feat had been a foregone conclusion for about a month. Now that the regular season has no bearing for the team, the problem now becomes looking forward and deciding how confident we are about their chances in the playoffs.
Conventional wisdom says that the Yankees are a shoo-in to make it to the World Series and probably win it. Of course, that was what people were saying when the Angels won the World Series. And the Red Sox. And the Marlins, the White Sox and the Diamondbacks, too. The Yankees have been one of the favorites to win the World Series ever since they last won it in 2000. They obviously haven't won it, though.
If they weren't good enough to win it all before, then it makes sense that we should make a case why they won't win it this time. The moneylines are going to be pretty ugly if we want to back the Yankees, so we want to make sure that they are worth the risk of betting on them. This team is a favorite of the general betting public, so the odds are skewed in the bookmaker's favor. To be a contrarian, then, here are three good reasons not to bet on the Yankees winning the World Series. (You'll note that the offense isn't one of them. If these guys can't score a lot of runs with the ridiculously deep lineup they have then they don't deserve to win):
1) The starting pitcher - Randy Johnson is 6-1 in his last eight games. But that record, which is much improved from his performance earlier in the season, hides some reasons for concern. He's given up five earned runs twice in those eight games and four earned runs three more times. He's given up five or more runs eleven times this season. That's not the consistency we have been used to from the Big Unit, and it's not a comforting way to head into the postseason.
His last two wins show the problem. On Sept. 6 he gave up just one hit in seven scoreless innings. Five days later he lasted just six innings, and gave up five earned runs on nine hits. With the first stat, Johnson would win any playoff game, but the second just isn't good enough. Chien-Ming Wang, the best starter on the team all season, hasn't made it out of the sixth inning in two of his last three starts. Mike Mussina has just one win since the end of July.
Pitching is crucial in the playoffs. The Yankees aren't guaranteed to have bad pitching, but they sure can't count on getting good stuff from their starters.
2) The Rivera factor - No player has been more crucial to the long-term success of the Yankees than Mariano Rivera. The guy is obviously a beast, and he is especially potent in the playoffs. Rivera has a sore elbow, however. He's been rested as much as he can be, but it is no guarantee that he will be ready, or at his best.
If he isn't good to go then the team will have to rely on Kyle Farnsworth and his 4.29 ERA to close. That's just plain scary. The bullpen is already a slightly dubious proposition. Their ERA of 4.17 is only eighth best in the league and they have been called on to throw 474 innings, which is more than any other contender. In short, Rivera could be the difference between winning and losing, especially if the starters aren't sharp. Watch the injury reports like a hawk.
3) The SI factor - If you haven't seen the article in Sports Illustrated about Alex Rodriguez yet, you should really check it out. The former MVP and the richest man in the majors gets absolutely blown up by his teammates. Jason Giambi essentially says that Rodriguez is weak and can't handle the pressure of the playoffs. An unnamed teammate suggests that he might be afraid of the ball. Another said that he should get an eye exam because he may not be seeing the ball. Well before the article came out Mike Mussina went on national radio and said that Rodriguez looked like he had forgotten how to play.
My point here isn't to defend A-Rod. The guy is rich enough and talented enough to take care of myself. My point is that a clubhouse that will air their laundry so publicly and so dramatically is not a healthy clubhouse. It's sick, actually. The players are pros and they will try to go out there and do what they do. That will work fine when they are winning, but if they start to struggle this could blow up and everything could dissolve. In a best of five series like they will face in the first round of the playoffs they don't have time to blow up and then get it back together again.
Think of the teams that win the World Series - Boston was as tight as you can be, the White Sox were all buddy-buddy, the Marlins rallied together as one and the Angels got behind that monkey and got it done. Teams that win are teams with great chemistry and determination. That's why wild card teams do so well in the playoffs - they have had to work together to get where they are and they embrace the underdog role and keep fighting. The Yankees are not a cohesive unit and they are not going to rally together for the sake of the team. That could be their doom.