Perfect Storm Brewing in New York
For a Blue Jays team that looks to have finally gotten over the .500 hump for good, they still find themselves seven games out of the playoffs, which means they're about an 8-10 game winning streak away from true post-season relevance.
But while the playoffs might be out of reach, there's another goal that could prove almost as beneficial to the team long-term: Catch the Yankees.
For all their canny deadline moves, their hot streak coming out of the All-Star Game, and the seeming inevitability of a second-half run by the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees are in trouble.
They're chasing two teams in Tampa and Boston that are healthier than they are, particularly when it comes to starting pitching. Of the Yankee starters currently in the rotation, exactly one, Mike Mussina, has an ERA better than league average. Joba Chamberlain, arguably the Yankees best starter, is now on the 15-day DL, and has just had his first visit with Dr. James Andrews.
In their last year in Yankee Stadium, there has to be enormous pressure for the final game in The House that Ruth Built to be a playoff game, if not a World Series game. If they don't make it, it could spell the downfall of the Evil Empire.
1) They're very old. Giambi's 37, Jeter, Abreu and Damon 34, Pudge 36, Mussina 39, Pettitte 36 and Mariano Rivera is 38.
There's the common perception that the Yankees can just go out and buy whatever they need. That's not far off, and I fully expect Mark Teixeira to replace Giambi at first base in 2009, but there are certain commodities in baseball that just aren't for sale.
During their dynasty years, the Yankees held a competitive advantage over just about everyone else because of their strength up the middle. Nobody else was running out shortstops and catchers who could hit like Jeter and Posada. With Jeter a pedestrian hitter this season and Posada out for the year, that advantage is on the wane, and the Yankees can't just go out and buy the Hanley Ramirezes or Geovany Sotos of the world.
2) The young pitchers haven't performed. Kennedy and Hughes have been injured and inconsistent. Chamberlain has pitched as advertised, but is now on the DL - that's what can happen when you turn things over to young pitchers. Developing young starters requires patience, and there's little patience in New York, where the team is expected to contend every year.
3) Brian Cashman didn't sell the farm for Johan Santana. This was a good move, since the young starters could well form the foundation for the next Yankee dynasty. That said, Santana went to the cross-town rival Mets, where he's outperformed every Yankee starter.
4) There's a new Steinbrenner in town. Hank, taking over for papa George, is now the figurehead of the Bombers. Based on his rant after Chien-Ming Wang went down with a baserunning injury, he's capable of being just as crazy as dear old dad. For those who missed it:
"The National League needs to join the 21st century. They need to grow up and join the 21st century. Am I (mad) about it? Yes. I've got my pitchers running the bases, and one of them gets hurt. He's going to be out. I don't like that, and it's about time they address it. That was a rule from the 1800s."
So, with all of these pieces in place, here's the plan to sink the good ship Yankees.
1) Jays catch the Yankees, Bombers finish 4th in the AL East.
2) Santana pitches the Mets into the playoffs in the final season at Shea Stadium.
3) Hank Steinbrenner freaks out.
4) Brian Cashman is allowed to walk at the end of the year (making a perfectly serviceable Blue Jays GM should they decide to make a change).
5) Steinbrenner takes a more "active role" in the day-to-day operations of the club, trading those disappointing young pitchers and prospects for some "proven" expensive guys.
A simple five-step plan and suddenly we're back in the halcyon days of the 80s and early 90s, when the Yankees stunk. It might not even require the Jays to pass them, but a fourth place finish should cement a Steinbrenner meltdown, and that's good news for baseball's other 29 teams.