<
>

Yankees should be Series bound

You think predicting the outcome of a postseason series is easy?

Prior to the second inning of Tuesday night's game, Carlos Zambrano had given up nine home runs in 222 innings this year; there was literally nobody in the major leagues better at keeping the ball in the ballpark. Nobody.

In the third inning of Tuesday night's game, Zambrano gave up three home runs. To a team that finished 11th in the National League in home runs. Three.

Nobody could have predicted that. Nor could anyone have predicted that a game started by two of baseball's better young pitchers would wind up including 17 runs.

It's a fool's game, this. Predicting what will happen over the course of 162 games is difficult, but it can be done with a fair amount of precision. Predicting what will happen over the course of a best-of-seven series? It's not like throwing darts, but it's close.

With that out of the way, let me say this: if the Red Sox beat the Yankees, it'll be my biggest surprise since Commissioner Bud called me at home.

Typically, when we look backward at teams, we start with the regular-season record and -- if we're really feeling ambitious -- their run differential, which allows us to measure their quality by a different method.

Looked at in those ways, the Red Sox and Yankees look evenly matched.

Real Expected
Yankees 101-61 97-65
Red Sox 95-67 95-67

The Yankees out-performed their run differential by four games, the Sox nailed theirs. Either way, there's not a huge difference between them.

But having actually lived through this season, we know just how limited the above sort of analysis can be, because the Yankees and Red Sox of October are not the Yankees and Red Sox of April, May, June, July and September.

  • Everybody would agree, I think, that Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Nick Johnson rank among the Yankees' many fine players. Injuries limited both Jeter and Williams to 119 games, Johnson to only 96.

    Meanwhile, nearly every key Red Sox hitter has been healthy all season long.

    Of course, now Jeter and Williams and Johnson are back in action, and it's reasonable to suggest that if the Yankees had enjoyed the same health as the Red Sox, they might actually have scored just as many runs as the Sox. Well, not as many. The Sox outscored the Yankees by 84 runs this season. But I suspect that if the Yankees were as healthy as the Red Sox, the difference would be something like halved. And perhaps it's worth noting that the Yankees actually led the major leagues, by a healthy margin, in runs scored on the road. I believe their set lineup is every bit as good as the Red Sox's.

    Meanwhile, the Red Sox don't even have their set lineup any more; for basically the first time in 2003, the Red Sox have some real injury problems. Trot Nixon can hit, but can he run? Johnny Damon can watch TV and walk, but can he walk and watch TV at the same time?

  • The Red Sox pitching staff is a mess.

    While the Yankees have their rotation set up just the way they want, and their rotation is so good that their fifth (read: superfluous) starter, Jose Contreras, might well be the Red Sox's second starter if he were magically transformed into a member of the Olde Towne Teame.

    The Yankee bullpen isn't what it once was ... but then again, when Mariano Rivera is ready to pitch two innings at the drop of a cap, it doesn't have to be. As I've written before, Rivera might be the single biggest reason for the Yankees' postseason success; from 1998 through this year's Division Series, he's converted 26 of 27 save opportunities and posted a 0.72 ERA. There were times this season when Rivera looked something less than invincible ... but did anybody notice that he finished with the lowest ERA (1.66) of his brilliant career?

    Meanwhile, the Red Sox won't use their ace starter until Game 3. Tim Wakefield is Boston's Game 1 starter, and while I'm possibly Wakefield's biggest fan, even I have to admit that Wakefield wouldn't make the Yankee rotation if he were magically outfitted in pinstripes. And of course, Grady Little doesn't have any idea who's going to be on the bump when the game is on the line. With their closer on the shelf with shoulder/psyche problems, it might be Scott Williamson one night and Derek Lowe the next, but whoever's there won't be half as good as Rivera.

    Can we imagine a scenario in which the Red Sox beat the Yankees? Of course. This is baseball, and you have to figure that even with everything going against them, the Sox have something like a 40-percent chance of winning. A lot of things have to go right for them, though.

    My prediction? Yankees in six ... and that's if the Red Sox play well (he wrote, hoping that he's wrong this time).

    Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information about the book, visit Rob's Web site.