From The New York Sun
Is Aaron Heilman the next Keith Foulke?
Merely asking the question is certain to provoke guffaws among Mets fans, who during Wednesday night’s loss to the Phillies watched Heilman enter a tie game in the seventh, hit Pat Burrell with the first pitch he threw, and proceed to give up five runs while recording only one out. But until then, Heilman had not given up a run in 12 relief appearances this year, and finally looked to have settled into a role as a useful major leaguer.
It’s not a good idea to make too much of 16 2/3 good innings, just as it’s not a good idea to make too much of one bad outing, but Heilman’s unusual effectiveness out of the pen demands to be noticed. Not only have the results been there, but Heilman looks like a different pitcher than he did as a starter.
Though Heilman did show some promise during three effective April starts, this is essentially the first sign he’s given that he might have what it takes to be successful in the major leagues. Coming into this season his career ERA was 6.36. His minor-league record had some good and some bad to it, but given his poor performance in the majors the bad — a 4.33 ERA in 25 Triple-A starts last year, for instance — seemed more telling.
All of this was more than disappointing for the Mets. Heilman was a first-round draft pick in both 2000, when the Twins picked him 31st, and in 2001, when the Mets picked him 18th. After a highly successful collegiate career at Notre Dame, Heilman was expected to reach the majors quickly and make an immediate impact.
Heilman did make an immediate impact upon his debut in 2003, though not the sort everyone had imagined he would — he went 2–7 with a 6.75 ERA, averaging less than five innings a start. He also provided an answer for anyone who had ever wondered what would happen if a right-handed starter with mediocre command, no breaking ball, and a straight 88 mph fastball were given a job as a major league starter. Mets fans were understandably aggrieved: Scouting reports had touted a 94 mph fastball, a good slider, a developing split-finger, and fine command.
Last year saw not only subpar minor-league performance but five terrible starts with the Mets, during which he gave up 17 runs in 28 innings. It’s not much of a stretch to draw a line between Heilman’s failure to develop as a starter and the ridiculous deadline deals last year that brought in Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson.
I offer all this recent history not only to give context to Heilman’s recent success, but as a counterpoint to the occasionally insistent claims of Mets fans that he deserves a spot in the rotation. Perhaps he does; it might be better to take a chance with Heilman than with the proven mediocrity of Kazuhisa Ishii. But given his general ineffectiveness over a period of several years and his lack of a breaking pitch, it’s also a bit daft to argue that the Mets should shoehorn him into the rotation, especially when he’s finally succeeding in a role to which he seems well-suited.
Despite Wednesday’s meltdown, Heilman might be better suited to his new role than anyone thinks. The chart below compares Heilman’s minor-league numbers with those of Foulke, the Boston closer who has performed comparably to Mariano Rivera as a regular-season reliever since the 1999 season and ensured himself free drinks in New England for the rest of his life with a brilliant postseason last year.
G GS IP ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Foulke 72 70 460 3.29 7.38 1.66 .86
Heilman 76 73 430 3.68 7.64 3.24 .63
Foulke had much better control, and that shows up in their ERAs, but the numbers are certainly quite comparable and match their similarity on the mound. As a minor-league starter in the Giants’ system, Foulke was effective despite having no good breaking pitch and throwing a fastball that rarely got above 90. But he did have a deceptive delivery, excellent control, and a devastating palmball, the same one he’s ridden to enormous success as a closer. Foulke never got the kind of extended opportunity to prove himself as a starter that Heilman has had, but in the few starts he did make he performed similarly:
GS IP ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Foulke 8 37.3 6.98 6.74 3.61 1.93
Heilman 25 133.7 5.92 7.14 4.44 1.48
Now take a look at Foulke’s career numbers as a reliever against Heilman’s numbers as a reliever this season. This is to be taken with a mine’s worth of salt, of course — Foulke is one of the best and most consistent pitchers of his generation, while Heilman has had a few nice games lately — but it’s notable that once again, the rate statistics in particular parallel one another quite nicely.
G IP ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Foulke 525 618.3 2.93 8.60 2.08 .95
Heilman 7 16.7 2.70 10.24 1.62 .00
This makes a great deal of intuitive sense. Nearly all pitchers, when moved to the bullpen, pick up a few miles per hour on their fastballs because they don’t have to pace themselves. For two pitchers whose secondary offering is a changeup, that’s going to have an enormous impact, because the harder the fastball, the more effective the change becomes. Heilman’s change has nothing like Foulke’s movement, but since he went to the pen and returned to the three-quarters arm slot he used in college, Heilman’s fastball has become a very nice pitch, getting as high as 94 on the gun while tailing and sinking. You can’t predict that someone will develop into Keith Foulke, but I think that Heilman has a chance to turn into a consistently dominant reliever.
Of course, much of the game is mental for a late-inning pitcher, and there’s just no way to know how Heilman will respond to games like Wednesday’s. Even Rivera has days like that, and the ability to ignore them and focus under pressure is much of what separates the likes of Foulke and Rivera from a bullpen scrub who’s happy to get a contract offer from the Devil Rays.
Still, given Heilman’s status at the end of last season, it’s a great development for the Mets that he is finally showing signs of developing into an elite pitcher. Sorting through players and failed prospects and seeing what’s there is exactly what the Mets should be doing this season; Mets management (and, of course, Heilman himself) should be given credit for putting him in a situation where he can succeed, not damned for holding him back from more four-inning, five-run starts.
The last time the World Series didn’t feature the Yankees or a wild card winner was in 1995. Lenny Dykstra and Ozzie Smith were All-Stars; Edgar Martinez, John Valentin, Albert Belle, and Chuck Knoblauch — all of them now retired — had MVP-caliber seasons. Joe Torre was working as a broadcaster and Mariano Rivera was a starting pitcher who looked like he might make a decent middle reliever. Mets fans were dazzled by tremendous young talents like Jeff Kent, Carl Everett, and Edgardo Alfonzo; pitching studs Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher made their debuts,while phenom Paul Wilson waited in the minors.
There’s an excellent chance the strange streak involving the Yankees and the wild card streak will be extended this season. The Yankees may be struggling, but there isn’t a dominant team in either league and the wild-card winners will likely prove at least as dangerous in the postseason as any of the divisional winners.
I wrote in this space yesterday that nine teams are jockeying for three American League playoff spots; today I’ll take a look at the National League, where the playoff picture is similarly cloudy. The Phillies lead the National League wildcard race by half a game over the Braves, with another six teams within five games of a playoff spot. One among those teams — the Pirates — has essentially no shot at contention, but among the others, there isn’t a team that couldn’t win the World Series if it made the playoffs.
It looks pretty clear right now that the team to beat is Chicago. Derrek Lee, a legitimate Triple Crown candidate, has carried the team and been by far the best player in the league thus far. Catcher Michael Barrett and third baseman Aramis Ramirez rank atop the league in production for their positions, with veterans like shortstop Neifi Perez and right fielder Jeromy Burnitz making surprising contributions. Despite injuries to ace pitchers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, the Cubs have hung in the race due to a bang-up managing job by Dusty Baker and staggering pitching depth — emergency starters Glendon Rusch and Jerome Williams would be rotation mainstays on either of the New York teams. With Wood and Prior due back in the coming week, the Cubs are primed for an extended run of success, and General Manager Jim Hendry has proved over the last two years to be a master of the deadline deal.
That said, I don’t think the Cubs are the best team in the race — or even the second- or third-best. The enormous advantage they enjoy is that the teams that are — the Florida, Philadelphia, and Atlanta — will spend the rest of the season beating each other up. The Cubs do have 14 games left against St. Louis, but they also have plenty of series against patsies like Houston and Cincinnati. The NL East teams don’t have that luxury.
Still, any of these teams could reach the top. The Marlins, though they sit in fourth place in the division, can count on the best offense in the league, featuring stars like Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Delgado, as well as dominant starting pitchers Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett, and A.J. Burnett. Of all the teams in the race, they’re probably the one that’s underachieving the most — usually reliable center fielder Juan Pierre and slugging third baseman Mike Lowell have done nothing at all, and if they step up the offense will become all the more imposing. Should the team figure out a way to patch some bullpen holes and replace Al Leiter, who’s simply done, they may still be the team to beat.
The Phillies are very similar to the Marlins. They’re a deep and well-rounded team that hasn’t quite put it all together yet, though they have a few more holes and only one dominant starter, Brett Myers. They’re also relying a bit much on some probably unsustainable performances — 38-year-old Kenny Lofton, for instance, is not really a .380 hitter, and second baseman Chase Utley probably can’t be expected to slug .532 over the course of the season. Like the Marlins, the Phillies are quite capable of asserting themselves as the best team in the league, but the depth of the division may prove their undoing.
Easily the most interesting team in the wild card race is the Braves, who have bizarrely turned into a Triple-A team over the last few weeks, staying in the race while fielding a lineup that on some nights features seven rookies. If the kids can hold the fort down until Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton, and Chipper Jones return to full health, the perennial division winners could make a late surge. It’s hard at this point not to see the Braves as the baseball equivalent of Monty Python’s Black Knight, cackling that “’Tis only a flesh wound!” as starting pitchers and sluggers go down, but even the Black Knight eventually had his head lopped off. One has to think at this point that the Braves’ 13-year run atop the division is done.
Past these three teams are another three with much weaker chances. It’s too early to entirely write off the Diamondbacks, Mets, and Dodgers, but not one of those teams is above .500 and all have some rather glaring and obvious holes. In the Diamondbacks’ case, this is the predictable result of the team’s traditional reliance on expensive veteran talent. While in the past Arizona has displayed an excellent knack for picking up players who can perform at a high level despite being seemingly over the hill, the acquisitions of Shawn Green and Russ Ortiz have not worked out well. But playing in a fairly weak division and fielding some real stars like Troy Glaus and Brandon Webb, they do have a shot.
The Mets’ problems are well-known; the truth is that they’re likely a year away, and they’ll need to be both excellent and lucky the rest of the way to be playing meaningful games in September. The Dodgers have simply been undone by injuries to Milton Bradley and Eric Gagne and a puzzling inability on the part of management to fill holes at third base and in the rotation.
Above all, it’s worth remembering that any one of these teams can win. Last year, the Astros, who won the wild card, were under .500 as late as August 22.It helps to be good, it helps to play in the right division, but as in any pennant race, the best thing a team can be sometimes is hot at just the right time.
Entering yesterday’s games, the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins were tied atop the American League’s wildcard standings, and another five teams were within five games of them in the standings. Counting the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Angels, teams that have relatively slim leads in their divisions, nine teams are jockeying for three playoff spots. I’m not a fan of the wild card — I think it devalues pennant races and encourages mediocrity — but it surely is a good thing that fans of all but four of the league’s teams can root for the home nine knowing they have a legitimate shot at playing October baseball.
Leaving the Orioles and Angels aside, there are seven more or less legitimate contenders for the wild card. All have their flaws, and a few are a bad losing streak away from dropping out of the playoff picture, but for now they’re playing meaningful games, which is all you can really ask of the wildcard gimmick.
For my money, the team to beat is Minnesota, basically for two reasons: ace pitcher Johan Santana and first baseman Justin Morneau. Santana has pitched well this year — he’s 7–2 with a 3.45 ERA and a stunning 124/17 strikeout-to walk ratio — but he hasn’t quite been dominant. Morneau, coming off a rookie season in which he hit 19 home runs in 280 at-bats, has been hit in the head with a pitch and come down with a minor elbow injury. His 2005 batting line of .274 BA/.330 OBA/.503 SLG is good, but he’s capable of carrying the team in the second half. Considering that the Twins already boast the fourth-best record in the league without any of their players having standout seasons, dominant stretches by Morneau and Santana could key the sort of hot run that would tie up a playoff spot for the three-time defending Central Division champions.
Boston isn’t a much worse bet than Minnesota, and may well be a better one. The Red Sox have gotten absolutely nothing out of the right side of the infield, Manny Ramirez is having the worst season of his career, and the pitching staff generally is a mess. Yet they’re only two games out in the East and lead the league in runs scored. I rate them behind the Twins because I find it a lot likelier that the young, healthy Santana will wreak havoc on the league in the second half than that the old, injured Curt Schilling will. Still, the looming return of the Boston ace and the fact that the team has clearly identified and addressed weaknesses in previous years are two excellent reasons to think the defending world champions will make another postseason run.
I’d like to say the team with the next-best chance to reach the playoffs is an underdog team like the Tigers or Blue Jays, but in truth it’s the Yankees.Taking park effects into account, they have the second-best offense in the league, and that’s with black holes like Tony Womack and Bernie Williams sucking the life out of rallies. As badly as they’ve played at times this year, the Yankees are still only three games out of the wild-card lead. Should they replace Womack with a real major league player, trade for a legitimate center fielder, or make any other of a number of obvious moves, they will seriously improve their chances of slugging their way into an 11th consecutive playoff appearance.
Texas, on the other hand, is a mirage. Kenny Rogers is not going to end the year with a 1.98 ERA, nor is Chris Young going to end it with a 3.16 ERA. David Dellucci will not end the year leading the AL in walks. Even with these completely unexpected performances, the Rangers only have the seventh best record in a 14-team league. Their advantage lies in the fact that they play in such a weak division — the Angels are quite catchable, and the Rangers can fatten their record by beating up on the miserable Athletics and Mariners. The idea that a weak team could sneak into the wild-card slot due to the weakness of its divisional rivals is yet another reason to hate the unbalanced schedule, but the Rangers do have a shot, even without Rogers doing his best Lefty Grove impression.
Right behind the Rangers you have two arguably superior teams whose chances are diminished more by the presence of the White Sox and Twins in their division than by anything else. Cleveland has garnered a great deal of attention for its recent nine-game winning streak, but this team is legitimate beyond the recent run. The Indians boast a strong bullpen and a solid five-man rotation, and the pitching stands a chance to be even better in the second half, as Jake Westbrook (4.57 ERA) and C.C. Sabathia (4.66) can improve on their average performances thus far. Perhaps most encouraging, the team had been getting some of the worst production in the game from catcher, third base, and right field until the recent winning streak; should they get even average hitting from those spots going forward, their chances of catching up in the race will improve greatly.
Detroit isn’t as deep and well rounded. But the Tigers have stayed in the race despite injury and ineffectiveness from their two best players, Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen. Both were legitimate MVP candidates last year, and they’re capable of driving a team that’s hung around the edges of the race due to a surprisingly strong offense forward in the standings.
Finally comes the one among these teams that I think has no shot at the playoffs: Toronto. This has more to do with their division than with the quality of the team — between Rookie of the Year candidates Aaron Hill and Gustavo Chacin, ace Roy Halladay, and veteran slugger Vernon Wells, this team has some serious talent. Playing the Orioles, Yankees, and Red Sox all through the second half, though, is no way to win. Put them in the West and they’d have a legitimate shot at both the division and the wild card. Is this unfair? Probably so, and something to think about next time you hear someone going on about the glories of a schedule that allows 72 Red Sox-Yankees matchups every year.
No matter who’s in charge of the team and no matter what they do, the Mets, it seems, can never do anything right.
Last year, bowing to the demands of the people (or at least to those of talkradio blowhards), the Mets traded away a pile of prospects in a deluded and futile attempt to compete for a playoff spot. Through the autumn and into the winter, the Mets’ fanbase made its voice heard: Build for the future. Don’t trade prospects for quick-fix solutions. Do the right thing, and think in the long term.
Moving Jose Reyes to shortstop, letting go of longtime fixtures like Al Leiter and John Franco, and signing Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran were all generally applauded as moves that would not only help make the Mets respectable this year, but would help make them serious contenders for years to come. The expectations of fans and the press were realistic. If everything broke right, they assumed, the Mets might contend, but this was generally viewed as a year for building towards a serious run in 2006 and beyond.
But all of that went out the window once the Mets treated their fans to the first sustained spurts of well-played baseball seen in Flushing in years. The Mets, who have dropped nine of 11 thanks to a stretch of some genuinely uninspiring baseball, are now the subject of fan wrath for, of all things, their focus on building for the future at the expense of chasing the 2005 pennant.
Manager Willie Randolph is derided for batting Reyes atop the order, for failing to bat David Wright in the middle of the order, and for sticking Aaron Heilman in the bullpen. General Manager Omar Minaya is damned for not acquiring championship-caliber replacements for the right side of the infield and the back end of the bullpen,and for rumors that have him shopping Mike Cameron. All of this is pretty silly.
The Mets are essentially a .500 team. It’s understandable that Mets fans, who for years have been watching the most maddeningly bland baseball to be found in the majors, would want the team to go for the pennant at the first sign of life. But that’s not what you do in June with a .500 team — something Mets fans, of all people, should understand after last year’s bitter experience. The right move is to wait and assess your position, and that’s exactly what Randolph and Minaya are doing. It makes sense. A week and a half ago the Mets were four games over .500 and right in the thick of the race; now they’re the NL East’s only losing club at 33–36 and seven games behind Washington, of all teams.
But the quality of the team hasn’t changed, nor has the long-term goal of building a winner. Looking at the Mets in the proper context, it’s hard to be anything but encouraged by what Randolph and Minaya are doing, both in the broadest sense and in more narrow ones. Broadly, they’ve instituted a sense of stability, which is very important. There is, admittedly, a fine line between decisiveness and stubbornness, but their refusal to react to the perceived crisis of the day is refreshing, and shows up on the field in specific ways.
The Mets’ handling of Heilman, for instance, has been excellent, despite what the critics may say. At 26, he has unimpressive stuff and entered the season with a career 6.36 ERA. This season, his ERA is 1.44 at Shea and 6.29 on the road. There is no particular reason to insert him into the rotation — other than the fact that a high draft pick was once expended on him.
Randolph has found a proper role for him as a long reliever and spot starter, precisely the role every pitcher who isn’t established as a starter should be given when he hits the major leagues. If Heilman thrives in the role, perhaps he’ll crack the rotation next year. In any event, this is what should have been done with him three years ago, and it makes sense both for his long-term development and the short-term needs of the team.
Randolph has also been criticized for keeping Wright low in the order, to take another example of baffling shortsightedness on the part of his critics. There are two possible explanations for Wright hitting seventh. The first is that Randolph doesn’t realize he’s a good hitter; the second is that he thinks hitting him low in the order will help his development by keeping pressure off him and ensuring he sees better pitches than he would with Cliff Floyd looming behind him.
The first explanation doesn’t merit response, and the second makes sense, even if one happens to disagree with it, as I do. I don’t think Wright would crack under the pressure of batting third in the order, and I’m skeptical about the notion of protection, but there is no reason to think that batting Wright seventh instead of third will cost the Mets more than a handful of runs over the course of a season — no reason to take a risk with talent the likes of which the Mets haven’t seen in 20 years and every reason to err on the side of caution. It’s unbelievable to me that after spending the last three years watching the results of the Steve Phillips mentality, where only today counts, people don’t have a bit more appreciation of longer term thinking.
This is true of pretty much everything the Mets have been criticized for, and it makes no sense at all. For once, the Mets have leaders who aren’t going to overreact to a good start by a dubious pitcher or a bad run by a decent team.
If the Mets find themselves in serious contention midway through July, I have no doubt that Minaya will find a way to bolster the team’s chances, perhaps by finding a good reliever or a solid first baseman. If they continue losing, I have no doubt that he’ll open up spots for the youngsters — Minaya may not get much credit for it, but that’s what he’s done when problems have arisen this season, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do it on a larger scale if the Mets continue their slide out of contention. That’s real progress.
The Mets aren’t above criticism, and they haven’t done everything right. Randolph’s usage of the bullpen is at best perplexing, there’s no earthly reason why Jae Seo is pitching in Triple-A when he’s probably the team’s third or fourth best starter, and it’s probably time for the team to cut bait on Kaz Matsui. Still, the simple fact that the team is being run by people capable of realistically appraising how good their chances are, and with an eye towards the future as well as the present, is in itself cause for celebration.
A week ago, just after the Yankees had lost the final game of their set with the St. Louis Cardinals, dropping their record to 30–32, I was thinking about what a great story they were becoming. The season had only 100 games left, and the Yankees would have to play .600 ball over those games just to reach the 90 wins that would give them a decent chance at the wild card.
The team, and the city, finally realized that the season wasn’t young anymore, and that all the negativity surrounding the Yankees wasn’t just more of the same old melodrama, but a cold reflection of the fact that the $200 million team was turning into the biggest disaster in the history of American professional sports.
Then last week, General Manager Brian Cashman made the surprisingly candid admission that “this is not a flexible roster. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to look to do as much as I possibly can. But I’m being honest. Our options are very limited.” Trade rumors swirled around everyone from Gary Sheffield to Tony Womack. Columns were written about the historically poor performance of players like Womack and Jason Giambi. With moderately convenient timing, the Yankees announced plans to build a new stadium, which for a couple of days drew attention away from the team on the field and toward the crumbling monstrosity in the Bronx.
All this while, of course, the Yankees were playing their best ball of the year, sweeping two successive series against teams with superior records — first, the Pittsburgh Pirates, then the Chicago Cubs. Randy Johnson pitched his first dominant game of the year and Hideki Matsui raised his average to .286 from .270 and clouted three home runs. Mike Mussina dazzled,throwing 15 1/3 innings and allowing only two runs.Even Giambi began to look like his old self, hitting a walk-off home run into the upper deck on Wednesday and generally looking confident swinging his bat.
Most impressive, the games weren’t even close — the Yankees outscored the Pirates 22–6, and the Cubs 23–10. With a four-game series against the woeful Devil Rays starting tonight, there’s little reason to expect the Yankees to go into the weekend series against the Mets on anything less than a monster tear.
I have to admit I may have underestimated the Yankees. I was unconvinced they were a good team before the season, I dismissed their 10-game winning streak against Oakland and Seattle as an example of a mediocre team getting fat on bad ones, and I fully expected them to be walloped by the Cubs. Now, for the first time this year, I must admit that I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe Torre’s men made the playoffs.
This first occurred to me on Friday, when the Yanks tagged Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano for six runs on nine hits and six walks.Aside from Johan Santana, Zambrano is the best young pitcher in the game, ranking second in ERA since 2003. He throws a 98-mph fastball high and a sinker that comes in like a bowling ball low, and he has a mound presence of which Sal “The Barber” Maglie would approve. Unfortunately for the Cubs, he also has as much trouble controlling his emotions on the field as any player in the majors, and he had injured his foot in his previous start.
Injury aside, Zambrano offered up his hardest stuff to the Yankees with a malicious glare, daring them to do their best. He threw his 98-mph fastball, his tough sinker, his devastating slider, and he even unveiled an eephus pitch that came in around 55 mph. He threw the ball right down the middle of the plate to Alex Rodriguez in the first inning and struck him out on three pitches.
This is just the sort of thing the 2005 Yankees haven’t been able to deal with, and yet they absolutely hammered Zambrano. They took disciplined atbats, let him miss wide with his assortment of running, tailing, and breaking pitches, and hit the ball where it was pitched when he came in the zone.They knocked him out in the seventh inning and came back from a 6–4 deficit as Matusi cracked a two-run homer.
It was a victory taken straight out the old Yankees’ textbook: They chipped away at a very fine pitcher, let him undo himself, and then feasted on a weak bullpen. Even a typically unimpressive start from Carl Pavano and the hilarious sight of the Cubs’ Corey Patterson stopping at second on a liner in the gap, realizing Bernie Williams was still chasing after it, and then jogging to third base, couldn’t take away from the win. A young, exciting Cubs team looked callow and inexperienced,and the Yankees didn’t look old at all.
This game was hardly atypical. Kip Wells, a fine Pirates starter who came into his start against the Yankees with a 3.39 ERA, was whacked for seven runs in 4 2 / 3 innings. Oliver Perez, a tough lefty who led the league in strikeouts per nine innings last year, gave up six runs in five innings. Glendon Rusch, who has a 3.26 ERA since last year, was knocked all over the park on Saturday and was charged with four runs in 5-plus innings.
Rusch’s early exit opened the door to the weak end of the Cubs’ bullpen; a few minutes later, Derek Jeter had hit a grand slam. Yesterday’s victim, Sergio Mitre (5 2 / 3 innings, six runs), was coming off a shutout of the NL’s best-hitting team, the Florida Marlins. The start before that, he’d thrown seven innings of two-hit ball against the Blue Jays.
This is as diverse an array of good pitchers as you can find.The Pirates and Cubs trotted out flamethrowers and crafty lefties,change-up artists and slider specialists, composed veterans and headstrong upstarts, and the Yankees not only handled, but brutalized them.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Yankees’ hitters are back, but you couldn’t possibly ask for a more encouraging sign that they are. And because the pitching is what it is — fitfully excellent and completely unreliable — the Yankees will need the offense to carry them if they are to make a real run at October.
There are still plenty of reasons why the Yankees could fail,but this last week was not a mirage,and there is at last real reason for cautious optimism.It may not hold up, but for now at least, it may be time for everyone to put down the knives and stop calling the Yankees the biggest failure in baseball history.