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Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jeff Pearlman will contribute
regularly to CNNSI.com throughout the playoffs.
Jeff Pearlman's Breakdown|
New York hit a so-so .267 during the regular season -- and that
means squat. This is a made-for-postseason operation. Derek Jeter and Chuck
Knoblauch have proven themselves as playoff run-scorers, and who can argue with
David Justice, baseball's all-time playoff leader in numerous offensive
categories? A big question: Will third baseman Scott Brosius, he of the .261
average vs. Seattle, wake up?
On paper, it makes no sense. The Mariners -- whose everyday lineup
features David Bell and Stan Javier, Mark McLemore and Dan Wilson -- led the AL
with a .288 average and 927 runs? How? Answer: An aggressive, hard-nosed
approach that begins with Ichiro Suzuki, the AL's should-be MVP, and explodes
with Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez, Mike Cameron and John Olerud in the middle.
Hit-and-run, stolen bases, sacrifices -- the Ms do it all.
Although Alfonso Soriano has made great strides in his first season
as a full-time second baseman, he's still jumpy and erratic. And while Knoblauch
is no Todd Hundley in left, he's also no Kevin McReynolds (once one of the
best). When Shane Spencer is in the outfield, good things tend to happen. Jeter
remains one of the best at short.
There's a dent in the armor. McLemore is the league's most
important utility player, but he's no Ozzie Smith. Filling in for shortstop
Carlos Guillen, who is out indefinitely with tuberculosis, McLemore makes all
the standard plays, but his mitt-to-hand-to-throw time is terrible, and his
range is below average. Otherwise, Seattle (whose 83 errors were a major league low) is very sound.
Lefty Andy Pettitte and righty Orlando Hernandez are two of the
best postseason pitchers of our generation -- and they're not even New York's best starters. Those honors belong to Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina, who
combined for a 37-14 record and 427 strikeouts in the regular season. Through
the seasons of Jimmy Key and Jack McDowell and Dwight Gooden, it's oft argued
which staff is the Yanks' best. Good news -- you're looking at it.
|| STARTING PITCHING
In Games 2 and 5 of the AL Division Series, Jamie Moyer drove the
Indians coo-coo. Although his gas tops out at 85, the 16-year, six-team
journeyman works his changeup as well as anyone this side of Greg Maddux. One
problem: The free-swinging, machismo-stuffed Indians were made for Moyer. The
patient, selective Yanks are not. Righty Freddy Garcia throws in the mid-90s and
pitched wonderfully in Game 4. Aaron Sele (9.00 ERA) and Paul Abbott (24.00
ERA), however, got rocked.
This is one area where, outside of Mike Stanton, Ramiro Mendoza and
Mariano Rivera, the Bombers are weak. Wasn't Jay Witasick dumped by the Royals?
Wasn't Mark Wohlers in Class D? Yuck.
It will probably drive Joe Torre crazy to look across the field
and see Jeff Nelson in Seattle colors. A Yankee for five seasons, Nellie has
been the AL's best right-handed setup man this season (4-3, 2.76 ERA). Throw in
a revitalized Norm Charlton, the intense Arthur Rhodes and the Rivera-like Kazuhiro Sasaki (45 saves), and you have not just the most complete bullpen of the
season, but perhaps the last couple of decades.
New York is not so hot here, either. Clay Bellinger can play
multiple positions, but so could Benji in Benji's Baseball Adventure.
Among Spencer, Justice and Paul O'Neill, one of these guys is Torre's No. 1
power option. Didn't the Pirates once trade Enrique Wilson for Johnnie LeMaster
and three Dr. Peppers?
With McLemore a full-time starter, the bench ain't what it used to
be. Jay Buhner has looked sluggish in limited time (0-for-3 in the ALDS), Al
Martin plays like Al B. Unsure, and Ed Sprague is rumored to be on the roster,
|What's not to like? Torre was nearly a Hall of Fame-caliber player
and he's 1,000 times more successful as the Yankees' skipper. Four World Series
rings? What's there to doubt?
Early in his managerial career, Lou Piniella was a starting
pitcher's worst nightmare. He was one of those ex-position players with the
"hates pitchers" rep. He had a quick hook, and it hurt his teams.
Nowadays, the kinder, gentler, more patient Piniella is one of baseball's four
or five best. He managed the Reds to a World Series title in 1990, so this won't
be an overwhelming experience.
The Yanks have a tradition of eating powder puff pitchers for lunch
(See: Maddux, Hitchcock, Reed, etc.). If they rough up Moyer, the M's are
|| 'X' FACTOR
Moyer: Can downright devastate teams with his confusing, baffling,
befuddling buffet of pitches. Single-handedly responsible for the Indians'
|Pearlman's Prediction: Yankees in 6|