Hot A's, mighty Yanks
Two teams meet again in an intriguing ALDS
Updated: Wednesday October 10, 2001 2:58 AM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
The mighty Yankees bumbled their way into the playoffs last season and almost bumbled their way right out. It took them all five games to knock off the A's in the division series.
The Yanks are looking for a fourth straight World Series title, but their first step once again is the A's.
Whoa. What a step.
The A's are the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break (58-17). They have solid pitching, maybe the best outfield in baseball and an MVP-type first baseman that could be wearing Yankees pinstripes next year.
The Yankees, on the other hand, have arguably the best starting pitching and the best closer in the business. But their age and their health are huge concerns as they begin their quest for a fifth Series title in the past six years.
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, with his 0.62 lifetime ERA in the playoffs, has been fighting a bad ankle. Sometime leadoff man Chuck Knoblauch has a bad wrist. Outfielder Paul O'Neill is trying to come back from a stress fracture in his foot and may be good only as a designated hitter. A couple of pitchers, including Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez, have had recent injuries. David Justice has a sore groin. There are others.
This year, the Yankees are as ripe as the Yankees get for the beating.
The A's took advantage during the regular season, winning six of the nine games. They were 1-0 against Roger Clemens in his two starts (the Cy Young winner-to-be, 20-3, had a 5.79 ERA against Oakland). Lefty Pettitte went 0-2 (with an 8.03 ERA).
Oakland's pitching was superb all season long. The A's have three pitchers with at least 15 wins (Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito). The staff has a 2.96 ERA against the Yanks. About the only Yank that gave them problems was shortstop Derek Jeter (.342, two homers, four RBIs).
Still, dismissing the Yankees is dangerous business. They won 95 games. Joe Torre may be the best manager in baseball. The A's had home-field advantage last year in the playoffs last year and it didn't help. They don't even have that this year.
There is a lot of talk about how different the low-revenue A's will be next season, especially if first baseman Jason Giambi (.342, 38 homers, 120 RBIs) leaves for a bigger contract back East.
This may be the best time -- maybe the only time -- for these A's to make their move.
Making a pick: It's fashionable to go against the grain in these things. But who knows fashion? Who can read the grain? It's not easy. So, this time, we're playing the hot hand, especially considering Clemens' ineffectiveness against the A's (he was 0-2 in the division series last year) and the questions surrounding Rivera's health. Giambi is clutch, too. We'll call it A's in five.