By Jason Keidel
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The charm of baseball’s interminable season is the notion, not matter how distorted, that your team is just a few furlongs from a pennant race. A team isn’t technically booted from fall baseball until late September, despite the logical sense that they’ve been out of it since August – like the Yankees.
Everyone, from fans to Francesa, whipped out their charts, iPhones or calculators, brooding over some algorithm that has the Yankees in the playoffs.
The crack in that formula is the fact that the Yankees are little more than a .500 baseball club, and have been one for 120 games. So it’s a reach to think they’d suddenly morph into Secretariat and gallop to the AL East crown.
Then the A-Rod tornado blew into town, and squatted over Yankee Stadium. And then, bizarrely enough, the Yankees started winning. Though it had more to do with Alfonso Soriano than the disgraced third baseman, there was a small sense that the Yankees were getting their 1978 on.
Only problem with that formula is the fact that the Yankees only had Boston to ponder, whereas this year there’s a conga line of lineups between the Bronx Bombers and their ancestral home — October.
(Not to mention the Yankees were more talented and had a better record 35 years ago. On August 15, 1978, the Yankees 67-51, seven games behind the Red Sox. This year’s group has never been 16 games over .500.)
The Yankees (70-63) are eight games out of the AL East lead, with Tampa, Baltimore, and Boston ahead of them. And they are five games out of the last wild card spot, with four teams ahead of them.
And there’s the new reality that their pitching — their lone port during this stormy season — is collapsing. Hiroki Kuroda, a legitimate Cy Young contender through July, has been shelled his last few starts. CC Sabathia has been oddly awful this entire year, at least considering his age, wage and pitching history. Andy Pettitte has been a godsend since God allowed him to return to pinstripes. But his stats finally match his gray hair. We’ve been waiting for Phil Hughes to reach his potential for five years. He’s simply a stiff.
Combine their top four starters – the aforementioned four hurlers are the only ones with at least 15 decisions – and their aggregate record is 36-43. So just as the bats bulge, their arms snap.
The Yankees are the only team in the AL playoff chase with a negative run differential (minus 6). And the Washington Nationals are the only other team in MLB with a record over .500 and have scored fewer runs than they have allowed.
And that’s just the Yankees.
We can pen another treatise on the Mets, without trends or stats or research. They’ve sucked for too long for fans to hear about long-term, amortized baseball. It’s time for results. Enter Sandy Alderson, who brought an Ivy League brain, Marine Corps braun, and a major MLB resume.
But not even Sandy can tame this curse on Queens. Exhibit A: Matt Harvey. Harvey had the city dangling from his divine right arm. Only to tear it. Obstinate, angry, and defiant, Harvey vows to pitch on Opening Day 2014.
If Sandy Alderson accomplishes one thing during his time as ring leader of this forlorn Flushing franchise, it’s to whack Harvey over the head and drag him by his ankles to Jimmy Andrews.
I’m not a doctor — nor do I play one on television — but Harvey needs to find the knife posthaste. Tommy John surgery is so perfected now that he’ll find a few mph added to his arsenal when he returns to the mound in a year. Mets fans can live with a middling 2014 if they can see at least a twinkle at the end of it, and hear Harvey’s prodigious fastball pop into the red palm of a catcher.
It’s unfair for an entire team to pivot on the arm of one man, but such is the fate of the Metropolitans. When Omar Minaya signed Pedro Martinez to a four-year deal, everyone in the five boroughs and beyond knew they were really paying for two. And that’s exactly how it went down, but it was worth every extra nickel because Pedro brought cachet to Queens, a toughness and playoff pedigree and a sleeve of Cy Young awards. So it will be when Harvey returns, with the bonus of being just 26 when he does.
There are millions melting off the books this year, and with wise free agent shopping this winter, the Mets can greet Harvey at the start of 2015 with some talent behind him in the field, and in the rotation. You just hope 2014 isn’t 2013 redux.
Yankees fans are holding onto a tattered thread this weekend, as Buck Showalter and the Orioles visit the Bronx. And you know that no one in baseball would like to halt the Yankees’ annual march to October more than their former skipper, who was tossed overboard just as they were about to make the World Series their personal team photo.
Baltimore is what the Yankees used to be — actually, back when Buck managed them — young, hungry and humble. Don’t be shocked if the Orioles leave the Bronx this weekend with the Yankees’ head on a spear.
The Mets fan already knows where his team will be on Halloween. And soon they will be joined by some overpriced, pinstriped clowns across the river.
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