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October 17, 2003
World Series Prospectus
Florida Marlins vs. New York Yankees
New York Yankees
2B-R Alfonso Soriano (.291/.338/.522/.296)
CF-L Juan Pierre (.305/.361/.373/.272)
The Yankee offense hasn't been nearly as productive in the postseason as it was in the regular season. Whether the hitters are pressing, or just going through the kind of spell every team goes through, they're not scoring many runs and they're not having good at-bats. They were fortunate to bunch their hits against the Red Sox, which enabled them to have a handful of three-run innings that were key to escaping with four wins.
The problem with the Yankee offense is that it's limited: they don't hit doubles and they don't hit for especially high averages, so they need not only to draw walks and hit homers, but they need to put those two things together. Both the Twins and the Red Sox did a good job of throwing strikes, which drove the Yankees' postseason OBP down to .316. Of the team's 10 postseason home runs, eight have been solo shots, the other two good for two runs.
Going up against the Marlins could help the problem a bit. As good as they've been pitching, control isn't the team's strong suit. Marlin pitchers walked 530 men, sixth in the National League, and have walked 43 men in 103 postseason innings, or 3.76 per nine. The Yankees will get the opportunity to put enough men on base to sustain their offense.
Aaron Boone's heroics should assure that he doesn't lose any more time to Enrique Wilson, so other than the daily game of Right Field Roulette, the Yankees will have a stable lineup. With Jason Giambi blasting two home runs off of Pedro Martinez last night, you can expect him to return to the upper reaches of the batting order. While it will likely be at the expense of Nick Johnson, Torre would do well to consider keeping the better OBP near the top of the lineup and getting Alfonso Soriano out of the leadoff slot. The Yankees have two first-inning runs in this postseason, and Soriano's .255 OBP batting first is a huge reason why.
Speaking of Nick Johnson... when the series shifts to Florida, the Yankees will be missing a huge part of their offense, as the lack of a DH forces Giambi into the field and reduces Johnson to a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement. It's a tremendous loss; Johnson is the team's third-best hitter and best OBP guy.
The Marlins do exactly what a team facing the Yankees has to do: put the ball in play. They struck out just 978 times all year, the third-lowest total in the NL. Parallels to last year's Angels can be exaggerated, but this facet, the way in which the Marlins force the defense to get outs, is the key to this series. The 2003 Cubs set records for pitching strikeouts in a season and strikeouts per nine innings, but the Marlins whiffed just over seven times a game against them while hitting .289 on balls in play.
The other relevant Angels' parallel is that too much of the Marlins' success is being laid at the feet of their team speed. They do run well, and they picked up a ton of extra bases in both of the first two playoff rounds, bases that led to runs. It helped, though, that like last year's champs, they found their power stroke at the right time, hitting ten home runs against the Cubs. They'll need to retain some of that slugging while continuing to avoid strikeouts. Their chances are good; if you can put the ball in play against the Cubs, you can put the ball in play against anyone.
Check out that lineup above. The Marlins' bottom seven hitters are all right-handed, and none of them get platooned. The Yankees' two right-handed starters don't dominate right-handed batters, but the lack of lefty power means that the Fish won't be able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field. The imbalance will again have a big effect on how the late innings are played. As we saw in the NLCS, a lack of lefty bats eliminates matchup baseball.
It's probably worth it for Jack McKeon to squeeze Todd Hollandsworth into the game in right field when the teams play in New York. Juan Encarnacion lost his job in the NLCS for not hitting, anyway, and isn't someone whose history demands he get it back. Maybe it won't matter, but it seems ridiculous to not throw up some barrier against having Jeff Nelson throw 11 shutout innings in the Series.
Because of how the two teams match up, with the Marlins' taking advantage of the Yankee defense and the Yankees' chances of drawing walks, expect a fairly high-scoring series.
New York Yankees
C-R John Flaherty (.275/.306/.471/.260)
C-R Mike Redmond (.240/.302/.312/.223)
There are some unanswered questions here, because with both series going seven games, neither manager has had much chance to evaluate how he wants to use the last three or four roster spots.
The Yankee bench is basically three guys who won't play and the three right fielders. The latter at least provide serviceable pinch-hitters for the games played without a DH, which is more than what Joe Torre carried on some other playoff benches. The Yankees don't have much reason to unring the Erick Almonte bell. It's going to be hard enough finding enough work for two left-handed relievers; there's no need to bring back Chris Hammond to make it three.
The shame of it is that despite the $180 million spent on this roster, the Yankees can't find a better use for the roster spot than Erick Almonte, who will only play under the most specific of circumstances.
The Marlins will have to decide if they want to return to 10 pitchers. Given how McKeon has used his starters out of the bullpen, his willingness to remove Alex Gonzalez from games, and the Marlins overwhelming right-handedness, Fox would seem to have a lot of tactical value that an 11th pitcher isn't going to have.
Of course, the real solutions involve dropping Lenny Harris and getting both Fox and Ramon Castro on the roster, but that might well create an excellent playoff bench, which I think was outlawed in the last CBA.
Barring the use of Hollandsworth, the Marlins may be the first team these Yankees have faced in the postseason that uses its bench less than they do. These guys will hit for the pitchers, be used in double-switches, and clap real, real hard.
Rotations (Support-Neutral Value Added, IP, ERA)
New York Yankees
With both series going seven games, and both teams making liberal use of starting pitchers in winning their last game, it's hard to say who will take the mound this weekend. I think it's safe to say that the first two starters in each list will pitch in the first two games, with Games Three and Four being started by the names further down, but we'll know more Friday afternoon.
This is where the Yankees should have an advantage. They have four effective starters who, the last two days notwithstanding, are usually good for a quality start. With The Greatest Postseason Reliever Ever now apparently throwing two innings on a regular basis, the Yankee starters are free to go all-out for seven innings.
Mike Mussina is one of the most underrated pitchers of the post-war era, and while he has a reputation for not coming up in big games, he's the same guy who fired eight one-hit innings in the LCS in 1997 on short rest. That was just after a seven-inning, 15-strikeout start. In 2001, Mussina tossed eight shutout innings that have been largely forgotten because they were "shutout" innings because of Derek Jeter's relay flip. He's been good in the postseason, and received lousy run support.
The Marlins' starting pitching hasn't been very good in October, which is part of the reason why Jack McKeon has had to use his pitching staff as if labels didn't exist. Dontrelle Willis should get one of the two starts this weekend because the Yankees haven't seen him yet and they'll have three left-handed hitters in the middle of their lineup who might be at a disadvantage facing him. Of the two choices for the second game--and let's hope that Beckett, who would certainly accept the assignment, isn't asked to tempt fate--Carl Pavano is a better matchup against a Yankee team that thrives on pitchers who give free passes.
The series will probably turn on which rotation does a better job. Can the Yankee pitchers strike out enough hitters to keep the Marlins from stringing together hits? Can the Marlins' starters take a lesson from those who came before them and not allow free passes, and the three-run homers that can follow? How those questions are answered will go a long way to determining winners and losers.
Bullpens (Adjusted Runs Prevented, IP, ERA)
New York Yankees
RHP Mariano Rivera (18.1, 69.2, 1.68)
RHP Ugueth Urbina (15.4, 77, 2.81)
The Yankees are down to three relievers Torre trusts, which was never more evident that it was Thursday night. The Yankees will have to hope their starters keep getting deep into games and reducing the number of arms needed between them and Rivera.
Gabe White and Felix Heredia will be virtually useless in this series. The Marlins have two left-handed hitters, one of whom isn't going to be left in to face a lefty (Hollandsworth) and a second who will face all lefties, but who isn't worth using a specialist on (Pierre). If the Yankees had any players worth using the roster spot on, they'd be better off dropping one of the two. They don't.
On the other hand, Jeff Nelson could throw multiple innings in every game. Nelson, whose biting slider is death on right-handed hitters, can be used safely against everybody the Marlins have. Even the left-handed batters on the roster have no power. (The team hit seven home runs from the left side of the plate all season, one by Dontrelle Willis.) Torre is no dummy; he trusts Nelson and he knows what he can do. I would expect at least three of these games to go starter-Nelson-Rivera, with no one else even warming up. Nelson is a huge tactical advantage, perhaps the only tactical advantage either team has.
The Marlins will see their lack of a left-handed reliever become an issue in this series. The Yankees have three good left-handed hitters, all of whom feature platoon splits. With Michael Tejera far from a safe option, the Fish will be left to use Chad Fox as their honorary left-hander. Depending on how Willis pitches in his start, you could see him come out of the bullpen in the latter half of the series. (You can noodle with the idea that Willis could be more valuable used exclusively as a reliever, given that the Fish do have four other credible starters. As well as McKeon has managed in this postseason, it's something that should at least be mentioned, because he might do it.)
Nate Bump is listed here because he was on the LCS roster. There's not a lot of reason for him to be on the World Series roster, not when the Marlins need another hitter.
The Yankees couldn't have hoped for a better matchup. They face a team that can't exploit their lack of bullpen depth, and at the same time, can't attack Giambi, Johnson, Hideki Matsui and Karim Garcia. Big edge, Yankees.
The Yankee defense has been picked apart ad nauseum on BP over the last two seasons. It's the great glaring weakness of the team, and it's not going away. It will actually be even worse in the middle games, when Nick Johnson yields first base to Jason Giambi. Only Aaron Boone--and David Dellucci, if he ever plays--fields his position well.
While the Marlins have reduced the use of the stolen base since Jeff Torborg was fired, but it's still a weapon in their arsenal. The Yankees are the first team the Fish have faced in the postseason that is below average at stopping the running game. (The Giants and Cubs both allowed among the fewest steals in the NL, with Cubs cutting down 38% of thieves.) Rivera, Mussina and Andy Pettitte are good at holding runners; everyone else isn't.
The Marlins' defense is good. Alex Gonzalez has been a revelation in the playoffs, showing that he's improved dramatically from his first two seasons. When Jeff Conine is off the field, the Marlins' outfield defense is pretty good, although Miguel Cabrera, new to the outfield, is prone to bad jumps. Derrek Lee is neck-and-neck with Doug Mientkiewicz for the honor of best defensive first baseman in the game.
It's been a rare occasion in his Yankee tenure that Joe Torre hasn't clearly the best manager in a postseason series. This time, however, he finds himself up against a man who, at 72, is finally getting a chance to show what he can do.
Torre has displayed a marvelous willingness to change with his personnel. Prior to Game Seven against the Red Sox, he had used a pitcher as both a starter and reliever just twice in seven seasons. Then he did it twice in four innings last night. That follows a general trend that had Torre adapting to the fact that he doesn't have the set-up men he's used to having. Mariano Rivera isn't just a guy who can get four-to-six outs, anymore. He's a two-inning closer.
McKeon, of course, has shown that he "gets" the playoffs. It's all about the game you're playing, and nothing else matters. Rany Jazayerli addressed McKeon's work in a piece that ran Thursday, which you should check out.
I don't know which of these two teams has the advantage in the dugout, but I will say this: managerial decisions will not impact this series the way they impacted the LCSs. The mistake-makers have been sent home.
I predict that the Marlins will be a great value bet. They can't be that big an underdog to win four out of seven games from this Yankee team. They've been outplaying the Yankees for four months, and other than the bullpen situation, they match up well with the Bombers. Whatever the odds end up being, they'll be way out of line.
I also predict that whichever teams gets to three wins, with a three-run lead and one out in the eighth inning, is just asking for trouble.
This is a much closer series than the reputations of the two teams would have you believe. It's tempting to pick the Marlins just on the basis of the edge they have hitting the ball into the Yankee defense's holes. That's worth a lot of runs, and more to a team that goes first-to-third and second-to-home a lot.
However, the Yankees, unlike the Giants and Cubs, are almost certain to not lose a game they lead in the seventh inning. Nelson and Rivera are going to shorten these games to six-inning affairs. The Marlins' great postseason has been built on overcoming bad starts and beating opposition bullpens. That's not going to work this time.
Acknowledging that the matchups in this series are as interesting as we've seen in a long time, and that there is a chance the Marlins' can press their advantage and win, Yankees in six.