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About a month into the season, the Oakland A’s were 8-18, and the New York
Yankees were primarily worried about the Boston Red Sox. As late as June,
speculation was that the A’s would ship first baseman Jason Giambi to
the Yankees at the deadline, as they were hopelessly behind the Emerald City
Juggernaut.

Well, the Red Sox disintegrated, the A’s have been the best team in baseball
for a couple of months, and neither the Yankees nor the A’s has gotten here
by the expected route. Starting tomorrow, they’ll be facing each other for
five very short games in what could be one of the closest matchups in
memory.

Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/Equivalent Average)

New York Yankees

LF Chuck Knoblauch (.250/.339/.351/.263)
SS Derek Jeter (.311/.377/.480/.308)
CF Bernie Williams (307/.395/.522/.321)
1B Tino Martinez (.280/.329/.501/.286)
C Jorge Posada (.277/.363/.475/.293)
RF David Justice (.241/.333/.430/.271)
DH Paul O’Neill (.267/.330/.459/.283)
3B Scott Brosius (.287/.343/.446/.281)
2B Alfonso Soriano (268/.304/.432/.265)

Oakland Athletics

CF Johnny Damon (.256/.324/.363/.254)
DH Jeremy Giambi (283/.391/.450/.303)
1B Jason Giambi (.342/.477/.660/.388)
RF Jermaine Dye (.282/.346/.467/.286)
3B Eric Chavez (.288/.338/.540/.303)
LF Terrence Long (.283/.335/.412/.270)
SS Miguel Tejada (.267/.326/.476/.281)
2B Frank Menechino (.242/.369/.374/.277)
C Ramon Hernandez (.254/.316/.408/.260)

Two teams on different sides of their peaks, one hoping to mature rapidly,
while the other is looking for Dorian Gray’s phone number.

The really surprising thing about the Oakland Athletics in 2001 is how few
of their players have demonstrated the plate discipline that the A’s are so
famous for. Yes, the A’s led the AL in free passes with 640, but check out
the distribution of those walks:

Guys named Giambi and Menechino: 271 vs. 1362 AB
Rest of the club: 369 vs. 4211 AB

Across the board, the A’s hitters were either right at or under that one
walk per ten at-bats line. Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada,
Terrence Long, Johnny Damon, and Ramon Hernandez didn’t
demonstrate improved plate discipline with their maturity, at least this
year. Tejada went through streaks where he chased everything in sight,
trying to yank the ball over the left-field wall. At least three different
versions of Eric Chavez appeared throughout the year, all of them far better
on defense than ever before, and the one at the end of the season looking
like an MVP candidate for 2002 (39 for 103 with 10 home runs in Sept/Oct).
The A’s started swinging more during the initial part of the season when the
strike-zone change was getting publicity, and never really stopped.

The Yankees fought injuries, nagging and otherwise, for the bulk of the
regular season. Joe Torre works magic with his postseason lineups and
changes, and he’ll have to dance around nagging injuries to people like
Paul O’Neill, but he has a consistent, sequence-based offense to lean
on, and he’ll do exactly that. Both these clubs have had their spots locked
up for some time, and with the unfortunate extra time off, the Yankee nicks
and cuts have likely had sufficient time to heal.

Benches (AVG/OBP/SLG/EqA)

New York Yankees

C Todd Greene (.208/.240/.281/.194)
1B Nick Johnson (.194/.308/.313/.234)
2B Randy Velarde (.278/.356/.424/.278)
OF Shane Spencer (.258/.315/.428/.265)
OF Gerald Williams (.201/.262/.308/.214)
UT Clay Bellinger (.160/.207/.383/.206)
UT Luis Sojo (.165/.214/.190/.165)
UT Enrique Wilson (.242/.283/.343/.223)

Oakland Athletics

C Greg Myers (.184/.290/.437/.256)
3B/1B Olmedo Saenz (.220/.291/.384/.243)
OF Ron Gant (.258/.345/.452/.268)
OF Eric Byrnes (.237/.326/.500/.290)
UT F.P. Santangelo (.197/.341/.254/.238)
UT Mark Bellhorn (.135/.210/.243/.178)

There are some ugly looking spare parts on both sides. Torre will be
salivating over facing the soft underbelly of the Oakland bullpen, which
probably means a fair amount of pinch-hitting and defensive switches, with
Shane Spencer getting a look or two at Mike Magnante and/or
Mark Guthrie. The Yankees will likely have an edge in depth, being
able to pull Spencer, Nick Johnson, Randy Velarde, and Todd
Greene
off the bench, all of whom have something to offer in the right
circumstances.

The A’s aren’t as well-situated in terms of fleshy objects resting on pine.
They’ve got a bench full of guys with really only one dimension. Greg
Myers
can swing hard and occasionally kill a pitch from a right-hander
or draw a walk, which is a nice thing to have, but when the right-hander
that matters most is Mariano Rivera, well, it’s a longshot to say the
least. Ron Gant is the A’s best bench player, and will likely platoon
with Jeremy Giambi, starting Game 2 against Andy Pettitte.
F.P. Santangelo, Mark Bellhorn, and Olmedo Saenz are
all one-trick ponies, either as flexible subs or lottery tickets against
Mike Stanton. I think Art Howe would rather be looking at the Yankee
bench than the A’s bench, so he’ll be leaning hard on the A’s regulars.

Rotations (Support-Neutral Value Added, ERA, IP)

New York Yankees

Roger Clemens (2.0, 3.51, 220 1/3)
Andy Pettitte (0.4, 3.99, 200 2/3)
Mike Mussina (3.9, 3.15, 228 2/3)
Orlando Hernandez (0.1, 4.85, 94 2/3)

Oakland Athletics

Mark Mulder (3.4, 3.45, 229 1/3)
Tim Hudson (2.5, 3.37, 235)
Barry Zito (2.5, 3.49, 214 1/3)
Cory Lidle (2.1, 3.59, 188)

This is certainly the deepest series in either league in terms of rotation
starters, but it may not matter. The only real question is the health of
Orlando Hernandez, and all indications are that he’s ready to go.
There really aren’t any question marks to speak of, with the possible
exception of how the A’s hitters respond to Pettitte. Howe may choose to
roll with a platoon or two, probably starting Gant over Jeremy Giambi, and
possibly shifting the lineup around a little bit, perhaps moving Frank
Menechino
to the top of the order or something. Six of the top 15 or so
starters in the AL are in this series, and any one of them has the
capability to set the tone for the game and the series very quickly.

The Yankees may have an edge here in terms of simple fatigue. Roger
Clemens
and Mike Mussina have thrown this many innings
before–they’re mature physically and mentally. For Tim Hudson,
Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito, if we’re not in uncharted waters
yet, we’re certainly headed that way. Cory Lidle has never
thrown 188 innings before, so it’s possible that we might see the Oakland
rotation get tired and give way to a comparatively shaky Oakland bullpen, a
scenario that would have to make Yankee fans pretty happy.

Bullpens (Adjusted Runs Prevented, ERA, IP)

New York Yankees

Mariano Rivera (20.5, 2.34, 80 2/3)
Ramiro Mendoza (20.0, 3.75, 100 2/3)
Mike Stanton (14.4, 2.58, 80 1/3)
Sterling Hitchcock (N/A, 5.63, 70 1/3)
Jay Witasick (-9.3, 3.30, 79)
Randy Choate (8.1, 3.35, 48 1/3)
Mark Wohlers (-1.3, 4.26, 67 2/3)

Oakland Athletics

Jason Isringhausen (11.3, 2.65, 71 1/3)
Jim Mecir (5.9, 3.43, 63)
Jeff Tam (17.4, 3.01, 74 2/3)
Mike Magnante (5.6, 2.77, 55 1/3)
Mark Guthrie (4.8, 4.47, 52 1/3)
Erik Hiljus (1.4, 3.41, 66)
Chad Bradford (1.7, 2.70, 36 2/3)
Luis Vizcaino (1.9, 4.66, 36 2/3)

Advantage, Yankees. In spades. Mariano Rivera might be the most valuable
postseason player in the history of baseball. His numbers in the postseason
are as gaudy as they come, and the Yankees have the arms to get the game to
him in Stanton, Ramiro Mendoza, and the filler guys they finally
decide on come Wednesday morning. If the Yankee starters can hand off a
two-run lead after six innings twice during the series, the Yankees will
advance and play the Mariners.

The A’s have the true spit-and-bailing wire bullpen. Some might claim that
this is where they pay the price of being a low-payroll club, but that
analysis doesn’t really hold. The reliable arms in the A’s bullpen aren’t
expensive. Chad Bradford, Jeff Tam, Jim Mecir after his
knee surgery–all have been excellent at filling their roles, and all cost
very little.

The main concern for A’s fans is in former Dallas Green victim Jason
Isringhausen
, who’s caused more heartburn in Oakland than The
Gingerbread House. Isringhausen leaves no stone unturned in his quest to
make saves exciting, including blowing nine of them in 43 opportunities.
Against patient hitters, Isringhausen is extremely vulnerable. To top off
the A’s bullpen worries, Jeff Tam, probably their most reliable setup man
and groundball fiend, is a last second decision because of a "sore
shoulder."

The Call

The Yankees are a better team than people are giving them credit for. These
teams are fairly evenly matched, and the Yankees were supposed to be too old
and slumping last year, too. The A’s are not as good a team as they looked
down the stretch, pounding on clubs like Texas, Baltimore, and Tampa Bay.
The only clear advantages I can really point to are the Yankee bullpen and
the A’s defense; bench strength in the postseason can be massively
overrated.

I think this series might come down as much to the home plate umpire as
anything. If Mussina and Clemens get the Tom Glavine strike, I don’t
think the A’s order will be able to adjust, and the Yankees will take the
series. If the umpires call the high strike, but don’t give that extra two
to four inches outside, the A’s won’t have to worry about Mariano Rivera.

A’s in 5.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.

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