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This series shapes up as an interesting experiment. How important is
positive momentum going into October? The Yankees set a new standard for
backing into a division title, losing their last seven games and 13 of
their last 15. The A’s, however, drove from out of a playoff spot to a
division title in the last ten days of the season, winning 11 of 12 games
and 19 of 22.

Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/Equivalent Average)

(Ed. Note: For players who played for multiple teams, their EqA only
reflects their performance with their current team.)

New York

DH Chuck Knoblauch (.283/.366/.385/.257)
SS Derek Jeter (.339/.416/.481/.304)
RF Paul O’Neill (.283/.336/.424/.252)
CF Bernie Williams (.307/.391/.566/.308)
LF David Justice (.286/.377/.584/.312*)
1B Tino Martinez (.258/.328/.422/.248)
C Jorge Posada (.287/.417/.527/.310)
3B Scott Brosius (.230/.299/.374/.219)
2B Luis Sojo (.286/325/.422/.240*)

Oakland

CF Terrence Long (.288/.336/.452/.267)
2B Randy Velarde (.278/.354/.400/.261)
1B Jason Giambi (.333/.476/.647/.371)
RF Matt Stairs (.227/.333/.414/.257)
SS Miguel Tejada (.275/.349/.479/.279)
LF Ben Grieve (.279/.359/.487/.285)
DH Adam Piatt (.299/.392/.490/.297)
3B Eric Chavez (.277/.355/.495/.284)
C Ramon Hernandez (.241/.311/.387/.239)

Both these lineups are approximations. The Yankees could do just about
anything with their six through eight spots, depending in part on whether
Chuck Knoblauch plays second base or DH. If he can’t play the field
(or if Torre elects not to try), one of Luis Sojo or Jose Vizcaino
becomes a fourth cipher in the lineup. The Yankees can’t really afford the
three they have, so draw your own conclusions.

The Yankee problem has become comparable to that of division rival Boston.
Despite some truly great players at the up-the-middle spots, the inability
to get adequate production from the corners hamstrings the offense. Paul
O’Neill
, Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius are simply not
championship-caliber players anymore. It’s a tribute to the greatness of
Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada that
they finished sixth in the league in runs scored with 871. Their team EqA
was .260, 14th in the majors.

The A’s have more or less settled on the lineup above, but you could see
Miguel Tejada lower in the lineup or right-handed hitters Olmedo
Saenz
and Mike Stanley in the 1B/DH/RF slots against Andy
Pettitte
. While Saenz can contribute, Stanley is pretty much done.

The A’s EqA of .272 was fourth in MLB, and they scored 947 runs, third in
the AL (shy three runs and one game played of the #2 Cleveland Indians).
While they have a reputation–one we’ve pushed hard–as being a
tremendously patient team, Jason Giambi is the only regular with an
OBP above .360.

The difference is that the A’s don’t have as many lineup holes as the
Yankees. While Jeremy Giambi is an inadequate DH, he may lose some
at-bats to Piatt, and Ramon Hernandez had a bad year in the #9 hole,
so it’s not quite a nine-man lineup. It’s still a better one than the Yankees’.

Benches (AVG/OBP/SLG/EqA)

New York

DH Jose Canseco (.252/.377/.444/.271*)
DH Glenallen Hill (.293/.336/.600/.336*)
IF Jose Vizcaino (.251/.308/.303/.211*)
IF Clay Bellinger (.207/.288/.370/.222)
C Chris Turner (.236/.320/.303/.206)
PH Luis Polonia (.276/.309/.427/.244*)

Oakland

3B Olmedo Saenz (.313/.401/.514/.309)
1B Mike Stanley (.238/.339/.429/.281*)
DH Jeremy Giambi (.254/.338/.423/.261)
IF Frank Menechino (.255/.345/.455/.264)
OF Ryan Christenson (.248/.349/.388/.252)
C Sal Fasano (.214/.306/.429/.247)

The Yankees’ bench has improved from horrific to passable, but the team
still carries a couple of players who won’t be playing unless they
absolutely have to, Clay Bellinger and Chris Turner. There is
no backup center fielder, either, so if Bernie Williams’s nagging injuries
force him to DH (or the bench), things unravel quickly.

What Joe Torre can do with this bench is hit for his second basemen at
will. He has three, plus Knoblauch, and three players who should never
appear in the field in Jose Canseco, Glenallen Hill and
Luis Polonia. There will be no reason to allow Jose Vizcaino
or Luis Sojo to bat in any situation with a runner on base past
about the fourth inning.

What the Yankees could really use is a crash course for Hill in first-base
play. This would enable the team to bench Tino Martinez, one of the worst
first basemen in baseball, and get another bat in the lineup. It won’t
happen of course. Yankee fans can only hope Torre at least hits for
Martinez is game-critical situations.

Art Howe has moved away from the reflexive platooning of Eric Chavez
and Ben Grieve, so it’s not automatic that we’ll see Saenz or Piatt
once a left-handed reliever comes into the game. His bench is fairly
strong, with some good hitters in Olmedo Saenz and Jeremy Giambi and
a quality fourth outfielder in Ryan Christenson. Contrast Howe’s
backup infielder and catcher with Torre’s, and it becomes obvious which team is
playing with 25 men.

Rotations
(Support-Neutral Wins Above Replacment, ERA)

New York

Roger Clemens (3.8, 3.70)
Andy Pettitte (3.0, 4.35)
Orlando Hernandez (3.1, 4.51)

Oakland

Gil Heredia (2.2, 4.12)
Kevin Appier (1.9, 4.52)
Tim Hudson (3.6, 4.14)
Barry Zito (2.6, 2.72)

If you’re a Yankee fan looking for reasons to be optimistic, here they are.
Because the A’s had to go down to the wire, their best two starters will be
unavailable for the first two games of this series. They’ll lead with a
passable #3 and #4 in Gil Heredia and Kevin Appier. If they
can split the first two games, though, they’ll be in the driver’s seat.

The Yankee rotation is the key to the series, in my opinion. Unlike in past
years, when Torre could go to his pen early and often, the Yankees are
going to have to get seven innings a game from his starters. The bullpen,
down Ramiro Mendoza and with everyone but Mariano Rivera
ineffective of late, just can’t be relied on for three or more good innings
a night.

Bullpens (Adjusted Runs Prevented, ERA)

New York

Mariano Rivera (14.0, 2.85)
Jeff Nelson (16.3, 2.45)
Mike Stanton (10.6, 4.10)
Dwight Gooden (3.0, 4.71)
Denny Neagle (3.3 SNWAR, 4.52)
David Cone (-0.5 SNWAR, 6.91)
Randy Choate (-1.2, 4.76)

Oakland

Jason Isringhausen (7.2, 3.78)
Jim Mecir (23.5, 2.96)
Jeff Tam (22.8, 2.63)
Doug Jones (5.4, 3.93)
Mike Magnante (1.2, 4.31)
T.J. Mathews (-2.7, 6.03)
Omar Olivares (-1.0 SNWAR, 6.75)

This is not your typical Yankee bullpen. While Jeff Nelson had his
best regular season in years, he struggled in September and what the
Yankees will get from him in the playoffs is a mystery. Mike
Stanton
‘s story is much the same, and as you can see, the rest of the
bullpen isn’t exactly inspiring.

Having Denny Neagle out there, at least for the first series, could
be an interesting factor. On the one hand, he’s a left-hander capable of
going three or four innings. On the other, he’s a flyball, homer-prone
pitcher going up against a lineup that loves to go deep. He’s familiar to
David Cone and Dwight Gooden as a skinnier Sid
Fernandez
, one of their teammates on the Mets. The 1988 Mets.

The A’s sport the best seventh- and eighth-inning pitchers in baseball,
with Jeff Tam and Jim Mecir setting up Jason
Isringhausen
. Izzy appears to be the nominal closer again, but Howe can
let either of the other two finish a game if Isringhausen is tired or if
he simply wants to let an effective pitcher keep pitching.

Having two good right-handed setup men who can pitch multiple innings has
freed Howe from obsessing over platoon splits. It’s also lessened the
impact of having only one left-handed reliever, Mike Magnante,

Defense

A subject neither team really wants to get too deeply into. The A’s are a
poor defensive team by reputation, but the addition of Terrence Long
in center field improved the outfield considerably. You can take the
walks-and-power players a bit too far, and adding Rich Becker
between Ben Grieve and Matt Stairs was "too far".
Grieve is as bad as you’ve heard, probably the worst defensive player on an
AL playoff team.

The A’s are OK in the infield, as their best defender plays the most
important slot. Miguel Tejada‘s offense gets most of the attention,
but he’s developed into a quality shortstop with a strong arm. It’s a good
thing, because he plays between two below-average infielders in Eric
Chavez
and Randy Velarde.

The Yankees don’t have a much better defense. Only Bernie Williams
and Scott Brosius are above average, and both of them have slipped
from their Gold Glove peaks. The Yankees, collectively, have poor range and
good hands, the formula for an overrated defensive team.

The Call

The A’s are clearly the better team, but being forced to play the series
backwards, with their top two starters not appearing until Games Three and
Four. Of course, this means that Howe can ride Jeff Tam and Jim Mecir hard
in the first two games, knowing they get a day off and then at least a
chance for a long start on Friday.

Overreacting to the Yankees’ 3-15 finish would be silly, but what I’m
seeing elsewhere–dismissing it completely–doesn’t make much more sense.
Tom Ruane’s work
indicates that there isn’t a lot of carryover
from a
team’s finish to its postseason play; then again, it also shows that almost
no postseason team has ever had a run like the Yankees did over the past
three weeks.

The A’s will win in four, as Mecir and Tam do a neat Nelson/Mendoza
impersonation in the first two games for a split and Hudson and Zito shut
the Yankees down over the weekend.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

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