Monday, August 07, 2006

A Feature AND A Bug

There are some handy rules of thumb in baseball, and one of them has proved itself in the past two weeks. Whatever happens to the Yankees will eventually happen to the Red Sox and vice versa, because they're essentially the same team. As with Israel and Hezbollah, incessant enmity has led the two rivals to become each other's double.

There's a bit of concern hereabouts because the Yankees have a putative two-game lead over the Sox in the AL East standings today. This of course means the two clubs are actually tied. August leads are only significant if the margin is more than both the number of weeks remaining in the season (in this case seven) and the number of games remaining between the leader and runner-up (nine). Still, it's a fact the Yanks have played well since the All-Star break while the Sox have not. In addition, New York has added talent to its roster (Bobby Abreu, Cory Lidle) while Boston has lost regulars Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek to injury.

Jason, Trot, shake hands with Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. David Wells say hi to Randy Johnson. Matt Clement, let me introduce you to Carl Pavano. That might be difficult, since no one's seen him alive since 2004. Pavano's either serving life without parole in maximum-security extended spring training in Tampa, or he's the Judge Crater of our national pastime.

But I digress. Point is, the medical woes afflicting the Sox this month are carbon copies of what happened to the Yanks earlier this season. They're an inevitable by-product of the way these franchises are constructed. High-priced baseball teams are by definition older teams. Older players tend to get hurt more and stay hurt longer than younger ones. For either Boston or New York to expect to go through 162 games without more than one serious lost-time injury to important players is to place blind faith ahead of the actuarial tables.

Both teams know this. The extra $80 million per year the Yanks spend on payroll is how they act on it. Brian Cashman has built more redundancy into New York's roster than Theo Epstein is willing or able to put into Boston's. This has allowed the Yankees to survive serious swoons by two of their remaining healthy stars.

To be blunt, Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez are almost as responsible for the AL East remaining close as are Jonathan Papelbon and David Ortiz. Take this simple quiz. Instert Curt Schilling's 14-4 record into Johnson's 11-9 mark as New York's supposed ace. Now replace cleanup hitter A-Rod's production (.278, 23 homers, 78 RBI) with Boston cleanup hitter Manny Ramirerz's .318, 31, 89 figures. Presto, the Yanks have a minimum 7-game lead over the Sox.

Any number of Yanks or Sox could get hurt, struggle, or come out of slumps in the next 50 games. But when two teams have been essentially tied for 3 2/3 seasons, odds are that's how they'll finish up the final third of this one, too. (Were I a Sox fan, my main worry would be the fact that despite Ortiz's heroics and Manny's steady slugging, Boston has hit only eight more homers than it's allowed 144-136).

Since baseball, like diplomacy, exists in a multi-polar universe, odds are that just in Lebanon, the Boston-New York war of attrition will be of most benefit to other interested powers who've kept aloof from the shooting.

In this case, Tehran equals Comerica Park


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