Sunday, May 06, 2007

Was any one really surprised when the Yankees announced today that Roger Clemens will be rejoining the team in the not-yet-determined but not-too-distant future? THe Yankees have the money, and they really need pitching help, what with the rash of injuries and the fact that Carl Pavano may or may not have left the team to track down a pseudonymous blogger who hates the Red Sox and rashly predicted that a guy who'd barely managed to start 19 games in his tenure with the Yankees would win 18 games this season thereby jinxing said pitcher as little has been jinxed in the history of jinxes. In an unrelated story, I am moving from location to location trying to stay one step ahead of a different nemesis with the initials CP.

Signing Clemens is a huge media coup, but how much can he really deliver for the Yankees at this point in his career? I hope he has quite a bit left in the tank, since the Red Sox were among the prospective suitors. A dazzlingly successful return would be win-win for the purposes of Sedition in Red Sox Nation, as every game Clemens should help narrow the gap between the Sox and Yanks and it will make the Red Sox look bad for not signing the player who is currently tied with the immortal Cy Young for the most wins in the team's 104 year history.

Unfortunately, while the Yankees were busy signing Clemens, the Minnesota Twins were hard at work almost but not quite battling back to defend their home field from the Red Sox. It was a day of good signs and bad signs for me. Among the bad signs, Schilling pitched entirely too well. The good sign is that Okajima allowed a run to score, so maybe he'll tire as the season progresses.

But this day was all about Clemens. Back in October, I had a dream that Clemens was putting away a pinstriped jersey with the number 27 on it. I am a superstitious guy. I believe in the power of dreams and the occult and suchlike things. Looking ahead, I just don't see how this Yankee team can survive the season, let alone advance to win a World Series.

It just seems like a strange, uncomfortable mixture of youth and experience. The young players, especially the pitchers, seem too young, and not ready for a serious pennant chase. Some of the more experienced players just don't seem like they have the chemistry to make a champion. The guys who have rings don't seem as hungry, and the guys like Giambi and A Rod who haven't won yet don't seem like they know how to pull it together at the right time to get the big hit.

The Yankee championship teams of the late 90s didn't have a lot of guys who produced inflated stats. They had smart, unselfish guys who could do a lot more than simply playing for the big three run homer. This current Yankee lineup has players who can do everything on the field, but they've gotten in the habit of waiting for some one else to do it. I wonder, since I don't know, if this is what the Yankee teams of the end of the 1960s were like.

Even if Clemens return takes a lot of pressure off of the starting rotation, that's only half the battle. And since this isn't the human interest moral of the story spot at the end of the old GI Joe cartoons, half the battle is a whole lot of nothing. At his age, Clemens can't be counted on pitching into the seventh inning in every outing. He might not be able to do it more than once in every three starts.

So that leaves the massive problem of the bullpen, which was supposed to be rebuilt around Viscaino in the offseason. Right now, it looks like that particular portion of the Randy Johnson trade is not working as advertised. I don't think I've ever seen a bullpen come out of spring training with so many tired arms. If you think about it, it's not as though these guys started strong and were tired out because the starters have been injured and ineffective. The bullpen was no good from jump street.

It's not just Rivera. I think he's going to go on a run where he saves 18 or 19 in a row any day now. I don't know if that's keen insight or just a part of my brain that isn't prepared to see a guy who has been locked in for the last 11 seasons go out like this. Closing is a tricky business, but Rivera and Hoffman have been like death and taxes over the years. Sooner or later (and probably very soon at their ages), their dominance had to end. I just wasn't expecting it to be quite this soon.

Among the other things that surprised me lately was the ease with which Ottawa brushed aside the New Jersey Devils. I haven't had a chance to watch Ottawa much this season, since hockey is below old movies on the radar screen in my world. To be fair, so is virtually every sporting event with the exception football and compelling baseball and basketball games.

But the Devils were like the Yankee teams that won titles a few years back. The Devils had that same mix of smart players who knew their roles and came up big in crucial situations. And like Rivera, the Devils had the most feared weapon of the era in Matin Brodeur. Now, it seems like the Devils had a blend of guys who could score like Gomez, Gionta and Elias and guys who could defend like Madden and Pandolfo.

The trouble was they weren't young enough and athletic enough to score with Ottawa, nor were they solid, patient and tough enough to offset that deficiency with their defensive play. They have yet to recover from the retirement of Scott Stevens and the departure of Scott Niedermeyer. Rafalski and Colin White are good defensemen, but the unit is not what it once was across the board. I knew all that going into this postseason, but I expected to see the Martin Brodeur I used to know. It just didn't happen.

I guess it's funny, the way a team can age so much in a week. Like the Heat against the Bulls, or like the Yankees when the season opened. The Devils and the Heat were battle tested, they had championship experience, but they ran into opposing teams with youth, athleticism and depth in a combination that proved to much for the seasoned teams with the championship pedigree.

The Yankees should be potent enough on offensive to emerge from the long, long, long season. But what will they look like when they do? They are going to be an old, tired team in October. We all ought to know this, since they look like an old, tired team in April and they looked like an old, tired team at noon today. Obviously they didn't get younger by signing Clemens, but they might be fresher and deeper now.

Clemens has always had guts on the mound. Whether he always pitched with them is an open question. I don't really want to debate Game Six of the 1986 World Series, and his commitment to the Red Sox organization in the mid-1990s left a little to be desired. But Clemens gave his best in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series, in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS and in his start against the White Sox in the World Series in 2005. This Yankee team needs his toughness right now.

It just won't be enough. The old players are too old. The young players are too young. The tough players aren't tough enough. The hungry players aren't hungry enough. I don't see the Yankees going deep into this postseason. This team doesn't appear to have done enough to address the deficiencies that have contributed to early exits in 2005 and 2006.

But before you get your knickers in a twist and start planning the victory celebration, Red Sox Nation, do me a favor and remember one thing. This Red Sox team is built for one purpose and one purpose only. And it's not to win a World Series. It's to beat the Yankees. They look like they can do that this year. But the bullpen isn't deep, the closer is fragile and the offense isn't what it was back in the dark days of 2004. The Sox aren't going to win a postseason series this year.

And one other happy note this evening. Read this review of some movie I have no intention of seeing from Slate. Just look at the first paragraph and try to remember the last time you read something that jarring that quickly. And then read the rest of the article and see if you can't figure out why we even bother trying to live with one another.

1 comment:

Emily  said...

Very interesting