Writing before the start of this series, I asked if CC Sabathia would rise to this challenge, and asked if it was fair to expect him to do so given his performance to date, one that was, by his own standards, weak. I don’t have to tell you how Sabathia answered that question. The next question for Sabathia — there’s always another one — is if he can take the fire he showed against the Red Sox and carry it with him through the rest of the season AND have enough left in the tank for his increasingly likely postseason appearances. Sabathia’s postseason record is the mirror-image of Mariano Rivera’s; he has a 7.92 ERA in five starts. The reason seems to be not nerves, but fatigue. In the past two seasons, Sabathia worked so hard getting his team through September (Milwaukee’s rare postseason appearance last year was his personal work), he was gassed in October. Such an outcome would reduce Saturday’s triumph to the level of a Pyrrhic victory.
And a glorious victory it was. With the Yankees’ second straight shutout, the Red Sox are now batting .144 for the series. The Yankees have discovered Boston’s hidden shame: once you get past Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, and (recent acquisition) Victor Martinez, there’s not a whole lot of high-impact hitting going on — and Bay isn’t in this series. While they don’t have any hitters who are total pushovers aside from shortstop (though David Ortiz, hitting .208/.262/.377 in the second half, may soon qualify), they also don’t have anyone aside from the aforementioned three who transcend the level of merely good.
With the win, the Yankees are on a pace to become the club’s first 100-win team since 2004 and the 19th such team in club history. Eighteen of those teams went to the postseason–the 1954 Yankees are the exception, and 12 of them won the World Series. The teams that didn’t make it all the way: 1942, 1963, 1980, and the 2002-2004 teams. Sweeping the series from the Sox would go a way towards avenging humiliations suffered earlier in the season, but it won’t mean much if it doesn’t happen as Boston will decamp trailing by at least 4.5 games. They face 10 games against good teams in the Tigers, Rangers (their immediate rival from the wild card), and Blue Jays, six on the road, before hosting the Yankees from the 21st through the 23rd. The Yankees get three at home against the Jays, followed by an always-difficult western road trip to Seattle and Oakland. The latter, at least, should be less of a challenge than in the past.
WISHING ON THE WILD CARD
In doing such damage to the Red Sox, the Yankees have helped to recast the wild card race. Seven days ago, the Red Sox had a 2.5-game lead on the Rangers and a 5.5-game lead over the Rays. Five straight losses later, the Rangers are a game out and the Rays are 1.5 out. The Rays have six games remaining with the Red Sox and seven with the Yankees (and three with the Rangers next week), so if they just hang in they’re going to have a chance to make noise right until the very end… If you’re thinking about how the Yankees might best avoid seeing the Angels this fall, the Red Sox are 4-2 against the Angels, the Rays 1-2 (they play this week), the Rangers 3-8.
? When Manny Ramirez was suspended, he was hitting .348/.492/.641. Since returning, he’s hit .262/.363/.514. That’s still good, but it’s more like Nick Swisher than Manny Ramirez.
? With Saturday’s seven shutout innings against the Tigers, Carl Pavano is 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA against Detroit, 6-8 with a 6.61 ERA against everyone else.
? When Carlos Lee hit his 300th career home run last night, the Astros became the only team to have three players reach that mark in the same season. This sums up the whole problem with the Astros.
? That Josh Willingham is having a terrific year (.309/.417/.595) shouldn’t be a surprise–his numbers were neutered by the Marlins’ ballpark. He always had it in him to be this kind of hitter.
DISTANT EARLY WARNING
I’ll be hosting a live chat at Baseball Prospectus on Thursday at 1 PM EST. As always, if you can’t make it to the event itself, you can put your questions in the queue at the link above and I’ll look ’em over when we start up. I look forward to exchanging thoughts with y’all.