Sometimes I dream that the world as I know it has changed forever. Then my alarm wakes me up and launches me into the usual world of doing schoolwork for most of my waking life and watching the Yankees buy championships. Or at least AL East crowns.
Pinch me. I must be asleep.
The Bronx (Basement?) Bombers are struggling one spot above the AL East cellar despite their midseason acquisitions of Mr. X-avier Nady and Damaso Marte. They tried to buy another title and … their money was no good?
Tampa Bay rejected their bid.
Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays hold a 10-game lead over the New York Yankees. To what single factor can this be attributed? Is it the sudden maturation of the Rays’ pitching, led by Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza? The timely hitting of their developing superstars? The fact that they dropped the word “Devil” from their name?
Likely, all three factors played a role. Manager Joe Maddon has completely changed the dynamic of Tampa Bay’s clubhouse and made them a team that cares about winning — even if their fans still don’t.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s money from their deep-pocketed Nintendo owners has bought them last place in the AL West. They could be the first team to lose 100 games with a $100+ million payroll, much to Yoshi and Mario’s chagrin. Jarrod Washburn looks washed up and keeps getting burned while King Felix has looked more like Felix the Cat, rolling over frequently.
The Mariners are staring up at the second place … Texas Rangers? The team that had its chances of winning torpedoed for decades since George W. Bush decided it was more fun to lose 18-17 than to win 1-0. Now Texas can hit and pitch — occasionally, when Kevin Millwood or Vicente Padilla starts — but at least well enough to secure their place ahead of Oakland and Seattle in the standings.
And I would be remiss not to mention the remarkable run of the Milwaukee Brewers. Ben Sheets’ pitiful surrounding cast suddenly became an exciting young core led by Ben Sheets and big time pitcher (and also big, big, big human being) C.C. Sabathia. Unbeaten with one near no-hitter since becoming a Brewer, C.C. has kept this team a contender throughout the summer and has them in a position to reach the postseason for the first time since the early 1980s. Yes, fans actually go to Brewers games to watch baseball now, not just to drink themselves unconscious and boo Bud Selig.
Notice a theme? Money can’t buy me love … er … wins. Check that; money can buy wins if spent properly. A team needs two things to contend for the playoffs (and little else, as the Rays and Brewers are proving):
1) A dominant No. 1 starter.
2) A dominant No. 2 starter.
The lethal one-two punches above have led all their teams to the top of (or second place in) their division. The Yankees, led by old mAn-dy Pettite and moldy Mike Mussina, have been lapped by Halladay’s Jays (assist to AJ Burnett).
Every team can put together a lineup that can score decently and can field a decent back end of their pitching rotation. All of the lesser pitchers will be consistently inconsistent, and hitting in baseball is streaky at best.
So what separates the best teams from the worst? Their top two starters. As they go, the team goes. And as they go on the DL running the bases as the Yankees’ ace Chien-Ming Wang did, so do their team’s hopes.
There lies a simple lesson in this anecdote. The Yankees are in fourth place because they fail to recognize that far more important than trading for Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte and Bobby Abreu (a couple years ago) was the trade they didn’t make: the one to land Johan Santana. Yankees prospects Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy may become lethal someday. But if they want to win now, they’ll have to start rebuilding, and it starts at the front of their rotation. Here’s hoping they don’t sign the aforementioned C.C. Sabathia this offseason because it would be the ONLY time their David Wells-sized payroll will have been money well spent.
But as I go to sleep tonight, I can do so without fear of a sudden massive climate shift overnight. The one constant feature of my life still remains, the crucial aspect of the sports landscape that, if changed, would surely mean that the apocalypse was upon us. The Washington Nationals remain in dead last, behind their killer rotation led by John Lannan and Odalis Perez. This story doesn’t need to end with a punchline; the Nationals’ pitching is enough of one.
Collin Gutman is a junior in Pierson College.