Math for simple people like meThe Yankees have virtually no chance at the AL East flag
The Yankees have played 48 games. They have 114 games left to play.
If the Red Sox continue to win at their current pace, they will finish with 112 or 113 wins. This would place the 2007 Sox among the greatest teams of all time; just 14 teams have finished the season with a winning percentage in the same vicinity as Boston's current .694. Here is the top 15 teams in terms of winning percentage:
It goes without saying if the Red Sox truly are in this class the Yankees aren't catching them no matter what they do. Just three teams in history have won more than 112 games. Here's the top 10 in total wins:
If we wander into Fantasyland for a moment, we can make the rather pointless observation that the Yankees would have go to 92-22 from this point on to win 113 games. That's an .807 winning percentage, something that would have challenged the 1927 Yankees. This team isn't the 1927 Yankees.
At this stage of the season, it's probably safe to say that a team is what it appears to be; the Red Sox are very, very good. The Yankees are not. Still, the Red Sox are probably not going to sustain their current high level. As we can see from the examples above, very few teams do, even the very, very good ones. Unfortunately, even if the Red Sox cool to the level of your run-of-the-mill 100-game winner, it's not going to help the Yankees much. They would have to win 70 percent of their remaining games and go 80-34 to earn 101 victories.
Say the Red Sox suffer a bunch of injuries and they collapse, playing a game under .500 from now until the end of the season. They would still finish with a 90-72 record. To top that, the Yankees would have to go 70-44 starting today, a record which would require a .614 winning percentage. That's a 100-win pace over a full season.
It's probably time to give up on winning the American League East. The Sox are going to have an awfully difficult time blowing it.
That brings us to the wild card. The Yankees have a difficult road here as well, though it didn't have to be quite as bad as things now stand. If you look at the expected win-loss record for the Yankees based on runs scored and allowed, their winning percentage should be closer to .550. The reason that it's not is that the bullpen has had too much work like Scott Proctor's on Sunday afternoon (as measured by the Baseball Prospectus stat expected wins added, or WXRL, the Yankees have the second-worst pen in the business). Had the Yankees won only as many game as they "should" have, they'd only be two or three games behind the Tigers rather than their current 7.5 games, and they might have had no teams between them and the leader instead of seven.
Because the Tigers and Indians have been so strong, the Yankees are faced with a hill that will be almost as hard to climb as that in the East. Even if it only takes a 90-72 record to win the wild card, the Yankees are going to need to start winning better than six out of every ten games from now on. Even their expected winning percentage doesn't say they can do that. Say the Yankees make a couple of changes in the bullpen. They buy Luis Vizcaino and one-way ticket to the moon, put Kyle Farnsworth (I don't think he's worth even one Farn) before a firing squad, and replace them with a couple of pitchers who are more consistent performers. This is a big reach, I know, but stay with me. This is Fantasyland and if things don't work out we can spend the rest of the day riding the Merry-Go-Round. The Yankees win 55 pecent of their remaining games... and they go 84-78. Their dignity is salvaged, perhaps, but they don't make the playoffs.
It should go without saying that this should not be fantasyland. At this point in the season, the Yankees should not be attempting to repair the bullpen, not sitting around waiting for it to improve. At the very least, Chris Britton, who has pitched well at Triple-A and had a good major league season with the Orioles last season, should be brought up. All you're asking him to do is pitch with more consistency than Vizcaino. That's not a tall order.
It's clear at this point that the offense, burdened by Bobby Abreu's slump, Melky Cabrera's backsliding, and Jason Giambi's physical problems, needs help and that Brian Cashman made a major miscalculation in terms of team depth, as he failed to acquire the resources with which to attack the problem. But the great thing about baseball is that if you save runs on defense it's just as good as adding them on offense. Rather than wait until the All-Star break to see if Mark Teixeira can be pried away from Texas, they need to do what they can now.
It seems like I went close to a year without getting any of those "Dear Sir, I am writing to you from Uganda and if you just give me your bank account numbers I will deposit the gross receipts from our national lottery" fishing emails, but now they're back with a vengeance. I had wondered if there was some Darwinian junk mail process at work, where that particular bait had taken in as many of the lobotomized as it was going to get and was now being retired in favor of some new hook. No such luck. The least the scum could do is hit us with some lures that are more entertaining. We've seen this one now.
Idea for a novel: A bumpkin replies to one of these emails and, shockingly, a billion dollars is indeed deposited in his account. He lives high for exactly one week, until various drug lords, deposed dictators, and political lobbyists begin appearing with heavily armed thugs demanding the return of their money. The total they demand far exceeds the total deposited. Satire and action movie scenes ensue. Who does the money really belong to and how did they get it?
The film version will be directed by the late Frank Capra and star the equally deceased Gary Cooper.
MEMORIAL DAY Last year I read, Revolutionary Characters, the fine collection of essays by Revolutionary War historian Gordon S. Wood. The book helped me clarify my thinking on some troubling episodes from the early Republic, among them the split between Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, both cheerleaders for the government created by the Constitution, and the disastrous trade embargo of 1807 to 1809, in which President Thomas Jefferson and Madison, his Secretary of State, essentially said to Europe, "You're going to attack our ships? Fine! Then we won't have any ships!" The export of any goods, by land or sea, was prohibited, which as you can imagine was a drag on the economy and was spectacularly unpopular. Still, Madison in particular thought the embargo was the right way to go, and thought it should have been given more of a chance-Congress waited until Jefferson was about to leave office (for Madison, who had won the 1808 election), then repealed it.
Beyond the fact that the U.S. was sorely unprepared for war, why did Madison go in so strongly for the self-inflicted wound of the embargo and fail to build up the military in the meantime? In fact, during the run-up to the War of 1812, Congress was actively moving in the opposite direction, doing what it could to cut back the armed forces.
So what the heck were they thinking? It pays to remember that these weren't stupid people and they were very aware of history. They knew that governments at war accrued power and opened the door for the most venal of politicians. "Our constitution," Jefferson wrote in 1806, "is a peace establishment-it is not calculated for war." In 1795, Madison wrote that, "Of all enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps the most to be dreaded.":
"The discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people."
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, many European countries were in a permanent state of war, which also meant that they were more or less in a permanent state of dictatorship. As Wood writes, "These sentiments, which Hamilton Madison never ceased repeating, where the source of the Republicans' sometimes hysterical opposition to the Hamiltonian Federalist state-building schemes of the 1790s." (This is also why any theory of the "unitary executive" based on the Constitution is a daft-there is no basis for it in the document, in the Federalist Papers, or anywhere else outside of some monologues that Stan Lee wrote for Doctor Doom back in the 1960s. Good monologues they are, too, but there are reasons that Doom's Latveria always loses.)
Madison was correct in his understanding of the effects of war-this wasn't speculation, it was historical analysis-but incorrect in thinking it could be avoided by constitutional braking. Not only do outside forces intervene and force countries into the corners that lead of war, but politicians have found their way around the mechanisms set up to place the war-making power in the hands of the people. Madison wrote that wars that originated by public demand could only be slowed "by establishing permanent and constitutional maxims of conduct, which may prevail over occasional impressions, and inconsiderate pursuits." Simultaneously, "each generation should be made to bear the burden of its own wars, instead of carrying them on at the expense of other generations." Were we to do that, Madison wrote, "Avarice would be sure to calculate the expenses of ambition." (You can find this essay, "Universal Peace," in the Library of America's edition of Madison's Writings.)
Fat chance. We duck the Constitutional requirements necessary to go to war and charge the expense to our children. Madison said that republican (not the same thing as "Republican") government could eliminate all wars of folly. Hamilton laughed at him, and he was mostly right-though as Wood points out, Madison ran the War of 1812 so that the democracy was not damaged. As an encomium of the time put it, he had commanded, "an armed force of fifty thousand men aided by an annual disbursement of millions, without infringing a political, civil, or religious right."
Not every statesman can be a Madison, and today maybe none can-to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, you get the government you deserve. That's our loss, one to be mourned today along with the recent war dead. If only Madison had not been naïve, if the people had lived up to his expectations, they might be with us still, free to enjoy a three-day weekend, a hot dog at the park or at the baseball game.