The View From the Fish Tank

Heading into the World Series it was generally believed that this series would be anti-climactic for the Bronx Bombers and that the right to Championship was won with the dramatic Game 7 victory over the Boston Red Sox. Most people felt that whatever team won the American League would roll over the National League Champion Florida Marlins.

You would hear it time and time again, not many people gave this young, scrappy, small ball playing team any chance at all against the mighty New York Yankees. And why would they? The Marlins payroll is just under 50 million dollars this season. That's less than 1/3 of the Yankees team payroll.

The Marlins have only one player, Pudge Rodriquez, who is making 10 million dollars this season, (and 7 million of it is deferred). The Yankees have 10 players who made 10 million or more this season. The Marlins were a sub-.500 team, with a record of 21-31 on May 23rd. These same Marlins dropped 2 out of 3 in a late-June series against the Red Sox, the same team the Yankees had just vanquished, and in one of those games the Marlins lost 25-8. Even the most die-hard Marlins fans, who watched this team win 5 of their post season victories in come from behind fashion and battled back from a 3-1 deficit against the Cubs against all probable odds, felt that the odds were against the Marlins to beat the Yankees. After all, this is the New York Yankees we are talking about here. The most storied team in American sports.

The Yankees seem to have everything going for them in this series; the experience, the history and lore, the more talented higher priced players. However, everyone seems to have forgotten the fact that since the day of May 23rd, when they were at their low point of 10 games below .500, this Marlins team carried the best record in the majors with a 71-41 mark. The only ones who have never stopped believing are the Marlins players themselves. To quote Yankee manager Joe Torre, "That team on the other side of the field, they don't know they're not supposed to win." Perhaps even the best manager of this generation has missed the point as well. Maybe this Marlins team is more than just a scrappy, hustling bunch of young kids who don't know what their place is. Maybe this Marlins team is indeed the better team in this series. The Marlins players certainly believe it.

When analyzing the Series there were a few questions I had as to whether this Marlins team had a chance against the Kings of October. I considered these questions the keys to the Marlins winning the series.

Is the New York Yankees Starting Pitching Staff as Good as Advertised?

Comparing the two staff statistics against each other it appears that the Marlins staff is just as good if not better than the Yankees starting staff. The Yankees starters ERA for this year was 4.02 compared to 3.91 for the Marlins. The Marlins starters averaged 7.22 Ks per 9 innings (786 Ks for the season), while the Yankees starters averaged 6.91 Ks (818 Ks for the season). The Marlins starters also only gave up 949 hits and 87 homeruns in 979.1 innings compared to the Yankee starters who gave up 1101 hits and 108 homers in 1066 innings. One area that the Yankee starters were better than the Marlins starters this year was in walks allowed. The Yankee starters allowed only 232 walks compared to 323 by the Marlins. Hidden in this last statistic is where the key to the comparison lies. The Yankee playoff rotation of Wells, Pettitte, Mussina, and Clemens is by without question the more experienced, and accomplished staff. Clemens is a shoe in for the Hall and good arguments can be made for both Mussina and Pettitte (one of the best left-handed pitchers of the past 15 years) eventually joining him as well. These guys have done it all and seen it all and when it comes to the World Series with these guys you can throw out all the statistics because they have the reputation of getting the job done. The question I have is, will their age finally catch up to them in this series? Every starter on this staff is 35 or older except for Pettitte who is the youngest at 31. Each of these pitchers tossed over 200 innings this year with the Yankees struggles with their 5th starter. Could the combination of age and over-use overcome the experience and reputation? This is key to the Yankees success with their middle relief being very poor and Mariano Rivera not being a factor if they don't have a late inning lead. The Marlins starters are all under 30 years old and only Carl Pavano went over 200 innings this year. This leads into my second key question of the series.

Will the discipline of the Yankee hitters spell doom for the young Marlins Pitchers?

The Marlins pitching staff, as pointed out in the earlier statistics, allows an exceptionally high number of walks. If you read my earlier article about "Keys to Beating the Marlins" you will see that one of the biggest problems the Marlins pitchers face is getting themselves into situations that they have to work their way out of. Whether it be getting behind in the count or putting a few runners on base and having to work to save themselves from the big inning. The Yankee hitters have always impressed me with their ability to make a pitcher work. While this group of Yankees isn't as good at this as the last group (O'Neal, Tino etc.) they are still probably the best in the majors in not giving anything to the pitcher. What I mean by this is the Yankees have a tremendous knowledge of what to do in the box. They very rarely swing at anything out of the zone and they know how to work the pitcher into situation where they have to give the batter something to hit. This to me is the trademark of Yankee baseball; Discipline in all aspects of the game. This is what separates the Yankees from the Red Sox. This discipline is the legacy passed down from the great Yankee teams of the past. Gehrig, DiMaggio, Dickey, Munson, re-captured by Torre and given new life through O'Neal, Bernie, and Jeter. This is what separates the Yankees from everyone else and is what they will need to be successful against the Marlins young pitchers.

Once again, the last point leads into the next.

Will the raw emotion of the World Series overwhelm and overcome the young and inexperienced Marlins team?

This Marlins team has only two players on the roster with post-season experience, Jeff Conine and Pudge Rodriquez. As if playing in their first World Series isn't enough, they're matched up against the most storied team in baseball history. They are playing in the most legendary park in baseball where not only the history is overwhelming, the atmosphere created by the fans only adds to the intimidation. The Yankees have been there and they know how to get the job done. How will the young Marlins react to the circumstances? This team rides on the wave of emotion. In this situation will it finally cause their downfall? Up to this point the Marlins have stood up well to adversity. Two previous owners left the Marlins for dead, and MLB talked openly about them as a candidate for contraction. No one expected them to make it as far as they have, especially with their sub .500 start the first two months of the season. They came back against all odds being down 3-1 in the NLCS and beat two of the best young pitchers in back to back games (something that didn't happen all year) in the intimidating confines of Wrigley Field. The Marlins believe. But once again, this is the Yankees, this is Yankee Stadium, and this is the World Series. In comparative terms, this is the Mt. Everest of challenges.

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