Last night news broke that the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda from the Mariners for Jesus Montero AND signed Hiroki Kuroda. As the reactions ranged from declaring the Yankees geniuses to congratulating the Mariners and back and forth, I began thinking about the Yankees. In and of itself, this rarely happens. Sure, thoughts of Yankee greats pass through my mind. Sometimes I’ll consider the Yankees place in the new AL East. But as a general rule, I see no reason to truly concentrate much thought on them. They have money, they spend it. They are good, they win. Plain and simple, except for last night.
Last night, while considering the trade, I began to ponder the possibilities for next year’s Yankees. Their potential seems to have increased greatly with the addition of Pineda. No longer are they focused on who will round out the starting rotation. Instead, they are focused on which former starter they no longer need. Just how much better could the 2012 Yankees be in comparison to the 2011 Yankees? Where might they rank against all-time Yankees teams? Honestly, I don’t care, but it did get me thinking about the last truly great Yankees team. That team played in 1998. That team beat the Padres in the World Series. With that Yankees team in mind, the possibilities ahead for the 2012 Yankees team in mind, and our constant focus on the Padres in mind, let’s take an imaginary trip. A trip that will leave behind my general analytical mind and will allow me to hope and dream like fans do.
Fast-forward to July, 2012. The Padres, much like the 2010 team, have spent most of the year in first place. They’ve done it with solid pitching and a surprisingly improved offense. They are holding off the Giants, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks. But not by much. As the trade deadline nears, Padres fans hold their breath. What happens by July 31st will shape the course of the 2012 season and solidify any chance the Padres have of making the postseason. The deadline comes and goes without any major movement. Perhaps the most important thing Padres fans see at the deadline is Carlos Quentin and Huston Street still in a Padres uniform.
Meanwhile, the Yankees are putting some distance between themselves and the Rays. The Red Sox are surprisingly low in the AL East standings, battling hard with the Toronto Blue Jays for third place. The Yankees pitching staff has shaped into the best in baseball (Based on wins of course. The mainstream media is still afraid to dump wins as a measure of true success). The team is threatening their 1998 team. There’s still a lot of baseball to play though.
As the baseball season dips into its final true month of summer, August, the Padres have yet to stumble. Fans are finally starting to buy in. This is the case with most unexpected runs. Fans refuse to buy in until there has been a large enough sample to refute any chance of a fluke. The Padres have a 4.5 game lead over the second place Diamondbacks late in August, Yonder Alonso is still hitting over .300, and Cameron Maybin found a touch of power with 12 home runs to this point.
The Yankees have slid a bit off their 1998 pace, but still clearly have the best team in the American League. The Rays are focusing on the Wild Card at this point. The Yankees, for the first time in recent memory, are focusing almost exclusively on pitching as they head down the stretch. Their offense is mediocre at best.
The final days of September settle in, Padres fans are alive with the taste of postseason baseball flicking at their tongues, and the team has left little to chance. With one week left in September, the Padres have clinched the National League West and are simply waiting to see if they will face the Wild Card or another Division winner. We turn our focus to the scoreboards. Will the Padres face the Reds who are leading the NL Central? Will they face the Phillies who lead the NL East? Or will the Cardinals make one final push and once again face the Padres in the first round of the postseason?
The Yankees, too, have clinched a postseason berth. It is looking more and more like they will face the Texas Rangers in the Division Series, a proposition most Yankees fans despise.
We sit on couches and in the stands, awe strucken, and watch our Padres dominate the Division Series against the Reds. The Padres sweep the Reds right out of the postseason, then move on to face the Phillies in the NLCS. Meanwhile, the Yankees do in fact pay the Rangers. However, in 2012, they have little trouble knocking the Rangers from the postseason. They will now face the new-look Angels in the ALCS.
The Padres fall in the first two games to the Phillies. As unlikely as it will be for the team to come back, Padres fans bring back an old friend. The phrase “Keep the Faith” is brought back in force as thousands of fans at PETCO Park wave signs in anticipation of Game Three. The Padres don’t lose another game and move on to their third World Series appearance in franchise history. The Yankees struggle with the Angels and find themselves in a tie game in Game Seven. Derek Jeter, who is no longer basking in the glow of his 3,000 hits, once again proves to Yankees fans he is still productive. He knocks in the winning hit that sends the Yankees to their first Series since 2009.
So who wins? I’ll end my day-dream there. Do I believe any of this will happen next season? No. But sometimes it is nice to be a kid again. Sometimes it is nice to have unwavering hope and to believe only the best in your team. Each season brings new hope. It’s alright to analyze offseason transactions, rate the Padres chances, and debate the best lineup available to the team, but take some time to be just a fan. Allow yourself to hope, if only just for a moment. If only just when the Yankees remind you of an incredible season.