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As I am sitting here watching the replay of the 2008 World Series on MLB network of Game 3 between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies. I am made more aware of why I still believe the New York Yankees are in world of trouble for the upcoming season.
It unfolds over a three play sequence that will not show up in any box score or game recap. Matt Garza is on the mound and the game is tied at one. Garza delivers the pitch and it is hit back up the middle. It looks like a sure base hit, until Jason Bartlett makes an amazing play on the run. A play most short stops won't make and a play the worst fielding shortstop in baseball certainly won't. The next play, a scorching one hopper to first that Carlos Pena makes; a play so good, he even fooled the camera man at first as he started to track the ball behind Pena, only to realize it was in his glove. Good first basemen will make this play less often then they won't. Great fielding first baseman will make it sometimes. The third and final play in the sequence came when Garza hung a pitch and Carlos Ruiz deposited it in the left field bleachers. The reason this is significant, of course, is that [on most teams] this would have been a three run shot. Yet, due to superior defense, it was solo homer and did not bury the Rays.
Now some franchises are starting to realize that run prevention is nearly, if not more important the run production. This lesson has apparently been lost on Brian Cashman's bunch, as they feature one of the worst defenses in all of baseball (25th last season). Not to mention they are the worst in baseball in the middle infield with Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano both ranking in the bottom of their positions according to both UZR and +/-.
For those who will remain skeptical or maybe even try to dismiss this info, consider these facts first. The Rays ranked dead last in baseball prospectus team defensive efficiency. In 2008, they ranked first in all of baseball. Not enough for ya? Well, don't worry it keeps coming. The Colorado Rockies made their first trip to the World Series in franchise history, yet fell off the map again in '08. Well, in 2007, they ranked 6th in baseball. In 2008, they fell to 27th. In 2008, five of the eight playoff teams finished in the top ten in defensive efficiency. None ranked out of the top fifteen. Home runs might still sell the tickets, but glove work will win the championships.