Picking Splinters: Yanks, Caps & Zorn in the Mailbag

All is right in the world and the Yankees are back in the postseason. The playoffs are just a formality, right? The Bronx Bombers have the title locked up, right?

George S.

Oh, sweet George. I wish that were the case, but anyone paying attention should know that October is when the real action starts and there is no such thing as a guarantee in the postseason. That said, I think the Yankees have the best team, top to bottom, in baseball.

As the season has progressed they addressed each weakness in turn and found a way to plug every hole that opened up. Moving Phil Hughes to the bullpen was a tough call, but the right one. Now the Yankees have as good a bullpen as anyone from the eighth inning on, and if they need to stretch Hughes out for two innings, no problem.

The biggest question mark is still the starting rotation. A.J. Burnett has not exactly dominated his starts leading up to October. In fact, if you told Yankee fans he’d start the postseason with an ERA over 4 (4.19 as of Wednesday), I’m sure you’d get a few people telling you you’re crazy. And C.C. Sabathia hasn’t exactly had the best postseason track record either. When your top two starters are both question marks, then I’d hold my breath through October. Particularly with the rival Red Sox and Angels, who the Yankees just can’t seem to beat, lying in wait as potential opponents in the American League Championship Series.

You have 30 seconds: Jim Zorn – is he to blame or isn’t he?

Daniel S.

Daniel, you obviously haven’t read this column too often. I think Jim Zorn is not helping the ‘Skins win, but he is certainly not their biggest problem. Washington has never paid attention to players that don’t play glamorous positions, like, say, the offensive line. When you focus on adding marquee free agents instead of drafting, you neglect the depth that makes good teams great. Washington has no one to step in to some of its starting roles, no one to help them cope with injuries.

Even when the Redskins have drafted, they’ve done so quite poorly. If Santana Moss goes down, what happens to the passing game? Seriously, Jim Zorn’s play calling might not be the best, but it’s what you should have expected when you named a QB coach as top dog. But the bigger fault lies in a franchise believing it has the ability to swim against the current and build a team on its own terms rather than through the proven method of the draft. For that, the blame lies much higher than Jim Zorn. I hope you can read fast so I made the 30 seconds deadline.

I’ll be brief, Mike. Is this the Caps’ year to win the Stanley Cup?

Olaf K.

Yes. But every year Washington keeps its young core of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green intact will be a potential Cup-worthy season. But that is far from a guarantee.

Last season, the Capitals were a marginal defensive team. Getting Brian Pothier healthy will help, but after Karl Alzner was sent back to minor-league affiliate Hershey, there will be little change on the Caps’ blueline. Moreover, their crease remains a bit of a mystery with Jose Theodore still in the mix. Theodore has MVP potential, but he has to believe in himself to realize it. In my mind, last season’s opener, in which he was pulled from the game against the lowly Atlanta Thrashers, screwed up his whole year. A clean start can do him a world of good, but the Caps still need to improve their play in the defensive end of the ice.

If the Caps continue to get beat defensively, continue to take bad penalties to try to cover up their mistakes and continue to struggle moving the puck out of their end of the ice, then there is little chance they can keep up with Pittsburgh or the other teams atop the East like Philadelphia and Boston. If the Caps can concentrate on that part of their game and improve it while maintaining their high-octane offense, then there’s no reason they won’t be sipping from the Stanley Cup in early summer 2010.