What we're watching: Halladay takes on the Yankees

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– It’s the fourth of the month, which of course means that Roy Halladay is facing the Bombers. He’ll be attempting to halt the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak. He’s come up short in his last two starts against New York, giving up five runs in seven innings to take a no-decision in the Jays’ loss on July 4 and five runs in a complete-game defeat on Aug. 4. The opposition tonight will be Joba Chamberlain, for a couple of innings anyway. Chamberlain has pitched six, five, four and three innings over the course of his last four starts. It’s part of the Yankees’ new plan to guarantee that he’ll be healthy and terribly inconsistent in the postseason.
– Adam Wainwright can and should become the year’s first 17-game winner when he faces the Pirates tonight. Including a win over Pittsburgh on Aug. 8, he’s gone 4-0 over his last five starts. The Pirates have lost seven straight to the struggling Brewers and the abysmal Reds, and they now own the game’s third-worst record ahead of only the Nationals and Royals.
– Freddy Garcia, who was roughed up by the Royals in the first start of his latest comeback, has turned in consecutive quality starts against the Red Sox and Yankees. He’ll get another test tonight when he tries his assortment of breaking balls against a Red Sox team that faced him just 10 days ago. Garcia is back throwing in the high-80s consistently now, but he’s relying more on his slider and changeup than his fastball. If he can handle Boston’s lineup again while using the same assortment, it’d be an encouraging development as he prepares to reenter free agency.
Game of the Night
Detroit vs. Tampa Bay – Unless one wants to pretend the White Sox still have a chance, then this is the only series this weekend involving two contenders. Of course, even that’s debatable, given that the Rays fell six games back of the Red Sox in the wild card after losing to Boston on Thursday. Tampa Bay will send Rookie of the Year contender Jeff Niemann to the mound in the series opener against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. It’ll be a rematch of an Aug. 30 game that the Tigers won 4-3, even though Niemann (2 R in 7 IP) turned in the slightly better performance than Verlander (3 R in 8 IP). The Rays may have the edge this time, given that the game will be played in St. Pete. They’re 43-23 at home this year, while the Tigers are 27-39 on the road.

The Yankees attendance and revenue is down, but it makes sense

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There’s a long article in the New York Times today noting that the Yankees attendance is down and that, based on financial figures released as part of their stadium bond disclosures, ticket and suite revenues through last season have fallen by $166 million since the end of 2009.

There is a lot of talk in the article about the exciting young team the Yankees have put together and how much they’ve won so far in the early going. And there is a lot of talk about marketing and demographics — Hal Steinbrenner talks about baseball’s “millennial problem” — but the story of the Yankees’ box office issues, such as they are, is pretty straightforward.

All teams suffer attendance and revenue decline when they play poorly. While the Yankees have not been bad for a long, long time, that’s a somewhat relative thing. They Yankees have sold themselves and sold their fans on the idea that nothing short of a championship is acceptable, so missing the playoffs for three of the past four years is bad for them. Fans don’t want to go see a bad team, be it Yankees fans, Rays fans, Royals fans or whoever.

Despite the recent lack of success, the Yankees have still, perversely, continued to price their tickets, concessions, parking and everything else as though they’re the only game in town. When demand falls and prices remain super high, fewer people are buying your product. Even if you’re the New York Yankees.

The Yankees are good this year. What’s more, they’re good in that exciting way that only young promising players bursting out onto the scene can deliver. It’s a wonderful thing for marketing and stuff, but even under the best of circumstances, ticket sales tend to lag on field success, often by as much as a year. Go back and look at World Series winning teams — especially the surprise winners — and you’ll see that it’s the year after on-field success when the real attendance bumps happen. I expect, if the Yankees continue to play well, their gate will get really nice by the end of the summer, but I suspect we’ll also see a more dramatic bump next year.

Taken all together, this is a dog-bites-man story. The Yankees are not some transcendent institution, immune from market forces. They’re just one of 30 Major League Baseball teams competing against other entertainments for a finite amount of the public’s money and attention. Nothin’ to see here.

David Price had a rocky rehab start last night

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Red Sox starter David Price has been rehabbing a left elbow injury since early March. Last night he made his latest rehab outing for Triple-A Pawtucket. It didn’t go well.

Price allowed six runs — three earned — on seven hits in three and two-thirds innings, requiring 89 pitches to do it. His velocity was good, but otherwise it was a night to forget. This was supposed to be Price’s last rehab start before returning to the Sox’ big league rotation, but one wonders if he’s ready for it.

Price didn’t talk to the media after the game, but Pawtucket’s manager said he was “upbeat” and “felt good.” For his part, John Farrell, upon hearing about the outing, said this:

“There’s no announcement at this point. We’ve got to sit with him and talk about what’s best for him, best for us as we move forward.”

The Sox could really use Price back in the rotation given their injury problems, but rushing him back if he’s not ready is certainly not ideal.

Stay tuned.