Friday, October 30, 2009

DH should be used in National League parks

An Associated Press poll this week showed that fans do not like the split designated hitter rule, where the DH is used in American League parks while the pitchers must hit for themselves in National League parks. The fans would prefer an all or nothing DH rule, but they were fairly split on which approach Major League Baseball should take.

I personally would prefer that the DH be used in all World Series games, regardless of whether they are played in AL or NL parks. I think it gives an unfair advantage to NL teams. An AL lineup is built around having a DH. Case in point: Hideki Matsui hitting 5th or 6th in the Yankee lineup. Now, he may have to sit on the bench for three games straight in Philadelphia, waiting for a chance to pinch hit once each game. Unless Joe Girardi risks Matsui blowing up his knees and puts him in the outfield.
Everytime I think about AL pitchers having to hit, I think about Chien-Ming Wang getting hurt in that game against Houston last year. He's never really come back from that injury and it only happened because he was running the bases. It's a shame when anyone, including someone who had Ace starter potential, gets hurt for doing something he shouldn't have had to do in the first place.
Thanks to Keith Allison for the photo.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Attaboy AJ! Yanks win Game 2

For the first time all season, the Yankees needed AJ Burnett to come through in a big way. Boy did he deliver! AJ lifted the Yanks with seven innings of amazing pitching, giving up only one run. He was helped out by a fantastic pickoff throw to first by his personal catcher Jose Molina to catch Werth off base. But really it was all AJ, who threw strike after strike. Most importantly, he was his own set-up man, getting the ball to Mariano Rivera and avoiding any chance of another Yankee bullpen collapse.

It was truly a fantastic game, with AJ pitching like he did and Pedro Martinez reliving his glory days. I thought the Yankee bats were going to hammer Pedro tonight. He did give up homers to Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui, but the Yanks had trouble connecting for most of the game. It was truly a vintage performance from the man Derek Jeter called "probably the smartest pitcher I've faced in 15 years." Martinez gave the Phillies every chance to win, but AJ was too much for the Philly offense.

I've never been the biggest AJ Burnett fan as his erratic pitching drives me crazy, but tonight he set the Yankee ship sailing in the right direction again. With Andy Pettitte set to pitch Game 3, the Yanks have the opportunity to gain a lot of momentum and another win before having to face Cliff Lee again.

Time for AJ Burnett to step up

AJ Burnett can really earn his pinstripes tonight with a strong performance in Game 2 of the World Series. He's been lucky so far in the postseason. The Yanks won AJ's first two playoff starts and almost won his start in Anaheim despite Burnett's struggles.
But Burnett hasn't put in a signature performance in any of these starts. CC Sabathia, who pitched three strong games in a row in the division and AL championship series, deservedly won the ALCS most valuable player award. Andy Pettitte was brilliant during the ALCS clincher. It's time for AJ to step up and give the Yankees the dominant performance that he is capable of. I want to see 7 strong innings from him, keeping the walks and hit batters to a minimum, and getting the ball to Mariano Rivera.

I don't think the Yanks are in trouble despite being shut out by the unhittable Cliff Lee last night. But they do need to win Games 2 and 3 since they probably get Lee again in Game 4. Lee can only start three games at the most so the Yanks can win the World Series if they take the other four games. But to do that, they need the offense to recover from last night, they need to avoid the bullpen except for Mo at all costs, but most importantly, they need AJ Burnett tonight. Step up AJ!!! Earn your stripes!!!
Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Phil Hughes spiraling out of control

I've been a big Phil Hughes fan, praising his maturity despite his postseason struggles, and I still had a lot of confidence in him going into the World Series. But last night's game showed me my faith in Hughes may be misplaced. Not only did he walk the first two batters of the 8th inning, both of whom scored, but he left the game barking at home plate umpire Gerry Davis. Yes, he was probably being squeezed a little bit, but to yell at the ump on the way off the mound is immature. And I doubt it's something that Davis will forget.

The Yankees were going to lose that game anyway with the way Cliff Lee was pitching, but the bullpen can't put the game out of reach by imploding. And that started with Hughes. Joe Girardi showed a lot of faith in him, bringing Hughes in the game with the score still close and Hughes let him down big time. That may be the last time we see Phil Hughes in a tight spot.

Mariano Rivera has long been my favorite Yankee, but after last night's game, I have a renewed appreciation for what he's been able to do over the past 15 years. Seeing reliever after reliever collapse under the weight of the spotlight reminds you just how amazing Mo is. He tried talking to both Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, but he can't give them confidence, which they both seem to be lacking right now.

Thanks to Giants27 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yankee fans ready 4 Pedro Martinez

Pedro Martinez is one of the top baseball villians in NY Yankee history. He is hated by Yankee fans for a lot good reasons: constantly hitting Yankee hitters, throwing Don Zimmer down to the ground, ridiculing the Bambino. To top it off, he actually went and signed with the Mets after leaving the Red Sox, playing for the Yanks' two hated rivals. It's like he was asking Yankee fans to hate him worse than we already did.
His arrogance is the thing I dislike most about him. During a pre-game press conference today, he called himself one of the most influential people to enter Yankee Stadium. That's amazing to me considering that he could never beat the Yanks when it counts. But Pedro is right about one thing: he's still the center of attention, even overshadowing the Cy Young matchup of CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee.
Yankee fans will be all over him with the "who's your daddy?" chants when he pitches Game 2 of the World Series tomorrow night. But Martinez said that actually motivates him and reminds him that God is his daddy.
Martinez did have a legitimate point about the New York media, which often feels the need to stir things up and blow things way out of proportion. Come on Posties, did you really have to put
Shane Victorino in a cheerleading outfit? Just silly.
But a lot of the criticism of Martinez is legitimate, including the fact that as great as he was against most teams in his prime, he never seemed to match that against the Yanks. I think the same is going to be true tomorrow. Despite his great performance against the Dodgers and Pedro's love for the spotlight, the Yankee offense is going to spank him. And Yankee fans will be ready for the guy they love to hate the most.
Thanks to dbking via Wikipedia for the photo.

Cliff Lee rains on Yankee parade

The day started off pretty well for the Yanks with a mid-day pep rally in Times Square. Despite the rain, I was sorry I missed it cause it looked like people were having fun. Plus, Reggie Jackson, Jeff Nelson and Mick "the Quick" Rivers all showed up to wish the current Yankees well.
But once Game 1 of the World Series started, things quickly went downhill for the Yanks. Cliff Lee cruised during a dominant, complete game performance. Derek Jeter had a typical Jeter playoff game with three hits, but the rest of the line-up got nothing off the lefty.

Though it wasn't as easy for him this time around, CC Sabathia pitched well, allowing only the two home runs to Chase Utley in 7 innings. But the Yankee bats were just no match for Lee.
And then the Yankee bullpen imploded. The continued struggles of Phil Hughes are the most discouraging part of what was a bad overall performance by the pen. He came into the game in the 8th inning to keep it close and promptly walked the first two batters, who eventually scored. Damaso Marte relieved him to get two outs, but Dave Robertson, who had been pitching well in the playoffs, came in and gave up a hit and a run. Brian Bruney and Phil Coke combined to give up a couple of runs in the 9th inning.

A disappointing loss, for sure, but the Yanks have a good shot to rebound in Game 2 tomorrow night. They just have to avoid their bullpen, no small feat with AJ Burnett on the mound.
Thanks to artolog via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Keep talking Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins is known as a guy who's not afraid to voice an opinion. And he's been right a lot of times. Rollins is now predicting that his Phillies will close out the World Series at home in five games (or six games, if he's being nice and predicting the Yankees will put up a decent fight). But Rollins is confusing the Yankees with the other New York team. He was right in 2007 when he predicted the Phillies would overtake the Mets for the division title. But the Yankees won't be that easy.

The Yanks aren't going to lie down for the Phillies, especially not with their bulldog CC Sabathia and the the top winning pitcher in postseason history in Andy Pettitte. Not with the best closer in baseball history in Mariano Rivera. Not with the toughest shortstop in baseball in Derek Jeter (yes, that includes you, Jimmy).

Rollins could be trying to motivate his team, which I have absolutely no problem with. But boy is he setting himself up for some trouble if his team doesn't come through. NY fans will be riding him for the rest of his life. For the most part, the Yanks seemed to have blown off his comments, except for Jorge Posada, who might have been more irritated at having to answer questions about his comments than about Rollins actually saying it. But the Yanks will privately use that as motivation, not that they need any more motivation to win the World Series.

I don't believe either team is going to win in 5 games because they are pretty evenly balanced. I'm predicting the Yanks will eventually win in 6 or 7 games, with superior starting performances and Mo being the difference-maker. Of course, my opinion doesn't count as much as Rollins, but if Philly fans want to use it as motivation, so be it!

By the way, these bets between politicians are just plain silly. The Pennsylvania senators will send Philly cheesesteaks to the Empire state if the Yankees win while the NY senators will send NY cheesecakes to the Keystone state if the Phillies win. Not exactly a Weight Watchers-friendly bet.

Thanks to Googie man via Wikipedia for the photo.

Joe Girardi hints at roster changes for World Series

On Mike Francesca's show today, Joe Girardi hinted that there would be changes to the Yankees roster, which is due to Major League Baseball by 10am tomorrow. He wouldn't publicly announce what the changes would be, but when Francesca mentioned that Eric Hinske would probably replace Freddy Guzman due to the need for additional hitters against a National League team, he agreed that change makes sense.

Francesca also asked him about carrying three catchers and Girardi said that if they wanted to add another pitcher for the next round, that is something they would have to look at. That does not bode well for Francisco Cervelli, who would likely be off the roster, but is a good sign for Brian Bruney, who probably would take his place. Having the three catchers has worked well for Girardi since he's been able to pinch hit Jorge Posada for Jose Molina, who has caught AJ Burnett in all his starts, without worrying about a catcher getting hurt. But that doesn't mean Posada will be catching AJ in Game 2. "The AJ/Molina thing has worked pretty well," Girardi said.

An interesting twist (one that Francesca deserves credit for getting out of Girardi) is that it's not impossible that Yankee fans could see Hideki Matsui in the outfield when the World Series moves to Philadelphia. It's been presumed that Matsui's knees are too weak to play the outfield, particularly since he only pinch hit when the Yanks played nine straight games in NL parks during interleague play in the regular season. But Girardi said he could foresee a situation where Matsui goes into the outfield later in the game as part of a double switch.

Girardi also said it's not a foregone conclusion that he will go with a 3-man rotation in the World Series because that would mean all the pitchers starting on only three days rest. He said he would wait to see how the series develops and decide if Chad Gaudin gets a start.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Yankees aim to win it for the Boss

Seems cheesy to say the Yankees are determined to win their 27th title for George Steinbrenner, a.k.a. the Boss, but that seems to be exactly what's happening. Steinbrenner's health problems have been the topic of much speculation, but he clearly isn't doing well, otherwise he would be seen at Yankee Stadium a lot more than he has been.

Steinbrenner's Yankeeography was on the YES network again yesterday and I think it's one of the better, more insightful programs, especially for younger fans who were not around during his early years owning the team. I liked that they didn't shy away from the controversies that made the Boss infamous, such as his penchant for mishandled firings and his often-contentious relationships with players and managers.

A lot of Yankee fans, including myself, miss the Boss, who was always a big part of the fun of being a Yankee fan. I always enjoyed Steinbrenner's rants, even if they were off the mark, like when he criticized Derek Jeter for partying too much, on his birthday no less! The fallout from that remark led to one of the few true controversies that Jeter has ever found himself immersed in. But it also showed the sense of humor and close relationship of both men after they turned it into that hilarious VISA commercial.

But I'm glad to see that the Steinbrenner kids inherited his desire to win and his competitive nature, even if they do show a composure that their father lacked. They could have easily reined in Brian Cashman last offseason when he wanted to acquire CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira. They had a lot of salary money coming off the books and they could have looked at the last few years of futility and decided that out-spending every other team in baseball was getting them nowhere. But they didn't. Instead, they took up their father's mantle and reinvested the savings into three quality players, who all played a large role in getting them back to the World Series.

While his kids are doing a great job, there is no one like George Steinbrenner. I personally can't wait until tomorrow night, when the Boss will be back in the Bronx where he belongs.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Andy Pettitte's brilliance on full display in the Bronx

Andy Pettitte had a brilliant playoff start. Again. We Yankee fans feel confident anytime Andy is on the mound for us in the playoffs. He may not always win, but there's no one that's going to try harder. His intensity is inspiring. Sometimes I think he is too hard on himself, like when he gave up the run-scoring hit to Vlad and proceeded to yell at himself in the dugout. But it works for him. It gets him through these pressure-packed situations and more often than not, leads to another Yankee playoff win.

Things went almost perfectly according to plan for the Yanks due to Andy's ability to pitch into the 7th inning. With Joba Chamberlain easily getting 2 outs to close out the frame, it was Mo time. Mariano Rivera had a shaky eight inning, giving up one run and a couple of hard-hit balls although his defense helped him out with an amazing grab by Mark Teixeira and a lucky snag of a ball up the middle by Robinson Cano.
But after the Yanks gave him a couple of insurance runs, helped out by really bad defense on bunt plays by the Angels, Mo closed it out. The long hug between Mo and Jorge Posada spoke volumes. It had been a long and unexpected absence from the World Series for the Yanks and as many title bouts as those two have been in, they were thrilled to be going to one more.

Struggling Yankees come up big in Game 6

The best thing about last night's Game 6 is that the Yankees got contributions from almost everyone, including guys who had rough postseasons up until that point. Nick Swisher was the prime example. Not only did he make a couple of great plays in the field, including a heads-up throw to first to nail Vlad for straying off the bag, but he got a key hit to set up the first 3 Yankee runs. I guess the Mohawk worked. It's hideous, but effective.

Mark Teixeira saved Mariano Rivera from giving up a couple of runs in the top of the 8th inning with another fantastic grab and then got a sac fly to give him some insurance in the bottom of the 8th.

Johnny Damon came through with a clutch 2-run scoring base hit after the Angels unintentionally intentionally walked Derek Jeter. After a tough division series, Damon had a couple of timely hits for the Yanks in the last few games against Anaheim.

But as someone who believes in strong pitching over hitting, it was refreshing to see Joba Chamberlain come in to relieve Andy Pettitte and get two weak ground balls to close out the 7th. I was worried that the bridge to Mariano Rivera was going to crack again, but Joba easily dispatched the Angels and beat his chest in triumph, the emotion being a good sign that Joba is almost back to being the Joba of old.
Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fallen Angels! Yanks going to the World Series!

Andy Pettitte just showed why he's the best, big-game pitcher in the playoffs today, with another powerful performance to end the Angels season. His intensity was palpable and if the Halos thought they had a chance going in, he quickly disabused them of that notion on his way to claiming sole possession of the record for the most postseason wins at 16.

"There's no other guy we want on the mound," said CC Sabathia.

Mariano Rivera, after a stumble in the 8th inning, came back to close the game for his record-extending 37th postseason save.

In accepting the American League Championship Series trophy, Joe Girardi seemed very emotional, particularly when he was thanking George Steinbrenner for giving him the opportunity to be the Yankee manager. "We're trying to do this for Pops," he said.

In his first playoff tour with the Yanks, CC went 2-0 to pick up a well-deserved Most Valuable Player award. It could have gone to Alex Rodriguez, but it seems right to give it to their bulldog starting pitcher.

The Yanks really let loose during the post-game party. Even Derek Jeter, normally quite composed, looked like he was having a lot of fun tonight. The Yanks deserve to enjoy this celebration. They'll think about what comes next tomorrow. Bring on the Phillies, baby!

John Flaherty not afraid to say no on YES

In baseball, there is a lot of talk about how former catchers make great managers. But former Yankee catcher and current YES Network broadcaster John Flaherty is showing why they also make great broadcasters too, both during his pre and post-game appearances as well as his in-game calling during the regular season.

I love listening to Flaherty, namely because he is not afraid to call out underperforming Yankees. On tonight's pre-game show, he talked about Joba Chamberlain's bad body language and sagging confidence. While he said Joe Girardi would still be quick to call on Phil Hughes in a tight spot, he said the Yankees manager wouldn't be as eager to call on Joba.

"If you're Joe Girardi, it's hard to have confidence in this guy right now," he said.

A lot of former players, especially ones who have retired relatively recently, are unwilling to criticize current players because they have played with many of them. But Flaherty is not one of those guys. Last week, he was asked about Girardi's decision to pull Damaso Marte in favor of Phil Coke, which seemed strange because it replaced one lefthander with another. But Flaherty quickly called out Marte, saying he has had no confidence in Marte since last year's trade that brought him to the Yanks from the Pirates.

Speaking of Hughes, MLB Network tried to make a big deal about the fact that he didn't show up for Friday's optional workout, noting that Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher all showed up, among others. They even quoted Posada as saying, "Optional is not a word you use in the playoffs." But Hughes is a young kid and maybe he just needed a day to clear his head after his troubles in Anaheim. I have absolutely no problem with that.

Rainout helps Yanks as much as Angels

The consensus seems to be that yesterday's rain-out gave the Angels a huge advantage against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series because it will allow them to start John Lackey in Game 7 if they win tonight. But the Yankees can take Lackey out of the equation with a victory tonight and yesterday's rain-out puts them in a better position to win because if gave Andy Pettitte an extra day's rest. By his own admission, the extra rest helps Andy as he gets older and the numbers back it up: 6-1 with an extra day this season.

Game 7 should be avoided at all costs, but I would feel pretty good about our chances with CC Sabathia on the mound. I was a little concerned during the offseason when the Yankees were pursuing him because I didn't think he was enthusiastic about coming to New York. I had no problem with him holding out for as much money as he could get from the Yanks, but I was worried that he didn't really want to pitch in NY and we don't need guys like that. But he has thrived in his first postseason with the Yanks, carrying the team on his big back and putting them in a great position to win.

Even against Lackey, I have a lot of confidence that CC could pitch the Yanks to the World Series and a date with Philly. But I really don't think it will get that far. The Yanks will close it out tonight in a game that's going to be a must-see. Sorry, football Giants, can't pay attention to you until after the World Series.
Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mother Nature sucks!

Because of Mother Nature, the Yankees won't be able to finish off the Angels tonight. Given a nasty thunderstorm quickly approaching the stadium and a clear forecast for tomorrow, Major League Baseball decided to postpone the game, which will start Sunday night just after 8pm. It's the right call.

You would hate to have a situation where you start the game and have to postpone 3 or 4 innings in, wasting both starters. Worse, you don't want to risk the chance of someone getting hurt on a sloppy field.

Joe Girardi was asked in a pre-game conference how he would handle it if the game was started and then postponed after 3 innings. He said he would not start CC Sabathia in a resumed Game 6, that he would try to piece together 6 innings from his bullpen, which is amazing to me given the struggles of the pen outside of Mariano Rivera.

I would have tried to finish off the Angels by putting CC in, if not for the rest of the game, then at least to get the ball to Mo. You're going to have pitch CC anyway, why wait until Game 7 when you can try to crush the Angels in Game 6? Maybe Girardi would be as nervous starting AJ Burnett in a Game 7 as I would be so he's saving CC for that, but it's a moot point if you can close out the Angels in Game 6.

But no matter. Now Andy Pettitte and Joe Saunders will start in Game 6 tomorrow night. Pettitte said it was frustrating to have to wait another day after a long day today. But Pettitte's numbers with an extra day's rest are great this year: 6-1 with a 3.63 ERA with a higher-than-normal walk total, although that doesn't seem to have affected his performance. Pettitte is such a tough guy, the MLB Network just showed a live shot at the stadium of him playing toss in pouring rain.

Yankee fans just have to be patient for one more day. Pettitte will clinch it tomorrow night. At least we have a couple of good football games tomorrow afternoon to distract us until then.
Thanks to Axel Rouvin via Wikipedia for the photo.

Jeff Nelson hasn't lost his touch

One of the things I've missed from the Yankees is that blunt honesty that was characteristic of the team when they had players like reliever Jeff Nelson, who was on Mike Francesca's show before today's game got rained out.

Nelson was known as being an outspoken guy. He brings interesting insight as he and Mike Stanton formed the bridge to Mariano Rivera that won the Yankees all those World Series titles. Francesca asked him about the struggles of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain and he said they were going to make mistakes, but the Yanks needed to stick with them. He talked about the need of players to have a steady temperament, be consistent and not try to do more in the playoffs than they did in the regular season.

"The only guy (in the bullpen) they trust is Mo," he said.

Nelson also said that Joe Girardi's frequent trips to the bullpen were hurting the confidence of his relievers, which is problematic because "you need the other guys." But he noted that it's Girardi's job to try to win games and he doesn't have the luxury of experimenting by leaving guys in the game to try to get out of jams.

Nelson also said the media has paid too much attention to his long-ago spat with Joe Torre after Francesca asked him about it today. Back in 2000, he publicly criticized his manager for not naming him to the American League all-star team. Nelson left as a free agent after that season, but he returned and pitched well for the Yankees team that lost the World Series in 2003 so obviously whatever hard feelings were there weren't enough to prevent his return.

In talking about how catchers often become managers, he said Jorge Posada would be a great manager. I never would have thought of Posada as manager material, given his fiery temperament, but Nelson said he would be great exactly because of his intensity and the knowledge of the game he has gleaned as a catcher.
Thanks to MLB via Wikipedia for the photo.

Rain, rain go away!

Come back, well, in mid-November after the World Series! I know, not going to happen. I've been at too many rain delayed and postponed games this year, but we can always hope.

Latest weather report says heavy rain will start around 10pm so hopefully the Yanks will get at least half the game in tonight. Per Bud Selig's new official rules (he did it on his own during the World Series last year), there are no rain-shortened games in the postseason. So if tonight's game started and rain forced a postponement, play would resume on Sunday from the exact point the game was halted.

But that leads to a host of problems, namely that you lose both starting pitchers, creating a situation where Andy Pettitte and Joe Saunders could be replaced in Sunday's continued Game 6 by CC Sabathia and Jered Weaver. The Yanks don't want to see that scenario, especially if they only manage to get 3 or 4 innings in tonight. Because then you have to use Sabathia to finish Game 6 and that would make it a must-win for the Yanks because a loss means AJ Burnett in Game 7, probably against John Lackey again. That would be a nightmare. I would not trust the biggest game of the year to AJ Burnett.

Please rain go away!

BTW, this whole notion that Andy could be skipped over in favor of CC if tonight's game is rained out is just silly. First of all, Andy's tied for the most wins in postseason all-time. Second, if CC were to pitch Game 6 and lose, Andy would have to come back in Game 7 anyway.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Yankees Core 4 on cusp of another World Series

The Yankees old-guard of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada are getting a lot of ink with the Yanks on the verge of the World Series. The gist of the coverage revolves around two central themes: that they are still playing together after all these years and that they are so close to another World Series and perhaps a 5th ring, in large part due to their own significant contributions in the postseason this year.

It is remarkable that the four have managed to play together so long, given free agency and the Yankees' propensity to pull the trigger on trades involving their young players in the late 80s and early 90s. The hiccup was Pettitte's choice to leave for Houston via free agency after 2003, a decision the Yankees team shared the blame for after not aggressively pursuing him during that offseason. But when Andy made the decision to return to the Yanks, it seemed like the quartet had never been apart.

The sportswriters are correct in pointing out the valuable contributions of the Core 4 this postseason. While Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia are quite deservedly getting a lot of the attention and credit, the old-guard has played a tremendous role in helping the team get to this point. Mo has been amazing, closing out the Yankee wins and keeping them in the games during their two losses. Jeter has hit some crucial home runs. Posada has had some key hits. And of course, Andy has had two good starts already and the Yankees will be counting on him for a third to close out the ALCS tomorrow night.

Andy's not an 8-inning pitcher, but I'll be looking for him to throw long enough to narrow the gap to Mo and minimize any possibility of a bullpen meltdown or mismanagement by Joe Girardi. Pettitte has been clutch in so many of these situations, I expect him to bear down on the Angels and pitch the Yanks into the World Series so that the Core 4 can go after Ring 5.

Phil Hughes showing maturity despite struggles

Despite his struggles, Phil Hughes continues to impress me with his maturity. To his credit, Hughes stood up and took responsibility for last night's loss after failing to close out the 7th inning and giving up the Yankee lead. He was missing his spots with his fastball, which Hughes said was due to his trying to be "too fine." I love the fact that he was mature enough to put the loss on his shoulders, even though it wasn't completely his fault. Outside their half of the 7th, the Yankees had chances to score and failed to do so.

Hughes could have lost his composure after Game 2, when the Yankees defense collapsed behind him. Instead, he stood in front of his locker and resisted any urge to take shots at his teammates. His mature responses stand in sharp contrast to John Lackey's tantrums during this postseason. Yes, he should not have been taken out of the game, but he also didn't have to pout like a four-year old after his team's comeback. Hughes is behaving more like the veteran than Lackey.

Hughes said he hasn't lost confidence and I hope that is true. I'm rooting for him to return to his regular season form and be the dominant set-up man that Mariano Rivera deserves.
Thanks to Mandalatv via en.wikipedia for the photo.

Yankees must shake off disappointing loss

I can't even imagine what that plane ride back to New York was like after the Yankees failed to close out the American League Championship Series last night. Obviously, they are disappointed, but you have to wonder how high the level of frustration is. The Yanks could have ended the series against the Angels in Anaheim if they won either Monday or Thursday, with both games within their grasp. Now, they have to spend the next two days listening to people invoke the memory of the 2004 ALCS versus Boston.

Joe Girardi has been under intense criticism for several days about his questionable handling of the bullpen and I wonder if he felt skittish about going to his bullpen last night because of it. But I doubt many people would have taken him to task for taking AJ Burnett out after six innings and a long wait on the bench while the Yankee offense came back to life in the 7th inning.
If it's CC Sabathia or Andy Pettitte you're taking out of the game with only 80-odd pitches, then it's a bad move. But no one would have faulted him for taking AJ out of the game, knowing how erratic he is and how prone he is to putting people on base via walks and HBPs.

But the Yankees should look on the bright side. They are coming home to Yankee Stadium, where they have played extraordinarily well, winning all four playoff games this year and posting a 57-24 record during the regular season. They also have a big-game pitcher in Andy Pettitte on the mound for them, followed by their horse Sabathia if it gets that far. But I don't think it will get that far. I think Andy's going to give them a strong performance and I expect the offense to show up, led by Mark Teixeira, who looked like he was getting closer to getting out of his hitting funk. The Yankees will finish the job tomorrow, have a quick celebration and prepare to meet the Phillies in the World Series.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

AJ's collapse not a surprise

I wish I could say AJ Burnett's first-inning meltdown was a surprise, but in truth, I had been expecting it for a while. You can't walk or hit that many batters without it coming back to bite you. He obviously had nothing early on, but he rebounded well in the next few innings and kept the Yanks in the game until losing it again in the 7th inning.

What was more disturbing was the regression of the Yankees offense, that one huge inning aside. I was feeling pretty good after Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon got on to start the game. But then Mark Teixeira struck out, Alex Rodriguez popped out and Matsui weakly grounded out. I thought Joe Girardi was going to make the right move and DH Jorge Posada. He went with Matsui because he has more experience DHing, but you can't let that be the deciding factor when a hitter is swinging the bat that poorly.

Home run aside, Nick Swisher continues to struggle. He had a chance to erase all the bad karma from the previous 7 playoff games with one good swing or even a walk in the 9th inning and he couldn't come through.

The postseason struggles of Phil Hughes are really surprising. He was so dominant as Mariano Rivera's set-up man in the regular season, but he struggled in the division series and he looked awful tonight. Joba Chamberlain is having a hard time in the playoffs too, although that's less surprising because the Yankees completely screwed with his head in the regular season. Again, they had to bring in Mo to keep from falling further behind and that shouldn't be happening.

Best I can say for the Yankees is that they're coming home to Yankee Stadium for two games with Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia scheduled to start. But they will have to hear about the 2004 ALCS collapse for the next two days. I hope the doubt doesn't start to creep into their heads.

Sorry Torre Phils in the World Series

For my friend Scott, a die-hard Mets fan, his worst nightmare is about to come true. The Phillies are already in the World Series, having easily dispatched the Dodgers for the second straight year in five games. Now, unless the Angels can pull off a miracle comeback, the Yankees will ascend to the World Series for the first time since 2003. If I were Scott, I'd move south for the winter right now.

I was personally rooting for a Yankees-Dodgers World Series, a reminder of some classic title bouts of decades ago, plus the drama of Joe Torre leading his new team in a tough fight against his old team after being rather unceremoniously dumped. But it was not meant to be. The better team won that LCS and the Phillies will be a tough opponent.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Starting Jorge Posada at DH the right move

Since Jose Molina will be catching AJ Burnett in tomorrow's Game 5 start, Joe Girardi is considering starting Jorge Posada as the designated hitter. It's the right move. Jorge is swinging a hot bat while Hideki Matsui continues to struggle, hitting pop-ups and striking out with runners in scoring position and helping to kill several Yankee rallies.

I also think Nick Swisher has one more game to regain his swing. If the Yankees clinch a World Series berth tomorrow and Swish has another fruitless night, then Girardi will have to add Eric Hinske back to the roster. While everyone else has shown some signs of life (except maybe Robinson Cano), Swisher continues to struggle and may have to take a seat on the bench. You can't let one player drag down your entire offense.

Yankees moving in the right direction again

A lot of things went right for the Yankees in last night's Game 4 victory against the Angels. CC Sabathia's tremendous performance on 3 days rest snatched momentum right back after a devastating Game 3 loss. CC gave the Yankees exactly what they needed: a dominating performance that put the Angels on the edge of the cliff. And after Joe Girardi's bullpen managing fiasco, CC served as his own set-up man, requiring Girardi to make only one move: bringing in Chad Gaudin for one inning of much-needed work. And he looked sharp, which is good news for Yankee fans. With the World Series not scheduled to have as many off-days, it's important to get Gaudin ready for a possible start.

The Yankees also finally remembered how to hit with runners in scoring position. Melky Cabrera, king of the regular-season walkoffs, got a clutch hit to drive in a couple of runs and give CC a good cushion before the Yanks starting piling it on. Johnny Damon's consecutive home run days is another positive sign, but Nick Swisher's ongoing struggles are still an issue and may require a seat on the bench.

Of course, this being the Yanks, there were causes for concern. Jorge Posada and Robby Cano should have both been called out on that play at third. Posada is famous for bone-headed moves on the bases, but both of them being off the bag is inexcusable. The Angels made a heads-up play tagging them and should have had a double play, but the ump blew the call. The Yankees were the receipients of two bad calls although another call went against them with Swisher being called out after tagging from third.

CC kept Girardi on the bench, but with AJ Burnett on the mound in Game 5 and unlikely to give more than 6 innings, you really have to worry about how the manager will handle the bullpen, especially since Girardi still seems to believe he made the right calls on Monday. He may be the only person in New York who thinks he got all of them right. That makes him prone to continue his bullpen manipulations and that is something to worry about.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

CC and ARod push Angels to the brink

CC Sabathia defied the bad history of pitchers going on short rest in the postseason with a truly dominating performance against the Angels tonight. Not only did he pitch well, he got better as the game went along, which made no practical sense. You would think with less rest he would lose steam more quickly. But he threw harder and spotted the ball better in the 7th and 8th innings than he did earlier in the game. You could tell by the looks on the faces of the Angels players that they knew they were finished.

On the offensive side, Alex Rodriguez continued his postseason resurgence. Things didn't look promising for the Yankees at first as they blew a prime run-scoring situation in the second inning, failing to score after starting the inning with runners on first and second. But Melky Cabrera finally came through with runners in scoring position, eventually driving in 4 runs tonight. And then ARod again took control of the game with another well-timed blast. In two series this year, he has surpassed his playoff performance of the previous four years combined.

With CC 3-0 in the playoffs and ARod with five homers and 11 ribbies so far, looks like talk of their postseason struggles has been vanquished for good.

Mariano Rivera a cheater? Gimme a break!

So Angels fans have finally figured out what makes Mariano Rivera so invincible. He's obviously a cheater. Why didn't anyone think of this before now? Ok Halos fans, if it helps you sleep at night to believe that Mo's Houdini act in Game 3 was related to him spitting on the ball for an extra edge, far be it from me to stop you.

The notion of Mo cheating is so ridiculous that even Angels manager Mike Scioscia dismissed it, saying he would be shocked if anything came of it. And Major League Baseball quickly moved to squash this nonsense, issuing a statement clearing Mo of any wrongdoing.

This latest episode just shows how amazing Mo is, not just as a player, but as a person. If I were him, I would have been horribly offended that anyone would insinuate my greatness was due to cheating. Upon being asked about it by reporters, Mo laughed and jokingly offered to take the entire reporting corps to dinner if they could prove he was spitting on the ball. Not even a terrible accusation like that could shake him. It's classic Mo and it's why we love him.

Yankees need to focus on present not future

I couldn't care less right now about the offseason decisions the Yankees have to make. There will be a time after the World Series when I'll be extremely interested in how the Yankee brass plans to improve a team that won more than 100 games in the regular season and made it to the American League Championship Series. But not after such a bad loss.

Scott Boras needs to stop talking about Johnny Damon's impending free agency. That's not a priority right now for Yankee fans. We generally like Damon, Red Sox history aside, but there's no need to talk about his future with the Yanks when the team is fighting to stave off an Angels team that has a little momentum on their side.

I also don't want to hear about the Yankees pursuit of the next Kei Igawa. If this kid Yusei Kikuchi is as good as they say he is, there will be plenty of time and fighting over him in the offseason. But the head of every Yankees player and official needs to be focused on beating the Halos.

Yankees feel the weight of crushing defeat

You could see it on the Yankees faces. You could hear it in their voices. The team was devastated by this defeat, probably because it came at their own hands. The Yanks had every opportunity to win this game and go up 3-0 against the Angels in the American League Championship Series and couldn't do it. They couldn't come up with a clutch hit or timely sac fly to score that extra run, going 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. Joba Chamberlain came in and immediately gave up the go-ahead run in the 7th inning. Joe Girardi continued his questionable managing of the bullpen and it finally caught up with him. The Yankees had this game in their grasp and let it get away from them.

Luckily for the Yankees they play again today and they can quickly erase the sting of Game 3 with a winning performance. But even that is problematic. They have their stud pitcher CC Sabathia, but he's going on 3 days rest. Pitchers going on short rest in the playoffs have not done well in the past, including Sabathia with the Brewers last year. The Yanks desperately need a good outing from the big guy. They don't want to go into Game 5 tied with the Angels with the erratic AJ Burnett on the mound and the Halos brimming with confidence.

I hope CC can pull a repeat of his Game 1 performance where he serves as his own set-up man for Mariano Rivera. Take the decision out of Joe Girardi's hands because he clearly can not stop himself from micromanaging his bullpen.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Disappointing loss for Yankees in Game 3

It's amazing how quickly momentum can change and change it did tonight with the Yankees' disappointing loss in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. What makes the loss particularly crushing is that the Yanks had so many opportunities to win.

Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez delivered home runs that seem destined to quickly put the Angels out of their misery. But the Yankees can't rely on Jeter and ARod for all the clutch hits. Eventually, other Yankee hitters have to come through in key situations. I love Nick Swisher's fun-loving demeanor, but he single-handedly killed nearly every Yankee rally with his inability to even get the ball to the outfield for a sac fly. With Eric Hinske off the ALCS roster, the Yanks don't have any good options for sitting Swish so they will have to hope he can turn things around.

With the lack of clutch hitting, the Yankees wasted a solid pitching outing from Andy Pettitte. He did give up the tying home to Vlad, but he pitched well enough to win. And he should have won. Mark Teixeira once again played an awesome defensive game. Jeter again was in the middle of a game-changing postseason play that will be overshadowed by Joe Girardi's overmanaging of his bullpen.

What was Joe Girardi thinking???

I knew that Joe Girardi's handling of the bullpen was going to eventually bite the Yankees in the ass and that's exactly what happened tonight. I didn't expect the Angels to go quietly into the night, but Girardi handed them Game 3 when he inexplicably took Dave Robertson out in favor of Alfredo Aceves. Robertson has been brilliant during the playoffs, pitching out of several jams. But he wasn't even in trouble this time, dispatching the first two hitters with relative ease.

I'm watching the post-game interview and Girardi hasn't given a good explanation of the move. He said he was comfortable with the matchup with Ace, but he didn't say why exactly that was the case. Robertson has better stuff, it doesn't make any sense.

His bullpen manuevering might have lost him the game in the previous inning when Phil Hughes gave up a double and then he brought Mariano Rivera into the game. If you're bringing in Mo, why wait until Hughes gives up the run? Why not bring Mo in to start the inning? Then maybe you don't have the drama of the Angels getting first and third, requiring Mo to perform a magic act to get out of the inning.

But it's not all Girardi's fault. The Yankee offense, mostly notably Nick Swisher, could not get a base hit with runners in scoring position. The four solo home runs were great, but you need to be able to play small ball in the postseason and the Yankees didn't do it.

Mariano Rivera should keep pitching

Michael Kay dropped terrific news for Yankee fans during today's pre-game show on YES when he mentioned that Mariano Rivera was open to pitching beyond the expiration of his contract after the 2010 season. Mo previously had stated that he would retire after next year, but he is apparently having second thoughts. And he should since he continues to be so dominating. I'd like to see him go after baseball's all-time saves record, although he certaintly does not need it for validation as the best closer in baseball history. But it would be a nice record for him to hold. He has 526 saves in the regular season right now, second only to Trevor Hoffman's 591 saves.

As for today's game, Mo is said to be available despite having pitched 2 1/3 innings Saturday night. Seems like it's all hands on deck today, which makes sense since most of the other relievers only pitched to one or two batters in Game 2. Except, of course, Dave Robertson, who is winning the hearts of Yankee fans and his manager and teammates with his Houdini-like performances in the postseason.

Chad Gaudin will stay in the bullpen after Joe Girardi confirmed that CC Sabathia would start Game 4 tomorrow night. Like I said the other day, it's the right move regardless of whether the Yanks go up 3-0 or are 2-1 in the American League Championship Series. If you have the opportunity to finish the Angels, you go with your best guy. And you have to go with CC if the Angels are in a position to tie the series.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Random thoughts from last night's Yankee victory

Phil Hughes, showing maturity beyond his years, really showed how a pitcher should react after one of his fielders commits an error that puts him in a jam. After Derek Jeter botched a potential double-play ball, Hughes calmly struck out the next batter before Mariano Rivera came in to get the final out of the inning. He didn't engage any histronics on the mound. As Hughes said after the game, 99.9% of the time Jeter makes that play. I hope the Angels' John Lackey was taking notes so he can avoid embarassing his teammates the next time out. Someone should send a tape of the game to Cole Hamels, in case he wasn't watching.

Robinson Cano also had a rough game defensively, missing an easy out in one inning and booting a potential double-play grounder later in the game. It seems he was most affected by the elements as he was the only Yankee fielder with the full protective headgear. Convinced that wearing the headgear was the reason for the miscues, the Yankee fans in my section were begging him to take it off by the end of the night. He didn't, but hopefully he won't have these same problems playing in the more pleasant California climate.

Mark Teixeira is the human Gumby. I'm constantly amazed by his ability to stretch and split to reach balls from his infielders, keeping his foot on the base long enough to get the out. He made a nice stretch into foul territory to get an out from a ball thrown by Jose Molina. Great defense that was much appreciated by AJ Burnett.

It was great to see Jerry Hairston Jr. get a well-deserved pie in the face after scoring the winning run last night. Hairston came off the bench on a cold night and got the rally started with a leadoff hit. He has been such a great addition for the Yankees and he reminds me of the old-school role players that were so integral to key victories during the Yankees dynasty. Hope the Yankees do everything they can to keep him.

AJ Burnett gets the job done for the Yanks

Watching AJ Burnett pitch drives me batty, but he gets the job done, like he did last night in giving the Yankees 6 plus solid innings of 2-run ball. It is so frustrating to watch him walking and hitting batters, which I was convinced was going to burn him going against the Halos' running game. He did toss a wild pitch that allowed the Angels to score the tying run. But somehow it all worked out for him in the end and he gave the Yankees exactly what they needed.

Jose Molina deserves a lot of credit for guiding AJ through another critical start. Perhaps Jorge Posada should be grateful that he doesn't have to catch AJ when he's like this. Posada doesn't have the patience for erratic pitchers. That's probably why he and AJ don't work well together. But all Posada has to do is wait until AJ is done for the night and then he can pitch hit for Molina and play the rest of the game, so he doesn't have to sit an entire game out.

Yankee fans are the ultimate troopers

The Yanks owe their fans a huge debt of gratitude for hanging in there these last two games against the Angels despite the harsh elements at Yankee Stadium. Last night I was lucky to be in a section of the stadium covered by the upper deck, relatively insulated from the cold, wind and rain that started to come down heavy in the latter innings. But the fans who stood out in the open and survived the elements deserve a reward. Would have been nice of the Yanks to offer something to these fans: free hot chocolate at least!

The sense of camaraderie among the fans at the stadium last night warmed my heart. I was sitting next to this family with their little boy (an adorable blue-eyed, smiling kid who easily won the hearts of all the female Yankee fans around him). By the time the game was over, it was like we were all family. I even got a huge hug from the mom when the Yanks finally won it. I think we all floated out of the stadium last night.

Thriller in the Bronx

I was feeling pretty good about the Yankees' chances of winning it all going into the playoffs, but after being at last night's game, I now believe the Yanks are destined to win the World Series. How else do you explain their thrilling Game 2 win in the American League Championship Series, especially considering the miscues and missed opportunities? And boy, there were a lot of those. Like the Yankees failing to score after the second base umpire rightly said Erick Aybar failed to touch second base while trying to turn a double play in the 10th. Or a rare error by Derek Jeter that put the Yanks in a huge jam in the 8th.

But too many things are going right for the Yankees and there are no signs of anything stopping them. Alex Rodriguez seems intent on shattering his history of postseason failure. There was a palpable sense of dismay in the crowd yesterday when the Angels scored their third run, led by Chone Figgins clutch hit and his emotional reaction when reaching second. But ARod coming back to hit an 0-2 pitch and immediately tying the game quickly cast aside any sense of impending doom. After that blast, you just knew somehow, the Yankees were going to win that game.

Another sign that the Yanks were going to beat the Halos: Mariano Rivera pitching 2 1/3 innings to keep the game tied, helped out by solid plays by Johnny Damon and Robinson Cano. It reminded me of his clutch performance in the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox, a game that ended with Mo collapsing on the mound in utter joy after Aaron Boone won the game with a home run.
I was predicting a repeat of that 7-game series against the Angels with the Yanks coming out on top, but you wonder if the Angels can come back from such a crushing defeat, especially with Andy Pettitte on the mound for the Yanks tomorrow. The Halos do have the advantage of going home for three games, but the Yankees are set up to put a quick end to what everyone expected to be a long series.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bad sportsmanship by Hamels and Lackey

What is with this bad sportsmanship by starting pitchers? Cole Hamels of the Phillies and John Lackey of the Angels threw mini-tantrums in big postseason games: Hamels when his fielders failed to turn a double play and Lackey after Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins missed a popup last night. I understand Lackey's frustration as that ball should be caught, but that's no excuse for that kind of behavior. He wouldn't like it if his players starting throwing up their arms every time he gave up a home run. Hamels' outburst was even less tolerable, given that physical errors are just a part of the game.

The best pitchers and the best teammates pick up their fielders by pitching out of error-induced jams and patting them on the back when they get back to the dugout. Hamels and Lackey both showed a despicable lack of good sportsmanship, something that their managers should address immediately.

Thanks to Blevine37 via Wikipedia for the Hamels photo and SD Dirk for the Lackey photo.

CC Sabathia tosses a Yankees classic

All I can say about CC Sabathia after Game 1: Wow!!! He was so incredibly dominating last night, which is somewhat surprising given his previous struggles against the Angels. But the Halos had no chance last night. He threw hard and his control was impeccable. It reminded me of one of those great pitching performances we used to see out of the Yankees starters during the 1990s dynasty. Wonder how long before it becomes a YES network Yankee Classic!

It was really great to see Johnny Damon get back in the swing of things with a couple of hits and a nice sliding catch. I was worried about his hitting after the division series because he looked so terrible, but last night he looked pretty solid, particularly on the double. It's important that he and Nick Swisher get back into a hitting groove as Joe Girardi doesn't have many options with Eric Hinske not on the roster for the American League Championship Series.

Despite how overpowering CC was last night, I was a little surprised that Girardi let him go 8 innings, given his desire to use him for 3 ALCS starts (weather permitting, of course!). But can't blame him for wanting to use CC to get the ball to Mo, particularly given how Phil Hughes struggled in the ALDS. When you have a Game 1 victory in your sights, you do whatever you have to do to lock it down. And that's just what Girardi did.

I'm completely psyched for tonight, as I have a ticket for Game 2. I'm obviously worried about the weather, but will wear multiple layers and take my poncho or umbrella. Hopefully, the Yankees will give me a lot to cheer about so I can stay warm. =)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pedro Martinez has a time machine

Did Pedro Martinez travel back in time for his Game 2 start in the National League Championship Series? I've always hated Martinez, thought he was a headhunter when he was with the Red Sox and couldn't get past his slamming Don Zimmer to the ground in the playoffs. I would never root for Pedro, but I did admire his performance today. The Phillies couldn't have asked for more from Martinez. He gave them every opportunity to win the game and take control of the series.

As much as I am rooting for Joe Torre to make the World Series, I could not bring myself to cheer for Vincente Padilla. The guy is a jerk, although he may have been responsible for one of the biggest contributors to the Yankee camaraderie this season when hit Mark Teixeira and a fired up Tex instigated a Yankee rally. I was glad to see the Dodgers make their comeback after he left the game so he couldn't get credit. Can you call it a comeback if it's driven by a throwing error and a bases-loaded walk? Happy to see Torre's Dodgers get the win. It would have been a steep hill to climb going down 2-0 to Philly with Cliff Lee on the mound in Game 3.

Thanks to dbking via Wikipedia for the Pedro photo.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ken Davidoff absolutely right about yankees

Ken Davidoff is right on about why the Yankees will win the American League Championship Series in 7 games. I think he makes some great points about Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, home-field advantage and the depth of the Yankees bench. He also rightly points out that the Yanks have historically done better with a Democrat in the White House. He also could have mentioned the fact that Hillary Clinton is no longer the junior Senator from NY. My friend Scott (die-hard Mets fan) used to talk about the "Curse of Hillary" as the Yanks hadn't won the World Series during her Senate career.

I do think Davidoff glossed over some of the reasons why the Angels will be a tough opponent for the Yankees. Their running game is going to give the Yankees' pitching staff fits. With the exception of Andy Pettitte, none of the starters is great at keeping runners on base. Having Jose Molina catch AJ Burnett will help a little, but AJ tends to walk a lot of runners so the bases should be full of Angels.

The Angels also have the better manager in Mike Scioscia. He has a lot more experience, including managing his team to a World Series win, than Joe Girardi. I bet Angels fans don't worry about their manager blowing out their bullpen. The Yankee bullpen, despite Phil Hughes' struggles in the American League Division Series, should be a strength if bullpen moves are properly managed. In contrast, the Angels are really missing K-Rod.

That being said, I still believe the Yankees will win what should be an awesome series. I think they have the stronger lineup and bullpen and their starting pitching matches up pretty well. Yanks in seven, baby!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Gotta go to Mo Rivera: he's the best!

More recognition of Mariano Rivera's greatness (like more was needed--everyone knows he's the best!) came today when Major League Baseball announced he won the Delivery Man of the Year award as the league's best relief pitcher, the third time in five years he won the award. He beat out Joe Nathan, who ARod smacked around the other day.

It is truly amazing when you think about Rivera and how he has managed to dominate for more than a decade. It always shocks me when he gives up a lead (like the game against Seattle when Ichiro hit that home run, I was falling asleep as soon as I saw Mo coming in because I thought the game was over right then).

Funny thing about Rivera, apparently he was sick last week during the American League Division Series. Couldn't tell from the way he pitched, going 3.2 innings and closing out the series for the Yanks.

Great omen for the Yankees: When Papelbum won the award in 2007, the Saux won the World Series. When Brad Lidge won the award in 2008, his Phillies won the World Series. Guess that means the Yanks are winning it all this year!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

3-man rotation the way to go for Yankees

Joe Girardi acknowledged the obvious today when he said the Yankees are considering going with a 3-man rotation of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte for the American League Championship Series. He not only should be leaning in that direction, it is the right way to go.

You would be taking a big risk starting Chad Gaudin in Game 4 after he hasn't started in a couple of weeks. Yes, he's been working out and throwing in the bullpen to keep sharp. And remember, one of the most clutch pitching performances of the Yankees 1990s dynasty came from Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez in Game 4 of the ALCS against Cleveland with the Yanks down 2 games to 1 after he sat on the bench for a few weeks. But Gaudin -- a solid starter -- is no El Duque, who was dominating and puzzling during a clutch performance that saved the Yankees season.

Really think about any scenario the Yanks could be in at that point in the ALCS. If heaven forbid, they're down a game or two, you have to go with your horse. But even if the Yankees are leading the series, you still have to go with Sabathia. If the 2004 ALCS taught us anything, it's that you have to put your foot on the other team's throat when you have them down.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Post-mortem on the Yankees sweep of the Twins

After the euphoria of sweeping the Twins on their way to their first American League Championship Series since 2004, the Yankees do have to reassess their team going into the next round of the baseball playoffs. Their starting pitching was strong, bullpen performed well with some notable exceptions and they had timely, clutch hitting. But the Yankees do have some things to worry about heading into their matchup with the Angels.

As usual, the Yankees old-guard of Derek Jeter (sorry Derek, know you don't like the nickname, but it works), Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte performed reliably well in the first round of the American League Division Series. Jeter hit .400, including his clutch 2-run home run to break the Twins in Game 1. Mo closed out yesterday's win and pitched relatively well in the three games despite giving up a few hits. Andy matched John Smoltz for the most playoff wins at 15. And Jorge emerged from a disappointing, and probably motivating, benching to drive in the winning run in Game 3.

Alex Rodriguez surpassed even my expectations with an incomparable performance in the ALDS. Every time the Yankees needed a big hit, there was ARod. Driving in Jeter twice with 2-out clutch hits in Game 1, tying Game 2 in the 9th with a 2-run blast and knocking in the tying run with another mammoth shot in Game 3, permanently deflating any hopes of momentum for the Twins.

But like I said, the Yankees do have some things to worry about, namely the lack of hitting by anyone not named ARod, Jeter or Posada. The biggest concerns for me were Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher, who both had one futile at-bat after another against the Twins. Damon was struggling at the end of the regular season and it looks like he has not been able to get his groove back. Joe Girardi seems to have a lot of confidence in both of them, but at some point he has to think about shifting the batting order or benching one or both of them because the Yankees will need all the offense they can get against a tough Angels pitching staff.

Girardi made some strange decisions with his bullpen this series. Taking Andy Pettitte out after he threw only 81 pitches in a typically strong postseason performance in favor of the struggling Joba Chamberlain was perplexing to say the least. Taking Yankee bulldog Alfredo Aceves out after one inning in a tie game didn't make any sense. Trusting Damaso Marte in a tight game after his struggles this year was bizarre. Girardi was quite lucky that none of these moves blew up in his face. I don't think he'll be that lucky against the Angels, particularly with Mike Scioscia managing the other team.
Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for this photo.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bring on the Angels baby: Yankees beat Twins

I'm completely psyched for what's going to be a great American League Championship Series with the Angels starting Friday. The Yankees secured their place in the next round of the baseball playoffs with a win over the Twins. Tonight's game was almost anticlimactic as you knew the Twins were done as soon as Tex's ball hit the top of the wall on Friday. I almost feel sorry for the Twinkies--they were clearly overmatched, even with Carl Pavano's shockingly great start. He couldn't pitch that way for us?!!!

Once again, Andy Pettitte came up with another huge postseason start. He started most of my favorite games during the Yankees dynasty years and I felt like I was watching a vintage Andy Pettitte start tonight. He got a lot of help from his surrounding cast, particularly his catcher. Jorge Posada played a fantastic game, both offensively and defensively. His home run proved to be the game winner and he added another insurance ribbie later, but his perfect throw to get Punto after receiving a heads-up throw from Derek Jeter was my favorite moment of the game.

The wait until Friday will be agonizing, but at least both the Yanks and Angels are in the same boat. I'll admit I was surprised to see the Sox get swept. Despite their late-season struggles, I thought they would come back and win 1 or 2 games at Fenway before eventually losing to the Angels, who are definitely a better team. But I'm happy anytime Jonathan Papelbum gets knocked around!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Alex Rodriguez is a quick healer

GREAT NEWS for the Yanks about Alex Rodriguez likely not needing another hip surgery. From the way ARod is playing baseball, it was obvious that he has healed nicely. His doctor had high praise for the Yankees agreeing to give him days off, which worked out beautifully and probably helped him heal faster than expected. And, of course, contributing to the monster postseason he is having.
I'm still on Cloud 9 after yesterday's game, excited for both Tex (who quickly became a favorite of mine this year) and ARod, whose slaying all his playoff demons.

Twins in trouble with Carl Pavano on the mound

If Carl Pavano is really all that stands between the Yanks and the ALCS, I love their chances against the Twinkies tomorrow night. Brian Cashman can defend Pavano all he wants (and he has to since he brought him in), but the truth is Pavano is soft. I do believe that his injuries were genuine, but he could have played a lot more than he did at at time when the Yanks were hurting for starting pitching.

Pavano looked particularly bad playing on the same team as Derek Jeter, who flew headfirst into the seats to catch a ball not once but twice and still played on as if nothing happened. Even now, when Jeter is questioned about injuries, he always says he's fine, even though everyone knows better. I remember watching a game last year when Reggie Jackson was talking with the ESPN team and was telling them how Jeter's numbers were down because he played hurt all year and refused to sit out.

I always thought Pavano could have bucked up and insisted on pitching more than he did. I'm generally not a fan who loves to boo former Yankee players, but for Pavano I'll make an exception.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Enjoy your pie Mark Teixeira

Tex finally got his well-deserved pie in the face after ending an unbelievable game with a game-winning, just barely out home run. He and Jeter have driven the offense all year long, but neither one has had any of the walk-off hits the Yanks are famous for this year. With one swing of the bat, Tex got his walk-off in the biggest game of the year. I guess Jeter's next!

"AJ said 'I finally got you,'" Tex said in the postgame interview. "If I'm going to get one, I'm glad it was in the postseason."

ARod continued his playoff renaissance, with a massive 2-run, game-tying home run against Twins closer Joe Nathan and another clutch hit to drive in Jeter earlier in the game. I think it's safe to say he's erased his playoff demons (as predicted by yours truly!).

There will be a lot of talk about the bad call on Mauer's opposite-field drive. No doubt, the ump blew the call. But the Twins still had the bases loaded with no outs and they could not get a run in. They stranded 17 runners on base. They can't blame the umps for that.

Molina catching AJ instead of Jorge Posada turned out to be anticlimactic. AJ pitched well with Molina as his backstop, giving up only one run in 6 solid innings (setting aside all the walks). As soon as AJ was coming out of the game, Posada pitch hit and caught a couple of innings. Steve Politi made a good point in his article today about Posada, noting that BoSox catcher Jason Varitek is sitting the postseason out due to his inability to throw out stealing baserunners. Even if Molina catches AJ's starts the rest of the playoffs, Posada won't be sitting out a full game unless AJ goes the distance, which is unlikely with all the pitches he throws.

My heart is still pounding after this thrilling night! Can't wait for Sunday!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Time to dust off Derek Jeter's Mr. November nickname

Just in case the Twinkies had any thoughts of stealing Game 1 after scoring two runs off of CC, Derek Jeter quickly cast aside any such notions with one swing of the bat. Jeter got on base 4 times, scored 3 times and hit that clutch 2-run home run to get the Yanks back in the game. Jeter's not a home run hitter, but I've seen him crush a team with a well-timed blast: HELLO METSIES!

I couldn't have said it any better than Twins manager Ron Gardenhire: "Jeter did what he does best. He got his team right back in it."

"That's Derek Jeter this time of the year," his own manager Joe Girardi said.

Jeter always wants to win, but I get the sense that there is a special urgency to the Yanks' title run this year for him with the Boss being in failing health. Jeter is incredibly fond of George Steinbrenner and they have a pretty close relationship for an owner and a player. It's unusual for Jeter to openly share these thoughts so you know he is gunning for another ring for the Boss.

With the World Series scheduled to go into November this year, it's time to dust off the Mr. November nickname for Mr. Jeter!

BTW, ARod is making me look like a genius. When I said he would have a good postseason, I had no idea it was going to happen this quickly. ARod came through with not one, but two clutch 2-out ribbie hits. Keep it going, ARod!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Alex Rodriguez will have a good postseason for the Yankees

Alex Rodriguez's well-documented struggles in the postseason are a key storyline heading into the ALDS, as the local papers rightly note. I've never been the biggest ARod fan and his playoff shortcomings have always frustrated me. But I think this year will be different. ARod seems to be in a good place right now, both physically and, perhaps more importantly, mentally. It seems like he has finally found peace in his life after his troubles earlier this year.

In hindsight, being outed as a steroids user and conducting that painful press conference may have been just what he needed. Maybe the weight of that secret was on him too much. ARod's insatiable need to be liked has been well known. Perhaps he knew deep down that the steroids use would hurt him with a lot of fans and even some of his own teammates. But in unburdening himself of that secret, maybe he finally realized that you can't rely on other people to validate who you are as a player or a human being. So he stopped trying so hard to get people to like him. And in a strange way, I think it made his teammates actually like him.

Physically, he seems to be in a good shape too, as shown by his historic inning in Tampa on Sunday. And the Yankees choosing the series with three off days really helps him. He played so much better when the team finally realized he couldn't play baseball every day.

I'm predicting ARod is going to have a good postseason, batting close to .300 and coming through in one or two key spots with runners in scoring position. And that will be enough. It will be enough to help his team, which has proven this year that they don't rely on one guy to be the hero. It will be enough for the media, who will finally write the positive stories that ARod once craved. It will be enough for Yankee fans, who really do want to like ARod.

Here's hoping that when ARod finally does come through in the playoffs, he doesn't give a damn what any of us think!

Great game Twinkies Hope you're tired

Had to wait 12 innings, but the Yanks finally know who they're facing in the first round after the Twins beat the Tigers in what was both an awesome and heartbreaking game. You had everything in this game: good starting pitching, lead swings back and forth late, a stud closer getting out of a jam of two runners on and no outs without giving up a run, a young kid making a foolish fielding play only to redeem himself later in the inning with a perfect throw to the plate. It was wildly entertaining and insightful for the Yanks as both teams showed their weaknesses: the inability to get a hit with runners on base being the key reason the game went three extra frames.

With the Twinkies still celebrating in their clubhouse, you can only imagine how exhausted they'll be for the series with the Yanks. They may be able to go on adrenaline in Game 1, but I wouldn't want to bet on that against CC. Plus, think about the energy it took for them to get to this point. They came back from being 3 games down with 4 to play to beat the Tigers. Hope they run out of steam soon!

I do feel badly for the Tigers to lose such a memorable game, but they did squander a healthy lead in the last few weeks of the season, something they'll spend the offseason agonizing about.

Anyway, back to the Yanks, who as expected chose to start their series on Wednesday, giving them the extra off days and allowing them to stick with CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte and skip over Joba Chamberlain. I hate all the extra days in the postseason after months of watching games on an almost daily basis. But given the age of some of the Yankee players, an extra day here and there can't hurt.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Whatever is best for AJ Burnett is best for the Yankees

The newspapers are full of stories about Jose Molina catching AJ Burnett in Sunday's baseball game, in what increasingly looks like preparation for him to catch during AJ’s Game 2 or 3 start in the ALDS. The communication problems between AJ and Jorge Posada are well documented. The Daily News does a good job of breaking down the stats, which clearly demonstrate that hitters don’t fare nearly as well against AJ with Molina guiding him through a game.

If the road to victory is paved by good starting pitching, then it’s clear that Molina needs to catch AJ. I know that the whole idea of a personal catcher is repugnant to many baseball fans, but the Yankees have to give themselves the best chance of winning and that is clearly with Molina behind the plate when AJ starts. It does weaken the lineup a bit at the end, with either Posada or Hideki Matsui having to take a seat, but a lineup led by Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez should be able to provide plenty of offense.

It was fun seeing Posada act as manager during Sunday’s game, although it didn’t look like he got to make many decisions. Jorge was the manager by default as most of the other regulars were going to play the last game of the regular season with two full days off before postseason play begins. But it was clear Joe Girardi had a plan for bringing in as many relievers as he could to check out those on the bubble and get Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes some work to try to keep them sharp for Wednesday’s Game 1. Jorge did get to make the calls to the bullpen—wonder what was said during those conversations! Jorge didn’t even get to do the manager’s postgame interview, which Joe Torre routinely let the acting manager do. It was always comical watching the players sit in their manager’s chair and try to deal with the media.