Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yankees troubles not over despite clinch

The New York Yankees may be a team bound for the playoffs, but they sure don't look like it.

The Yankees blew a huge opportunity to gain some ground in the race for the American League East title, which they say they want although they are not acting like it. A team that really wants first place and home-field advantage in the playoffs does not start Javier Vazquez, who basically assured himself of not making the postseason roster with his performance against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Bronx Bombers are really going to have to live up to their nickname this weekend in Boston if they have any hope of surpassing the Tampa Bay Rays for division supremacy. Because the Rays own the tiebreaker, the Yankees have to beat the Red Sox in at least two games this weekend (more likely three) and hope the Kansas City Royals can play spoiler.

Given the way the Yankees have been playing, I don't like the odds, especially since they will have their horses on a tight leash. Andy Pettitte is going to be on a strict pitch count and Phil Hughes will be limited to a couple of innings at the most if he even does start Sunday. Joe Girardi will likely rest at least two or three of his regulars each game (even though they have two days off before the playoffs start) so backups like Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena and Juan Miranda will be leading the charge for the division.

I hope they enjoyed the party they had clinching a postseason spot because it doesn't look like they will get another one this weekend.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More photos from my visit to US Cellular

Go White Sox! My visit to US Cellular Field

For one night only, I was a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan.

Heading to US Cellular Field, I didn't have the same excitement about seeing the stadium as I did for my visit to Wrigley Field, but I cared more about the outcome of the baseball game. I was cheering wildly for the White Sox to have a good night against the Boston Red Sox so that the New York Yankees could finally clinch a berth in the playoffs (by the time the battle of the Saux started, the Yankees were already down 7-0 thanks to AJ Burnett so I knew that the Bombers clinching the berth themselves last night was unlikely).

I was surprised by the sparse crowd at US Cellular considering the Red Sox were in town, but I was informed by a nice White Sox fan that the Bears were playing the Packers at Soldier Field on Monday Night Football. The stadium was practically empty, with the loudest cheers coming from the Red Sox faithful that made the trip to the South side of Chicago.

I'm happy to report there was no harassment by uptight ushers even though it seemed like there were more White Sox employees than fans in the stadium. I was better prepared for the weather, having ducked into Macy's to buy a turtleneck, warm socks and thick gloves. Not as windy as Wrigley so I was fine during the first few innings, aided by the hot chocolate I was thrilled was available at US Cellular (my kindly Wrigley usher told me it wasn't cold enough this year for them to order hot chocolate and warned me off the coffee). But the temperature dropped several degrees during the game and got downright brutal by the 7th inning.

I was quite amused and a little stunned by the presence of a Margarita guy in the upper deck carrying a big barrel of alcohol on his back that he happily offered us drinks from. I was tempted to try a stadium Margarita just to see what it tastes like, but was too cold by then for a drink. I definitely want to start a letter-writing campaign so we can get a Margarita guy at Yankee Stadium.

As for the game, I had high hopes that the White Sox could do the Yankees a favor, particularly with "Mr. Perfect" Mark Buehrle on the mound. But the Red Sox got off to a quick 2-0 lead, courtesy of a two-out double by David "Big Papi" Ortiz, and sucked the life right out of the limited crowd, except for those annoying Red Sox fans.

All and all, I had a nice visit to US Cellular Field, even though I was wishing a better fate for the White Sox. Maybe I was a jinx for the Chicago teams this week. Or maybe they just suck.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Time to worry about Mariano Rivera?

Is it time for the New York Yankees and their fans to worry about Mariano Rivera?

Given his history, that question seems ridiculous to even ask. But something just didn't seem right about Mo in yesterday's game. He wasn't his usual confident self. Mo seemed unnerved by the Boston Red Sox running wild on the base paths. Granted, that would probably unnerve most pitchers. But Mariano isn't most pitchers. He's the greatest closer in baseball history.

In past years, he would have simply shrugged off the base running and the first out of the inning that was driven to the wall and frozen the next few hitters at the plate to end the game. But he seemed to get rattled last night and let the game get away from him, as he has in several recent outings. I was at last Monday's game at the stadium when Mo came out with a three-run lead and even that game wasn't the easy save it should have been as the tying run made it to the batter's box.

The thing that worries me is that when Mo has had rough outings in the past, he's always been able to shrug them off and come back strong the next time out, but that doesn't seem to be true this time around.

The New York Post suggests that the Yankees are already worried about Mo. But if that's the case, why would Joe Girardi bring him into the 8th inning on a night the Yankees had to win for a four-out save when Kerry Wood has been so lights out? The simple answer is that Girardi still believes that Mo is the best pitcher in his bullpen and if he still has faith in his guy than so should we.

Super Phil Hughes saves Yankees season

Call him Super Phil! When the New York Yankees needed to be rescued, they turned to a 24-year-old pitcher, who promptly put his team on his back and flew them to safety.

Phil Hughes didn't get the win last night, but that did not matter at all. What he did for the Yankees was step up with a performance that put them back on course for the playoffs. With a key assist from David Robertson, Hughes ended his night just giving up one run to the dangerous Red Sox. After the way the Red Sox slapped around Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova, the Yankees needed a starter to stop Boston’s offensive onslaught and that’s exactly what Hughes did.

After struggling with the long ball and location for most of the second half, Hughes has looked more like the guy he was at the beginning of the year, the dominating pitcher who was so instrumental and confident coming out of the bullpen last year. He looked every inch the future ace the Yankees expect him to be. The Yankees have been desperate to protect Hughes, with this innings limit looming as his Kryptonite. But give Joe Girardi credit for living in the moment, understanding that after four bad losses at home his team needed a save and turning to the right guy for the rescue.

Protection be damned. The Yankees needed a win and turned to the guy they knew could make it happen for them. Super Phil to the rescue.

More photos from my Wrigley pilgrimage

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My exciting first visit to Wrigley Field

I headed to Chicago today for a conference that doesn’t start until Tuesday, intentionally planning to get here a day early for a long overdue visit to Wrigley Field.

I'm surprised by that myself, considering that this is like my 7th trip to Chicago. But the forces have always conspired against my visiting Wrigley: it was the offseason, the Cubs were out of town, I was here only for a brief overnight trip. But not this time. I purposely set aside time to make the pilgrimage to Wrigley and am happy that I did.

Wrigley Field is exactly what you would imagine it to be: an aging stadium that has an unexplainable charm. I was excited from the moment I stepped off the "L," taking pictures of the famous Wrigley sign, marveling at the elaborate seating on the roofs of nearby buildings, walking around this treasure of a ballpark on the last home game of the year for the Cubbies. And as luck would have it, the opponent was their archrival St. Louis Cardinals, led by Albert Pujols, who I had never seen play in person. It didn't matter that both teams are out of the division race. The mutual dislike of their fans was palpable and made attending the game that much more fun. The Cubs fell just short of what would have been a fantastic comeback, but it still felt great to be there.

I do have two major complaints. One is that it was ridiculously, painfully cold out there for a day game. The temperature was in the 60s, but I always forget to factor in the infamous Chicago winds that make it feel 20 degrees lower than whatever the thermostat says.

My other major complaint was the unbelievable harassment by the ushers. I've gone to more than a dozen baseball stadiums and I keep an elaborate photo album of those trips, including pictures taken from every possible angle within the ballparks. But every time I tried to set up to take a picture, I had an usher rudely approach me to insist I get out of the way. Most ballparks take pride in providing great customer service. Wrigley seems to take pride in having the most impolite, annoying ushers available. I was just about to give up on all of them when one kindly, older usher pointed out a great spot for me to get a terrific photo, restoring my faith that not all Wrigley staffers set out to be as unbearable as possible.

Despite the presence of annoying ushers and excruciatingly cold temperatures, I enjoyed my visit to Wrigley Field. It felt like a rite of passage, which Chicago Cubs fans probably insist that it is.

But stay tuned, folks. I'll be at US Cellular Field tomorrow, hoping the White Sox can kick the crap out of the Boston Red Sox and help the New York Yankees out.

Up to Hughes to save Yankees season

Given the way the New York Yankees have struggled the last four games, it's not overstating it to say that they are turning to Phil Hughes to save their season.

And why not? If a baseball team is going to go down, wouldn't they want to go down knowing that at least they lost with their best guys on the field? I would take more comfort in Hughes getting beat by the Boston Red Sox tonight than Dustin Moseley getting beat.

I'm glad Joe Girardi & Co are finally showing some urgency, some fight, even a little desperation. They have acted for too long like the playoffs are firmly within their grasp, but they have not played like it at all and let their postseason berth slip through their fingers.

If the Yankees can win tonight, they can creep closer to the Tampa Bay Rays and essentially be even heading into the last week of the regular season. Even though the Rays have an easier schedule, the Yankees have a chance to seize not only a postseason berth, but home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But they must turn it on for the last week and that begins by putting their best guys on the field, starting tonight with their 17-game winner Hughes. The Yankees need their talented youngster to step up and save his team.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Yankees making race way too interesting

I watched with envy as the Texas Rangers celebrated clinching the American League West tonight, mostly because I also had to watch the New York Yankees let their chance to clinch a spot in the playoffs this weekend slip away.

I didn't expect the Yankees to clinch first because they are in the toughest division in baseball. But I also didn't expect them to get smacked around at home as they have the last four days by the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox. They're still stuck on the magic number to clinch at 3. The Saux are playing like they have nothing to lose, like they still believe they have a chance, and given the way the Yanks have played against them, I wouldn't rule it out. This race is getting way too interesting and that's the Yankees fault.

The Yankees are trying to strike a balance between making the playoffs and preparing for the playoffs. I say that making the playoffs should be the primary focus, but their revamping of the rotation belies that. I have no problem with Phil Hughes being skipped again. Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi have consistently said that they will protect him at all costs. But pushing CC Sabathia back so he only has one start? Sure, he'll be ready to pitch Game 1 of the American League Division Series. But what if the Yankees don't make it that far, partly because CC pitched only one game down the stretch instead of two?

So the Yankees will be ready for the playoffs with CC lined up to start Game 1 and Andy Pettitte ready for Game 2 if that's where Girardi decides he wants him. But the Yankees have to make it first. I hope they do or their plan will be a colossal failure.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Forgiveness for Joe Torre only goes so far

For a guy retiring in two weeks, Joe Torre can't seem to get out of the limelight.

After two years of virtually ignoring his existence, the New York Yankees finally invited Torre back into the family, inviting the soon-to-be-ex Dodgers manager to attend the ceremony honoring George Steinbrenner and receive the loudest ovation from fans who still love him. Brian Cashman, obviously deeply hurt by the things said about him in Torre's book the Yankee Years, was willing to let bygones be bygones.

But does that mean they are willing to finally give Torre his rightful place in Monument Park? Not anytime soon. The Yankees can't be sure Torre means it when he says he is ready to walk away from baseball. They can't be sure Torre won't completely embarrass them by managing their cross-town rival Mets, despite Torre supposedly closing the door on that opportunity. And if he was somehow able to turn things around in Queens, a plaque in Monument Park would be a constant reminder of that. I don't think Torre is going to get the Yankee Stadium recognition he deserves until he is retired for a few years and it becomes clear he is not coming back to baseball.

One person not willing to forgive and forget is David Wells, who called Torre a terrible manager and a coward because he had Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre tell Wells he would be passed over for a postseason start. I don't buy that particular criticism because Torre isn't the only manager to leave dealing with pitchers' fragile egos to the coach closest to them. But Wells made a legitimate point about Torre not treating all his players the same. By Torre's own admission, he played favorites with guys such as Derek Jeter over Alex Rodriguez.

I can also understand why Wells is still upset about Torre's book. I was very surprised by the manager's infamous quote: "The difference between Kevin Brown and David Wells is that both make your life miserable, but David Wells meant to.” Boomer may be responsible for some of Torre's hair loss, but he also played a big role in getting one of those four World Series rings that will take Torre to the Hall of Fame. Brown, on the other hand, contributed to Torre's biggest professional failure as a manager, losing the American League Championship Series to the hated Red Sox after being up three games to none.

Forgiveness only goes so far.

Yankees blow chance to put Rays away

The New York Yankees had a chance to put the Tampa Bay Rays away in the division race this week and couldn't pull it off.

A baseball series that started with such hope and promise, with good will and good feelings flowing all around the ballpark Monday night, ended with an ugly thud. The Yankees unveiled the new monument to George Steinbrenner in a moving, emotional ceremony and followed that with an exciting victory. They won again on Tuesday behind Phil Hughes and things looked like they were finally heading the Yankees way, with a 2.5 game lead over the pesky Rays.

But everything fell apart very quickly. For once, the downslide cannot be blamed on AJ Burnett, who suffered a tough loss after a monsoon ended his night way too early. I was ready to blame Mother Nature for the loss and write it off. But CC Sabathia got smacked all around the ballpark yesterday while his counterpart David Price pitched well enough to win.

Even aces are entitled to a bad game every once in a while, but this CC clunker hurt because the Yankees had a chance to basically put the Rays away in the division. Now if they really want the American League East title as much as they claim they do, they are going to have to play hard against two tough division rivals in the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays while the Rays get to smack around the dregs of the American League.

Bottom line, the Yankees blew a golden opportunity to put the Rays away. Let's hope it doesn't come back to haunt them in the playoffs.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Random Yankee thoughts

I'm sick and tired of the New York Yankees acting like Alex Rodriguez's home run total actually means something. ARod was honored for hitting his 600th home run before yesterday's game. I guess the Yankees figure if they have to pay him for all the records he's going to break, they must act like his conquests are legitimate. Perhaps they were concerned about potential public relations fallout since they conducted that wonderful ceremony last year honoring Derek Jeter’s breaking of the Yankees all-time hits record and Mariano Rivera’s 500th save. But those are two iconic Yankees and ARod is a carpetbagger. I hope no one in the organization actually believes ARod’s records should be celebrated.

* I adore Mariano Rivera for many reasons, the latest being his insistence that the Yankees should not celebrate simply making the playoffs. The great closer prefers to wait until his team wins the American League East to celebrate the regular season. I completely agree. Relying on the wild card for a berth in the playoffs when there is a chance to win the division is a copout, something Mo obviously understands. You don't get to his level, and really no one else ever has, by cutting corners. The good thing is that when he speaks, the Yankees listen so I don't expect to see any party footage until they clinch the division.

* George Steinbrenner is getting the last laugh. The Boss, never one to walk away from a good controversy, must love the uproar caused by the size of his monument. Sure, it's ostentatious and worships the Boss over immortal Yankee players, but did we really expect anything less? By the way, I disagree with Bud Selig that Steinbrenner deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I don't blame Selig for lobbying for his friend's induction and there's no question that Steinbrenner had more of an impact on the game than any other owner of his generation, but he also did a lot of damage to the sport.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Playoffs or bust for Hughes, Yankees

Phil Hughes put the New York Yankees within striking distance of another berth in the playoffs.

He wasn't crisp by any stretch of the imagination. I actually thought Hughes was sharper in last week's loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. But he battled for a solid 6 1/3rd innings against the team’s division rivals. Unlike Javier Vazquez or AJ Burnett, the youngster has figured out how to win baseball games when he doesn't have his best stuff. It bodes well as the Yankees head toward October, with Hughes solidifying a spot in the postseason rotation.

The Yankees looked terrible losing five of six games to the Texas Rangers, a potential playoff opponent, and the pesky Rays, who have been breathing down the Yankees necks. But they have turned things completely around with Derek Jeter looking more like himself at the plate and Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner fighting their way back into the lineup after injury layoffs. The most important return, of course, was Andy Pettitte, looking like he didn't miss a beat despite his two-month stint on the disabled list and boosting his team’s October hopes.

For Hughes and the Yankees, it's playoffs or bust. The magic number is down to three.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Torre earns Yankee forgiveness, Manuel ire

Joe Torre finally made peace with Brian Cashman, only to piss off Jerry Manuel.

Torre got a resounding, warm welcome from the New York Yankees faithful yesterday during the ceremony unveiling the monument for George Steinbrenner. I must admit that I was one of the numerous fans cheering wildly whenever Torre appeared on the screen, so much so that I forgot at times we were there to honor the Boss. But I think the fans could be forgiven for showering the former Yankees manager with so much affection, given that we never really got a chance to say goodbye.

But the most important absolution came from Cashman, who will probably never forget about the things Torre said in his book, but was willing to bury the hatchet. And the death of the Boss obviously had a lot to do with the decision by Cashman and other Yankee officials to end the feud. It’s a good example of how death can actually bring people closer together and encourage them to resolve their petty differences. In essence, bringing Torre back into the Yankee family was Steinbrenner’s final gift to his beloved fans.

But just as Torre mended fences with Cashman, he burned a bridge with Manuel by acknowledging the fact that the Mets managerial job will likely be open in a few weeks and that he would be a terrific candidate for it. For a media savvy guy like Torre, it was a serious faux paux, one that he quickly corrected with an apology and a promise not to pursue the Mets job. But I can't blame Manuel for being offended. He's about to lose his job for many reasons that have nothing to do with him and someone else virtually campaigning for it before he even gets fired must feel like a dagger to the heart.

I don’t think this is the end of Torre’s candidacy for the Mets job, despite what he says. But I do think he could have handled the situation better, particularly by refusing the comment until a managerial change has actually been made. Manuel had every right to expect more class from the normally classy Torre.

Steinbrenner family celebrates Boss legacy

Boss tribute brings crowd, Yankees to tears

I couldn't stop the tears from flowing from my eyes when George Steinbrenner's wife Joan cut the rope unveiling his monument in Yankee Stadium. I wasn't the only one.

Joan Steinbrenner and her daughters couldn't hold back their tears as they received a standing ovation when the covering came down to reveal the Boss in all his glory and the words honoring their husband and father were read out loud to the crowd. I can't even imagine what that felt like.

The Yankee players, current and old timers, were equally emotional. Having the entire team walk the Steinbrenner family out to Monument Park was a wonderful touch. Mariano Rivera was the last current player to leave Monument Park, staring at Steinbrenner's monument. To see the great Mariano, never overcome by anything that happens on the mound, transfixed in that moment was telling. Everyone talks about Derek Jeter's relationship to the Boss, but it is clear that Rivera is taking his loss as hard as anyone in the organization.

The ceremony didn't resolve my mixed feelings for the Boss. I'm grateful to him for making the Yankees the team that they are, one of the top organizations in all of sports, not just baseball. However, his behavior toward his staffers during his first tenure still bothers me, more so after reading about the horrible things he did in Bill Madden's biography. But at least for one night, all was forgiven in the Bronx and I was grateful to be a part of that tribute. I cried, not in anger or frustration, but in sadness over the loss of our Boss and in solidarity with the family he left behind.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pettitte's return lifts Yankees despite loss

Despite losing a tough game with Mariano Rivera on the mound, the New York Yankees had a good day yesterday because Andy Pettitte returned to action and pitched like Andy Pettitte.

The veteran lefty picked up right where he left off back in July when a groin pull forced him off the mound for two months. He kept the Baltimore Orioles in check, pitching six great innings with the only run against him scoring on a bunt play that the Yankees were perfectly willing to give up rather than risk Pettitte reinjuring his groin fielding the baseball.

If you don't think the Yankee organization and his teammates breathed a collective sigh of relief after Pettitte's outing, you haven't been paying enough attention. The Yankees know that their repeat hopes hinge on Pettitte's return to form. Pettitte is the anchor of their starting staff, the bridge between CC Sabathia and everyone else in the rotation. And his postseason resume speaks for itself.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

CC Sabathia one step closer to Cy Young

For the first time in his career, CC Sabathia won 20 games in a regular season, taking one step closer to his second Cy Young award.

Even young David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays, who is a candidate for the award himself, said CC deserves the honor. That wasn't just a humble kid talking; it was a guy who genuinely admires Sabathia's work ethic and abilities.

It's going to be a tight race for sure. Price has earned plenty of votes pitching to a 17-6 record with a 2.79 ERA for a Rays team that remains neck in neck with the New York Yankees for baseball supremacy. The stat geeks are giving a major push to Felix Hernandez's candidacy, despite his 12-11 record, because of a sparkling 2.35 ERA and other league-leading numbers. But in my mind, there's no question that the guy with the most wins pitching in the toughest division in baseball should get the Cy Young award, especially since he has carried the struggling Yankees on his back for the last two months.

In winning 20 games (and possibly at least two more), CC has achieved a noteworthy milestone in what is an already impressive career. He is more than halfway toward the magic 300-win mark that guarantees a starting pitcher's entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And CC is only 30 years old and signed for another five years to play for the Yankees, a team that will never lack for sluggers to provide him with plenty of run support.

That Hall of Fame resume will be enhanced with CC's second Cy Young award, which he should officially collect sometime in November.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yankees should not ignore Burnett story

AJ Burnett answered some questions with his pitching last night, but opened the door to a flood of new ones with the black eye he sported.

Burnett looked pretty solid in giving up only three runs in seven innings and pitching well enough to win. His good outing seemed to do wonders for his confidence, with Burnett saying he felt good on the mound in attacking the hitters and in his mind. But his start became almost an afterthought the minute those television cameras zoomed in on his face. As Kim Jones said, the bruise was impossible to ignore.

"The story is he pitched well tonight," Joe Girardi said.

No, it isn't Joe. The story is that he pitched well while sporting this mysterious bruise on his face. Because Burnett is prone to bursts of anger that have gotten him hurt, as when he injured his hands slamming something off of a clubhouse door after a particularly frustrating outing, the media isn't going to stop until they find out what happened. And given that these injuries have kept him off the baseball field in the past, the media and New York Yankees fans that pay his salary have a legitimate right to know what happened.

The problem with refusing to comment is that the Yankees lose the opportunity to spin the story in their favor. Do they really think in this day and age of 24-hour media that the story is going to stay quiet? I guarantee that the tabloids have reporters working around the clock to find out what happened to AJ in Baltimore.

Judging by the small smile on his face in the postgame interview, I think Burnett realizes this. He was polite in declining to answer the questions from Jones and other beat reporters. But the questions won't stop there. The Yankees could have gotten in front of the media firestorm by releasing a statement explaining what led to the black eye and giving the media nowhere to go from there. Instead, they lost control of the story by trying to ignore it or pretend it didn't matter.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New York return next for Joe Torre?

Joe Torre is retiring as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that doesn't mean he's done managing in baseball. What's next for Torre? The Mets must hope it's a return to New York.

It's clear that Torre was simply sick of the divorce drama surrounding his team and wanted a change of scenery. Torre is going to have options this offseason, including the Chicago Cubs job vacated by Lou Piniella. But from a baseball perspective, a Chicago team saddled with aging veterans, unmovable contracts and relatively new ownership doesn't seem like the right choice for Torre.

If the Mets really want instant credibility, really want to make a goodwill gesture to their fans, really want to stick it to the New York Yankees, they will go after Torre hard as soon as this season is over. It would put the juice back into the Subway Series and give the Mets some serious New York credibility.

The biggest problem the Mets face in getting Torre is that they are a mess, with a closer facing criminal charges, key players suffering debilitating injuries and expensive contracts for players like Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo who don't want to be on the team anymore but can't be traded (but could be released if the Mets swallow the money). Getting Torre won't solve any of those problems, but it will be a sure sign to Mets fans and the players who want to be here that Mets ownership is serious about turning things around.

Look at what Torre did with the Dodgers before they were sunk by the soap opera-style split of their owners. He took a clearly inferior Los Angeles team to the National League Championship Series twice. He made the postseason 14 years in a row, the last half of those years with teams in New York and Los Angeles that had major flaws. But somehow Torre made it work.

Can he do the same for the Mets? I really hope we find out. Come home, Joe!

Thanks to Cbl62 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Yankees trying to boost Burnett's confidence

Perhaps Dave Eiland is trying to pull off the baseball equivalent of a Jedi mind trick when he insists AJ Burnett is part of the team's postseason rotation plans.

Given his inconsistency, simply slotting Burnett into the rotation for the playoffs seems like a potential disaster for the New York Yankees. How can Joe Girardi put him in a big game when he doesn't know which AJ will show up on the mound? He's a hit-or-miss pitcher and a miss could knock the Yankees right out of the playoffs.

But Girardi and Eiland know their guy better than the rest of us. They know that the root of his problems is always in his head. Maybe they figure if they make it clear that Burnett is part of their plans for the postseason rotation it will take some of the pressure off of him. Maybe they are simply showing they have confidence in him so he can concentrate on pitching like he is capable of pitching, like he pitched during last year’s playoffs.

For the Yankees sake, I hope they are right about Burnett.

Baffling backlash on Jeter faux hit by pitch

I can understand why Tampa Bay Rays fans would be upset about Derek Jeter feigning being hit by a pitch Wednesday night, even though the Rays went on to win the game. But the backlash against Jeter over this one play is bizarre.

Some members of this rather vocal group of objectors have gone so far as to call Jeter a cheater. Maybe they are just saying it because it rhymes. Or maybe they truly believe that the New York Yankees Captain went too far in trying to get on base for his team.

No question it was a con job, but it was a thing of beauty and extremely effective. Jeter will probably have to have a head wound gushing with blood to get a HBP call from an umpire in the future. But this was no more a cheating play than a hidden ball trick, which used to catch players napping all the time.

The backlash may be partly driven by Jeter's Mr. Clean image. Despite being single, living in New York and being captain of the Yankees, Jeter has managed to remain remarkably free of major controversy. He is one of Bud Selig's ambassadors for the game of baseball. Perhaps that has created a perception that Jeter must remain beyond reproach and always conduct himself with the highest integrity, which some people clearly feel his acting job betrayed. I don't believe this one play all of a sudden negates all of Jeter’s good behavior over the past 15 years. But if you read some of the newspapers and blogs, I may have the minority opinion.

Beyond finding the play pretty hilarious, it did warm my heart as a Yankee fan to see that Jeter's struggles haven't broken his spirit. He may not be playing up to his usual high standards, but no one can question Jeter's loyalty to his team and his willingness to do whatever it takes to help the Yankees get a victory.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hughes makes progress despite loss

Phil Hughes lost the game last night, but he looked good doing it.

Sure, the loss was tough, but manager Joe Girardi was pleased with the way Hughes pitched, calling his outing outstanding. In fact, everyone around the New York Yankees was impressed with the way the youngster responded to being skipped in the rotation. He looked unbeatable in the first four innings, mixing his pitches beautifully and attacking hitters.

“It was an important game and he pitched extremely well,” Girardi said. “I liked the way he pitched.”

But Hughes ran into trouble in the fifth and then in the seventh with bad pitches to Dan Johnson that the first baseman slammed for a pair of two-run homers. It was the only damage the Tampa Bay Rays were able to do, but it was enough to win the game.

"Obviously it was a negative because we have to win the games, but there were some positive things I can take away for my next start," Hughes said.

The problem Hughes has is that when he makes mistakes with location, he pays not with base hits but with home runs. If he can learn to limit the damage, he's going to be unstoppable. But Hughes made progress in last night's loss, which is most important because the Yankees are going to need him in the playoffs.

Tight series promises more fun in October

After an exciting three days of baseball, I can't wait for the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays to meet again next week. But I really want to see these two teams go mano a mano for the American League Championship in October.

The most fun matchup in the ALCS would be the big bad Yankees going up against Joe Maddon's young guns. Sure both the Yankees and Rays will have to get past the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers, which won't be an easy task. But if they can do it, we'll have ourselves a masterpiece of a bout for the league title.

Think about it. Whichever team finishes second in the American League East probably still makes the playoffs, but will have to hear all about how they couldn't finish off their rivals when they had the chance in September. Despite the Yankees recent stumbles, the Bombers and the Rays are still the two best teams in baseball. One of them isn't making it to the World Series and the battle to see who makes it and who goes home will be a thriller.

Even though the Yankees lost two out of three, I like their chances, especially if Andy Pettitte comes back strong. They likely will have their full lineup back, which is critical because not having Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner playing full time really hurt them in Tampa (Austin Kearns isn't getting any more important at-bats once Swish comes back healthy). They could have those guys back next week, which will make the four-game series even more fun than this week’s matchup. But it's October baseball I’m really looking forward to.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yankees reclaim first place in thrilling fashion

After a tough loss on Monday night, the New York Yankees looked like they were heading to an easy win over the Tampa Bay Rays. We should have known better.

Games between these two rivals are never easy. After staking rookie Ivan Nova to a 6-0 lead, the Yankees watched helplessly as the rookie proceeded to give the game away. After a leadoff homer by Carlos Pena, Nova gave up hit after hit and failed to secure that elusive third out in the 5th inning that would have left him in line for the victory. Instead, he watched Boone Logan give up what could have been a deflating home run to Willy Aybar for a Tampa lead.

But the Yankees battled back, thanks to a ribbie double from Most Valuable Player candidate Robinson Cano and a couple of late-inning heroics by some unsung heroes. It started with Curtis Granderson, not having the inaugural Yankee season he hoped for, making a fantastic catch to help David Robertson send the game into extra innings. Jorge Posada then came off the bench to hit a monster blast that you had to see to believe. Finally, young Greg Golson threw a perfect strike to third to catch Carl Crawford inexplicably trying to steal third base with two outs and help Mariano Rivera secure the victory. The last two innings of the game were probably the most exciting of this baseball season.

After the devastating defeat on Monday, the Yankees desperately needed this victory. The relief was palpable in the clubhouse and in Joe Girardi's postgame interview. Another loss to their rivals would have sunk the Yankees further in the division and opened them up to a flood of questions about their ability to succeed in the playoffs. If they can clinch the series today, it saves what has so far been a miserable road trip, and possibly the season.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reporters scratch heads over Girardi moves

With Joe Girardi as the manager of the New York Yankees, I've made my peace with seeing head-scratching managerial moves on a regular basis. Apparently, the New York media has not. Let the second guessing continue!

Reporters were perplexed as to why Girardi would send Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre into a scoreless game against the Tampa Bay Rays instead of David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain. I must confess that I wondered the same thing when I saw Girardi take out Boone Logan after one batter for Gaudin in the 10th inning and was yelling at the television as Gaudin proceeded to walk people. But Girardi is prone to over thinking matchups so we shouldn't have been too surprised.

What was most baffling to reporters is that Girardi said neither Robertson nor Joba was hurt, a fact that both players confirmed. The Yankee manager just felt they needed a day off, despite not having pitched on Sunday. It’s a strange stance considering the Yankees were in a tight battle against their toughest opponents and it would seem to be an all-hands on deck situation, but Girardi doesn’t think that way.

Girardi is less than eager to defend his daily moves and he was incredibly rude to the reporters, especially Kim Jones, who dared to ask him about his decisions and the loss that put the Yankees behind their division rivals.

For the record, I have no problem with Girardi wanting to protect his relievers. He's absolutely right when he said they've been used a lot lately and he's obviously thinking ahead to the playoffs in trying to get them some rest. But as the manager of the Yankees, he can't bristle and get defensive when reporters approach him with legitimate questions about his managerial moves.

Yankees on wrong side of brilliant ballgame

The only thing that went wrong for the New York Yankees in what might have been the best baseball game of the year is that they lost it.

Aside from the defeat, which put the Bronx Bombers half a game behind the Tampa Bay Rays, last night's game was everything I hoped for. It was a fantastic pitchers’ duel between two brilliant pitchers in CC Sabathia and David Price. Both lefties were dominant, keeping good hitters off balance all night long. I thought that the game might get out of hand when the bullpens came into play, but the pitchers on both sides continued to dominate, holding each other scoreless for another two and half innings after the starters left the game.

Of course, the Yankees didn't help themselves with their base running. I truly hope Jorge Posada just missed a sign and hasn't started to think he's Carl Crawford and tried to steal that base outright. But I was more disturbed by Brett Gardner's attempted steal of third with two outs in the 10th inning, a bad baseball play on all fronts. Joe Girardi seemed to make that point to the youngster during the game, but curtly refused to discuss what he said to Gardner with reporters. Gardner was genuinely apologetic to his teammates, specifically Austin Kearns, who was left holding a bat in his hands.

The Yankees are going to have to figure out a way to manage their disappointment and fight back for the division lead. But there's no question they will have a tough go at it for the rest of the series, especially having to face Matt Garza tonight with rookie Ivan Nova on the mound. Last night's game was the one they needed to have to give them the best shot at taking the series. CC did his part, but the offense couldn't deliver.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Jets caveman routine completely unacceptable

Every once in a while, male athletes feel the need to show female sports reporters just who is boss. It seems to have happened again.
The New York Jets started their quest toward what coach Rex Ryan promised would be a Super Bowl season with a whimper. But their championship aspirations have been overshadowed by reports that members of the coaching staff and players are being investigated for harassing female reporter Ines Sainz.

Things have gotten much better for women sports reporters in the last decade or two. In the 1970s and 1980s, female journalists were subjected to all types of hideous and humiliating behavior at the hands of male athletes. But the incident widely acknowledged as being the most degrading, abusive encounter was the harassment Lisa Olson experienced in the New England Patriots locker room on September 17, 1990, with the young reporter subjected to what she described as a “mind rape.” (Read this enlightening story about the struggles of female sports reporters in the American Journalism Review). Olson encountered numerous death threats from crazy football “fans” and being publicly called a bitch by the team’s owner.

It’s because of brave pioneers like Olson and other female reporters that Kim Jones can now be such a prominent reporter with the YES Network and Erin Andrews can report from the sidelines of every major sport for ESPN. But the behavior of the Jets shows that there is still a long way to go before female sports reporters can do their jobs without being harassed.

The National Football League and Jets ownership have pledged to thoroughly investigate complaints about the behavior Sainz encountered while doing her job as a reporter. I can see why the NFL is eager to avoid any perception that the league has returned to the days when the treatment of Olson at the hands of Patriot players was widely accepted. But the league will need to take concrete action to send the message that despicable conduct won't be tolerated. Start by suspending the players who engaged in the crude taunts and the coach who encouraged them by intentionally throwing the football toward Sainz, allowing the players to harass her up close and personally. I would hope that if one of Joe Girardi's coaches or players embarrassed the New York Yankees with that type of behavior, he would be immediately suspended or fired by Hal Steinbrenner & Co.

I really hope the NFL comes down hard on the Jets. It would send a signal once and for all that this caveman routine is completely unacceptable and women reporters should be allowed to do their jobs without fear.

CC Sabathia must put Yankees on his back

CC Sabathia can earn his second Cy Young and the undying respect of his teammates and all New York Yankees fans if he can put his slumping team on his back and carry them to the finish line.

The quest for division supremacy truly begins tonight as the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays play seven games against each other over the next 11 days. The fight starts with a beauty of a pitching matchup with Sabathia battling David Price, the young and impressive ace of the Rays who is also a Cy Young candidate. This being baseball, the game could end up 8-7. But I'm a pitching and defense fan and would love to see the pitchers throw the ball like they are capable of throwing the ball.

The Yankees desperately need Sabathia to step up. A month that started so well, with the Yankees winning the first seven games of their recent home stand, has deteriorated rapidly as the Bronx Bombers have lost six out of the last seven games. They can cast aside their slump with a strong performance in Tampa this week, but for that, they need CC to shut down the Rays and start this series off on the right note with a dominant performance against their division rivals.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Derek Jeter taking his struggles in stride

The only bright spot of the clean sweep at the hands of the Texas Rangers today was watching Derek Jeter knock in the only run for the New York Yankees and walk twice against the otherwise dominant Cliff Lee. Perhaps it's a sign that Jeter is about to break out of his mysterious slump.

By the way, today's hit was #2,900 for Captain Jeter, putting him only 100 hits shy of the magic number that basically guarantees entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But I'm sure Jeter is more concerned about and disturbed by the three consecutive losses to the Rangers and the failure to battle back against a potential postseason opponent.

In terms of his personal struggles, Jeter seems to be taking them in stride. Despite all the attention his prolonged slump has received, the Yankee shortstop sounds like he is focused on improving his swing over the next three weeks in preparation for the playoffs rather than obsessing about what has gone wrong over the last two months.

It's the right attitude because there's nothing he can do to get his numbers anywhere near his usual career standards. All he can do is relax and get as ready for October as he possible can.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Yankees need better effort vs Rangers

So I struggled to stay up hours after my bedtime last night to watch the New York Yankees lose in 13 innings against the Texas Rangers. I'm not as young as I used to be so these late games are quite a challenge. But the most frustrating part, except for the loss itself, was that the Yankees had multiple chances to win that baseball game and couldn't take advantage.

Let's start with the starting pitcher. Unless he's pitching a shutout, I better not hear any complaining from Javier Vazquez the next time Joe Girardi goes to the mound to get him. His inability to hold a three-run lead or get through the sixth inning does not bode well for his chances to stay in the rotation once Andy Pettitte comes back.

Of course, Vazquez should have had a much bigger lead to work with. The futility of the Yankee offense was mind boggling, particularly with runners in scoring position. Brett Gardner was the biggest culprit, though he had plenty of company in stranding runners on base.

It wasn't all bad for the Yankees. Phil Hughes pitched a perfect inning in relief, which ordinarily could be taken as a sign that he could be slotted into the bullpen in the playoffs if the Yankees didn't desperately need him in the rotation. Kerry Wood and David Robertson were spotless out of the pen. Mariano Rivera was Mariano Rivera, mowing down batters for two innings with wonderfully boring efficiency after a leadoff hit. Of course, the extra innings wouldn't have happened if Joba Chamberlain hadn't given up the first home run to Nelson Cruz, but I can't bust him too much for that since the lead should have been more than one run.

The Rangers are a possible first-round opponent for the Yankees. Tonight I'd like to see the Yankees act like it with a much better effort than they put forward last night. Although with AJ Burnett on the mound, that might be too much to ask for.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Battle-tested Pettitte could help bury Rays

Andy Pettitte helped his team win a playoff game. What else is new?

Ok, it was a minor-league team, but Pettitte's successful, pain-free outing with the Trenton squad lifted the fortunes of the big-league team. Joe Girardi & Co want the veteran lefty to make one more start in the minors, but he could be back in the New York Yankees rotation in time for a crucial four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

What a boost it would be to the Yankees to have one of the best big-game pitchers back for the stretch run and the playoffs. Tell me you don't like the Yankees chances with ace CC Sabathia, a healthy Andy Pettitte and a rejuvenated Phil Hughes forming the starting core. Yes, the Yankees would still need to decide between the lesser of two evils in AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez as the fourth starter, but the front three are still better than most.

If Pettitte is back in the rotation against the Rays, I like the chances of the Yankees repeating as American League East division champs. Sure, it's only the first step toward the ultimate goal, but still an important step, even with the wild card. The Rays have hung in pretty well and played the Yankees tough, but a healthy Pettitte could help bury them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mets don't have same HOPE as Yankees

It's a good thing that New York Yankees players aren't as busy or skittish as some of their counterparts in Queens or HOPE week would never have happened.

When Yankee Public Relations Director Jason Zillo started preparing to host the second annual HOPE week at the stadium last month, he told the team all about the people whose accomplishments and perseverance would be honored. After he was done, there was a line of players eagerly waiting to sign up to participate in not one, but multiple events celebrating the team's most disadvantaged fans. It's too bad the Mets can't get the same kind of commitment from all of their players.

What should have been a nice gesture by Mets players in visiting injured veterans at Walter Reed Hospital instead turned into a PR disaster because Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo couldn't find the time or just didn't have the heart for the visit. Castillo made a comment about not wanting to see that, presumably referring to young soldiers missing limbs due to their time in war zones. It's understandable that the image might be disturbing to him. But what Castillo obviously failed to comprehend is that spending some time with major-league ballplayers helps these young men and women forget their troubles, if only for a few minutes, and lifts their spirits. That alone should have gotten him past his skittishness. But it didn't.

I give a lot of credit to the Mets players and staff that made the trip. The story should have been them talking about their experiences with the injured soldiers, bringing light to their plight. Instead, it's about three players who couldn't spare three hours out of their lives. If the Mets can't even get all their players to attend an afternoon outing to comfort people who have sacrificed so much for this country, it doesn't bode well for their future as a team.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sigh of relief for Yankees as Posada OK

The New York Yankees are breathing a sigh of relief now that they know that Jorge Posada is not suffering a concussion and will be OK despite getting hit on the head with a foul tip behind the plate.

For Jorge, the clean bill of health is just the latest good news, which started with the release of a book he wrote with his wife Laura called the Beauty of Love about finding out their son had a rare, life-threatening condition called craniosynostosis and the sale of special T-shirts commemorating his 1,000 RBI milestone to benefit his foundation that helps other children with the condition.

In breaking the news of Posada's injury during his post-game press conference yesterday, Joe Girardi sounded a little worried. Being a former catcher, Girardi knows these kinds of injuries come with the territory, but he also expressed concern as he talked about how other players have been affected for lengthy time periods by concussions.

Girardi cares about his players so he was more worried about Posada's health. But as the Yankee manager, he also had to worry about the stretch run and postseason implications of Posada possibly headed to the disabled list so late in the season. Concussions take a long time to heal and the catcher could have been out for at least a month because the Yankees, unlike the Mets, take no chances with their injured players.

Imagine the Yankees in the playoffs with a slumping Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered multiple concussions himself, as the primary catcher. As Girardi indicated, you lose a lot of playoff experience if Posada is on the sidelines. But Posada is going to be fine and will likely catch again after sitting out the next game or two under his ultra-cautious manager. And that's a relief for everyone in the organization.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Resting Hughes now readies him for October

The New York Yankees didn't even wait for Andy Pettitte to return before benching Phil Hughes for a start to limit his innings and rest that valuable right arm. It was the right call. The Yankees will need a revitalized Hughes for a successful run in the playoffs.

Watching his last start, I just had the sense that Hughes has gotten tired, despite his insistence to the contrary. After spending most of last year in the bullpen, the youngster has now pitched 155 innings this year and the impact of that may be finally catching up with him. Hughes didn't seem particularly happy about being forced to take a seat, but he understands that it's for his own good and hopefully he can come back strong in his final three starts.

More importantly, it's for the good of the team. Hughes is going to be the number #3 pitcher in the playoff rotation behind CC Sabathia and Pettitte and the Yankees need him to be the dominant guy who already had 11 wins around the All-Star break. Hughes is more reliable than either AJ Burnett or Javier Vazquez and the Yanks will have a hard time repeating if he can't win in the playoffs. Giving him a rest now is the best way to get him ready for October.

Swisher saves the day for Yankees

Super Swish! On just one leg, Nick Swisher hit a walk-off home run, saving the New York Yankees from the embarrassment of getting swept by the resurgent Baltimore Orioles.

What Buck Showalter has done with the O's, who have been the Yankees’ favorite whipping boys for years, is remarkable. Showalter has led his players to a 21-13 record and has them believing they can play against and beat anyone, even the mighty Yankees. Enjoying the role of spoiler, the O's spanked Yankee ace CC Sabathia last night and were three outs away from a sweep of the Bronx Bombers in their own stadium, which Alex Rodriguez stated several times would have been unacceptable.

But Swisher, whose left knee is clearly still not 100%, took a healthy swing and deposited a pitch into the left field bullpen for a much-needed victory. “I didn’t know if he was going to make it around the bases with that limp that he had,” winning pitcher Joba Chamberlain joked after the game.

The victory was critical, not just because the Yankees were close to losing four consecutive games for the first time this season, but because the Tampa Bay Rays are still breathing down their necks. Thanks to Swish, their division lead stays intact for now and the Yankees can enjoy their off day.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Girardi decisions get tougher down stretch

With his New York Yankees still locked in a tight division race, Joe Girardi's decisions are getting tougher down the stretch.

This weekend provided ample evidence of the hard choices Girardi will have to make in getting his team ready for the playoffs when its postseason position is still not guaranteed. The Yankees manager removed rookie Ivan Nova from Friday's game one out away from a potential victory, to the youngster's obvious disappointment. On Saturday, he gave the hook to Javier Vazquez one out from a possible win, much to the veteran's annoyance and frustration. A rookie is in no position to argue with his manager, but pulling Vazquez was a bit of a surprise and signaled that the manager doesn't have much confidence in the veteran righty, which is largely his fault.

Girardi took a lot of flak in the tabloids for over managing, which I agree he is prone to do, but I can't fault him for either quick hook. With the Tampa Bay Rays only 2.5 games back, Girardi has to make sure he wins all the games he can. He is caught in the classic dilemma of needing to pull out victories for his entire team while soothing the egos and hurt feelings of his players. In those scenarios, a manager has to do what's best for the team and hope the player can live with it or at least not cause a major disruption that distracts the team from its ultimate goal.

The decisions only get tougher for Girardi. Does he pull Phil Hughes for a start when Andy Pettitte is finally ready to rejoin the rotation? It might seem like a better idea to pull the inconsistent AJ Burnett or one of the rookies. But watching yesterday's game, I started to wonder if young Mr. Hughes is feeling the effects of a full season of starting work and whether it would be good to skip him in mid-September and give him a few weeks toward the end of the month to round back into shape. Not knowing which AJ or Javy is going to show up on the mound on any given day, the Yankees need to get Hughes right again before October.

The Yankees manager doesn't tip his hand, but you can be sure these tough choices are keeping him up at night.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Yanks won't embarrass Jeter with lineup drop

Joel Sherman of the New York Post made the bold statement that Derek Jeter should be dropped in the New York Yankees lineup. It's a perfectly valid opinion, but it's not going to happen.

It's hard to argue against batting Jeter at the bottom of the lineup, especially taking into account all the rally-killing double plays he has grounded into this year. Jeter started today’s baseball game hitting at .266 with only 59 ribbies and has recently looked overmatched at the plate and frustrated in the dugout.

Jeter has consistently said he doesn't care where he hits in the lineup, but he does like batting in the first inning. However, Jeter is a very proud individual and would probably be terribly embarrassed if he was dropped to the bottom of the order. And that's the reason why Joe Girardi can't do it. He can't publicly embarrass the Yankee Captain by writing his name in the seventh, eighth or ninth spot in the lineup card.

Sherman made a legitimate, ballsy suggestion in his column that Girardi probably will be forced to ignore, but I do I hope Jeter saw the column. He claims not to read the papers anymore, but if he saw it or was asked about it, he could take it as a challenge and perhaps be motivated to show he still belongs at the top of the lineup. Jeter loves proving people wrong and if he can get on a hot streak heading into the playoffs, it would boost the Yankees chances in October.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Random Yankee thoughts

Dallas Braden found out yesterday that indifference is the worst form of cruelty. Braden was expecting to be mercilessly booed by the New York Yankees faithful during his Thursday start. Instead, he was greeted with a collective yawn as Yankee fans couldn't muster much contempt in their hearts for Mr. Perfect, to his utter disappointment. No doubt the matchup would have had a lot more juice if Alex Rodriguez was in the lineup (and dared to try to cross Braden’s mound again), but it was not meant to be.

* I'm very glad to see that Jorge Posada apologized to umpire Dana DeMuth for his world-class meltdown at the plate Wednesday evening. No question the umpire blew the strike-three call (an umpire blowing a call: shocking!), but Posada's tirade was completely inappropriate and left me wincing as he pointed to the spot where the pitch was to demonstrate just how far outside it was. If Posada's outburst had happened a day earlier, the Yankees would have been in a real bad spot, with poor Ramiro Pena likely taking over as catcher after Posada's ejection, but luckily the Yankees were able to call up another catcher prior to the game due to baseball’s expanded rosters. I hope Joe Girardi made that point in a way Posada understands because for all his fire, which Yankee fans love, Posada is prone to head-scratching tantrums that could one day end up costing his team dearly.

* It's hard to feel sorry for Scott Boras for getting dumped by ARod. He will still get his cut of the third baseman's $275 million plus contract with the Yankees. For Boras, the blow to his ego from being rejected by his star client is probably the worst part.

* CC Sabathia's mom Margie has gotten a lot of attention recently, winning the Little League Parent of the Year award when her son is well on his way to a second Cy Young award and his first 20-win season. It used to be Derek Jeter's mother and father that were the most visible, with televisions eager to cut to the shortstop's proud parents anytime he was on base or made a nice play, but they have not been seen on camera much recently. Margie has stiff competition for the title of most famous Yankee parent from Dori and Phil Hughes Sr. They did a fun post-game interview with Kim Jones after their son PJ nearly no-hit the Oakland A’s and proudly gave fans a tour of their house, including PJ’s bedroom and his bobble-head collection, and introduced us to his dog Max.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

AJ Burnett holds on to his starting job for now

AJ Burnett pitched just well enough to keep his spot in the New York Yankees rotation. For now.

If Burnett didn’t have a solid start yesterday, it would have been him being replaced in the rotation by Javier Vazquez instead of Dustin Moseley. But in giving up three runs in six innings and striking out eight batters with his wicked stuff, AJ’s outing was sufficient to get another start in five days.

But Burnett is not out of the woods yet. He has to continue to show progress in the one or two starts he has between now and mid-September when Andy Pettitte hopefully comes off the disabled list. It's possible that the Yankees might choose to sit Phil Hughes for a start when Pettitte comes back because of the innings limit. But I think it's more likely that Pettitte would replace Burnett in the rotation if AJ is still struggling. The Yankees can't keep sending Burnett to the mound when they have 10 games in 13 days against the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox that will likely decide the American League East.

If Burnett wants to keep his job, he's going to have to step it up in September against some pretty tough competition. Let’s see if he is up to the challenge.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Yankees will pay Jeter despite his struggles

There's no need to worry about Derek Jeter's finances. He will be paid handsomely this offseason despite his baffling offensive struggles.

It's shocking to look at the stats page and see Jeter only hitting .266 with a .332 on-base percentage, well below his .314 and .385 career numbers. But he has scored 92 runs so he is making the most of his fewer opportunities on base.

In past years, when Jeter entered a prolonged slump, we usually found out later it was because of some injury that we didn't know about at the time because Jeter refuses to sit or even acknowledge that he is hurt. While I have no doubt he's playing a little banged up this year too, I wonder whether the slump is attributable to his age, whether at 36 Jeter has entered a period in his baseball career where he simply shouldn't be playing shortstop every day. It's a little hard to make that argument when his defense has been so good recently, highlighted by a 52-game errorless streak (with some help from fellow Gold Glover Mark Teixeira). But the human body was not meant for the pain associated with playing 160+ baseball games every year, especially at age 36.

Assuming he is still the New York Yankees manager next year, Joe Girardi will have to be firm with his shortstop and sit him down once a week, no matter how much he protests. Or maybe Jeter will have to be the designated hitter twice a week. Whatever he decides, Girardi is going to have to figure out a way to get Jeter some rest.

But first Jeter and Brian Cashman will discuss the Yankee Captain's worth. Despite the general manager's love of numbers, I don't think he's going to low ball Jeter based on this season. I fully expect him to offer Jeter $20-$25 million over three or four years, perhaps with the caveat that Jeter has to start a transition to the outfield.

As long as the offer is fair, Jeter will accept. It would take a real insulting offer from the Yankees for Jeter to bail on his dream of ending his career in pinstripes.