Sunday, October 31, 2010

Yankee fans must give Nunez a real chance

I'm sure Eduardo Nunez is excited about being a major leaguer, but it's got to be a little intimidating being looked at as the man who could eventually replace Derek Jeter at shortstop.

Like with Mariano Rivera, whoever replaces Jeter at short and in the lineup for the New York Yankees has some legendary shoes to fill. Is Nunez that guy? It's impossible to say at this point. We haven't seen enough of him to know how he's capable of playing and I would urge people to give him a real chance when he finally gets to the big leagues full time. But it's going to be a daunting task to replace Jeter and unless Nunez starts off like gangbusters, he's going to disappoint a lot of fans.

People will point to Jeter's success as a 21-year-old anchoring shortstop for a team that eventually won the World Series. But the major difference is that Jeter took over a position in a great state of flux, with nearly a dozen different players in the job in the 10-15 years before Jeter came along. Nunez is being asked to replace an icon who took hold of the shortstop job 15 years ago and never looked back, winning five world championships in the process.

I hope the baseball people are right and Nunez has both the skills and the fortitude to take over for Jeter. But he's going to need a lot of support along the way, including from us Yankee fans spoiled by Jeter's presence.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What is Sandy's plan for fixing the Mets?

I guess I have to pay attention to the Mets with the New York Yankees out of the playoffs.

There's a lot of work to be done in Flushing by new general manager Sandy Alderson and it starts with picking a manager. If you listen to all the media speculation, it seems like former Met player and minor-league manager Wally Backman is a top candidate. But Alderson gave no hints about who is on his short list for the job. He did firmly dispute speculation that he wanted a yes-man, which would have taken the feisty Backman out of the mix, and said the need for star quality will be a factor in picking the guy who will be largely responsible for turning around the disappointing Mets.

But Sandy is going to take his time finding the right guy to lead the team and I think that's the right move, especially since he admitted the Mets probably won’t be aggressive in the free-agent market. While Alderson said he won't make any hasty decisions on players, he made it clear that his hands are pretty much tied with $110 million in committed contracts for 2011. That means no Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford for the Metsies. But that may be a blessing in disguise. I think the Mets problems are so deep that even one star player wouldn't be enough to turn things around.

So how will Alderson fix the Mets with no payroll flexibility? He didn't give any real clues yesterday. The only thing he said about his plan is that there are no untouchables although the homegrown guys are less likely to be traded. But one positive Mets fans should take away from the Alderson hiring is that he seems to genuinely believe that the Mets should be a top franchise, not just in baseball, but in all of sports. And he also seems confident that the Mets can be competitive next year, even with the noose of the bad contracts for Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo hanging around their necks, the uncertain health of Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana, and the legal problems of Santana and Francisco Rodriguez.

"I by no mean am looking past 2011," he said. "I'm very optimistic about 2011."

If he gets the right guy to be his manager, Mets fans will be optimistic too. They just need a reason to believe.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Girardi must earn back trust of fans, media

Finalizing a deal to remain the manager of the New York Yankees was never going to be a difficult task for Joe Girardi, especially since Brian Cashman wanted him back. It's what he does in the second phase of his tenure at the helm that matters now.

The deal for Girardi to return as manager, likely official Friday, was inevitable since Cashman quickly announced Girardi's return after the Yankees were thoroughly outplayed and embarrassed by the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series.

Just to be clear, I don't think Girardi should have been fired for losing that series. But his managing during the regular season and the playoffs did raise legitimate questions about his job performance, namely about his over reliance on statistics and matchups and seemingly being incapable of telling when a game was about to get out of hand.

I don't blame the entire series loss on Girardi, but he has to take responsibility for two key decisions: failing to get AJ Burnett out of Game 4 with the score tied (if the Yankees win that game, the series could have ended much differently) and bringing in David Robertson in Game 6 with the game on the line. Yankee fans are like elephants, we never forget, and it will be a long time before the fans get past those maneuvers.

The media is another story. The beat reporters were already tiring of Girardi's post-loss testiness and getting suspicious about his injury reports, a distrust that's going to grow to a whole new level now that Girardi has admitted he shuffled his ALCS rotation around because of Andy Pettitte's injury. The open hostility already started with Joel Sherman's column earlier this week. But it's going to get worse as reporters feel free to question Girardi more intensely after his failure in the playoffs. Of course, Girardi has the security blanket of his new three-year contract so he may not care if reporters like him or not. But if the press is motivated to go after him, they could subtlety turn fans against him and that could make things very uncomfortable for the Yankee skipper.

Girardi’s going to have plenty of major decisions to make in his own clubhouse: Should Jorge Posada be more of a designated hitter? How often should he sit Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez? But his managerial style and interaction with reporters will also need some work if he wants to win back the trust of the fans and the media.

Sabathia surgery a concern for Yankees, fans

CC Sabathia may not be worried about his knee surgery, but the New York Yankees and their fans have to be.

It seems to be a relatively minor procedure, but Sabathia's health is crucial to the success of the Yankees starting rotation. Even if Andy Pettitte comes back, it seems unlikely he'll make it through a full baseball season without some injury time off. AJ Burnett is unreliable. Phil Hughes is young and durable and the innings leash should be completely off so that should help the Yankees. But Sabathia is the engine that drives the rotation.

I can’t help but wonder how much of this injury is related to his size. As Yankee fans, we’ve taken a lot of pride in our big guy, but perhaps he needs to downsize a bit just to make sure he can stay healthy. After all, Sabathia has five more years on his contract at about $25 million per so it’s in the Yankees best interest that he be successful and healthy.

It’s uncommon for baseball players, especially pitchers, to be as good at the end of these long contracts as they were at the beginning. But since Sabathia is only 30 and more than halfway to the magic 300-win mark that guarantees entrance into the Hall of Fame, he has a legitimate shot at baseball immortality and plenty of motivation to continue to pitch well. So for Sabathia, the key will be getting healthy and then staying healthy for a long time and that starts right now.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Go SF Giants! Sorry, Texas Rangers

Just to be clear, I'm not rooting for the San Francisco Giants to beat the Texas Rangers in the World Series just because the Rangers trounced my New York Yankees (although I wouldn't be upset if the Giants were able to avenge that loss).

I'm rooting for the Giants because I've been rooting for them through the entire playoffs (against Atlanta and especially Philadelphia). I'm rooting for the Giants because I'm rooting for the underdogs, for the misfits. Plus, I can't wait to hear what closer Brian Wilson says next. The guy is a total loon, but a lovable one.

The Rangers have to be the favorites because they have a well-rested Cliff Lee ready to pitch two, and possible three, games. Plus, the Rangers proved against the Yankees that they are masters of exploiting another team's weaknesses.

But the Giants are no pushovers, having defeated the Phillies' supposedly indestructible troika of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. They play solid baseball, hit in the clutch and have their own ace in Tim Lincecum, the youngster with the weird, but effective delivery.

Can San Francisco pull it off? I hope so. Go Giants!

Thanks to Bryce_edwards and UCinternational via Wikipedia for the photo.

Who I would dump from the 2010 Yankees

The three Core Four New York Yankees eligible for free agency have gotten most of the attention, but nearly half the roster is eligible or could be non-tendered. Here's who I would dump:

Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will all be back if they want to be, but how much it will cost to keep them is a separate question. I would love to see Kerry Wood back if the Yankees can work out a cheaper deal with him, but I think he will get plenty of offers in the offseason.

Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez are the easiest to wave goodbye with Johnson hurt again for most of the year and Vazquez not even making the postseason roster (That Kelly Clarkson song Already Gone just popped into my head).

For me, Marcus Thames is the toughest call among the free agents because he was such a productive offensive player and he is pretty cheap. But I think the Yankees really need to free up the designated hitter spot for Jorge Posada, Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Lance Berkman will simply fade away, having fallen short in his one chance to win a World Series before his career comes to an end. Austin Kearns did nothing to impress me and I would let him walk away. Hell, I didn't even want him on the postseason roster.

Of the six guys eligible for arbitration, Chad Gaudin, Dustin Moseley and Sergio Mitre could be non-tendered. I would only keep Moseley because I think he has shown enough promise as a potential fifth starter. Gaudin and Mitre have been disappointing and they aren't much value to the team if they are relegated to mop-up duty.

Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan are also arbitration eligible, but they will all be back barring a trade. I can't wait to see the number Hughes' agent puts forth in arbitration after he won 18 games at the bargain price of $447,000. Coming off the year he had, it would be difficult for the Yankees to fight him although they could point to his increasing ERA through the year and his two losses to the Texas Rangers in the playoffs.

Some guys will remain on the team because they are simply untradeable, namely AJ Burnett with three years and another $60 million on his contract. Both Joe Girardi and Cashman expressed confidence that Burnett would have a bounce-back year in 2011. On what they are basing this assessment, I don't really know.

So I will be sad to see Wood and Thames go, but most of the others are expendable (And now the Stallone movie just popped into my head so I'll have to get rid of that image).

Fight for Cliff Lee could be over before it starts

Everyone in the baseball world assumed the New York Yankees would have an edge in the battle for Cliff Lee because of their bottomless wallet. But the fight for his services could be over even before it starts, thanks to some idiot fans.

The media has painted a portrait of a money-hungry Lee who will chase the last dollar because he supposedly wouldn't even consider a discounted contract offer from the Philadelphia Phillies one year away from free agency. (Don’t you think the Phillies regret trading Lee now that they are sitting at home watching him pitch in the World Series?) While this portrayal may be partially true, I have my doubts that he will sign with the Yankees just because they can offer him the most money, especially now that his wife has been badly mistreated in the Bronx.

Sure, Lee will want as much money as he can get as the premier free agent, but he seems to have developed a genuine attachment to his town and team even though he has only been there a few months. Arlington is a lot closer to his offseason home in Little Rock and he and his wife are obviously happy in his new baseball home. If the Texas Rangers can come somewhat close on the money, I could definitely see Lee saying no to a few extra million from the Yankees and staying in Texas.

It's also hard for me to imagine any decent husband wanting to push his wife into living in a town she is clearly uncomfortable in. And if I were Kristen Lee, I would probably tell Cliff to tell the Yankees to take their money and shove it.

Sure, Lee and his agent will play spin doctors to keep up the perception that the Yankees are still in the battle for his services and raise his asking price. But if Mrs. Lee tells her husband that there's no chance in hell she's moving to New York, the fight for Lee could well be over before it starts, leaving the Yankees in a real mess.

Thanks to artolog and Fui in terra aliena via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dear Mrs. Lee: I'm very, very sorry

Dear Mrs. Lee:

I sincerely apologize for the crude, obnoxious treatment you experienced at the hands of fellow fans of the New York Yankees. I use the word fans loosely here because they are clearly not real fans, but boorish thugs. The behavior you described is deplorable and I completely embarrassed by it. I really hope Yankee officials can somehow figure out who was responsible and ban them forever from Yankee Stadium. I wasn't personally there to witness this behavior (couldn't get tickets to the playoffs this year), but if I had been, I assure you I would have immediately spoken to security to put a stop to it.

Unfortunately, you are not the only woman to experience this type of lunacy from drunken, out-of-control idiots. I've been to more than hundred Yankee games without incident, but two games that I attended alone stick out in my mind. I once had the misfortune of getting hit with a ketchup bomb during a Yankees-Red Sox game a few years ago. Perhaps the jerk who threw it was too drunk to distinguish between the Yankee blue I was wearing and the red jerseys being worn by the Red Sox fans sitting below me, but it was still unacceptable. Another time I was harassed during God Bless America for failing to remove my cap because the drunken idiot who was yelling at me didn't realize that I was a woman. I quickly found a cop who would have escorted the idiot out of the stadium had he not run away like the coward he is.

I'm not writing this letter in the hopes of changing your mind about letting your husband Cliff Lee pitch for the Yankees next year. I personally wouldn't blame you if you put your foot down and told him there is no way in hell you will live in New York. I would just like to assure you that not all Yankee fans are like that. In fact, most of us are very well behaved and just there to support our team and enjoy a well-played baseball game. I hope that you will give us, as a group, the benefit of the doubt. But either way, I sincerely apologize for the humiliation you experienced at Yankee Stadium, not from people who are real fans, but people who are real jerks.


Cashman takes his share of blame for defeat

Brian Cashman rightfully took his share of the blame for the New York Yankees falling short of their goal of repeating as World Series champions.

He didn't take all the blame for the ugly defeat at the hands of the Texas Rangers and he shouldn't have because he put together a team that was more than capable of a long, successful run in the baseball playoffs. But he was honest about how some decisions he made in the offseason ended up hurting the team in the regular season and October.

The move that obviously hurt the most was thinking Javier Vazquez could be a key cog in the Yankee rotation. Because Vazquez was never able to put everything together in New York and lost the faith of his manager, he was never an option for the playoffs and that really limited Joe Girardi's choices. Cashman has been vocal about accepting complete responsibility for that move, leaving the pitcher off the postseason roster even though that made it clear the offseason trade was a bad decision on his part.

But Cashman made some moves that were sheer brilliance, namely picking up an injured Kerry Wood, who helped the Yankees secure a postseason berth with some solid set-up work for Mariano Rivera. He deserves a lot of credit for that one. He was also under a lot of pressure to trade Phil Hughes for Johan Santana a few years ago and his reluctance to do so paid big dividends when the kid became a key member of the bullpen last year. Despite his rough postseason, the Yankees wouldn’t have even made the playoffs this year if their fifth starter Hughes hadn’t won 18 games.

I look at the Curtis Granderson trade as a mixed bag with solid potential for next year as he showed in September and October the kind of player he is capable of being. Cashman’s pursuit of the younger, more athletic outfielder could prove to be a good move in the future.

Unlike Joe Girardi, you get the impression that Cashman is perfectly willing to take a hard look in the mirror and learn from his mistakes. So I expect no more signings of injury-plagued players, unless they are willing to sign for low-dollar, incentive-laden deals (So long, Nick Johnson!). No more expensive bullpen guys, unless Wood is willing to settle for being Rivera's set-up guy in exchange for another shot at the World Series.

Cashman has a lot of tough choices to make and is somewhat limited in revamping his roster, but the one thing we now know is that he will be the first guy to the microphone to take the blame when things don't work out.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Is Eiland a scapegoat for Yankees collapse?

So I guess it’s Dave Eiland's fault that the New York Yankees did not advance to the World Series.

Or not, if you believe Brian Cashman when he said he made the decision for what he described as private reasons he chose not to discuss and firmly denied it had anything to do with the Yankees getting their butts kicked by the Texas Rangers. "It had nothing to do with looking for a scapegoat or a sacrificial lamb," he said.

But if that's not the reason, then what is? Both Cashman and Joe Girardi praised Eiland’s work and said he would quickly find another job. But if he’s such a good coach, then why did he lose this job?

“Dave helped us win a championship and I’m very grateful,” said Girardi, who clearly was not at all involved in the discussion and threw his general manager under the bus by pointing that out.

“Cash informed me that was going to be the move today,” he said. “Cash just felt we had to go in a different direction.”

Perhaps it is related to whatever personal issue kept Eiland away from the team for several weeks in the middle of the baseball season. That’s pure speculation, but it’s the only thing that makes sense if this wasn’t about his job performance or him being a scapegoat.

I tell you one thing. I don't want to hear or see any off-the-record comments from the Yankee hierarchy criticizing Eiland's job performance. Too often, the Yankees have been guilty of disparaging a guy after they've given him the boot, notably Don Zimmer and Joe Torre, to make themselves look better. If Eiland was so terrible at his job, why were the Yankees so desperate to get him back from his personal leave when AJ Burnett was struggling?

Maybe we’ll know the reason at some point in the future, just like we found out today that Andy Pettitte pitched hurt in the playoffs. I just hope Eiland wasn’t the scapegoat because I can think of many people a lot more responsible for the ugly defeat, starting with the manager.

End of the road for Yankees Core Four?

Will the Core Four no longer be a core next year?

That is a disturbing proposition for fans of the New York Yankees, with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte all free agents.

Of the three of them, Pettitte is the most obvious candidate to leave because he's always talking about walking away from baseball to be with his family. It's hard to gauge which way Pettitte is leaning. He proved this year that he was one of the top pitchers in the American League when healthy, when healthy being the key phrase as he spent most of the second half on the disabled list. But he came back in time to give the Yankees exactly what they needed in the playoffs and would have won both of his starts if he hadn't been up against Cliff Lee, who the Yankees hope will be Pettitte's teammate next year.

Despite all the fretting about Jeter's regular and postseason, I still think he and the Yankees will come together on a new contract. Jeter has been unequivocal about his desire to keep playing for the Yankees, the only professional team he has ever known, and the Yankees know they have to sign him so I expect a quiet, relatively quick contract negotiation.

The wild card is Mariano. In the exhilaration of last year's World Series win, Mo talked about pitching another five years. But it was clear as this year went by that Mo is getting tired of the side stuff that comes with being a professional baseball player, namely the traveling. Could Mo decide enough is enough and go home with his legacy as the greatest closer of all time completely secure? I surely hope not. Despite a shaky September, Mo proved he is still one of the best closers in the game and it's hard to imagine him leaving on such a sour note.

Posada still has one year left on his contract, but it's clear that there will be major changes at the catching position in 2011. He just can't throw people out anymore and opposing teams are wreaking havoc on the bases, unnerving Yankee pitchers and creating tension between Posada and his staff. Brian Cashman doesn't have much room to maneuver with his roster, but one move I definitely expect is for him to free up the designated hitter spot for Posada, Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and either bring up one or two of his stud catching prospects or make a trade.

For the Core Four, knowing they might not all be back next year must have made the ugly loss to the Texas Rangers a bitter pill to swallow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Yankees revamp can't just revolve on Lee

The New York Yankees are setting themselves up for potential trouble if their entire plan to revamp the team revolves around Cliff Lee.

Most of the baseball world assumes that Lee will take the biggest contract he can get, which undoubtedly will come from the Yankees. But what if, after vanquishing the Yankees, Lee sees the Bronx Bombers as a team on the decline, with an aging roster and many problems despite their massive payroll? What if new owner Nolan Ryan, a legendary pitcher himself, knows what he has in his ace, has visions of a possible dynasty and refuses to let him leave, emptying his pockets with a contract offer that Lee finds reasonable? What if Lee decides he has finally found his baseball home in Texas after multiple trades and pulls a Roy Halladay, signing for a lot less than he can get on the open market?

Lee wouldn't be the first stud pitcher to reject the Yankees. Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux declined to wear the pinstripes, preferring to remain in a more sedate baseball home in Atlanta. Roger Clemens famously spurned the Yankees, even after lifting weights with George Steinbrenner, until he realized he couldn't win that elusive World Series ring without them.

Lee is widely depicted in the media as a hired gun aiming for the biggest score. What if it's not true? What if Lee is not willing to let money be the biggest factor in deciding where he will play the next five years of his baseball career? If that's the case, the Yankees better put away the wallet and come up with a back-up plan, one that doesn't revolve getting the best guy on the market.

Thanks to artolog and Fui in terra aliena via Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Girardi very lucky the old Boss is long gone

Joe Girardi is very lucky George Steinbrenner is not around anymore or he might be checking the managerial want ads.

In truth, had the old Boss been in charge of the New York Yankees for the last few years, neither Girardi nor Brian Cashman would have survived missing out on the 2008 playoffs, the first time the Yankees were completely out of the postseason since Steinbrenner wisely hired Joe Torre to manage his team. And even with his team winning championship after championship, Steinbrenner constantly felt the need to show Torre who was the Boss.

The old Steinbrenner would have really blown a gasket about the way Girardi mismanaged his team during the 2010 postseason. The old Steinbrenner was never shy about second guessing his managers and he would have had a field day with Girardi's extremely questionable decision making.

Steinbrenner always took things too far, but the one good thing about him is that players and managers knew they had to answer for their mistakes. There doesn't seem to be the same level of accountability with Cashman, Hal Steinbrenner and Hank Steinbrenner running the team.

The Boss would have sent his manager and team a stern message about their poor postseason. But Cashman was quick to assure the baseball world that Girardi would return as manager of the Yankees. My question is why? I don't think Girardi deserves to be fired, but couldn't Cashman have made him sweat a little bit or at least ponder whether his mistakes would cost him his job? If there is no accountability for Girardi's poor choices this postseason, what's to stop him from doing things the same way next year?

Steinbrenner died only a few months ago, but the old Boss has really been gone for a long time. Girardi should be incredibly grateful for that.

Yankees can't fight to save their season

I would be mad about the Texas Rangers bouncing the New York Yankees right out of the playoffs, but the truth of the matter is the Yankees were never really in it.

It turns out the well-pitched, well-played games against the Minnesota Twins were just an illusion. In the American League Championship Series, the Yankees played more like the team they looked like in September. Perhaps that's the team they really are rather than the world beaters they looked like against the Twinkies. In the ALCS, they got outpitched, outhit and really out managed.

Game 6 was a clear example of how the Rangers played better than the Yankees in every way possible. Phil Hughes struggled right from the start, not that it really mattered. He held the Rangers to one run through the first four innings before imploding, but had to watch helplessly as the offense acted like Cliff Lee was on the mound instead of Colby Lewis. And when Joe Girardi pulled Hughes with the game on the line, the bullpen call went to David Robertson instead of Kerry Wood or Mariano Rivera. I know it was only the fifth inning, but that was the season right there and Girardi made the wrong call.

The Rangers earned the right to represent the American League in the World Series by playing like superstars. The Yankees couldn't put up a fight to save their season and that's why they are going home.

Thanks to Red3biggs via Wikipedia for the Colby Lewis photo.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hughes can keep Yankees season going

If Phil Hughes can give the New York Yankees the type of game CC Sabathia gave them two nights ago, the ultimate comeback will be well within their collective grasp.

Sabathia's outing wasn't pretty, but effective as he limited the damage to two runs in six innings. If Hughes can match that, I think the Yankee offense will score enough runs to win the game. If they can't score three or more runs tonight, then they deserve to go home.

I think Hughes can do it. He seems relieved that he has the opportunity to redeem himself after his disastrous Game 2 start and a chance to keep his team’s season going. The 24-year-old right hander will be highly motivated to put forth a performance that proves he deserves to be mentioned when talking about baseball’s best young starters. Plus, he will be on regular rest and we know how starters love their routines.

If the Yankees win Game 6, they will have to beat Cliff Lee to move on to the World Series. But first things first. Hughes & Co have to take care of business tonight.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cubs fans lucky to get off Girardi hook

Chicago Cubs fans: consider yourselves lucky that you don't have to live with the daily head scratching that comes with having Joe Girardi manage your baseball team.

When I visited Wrigley Field last month, I made conversation with a few Cubs fans. After telling them about my allegiance to the New York Yankees, they immediately asked me about Girardi, who was rumored to be a top candidate for the Cubs job that went to Mike Quade this week.

What I told them was simple: if you can live with Girardi making one move per game that has you thinking "WTF," then you can live with him as your manager. But if strange decision making has you wanting to throw your television against the wall, you want no part of Joe Girardi. Not only does he make puzzling moves at least once a game, he has no interest in explaining them afterwards and is downright hostile to anyone who dares to question his thought process.

My manager review wasn't all bad. I did praise Girardi for doing a great job protecting his players, making sure his arms in the bullpen don't get burned out and giving position players a day off now and then to recover from nagging injuries, even in the heat of a pennant race and intense criticism.

But my job critique did come down pretty hard on his decision making and Game 4 was classic Girardi. The Yankees were positioned to win that game, even with the offense so cold, but the manager made bizarre choices that left embattled AJ Burnett hung out to dry. Burnett took the loss, but really the defeat was on his manager. I don't think it's enough to fire Girardi, even if the Yankees lose this series, but he doesn't have nearly as much leverage negotiating his next contract as he did before the playoffs started.

I got the sense from the Cubs fans that I spoke to that they would have trouble with a guy like that, even if he came with Girardi's resume. Congratulations, Cubs fans. You are officially off the Girardi hook. Only we Yankee fans have to worry about what he's going to do next.

Yankees live to fight another day

Glad to see the New York Yankees still had some fight in them.

I was beginning to worry that the Yankees would go quietly into the night with the way their offense (except Robinson Cano) and pitching (except Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera) abandoned them. But they got a gutty outing from CC Sabathia to win Game 5 of the American League Championship Series and stave off elimination. The Yankee ace wasn't sharp by any stretch of the imagination, but he battled to get through six innings only giving up two runs by summoning the right pitch when he needed it.

The Yankee offense finally showed up in a performance that bodes well for the rest of the series, with Cano getting some help from his crew. Glad to see the hitters respond to that APB before the Bronx Bombers faded away.

So all eyes turn to Arlington where the Yankees will attempt to take two games from the Texas Rangers in their own home. I expect to see Phil Hughes bounce back from his disastrous Game 2 start to pitch well, supported by a resurgent offense. If the Yankees win Game 6, they will still have to contend with Cliff Lee in Game 7. It's a tough chore, but I'm a lot more optimistic about their chances today than I was before yesterday's game. Surviving elimination will do that for you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Random Yankee thoughts: playoff edition

You would think that the Steinbrenner family and New York Yankees have more important things to worry about these days: their team's lackluster play in the baseball playoffs, perhaps? But they are acting like real bullies in preventing a 77-year-old woman from releasing letters she received as a teenager from a young George Steinbrenner.

Lonn Trost, the COO of the Yankees, cited the potential embarrassment and harm to business interests that would be caused by the release of the letters, whose content has been described in several news articles. I'm amazed by such a claim about innocent letters passed between teenagers. If anything I would think releasing the letters would make Steinbrenner look better, especially after Bill Madden's biography cast new light on his terrible treatment of players and employees. The Steinbrenner family's behavior is shameful, but not surprising because the Boss was the ultimate bully.

* Austin Kearns is not in the lineup for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series despite the devastating injury to Mark Teixeira, which brings me back to my original question: why is he on the postseason roster? After striking out against the world in September, it is clear that Joe Girardi has no confidence in him. At this point, he’s just taking up space in the dugout. If the Yankees do make the World Series, they may want to consider making a roster move.

* Melky Cabrera, a key cog in many thrilling Yankee comebacks last year, was released by the Atlanta Braves. I guess that Javier Vazquez trade didn't really work out for either team.

* Johnny Damon last week expressed an openness to returning to the Yankees despite last year's bitter divorce. With the way the offense has been struggling this postseason, the Bronx Bombers really could have used his clutch bat this October.

* Minka Kelly, best known as Derek Jeter's girlfriend, was named Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive in 2010. For a guy like Jeter who values his privacy, I'm sure he was thrilled by the attention.

Tough break for tough Teixeira, Yankees

Losing the toughest guy in pinstripes to a season-ending injury is a devastating blow the New York Yankees will probably not recover from.

I could tell immediately from Mark Teixeira's reaction that there would be no more baseball for him this season. Tex is the toughest guy in a Yankees uniform, playing the last month of the season with a broken toe and an injured finger. When he didn't even try to get up last night, it was obvious that the injury was bad. And the pained look on his face said it all.

The Yankees first baseman didn't even wait for the MRI to tell reporters that he was done in the playoffs. For a guy as tough as Tex, the realization that his banged-up body wouldn't cooperate with him any longer must have been crushing.

Even with his lack of hits, Teixeira is still a dangerous hitter and a key cog in the Yankees lineup. And with the Yankees pitchers already struggling, his superior defense will be sorely missed. It would too much to expect Lance Berkman or someone else on the bench to step up to fill the void created by Teixeira’s absence.

Losing Teixeira may be the body blow that puts the Yankees away for good this postseason.

Girardi's bad moves cost Yankees the game

Even though his offense has disappeared, Joe Girardi must take responsibility for the ugly loss that has put the New York Yankees on the brink of elimination.

Having secured a solid outing through five innings from the unreliable AJ Burnett, Girardi should have been ready to remove him from the game at the first sign of trouble. And that came right away in the 6th inning with yet another leadoff single. But in what was one of the worst moves I've ever seen from Girardi, the Yankees manager intentionally walked a batter to get to Bengie Molina and left Burnett in to face the Texas Rangers catcher.

This is not a second guess. As it was happening, I was yelling at the television wondering what the hell Girardi was doing. From watching Burnett all year, it was obvious that Girardi could not put an extra runner on base when his pitcher has been so erratic on the mound. The only thing that would have made it a decent move was if Girardi was going to lift AJ after the walk. But for whatever reason, he didn't do it.

What is so puzzling about Girardi's failure to pull Burnett is that he was so quick to take pitchers out in the regular season. He pulled Javier Vazquez and Dustin Moseley one out from victory in consecutive games. There was so much more at stake last night. So why didn't he pull the trigger? It can't be that he had that much more confidence in AJ Burnett. If that was the case, Burnett's start wouldn't have been as big an issue as it was heading into the game.

Girardi relied on his usual comments about liking the matchup and the way his pitcher was throwing the ball. He also mentioned that he would have been second guessed if he took out Burnett and the pitcher he brought in gave up some runs. Nobody would have faulted Girardi for counting his blessings and getting AJ out of there. He got all he could have hoped for out of Burnett to that point and should have pulled him with the lead still intact. His failure to do so may cost the Yankees their season.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Posada must put benching frustration aside

Jorge Posada must be livid about being benched tonight for AJ Burnett's start, even though he had to know it was coming.

I'm not at all convinced that Burnett will have a good game just because Francisco Cervelli is catching him. He has had plenty of bad starts with his personal catcher behind the plate. But Joe Girardi can't take any chances. He has to make Burnett as comfortable as possible. The New York Yankees manager can't risk the fiery Posada doing anything to upset his sensitive pitcher.

But Jorge must share some of the blame. He has not looked good behind the plate, most notably screwing up the rundown in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series that allowed the Texas Rangers to score their first run. If not for Phil Hughes' implosion, that play would have gotten a lot more attention.

Of course, the Yankees are also losing Posada's more dangerous bat by sitting him tonight in such a critical game. But like the rest of the Yankees lineup, with the notable exception of Robinson Cano, Posada has been ineffective at the plate with only two ribbies and nine strikeouts in 21 at-bats.

As proud as Posada is, he must be terribly disappointed by his benching. But for the sake of his team, he must bury that frustration as deep as possible.

Time for AJ Burnett to shock the world

AJ Burnett can really shock the baseball world if he steps up with a quality outing.

For AJ, of course, quality is a relative term. I think the New York Yankees will live with four runs in roughly six innings. But it also depends on when he gives up those runs. If the Texas Rangers knock him around for four runs in the 1st inning, he will not see the 2nd inning. Joe Girardi will pull him faster than the Yankee Stadium crowd can muster the energy to boo him off the mound.

The Yankees have done everything they can to prepare him for this start and express as much confidence as they can publicly demonstrate without choking on the words, even though their spoken faith in him seems tenuous at best. They named him as the Game 4 starter even after he hit two guys in a simulated game, which showed his long layoff would create a major control problem. They didn't back down even after falling behind two games to one in the American League Championship Series.

Now it's up to AJ to surprise the experts, the fans and even his teammates with a nice start in the pressure cooker that is the baseball playoffs. For the Yankees sake, I hope he can do it.

Loss puts Yankees in a terrible bind

The New York Yankees were throttled by Cliff Lee in a loss that puts them in a terrible bind.

Now the Yankees have to win tonight or risk facing elimination and a quick end to their World Series title hopes. That will be an extremely difficult assignment; with AJ Burnett scheduled to start Game 4 of the American League Championship Series and the Yankees offense sleeping the series away. Yes, Lee can induce a slumber in the best hitters, but this really goes back to Game 2 and the Yankees inability to do much against the pitching of the Texas Rangers.

Andy Pettitte was his typical reliable self yesterday, only giving up two runs in seven innings. But the runs came too early in the game and the Yankees were never able to recover. Once that ball left Josh Hamilton's bat heading for the seats, the game was over. The next 8 1/2 innings were just a formality. A six-run outburst put the game well out of reach in the 9th, but the Yankees were done long before then.

By the way, if Lee was auditioning for Yankee fans, consider me on board. The man will get paid handsomely after the way he's pitched, especially in the playoffs, and the Yankees will be first in line with their checkbook.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yankees trust the right guy in Pettitte

The New York Yankees have the right guy on the mound for what has become a critical game in their quest to repeat as World Series champions.

I won't call tonight a must win because that phrase is overused. The only must-win games are elimination games. But with the Yankees seemingly committed to AJ Burnett in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, they need Andy Pettitte to outduel Cliff Lee so that they don't risk heading into Game 5 down three games to one. Beating Lee is not going to be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, but if Pettitte gives the Yankees a quality outing, I believe the Yankee bats could be inspired to finally solve the Lee problem.

And they are right to trust Mr. Postseason. Pettitte is going to do whatever he has to do to beat the Texas Rangers and he's not going to be afraid of the pressure. His teammates have a lot of confidence in him. The same can't be said about Burnett. If the Yankees lose tonight and have to hand AJ the ball, the team is going to play very tight and could quickly find itself one game away from elimination.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Yankees comeback KOs Rangers

The New York Yankees dealt a crushing blow to the Texas Rangers, pummeling their bullpen en route to a miracle comeback that put the Bronx Bombers up 1-0 in the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees looked lifeless during the first seven innings, the only bright spot being Robinson Cano's foul-pole hugger blast to put the team on the scoreboard. But the Yankees survived a bad outing by their ace CC Sabathia in a comeback instigated by the pure hustle of the feisty Brett Gardner and helped by the wildness of the Ranger relievers. I bet that's not what Nolan Ryan, new owner of the Rangers, had in mind after their thrilling defeat against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The importance of Game 1 can not be overstated for the Yankees. They needed to win a game started by their big guy because the back of their rotation (AJ Burnett) can't be trusted. Now with the momentum from a thrilling comeback, they give the ball next to Phil Hughes, whose poise belied his age in Game 3 of the division series against the Minnesota Twins.

If the Yankees can win behind young Mr. Hughes, you have to love their chances with Mr. Postseason himself Andy Pettitte on the mound, even facing Cliff Lee. For the Yankees, that would be the best scenario in their quest for another world championship title.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yankees can't trust erratic AJ in key game

With AJ Burnett tentatively scheduled to start Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, Games 1, 2 and 3 become critical for the New York Yankees.

Joe Girardi is in a really bad spot in this round of the playoffs. He can't ask a young Phil Hughes and an older, injury-plagued Andy Pettitte to go on short rest just because Burnett is unreliable. Yet, he and the Yankees can't trust Burnett to have a good outing because they have no clue which AJ will show up on the mound. Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland are trying to publicly muster up as much confidence as they can in Burnett, citing his solid outings during last year's playoffs. But Burnett has been a different guy this year, frustrated and uncertain on and off the baseball field.

The ideal outcome for the Yankees is to win two if not all three of the first games to ensure that AJ is not put in a high-pressure situation. Because if it comes down to Burnett pitching a must-win game, the Yankees don't have much of a chance.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hughes, Yanks step over Twins on way to title

The Minnesota Twins never had a chance, playing the role of doormat to the New York Yankees to perfection.

I cautioned against underestimating the Twinkies heading into the American League Division Series, but it turns out there was no need to worry because the Twins were never really in this series. Just like they were never in the game tonight with the Yankees quickly staking Phil Hughes to a 4-0 lead. As dominant as the youngster was in his first postseason start, that lead was insurmountable.

The Twins are a good team, but the Yankees are clearly in their heads. Minnesota was never able to overcome that sense of impending doom that started Wednesday night when they could not keep the Yankees from scoring late, could not protect the 3-run lead they got off of Yankee ace CC Sabathia. The Yankees made their comeback, brought in the hammer with Mariano Rivera and the Twins were done.

So on to the next step. We don't know who the Yankees will face in the next round of the playoffs yet. But whether it's the Tampa Bay Rays or the Texas Rangers, I imagine they'll put up a much better fight than the Twins did.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Time for Hughes to put Twins out of misery

The New York Yankees will send Phil Hughes to the mound tonight to finish off the Minnesota Twins. I'm hoping he does it by midnight because I have a very early flight to catch tomorrow.

Joe Girardi feels more comfortable giving the ball in Game 3 of the American League Division Series to a 24-year-old kid than to some veterans that were supposed to be in the rotation ahead of him because Hughes stepped up this year to give his manager exactly what he needed: a reliable second starter after ace CC Sabathia. He needs to step up for his manager and his team again tonight.

Hughes hasn't pitched in 10 days, except for that one inning that earned him his 18th win and the good-natured mockery of his teammates. But he looked strong against a tough Boston Red Sox team, the way he's looked good in his last few starts, so I expect him to shake off any rust fairly quickly and pitch well.

I also expect to see a composed, relaxed Hughes on the mound. One of the few negative memories from last year's baseball playoffs was seeing the agitated youngster walk off the mound with angry words for the umpire. Given his maturity over the last year, we won't see a repeat of that tirade.

So what will we see? I think the New York Yankees will get a very strong performance out of their kid. Even if he gives up a few runs, it probably won't make a difference because the Yankees offense is usually inspired to score multiple runs for him. Expect Hughes and the Yankees to quickly put the Twins out of their misery.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mariano Rivera back in fine October form

It turns out there was no need to worry about Mariano Rivera once the calendar page turned to October. This is his month and he is pitching like it.

Joe Girardi had his ace in the bullpen and used him perfectly. When Kerry Wood got into some trouble Wednesday night, Girardi brought in Mo to douse the rally with the tying runs in scoring position. Mo was his typical brilliant self, promptly inducing a weak grounder to end the threat. He gave up a faux single in the 9th inning of that game and sent at least four bats to the wood morgue. He gave up a solid hit last night, but that was all the Twins could muster against the great Rivera.

Mo had a rough September, blowing three saves and looking hittable. It was quite shocking for New York Yankees fans used to seeing him dominate the competition, particularly late in the year. But Mo made a mechanical tweak, worked out whatever issue was bothering him and found his comfort zone, which is really bad news for the rest of baseball.

In October, there is no pitcher that opposing managers worry about more than Mo. They know that if the Yankees go into the 8th or 9th inning with a lead, the game is practically over. In their heads, they might even start planning the lineup for the next game. But if Ron Gardenhire and the Twins don't keep Mo out of Game 3, there won't be a next game for them.

The Mr. October nickname has been reserved for Reggie Jackson, but I wonder if the slugger wouldn't mind sharing it with the great Mariano, who Jackson himself has said is one of the greatest Yankees of all time. Without a doubt, Mariano is the Mr. October of pitchers.

Andy Pettitte puts Twinkies on the brink

Just the other day, CC Sabathia was mystified about why people were worried about Andy Pettitte. Last night, Pettitte showed why CC couldn't have been more right.

Taking the mound last night for the New York Yankees, Pettitte added to his postseason legend with a strong performance that put the Minnesota Twins on the brink of elimination. He dispelled any concerns about his injuries or age and showed why he is the winningest pitcher in postseason history.

The Twins had a chance to get Pettitte early when he was struggling with his command as they put the leadoff hitter on in the first two innings and loaded the bases with one out in the 2nd inning. But Andy did what he always does when he's in trouble, inducing a customary groundball double-play in the 1st inning (with a fantastic defensive assist from Derek Jeter), making big pitches to escape the jam in the 2nd inning and dominating the Twins the rest of his game.

"One run is not going to kill me," Pettitte said of his composure in getting out of that jam.

But it sure killed the Twins. You could see the defeat on the faces of the players and their fans long before the game was over. Pettitte did that to the Twins, the way he has done it to so many other teams in the postseason, and he showed the rest of baseball what the Yankees have in store for them if they advance in the playoffs.

CC stepped up to the mike the other day to defend his "godfather," citing Pettitte's postseason excellence as a reason not to worry about the Yankee starters that would come after him. He has a lot of company in the Andy Pettitte confidence camp.

"That's just typical Andy," Lance Berkman said. "He was in control pretty much the whole night. He's the best big-game pitcher I think I've ever been around."

Typical Andy, indeed!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Halladay shows Yanks what awaits them in WS

Roy Halladay's no-hitter in his first postseason start validated my fervent but ultimately crushed dreams about him being acquired by the New York Yankees in the 2009-10 offseason. But in dominating the Cincinnati Reds, Doc showed the Yankees what will probably be waiting for them if they make a repeat trip to the World Series.

It was nice to see Halladay’s greatness finally on display for the world to see in the playoffs. The only thing that sucked about watching him pitch that game last night was that he wasn't doing it in a Yankee uniform.

I freely admit that I wanted Halladay and yesterday he showed why. A pitcher making his first start in the playoffs should have been at least a little anxious, but Halladay was the calmest guy in Citizens Bank Park yesterday. Hell, I think I was more nervous watching him pursue baseball history. (BTW Orlando Cabrera, Halladay got every strike call from the umpire because every pitch he threw was a strike so shut up because no one wants to hear your sour grapes).

Last year, the Yankees beat the Phillies largely because the Phils had no one to follow the great Cliff Lee, who showed something himself yesterday in throttling the Tampa Bay Rays. If the Yankees make it to the World Series this year, they will have to face Halladay at least twice, followed by a resurgent Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, another great pitcher who spent far too long in baseball obscurity in Houston.

I don’t know if the Yankees actually came close to landing Halladay last offseason, but it sure seems like a missed opportunity, especially now that the good doctor has shown what he can do under the intense pressure of the playoffs.

Thanks to schwenkenstein01 and UCinternational via Wikipedia for the photo.

Mo, 'mates pick up CC Sabathia in Game 1

Usually, CC Sabathia is the one carrying the New York Yankees on his large back. Last night, his teammates picked him up.

Sabathia did not pitch great in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, but managed to keep his team in the baseball game for six innings on a night when he clearly didn't have his best stuff. You know CC had a rough night when Joe Girardi, who usually manages to find something positive in all his starters' outings (witness his post-game comments about AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez this year), started responding to a question about Sabathia by saying "I didn't think CC was bad."

But it didn't matter last night because the Yankees found a way to overcome the early deficit, the way they seem to always do against the Minnesota Twins. Francisco Liriano stifled the offense for the first five innings, but lost it in the 6th inning, giving up a triple to a resurgent Curtis Granderson. The game-winning blast came off the bat of the banged-up Mark Teixeira in the next inning.

It all ended with Mariano Rivera, of course, because most Yankee victories end with Mo. Put aside any concern about his rough September because yesterday was classic Mo. He came in with two outs and the tying runs on base in the 8th inning and promptly induced a ground ball so weak that it barely made it to short for Derek Jeter to throw out the runner. He then followed up with what should have been a 1-2-3 9th inning were it not for another blown call by the umpires (and Greg Golson validating Girardi’s faith in him and his defensive skills with a terrific catch), but it didn’t matter as the great Mo quickly induced a weak pop up from the dangerous Jim Thome.

So on a night when CC Sabathia wasn't as dominant as he usually is, his Yankee teammates put the big guy on their backs and carried him across the finish line.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

CC Sabathia always has his team's back

CC Sabathia always has his teammates' backs, on the mound and in the media room.

Baseball pundits and writers have been busy predicting big trouble for the New York Yankees if Sabathia doesn't win Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Minnesota Twins tonight. Their argument is centered on the fact that Andy Pettitte hasn't shown that he is fully recovered from his injuries and that Phil Hughes has never started a postseason game in his young life.

To all that, Sabathia basically said hogwash. The big guy was mystified by a question about whether this supposed uncertainty about the rest of the Yankees starting rotation put more pressure on him.

"I don't see what you guys are saying about uncertainty," he replied firmly, but politely. "Andy Pettitte is the best pitcher in the playoffs in the history of baseball. I think our rotation stacks up pretty good against anybody."

The thing that I loved most about CC's response is that he refused to even accept the premise of the question. He seemed genuinely puzzled by the notion that his teammates were something less than him, that they couldn’t match his performance and that the Yankees’ championship hopes rest on his shoulders. With CC, you know it's not an act because he doesn't have a fake bone in his ultra-large body. He genuinely believes in his teammates and has confidence in their ability to step up and help him win another World Series championship.

His teammates often talk about what a good guy he is and how much they love sharing a clubhouse with him. I have no doubt that love grew by leaps and bounds when they heard that answer. Whether it's CC hitting opposing batters just to send a message that hitting his guys is unacceptable or stepping up to the microphone to defend his guys, Sabathia always has his teammates' backs and he'll have their backs again on the mound tonight.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Yankee playoff roster, Sorry Kearns

Joe Girardi & Company spent most of yesterday scratching their heads trying to figure out who should fill those few available spots on the postseason roster of the New York Yankees. It's a lot less of a stressful endeavor for me so here are my thoughts:

Infield: The positions are set with Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez so the real question is who is going to be their backup. I vote for Ramiro Pena, who has been on the big-league roster all season, has proven to be a good defensive fill-in at shortstop, second and third base and has managed to get a couple of clutch hits while giving guys days off. He probably won't play at all, but he's a nice guy to have on the bench. I would also put another speedy/defensive kid on the bench such as Eduardo Nunez because Girardi probably will have to pinch run for his older guys late in games.

Outfield: With Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher set to start, the Yankees must figure out who will take Swisher's place in the lineup if his knee starts to act up. Greg Golson is likely to make the list for his speed and his unbelievable throwing arm. But I'm at a loss trying to figure out why Austin Kearns should make the postseason roster. Maybe Girardi would rather have a more veteran guy ready to play if Swisher can’t go, but Kearns hasn't made contact at the plate in more than a month and he’s not a very good defender.

Catcher: This one is easy although neither Jorge Posada nor Francisco Cervelli is defending particularly well these days.

Designated hitter: The combo of Lance Berkman and Marcus Thames will swing good bats for the Yankees in the playoffs, plus they can be put in the field in a pinch.

Starting pitching: With their three-man rotation of CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, the question here is who the emergency starter is if something happens to one of these guys. Most likely it will be AJ Burnett, even though he has done nothing recently to inspire confidence. Putting Burnett on the postseason roster has more to do with his long contract than any faith his bosses or his teammates have in him because they probably have none at this point.

Relievers: Mariano Rivera, Kerry Wood, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan are the sure bets. I like having the second lefty so I would add Royce Ring into the mix, even with his youth. I would go with Dustin Moseley for the final spot, but if we actually see either of them in a game, that could mean the Yankees are in big trouble (or hopefully blowing out the Twins).

Thanks to jcasabona and UCinternational via Wikipedia for the photo.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Do not underestimate Minnesota Twins

Given the way the New York Yankees stumbled to the regular season finish line, they may be happy to be facing the Minnesota Twins in the first round, a team they have owned for years and swept out of the playoffs in 2009. But no one should underestimate the Twins.

Essentially, the Yankees traded home-field advantage in the playoffs for avoiding facing Cliff Lee twice in a five-game series. Some pundits and fans might believe that’s actually a good thing, facing the Twins in the American League division series instead of the Texas Rangers. But anyone expecting the Twins to be patsies for the Yankees is mistaken.

The Twinkies survived injuries that would have killed other teams (see Boston Red Sox, New York Mets), namely losing their closer Joe Nathan before the season even started. Do you think the Yankees could survive losing Mariano Rivera, even with his rough outings of late? Not a chance. And the Twins have been without Justin Morneau the entire second half. That would be like the Yankees losing their MVP candidate Robinson Cano and the Bronx Bombers have had enough trouble living up to their nickname recently.

I know we Yankee fans don't think much of Carl Pavano but he has pitched very well since leaving the Yankees and has miraculously stayed healthy. With him and Francisco Liriano at the top of the rotation, the Twins won't be pushovers. But I think CC Sabathia and a healthy Andy Pettitte are much better than both of them so it’s entirely possible that this series could be over very quickly.

That's not to say I feel overconfident about the Yankees chances. I think they are the better team, but I wouldn’t count the Twins out. I hope the Yankees and their fans don't either.

Thanks to Chamber of Fear and UCinternational via Wikipedia for the photo.

Bronx Bombers must turn it back on

Can the New York Yankees flip a switch and make all their bad play over the last month of the regular season disappear? We'll know soon enough.

It was disappointing watching the Yankees limp their way to the finish line, especially against the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees had firm control of their own destiny and could have finished at the top of the American League East division by taking the series this weekend. Instead, they have to settle for the wild card after losing the last two games of the season in a very ugly fashion.

But the real question is whether the Yankees will automatically start playing better on Wednesday. Granted, their chances of playing winning baseball vastly improve when they don't have to turn to AJ Burnett, Ivan Nova and Dustin Moseley to pitch important games. In the next couple of days, we'll likely hear Joe Girardi announce that he's going with a starting rotation of CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes (probably in that order as Girardi will go with experience over youth in a potential Game 5).

Sabathia has carried the Yankees on his bank over the last two months, Pettitte has a sparkling postseason pedigree and Hughes had a far better year than anyone could have imagined, going from winning the fifth starter job in spring training to being the #3 starter. A rotation like that could ease the pressure on the offense and allow the hitters to get into a productive rhythm.

But the Bronx Bombers are going to have to turn it back on or they will be going home sooner than they'd like.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Yankees lose control of destiny with ugly loss

Even though the New York Yankees gave AJ Burnett four runs early, it wasn't enough to get a win and keep the Yankees firmly in control of their destiny.

Burnett's numbers were fine last night, but he made the kind of boneheaded play that will definitely keep him out of the postseason rotation for the division series and perhaps off the postseason roster. He let a run score because he was incredulous about a safe call at first base, reminiscent of the infamous David Cone play in Atlanta when the then-Mets pitcher allowed two runs to score because he was arguing a call. It's this loss of composure that makes Burnett untrustworthy for a team that will have a tough time in the playoffs regardless of its opponent.

But the erratic righty wasn't alone in blowing the nightcap, with errors by Lance Berkman and Francisco Cervelli contributing to the Red Sox scoring. Plus, the Yankees offense was terrible with runners on base in both games of the doubleheader, not exactly inspiring for postseason play. You knew the Yankees were in deep trouble when Ivan Nova kept coming out to start innings, even though he was struggling badly. But I can't blame Joe Girardi for that one because he used all his best guys to make sure the Yankees won the first game after Andy Pettitte lasted only four innings.

So the Yankees hopes for an American League East title rest on Dustin Moseley's shoulders and the Kansas City Royals gearing up for one more game as a spoiler against the Tampa Bay Rays. Can't say I like the Yankees chances today, but stranger things have happened in baseball.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jeter deal won't be major dilemma for Yanks

I can't help but laugh at these stories about the supposed hand wringing the New York Yankees will do this offseason over Derek Jeter's next contract. The Yankees and their captain will reach a deal within a month of the last game of the World Series. Why? Because they can't live without each other.

Sure, the Yankees may be contemplating how much to offer Jeter after his subpar season, but there's no way they are going to make him a low-ball offer. Not after all he has meant to this franchise and with him less than 100 hits away from the magic 3,000 hit mark. Ultimately, Jeter is going to get what he asks for, as long as want he asks for is within reason. No one doubts that Jeter deserves at least $20 million annually for three or four years. And knowing Jeter, he will be so motivated to prove that he is worthy of such a contract that the Yankees should expect a major bounce-back season from him in 2011.

This isn't a Hideki Matsui/Johnny Damon situation. As much as Yankee fans loved those guys, they were ultimately replaceable. But we are extremely protective of Jeter because we've seen him grow up right before our eyes, because he has come up in the big spot more often than not, because he has never embarrassed us or left us subject to ridicule the way other baseball players have.

Not only can the Yankees not afford to insult Jeter with a low-ball offer, they really can't even replace him. Tell me who steps into his iconic shoes if Jeter isn't the Yankee shortstop next year. I wouldn’t want to be that guy, whoever he is. Even an aging Jeter who is a fraction of his All-Star/MVP candidate self is better than any of the shortstops in the Yankees system and the vast majority of guys on the 29 other baseball teams.

Reaching a new deal with their iconic shortstop won't be the major dilemma that everyone is portraying it to be. The Yankees and Jeter need each other and they both know it. Yankee fans should expect an early Christmas present announcing the deal that ensures the Yankee Captain ends his career in pinstripes.

AJ Burnett fighting for postseason start

AJ Burnett is fighting for his postseason life as a starting pitcher tonight.

It's impossible to overstate the importance of tonight's game for AJ. Burnett must pitch well if he has any hopes of starting a game in the playoffs. The New York Yankees will put him on the postseason roster regardless of how he does because they know how important Burnett is for their long-term future, given that he's only just completing the second year of his five-year deal. Not putting him on the team would be a major blow to his psyche. But if he wants to start a game, he's going to have to show the Yankees that he can still step up when the stakes are high.

The Yankees will be watching Andy Pettitte too, but mostly for health and command. He's going to start one and possibly two games in the first round of the playoffs. If Pettitte proves he is all set to go, that makes Burnett's start even more critical for the erratic righty. A healthy Andy would allow the Yankees to go with a three-man rotation of CC Sabathia, Pettitte and Phil Hughes in the American League Division Series, giving the Bombers the option of skipping Burnett.

Joe Girardi hasn't given a signal of which way he is leaning, but it's not difficult to imagine that if he doesn't get at least six innings and only three or four runs from Burnett, that we won't see AJ starting a game in the ALDS. Mike Francesa asked Girardi if it was important that Burnett pitch well tonight.

"It's important for all of us involved," Girardi replied.

That may be the understatement of the year.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Yankees in control of their own destiny

The Kansas City Royals are doing the New York Yankees a huge favor by playing the role of spoiler to perfection. But the Yankees need to take advantage.

The Royals got a complete game shutout from Bruce Chen to hand the Tampa Bay Rays another loss, putting the Yankees back in first place by a half game. The Bronx Bombers are now firmly in control of their own destiny. If they can beat the Boston Red Sox three games in a row, they will clinch the American League East division.

It won't be an easy task. Doubleheaders are difficult under the best of circumstances, but this one will be a major challenge because the Yankees are scheduled to start AJ Burnett in the second game. Also, I can't imagine that Joe Girardi is going to start his main guys in both games so look for Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and maybe one or two others to get that second game off.

Jeter noted earlier in the week that the Yankees needed help to win the division. They've gotten it from the Royals. But they can't count on Kansas City winning another game or two. The Yanks must now do the heavy lifting by winning what will be three tough games in Boston.

All a team heading toward the playoffs can ask for is to have control of its own destiny. The Yankees have that now. They need to win.