Charlie Manuel’s Starting Pitcher Decision Gives Yankees World Series Title

October 31, 2009

He was dominant in game one at Yankee Stadium, shutting down the vaunted New York Yankee lineup in a complete game victory. In going the distance, Cliff Lee struck out 10 hitters (including Alex Rodriguez three times), allowing only six hits and a single unearned run.

He is in his prime and is basically a win waiting to happen every time he takes the mound. The best bet for Philadelphia in winning this World Series is to have Lee pitch as often as he can.

But Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has other ideas. He will start right handed pitcher Joe Blanton in Game Four, he of the 0-3 record and an over eight ERA in his career against the Yankees. In 22 career innings, Blanton has allowed 22 hits, 20 ER’s, five home runs and has issued 12 walks.

Not the greatest of numbers. And the Yankees biggest hitters, both Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez have the best numbers against Blanton. Tex is nine for 27 with three home runs, seven ribbies with an OPS of 1.061.

Alex is even better with four hits in seven at bats, but has two homers and five RBI’s. His OPS is a staggering 2.298 when factoring in his three walks.    

Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui (though not likely to start) also have homers versus Blanton, and hitting against Blanton in cozy Citizens Bank Park just adds to the pressure on Blanton to be perfect with his pitches.

Manuel’s reasoning is that Lee has never pitched on three days rest, and he trusts Blanton who pitched well this season and had a win in last years World Series.

However, Lee needs to pitch as often as possible, neutralizing the Yankees and ace CC Sabathia who surely will start game four. Maybe Manuel figures Lee is a lock win on Monday in game five against possible Yankee fourth starter Chad Gaudin.

But if the Yankees win Saturday night, a Blanton/Sabathia Game Four can easily become a 3-1 Yankee series lead.

And Gaudin might not even get the opportunity to start a game five. Word out of Yankee world is that AJ Burnett is itching to go on three days and prove his mettle again after his great game two start. Yankee manager Joe Girardi is considering just that, especially now that Pettitte and the Yankees won game three.

And if Sabathia gives the Yankees a deep inning win in game four, and Lee likely wins a day later, Pettitte could go Wednesday’s game six, although on three days rest, too.

Even if Pettitte gives them five or six decent innings next Wednesday, like he did last night, the Yankees would have a fully rested bullpen, and the cce in the hole, Sabathia again for game seven.

If Girardi decides on Burnett for game five, the adrenaline would surely be flowing in Arkansas Monday night as both potential starters Lee and Burnett are from the Razorback state and share the same agent.

That agent, Darek Brauneker, made a fortune last off season with Burnett’s deal, and surely will not need to fund a 401K when Lee signs his next deal.

While I love the fact that Manuel is loyal to his players (one reason why he is a good manager) this time loyalty should take a back seat to common sense.

The decision to go with Blanton over Lee for tonight’s game gives the Yankees the World Series title.

The way Lee threw the ball in game one, the big Yankee bats having prior success against Blanton and the Yankees 2-1 lead in the series, Manuel needed to wait until last night after the game to make his game four decision. The Phillies need to win both of the remaining games in Philadelphia and hope to take one game in New York.

Losing tonight and hoping to take both game in New York is going to be very tough.

Just ask the Los Angeles Angels.


A Dominant World Series Performance while on the Mound at Yankee Stadium

October 29, 2009

An in-his-prime Cy Young Award winning pitcher was making the start in Game One of the World Series on the hill at Yankee Stadium (one of the few stadiums left that does not receive money for naming rights). He completely dominates the Bronx Bombers power laden lineup, and out dueled the Yankees ace left handed pitcher.

Having won the prior years World Series, his team was seeking to become the first National League team since the Big Red Machine in 1975-76 to repeat as a World Series Champions. The Yankees meanwhile, had not been to the Series in years and were looking to continue their comeback kid way of the prior playoff series.

However, on this Game One night only the Yankee shortstop and lead off hitter, Derek Jeter, crossed the plate, while a former Boston Red Sox hitter batting second for the Yankees had one of the few hits allowed by this veteran stud pitcher. 

A young slugger for this pitcher’s team hit two home runs, one a mammoth shot whose sound of bat meeting ball reverberated throughout the stadium, that is until the entire stadium went quiet. After the second home run in as many at bats, the way this starter was pitching, it was apparent to Yankee fans knew the game was likely out reach.  

Even this Yankee fan predicted that the Yankees would win Game One.

And on this night, the Yankee bullpen put gasoline on the fire, doing their part to allow that loss to materialize.

This pitcher had the Yankees waving at pitches all night, continuing his utter dominance in the post season. Up to this game, the pitcher started Game One in both prior series, was undefeated with a ridiculously low ERA and WHIP, handily defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers along the way.

His great start and solid offense from his teams lineup gave the Yankees thoughts that the Series might not go as they expected. They knew that even if they won the next couple games, they would have to face this ace once again.

After Game One, a Yankee hitter lamented that the next time his team “might have to beat that guy 1-0 or 2-1 the next time they face him.”

Could the Yankees beat this guy the second time around, likely going head to head again with that lefty Yankee ace on the hill?

Of course they can…and they already did! And that pitching rematch was one of the classic duels in World Series history, and the Yankees went on to win the World Series title.

Cliff Lee and 2009? Hardly.

We are talking about John Smoltz and 1996. He tore through the playoffs that season, and beat the Yankees in Game One , with Andruw Jones smacking the ball over the fence twice. Smoltz and Andy Pettitte both came back again in Game Five with masterful performances, only to see the Yankees win that duel 1-0. 

And that was AFTER the Yankees lost Game Two at home to a magician on the mound named Greg Maddux, similar to a magician the Yankees face tonight in Pedro Martinez.

So, all those prognosticators who think this 2009 Series has already taken a bad turn for the Yankees because of Lee’s dominance should look back at 1996. There was nobody better than Smoltz that season, and the Yankees beat him 1-0 the second time around.

MATSUI’S GAFFE

Anytime a ball is hit in the air within the infield, it is the runners job to get back to the bag. If the ball drops, it is the batter’s job to hustle down the first base line to beat a throw. Do your job and don’t worry about the other guy.

No matter what happened to that mini-pop up hit by Robinson Cano last night, Hideki Matsui should have been on first base immediately after the ball was hit. He never would have been safe on second anyway! Cano hustled down the line and thought he beat the relay throw, but he was actually out on the catch. Matsui needed to be back to the bag (and not on the infield grass!).

And where was the first base coach during all of this? Why was he not yelling to Matsui to come back to first? Stupid play all around and it goes to show that some ballplayers live on talent, and not on brains.

YANKEE HITTERS

Many times last night the Yankee hitters were consumed with home plate umpires Gerry Davis strike zone. Most of the times the strike zone was too tight as Cliff Lee, Phil Hughes and David Robertson were all severely pinched, but Cano and Melky Cabrera showed displeasure when strike calls were made.

Showing disgust toward the ump will get you no sympathy as the umps usually have long memories. As a hitter you will not get many calls your way after complaining.

Disgust on the field also takes the hitter out of his approach at the plate. While now a hitter is thinking about the SOB calling balls and strikes, the hitter should be concentrating on the pitcher and the count.

Don’t ever let the umpire dictate how you approach the at bat. If the zone is bigger than you thought, don’t swing at bad pitches early, but expand the zone with two strikes.

But players need to feel out the umpire and adjust accordingly. I would much rather see hitters voice displeasure than pitchers get squeezed. A bigger zone puts more balls in play. When I first began umpiring (now doing high school and college level baseball), I was told to start out thinking every pitch will be a strike, then after the ball is thrown find a good reason why it should not be.

WORKING THE COUNT – TAKING TOO MANY PITCHES

Rogers Horsnby was the greatest right handed hitter ever . His 1921-1925 seasons were absolutely sick. His first mantra was to GET A GOOD PITCH TO HIT. Ted Williams stuck to this mantra his entire career.

But now the game has changed to taking good pitches to hit. That is a bad move.

The Yankee hitters were taking too many fastballs down the middle early in the game. Do the Yankees really think they are going to pitch count Lee out of the game? This working the count is the biggest crock in baseball, especially the World Series game one. If the game was tight near the end, Charlie Manuel was NEVER going to pull Lee out of the game. He learned that lesson in the NLCS when he pulled Pedro too early and lost Game Two in Los Angeles.

The way to get Lee out of a game like that is to knock him around by spraying balls all round the field. And you do that by going after good pitches to hit early in the count.

You hear the announcers all the time saying, “So and so should be able to go another inning because he has a good pitch count.” Go another inning?

How about demanding to you manager that you will go nine innings and then shove the ball down the oppositions throat. Intimidate the other lineup by letting your ace dominate. Tell the other team, you can’t beat me and I won’t let you ease your minds by allowing the bullpen to come in this game. Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa made that mistake in the NLDS by removing Adam Wainwright after eight brilliant innings against the Dodgers.

UMPIRES

There was almost another umpire mistake on the Cano infield pop up, but the correct call was eventually made. But the real problem is not the lack of umpire knowledge, but that umpires do not like to break that cardinal rule of overruling another umpire, especially a veteran guy.

After the second base umpire called Cano out on Jimmy Rollins’ catch he should have called Matsui out also when he saw Ryan Howard tag out Hideki. He should have rules on the out at first immediately EVEN IF IT IS NOT HIS CALL. he is the only one who clearly saw the catch made, so he should have the say on the first base call, too.

It appears these umps are too timid to make an immediate call, and replay on everything will only make that worse. Umpires should run the game and not worry about feelings or god forbid, worry about the media.

And in the next TV contract negotiations, Major League baseball should tell the networks that the strike zone F/x garbage shown on every pitch should be outlawed. It leads to too many psuedo-baseball fans complaining about every pitch.

AJ BURNETT

I have read many pieces today that all the pressure is on AJ Burnett to live up to that $80 million contract and pitch the Yankees to victory.

Fans at the game should just let the guy pitch tonight without putting more pressure on him. He gets out of whack quickly and fans jumping down his throat will only aggravate the situation.

That is such garbage. Sports contracts are like investments and those disclaimers at the bottom of the prospectus or spoken really fast at the end of a commercial. These disclaimers say that “past performance is not indicative of future results.”

Burnett was paid that money based upon what he did last season, pure and simple. It does not indicate how he will pitch in “big spots” or “pressure games.”

Big contract’s don’t force players to play better. If that was the case, would giving CC Sabathia another $100 million last winter forced him to pitch better last night?

So, before Yankee fans boo every ball out of the strike zone thrown by AJ and boo every out Alex Rodriguez makes, just remember that these guys will be here many more years and as a fan, you are not making it any better or easier.

Let these guys play and leave them alone.

Yankees win tonight 7-3 as Pedro gets knocked around.


Thoughts on the 2009 World Series

October 28, 2009

The two best teams in baseball, most home runs and runs scored in each league, plus one stat which surprised me: both the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies led their leagues in stolen base percentage, with each having an over 80 percent success rate.

Power and speed, plus a lethal starting pitcher at the top of the rotation for both teams.

The Yankees will win in five games, after taking a 3-0 series lead.


Starting Pitching

Expect both CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee to go in Games One, Four and Seven, if necessary. If the Yankees are up 3-0, then CC will not go Game Four. There is no way that Charlie Manuel throws Joe Blanton in a must-win situation, as Blanton has terrible numbers against the Yankees in his career, a 0-3 record and over 8.00 ERA.

The weather in Game One can affect a “feel” pitcher like Lee; look for the Yankees to see if he is hitting his spots early on. If he is not, the Yankees will force Lee to come over the plate with his pitches, where it will be light-up city. When Lee struggled over a couple starts in Philadelphia, he said it was because “he wasn’t locating his fastball” and he got knocked around.

It will happen again in Game One.

Same thing with Pedro Martinez starting in Game Two. The Yankees will be patient with his junk stuff, and Pedro may be effective one time through the lineup. The Yankees will begin to lay off the off-speed stuff and force Pedro to come over the middle, where he is not the same Pedro that pitched at the Stadium in big games. I was there in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS, when Martinez was masterful until the end.

Not this year. He does not have the power stuff to alleviate all the Yankee big bats.

Pettitte will not go on three days rest, as he has not done that in about three seasons. Unlike the ALCS, Gaudin will get more than a token inning on the mound.

Look for Joe Girardi to go with Sabathia in Game Four if the Yankees are up or down 2-1, but if they take a 3-0 series lead, look for Chad Gaudin to pitch Game Four and CC to come back on normal rest in a Game Five, if necessary. Then it would be Burnett in Game 6 and CC and Pettitte both available for a Game Seven.

The Yankee starting pitching will dominate the Phillies lineup and I expect the Yankees to take a 3-0 lead in the series.


Power Lineups

Both teams have crushed the ball this year, and the team that wins the World Series will do it with slugging. Do not look for the small ball to come into play like it did for the Yankees in the ALCS. Unlike the Los Angeles Angels, who provided no power throughout the ALCS, the Phillies can put up big innings in a hurry, so look for the Yankees to “let their players play” and for Girardi to go for the big innings.

Alex Rodriguez will continue to rake and Mark Teixeira will have a big series, as he started to hit late in the ALCS and has great numbers in his career against both Lee and Cole Hamels.

The Yankees starting pitching will, for the most part, contain the Phillies’ vaunted lineup. Ryan Howard has had a great postseason thus far, but does not have good numbers against the Yankees’ top three starters. The two lefties in Sabathia and Andy Pettitte will neutralize the lefty bats of Howard, Chase Utley, and Raul Ibanez.

Look for Jayson Werth to have a pretty good series, as he is hot right now and has very good power to right field, great in both Yankee Stadium and Citizen’s Bank Park. Jimmy Rollins (more on him later) and Shane Victorino will get their on base opportunities, but will not score much, as the big lefty boppers will falter.

Speaking of Werth, he is only a Phillie player BECAUSE of AJ Burnett. How?

In 2005, Burnett hit Werth (then a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers) in the wrist with a pitch, breaking it. Werth was not a good player in 2005 and missed most of 2006 with various wrist aliments. After two terrible years in LA, the Dodgers released Werth, who was then signed by Phillies GM Pat Gillick, who drafted Werth when Gillick ran the Toronto Blue Jays.

Interesting to see how Burnett pitches to Werth Thursday night.


Posada VS. Molina

Although Girardi is talking tough about keeping Jose Molina as Burnett’s personal catcher, look for Posada to start every game in the series, even with Burnett on the mound.

First, runs will be at a premium against the Phillies, and Posada’s bat is lethal in Yankee Stadium. Second, Girardi pulled Molina early in Burnett’s last start, and AJ was dealing just as well with Posada behind the plate for innings five and six in Game Five out in LA.


Jimmy Rollins

Who cares what predictions are made? What players, especially one of Rollins’ caliber (he was an MVP), doesn’t think their team is going to win?

And as far as the bulletin board material, it does not work in baseball. This sport is not the same as basketball or football, as you cannot physically dominate your opponent. If Brett Favre disses the Green Bay Packers before the game this Sunday (and I think he did already), then the defense can really put extra effort into ripping his head off during the game.

In baseball, players who go on emotion often get out of their realm and do not play as well. Baseball is not an emotional game. Emotional play is a detriment and leads to overthrowing pitches and making mistakes.

The talk is good for the media because there is nothing else to talk about, but the players don’t care, and nor should we.

Jimmy Rollins is a fun-loving player who does his job, didn’t complain last season when Charlie Manuel benched him, and seems to play his best when the situation is most tense. His fun-loving nature and talking ability are good, but it doesn’t help or hurt the Yankees.

It’s just Jimmy being Jimmy.
The Managers

Girardi and Manuel are polar opposites, with General Joe being more of a stat guy, with matchups and binders of stats, while Manuel is more of a gut guy, who goes on instinct and “old school” baseball thoughts. (Although I did feel that Charlie over-managed that Pedro Martinez game in Los Angeles during the NLCS and should have left Pedro in to pitch. That was my gut instinct, but I always love to leave an effective pitcher in the game.)

But I feel Girardi learned his over-managing lesson after the David Robertson fiasco (also out in LA—what is it with removing effective pitchers out in La-La Land?). He had less pitching changes in the games after that Game Three than he did before, and he was quoted after the series that “he let his players play more.”

That is the key in baseball: let your players play; and the Yankees players have too much more talent than the Phillies do, both in their lineup and on the mound. Managers are more important during the regular season grind of 162 games, nursing the team through slumps and injuries, plus the little volcanoes that erupt over six months.

But the postseason is about the players. Managers need to make out the lineups and let the players play. Managers can do more harm than good during these tight contests. If managers act like a government entity and do too much, it hinders the team.

Get out the way!

The Outcome

Although the Phillies’ pitchers (especially the relievers) were effective in the NLCS, the Dodgers’ lineup is a lot different than the Yankees’ lineup.

Yankees bludgeon their way to a 27th World Series title, taking the first three games before winning in five.


ALCS Thoughts through Five Games and a Game Six Prediction

October 25, 2009

Well, the Yankees dropped their first series of the postseason, losing two of three from the Angels. I thought this would happen, but I also thought the Halos would take one of the first two games in Yankee Stadium; their defense and untimely hitting made that impossible.

The Angels changed their approaches while playing at home. During Games One and Two, Vladimir Guerrero was constantly being challenged inside and he never once came though with a big hit.

However, during Game Three, he tied the game at three all with a two-out, two-run homer off of Andy Pettitte. When Guerrero first came to the plate that game I said to my friend, “Vlad’s off the plate more than he was in Games One and Two. He is compensating for his slow bat.” Just last week, I wrote that Vlad was being pounded inside by the Yankee pitchers. We went to MLB.com and saw video of Vlad in Game Two and from Game Three.

Vlad was off the plate more in Game Three and this little adjustment helped the Angels take two of three.

Being off the plate allows an inside ball to become a pitch Vlad is better able to hit. And he showed that with the tying home run. The Yankees have to notice this and begin to mix up their locations. Always a game (and series of adjustments), Vlad also came through in the crucial Game Five with a game-tying, two-out single off Phil Hughes.

He is not back to the old Vlad, but the Yankees need to realize they must mix their locations more and not leave pitches over the middle of the plate for him.

Or for Jeff Mathis, for that matter.

The Angels backup catcher is known as more of a good field, no-stick catcher who only hit .211/.288./.308/.596 with just 13 XBH in 272 plate appearances (PA). His line last season was about the same, only he was below the Mendoza line. And Mathis strikes out way too much for a hitter, as he totaled 90 whiffs in 2008 (in 328 PA) and 72 K’s this year.

And here is a quirky stat: Mathis has struck out the same number of times as the amount of total bases he produced in each of the past two seasons. He totaled 90 bases last year and 72 this season and had the exact same number of whiffs.

That is almost impossible for a non-pitcher to attain. A hitter who is that unproductive usually is not in the majors very long.

Defense is why Mathis is in the majors, but offense is why he is playing more in the ALCS, where he is hitting .600 (6 for 10) with four doubles. He is also John Lackey’s personal catcher, catching the pitcher’s last 19 starts, including the three Lackey started this postseason.

In fact, Mathis was behind the plate for this game, a Lackey win over CC Sabathia on July 12. Mathis will get a chance to hit again this series, starting Game Six behind the plate. Scioscia is banking on Mathis’ hot bat to keep going strong.

Mathis will not have much of an offensive impact in Game Six.


Bobby Abreu

Doesn’t it seem like every time there is a called strike on the Angels right fielder, that he has a look of disgust on his face? It appears that Abreu thinks any time he takes a pitch, it should never be called a strike. He is a patient hitter, walks a lot, taught the Angels’ hitters to be patient, blah, blah, blah, but Abreu is not Ted Williams.

(There is a great story about a young catcher who asked the home plate umpire where a close pitch was on a certain lefty slugger. The umpire replied the pitch was outside, when the catcher said, “No it wasn’t, it was right on the corner.” The umpire came back with, “the batter up right now son is Mr. Ted Williams and he has such a good batting eye that if Mr. Williams does not swing at a pitch, it is most certainly off the plate.”)

Abreu has not had a good series, going 3-for-21 (.143 BA) with two doubles and one RBI. He has an uncharacteristic seven strikeouts, one for every three at-bats. Instead of taking all these good pitches for strikes, it might be wise to adjust a little and begin swinging earlier, at better pitches.


Nick
Swisher

Swisher had the ultimate opportunity to cleanse his putrid ALCS system with a go-ahead hit against Angels reliever Brian Fuentes on Thursday night. The two-out, 3-2 pitch from Fuentes was a virtual meatball, right down the middle at 89 MPH. A very, very hittable pitch.

And Swisher muffed it. It is impossible to come through all the time in big situations, but on a pitch like that from Fuentes, the odds of getting a hit go up immeasurably. All the pressure was on Fuentes to throw a strike as he did not want to walk the ever patient (and walk machine) Yankee right fielder.

But it was Swisher who wilted under the pressure. In between every pitch in that at-bat, Swisher was seen taking huge deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. Wilting under playoff pressure is nothing new for Swish, as he has been a dud in most of his other postseason experiences.

That is why I felt it strange Yankee manager Joe Girardi did not “rest” Swisher in Game Five against the right-handed Angels starter, John Lackey, giving the start to speedy Brett Gardner. In that case, Girardi would be using Gardner’s speed to give better defense and on the bases a few times a game.

Gardner offers different weapons than Swisher, but it is all dependent on him getting on base; he couldn’t be any worse than Swisher at getting on base at this point. Also, Lackey has shown often in this series that he can be agitated on the mound, and what better way to agitate a pitcher than to have speed on the bases.

But that being said, Swisher will likely start against lefty Joe Saunders tonight. Any other righty power hitters on the Yankee bench, or even in their system?

Shelley Duncan, where are you? Better yet, this role will be played next season by youngster Jesus Montero, who will be only 20, but his bat is Major League ready right now.


John Lackey

Speaking of Lackey and his attitude, unless the Angels win Game Six in New York and/or get to the World Series, the really good, right-handed pitcher has thrown his last game for the Angels. His demonstrative actions on the mound shows his competitive spirit, but he must bring up his issues with his manager before the inning or while the pitching coach visited the mound earlier.

Lackey can not show his manager up in that situation, although Mike Scioscia was clearly wrong in pulling Lackey with bases loaded and no outs in the seventh inning. Lackey had a 4-0 lead, giving up no runs in the contest!

Imagine Johnny Keane pulling Bob Gibson during a must-win game. Imagine Walter Alston pulling Sandy Koufax in the mid ’60s, or even Tommy Lasorda pulling Orel Hershiser during a key game during the last two months or the postseason in 1988.

And who was Hershiser’s catcher during that season?

Mike Scioscia, who should know that No. 1 starters in the playoffs deserve any benefit of the doubt in key spots.

That is why Lackey, a free agent after this season, will definitely leave the Angels for greener pastures. Lackey also showed his Steve Carlton and Jim Palmer frustrations with his defense in Game One after Eric Aybar let Hideki Matsui’s pop-up drop in the first inning.

And forget it, New York Met fans, who would love to sign Lackey to a free agent contract. It is not going to happen. Why would any big-name free agent choose to play for that joke of an organization like the Mets over any other team with a chance at playing in the postseason? With Omar Minaya’s negative exploits this season, most free agents are using the Mets to bid up prices for other teams.


Joe Girardi

It has been written ad nauseum about Girardi’s managerial decisions regarding bullpen management. Bottom line is Girardi has gone with Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera the entire second half as covering the last two innings. Even though Hughes has struggled, and David Robertson has succeeded throughout the playoffs, there is no way Girardi will take Hughes out of his customary 2009 eighth inning role.

But, Girardi might need to utilize D-Rob’s talents more often, and for longer stretches, in future postseason games.

With Hughes and Joba Chamberlain likely going into next season’s rotation, Robertson is going to have the leg up on Mark Melancon and others for next season’s eighth inning role in front of Rivera.

That being said, if there is a Yankee lead in the seventh inning tonight, two outs and men on base, I go with a well rested Mariano Rivera for two-plus innings.

I still do not know why Girardi pinch hit Francisco Cervelli in Game Three for Rivera when Mo could easily have gone another inning or two. The “DelGrippo Rule” on postseason games is win the game you are currently playing and worry about balance of the series tomorrow.

There is no need to go with something other than your best in a close situation. Guys like Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle, John Hiller, and Rich Gossage used to continuously go multiple innings in important games.

In that classic Game 163 on Oct. 2, 1978, Goose went two-and-two-thirds innings for the save in the Yankees 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox for the American League East title. It was done then and could be done now. Rivera went three innings in Game Seven of that 2003 ALCS versus Boston. I know both were lose and go home games, but these guys can do more than what current managers are asking.
My Take on Tonight

I originally picked the Angels in six games. I never like to pick a team in seven games in a baseball series because of too many variables in one baseball game. Your team could have a Bob Gibson gem, and still have a Curt Flood type of play lose the game for you.

I thought the Angels would take one in New York, win two of three at home, and have Joe Saunders pitch great in a Game Six back in New York. However, I did not anticipate how much they would be affected by the poor weather in New York and play lousy defense.

Instead of the Angels going for a clincher tonight, it is the Yankees going for series victory. That is the big difference in this Game Six.

The Yankees have been amazing all year in their home park, and there is no reason to believe this will change. There is no aura about the Stadium, no ghosts from Ruth, Gehrig, or DiMaggio who will help their old team.

What they will get is an effective start from Pettitte with Mariano closing it out. While I believe Girardi should use Mo earlier and longer tonight, General Joe will likely go with his usual seventh and eighth inning guys. His reasoning is that you need to keep guys for tomorrow’s game, but the idea is to go all-out to win tonight and worry about tomorrow…well, tomorrow.

Jeter and Alex have big nights with the bat, and the Yankees win 7-3.

A Cleveland Indians fan’s worst nightmare comes true Wednesday night, as Sabathia faces the Philadelphia Phillies‘ Cliff Lee, both former Indians Cy Young winners, in Game One of the World Series.


Thoughts on the Recent Three Game Series in Anaheim

October 23, 2009

Well, the Yankees dropped their first series of the post season, losing two of three from the Angels. I thought this would happen, but I also thought the Halos would take one of the first two games in Yankee Stadium, but their defense and untimely hitting made that impossbile.

The Angels changed their approaches while playing at home. During Games 1 and 2, Vladimir Guerrero was constantly being challenged inside and he never once came though with a big hit.

However, during Game Three he tied the game at three all with a two-out, two-run homer off of Andy Pettitte. When Guerrero first came to the plate that game I said to my friend, “Vlad’s off the plate more than he was in Games 1 and 2. He is compensating for his slow bat.” Just last week, I wrote that Vlad was being pounded inside by the Yankee pitchers. We went to MLB.com and saw video of Vlad in Game 2 and from Game 3.

Vlad was off the plate more in Game 3 and this little adjustment helped the Angels take two of three out there.

Being off the plate allows an inside ball to become a pitch Vlad is better able to hit. And he showed that with the tying home run. The Yankees have to notice this and begin to mix up their locations. Always a game (and series of adjustments). Vlad also came through in crucial Game 5 with a game tying, two-out single off Phil Hughes.

He is not back to the old Vlad, but the Yankees need to realize they must mix their locations more and not leave pitches over the middle of the plate to him.

Or to Jeff Mathis for that matter. The Angels back up catcher is known as more of a good field, no stick catcher who only it .211/.288./.308/.596 with only 13 XBH in 272 plate appearances (PA). His line last season was about the same, only he was below the Mendoza line. And Mathis strikes out way too much for a hitter, as he totaled 90 whiffs last season (in 328 PA) and 72 K’s in 2009.

And here is a quirky stat: Mathis has struck out the same number of times as the amount of total bases he produced in each of the past two seasons. He totaled 90 bases last year and 72 this season and had the exact same number of whiffs.

That is almost impossible for a non-pitcher to attain. A hitter who is that unproductive usually is not in the majors very long.

Defense is why Mathis is in the majors, but offense is why he is playing more in the ALCS, where he is hitting .600 (6 for 10) with four doubles. He is also John Lackey’s personal catcher. As a Yankee fan, I hope Mathis does not get a chance to hit again this series, meaning there is no Game 7 and a possiblity of Lackey going on short rest. 

BOBBY ABREU

Doesn’t it seem like every time there is a called strike on the Angels right fielder, that he has a look of disgust on his face? It never appears that Abreu thinks any time he takes a pitch, it should be called a strike. He is a patient hitter, walks a lot, taught the Angels hitters to be patient, blah, blah, blah but Abreu is not Ted Williams.

There is a great story about a young catcher who asked the home plate umpire where a close pitch was on a certain lefty slugger. The umpire replied the pitch was outside, when the catcher said, “No it wasn’t, it was right on the corner.” The umpire came back with, “the batter up right now son is Mr. Ted Williams and he has such a good batting eye that if Mr. Williams does not swing at a pitch, it is most ceratinly off the plate.”

Abreu has not had a good series, going 3 for 21 (.143 BA) with two doubles and one RBI. He has an uncharacteristic seven strikeouts, one for every three at bats. Instead of taking all these good pitches for strikes, it might be wise to adjust a little and begin swinging earlier at better pitches to hit.

NICK SWISHER

Swisher had the ultimate opportunity to cleanse his putrid ALCS system with a go-ahead hit against Angels closer Brian Fuentes on Thursday night. The two- out, 3-2 pitch from Fuentes was a virtual meatball, down the middle at 89 MPH. A very, very hittable pitch.

And Swisher muffed it. It is impossible to come through all the time in big situations but on a pitch like that from Fuentes, the odds of getting a hit go up immeasurably, and a good major league hitter like Swisher should have rocked that pitch. All the pressure was on Fuentes to throw a strike as he did not want to walk the ever patient (and walk machine) Yankee right fielder.

But it was Swisher would wilted under the pressure. In between every pitch in that at bat, Swisher was seen taking huge deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. Wilting under playoff pressure is nothing new for Swish, as he has been a dud in most of his other post season experiences.

That is why I felt it strange Yankee manbager Joe Girardi did not “rest” Swisher in Game 5 against the right handed Angels starter John Lackey. I thought Girardi should give the start to Brett Gardner, using his speed to give better defense and utilize Gardner’s speed on the bases a few times a game except for once a game.

Gardner offers different weapons than Swisher and it is all dependent on Gardner getting on base, but he couldn’t be any worse than Swisher at getting on base at this point. Also, Lackey has shown often in this series that he can be agitated on the mound, and what better way to agitate a pitcher than to have speed on the bases.

But that being said, Swisher will likely start against lefty Joe Saunders tonight. Any other righty power hitters on the Yankee bench, or even in their system?

Shelley Duncan where are you? Better yet, this role will be played next season by Jesus Montero.


Thoughts from Saturday Night’s Epic 13 Inning ALCS Game 2

October 18, 2009

When Jerry Hairston scored in the bottom of the 13th inning, it ended another improbable New York Yankee win. Improbable because the Angels played a pretty decent game, and had the Yankees down one with three outs to go.

The Angels had so many opportunities to score and win, but their inability to get the big hit really hurt. The Halos had 20 base runners last night, but scored only two runs, and their hitters left 28 runners on base!

I love when people scream about OBP and how that is the most important thing in the game. Tell that to the Angels last Saturday night who had the 20 base runners, several times with bases loaded. They got their guys on base, but could not get them in. Every team gets guys on base every game.* But you need the productive hitters to drive them in.

 And the Angels did not do that in Game 2. And for the most part, the Yankees didn’t get their runners in either.

*Well, runners did not get on base for a single game 17 different times, most recently this past season in Chicago.

PITCHING INSIDE

Have you noticed all the inside pitching going on the ALCS? The Yankees were pounding the fastball inside to Chone Figgins, Bobby Abreu, Torri Hunter and Vlad Guerrero in Games 1 and 2. Basically the entire lineup but primarily those four. And you know what? They were a combined 6 for 36 with one RBI, which was Figgins’ bloop single down the left field line in Game 2’s extra innings.

And a few of those six hits were bloops or bleeders because the Yankees are pitching inside.

There are a variety of reasons why it is important to pitch inside, namely it is the toughest area for a hitter to put the good part of the bat on the ball. Guerrero and Hunter can not catch up with the fastball, espcially Vlad, who looked very slow with the bat. And when he starts to look inside, Joba whiffed him on a slider low and away, the second spot impossible to consistenly hit the ball hard.

Also, about this time of year, hitters are tired, their legs are sore and this slows their swings. Hitting is all in the legs.

So, the Yankees are throwing inside hard stuff to the Angels hitters and daring them to show they can hit the hard fastball inside. Since the Angels have yet to do that look for the Yankees to continue to pound them inside.

It also could be that the Angels are not used to the cold, weather, especially all the Latin players on their team, and getting pitched inside in the cold is not the best feeling in the world.

The Yankees are being pitched inside, too. Alex has had a hard time with the inside pitch. He takes most of the inside fastballs, has popped up others (Saturday night with the bases loaded), but on three big middle to outside pitches, he has powered game tying home runs the other way.

Jeter had his home run to right field, but has struggled most of the time inthe ALCS with the hard inside pitches. Same with Cano, whose only big hit was a breaking pitch AWAY which he pulled for the RBI triple.

Maybe it was the colder weather that played a role in this pitching attack by both sides, but I am postive this method will continue in the warmer climate of Anaheim.

GUERRERO’S STRUGGLES

He can not hit the inside pitch, and since legs are a big part of  a players bat speed, it makes me wonder if Vlad’s numerous leg and back injuries over the years have taken a toll. He hit many weak ground balls Saturday night with AJ Burnett and a crew of relievers pounding him in.

This is not a good time for Guerrero to show weakness as he is a free agent this off season. As his ego will want him to get big dollars, it does not look like the Angels will bring him back, and Vlad might have to settle for a one year deal somewhere with lots of incentives. Maybe the Twins (between Mauer and Morneau) would be interested in this right handed power bat, or maybe the Red Sox if Jason Bay gets away via free agency.

Baseball is a game of adjustments. An idea at the major league level to hit the inside pitch is just to look inside ONLY with less than two strikes, and hit pitches early in the count. Never “work the count” if you are struggling as getting behind early is only going to cause a hitter to think more at the plate. Look for the fastball inside early, and if you get it, rip the pitch.

DEFENISIVE STRUGGLES

It simply amazes me that both team are making serious mistakes in the field. Not just with the physical errors of Jeter and Cano, plus the throw in the 13th by Cesar Izturis, but the mental mistakes too. Physical errors can be overcome, but mental errors are game changers.

Their is no way Izturis should have tried to turn that double play. Fielders have to understand the speed of the runners (including the batter/runner) and Melky Cabrera moves very well down first base line, and he has beaten out several double play relays this season. With one out, the play was to first base. The way the hitters were failing with runenrs in scoring position all night, gettign the secure second out at first base was the right move.

I always teach my second basemen in youth leagues and high school that where the ball is hit usually dictates where you go with the ball. When Melky hit that ball into the seocnd base hole, the only play was to get the out at first.

SAFE CALL AT SECOND BASE

A tremendously gutsy call for the second base umpire. Eric Aybar never even came close to touching the bag, and that was caused by Cabrera’s hustle from first to second in trying to break up the double play. Normally, Aybar would have come forward to the bag, taken the throw then moving still moving forward, touched the base and made the throw.

But when he saw Melky charging into second base like the second coming of Don Baylor, he did not move forward, and never touched second. The hustle of the runner caused this and it was rewarded I can not believe that the two announcers continued to speak how it was a bad call.

McCarver especially. He also mentioned that he did not realize that the speed of the baseball was slower when it reached the plate as opposed to when the pitcher initially releases the ball. This is shown on FOX’s new pitch tracker gadget.

 


Los Angeles Angels Were Never in the New York Yankees Head

October 18, 2009

Heading into a three game series at Anaheim in late September, the Yankees were in the middle of another West Coast road trip, and the Boston Red Sox were casually in the midst of a nice winning streak. The Yankees lead in the AL East had shrunk to only five games, and the Yankees were heading into a Stadium which they had not fared very well over the last half decade.

Over the prior five seasons the Yankees were a combined 5-18 against the Angels in Anaheim, including an embarrassing three game sweep at Anaheim this season just before the All Star break. In that July series, the Yankee pitchers allowed 29 runs in the three games, and entering the middle innings, the Yankees had leads in all three contests.

In addition, the Yankees have played in two playoff series with the Mike Scioscia led Angels.

In both the 2002 and 2005 ALDS Series, both Yankee losses, the Bombers were 1-4 at Anaheim.

Then, the Yankees proceeded to drop the first game of that September series, and sat five games ahead of the Red Sox who had lost to lowly Kansas City. But the Yankees still had two more against the Angels and the Sox still were playing the last place Royals.

Why do the Yankees, team with arguably the best track record in the last 15 years, have a problem with the Angels?

Several reasons.

First, the Angels are good, with good players and a good, secure coaching staff. I say secure because the coaches have pretty much been the same since Mike Scioscia took over. No hotheaded firings over lost playoff series, no cannings because your cleanup hitter decided to go into a funk during September and October. No pitching coach turnstile because of too many sliders left hanging over the middle of the plate.

The hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, first base coach Alfredo Griffin, and bench coach Ron Roenicke have all been with the team since Scioscia was named manager.  The third base coach this season, was the bench coach before switching with Roenicke. The only change on Scioscia’s staff was at pitching coach when then Angel pitching coach Bud Black became manager of the San Diego Padres.

The coaches know how to do things as a team. But while the coaching stability and team concept are so important during the regular season grind, it is up to the players to perform in the post season. And the Angels had better teams than the Yankees those years, playing better baseball when it mattered.

One great thing I heard during the Yankees telecasts from Anaheim in September is that the Angels are first in MLB in going from first to third on a single. That is immensely important in putting pressure on a defense. The cool thing, however, was that the Angels also want their minor leaguers to attempt more stolen bases to learn how to improve and do it correctly, and to attempt to go from first to third. They do not mind getting thrown out on either play because they want their farmhands to play Angel baseball.

I remember a town (Union, NJ) near where I grew up (Cranford, NJ) which had tremendous high school football and baseball teams. They played in the top division in the state, and won many Group and State titles in both sports. The revered high school coaches taught the “Union HS way” to the local Pop Warner and Little Leagues, teaching the kids what they would expect to do at the high school level. When the kids arrived in high school, they were well versed in the proper methods of play.

Anyway, the Yankees won to win the final two games of that September series, built up their AL East lead again. But many pundits said the Yankees got that proverbial monkey (the Angels rally monkey perhaps?) off their back.

But the Angels never were “in the Yankee heads.” It is tough to win against a good team when you are on a cross country trip. Even the Red Sox were only 7-12 at Anaheim, but their 3-0 record in two playoff series during that span outweighs their less than .500 regular season record. 

It is tougher to win on the West coast during the regular season because teams are usually in the midst of seven to 10 game trips away from home, and it is a grind day after day. Combine that with the talent the Angels have had, and the pressure their style of play put on the opposition, and it makes sense that the Yankees did not play well there.

The Angels have been a  good team the last eight years or so, winning five division titles and one World Series title in 2002. It is based upon stability of the coaching staff, as many players have come and gone through their system. Only #1 starter John Lackey has been there since 2002. This team is not afraid to play their youngsters, evidenced by starting the rookie Lackey in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series.

The Angels have been a successful over the last eight years or so, and they have had the team concept better than anyone.

But they have never been in the Yankee heads.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.