Yankees Exorcise and Slay Two Red Demons

September 29, 2009

At this time last week, the Yankees were coming off losing two of three against the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees were heading into a grueling week of having to face the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at their place for three games, then home to face the rival Boston Red Sox.

With Boston only five games back after last Sunday (and four in the loss column), many prognosticators said the upcoming schedule could be a problem for the Yankees winning the division. The Red Sox were coming off a three game sweep at Baltimore, and had won 10 of 11. And to make it better, while the Yankees were at the AL West Division leading Angels, the Red Sox were heading to play four games against the AL Central cellar dwelling Kansas City Royals.

Hell, the pythagorean win percentage after last Sunday was .588 for both the Yankees and the Red Sox!

Holy pythagorean percentage Batman! That is why they play the games, Robin!

What the prognosticators did not realize is that this Yankee team is a relentless bunch of winners, who thrive under pressure.

Then the Yankees lost again as they dropped their first game of the three game series to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It is amazing how quickly Yankee fans (actually all New York fans) can change their tune from game to game.

That loss dropped the Yankees to 6-18 in Anaheim Stadium over the last five years. Plus, the Bombers dropped two playoff series to the Mike Scioscia led Angels during his tenure at the helm. In those two series in 2002 and 2005, the Yankees were 1-4 out in Anaheim.

The Angels were also the only team to have a winning record against the Joe Torre led Yankee teams.

Bu that has all changed now. The Yankees took the last two games at Anaheim to take the three game series. They also did it the way the Angels usually beat the Yankees. Key hits, speed on the bases and the occasional home run.

They Yankees deep lineup scored early in both of the wins, getting home runs from Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada and a few big hits in Wednesday afternoon’s contest from Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera.

The C and C boys were back at it again in the second victory over the Angels. For a fourth outfield type, Cabrera has had a pretty good season, and is starting pretty much every day. And Brett Gardner showed why the Yankees have always been high on him, utilizing his speed to steal a run (and the game) in Tuesday night’s victory.

Gardner is a weapon that includes good defense, great speed and the ability to disrupt a game for the opposition. Basically, he plays Angel baseball*. The more he plays at the major league level, the better he will get. Gardner has shown this throughout his professional career. He gets to a level, then adjusts and improves.

That is the deal with young players. They need to play consistently at this level in order to get better. That goes for position players like Gardner, Cabrera and Cano and pitchers like Joba, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

Also, it was a great move by Joe Girardi to get Kennedy some major league work. Looks like, though, IPK will not get a start down the stretch, but is scheduled to go out to the Arizona Fall League and possibly a Winter League stint like he did last season in Puerto Rico.

And when the Yankees came back home, they really only needed to win one game to essentially clinch the division. One victory over the Red Sox this past weekend, would have reduced their magic number to three. ANd if the Yankees even won two more games the rest of the season, the Red Sox needing to win out to even tie.

But the Bombers made quick work of the Red Sox, beating them in several differnt ways. First they bludgeoned them Friday night with a 14 hit attack, led by the red hot Alex Rodriguez’ 3 for 3, 4 RBI performance.

Most telling was Alex hitting a two-run jack off of Red Sox ace Jon Lester. Except for his first ever start against the Yankees, until Friday night, Lester had only given up more than two runs in one other start against the Yankees, a span of seven straight dominating starts against the Yankees.  

The yankes then won both tight games against the Sox, riding the CC Sabathia train to a Saturday win, and using the effective Andy Pettitte to overcome a late deficit to beat the Sox on Sunday 4-2.

Sabathia has been the true ace of the Yankees the second half of the season, going 11-1, with a 2.36 ERA, 1.040 WHIP in 14 second half starts. The Yankees have won 13 of his last 14 starts, and CC has gone into the 7th inning in all but that one loss.

Sunday’s 100th victory, divison clinching game was punctuated by Mark Teixeira’s high drive home run off of fireballer Daniel Bard, he of the 100 MPH fastball. What helped Teixeira in his at bat against Bard on Sunday was seeing Bard Saturday afternoon. Although Teixeira grounded out against Bard Saturday, seeing that fastball a day earlier gives a hitter a better opportunity versus that heater the second time around.

Lately, all three of the Yankees big-money, free agent pickups have contributed to this stretch run. Sabathia could win 20 games, is a true ace and has certainly lived up to his contract, and Teixeira leads the league in RBI’s (and scooped balls thrown in the dirt). Even AJ Burnett has appeared to turn the corner from his August/early September malaise.

Last week was  pivotal time for this team, with its stiffest test in several months.

They passed with flying colors, slaying their two arch rival, red demons along the way.

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Minnesota Twins – Vikings Home Field Situation

September 21, 2009

If the Minnesota Twins come back from their current three games deficit to tie the Detroit Tigers for first place in the American League Central division, they must have a single game playoff. That playoff game will be held at the HomerDome in Minnesota.

This is key for two reasons. One, Detroit finds the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome to be a horrific place to play, and the Tigers would be at a distinct disadvantage by having to play there.

Two, the night that this game is proposed, Monday, October 5th has already a game scheduled. It is the Monday Night Football Game between the Green Bay Packers at the Minnesota Vikings.

Brett Favre playing against his old team, the Packers, for the first time.

Bu the NFL is being a tad strict as they have said they will not switch home sites and move the game out of Minnesota. The NFL and MLB have butted heads for awhile, primarily over the Sunday night telecasts. ESPN has televised the Sunday night baseball game since 1990, and in 1998 ESPN also garnered the Sunday night football package.

During a game on September 20, 1998 to be played between the Baltimore Orioles (they were good back then) and New York Yankees, ESPN sought permission from MLB to move the baseball game to ESPN2 so the NFL game could be on ESPN. The station wanted the higher rated football game to be broadcast on ESPN, which had a larger audience then because that channel was in more homes.

MLB refused, and the baseball game was played on ESPN with the NFL game taking a back seat. This was also the first baseball game in 2,632 contests that Cal Ripken, Jr. did not play.

Not until 2000 did MLB give permission for ESPN to switch games, but by then it was too late. The seeds of bitterness have been sown.

Now, if the Twins tie for the division title, why can’t the game be played during the day? First, the ball is impossible to see during the day, evidenced by the lost fly ball this past Saturday which helped the Twins win that game.  During the day, it is worse, as the sun reflects off the teflon outer shell, making the inside dome the same color as the baseball. If a fielder is not used to the ceiling there, it can be major trouble.

Also, the game if played during the day could not even finish. The field crew at the Metrodome needs time to convert the facility from baseball to football. The Twins have already had a 2004 game stopped in the 11th inning because the field needed to be converted for a University of Minnesota football game.

Imagine Justin Verlander on the mound Monday afternoon on October 5th, and forced to stop pitching because of a time limit on the game?

An easier solution might be for the NFL to move the Monday night game to Sunday night, and have the scheduled Sunday night game that weekend between the San Diego Chargers at the Pittsburgh Steelers moved to Monday night.

Night games are basically the same whether they are Sunday night or Monday night. It is just the announcers who are different*.

* Although he missed much of the game in his later years, and wasn’t as sharp as an analyst, I truly miss John Madden in the booth with Al Michaels. Cris Collingsworth doesn’t do it for me. I think it is Madden’s booming voice that I am so used to, and now realize I will not hear again.

But that idea seems too sensible, especially with the bitterness that seems to still exist between the two leagues, brought on initially by MLB.

 


Something Strange Happened in the Yankee loss at Seattle

September 19, 2009

Last night, the Yankees lost the first game of a brief six game West Coast road trip. Mariano Rivera blew just his second save all season. He had converted 36 straight save opportunities and given up one run in his previous 33 innings.

That wasn’t the strange thing, however.

It was only the fourth time Rivera has ever given up a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th inning.

But that isn’t the strange thing either – although it really is strange for that to happen.

Ichiro Suzuki hit that game winning homer last night, his second straight walk off hit in as many days. That is rare, but not the strange thing I was thinking about.

But something interesting did happen in the Seattle Mariner – New York Yankee game last night.

A starting pitcher entered the 9th inning of a game on the losing end of the score and ended up getting the victory.

King Felix Hernandez was down 2-1 to the Yankees and pitched the top of the 9th, then the Mariners ended up winning the game in the bottom of the 9th. Hernandez got the well deserved victory, but even though Hernandez at that point threw less than 100 pitches, normally a major league manager would of had Felix out after 8 innings.

So instead of a middle inning reliever getting the victory, Felix won his 16th game. Mariner manager Don Wakamatsu definitely had AL CY Young thoughts in his mind.

Those kinds of games rarely happen, and so far I only came across one other this season. Matt Harrison of the Texas Rangers won a game on May 14th while entering the 9th inning on the losing end.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/TEX/TEX200905140.shtml

Ironically, the other team in that game was the Mariners and their bullpen blew a lead (and possible victory) for King Felix, who was removed after 7 innings and 110 pitches.

If starting pitchers were allowed to pitch more than 7 innings or go for complete games then the starters would have higher win totals. As I mentioned above, the M’s manager likely did that to maybe attain Felix another win in his pursuit of the AL Cy Young award.

And it worked.

Zach Greinke is the odds on favorite because of his seriously great numbers, except for wins. And while Felix has great numbers, too, he also has a great Won-Loss percentage.

Greinke has eight no decision this year and the Royals have scored 18 runs. Of those eight no decisions, he left with a lead six times. Why take your best pitcher out of a game in which he has the lead?

Pitch counts? Saving for a rainy day? Plain stupidity. To win games a pitcher needs to stay in the game longer. Why leave a game up to a overpaid Kansas City bullpen?

Many times a #1 starter goes up against the other teams #1, and this season Greinke did that on many occasions. You just have to pitch better than the other guy that day, and if that means allowing no runs, then that is what you have to do to get the win.

Winning games on a non hitting team? Koufax did OK with that, Drysdale too. Even King Felix has done well this year with a less than potent Mariner attack.

And Steve Carlton was pretty good in 1972 also, winning 27 games while his team won only 59 on the season.

The Phillies scored 4 or more runs 18 times in Carlton’s 41 starts, a 37% rate. In Greinke’s 30 starts this season, the Royals have scored 4 or more runs 11 times, a 44% rate.

UPDATE: Cliff Lee also entered the 9th inning on July 21st, losing 1-0 to Toronto and the Indians came back to take the lead in the top of the 9th, with Lee finishing it out. Cliff Lee is a great pitcher. Traded by Omar Minaya along with Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon.

Omar is an idiot and should be canned as New York Mets GM.

Anyway, so if pitchers want more wins to generate more Cy Young award consideration, they might want to pitch longer in a game, even if he has to get in the face of his manager to do so. What is the manager going to do, cut their best pitcher?

And if they continue to get wins taken away by ineffective bullpens, and aren’t allowed to finish their own games, leave for greener pastures. Maybe one with a better overall team with better management.

 


Jorge Posada’s Outburst Might Have Cost the Yankees Last Night’s Game

September 19, 2009

I wrote a piece the other day talking about the idiotic and childish manner in which Jorge Posada conducted himself in the bean ballgame with the Toronto Blue Jays.

And because of Posada’s outburst and three game suspension, the Yankees had a tight game against the Blue Jays Wednesday night and lost a one-run game last night to Seattle and King Felix.

Ichiro’s HR did score the tying and winning runs last night, but Jose Molina came up to hit in the 7th inning with men on first and third and hit into a double play.

If Posada was eligible for last night’s game, he probably would have started the game, which changes the entire dynamic of the game, but he might not have started with AJ Burnett pitching. If Posada was available and did not start the game, he pinch hits for Molina in that 7th inning situation and the outcome could have been different.

Bottom line is that Posada’s suspension has put the Yankees into precarious positions both nights due to the limits on moves Girardi could make.


Boston Red Sox Go to a Six Man Rotation

September 18, 2009

In doing prep work for my weekly Friday radio show appearance on The Shore Sports Report, I came across the Boston Red Sox upcoming pitching match ups.

Clay Buchholz is going tonight at Baltimore, Jon Lester (3-0, 0.84 vs. O’s this yr – a gambler’s lock if their ever was one) goes Saturday, and Dice-K on Sunday. The longer schedule has Tim Wakefield making an appearance on Monday and Paul Byrd going Tuesday at Kansas City.

That leaves last night’s pitcher, Josh Beckett, as the sixth man!

Good planning by Boston picking up Byrd late to give them innings, and working in and keeping Buchholz in the rotation while he was struggling early. Clay is now 4-0 in his last six starts including two wins each over AL East rivals Tampa Bay and Toronto.

All the Red Sox starting pitchers were going through various issues: veterans Brad Penny and John Smoltz – ineffectiveness (eventually both were released), Dice-K and Wakefield dealing with severe injuries, while Buchholz was ineffective early on and Beckett has been getting hit lately. 

But Lester has been a rock and nothing short of magnificent lately. Since May 31 (a span of 19 starts) Lester is 10-2, with a 2.02 ERA. He also has not lost in his last 10 outings.

Although he pitched well last Tuesday versus the Angels, I am still wary of a strong comeback for Dice-K. He adjusted to the AL by not nibbling after getting ahead in the count, but the AL hitters have not time to adjust to him Too many Angels that night were taking pitches right down the middle of the plate, expecting Dice-K to nibble.

Lets see a few more starts before we call Matsuzaka all the way back.

But in September is when you want to start playing your best ball (just ask the 2007 Colorado Rockies), and the Red Sox have begun to play well in a facets of their game.

The key is their starters and with Beckett, Lester and Buchholz at the top, that is a formidable three. If Dice-K or Wakefield are healthy and throwing well, the Red Sox will be a tough out in the playoffs.

It starts with their pitching and the Sox are giving their staff a break by going to a six man rotation, something they talked about last winter.

Lets see if this rest helps them come October.


Jorge Posada Gets His Big Ears in An Uproar

September 17, 2009

Childish, baby like and potentially dangerous. That is what Jorge Posada’s actions were Tuesday night in the fracas that erupted at Yankee Stadium.

And I thought boxing was coming to the New, New Yankee Stadium a few years from now, but not as soon as last night.

Posada felt he should not be the recipient of the Toronto Blue Jays retaliation of “my hitter gets hit, so we must hit yours.” Actually, that is a badge of honor to be the recipient. It means the other team values you as a player, so as the player who was hit, Posada should have just taken his base and let it go.

I remember one time when Albert Belle was on the Cleveland Indians and in his prime. At one point the Red Sox couldn’t get him out, so someone on the Sox threw at Belle. Albert then hit a home run his next time up and when he got to the Dugout, he pointed to his bicep. In essence Belle was telling the Red Sox, “I am too strong for you, you might as well hit me because you can’t get me out.”

A badge of honor.

Posada, though, never lets anything go, which is sometimes good as clubhouse motivator, but oftentimes it puts the Yankees in a bad situation*.

* Posada holds grudges and thinks he is beyond things. I believe he still does not like Joe Girardi since Girardi stayed on as Yankee catcher for the 1999 season and taking time away from the early part of Posada’s career. But Posada still does not get that Girardi stayed on with the Yanks that year to help WITH Posada’s development. Posada had completely cool feeling towards Girardi the entire 2008 season, not helping the transition with General Joe’s first year at the Yankee helm.

Everything started in the top of the 8th when Mark Melancon plunked Toronto second baseman Aaron Hill, one of the bright, young hitting stars on this Blue Jay team.

Melancon appears to be the guy that Joe Girardi is authorizing as his late inning retaliator. On August 6th, Melancon beaned Dustin Pedroia, then buzzed Kevin Youkilis, leading to an agitated Youkilis. Melancon has hit four guys so far this season (in only 16 innings), two Red Sox players (Jason Bay and Pedroia) and two Blue Jays players as M.M. plunked John McDonald earlier this month.

I hope Melancon is not eager to get the reputation as a head hunter. That would not bode well for his popularity on the team amongst the everyday lineup players who likely would be on the receiving end of the retaliations.

Posada needed to leave well enough alone, as when the fight broke out, the last things the Yankees need is to have one of their big arms like Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte (already with a sore shoulder) or Chamberlain hurt like Boston Red Sox hurler Bill Lee was back in 1976 in a brawl against the Yankees.

It is good to see that Shelley Duncan always has his teams back. Duncan was in the mix early on, separating players and being a Yankee enforcer. He was in the middle of the scrum two springs ago with the Tampa Bay Rays after Francisco Cervelli had his wrist broken. Too bad the Yankees front office does not have as much love for Shelley as the Yankee fans do.

As much as the Rays probably hate Shelley, he would be a great fit for that team with his versatility (1B, OF, RH bat off the bench) and could do offensively for Tampa what Pat Burrell gave them this season…at a fraction of the price.

One more thing about that fracas last night. Michael Kay, the Yankee play by play guy on the YES Network harped on the slight swelling on Girardi’s left eye after TV camera’s captured the Yankee manager. Kay said repeatedly that John McDonald, the slightly built Toronto shortstop sucker punched Girardi when Johnny Mac entered the fray. That was the furthest thing from the truth as McDonald appeared to be a peace keeper.

Replays showed that McDonald’s left hand did make contact with Girardi, but had made contact with the RIGHT SIDE of Girardi’s face, and only by accident as McDonald was trying to pull people away. Girardi also said that he got his bruise from one of his own players who inadvertently elbowed him during the scrum.

If McDonald wanted to cheap shot someone, he definitely would have gone after A-Rod.

Posada could have caused more harm than good with his childish antics, and it is great that he got to spend last night on the suspended list while the Yankees walked off with another win.


Why All the Worrying About AJ Burnett? He is the same as he ever was!

September 14, 2009

With his most recent bad starting pitching performance, AJ Burnett has proceeded to scare the bejesus out of New York Yankee fans across the country.

It is a relief that NFL football started yesterday (Sunday the 13th) because instead of Jets and Giants football talk over the radio and TV airwaves, it would have been more of the up and down, Jekyll and Hyde AJ Burnett talk.

Yankee fans are scared that an inconsistent Burnett will not have a good start when playoff time rolls around. And if the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers, it is a really good chance that AJ will not have a great day.

Over the last three seasons, Burnett is 2-1 against the Tigers, but has a 7.41 ERA and 1.93 WHIP.  In five starts over that span, he has thrown 24.3 innings, allowing 30 hits, 20 ER’s and 18 walks. He has struck out 17 and allowed five home runs!

That is an average of less than five innings per start and at least one home run per appearance!

Not good if you are a scaredy cat Yankee fan.

But what are you really worried about Yankee fan? This is the same guy General Manager Brian Cashman paid $81 million to over 5 years. That same guy who was 18-10 last season, but with a high ERA and WHIP (4.07 and 1.342).

Look at the comparison number this season to last year:

  IP 2B HR SB HP BB SP BAA OBP SLG OPS WHIP K/BB
2008 221 55 19 22 9 86 231 .249 .322 .388 .710 1.342 2.69
2009 183 29 24 21 9 87 167 .246 .336 .398 .735 1.399 1.92

There is really not that much of a difference except for walks, and more walks led to more base runners (higher OBP and OPS), and also more stolen bases against him.

The key for Burnett last season was that he did most of his damage against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, combining for a 5-1 record, 2.05 ERA. 

That type of work will get you a big free agent contract.

But the Yankees and Red Sox were the only teams last season Burnett started more than one game against and had a winning record and sub-4.00 ERA. If you subtract Burnett’s Yankee games (only because AJ can’t pitch against the team he plays for now), he had an even higher 4.57 ERA in 2008.  AJ was also 4-1, 3.73 ERA against the weaker National League in Inter League games, further depleting his AL East value. 

As I said in my piece in the off season about AJ Burnett, he is inconsistent, only pitches effectively right before a big pay increase season and is often injured due to his terrible mechanics. While he hasn’t been hurt (yet, give him time) as a Yankee, his mechanics could be reason that he walks too many hitters and then has to throw the ball over the plate, where it gets hit hard.

A perfect example is that big second inning this past Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles. After a one out walk, Burnett started to throw the ball over the plate and was hit hard to the tune of five runs, including a grand slam off the bat of Brian Roberts.

Burnett doesn’t have the necessary command of pitches, that is, control of the ball within the strike zone. It’s easy to throw the ball over the plate, but to throw it where it doesn’t get whacked is another story,

Last season AJ was bad in April (6.07 ERA), good in May (3.43 ERA), bad in June (5.06 ERA), good in July (3.86), bad in August (4.43) and good in September (1.82).

This season he has been bad in April (5.40), better in May (4.18), good in May (2.10) and June (2.43), but bad again in August (6.03) and thus far in September (6.38).

For the record, that is three bads and three goods in 2008 and three bads, two goods and one better in 2009. Did you really think Yankee fans that you were going to get the 2009 May and June AJ Burnett without a lot of the other months AJ sprinkled in? Burnett is consistently inconsistent, but not worthy of that big off season contract – or a big rotation spot in October.

Of course, Joe Girardi doesn’t have the necessary rocks to not give AJ Burnett a start in a first round playoff game, even though another embattled Yankee starter, Joba Chamberlain, is 2-0, 1.33 ERA in two starts this season against the Tigers (and with 14 K’s/13 IP and 0.878 WHIP). 

So the Yankees will likely go with an inconsistent Burnett in Game 2 versus Detroit, AJ’s first ever post season start.

Why then are the Yankee fans worried? Their team got what they paid for, the same inconsistent pitcher he has always been year after year. One who had a sub-.500 record, near 4.00 ERA injury plagued career entering the 2008 season.

Of course, a big game or two in October and the fickle Yankee fans will love you, AJ.