September 2011

Time to look to October…

The 2011 AL East Division Champions…

 

Most importantly, congratulations to the New York Yankees for their AL East Division Championship.  They should have been AL East Champions last season but stumbled in the final days of the season to allow them to be eclipsed by the Tampa Bay Rays.  So, fortunately, the Yankees have returned to their rightful throne!  Well, at least for September.  Come October, nothing less than a World Series Championship is acceptable!

 

So, I was only half right…

 

Admittedly, I am surprised the way this season has played out.  At the beginning of the season, I had picked the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies as the World Series participants.  The Phillies still look like the odds-on favorite at this point given their stellar starting pitching, but the Red Sox have faded oh so quickly.  I remember listening to Sox fans who were predicting at least 114 wins or more for their revamped Red Sox, and while I openly scoffed at the notion, there was a part of me that was concerned that the Red Sox did have the necessary personnel to pull off a magical season.  The chances for the magical season faded quickly when pitcher Clay Buchholz was lost for the season, but the Red Sox had charged back after a sluggish start and were in the thick of things at the end of August.  Up to that point, the Red Sox had played the Yankees very aggressively with a significant advantage in the season series.  They showed they had the offense to destroy virtually any pitcher on any given night, and there is no doubt that Adrian Gonzalez is perfectly suited for Fenway Park.  But sadly for the Sox, the calendar turned to September and the deteriorated pitching staff started to show the stress and strain of the long season.  Still, I didn’t expect the free fall that has currently left the Sox tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the Wild Card slot, while the Yankees have wrapped up the division championship and best record in the AL.  I never dreamed that the Yankees would be in position to walk to the finish line.

 

Pitching, pitching, pitching…

 

My lack of faith in the Yankees at the beginning of the season was due primarily to the pitching staff.  I was concerned about A.J. Burnett and his ability to bounce back from a disastrous season (and rightfully so).  I did not think the Yankees could replace Andy Pettitte with two scrapheap pitchers in Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.  Plus, the Yankees were placing much emphasis on Phil Hughes who, despite his 18-win season, had not proven that he was a reliable and dependable starter.  Rounding out the rotation was a rookie pitcher (Ivan Nova), who had not even been mentioned in the same breath with Yankees prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances.   With CC Sabathia followed by a cast of characters, I did not see how the Yankees could compete with the Red Sox and felt that the Wild Card was the team’s best hope.  Now, I am very delighted that I was wrong.  While Burnett and Hughes have been disappointments, Ivan Nova has been huge and is now the second best pitcher in the rotation.  Garcia and Colon have been terrific even if Colon seems to be wearing down at this point in the season.  Garcia is definitely a play-off caliber starting pitcher.  If the Yanks go with a four man rotation, then the 4th man should be Burnett.  But he’ll have a very short leash with Colon and Hughes potentially in the bullpen.

 

Don’t play Poker with Brian Cashman…

 

If I had been the GM, I am sure that I would have made some impulsive and regrettable move at the trading deadline.  GM Brian Cashman, on the other hand, stood pat and played with the hand he was dealt.  In retrospect, he looks like a hero (which includes his anti-Rafael Soriano stance in the spring).  I hope the Yankees do whatever it takes to ensure Cash’s return to the Bronx.  I am sure that there would be significantly less stress in Chicago with the Cubs or some other major league team, but nobody understands New York better than Cash.  I definitely think the Steinbrenners need Cashman more than he needs them.  Hopefully, they’ll recognize it and make sure that Cashman is re-signed.

 

Passing of the Guard…

 

If the Yankees have learned anything in September (aside from the importance of quality starting pitching in watching the Sox freefall), it’s that Jesus Montero is ready for The Show.  This does not bode well for Jorge Posada who is most likely playing his final year in Yankee pinstripes.  If he continues his career season, it will be tough to see him play in different team colors.  My only request would be for him not to go to Boston or Tampa.  It’s always tough to see players cross those lines, and if it were me, I’d retain the respect for the Yankees and walk away from the AL East.

 

He surprised me yet again…

 

Count me as one of the skeptics in Ozzie Guillen’s decision to orchestrate his departure from the Chicago White Sox so that he could join the Florida Marlins.  While I realize that Guillen will sell tickets in Miami, I don’t see it as a good fit with ownership.  I am still not quite sure how someone could have issues with Joe Girardi, but fortunately, Miami did and he’s the highly successful manager of the Yankees.  But Joe is far less out-spoken than Guillen, so if Joe’s comments got him into trouble, what’s going to happen with Guillen who always openly and freely speaks whatever is on his mind.  I had always heard that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf loved Ozzie like a son, so there’s no way the relationship in Miami will be anything comparable.  His on the field performance had better outweigh the baggage that comes with Ozzie as your manager.  He may regret taking the money and running…

 

Two game sabbatical from ‘Red Sox Suck!’…

 

With the Red Sox and Rays tied for the Wild Card tonight, I’ll have to go with the Red Sox as my preferred team to advance.  I don’t think the Sox will be the easier opponent in the play-offs but that doesn’t concern me.  I’ve always believed that you have to ‘beat the best to be the best’.  This comes down to respect and I simply respect the Red Sox more…

 

–Scott

Enter the Sandman, Exit the Legend…

 

There’s great and then there’s Mo…

Seriously, he didn’t need to record 602 saves to prove that he was baseball’s all-time best closer.  Today, Yankees legend (go ahead and attach the tag) Mariano Rivera became the all-time saves leader, eclipsing former San Diego Padres great Trevor Hoffman by one.  I don’t want to take anything away from Hoffman who clearly was one of baseball’s greats, but he clearly limped to 601 saves in those final years with the Milwaukee Brewers.  Rivera, in contrast, retains his position as one of the best in the game despite his age.  Hoffman’s final year, despite his record 9 years with 40 plus saves, did not include at least that threshold.  Rivera, on the other hand, captured the record with his 43rd save of the season.

Many Yankees fans worship Derek Jeter.  While I admire Jeter, and I am glad that he has spent his career with the Yankees, my favorite current Yankee has been Mariano Rivera.  Going into 1995, my favorite player had been Don Mattingly for a number of years.  Despite his back ailments toward the end of his career, I always appreciated the character and the quality of the individual.  When you think of guys you’d like to emulate, Donnie Baseball was certainly one of those guys.  He was always genuine and sincere, and the one opportunity I had to meet him in person only reaffirmed that he is a quality individual.  When Mattingly retired, I obviously continued to follow the team but I can’t say one player stood out among all others to me.  That is, until Mariano Rivera emerged from the shadow of closer John Wetteland, who departed via free agency after the 1996 season.  At first, I was skeptical to see the break-up of the awesome duo of Rivera-Wetteland.  I loved the way Mo would come into the 8th inning throwing nothing but pure heat with his cutter, and then Wetteland would come on in the 9th like a psycho and retire the side, albeit with a few nervous moments.  After Wetteland moved on to Texas, I wondered if Rivera would be able to make the conversion to closer.  Rich Gossage had been my all-time favorite closer for years, and I didn’t think the team would have another who could match the Goose, let alone exceed him.

Rivera, from the moment I first saw him appear in the Yankee pinstripes through today, has been nothing short of the consummate professional.  He is clearly the type of guy you want to be like.  He accepts and forgets setbacks, and he never gloats in victory.  I have never seen or heard him criticize others, and he has always accepted responsibility (which is huge for me).  I will be sad when Mo takes the mound for the final time, but the way he has continued to pitch, that day isn’t coming any time soon.  It has always been hard for closers to make the Hall of Fame, but I have no doubt that Mo will be a first ballot selection.  Some guys are good, some guys are great, but none of the guys are Mo.

Pleasantly surprised…

Frankly, I am quite surprised the Yankees find themselves in first place with a fairly comfortable lead in the AL East over the Boston Red Sox.  If the Yankees had been able to play at least .500 ball against the Sox this year, they’d have the division clinched by now.  On paper, I really believed that the Sox had the best team.  But of course, you have to play the games, and the Sox have had health challenges that have caused them to fall behind the Yankees.  When the Sox picked up former Seattle pitcher Erik Bedard at the closing deadline, I mistakenly thought it was building excess capacity.  In retrospect, the Red Sox needed more help in the starting rotation, and even over-paying for health risk Rich Harden would have been worth it.  I know that the Red Sox could still rally to capture the AL East flag, particularly considering the Yankees sluggish play of late, combined with the fact that they still have to play the hard charging Tampa Bay Rays seven more times.  But with just a couple of weeks left in the regular season, I’d rather be up 5 games than down by as many.

That schedule hit me like of wind chill of 40 below…

I am closing out my first baseball season as a resident of Minneapolis, and I was able to see the Yankees when they were at Target Field in late August.  Nevertheless, I was a bit dismayed when I saw the 2012 Yankees, and realized that the Yankees wouldn’t make the trip to Minneapolis until late September.  On one hand, you want your team to clinch early, but I hope the team is still playing meaningful baseball when they make the trip to the Twin Cities.

My first season as a “local” Vikings fan is not going so well…

Speaking of Minnesota, life as a Minnesota Vikings fan has definitely not been fun this year.  The Vikings have been a great first half team against both the San Diego Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they failed to make the necessary adjustments at halftime.  In both games, a miserable second half led to a close defeat.  As the Vikings stand at 0-2, it’s clear that they could have easily been 2-0.  I am not a fan of Donovan McNabb, but I recognize that having rookie Christian Ponder at QB would not have meant automatic victories.  Teams can rebound from 0-2 starts, but they really need to win this coming weekend.  That’s no small task given the opponent is Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.  No NFC North games are easy, but Lions definitely have the players for an offensive juggernaut.  The Vikings need to reach deep within themselves, and play like they are capable of.  They can beat the Lions, and hopefully they’ll prove that ‘on any given Sunday…’.

Have a great week, everyone!

–Scott

 

First Place, but hardly reason to gloat…

 

I am an Iowa Hawkeyes fan, I am used to build up then disappointment…

It’s ironic that the Yankees currently hold the lead in the American League East since it has seemed as though the Boston Red Sox and their fans have had more reason to gloat this year.  Every time I get excited about the Yankees, they do something to temper the excitement.  Headed in September, the team was playing at an incredibly high level, with solid pitching from the entire rotation including A.J. Burnett (well, one start).  During the first two games of a four game set with the Baltimore Orioles and the manager I love to hate, Buck Showalter, the Yankees looked like they could hang with the Philadelphia Phillies in a 7-game play-off series.

But alas, all good things must end, and the Yankees promptly lost two consecutive extra-inning affairs with the O’s.  Fortunately, the Red Sox were struggling with the Toronto Blue Jays, losing 2 of 3, so the Yanks didn’t lose any ground (they currently lead the Sox by 2 ½ games).

For the record, I don’t take any joy in the health issues surrounding Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis.  I’d rather beat a Red Sox team at full strength than one depleted by critical injuries.

Many Yankees fans are probably already counting on the AL East Flag, but like last year, I know how easy it can slip away and of course a 2 ½ game lead is nothing on September 9th.  The Sox have plenty of time to make up the difference and they are certainly a team capable of getting on a roll.  That’s why I consider those two O’s losses as lost opportunities.  It doesn’t get any easier for the Yanks as they are now in Anaheim to face the Los Angeles Angels.  Tonight, they are pitted against Jered Weaver who is arguably the best pitcher in the American League not named Justin Verlander.  Plus, the Yankees generally do not fare well on those West Coast swings.  So, the Red Sox certainly have a golden opportunity to re-take the AL East.

Hip-hip, Jorge!…

While I am one that feels this should be the last year in the Bronx for Jorge Posada (almost a virtual certainty given how well Jesus Montero has performed), I do hope that he gets his moment in Yankee Stadium like Paul O’Neill did when the fans started chanting his name.  Posada can leave knowing that his name will rank up there with Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Elston Howard, and Thurman Munson.  It will be odd seeing Posada in a different uniform if he chooses to play next year, and I definitely hope that he is not one of those who travel north to Boston.  I’d rather see him play for the Tampa Bay Rays.  Best case scenario would be the National League, but I doubt he’d switch leagues at this late juncture in his career.  Of course, his catching days are behind him so a team with a DH is where he is best suited.  I am sure that he’ll be more prepared for DH next season.

Random thoughts…

I am ready for the Scott Proctor reunion to end…

So, how can we convince some team to offer Rafael Soriano a ridiculous amount of money to walk away from his contract with the Yankees after the season?  Sadly, I think he’ll be a Yankee for all three years…

Tell me again why we kept Phil Hughes and traded 19-game winner Ian Kennedy?  Okay, I can’t fault the Yankees on this one as I was ready for Kennedy to leave and he probably would not have achieved the same level of success in the pressure cooker known as New York…

Funny how Derek Jeter drop-kicked Minka Kelly on the eve of her becoming a national sex symbol with the new Charlie’s Angels TV series.  When you are DJ and you can have any girl in the world, why settle for one?  I am sure that he has no shortage of friends, and he can certainly buy a few if he needs them…

When I saw the photo of Cameron Diaz “pregnant” (costuming for a movie), my first thought, thinking it was real, was definitely about Alex Rodriguez and additional future child support payments.  But fortunately, A-Rod has been able to afford “protection” and he doesn’t have to worry about any unexpected A-Rod, Jr’s in the world…

Are you ready for some football?…

Getting a little off-topic, it was disappointing to see that Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning had to undergo a second surgery on his neck that will keep him out of action for 2-3 months, if not all season.  Some are saying that he should just retire rather than risk further injury, and I’d certainly agree that he doesn’t have any more to prove.  He’ll definitely go down in history as one of the great ones.  Kerry Collins has a good knack for being in the right place at the right time…

Two years ago, as a Vikings fan, I had to learn to root for a former hated quarterback (Brett Favre).  Now, as a former resident of the Philly area who witnessed the fan apathy toward Donovan McNabb, I have to pull for him as the QB of my team.  I am a fan of Christian Ponder, and I suspect that he’ll get his opportunity to take a few snaps at some point in the season.  Actually, I hope McNabb proves me wrong and leads the Vikings to the promised land.  But I see this as just another attempt to capture glory from a faded star…

I keep hearing how great it is that LB Erin Henderson has landed a starting role with the Vikings (alongside his brother, E.J.) as an undrafted free agent.  But in the year of his draft, I was somewhat surprised that he did go undrafted.  It was evident that he was a quality player at Maryland, and I would have thought some team would have taken a shot in the later rounds.  Just as I liked Erin that year, I like RB Caleb King this year.  He didn’t make the final cut when the team pared its roster to 53 players, but he was retained on the practice squad.  Hopefully, a position on the roster will materialize before some other team realizes the diamond in the rough…

If I am Mike Shanahan, and my choices for starting QB are Rex Grossman and John Beck, I am retiring to see what NBC Sports has to offer…

As a resident of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis, I am really hopeful that the city will find a way to step forward to retain the Vikings.  Presently, the proposal is for a new stadium in Arden Hills, and I know the ownership group is highly in favor of the area.  I’d really like to see the Vikings stay in Minneapolis with the Twins and the Timberwolves.  The options are either the existing Metrodome/Mall of America Field area or the Farmer’s Market.  I’d prefer the latter.  But all things considered, I would accept Arden Hills over Los Angeles.   Whatever it takes, I hope Minnesota does the right thing to retain the Vikings.  It would be horrific for the Land of 10,000 Lakes to lose a second professional team to the city of Los Angeles…

I saw that Buddy Ryan was delaying surgery (he has been diagnosed with cancer…again) so that he could witness the Week 1 match-up between Rex Ryan and the New York Jets and Rob Ryan and the Dallas Cowboys.  I am hopeful that he’ll see a Jets victory, but then again, the Cowboys have always been my second favorite team so I won’t be disappointed if Tony Romo and company pull out the victory.  Buddy apparently has a history of beating cancer so hopefully this is just another one of those dominating Ryan situations…

I know that I kept jumping back to the Vikings (hey, I am a Vikings fan!), but I have to say that I really like what I’ve seen from new head coach Leslie Frazier.  I have not always been a big fan of the team’s coach.  When you grow up with Bud Grant as the man, it’s hard to see others in the role.  The worst, of course, was Les Steckel, but there have been varying degrees over the years.  I did like Mike Tice but recognize that he was limited from a coaching perspective.  Leslie Frazier is the first coach since Grant that I’ve been able to fully embrace.  I hated to see the Vikings lose former defensive coach Mike Tomlin when he was named coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I felt the Vikings were facing the same situation with Frazier (just like they had with Tomlin and Tony Dungy in previous years).  Fortunately, the Vikings canned Brad Childress (sorry Brad!) and promoted Frazier to the top job.  I was slow to accept Joe Girardi as the Yankees manager (I was a Don Mattingly supporter), but today, there’s not really anyone that I’d rather see as manager of the Yankees.  I feel the same way about Leslie Frazier.

We are now in the midst of perhaps one of the best sports months of the year.  It is the pennant race in baseball, and the opening of the NFL Season.  Granted, my focus is on baseball, but it will still be fun to watch some football this Sunday.  Down, set, 247, 247, hutt, hutt…

–Scott

 

 

I actually won a Yankees-Red Sox bet for a change…

 

I am glad that I quit holding my breath…

Finally, the Yankees emerged from a series with the Boston Red Sox as the victor.  It was the first time it has happened this season.  In past years, it seemed the Yankees and Red Sox always split the season series, give or take.  But this year, the Sox have the decided advantage.  For whatever reason (well, Josh Beckett and his 4-0 mark is one), the Red Sox have owned the Yankees.  However, I am hopeful that the latest series will give the Yankees the confidence they need heading into the final season series later this month and again in the play-offs should the teams meet again.

I’d be foolish to think that the Yankees will overpower the Red Sox to win the division.  On paper, the Sox still have the better team, but in the play-offs, it is all about who gets hot.  So, even as the Wild Card, I think the Yankees have as good a shot as anyone.

It is concerning that the Red Sox have figured out Mariano Rivera.  Last night, they were able to load the bases and probably could have/should have scored a run or two in the 9th inning but Mo was the beneficiary of a questionable call that gave the Yankees the win.  It is important to get back to decisive wins and saves, and not hope that an umpire’s call is the deciding factor.  Mo has been and continues to be my favorite Yankee.  I don’t think he has lost it yet, and I agree with those who say that Mo will walk away from the game when his skills deteriorate.  Lou Gehrig is my all-time favorite Yankee and baseball player, but Mo is certainly a legend in his own right and I am proud to have lived during his era.  I think Mo will be able to solve the Red Sox dilemma.  The Yankees may not win the World Series, but it won’t be because of Mo.

Does one game a season prove?  I am hopeful that the adjustments Larry Rothschild made with A.J. Burnett will prove successful for the remainder of the season.  He was extremely solid against Boston on Thursday night and it was more the Blue Jays version of Burnett against the Sox than the horrific Yankees version.  I really believe that the Yankees chances to go deep in the play-offs are solely dependent upon Burnett.

What, was your phone broken?…

I really wish that GM Brian Cashman would have made a move to pick up a bat for the bench.  I still think that Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui would have been ideal as someone to plug into the DH spot and for spot pinch-hitting roles.  Boston was active, even if to a minor degree, at both the July and August deadlines, while the Yankees did nothing.  Hopefully, Cashman’s call was the correct one (he knows better than I).  But it will be disappointing if the season is lost on a single bad at-bat from the DH.

The blog, Scott Proctor’s Arm, has to be pleased…

It’s kind of weird to think that Scott Proctor is back in the Yankees bullpen after his September 1st call-up from the minor leagues.  Joe Torre is always blamed for ruining Proctor, but it would be nice to see him enjoy some success again.  I’d really like to see what Brandon Laird can do.  I hate to put so much emphasis on Eric Chavez given how fragile he is in light of Alex Rodriguez’s health.   I’d rather use Chavez in spot roles.

I know, go ahead and laugh about the winters…

I’ve been in Minneapolis for a month now, and I really like this town.  It’s clean and the people are friendly.  I know that the winters get a bad rep, and perhaps I’ll be crying wolf when April rolls around.  But this is a good city and the baseball fans are knowledgeable and passionate.  I’ll never be a Twins fan, but I can appreciate the organization and the pride that the fans have.  As a Vikings fan, I am loving the focused attention on MY team.  I’ve never lived in Minnesota so this is a completely foreign concept.  I am a fan of Christian Ponder so it’s exciting that I am here for Season #1 even if he has to wait for his turn behind the guy the Philly fans used to love to hate, Donovan McNabb.  I think if McNabb shows any signs that his horrible season in Washington last year wasn’t a fluke, we’ll see Ponder sooner rather than later.  Oops, how did I go from the Twins to the Vikings?  Back to downtown Minneapolis, it is a great city and I’ve definitely enjoyed my short time here.  I am looking forward to the future as a “Minn-a-soat’n”.

A Yankee Fan Succeeds…

This is not baseball related, but I have to congratulate Fang Wong on being named as the National Commander for The American Legion.  The American Legion is a huge organization for American veterans (I am one), and they make a difference each and every day.  What kid growing up playing baseball hasn’t been a part of American Legion baseball?  They are committed for a better America for all of us.  I mention Fang because 1) I know him personally and he is one of the best and most honorable guys that I’ve ever met, and 2) he is a Yankees fan.  Fang has been a longstanding member of the New York American Legion, and he is, in my mind, the commander the organization needs to move forward to greater heights.  If I could be half the man Fang is, I’d be proud…

http://www.legion.org/commander

Is it really September already?…

Have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day Weekend!

–Scott

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