Results tagged ‘ Rays ’

Farewell to a Champion!…

Exit Stage Left… 

A great Yankees career has come to an end with the retirement of former outfielder Hideki Matsui.  It has been gone from the Bronx for a few years but he’s certainly not forgotten.  When he arrived in 2003, he immediately attracted the attention of New York.  He had been well hyped as a Japanese superstar, and of course, everywhere he went, he was followed by a large pack of Japanese reporters.

As I remember his great career and those key clutch hits, I recall his Yankee Stadium debut in April 2003.  I remember it was a day game, and while home for lunch (I was in a West Coast time zone), I had turned on DirecTV in time to watch “Godzilla” hit a grand slam in the 5th inning that powered the Yanks to a 7-3 win over the Minnesota Twins.  If memory serves correctly, it was a gray day and Matsui’s shot was one of those line drives that kept going (it wasn’t a booming shot that you knew had been parked from the start).

Tuesday, April 8, 2003 at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY

Minnesota Twins AB R H BI
Jones, lf

3

2

1

0

Guzman, ss

3

0

1

0

Koskie, 3b

3

1

0

0

Hunter, cf

2

0

1

2

LeCroy, dh

4

0

1

1

Mientkiewicz, 1b

4

0

1

0

Cuddyer, rf

4

0

0

0

Pierzynski, c

4

0

0

0

Rivas, 2b

3

0

0

0

Totals

30

3

5

3

 

New York Yankees AB R H BI
Soriano, 2b

4

0

1

0

Johnson, 1b

3

1

2

0

Giambi, dh

4

1

1

0

Williams, cf

3

1

0

0

MATSUI, LF

3

2

1

4

Posada, c

4

1

1

0

Ventura, 3b

4

1

2

2

Mondesi, rf

4

0

1

1

Almonte, ss

3

0

0

0

Totals

32

7

9

7

 

Minnesota

0

0

0

1

0

2

0

0

0

-

3

5

1

New York

0

1

0

2

4

0

0

0

x -

7

9

1

E-Pierzynski (2), Almonte (3).  DP-New York 2.  PB-Posada (1).  2B-Jones (4), Hunter (1), Posada (2).  HR-Ventura (3),  MATSUI (1) 5th inning off Mays, 3 on, 1 out.  SF-Hunter (1).  SB-Johnson (1).  CS-Mondesi (1).
Minnesota Twins

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Mays, L (1-1)

5.0

8

7

7

2

3

Fiore

3.0

1

0

0

1

2

Totals

8.0

9

7

7

3

5

New York Yankees

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

Pettitte, W (2-0)

5.2

5

3

3

3

2

Osuna

2.1

0

0

0

1

3

Anderson

1.0

0

0

0

0

1

Totals

9.0

5

3

3

4

6

WP-Mays, Osuna.  T-2:36.  A-33,109.

He finished his Yankees career as the MVP of the 2009 World Series.  Time and again, he came up with the crucial big hits, and seemed to excel against the Yankees’ key rival, the Boston Red Sox.  As a Yankee, he hit 140 home runs with 597 RBI’s.  Including his 10 years in Japan and major leagues together, he hit 507 home runs.  He represented the Yankees with the grace and dignity that he had with his prior organization, the Yomiuri Giants.  I wish there had been room on the Yankees roster for Matsui the last few years but sadly it was not meant to be.  He may have subsequently worn the uniform of the Angels, A’s and Rays, but he will forever be a Yankee.  I am hopeful he will return for future Old Timer’s games at the Stadium as he is now engrained as part of the Yankees history and lore.

Where’s Paul O’Neill when you need him…

While I have always liked outfielder Matt Diaz as a role player, it’s hard to be enthused about his arrival in the Bronx.  With no other additions, there’s a huge drop-off from former Yankees rightfielder and now Cleveland Indian Nick Swisher to Diaz.  The Yankees are banking a great deal that Ichiro Suzuki will be the player he was in pinstripes last year and not the Seattle Mariners version earlier in the season.  Inevitably, as Matsui showed, there is a time when the ability to execute simply erodes with the passage of time and age.  Given that Matsui is, in fact, younger than Ichiro shows that Ichiro is on borrowed time.  I know his superior conditioning has much to do with his late career continued success, but Matsui was no slouch when it came to physical conditioning.  I remain hopeful that GM Brian Cashman is able to bring a young outfielder with strong upside before spring training starts.  Yes, it’s easier said than done, but he’s done it before and can do it again.

Well, 2012 is rapidly coming to a close and it will soon be 2013.  Only January stands between now and the arrival of the Yankees in Tampa for spring training.  So close, yet so far away.  Hopefully, the Yankees will do something to enthuse the fan base in the coming days…

Happy New Year!

–Scott

Live by the sword, die by the sword…

 

Who needs Josh Hamilton or A.J. Pierzynski!…

Austin Romine and Ronnier Mustelier.  Sometimes, the most meaningful additions to the major league roster are from within.  That’s probably never been so important in the Bronx than it is now as the Yankees attempt to reduce their payroll to below $189 million by 2014.  To accomplish the goal, the Yankees will need more than one or two low-cost, high reward type players on the roster.

I admit that I haven’t been watching the minor leagues as close as I probably should have.  I’ve been aware of Romine, the son of former Red Sox player Kevin Romine.  For years, his name was always mentioned in the same breath as Jesus Montero as the type two prospects at catcher.  With the trade of Montero to Seattle last year, it helped clear the path for Romine.  Now, among Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, Romine represents the greatest upside even if he missed most of last year due to injury.

I have not been aware of Mustelier, a Cuban refugee the Yankees signed a couple of years ago.  But all the guy has done is hit as he’s progressed through the Yankees’ system.  He is a utility man that can play both corners, but I’ve seen speculation about him in right field too.  He’s old for a prospect (27) but it doesn’t mean that he cannot seize an opportunity in spring training to make his imprint on the Yankees’ roster.

If both Romine and Mustelier grabbed key roles for the 2013 team, it will help the Yankees to focus on eliminating other parts of “fat” on the roster and hopefully upgrade the team with lower cost high-producing replacements.  Easier said than done, which does lead me to believe the next couple of years will be ones of transition for the Yankees.  I honestly cannot see them keeping up with the ‘Joneses’ (i.e., namely the Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays or even the Baltimore Orioles) with the current roster.  This doesn’t mean that I envision 95-loss seasons in the immediate future.  The Yankees still have too much talent on the roster.  But it will be a dogfight for 90-win seasons if the team continues on its current path.  A game or two here or there is the difference between making the play-offs as a wild card or staying home for October.

The strong get stronger, the Yankees get older…

As it stands, the most successful teams this off-season, in my opinion, have been the Los Angeles Angels and the Toronto Blue Jays.  Of course, the Kansas City Royals added a great pitcher in James Shields even if it did cost their top prospect. The Texas Rangers will be strong again even if they lost Josh Hamilton.  I fully expect them to find an adequate replacement for Hamilton between now and the start of the season.  The bat won’t be as strong as Hamilton’s bat, but it will be a capable one, I am sure.  In the AL East, I still expect the Tampa Bay Rays to be strong despite losing Shields.  If I’ve learned anything in baseball, it is to never underestimate Rays manager Joe Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman.  I assume that the Baltimore Orioles will be as strong as they were in 2012, and I expect an improved Boston Red Sox club under the new leadership of manager John Farrell.

With the strength of the Detroit Tigers and other teams, it’s almost impossible to predict who will be the winners next season.  I’d like to say the Yankees will be one of the last teams standing, but everything would have to align perfectly for that to happen and I just don’t see it.  As usual, I hope I am wrong and that the Yankees surprise me with their performance in ’13.  Time will tell…

I still do not see the Steinbrenner family allowing the value of the franchise to erode.  Either they make the necessary moves to ensure the continued competitiveness of the team or they sell.  The latter is not such a bad idea if it would bring in aggressive new ownership.  I cannot find fault with the current regime’s decision to cut payroll to reduce luxury taxes in future years, but the problem is too many bad decisions in the past (i.e., A-Rod’s contract).  It feels like the Yankees are going ‘cold turkey’ with their new small market budget mentality.  It would have worked better as a slower transition, but of course, the 2014 deadline does not allow for it.

Teams like the St Louis Cardinals have proven in recent years that you can win despite not having the best players or the highest payroll.  I know that’s the model the Yankees would like to emulate.  Going for the best players with inflated payrolls seems to be a ‘play for now’ approach with no sustainability.  The key to long-term success is to develop a farm system that allows the introduction of young, low-cost talent every year (in other words, the Tampa Bay Rays).  It’s just so hard as a Yankees fan to see the team go from one extreme to the other.

Oh well, let’s see what happens when the players step onto the field…

Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  J

–Scott

 

Are Youk freakin’ serious?…

 

Sleeping with the Enemy…

News that the Yankees have signed veteran third baseman Kevin Youkilis have not been well received in the Yankees Universe…obviously.  Sure, there have been a few ex-Boston Red Sox players make their way to the Bronx but certainly none who have been as despised as Youk.  His crime?  Playing with passion and all-out perseverance to find ways to beat the Yankees.  He is one of those tough, gritty players that are relentless and when they smell blood, it’s over.  Youk has struggled with injuries in recent years and he had a falling out with former Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who has historically taken to gritty players.  I know, there is the stat line that he only got one hit in his final 59 at-bats with the Chicago White Sox last season.  Nevertheless, I am willing to give Youk a chance.

Admittedly, I am not an Alex Rodriguez fan and I am still bent the Yankees didn’t let him walk away when he opted out of his first mega contract.  But with third base possibilities such as Eric Chavez and Jeff Keppinger signing elsewhere, the Yankees had to do something given that A-Rod will be lost for most of the season due to his upcoming hip surgery.  Going to camp with Eduardo Nunez as the starting third baseman, given the team doesn’t have a starting catcher or right fielder, was not appealing in any way.  No one really knows how A-Rod will play next season when or if he returns, so odds are they need a solid third baseman for the entire season.  With Youk on board, the Yanks still need to get insurance at third in case Youk goes down.  But I think as long as he gets sufficient rest, he’ll stay healthy and be an effective part of the Yankees lineup.

When Youk homers for the first time against the Red Sox, I am sure that the Yankee cheers will come around.  Yankee fans love players who play with passion so long as the player is on their team.  It will always be hard to look at Youk and not think of the 2004 World Champion Red Sox, but he is not the same player he was then and this is a new chapter in his life.  When he walks away from the game, he will be remembered as part of the Red Sox organization but for a year or two, he can certainly make an effective contribution for the home team.

There are guys on the current Red Sox roster that I have great respect for, like Jon Lester and Dustin Pedroia.  Youk was one of those guys.  Sure, I hated the guy in difficult games between the Yankees and Red Sox, but I always had a quiet respect for him.  Of course, this could all be premature as Youk still has to pass a physical but I look forward to seeing what he can do in the Bronx sans the famed goatee.  It will also be interesting to see if the Yankees continue to hold #20 in reserve out of respect for Jorge Posada or if they assign it to Youk given it was his number in Boston and Chicago.  I suspect he’ll end up with something other than #20, but until it happens, you never know.

I saw a quote in George King’s column in The New York Post from Mariano Rivera that I agree with completely:  “Yankee (fans) didn’t like him but he was wearing a Red Sox uniform.  I can’t decide for them but he will be my teammate and I have to respect him for that.”  Youk is a Yankee, and like Mo, I respect him for that.

Ichiro, Part II…

All indications are the Yankees will be coming to terms with Ichiro Suzuki on a new deal to keep him in the Bronx.  The question is whether it will be one or two years.  At 39, I’d probably prefer a one year deal so that the team can reassess its options at the end of the year.  Every move has been made with the intent to get the payroll under $189 million by 2014 for luxury tax purposes and a second year for Ichiro would erode into the dollars available for any talent upgrades next off-season.

As it stands, I do not like an outfield of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro, but I will be interested to see who they bring in as the fourth outfielder.  Perhaps that individual will solidify this outfield corps into a strong and powerful unit.  I am not opposed to trading Granderson and moving Gardner to center, but the Yankees would need to replace his offensive production elsewhere in the lineup.  All signs so far this winter indicate the Yankees will not do anything to the extreme.  Yes, they could still swoop in with a blockbuster trade, but I highly doubt it.  The sad part is the current Yankees roster is not as strong as last year’s squad, while the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox have clearly improved.  Tampa Bay may have traded a top starting pitcher in James Shields, but they picked up one of the best prospects in baseball in Wil Myers.  Tampa also seems to be able to pull aces out of their farm system every year so there’s no doubt they’ll find a capable replacement for Shields.  Baltimore hasn’t made any major moves but they still have the team to over-achieve.  I do not know what next year will bring.  The Yankees still have December and January to improve, but the likelihood diminishes with each passing day.  If the Yankees falter in 2013, what does 2014 look like?  I can’t see the team suddenly reversing course and going into “Dodger” mode to sign free agents.  I think the Yankees will remain competitive, but I am not convinced they have the horses to win the World Series.

Maybe the All-Star Game should be the Dodgers against everyone else…

My favorite National League team is the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I am struggling with the thought of cheering for the two highest payrolls in baseball.  My affection for the Dodgers is primarily because of my long-time hero, Don Mattingly, but the huge salary outlay by the Dodgers will create unrealistic expectations in Dodgerland and it will be tough for Donnie Baseball if the Dodgers struggle.  I remain hopeful that he’ll one day find his way back to the Bronx to manage, but I am not pulling for him to get fired next year.  I am not sure who I would pull for in the NL if not the Dodgers.  I live in the Bay Area so there’s always the San Francisco Giants, but they’ve won the World Series in two of the last three years and I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon.  My fallback has always been the St Louis Cardinals because that’s where I experienced attending my first major league baseball game as a teenager so many years ago.  I suppose that I’ll stick with the Dodgers as long as Mattingly is there, but Magic Johnson and company have certainly made it more challenging by their willingness to spend excessively.

Why does February 12th (when pitchers and catchers report) seem so close yet so far away?…

–Scott

 

The Law of Diminishing Return…

 

Dollars to donuts…

Joel Sherman has a good post today with his Hardball Blog in The New York Post entitled ’What would George do?’ among questions in Yanks’ $189M quest.

I do not dispute the reasons for why the Yankees are financially motivated to get under the $189M threshold given the reduced tax penalties it will create for future years in addition to the savings in 2014.  But can the Yankees maintain a championship caliber club in their quest to reconcile the bottom line?  Something’s got to give, and I am fearful that it will be the quality of the Yankee clubs put on the field in the next few years.

That sounds kind of ridiculous to say when other clubs have proven you can succeed with lesser dollars, but in Tampa, for example, it was years of high draft picks that filled the cupboards with premier players like Evan Longoria and David Price.  I see the same thing happening in Kansas City as they’ve been building solid, young talent.  The Yankees, on the other hand, have been picking at the bottom end of rounds for years and there have been more than a few misses along the way.  There has been a renewed emphasis on the farm system in recent years, however, it is still not within the upper echelon among the other clubs.

This paragraph in Joel Sherman’s post cuts to the heart of the problem:

“The aging/diminishing Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira plus the roughly $11 million each team is charged for a benefits plan costs about $84 million toward the luxury tax each season. That would give the Yankees roughly $105 million to complete a contender in 2014. But say Robinson Cano gets $22 million a year. Now it is $83 million for everything else. That is doable, but less so after a year in which the Yankees’ farm system regressed horribly, potentially derailing the expected pipeline of lower-cost talent.”

I checked the cities of Baltimore, Boston, and Tampa against Manhattan on a cost of living calculator and found that the equivalent salaries in New York would need to substantially greater to maintain the same cost of living.  A Boston salary would need to be 63.10% greater, Baltimore 89.70%, and Tampa 145.28%.  Okay, not every player will live in Manhattan and that’s probably an extreme, but it still shows on the affordability scale, it simply takes more dollars to live in New York than anywhere else.  Other places like Florida and Texas have no state income tax.  I am sure that when A.J. Burnett got to Pittsburgh, it wasn’t just the reduced spotlight that helped his successful turnaround, the realization of how much further his millions would go in the Steel City probably factored into the equation.

As it stands at the moment, it is very likely the Yankees enter the 2013 season as a weaker team than the one who was swept by the Detroit Tigers last month.  I know, a lot can happen between now and then, but for the sake of this post, I have only the insight for where we stand today.  I felt that it was essential for the Yankees to re-sign Hiroki Kuroda.  As soon as there were indications that Kuroda would consider a one-year deal, the Yankees should have been aggressive in locking him up.  But by delaying, the two LA teams are stepping up their pursuit and the area has an advantage given Kuroda’s familiarity and close ties to Southern CA.  I believe that his wife and two daughters still reside in California.  Losing Kuroda from the rotation will hurt.  I am not convinced that David Phelps can match the level of performance that Kuroda achieved this past season.

The sooner the Yanks can move Alex Rodriguez to full-time DH will be better.  They need a quality, front-line third baseman who can hit in the clutch.  Sadly, there are not any high level prospects so free agency or a trade might be the only options.  Given the former is probably not where the team intends to put its “limited” dollars, a trade is most likely the only solution.  Of course, that will only deplete the Yankees of other young talent.

I guess Moneyball is alive and well and living in the Bronx.  It is time for Brian Cashman to prove to the critics that he is a good general manager despite the Yankee resources.  I do believe that he is so it will be interesting to see how the next few months unfold.  I have read those who believe the Yankees will ultimately spend without regard to 2014, but given Hal Steinbrenner’s financial background, I see the team sticking to its plan.  Time will tell if his stance is justified.  Perhaps this is a radical, game-saving approach that will bring fiscal responsibility back into the game.  Then again, maybe not…

–Scott

 

The Hot Stove League Pre-Season is underway…

 

Yes, Brian, I want to believe…

“I am excited about the opportunities we have.”

I wish that I could say that was my quote, but unfortunately, I am not feeling as optimistic as GM Brian Cashman who spoke those words.

With the imminent departure of Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano, and Hiroki Kuroda, combined with another year of age on Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, the future is not looking so rosy at the moment.  For a team that needs to upgrade its rotation, losing Kuroda would clearly be a setback.  I remain hopeful that the team will re-sign him to a one year deal since he appears willing to accept a short-term contract and all signs indicated he enjoyed his time in New York.  I really do not expect the Yankees to re-sign either Swisher or Soriano.  It’s unfortunate as I’ve appreciated the positive impact that Swisher’s personality had on the Yankees’ “corporate” clubhouse culture.  As Soriano, the excessively fat contract for a set up guy paid dividends when Mariano Rivera was lost for the season and he superbly stepped in to give the Yankees a top closer as a brief trial with David Robertson.

If the Yankees could sign Joaquim Soria to a set up role, I do think it would help neutralize the loss of Soriano.  There is also the possibility that reliever David Aardsma could move into the role, along with Robertson, if he successfully makes it back from his injury.

Replacing Swisher’s bat will be the tougher challenge.  No offense against Torii Hunter, but signing him to be the new right fielder does not make me excited.  I do like the talk of moving Brett Gardner to center and Curtis Granderson to left.  Hopefully, the Yankees can bring Ichiro Suzuki back for another year.  I am not sure what the best answer is for right.  The best options are only available through trade.

I read this morning that the Boston Red Sox had signed Atlanta Braves’ backup catcher David Ross, whom the Yankees liked.  I am surprised Atlanta let him get away given the health of starter Brian McCann, but it’s disappointing to see the Red Sox snatch away a player that could have helped the Yankees.

With a team that is trying so hard to reduce payroll by 2014 and one that devotes so much salary space to decreasingly productive guys like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, I just don’t see Brian Cashman being successful playing “Moneyball”.  When you consider how many dollars the Yanks have committed to A-Rod and his drain on the roster, it would appear to me that the team has less dollars to play with than any of their big city rivals if the end game is to avoid luxury tax and penalties in 2014.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been so appreciative of players like Jeter, Rivera and Andy Pettitte.  But the fact remains that they will be another year older in 2013 and at some point, they will begin to break down.  There doesn’t seem to be any high level prospects ready to step into their shoes.  I wish there was a way the team could move A-Rod and his albatross contract but that’s unlikely to happen.

I remain hopeful that Brian Cashman is able to make a move this winter to improve the team.  If the team stays status quo or struggles to replace those they will lose, I do not see the Yankees finishing any higher than third in the AL East next season.  But, of course, if Hal Steinbrenner lets Cash make the moves necessary to position the team for 2013, then they’ll be in the thick of the pack at the top of the division.

Tino, Tino, Tino!…

I am happy to see Tino Martinez become hitting coach for the Miami Marlins.  It is bittersweet to see him leave the Yankees organization, but much easier to see him go to his home state as opposed to being the hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox.  The latter was a real possibility as the Sox had gotten permission to talk to Martinez, but fortunately, he opted to go help Mike Redmond turn around the Marlins.  The Los Angeles Dodgers have been my favorite NL team in recent years due to manager Don Mattingly.  I enjoy seeing my favorites do well, even if they can’t do it in the Yankees organization.  Another example would be San Francisco Giants’ pitching coach Dave Righetti, fresh off his second World Series championship in three years.  Tino is certainly in the same class with those guys, and will always be someone that I will root for.  That’s why watching him go to Boston would have been so difficult.

Coach Giambino…

Speaking of hitting coaches, I am hopeful that manager “wannabe” Jason Giambi decides to take the hitting coach position with the Colorado Rockies.  Maybe he is not ready to hang up his bat just yet, but I think he would be a very positive addition to Walt Weiss’s staff and it would put him on the path of eventually reaching his goal to be a manager.  While I was surprised to see the Rockies go with Weiss as manager over Matt Williams, I recognize that Weiss knows the Rockies organization and they know him.  If he surrounds himself with the right coaching staff, I think Weiss can be highly successful in Colorado.

The Dodgers quest to overtake the Giants…

Regressing back to the Dodgers but staying on the theme of hitting coaches, I was mildly surprised by Mark McGwire’s decision to move from the Cardinals to the Dodgers.  I know that McGwire is a Southern CA guy, but still, the Cardinals were his organization.  Maybe that’s why it is best to move to another organization so that your legacy as a player is the primary association.  Granted, McGwire does not have the untarnished reputation like Mattingly had in New York, but hopefully it works out for Big Mac.  Performance-enhancing drugs or not, the guy knows how to hit.

It’s funny, particularly given my long history of being a Yankees fan, but I am a little put off by the free spending ways of the new Dodgers ownership group.  While I believe that you have to spend to put a quality team on the field, spending frivolously seems excessive.  For the Yankees, I only need to use A-Rod as the example.  Over $30 million in one season devoted to a player whose skills are rapidly eroding.  $30 million would go a long way toward bringing in multiple quality…and productive…players.  The Dodgers should no qualms about picking up the contracts of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford when it remains to be seen if they can rise to the current level of their contracts.  It looks like high stakes poker to me with much potential for disaster.

In a couple of weeks, the Hot Stove League should start heating up and it will be interesting to see what form this off-season takes.  I am cautiously optimistic, but understand that it’s very possible the Yanks go into next season hoping some young guys from the farm system are ready to take it to the next level.  I guess I now know what it’s like to be a fan of the Minnesota Twins or Kansas City Royals…

–Scott

 

Home Field Advantage doesn’t help when you can’t get home…

 

A funny thing happened on the way to the World Series…

While the Yankees have gotten good starting pitching, the one thing I knew they lacked will most likely be the reason that they will find themselves, once again, on the sidelines.  Timely, clutch hitting.  For whatever reason, when the Yankees bats go silent, bad things happen.  After they were ousted last year by the Detroit Tigers, I felt the team needed to find some dependable, productive bats to help kickstart the offense during those lulls.  The weakness does not get overly exposed in the course of a 162-game season, but in a short 7-game series, it most certainly does (particularly when your opponent is able to put baseball’s best on the mound for one or two appearances).

The Yankees made a few minor moves in the off-season, but nothing to help enhance the offense.  Yes, they signed Raul Ibanez and he has had some great at-bat’s this post-season.  But face it, he is not the player he was a few years ago with the Philadelphia Phillies.  Ichiro Suzuki has been a positive but he was merely a replacement for what the Yankees had in Brett Gardner until he was injured.

When Robinson Cano is not hitting, there’s no one on the team that is capable of carrying the team on his back.  A-Rod’s best days are clearly in the rear view mirror.  Nick Swisher is a classic example of hot/cold, and Mark Teixeira is certainly not the feared slugger he used to be.

As I write this post, the Yankees trail the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, 2 games to none.  They are down 2-0 in the 5th, and Phil Hughes has left the game with a back injury.  Justin Verlander is the opposing pitcher (and the aforementioned “baseball’s best”).  The mountain the Yankees have to climb seems impossible from my vantage point.  Prove me wrong, I’d love it.  But the Yankees hitters just do not match up well against Detroit’s pitchers.  I was enjoying it earlier in the season when it looked like the Chicago White Sox might win their division, but they faded and allowed the team I feared most to make the play-offs.  Well, I feared the Tampa Bay Rays too, but started their late season rally too late.

Maybe Cherington was right to the blow up his roster…

The Yankees cannot go into the upcoming off-season with status quo in mind.  With Alex Rodriguez’s contract now becoming a huge albatross, what can the team do to overcome?  Derek Jeter had a great season until his ankle injury derailed him.  Can he put up another successful campaign next year.  I wouldn’t bet against him, but the realist in me knows that he’ll be a 39-year old shortstop.  At some point, the skills do start to erode.  If the Yankees decide that Robinson Cano is not worth a behemoth contract, how do they fill second?  At what point does Mark Teixeira become a liability?  Those long, slow starts are becoming longer and slower as the years go by.  All those questions and we havn’t even gotten out of the infield.

The Yankees and GM Brian Cashman have many difficult decisions ahead.  Putting the 2003 All-Star Team on the field is not the answer.  We need the 2013 or 2014 All-Star Team!  Okay, that’s not realistic, but the Yankees need players with talent, ability and lots of upside.  And, oh yeah, lots and lots of pitching.

George, are you there?…

Given that Hank Steinbrenner’s fingerprints were on the re-signing of Alex Rodriguez, maybe the first action of the off-season should be to neuter Hank and leave the critical decisions to Hal Steinbrenner.  Or better yet, seek a medium (is John Edward available?) to consult with the spirit of George Steinbrenner.

It’s disappointing to watch the Yankees underperform on their way to a quick exit from the ALCS.  Every divisional series went 5 games, and the NLCS has some fire to it.  Meanwhile, the Yankees choke.  C’mon, prove me wrong, I dare you…

 

–Scott

 

Belated Congratulations for the AL East Championship…

 

All hail the Champions…

A quick post to congratulate the New York Yankees for winning the American League East Division Championship on the last day of the season.  Thanks to the Baltimore Orioles’ loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the division was a foregone conclusion when the Yankees completed their thrashing of the Boston Red Sox.  Still, I am glad that the team won on the day they clinched the division.  A loss on “clinching day” always seems so cheap.

Although it was disappointing the Yankees let a large lead slip, they definitely went into ‘bend but not break’ mode as they held at least a share of first throughout the O’s challenge in the final month of the season.  It was a constant back-and-forth…tied, then Yanks ahead, and then tied again.  But in the end, the team persevered.

A funny thing happened on the way to the World Series…

The big surprise to me on the last day of the season was the Texas Rangers’ failure to withstand a large charge by the Oakland A’s.  I remember looking at the standings in July and writing it off as a foregone conclusion that the Rangers would be the AL West champions.  In my mind, they were still the team to beat in the American League.  While I recognized the A’s had the spirited ‘don’t quit’ mentality, I still viewed them as inferior either the Rangers or the Los Angeles Angels.  This was a team that was throwing Triple A pitchers into the starting rotation in September.  All the way to Game 162, I fully expected the Rangers to take care of business.  But they failed, and were forced to play the one game Wild Card game against the Baltimore Orioles, which they subsequently lost.  Here was the team that was in my mind, the team most likely to go to the World Series and win it, yet they collapsed in the final two most critical weeks of the season.

The Rangers’ loss opens the door for all of the other AL play-off participants to advance to the World Series.  I can’t say there is a clear-cut favorite because even the Yankees, with the best record in the conference, have their share of questions.  The ALDS series format is odd given the first two games of the series will be held in the inferior team’s ballpark.  The Yankees are tied with the O’s late in Game 1 tonight but that always favors the home team with last at-bat.

It was real, it was fun, but it was not real fun…

I am not a Bobby Valentine fan, but I really do believe that firing Valentine was the best case scenario for the Boston Red Sox organization.  As a fan of an opposing team, I’d love for the dysfunction to continue, but the Red Sox fans deserve better.  I subscribe to the adage that ‘to be the best, you have to beat the best’ so I really hope the Red Sox can secure a manager who fits the organization and maximizes the potential and ability of its players.  I still think that recently named Phillies third base coach Ryne Sandberg would be an excellent fit, but maybe it is John Farrell despite the disappointing year in Toronto or other manager.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Respectful of the man who brought two World Championships to Boston…

Speaking of Boston, it was good to see former Red Sox manager Terry Francona return to the game as manager of the Cleveland Indians.  Even when he was the manager of the Red Sox, I had a great deal of respect for Tito.  I have long felt he was one of the game’s truly good guys.  Yes, that final year in Boston did get away from him, but there were so many factors and personalities at play, I feel it is unfair to pin all the blame on Tito.  I am looking forward to seeing what he can do in the Cleveland with his batteries recharged…

A few thoughts on the season…

  • Hey Albert, how did that first year in Los Angeles work out for ya?  Well, at least you have all those mega millions to enjoy your off-season while the team you bailed on continues the defense of its world championship…
  •  Miguel Cabrera has overcome those personal demons, I think…
  • Bryce Harper got the press, but Mike Trout is the stud…
  •  A.J. Burnett proved that he is the latest incarnation of Ed Whitson.  Wilt under the New York spotlight, but thrive in a smaller market with less glare…
  •  Melky Cabrera, disappointment is an understatement.  I respect the San Francisco Giants for their intention to cut ties with the Melk Man.  I really wouldn’t want to be the organization that extends him an olive branch.  In other words, I do not want to see Melky back in the Bronx.
  • How many more years are left on A-Rod’s contract?  Geesh, Jeter continues to pay dividends on his contract at age 38, while A-Rod just keeps making me think of that old Dire Straits’ tune “Money For Nothing”…
  • The Atlanta Braves may have made a quiet departure with their Wild Card loss to St. Louis, but there’s no question that the Braves will continue to be a force with those young pitchers…
  • Oh, Philadelphia Phillies, where for art thou?…
  • The American League Houston Astros?  That sounds so wrong!  But then again, I have finally accepted the Milwaukee Brewers as a National League team so I guess we’ll have to re-visit this in a few years…
  • Trade Ivan Nova and re-sign Hiroki Kuroda…that sounds like a good plan to me!…

I know there’s many more thoughts regarding the 2012 season, but these were a few that immediately came to mind.  It was a fun season and continues to be as we move forward in the AL and NL divisional series.  The idea of two Wild Card teams per league was a success, and win or lose, it was the right thing to do.  There was drama and intrigue up until the last day of the season, and no team “mailed it in”.  I still have too many questions about my own team to anoint them as the AL representative for the World Series.  As of the present moment, my best guess is a “Sparky Anderson” World Series…The Cincinnati Reds versus the Detroit Tigers.  Obviously, I’d prefer to see the Yankees and I hope they prove me wrong about their pitching and clutch hitting…

Ah, October baseball, I love this time of year!

 

–Scott

 

 

It’s 613 miles to Detroit. We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses…hit it!…

 

Are you mocking me?…

The final series of the season has begun and the Yankees find themselves a game up on the Baltimore Orioles with two games to go in the battle for AL East supremacy.  It’s been a dogfight since the O’s caught the Yankees earlier in the month, and the two teams have pretty much matched each other stride for stride since that time.  Sunday, when the Yankees were trailing the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 after the O’s had won was the first time that I legitimately felt the Yankees could end the day in second place for the first time since early in the season.  Fortunately for me…and the Yankees, they fought back to emerge with a 9-6 victory.

A season of surprises…

After years of Yankees-Red Sox and most recently, Yankees-Red Sox-Rays, I never expected this to be the year that the Baltimore Orioles would emerge as the Yankees’ primary nemesis.  Still, the Tampa Bay Rays are the team that scares me the most.  With their pitching, they have the potential to go all the way if they make it.  Granted, it’s clearly an uphill battle for them, but they are perhaps the hottest team in baseball right now with 11 wins in 12 games.  Hopefully, the Oakland A’s will end the Rays’ quest but I’d like to see the Rays with an opportunity for at least one more night so they’ll play at the top of their game against the O’s again tomorrow night.  If the A’s win against the Texas Rangers tonight, then it’s over for the Rays.  I am thankful that the Rays’ run got started so late in the season.  If it had occurred earlier, there’s little doubt they’d be bumping shoulders with the Yankees and O’s.

While I am surprised about the successful O’s season, I am flabbergasted by the dismal failure of the Boston Red Sox.  This is a team that could have and should have won the AL East in 2011, but after tonight’s game, the team stands at 91 losses.  It is the highest loss total since 1965 when they lost 100 games.  There’s no threat of 100 losses, but this is clearly an inferior Red Sox team.  I think they’ll be much improved in 2013 but the team has much to do in order to re-tool the once championship squad.  In my opinion, Bobby Valentine has to go.  He has contributed to the dysfunction of the 2012 season and while the losses may not be his fault, he is not the right man for the job.  I do not necessarily think that John Farrell is, or that last year’s runner-up, Gene Lamont, should get the job.  If I were the Red Sox GM, I’d probably go with a guy who has a great deal of minor league managerial experience but has never gotten the opportunity at the major league level, Ryne Sandberg.  He’d be respected by the players and he has the ability to effectively communicate with the younger prospects.

I thought this would be the year the Toronto Blue Jays would take a step forward.  If I would have had to choose between the O’s and the Jays at the start of the season, I probably would have taken the Jays. But I felt they regressed this year.  Well, actually they did.  Who knows how this plays out for John Farrell.  It could be ownership is more willing to let him go to Boston, but of course, does Boston want him and is he truly the right fit?  This remains to be seen.  Nothing like some good old fashioned drama as we head toward the off-season.

As for the other races, I was disappointed to see the Chicago White Sox fade.  I felt they had their division, but the talent of the Detroit Tigers persevered and thrust the team into the lead with a few games left.  Out west, there’s no doubt the Texas Rangers were going to be the champion, but to put the A’s into the play-offs over the Los Angeles Angels was a surprise.  Oakland’s pursuit of Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t look so far fetched now.

In the National League, I never would have predicted a division championship for the Washington Nationals.  They earned and deserved it, but I didn’t foresee it.  The awful season the Philadelphia Phillies experienced was a surprise.  Hey, Cliff Lee, how does that decision to rebuke the Yankees feel now?  I know, one season does not a mega-million contract make, but hey, this is baseball and it’s all about ‘what have you done for me lately?’.  Congratulations to the Atlanta Braves for at least nailing the Wild Card slot.

The Cincinnati Reds were not a surprise, even playing in the same division as the St Louis Cardinals.  This was destined to be a challenging year for the Cards with a new manager and first baseman.  The Cardinals should still make the play-offs, but this division played out as expected.

The NL West is where I am perplexed.  Although I currently reside in the Bay Area, my NL team is the Los Angeles Dodgers.  This is primarily because of the manager (Don Mattingly).  But after the expensive acquisitions late in the season (Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Brandon League and others), I really thought the Dodgers would be well poised to surge to the division championship.  Of course, I fully underestimated the San Francisco Giants and their pitching staff.  Tim Lincecum may have had his struggles this year, but I’d still hate to face him in October with all the chips on the table.

Welcome to the 2012 World Series…

As for my prediction of World Series participants, I am going to go with the Cincinnati Reds versus the Texas Rangers.  The Reds, in my opinion, have a slight advantage over the Washington Nationals.  Of course, I’ve underestimated the San Francisco Giants all season long so why should I change now?  I know this is a Yankees blog and I should be ‘all in’ on another Yankees participation in the World Series.  But I am just not convinced the team has the clutch hitting to succeed.  Hey, I hope they prove me wrong, but I don’t really see anyone else emerging from the AL than the Rangers.  I do not like the Rangers but I recognize that their hunger for a World Series championship remains and they have the talent to succeed.  Best case scenario?  The Yankees go to the World Series to face the San Francisco Giants and see how their hitters perform against former closer Dave Righetti’s aces.

It seems like the season just started but now just two games separate us from the 2012 post-season.  The race to the World Series begins…

—Scott

 

Money for nothing and the chicks for free…well, maybe not…

 

Knock me down, dust me off, and get back up…

I never expected the Baltimore Orioles to catch the Yankees in the AL East in the month of September.  All season, I’ve been expecting the O’s to run out of gas and drop off the pace.  It was the Tampa Bay Rays that I was most fearful of.  At one time, the Yanks had what seemed to be an insurmountable lead, but sluggish play in August and now September allowed the O’s to catch the division leaders.

Fortunately, a night later, the Yankees are back up by one game after defeating the Rays, 6-4, while the O’s lost to the Toronto Blue Jays by the same score.

I keep hearing the excuses of injuries but every team deals with its share of setbacks.  It is how the teams respond to adversity that defines the winners from the losers.  After the Yankees had defeated the Orioles in the second game of a recent three-game set (a game the O’s should have won), I thought the Yankees had turned back Baltimore’s threat.  But in the third game, the Yanks fell flat and the O’s walked away winning two of three.  That set the stage for this week’s tie as the Yankees continued to under-perform.

I knew that tonight’s game with the Rays was a “statement” game.  The Yankees needed to show who they are and what we can expect in the coming days and weeks.  It was a close game and less than stellar start for pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, but the Yankees got the all important “W” so that’s all that matters.  Now, they need to continue upon the momentum and kick this into a short (or long) winning streak.

I have been worried that the Yankees didn’t really add any reinforcements at the trading deadline.  Being forced to use Freddy Garcia in the starting rotation or over-exposing aging vets like Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez is not a good thing.  I had been hopeful that either Dellin Betances or Manny Banuelos would step up at some point this year after the season-ending loss of Michael Pineda in spring training, but injuries wiped out the talented duo.

I’d like to think the Yankees have the horses to win the World Series, but I do not.  I think they’ll persevere and win the AL East, but admittedly, I do not feel they’ll advance very deep in the play-offs.  Inferior pitching and the lack of timely hitting will again prove to be their Achilles Heel.  I am still convinced the Texas Rangers will once again represent the American League in the World Series.  Perhaps this is their year to finally win it.  I’d love it if the Yankees got hot and went on a roll that took them deep into October, but I just don’t see it happening.

Aaron Rodgers-Lite, is that too much to ask?…

As we move into the NFL season, it’s tough when your team (Minnesota Vikings) is picked to be on the fast track to a top pick in next year’s draft.  There is talent on the team so I don’t see anything close to 0-16, but Christian Ponder certainly needs to step up his game.  He has the intelligence and the ability to do it so time will tell.  It’s not going to hurt having T Matt Kalil watching his back.  Hopefully, the Vikings can regroup to the point that they are a championship caliber team by the time the new stadium opens.

Win a championship, lose to the Cowgirls…

Well, the NFL Season has opened and the Dallas Cowboys lead the rest of the league by one game.  Let the games begin!

–Scott

 

Forgiving Damon for that 2004 homer…

 

Sayonara, old friends…

This was a sad week for former Yankees stars as Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon were designated for assignment by their respective teams (Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians).  Matsui has subsequently been released and Damon’s release is imminent.  I doubt that either player will be picked up at this point in the season so it is most likely the sunset of both careers.

For Matsui, I think his original plan was to only play in the United States for three years but I am grateful that he extended his stay. He may not have been the “monster” player that he was in Japan (a/k/a Godzilla), but he knew and understood the power of the timely hit.  Time and again, Matsui had a key hit to propel the Yanks to victory.  He always seemed to rise to the occasion in the intense Boston-New York wars.  In terms of character, he could easily stand in the same room with guys like Derek Jeter.

It hasn’t been fun watching Matsui wear Angels, A’s, and Rays jerseys, but he will always be Yankee.

As for Damon, it is ironic that a player who played such a key role in the Red Sox breaking ‘The Curse of the Bambino’, plus the entire Caveman image, could become a valued Yankee.  Unlike Matsui, I won’t view Damon as a “Yankee” given his long tenure and success with other teams, but for his time in New York, he showed nothing but class and dignity.  Like Matsui, he was a clutch player who seemed to excel in the bright lights.

Introducing Billy Beane’s latest star pitcher…

With the apparent end of two great careers this week, I saw the opposite on a plane trip from Portland, OR to Oakland on Thursday.  The guy I was sitting next to was excited to be flying to Oakland to see his son, Dan Straily, make his major league pitching debut for the A’s on Friday night.  He was proud to say that his son led all of baseball in strikeouts, and talked about the hard work his son had accomplished to get to this point.  For the game, Straily didn’t figure in the decision, but his performance was a success:

 

Oakland Athletics
Pitchers

IP

 H

 R

ER

BB

SO

HR

PC-ST

ERA

D Straily

6.0

5

1

1

1

5

0

102-70

1.50

 

The A’s won the game, 5-4, in 15 innings.  I am sure that we’ve not seen the last of Mr. Straily.  Here’s hoping this is the start of a long and memorable career for Straily, his father and the rest of their family.

When in doubt, pick up a Pirate…

While the trading deadline was very active compared to recent years, it was another quiet period for the Yankees.  As the now fiscally conservative Yankees had been preaching, they did not make any moves for expensive, short-term rentals.  They picked up a need (third baseman Casey McGehee) to ensure that backup third baseman Eric Chavez is not over exposed to playing time while starter Alex Rodriguez is on the DL.  It’s a shame that Chavez is such an injury risk at this stage of his career, but I agree that it is best to limit his playing time for the good of his long-term health.

I thought the Yanks might try to make a move for a pitcher (someone like Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza) but it was clear that they would not overpay.  Time will tell if they made the right decisions, but I still have concerns about the team’s offense in the play-offs when every pitcher they face will be a #1 or #2 starter.  But September should see the return of top pitcher Andy Pettitte and a fresh Alex Rodriguez so perhaps those will be the team’s noteworthy “acquisitions” that boost team momentum.

Magic seems to be enjoying his new hobby…

The Los Angeles Dodgers have clearly re-emerged as a force in baseball with the new ownership group as they were the most active team in acquiring upgrades over the past couple of weeks (Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton).  I guess they’ve gotten over the reign of Frank McCourt and have shown that they are back in the game.  The San Francisco Giants are a strong team, but I think the Dodgers’ moves will help propel them past the Giants to the NL West pennant.  Good for Dodgers manager Don Mattingly who remains one of my favorite guys in Major League Baseball.

Nothing but crickets…

I was surprised the Boston Red Sox didn’t make any moves.  If there was a team that I had expected to make noise at the trading deadline, it was the Sox.  I don’t think they should give up quality guys like Jacoby Ellsbury or Jon Lester, but there were moves they could have made to give the team a jolt.  I may not be a fan of the Red Sox so I might be biased in making this comment, but I hope that this is a ‘one and done’ season for Boston manager Bobby Valentine.

We’ve moved into August and the Yankees hold a 6 ½ game advantage at the moment, but admittedly, it’s hard to get comfortable when that team in the rear view mirror is the Tampa Bay Rays.  The next couple of months should be interesting.  Let’s win this thing!…

–Scott

 

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