Sunday, October 31, 2010

Getting The Most Out Of Your Ace In The Playoffs

Cliff Lee is not your traditional rental. I think the Rangers have a very legitimate shot, especially with their new ownership group, of bringing him back. It's not like other rentals where you just know for certain they are gone the second the season is over. If that was the case, then Ron Washington's decision not to start Cliff Lee down 2-1 in Game 4 would be totally indefensible. If you have a player on a rental, you absolutely have to push the envelope to get the most out of them, within certain limits. Starting a player of Lee's caliber once or twice on three days rest would be within those limits.

Since it's the World Series, I don't think it really matters whether the player is a rental or not. If you have an ace like Cliff Lee, and you don't have four really trustworthy starters (no offense to Tommy Hunter, who is turning in an admirable performance as of right now), you should be starting your ace three times in the World Series if it goes 7. Yes, the last of those two starts will be on short rest. But again, it's the World Series. Especially down 2-1, do you want anyone else besides your ace deciding whether or not it goes 2-2 or 3-1? No. If you're going to go down 3-1, you want to go down 3-1 making them beat your ace.

Texas may very well come back and win this game (they are currently down 2-0), and be in an even better position than they would have been winning behind Cliff Lee, because then they'll be 2-2 with Cliff Lee going in Game 5. But I don't think you can take that risk. I'm not advocating to always start your ace on 3 days rest from the very start of the playoffs as that can backfire bigtime. It's not a black and white issue, it's very much situational. Once you get to the World Series, I think you've reached that situation. You're at a point where the total amount of potential games left to be played is very much quantifiable. You can plan for pretty much everything. And of course, it's for all of the marbles at that point. Start your ace on short rest in Games 4 and 7.

In other news, the Yankees brought Joe Girardi back for 3 years at $9 million. This is a raise from his initial contract, which was for 3 years and $7.50 million. A $500k per year range sounds about right for a manager already getting paid well and who has won a World Series and been to the ALCS in the last two seasons. My reaction to this is pretty neutral. First and foremost, it was expected. Even had the Cubs job been open, I thought Girardi would be back. With the Cubs job filled, it seemed even more likely. Beyond that, this is the right move. Girardi is not a great manager overall. He's an excellent regular season manager, and so far has been a poor postseason manager (I know the obvious response to this is that he just won a World Series last year, but just because a team wins the World Series does not mean their manager did a good job managing them to it.). Average those two things out and you have a good to very good manager. Those are the kind you want to keep bringing back. One of Girardi's biggest strengths is that he is typically on the cutting edge of what is going on around baseball, and is willing to adjust accordingly. Hopefully he does so if the Yankees make the playoffs again under him, realizing that the binder that gets him through the regular season so effectively by relying on averages does not matter as much in short series. Most importantly, if you did let Girardi go, who would you bring in? No, he's not sensational. But he's better than most alternatives. So even if you don't absolutely love him, it was the right move to bring him back.

Final thought, both the Yankees and Red Sox are looking for new pitching coaches. As the Yankees have seen first-hand with Kevin Long, having exceptional pitching and hitting coaches can have a huge impact on a team. As pitching becomes scrutinized more and more, especially regarding young pitchers, these are important hires for both clubs. For the Yankees, there has been talk about hiring proven guys who, like Girardi, are on the cutting edge of helping pitchers perform at their peak. Of course, I am in on this 100%. At the same time, I would throw David Cone's name into the mix. I have no idea if he's interested, and if he was, if the Yankees would be seriously interested in him, so I'm really just throwing this out there. But he has a few big things going for him in my opinion. First, he was one of, if not the primary, leader of the championship teams in the late '90's, so he'd be a good presence for the whole team, not just the pitching. Second, you know he has pedigree, and from listening to him as a broadcaster he is incredibly analytical and articulate in regards to the technical elements of pitching. When you combine those two things, you have someone who is able to command the respect of and relate to the Yankees big-name veteran pitchers while also connect with and develop their younger pitchers as well. I don't think this is a requirement for the job, but being able to do both would seem to help, and certainly is not easy to come by. His biggest detraction is that he has no experience, but given that Girardi would be overseeing him as a former catcher, and the two of them worked together for so long as players, it could be an ideal fit. I don't see it happening, but I think I might like to.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Meltdown

This is our fourth postseason in the How Youz Doin Baseball era, and it may have been back during the first when we brought up that you very rarely see teams with bad bullpens succeed once qualifying for the playoffs. This is, of course, because in the playoffs you only have four games to lose before you're out. If your bullpen is costing you one of those games, it's significant. If they're costing you more than one of your games, it's probably time to say goodbye.

We talked about the 2004 Red Sox, and one of their keys to victory was that their bullpen, even down to Curtis Leskanic at the right time, was solid and didn't cost them games. I'm pretty sure I argued against the success of the 2007 team because Eric Gagne was on the roster. But it's been a prevalent trend that if you have a solid bullpen, you're built to succeed in close games in the playoffs.

That's why this World Series is especially interesting. Both of these bullpens are not very good. Yes, the Rangers' bullpen is worse, and this fact is right in our face after they completely melted down last night, but they're both pretty poor. It might actually be the worst bullpen we've seen in the World Series since we started this thing - times two.

The closers on both squads are quite good. Neftali Feliz and Brian Wilson are both very solid. However, beyond that, look out. The Rangers' organizational philosophy is to stretch out their starters, and that's a good thing because it minimizes Darren time and lets the games go right from the starter to Feliz.

The Giants have two notably bad Red Sox castoffs in Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez. Ramirez has cost the Giants one game already this postseason and I'm pretty sure he got lit up on another occasion as well. JLo has been unscathed so far, but I think he might be the all-time league leader in coming in from the bullpen and walking his one batter on four pitches. A percentage, of course.

Pat believes that the Giants' bullpen is not that bad but, like the 2009 Yankees, is just not "namesy." No. Watch Game 1 and watch Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez.

The Rangers' bullpen has already famously imploded during Game 1 of the ALCS. It is overly generous that Darren Oliver has a job in baseball in the first place. Darren O'Day, while his overall season stats are okay, has been bad this postseason. I told Pat that over the course of the series, the answer is always going to be "over" when faced with an over-under on how many runs a Darren will let up in a World Series appearance.

Walking guys after sitting in the bullpen all day is enfuriating. Walking guys on four pitches is equally bad. Coming in from the bullpen and throwing 12 balls in 13 pitches is inexcusable, and Derek Holland did just that. By the way, why is this poor guy Mark Lowe (3 appearance, 12.00 ERA) on the roster?

Also notable was that the Rangers' bullpen kept the Giants out of reach in Game 1, preventing the Giants' bullpen's late-inning meltdown that made Brian Wilson necessary in the ninth inning. Either way, no lead is safe with either of these teams. Could make for some late nights.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sports Roundup

A DV style list, the first one in a while.

- If I didn't provide enough support in my post Tuesday, Game 1 of the World Series was further proof of how unpredictable short series are, and how much teams can change from series to series. Texas did almost everything right against the Yankees. They got great starting pitching, bullpen pitching after Game 1 that was almost as good, and played flawless defense. Tonight they got an awful start from Cliff Lee, got bullpen pitching that was almost as bad, and kicked the ball all over the place. They aren't any better or worse as a team than they were a few days ago. They just played worse. Further proof that the best team doesn't always win playoff series in baseball, the team that just plays better does. I had Giants in 7 before the series and I certainly feel good about that now.

- I walked out of Giants Stadium after Week 3 thinking there was a high probability I wasn't going to have much of an NFL football season. The Giants next four games were against teams that looked to make up a very tough stretch: Bears, @Texans, Lions, @Dallas. I though 1-3 was a serious possibility. Sure enough they hit their stride and went 4-0, playing a dominating brand of football on both sides of the ball for most of all four games. It looks like '07/'08 all over again. Perry Fewell certainly has the defense re-energized, and he has be believing this team can get stops every week against almost anybody. You also have to give Tom Coughlin a lot of credit. No matter what he accomplishes, the second this team has two bad games everyone is questioning his leadership and ability as a coach. He seems to have one of the shortest leashes in a city that mostly only has short leashes. But he always stays the course, doesn't let it effect him, doesn't panic, and almost always gets good results. Another great job by Jerry Reese this offseason as well, not just in the moves he made but the ones he didn't, choosing to hold onto guys coming off down years. They have mostly rewarded him with big bounceback seasons to date. Perhaps most importantly, the one thing the Giants have been missing since the Super Bowl run is a go-to guy offensively. Being deep and having lots of options is great, you need that too, and the Giants have that. But in the National Football League that only gets you so far if you don't have the guy that can make big plays against tough defenses or when the rest of the offense has an off day to get you a win. Hakeem Nicks is very quickly turning into that guy. He spreads the field/gets behind defenses and plays possession at an elite level. There are very few receivers in football that do both as well as he does.

- Great to have hoops back. It's even better when you're team, for the first time in a long time, has one of the 10 best players in the league like the Knicks now do with Amare Stoudemire. With a pretty balanced attack surrounding him and a terrific point guard in D'Antoni's system in Raymond Felton, the Knicks should be hanging around in the middle-bottom of the playoff picture in the East. Normally that is not an accomplishment, but for the Knicks it is major progress. With the chance that Carmelo Anthony ends up here by the trade deadline, you could see them competing for a lot more than that.

- I will not be rooting for the Miami Heat this year, but have no problem with what those players decided to do. Everyone gets way too caught up in legacy and loyalty and doing it on your own and all that stuff. You get to live life one time, and if you want to go play in a certain place with a certain group there is no reason not to. There is also no such thing as a cheap/easy wins, as we see with the Yankees all the time, and as we will probably see with the Heat this season. They may win it all, but as we saw on opening night it won't be easy for them. For this reason, I don't blame these guys for trying to increase their chances of winning by joining forces. I also think it creates more excitement, which is always good. The NBA with the Miami Heat this year is much more fun than it would be without them. I haven't seen any ratings, but I bet you that Celtics/Heat game was the most watched opening night in a while.

- Continuing on some thoughts by The Gunn and TimC in the comments yesterday, I think the Heat's best chance to find offensive fluidity/cohesiveness, and thus play and win at maximum capacity, is for Wade to be the man and for Lebron to deliver the knock out blows. Not because I think Wade is better than Lebron, but because I think it fits their styles more naturally. Wade is as good with the ball in his hands as anyone in the league and has a more balanced offensive game. Lebron is the best all-around player in the league and is lethal in the open floor. If Wade is the lead back, he wears teams down like he used to do anyway without Lebron or Bosh, then Lebron, who has been solidly filling the stat sheet in balanced fashion all night and playing a good overall floor game, beats you offensively like a change of pace back in the second half when you don't have enough in the tank to handle a talented and physical force like him. If Wade is getting 30 most nights, and Lebron is in the low-mid 20s with a triple-double type numbers overall, I think that is when the heat become dangerous. Going this route also puts most of the decision making with Wade, which I also thinks suits the team beast. Wade is more of a point guard anyway, and now Lebron can just let his ability take over without having to think about making everybody else better. I don't mention Bosh much because I don't think his role can be maximized until you figure out what to do with Wade and Lebron. The only way I see him really getting hurt is if there is constant confusion with those two. If there is no such confusion, he becomes a very big problem for opposing defenses, because he's a 6'11" guy that can knock down the jumper consistently if you leave him to help on Wade/Lebron driving, and if you try to take the two of them away, he can catch the ball and score 1 on 1 either facing the basket or with his back to it. I think it's all about figuring out Wade and Lebron's roles. I didn't see any of the game, but based on the box score I think how things went tonight is how they'll be at their best.

- I think we are in for a great college hoops season as well. Duke is going to be very good again, but it's also going to be pretty wide open. Steve Lavin is doing absolutely incredible things at St. John's, and it's difficult to imagine anyone, including those candidates they preferred and those they couldn't have gotten, doing any better. He has been that good. They are very senior heavy and should be in the upper-middle of the pack in the Big East. For 2011 they currently have the 5th rated recruiting class behind only Kentucky, Duke, UNC, and Arkansas according to both ESPN and Rivals. No, you did not read that last sentence incorrectly. He already has 5 major guys signed, with 5 scholarships still available for that year. It's really going to be great having hoops back in this city again between St. John's and the Knicks, not just for fans of those teams but for the sport. New York is the best basketball city in the world, and everybody benefits when their basketball teams are relevant, whether they root for or against them. It generates more excitement.

Everyone have a fantastic weekend.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

No Offseason

Want to change gears a little bit for a Wednesday. Unfortunately I probably won't be on the comment stream too much, but that's life. However, the Red Sox have pulled Arod-style timing for a lot of their offseason wheelings and dealings, showing no respect for the eight franchises who could actually construct a team that could make it to the playoffs - seven of which could do it with less than $170 million! But as the Fox television network can televise a garbage Halloween special for a garbage show in Glee last night, we have now gone three (3) days without baseball for no good reason.

So why not turn to the Red Sox?

We'll start with the ownership group's top priority: The Liverpool soccer team. They are getting killed around here to a pretty big extent. The ownership group is nickel and diming on baseball operations everywhere - in free agency, in waiver wire acquisitions, they're even haggling in the draft! - but they're torching almost half a billion dollars in the troubled soccer team who have already been dogged by a terrible American ownership group in the Tom Hicks group. (By the way, you should have stuck to radio and soda, bro.)

Boston fans are crushing the ownership group both for their cheapness on the baseball side and for spreading themselves too thin with the soccer team, the NASCAR team that they are trying to shove down every New England fan's throats, and whatnot. And that's reasonably fair. An uncommitted ownership (hi Jeremy Jacobs) is a good way for a team to flounder. But at the same time, perhaps the vexatious Twittering billionaire can shut up for a while and let the baseball people handle baseball stuff instead of doing the membership card nonsense. Doubtful. But whatever.

My dad is a big soccer guy, having played at a high level when he was young. Fox Soccer is on at his house more than any channel except for the Felger Channel. He claims Henry and friends are geniuses, and in the long run, the acquisition of Liverpool while at its lowest value and doing a Bill Parcells (yo!) job on the franchise will ultimately pay dividends, both figuratively and literally. Liverpool is untapped potential, with a historic but dilapidated stadium and a devoted fan base with international marketability. If they turn a profit, which they should because they are not Tom Hicks, that is more liquidity that can hopefully be used to fortify the baseball team.

As long as they don't shove it down my throat and make me feel bad for rooting for any other team on that continent, knock yourselves out. But if you're going to do with this team what you do with the NASCAR team, go away.

Priority #2 is the team's gift to Theo Epstein by moving the right field bullpen in a couple of feet. What a joke. This was done exactly seventy years ago, adding the bullpens there and moving home run territory 23 feet closer. That was to help enhance Ted Williams's stats and thereby improving the team's chance of winning in the 1940s. This team is built around four right-handed pitchers. Therefore, it makes very little sense.

Unless you realize that Theo Epstein has looked foolish for four years, signing a right fielder for $14 million per. This should probably up JD's home run totals to about 25, as his warning-track-power fly outs will now be home runs. This may actually result in Drew's first 70-RBI season in a Red Sox uniform. What a sweet thing to do for their smug general manager and his boy who is now 162 baseball games from retirement. Someone should tell Lucchino that the 110 weak ground balls to the right side still wouldn't be home runs under the new ground rules.

Last thing: John Farrell is now the Blue Jays' manager. Some classy things were said by the organization about the guy. I do believe the guy did a lot of good work in Boston. I don't idolize him like most of the populace does around here, as I still ask where the genius was for Beckett, Matsuzaka, Papelbon, Smoltz, Penny, most of the bullpen, and even some of the better pitchers who had bad stretches (Buchholz in '08, Lester every April). Of course, only me and Kaplan would criticize Jesus if he were the Red Sox' pitching coach. Although Jesus was one of Kaplan's people, so maybe it would just be me.

Finding a new pitching coach will be interesting, and while there have been a few names thrown out (including Rick Peterson's, which I mentioned Monday as he was instrumental in formulating the Verducci theory), I hope they promote from within. Mike Cather, who was Portland's pitching coach when I was working in the organization, should be the guy. He has a pretty deep connection with Buchholz especially (this is partially why he was demoted to Portland in 2008), and the former major league reliever has also been instrumental in the development of Rusty Masterson, Daniel Bard, and Michael Bowden - two of whom have struggled since they went different ways. A dark horse, sure, but he's got my endorsement.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Different Feel To A Playoff Exit

Since the Yankees were eliminated Friday night, I haven't been as upset as I usually am. Don't get me wrong, I was frustrated, particularly as I watched a 1-1 game turn into a borderline laugher in the middle innings due to more questionable managing (you would think that after getting beat just three days earlier by leaving his starter in with 2 outs and in major trouble in the middle innings Girardi might adjust, but of course not) and poor player execution. But it wasn't anywhere near '01-'07 levels, and it has only gotten better as a few more days have gone by.

This has a lot to do with 2009, no question. Winning last year, in the exciting and dominating fashion that they did, took some of the sting out of this year. It didn't make me want to win the 2010 World Series any less. As anyone who reads here even semi-regularly knows, I am constantly trumpeting the Yankees need to win while they still have Mariano Rivera being the best ever, because once they don't it is going to become much harder to win. Every year they don't win with him is a wasted opportunity, especially when they got as close as they did this year. To be honest with you, that is the only part about this playoff exit that really stings. Anyway, while 2009 doesn't make me want to win any less, it did take some of the edge off of it.

This also has a lot to do with an increased realization that you just can't win every year. Not in this sport. This particular postseason thus far has been a prime example of it. You can start with the Yankees. They played brutal baseball in September. Brutal. The Twins had the best record in baseball in the second half, and the best home record in the majors on the season. You could barely have two teams heading in more opposite directions entering the playoffs. The Yankees went right into Minnesota and too two games and ultimately swept the series. They could hardly have looked more dominant doing it. A week later they started a series against the Rangers, and looked like a totally different baseball team, and got dominated themselves in every facet of the game for most of the series. Over the course of the regular season, this stuff evens out. In the playoffs there is no time for that. The hottest team wins. This is true even when you have a team that is clearly better than everyone else, like the 2009 Yankees. When teams are as evenly matched as they are in these playoffs, it's even more true. The Yankees are probably a little bit better than the Twins, but for three games they looked a lot better than them. The Yankees and the Rangers are, at best, evenly matched. Over a full season the Yankees are probably slightly better, even with Cliff Lee, considering they won more games in a much tougher division. For six games the teams mostly looked like they were playing different sports.

You also have to look at the Phillies. They've been to the World Series two years in a row, and have by far the best pitching they've had in any of those runs in Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels (the '08 World Series MVP as the #3? Seriously?). They had a great offense again, and the back end of their bullpen in Madsen and Lidge were very hot entering the playoffs. They looked about as close to a lock as you could look, to at the very least, get out of the National League, and were also the favorite to win the World Series against a tough American League field. After sweeping the Reds in similarly dominant fashion to the way the Yankees swept the Twins, they got beat in 6 games by a team that was 17th in the majors in runs scored.

The Yankees won 95 games in the toughest division in baseball, and got to Game 6 of the ALCS. While the ALCS loss was not a particularly good one, considering the above, how upset can you really get about getting that far the year after winning a World Series? I am in no way an advocate of the thinking that when you win one it makes going after the next one any less exciting as a fan. Had the Yankees won 84 games and missed the playoffs, or gotten swept in the first round, that's one thing. I would not have been happy about that 2009 considered. But you can't win the World Series every year, and you can't get there every year either. Once you get to the playoffs in baseball, there is just too much that can happen. It is, as they say, too much of a crapshoot. Winning a lot of games in the regular season in a tough division, and getting within two wins of the World Series, is a pretty good effort despite that they did not do much well in the series they got eliminated in. They also ran into a team that was hotter and just played better.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tom Verducci and the World Series

"It should be supremely interesting to see what happens to pitchers with a Texas Rangers uniform on. This one organization...is all alone in the pursuit of building pitchers by having them pitch a lot. Personally, I'm rooting for them because I'm pro-not being a baby. But let's face it: The people being treated like Phil Hughes are having a much better season than the people treated like Daisuke Matsuzaka."
-Tom Verducci and the Year of the Pitcher, HYD Baseball, July 14.

At least in the short term, things are looking quite good for pitchers in Texas jerseys. They largely shut down arguably the two most high-powered offenses in baseball on their way to the World Series, and while the centerpiece of the rotation is not home-grown, this is the way Tommy Hunter (especially) and Colby Lewis (unintentionally) grew up with the organizational philosophy of throwing them in with the sharks. Hunter, only 23, suffered a minor hip injury this year, and because of this injury, he's thrown the fewest number of innings in the last three years. The last two years he was close to 200 innings a season.

Lewis is an interesting story, as he was a classic Verducci case in the minors - heavily worked very early, then suffered a slew of injuries to the point that he had to revive his career in Japan. But he's back.

Obviously, in the current term, things are going well with both. But Lewis seems to be proving the Verducci theory and Hunter seems to go against the grain. It should be extremely interesting to see whether Texas, especially assuming that Lee is gone in two weeks, can remain a perennial contender. They have several good guys offensively who are still around for varying lengths of time. But can these pitchers with the nontraditional philosophy stay afloat?

Also notable, and bringing in the Boston connection: John Farrell is gone, and this morning's Globe mentioned Rick Peterson (who was Verducci's main source in the formulation of the theory) as a candidate to become the Red Sox' next pitching coach.

Other intriguing stories surrounding the World Series:

-The former Red Sox factor: Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez, Freddy Sanchez, and Edgar Renteria all had the Red Sox connection during different parts of their careers. Will Ramram do what he did once thus far in the playoffs and many times with Boston in 2010? We could talk about how David Murphy is a great value right fielder who is benched against lefties and gives you 65 RBIs a year, but that is not necessary.
-It's down to "A Vineyard, Gimme A Break" versus "That's Logistics" for the commercial of the playoffs.
-I'll admit that I have not watched every inning of the NLCS so I haven't heard all of the banter between Buck and McCarver, but can they go without a Beach Boys reference for the entire World Series? If the Giants are up late in a close game, I will say no. It's to appeal to a wider audience.
-The Giants were the iceberg that sank the Red Sox' season.
-Is the Rangers' bullpen trustworthy? I'd say no. But they have the advantage of not having Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez in there.
-The NLCS was a good series. Close games. Tension. Benches clearing once. Managers playing to win single games instead of saving them for later (hello Girardi). The Giants' "potential" rotation outpitching (slightly) the Phillies' more-proven rotation. Lincecum is obviously proven, but if you're in a fantasy draft, do you pick Matt Cain early? No, because you don't know if he's got it all together yet. Even his 2010 numbers indicate that it's questionable. Same for Sanchez. And Bumgarner was in the minors for most of the year. But they outpitched the pitching juggernaut. Wow.
-I think Pat and I can probably agree on the opinion that neither of these teams were the best this year. Not that either of them will contest the '06 Cardinals as the weakest World Series team in recent memory. But they are doing pretty well at proving the Billy Beane theory of getting in and getting hot.
-Non-baseball fans and emotionally-exhausted Yankee fans will yawn at this matchup. Even if there weren't many things (see above) to watch it for, this is the last chance to watch baseball until March. Next time you have a chance at seeing baseball, Mel Kiper, Jr. will be on the TV more than baseball will be. So enjoy it while it lasts.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Game 4: Electric. Slide.

  New York Yankees' Mark Teixeira (R) grimaces as he slides into first base behind Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland in the fifth inning during Game 4 of their Major League Baseball ALCS playoff series in New York, October 19, 2010.REUTERS/Bill Kostroun

Don’t get me wrong. I am pissed off that the Red Sox are not in the playoffs right now. However, with the team focusing on acquiring a soccer team instead of shelling out half a million dollars on Kerry Wood, I have been able to watch a very good MLB postseason without the emotional ups and downs, and without feeling completely bad falling asleep on the couch.  I mean, I want the Yankees to lose, but if they don’t lose, it’s really what is to be expected.

In this vain, Game 4 of this year’s ALCS may have been the most enjoyable non-Red Sox game I have ever watched.

Part of being a Red Sox fan is rooting hard against the Yankees, and that’s why Tuesday night may have been the best non-Red Sox playoff game I ever got to watch. Another systematic Yankee failure, headlined by the loss of a guy making $23 million due to a hamstring injury in cold weather (like San Francisco in June, right JD?) and the odds catching up to a guy making $16 million but pitching horribly all season, all night, and arguably all career. The fact that questionable managerial decisions (as discussed in each of the last two posts here) catalyzed all this stuff helps. A lot. But watching that Bengie Molina ball sail out of the ballpark predictably and inevitably was probably the highlight of this long week.

In honor of Michael Felger, here are some things from the fact-not-opinion zone:

-Teixeira was 0-14 during the ALCS.

-Burnett had trouble pitching out of the stretch all game.

-Burnett’s performance was almost exactly what Pat said was “not okay” Tuesday afternoon (5 IP, 5 ER).

-I have mercilessly crushed both Teixeira and Burnett nonstop since their arrivals in New York, calling Teixeira (0-14 in the ALCS) a stat-padder who amasses his numbers in meaningless situations and calling Burnett soft and just plain not that good.

-I have received a lot of criticism (much of it deserved) as my commentary turned out to be completely wrong.

-Teixeira will forever be hitless for this series.

-Josh Hamilton broke his ribs in September. It is October 20th and he’s crushing four home runs in the ALCS. I don’t need to say any more.

Back to opinions, I feel it necessary to observe the amount to which these TBS announcers are rooting against the Yankees. They were crushing Burnett throughout the game even harder than I have been on How Youz Doin Baseball. Granted, he was pitching badly and Daisuke’ing out of innings all game and the fact that the Molina lightning bolt was inevitable given a reasonable sample size of bad pitching, but these guys wouldn’t stop. By the time things turned into a laugher in the ninth, these guys sounded giddier than Nolan Ryan looked.

You gotta admit that Burnett didn’t just pout on the mound when things went bad in Game 4. He “bulldogged” through it, much in the way John Lackey did all season. He got himself into a crapload of trouble and sometimes made it through.

While, as we discussed Thursday, Game 4 is the defining game of this series unless the Yankees were to come back and this was marked by failures in pitching and managing, I hope the offensive blackout led by Arod and Teixeira isn’t completely forgotten.

So the disproving of Pat’s long-standing assertion of “there’s just something not right about this team” is up to Phil Hughes. He said that all the Yankees have to do is win one game to tie things ups. All the Rangers have to do is win one game and it’s over. Let’s see it happen. Prove Pat right. I don’t want Game 4 to be my non-Red Sox version of the Fisk home run game – a memorable game that ultimately didn’t mean anything.  Bring back AAA Aphiliate and save Cliff Lee for the World Series.

Win One More Game

Then anything can happen.

I was at the stadium today, and was very proud of the way the Yankees played. The offense showed up big and early, C.C. did his job, and Wood and Rivera got the last 9 outs. Girardi apparently gave a great speech sometime after Game 4 and before Game 5, and he also went to Wood and Rivera for one out, and you have to give him credit for both of those things. Seeing Wood and Rivera get those outs was also a further reminder of how close the Yankees might have been in Game 4, but all you can do is move on. Good job by the manager and team of doing so.

Extra big shout out to Jorge Posada. He very well may end up being a Hall Of Famer, and he has had to deal with not starting playoff games in back to back postseasons when A.J. Burnett is starting. He cannot be happy about this, but he says all of the right things. Then all he does is come out the next day and go 2-4 with a double, an RBI, and a run scored. The RBI was the Yankees' first run and got it all started.

Another extra big shout out to Robinson Cano. He is going toe to toe with Josh Hamilton in this series, who was arguably the best hitter in baseball this year and has been incredibly hot in this series. If he hadn't done so already, this playoff effort is solidifying Cano as one of the best and most dynamic players in all of baseball. He's not playing second fiddle to the other prominent Yankees anymore. He's the man as much as anybody else.

Now they just need to win one game. One. Then anything can happen. Playing like they did today in all facets of the game would be a good first step towards making that happen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Clueless

As bad as the Yankees have played for most of this series, Joe Girardi has not given them a chance. And there have been situations when they could have had a chance, but he put them in a worse position. When the team is playing like this, you need your manager to do just the opposite. You need him to manage near flawlessly (this is required), and then hope he pushes some of the right buttons (this is more difficult and an aspiration). Girardi has done neither in this series.

In Game 2 he left Phil Hughes in long enough to give up 7 runs. 7. 7. I really can't imagine a scenario where that makes sense. Gave the offense no chance to get right back in the game. In Game 3 he didn't go to Mariano to keep the Yankees in "bloop and blast" territory down 2-0. This is the least egregious of his offenses, especially in comparison to tonight, because the bullpen had been lights out thus far in the playoffs. At the same time, this is the playoffs. Mariano is going to be available three days in a row if necessary. I'm quite positive Girardi held him out because he was thinking about the POSSIBILITY of needing him big in Games 4 and 5. The reason I disagree with that is because when he isn't needed the next night (like tonight), you didn't give yourself a chance. I think you have to manage slightly more in the present in the playoffs than you would in the regular season, when you would rarely ever use him in that spot, and rightfully so. But fine, you don't use him. THEN WHY IS ANDY PETTITTE COMING OUT OF THE GAME AFTER THE 7TH?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Yes he was at 110 pitches, but he had allowed just three hits and no walks in his last 6 innings. He was right there with Cliff Lee. Again, in the regular season no way. In October, if you aren't going to Mariano down, I think you have to stay with Pettitte for the 8th (against the bottom of the order no less) to save Wood for the 9th.

Tonight puts all of that to shame, and it was a microcosm of Girardi's biggest weaknesses managing the pitching across his first three seasons in a Yankees uniform. First, he puts entirely too much weight into what his starter is doing that particular night, and loses sight of the big picture of "who that pitcher generally is over a bigger sample size". If you had told Yankees fans before the game that A.J. Burnett was going to go 5.2 innings and give up 2 runs we would have been DROOLING. No doubt about it, Burnett was awesome through 5 tonight. He gave up two nickel and dime runs and outside of that was locked in. But he is still a guy that was so poor over most of the last 4 months of the season that it was debatable whether he'd even get a postseason start. Which means that every pitch could be the one where he loses it. Just because he looked good earlier in the game doesn't change that. As long as he keeps cruising, sure, stay with him. If Molina had hit that homer with 2 out and nobody on in the 6th I would not be writing this. But there is nothing on the record in recent times outside of the way he pitched in the first 5 innings tonight that says Burnett should be staying in with the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the 6th inning of a 1 run game with 2 outs. Especially with a guy at the plate who has crushed the Yankees in the playoffs for the better part of a decade. Especially when you are 1 out away from taking a lead to the 7th, where it could have been Wood to Rivera. Staying with A.J. there is greedy, unnecessary, and short-sighted. Just as Girardi used to stay with Darrell Rasner (no offense to him) time after time because he was good through 5-6, no matter how many times before he had given it up in 6 or 7. Burnett hadn't pitched in nearly 3 weeks and was in the mid-90's in pitches. You get him out there and try to drop the hammer, and then they have to worry about Mariano looming. Girardi has taken the threat of Mariano mostly out of this series.

Second, he goes by his book too much. It seems like he plays that book no matter what. I have no problem, obviously, with being informed of all the numbers and playing the averages. But sometimes you have to go with a little more feel. Especially in October. Walking David Murphy to get to Molina may very well have been the percentage play there. But you do not walk the go-ahead run on base one out away from the 7th inning with a guy who has beaten the Yankees like Molina on deck. Not when it's David Murphy. You pitch to him. Right before Molina hit it TBS showed the highlights of Molina crushing the Yankees in the playoffs over the years. The immediate question I asked was does Girardi have those highlights? Thinking back now, his book doesn't have video capability as far as I know, so he probably doesn't. You go to Logan there and don't worry about saving him for Hamilton. You go to Wood. I'd even be more amendable to Burnett staying in that spot as opposed to facing Molina, because there is one less run at risk and when Burnett is on like that, he can actually be tougher on lefties than righties because of the way that fastball tails. Especially at Yankee Stadium where they have to take those fastballs away to the big part of the park more often than not. Whatever you do you face David Murphy. But Murphy has had some success off Burnett so Girardi played the numbers and walked him. That cost the Yankees this game in large part.

Third, he does not understand the concept that every time you make a pitching change with a reliever, you increase the chances that you are going to run into a reliever on a bad day. This is very much related to point #2. He is so obsessed with playing matchups that he seemingly ignores what is happening right before his very eyes with a reliever that is having a good day. Relievers are the opposite of starters in that you can somewhat ignore what they have been over a larger sample and ride a hot hand, because it is only for one inning, or at least a shorter burst. If a guy looks sharp, you are often better off sticking with him for an extra out or two than making a change to get the matchup that looks better on paper. Better to have a hot reliever in a less favorable matchup on the aggregate than a potentially cold reliever in a more favorable situation on the aggregate. David Robertson got lit in Game 3. Tonight you could tell right away that he was sharp as could be. He struck out Adrus on a perfectly located front-door cutter and then got Young to hit a soft liner to first. Made easy work of them on 8 pitches. At 5-3 with three offensive innings left, the Yankees were still right there. With nobody on and a hot hitter at the plate, sticking with the hot hand makes some good sense. But Girardi played his matchups (even though Hamilton had already homered off Sabathia and Pettitte already this series, both far superior lefties to Logan...and he had doubled off of Logan the night before), bringing in Logan and upping the chances that he would run into a cold reliever. Not only did he run into a cold reliever in Logan, he ran into a cold reliever in Joba and then another one in Mitre. Before you knew it a 5-3 game was a 10-3 game. Obviously some of this is the relievers not doing their job. But some of this is Girardi starting the reliever merry-go-round in a pretty non-threatening situation with 2 out and nobody on. This is something he does all too often.

Now the Yankees have their back to the wall. This should make a lot of decisions easier for Girardi, but given the way he's managed this series so far I would say there are few guarantees. From the Yankees perspective, they have to take the angle that they can put all of the pressure on the Rangers to close this thing out by winning tomorrow. A win tomorrow would force Texas to think about missing an opportunity to close it out over an off day. Then you just have to win one game to force a Game 7. Yes they will have Cliff Lee on the mound, but not only can anything happen, but the pressure is always on the team that has squandered opportunities to close the series earlier. The feel of these series change by the game, and a win tomorrow makes things interesting. Texas will not play with any tightness tomorrow, so it is on C.C. Sabathia to deliver the baseball to Mariano Rivera, and it is on this offense to get it going. It is also on Joe Girardi to make some things happen. We'll start with batting Granderson 2nd despite a lefty starting for Texas. The Yankees need a shake-up, Granderson has been better than Swisher against righties and lefties this postseason, and with Teixeira out they should bat Cano 3rd and Swisher 5th in more of an RBI spot. We'll see if Girardi tries anything to get this team going.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hot Hand

Well, apparently they didn't need to play Game 3 after all. In this year of the pitcher, we have three memorable playoff performances, and last night's Cliff Lee game should be mentioned in the same breath as the Halladay no-hitter and the Lincecum game. With thirteen strikeouts and two-hitting a high-powered offense like the Yankees', this should be considered on the same echelon as no-hitting the Reds.

I'll admit that the majority of what I saw of Cliff Lee last night was highlight-reel stuff, but it was obvious that his location more than everything else was why he was dominant last night. He was essentially putting pitches in the strike zone but out of the reach of the hitters. Made a lot of guys look silly. I still don't trust him, and I think the Josh Beckett comparison is both accurate and fair, but this guy is by far the league leader in hot hand. Not to be confused with sore glove hand, of course.

But having the hot hand and the momentum, as Pat would probably tell you in a "playoff tutorial 101" post he typically puts up before big series, is extremely important. And the Rangers have that. I think the Rangers are a significantly inferior team to the Yankees. But they absolutely have the hot hand. Josh Hamilton is pulling outside pitches into the bleachers (sounds weird, I know). Pettitte pitched well and the Yankees still lost. We wrote yesterday that if Andy Pettitte brought his A-game, it should be enough to win the game. Well, he did bring his A-game, and it still wasn't enough. This is how hot the Rangers' hands might be right now.

Also yesterday, we talked about how last night's game, if lost, would lose Texas the series. Well, tonight's game is the same situation for the Yankees. They need this game desperately.

And it's up to AJ Burnett. I can't wait.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wait, They're Actually Playing Game 3? You're kidding.

According to the media and general public perception, no. Because Cliff Lee is pitching the Rangers have already won the game.

I could go one of two ways in discussing Games 1 and 2. I could boil it down to the one major theme to emerge from each game. Or I could write a novel breaking down every single thing that happened in these two compelling games. I'll opt for the former.

Game 1 was all about the Yankees flexing their postseason might, introducing a less experienced team to the way they do business in October. Just as they did in Game 1 against the Twins. It was one of the five or ten greatest single-game comebacks in MLB playoff history. Down 5-0 with 9 outs to go and 5-1 with 6 outs to and having been dominated by C.J. Wilson all night, 7 consecutive Yankees reached base before an out was recorded in the 8th inning, plating 5 runs in the process. The Yankees got an awful performance from their ace, were largely asleep against a pitcher that was not the other team's ace for 7 innings, and yet they still won the game. It was a bigtime statement.

Exactly the type of statement, in fact, that had you wondering before the series if the Rangers would be able to rebound from. The type of statement that made the Rangers a potentially more attractive match-up than the Rays because you knew the Rays would not be overwhelmed by such left hooks from the Yankees. Overwhelmed the Rangers were not, and get up off the mat in impressive fashion they did in Game 2. They jumped on the Yankees' starter for the second time in as many games, lighting Phil Hughes up early and often. It was the early part that was most impressive, because the Rangers showed no ill-effects from their implosion the night before. Considering it was the Yankees on the other side, this was evidence of the mentality the Rangers have and just how much they are not intimidated in this series. It was a bigtime statement of their own.

Exactly the type of statement, I'm sure, they wanted to make before Cliff Lee ever got into this series. They are talking about it being a five game series now with Cliff Lee potentially pitching in two of those games, and you can tell they feel good about that. And they should. Cliff Lee is a great pitcher, one of the best pitchers in baseball.

However, the Yankees did split on the road. It is in fact now a five game series, and they have home field advantage. No, it is not fun thinking about facing Cliff Lee. But as far as I know they are actually going to play the games he starts, not just give the game to the Rangers. And as far as I know Game 3 is in the Bronx, one of the tougher October environments, in front of a home crowd (myself included) that understands how big of a challenge facing Lee is, which usually makes the Stadium crowd even louder and more into it. It will be different than facing Lee in Game 1 of the World Series last year, when everyone involved with the Yankees was less acquainted with him. I expect the approach tomorrow - from the Yankees and from their fans - to be more like facing Pedro in his prime. It will take a huge effort but at least everyone knows it. Finally, as far as I know, Andy Pettitte, MLB's postseason career wins leader, is pitching tomorrow. He's had a playoff start too, I think, opposite one of the game's best pitchers and against one of the game's tougher lineups (Sidenote: man, can the Rangers hit or what?). A tough combination for sure, but this isn't his first rodeo. There is a chance he could pitch well too.

Of course, none of this will necessarily make facing Lee any easier. But getting up for challenges like this is what makes sports great. A lot of people may already have this game won, but the Yankees shouldn't. They've beat pitchers as good and even better than him before, and there is no reason they can't do it again just because he's had their number. Doing so would be the biggest statement delivered in a series that has been built of statements thus far, because you can tell that the Rangers feel just as invincible behind Lee as everyone is making them out to be. The Yankees should take complete and utter advantage of that tomorrow night.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

ALCS Preview: Yankees vs. Rangers

The biggest thing that jumps out about this series is that it is imperative that the Yankees split the first two or better. You always want to get a split as the road team, but you definitely want to when Cliff Lee is pitching Game 3. The Yankees do not want to come home down 0-2 staring him in the face. They need to jump on the Rangers the way they jumped on the Twins, and get back to The Bronx 1-1, or better yet, up 2-0 and then be able to go after Cliff Lee aggressively.

A close second is how alert you have to be with this Rangers ballclub. I wouldn't say that they are looking to constantly force the action in terms of being aggressive. It's more that they do not miss an opportunity that you give them to do so. We saw that the other night in Game 5 against Tampa Bay. They weren't going home from 2nd on groundouts no matter what. The second the Rays relaxed, they just took full advantage. You can't allow the Rangers opportunity to take advantage in this series because it could cost you a game or games. You have to tighten up fundamentally, you can't make assumptions, and you have to think a step ahead because that is how they are going to be thinking. You have to make every play cleanly and through until the end. You can't take your foot off the gas because that is the second they will put their foot on the gas.

From a pitching perspective, the Yankees' pitchers need to throw plenty of off-speed, both for strikes and out of the zone. The Rangers' hitters absolutely feast off of fastballs. The numbers back that up, and we saw it against Tampa Bay as they hit fastball after fastball out of the park, hitting twice as many homers as any other team in the playoffs thus far (yes, I know they've played more games than everybody but Tampa Bay, but they haven't played twice as many games as anyone, and they have twice as many homers, so the point stands). In addition, Yankees' pitchers need to look to go to their fastballs with movement. Sinkers, 2-seamers, cutters, most Yankees' pitchers have at least one of these pitches, and they need to use them perhaps more than they typically do. I don't know if the numbers back this up, but if they crush fastballs, based on the Rays series they REALLY crush 4-seamers. Fastballs with movement and off-speed are going to be keys for the Yankees' pitchers in this series. Of course, locating whatever you throw and keeping it down will really help too, as it almost always does.

I don't know a lot about Colby Lewis or Tommy Hunter, but with C.J. Wilson the Yankees need to force him to throw strikes. He has a tendency to lose his command, but he also has filthy stuff. If the Yankees are chasing stuff out of the zone all game that is exactly what he wants. The Yankees need to make him come right in the zone, make him work, get baserunners early, and put some pressure on him. With Cliff Lee it is precisely the opposite. He is going to throw strikes all game long, and can throw all of his pitches for strikes with ease. They need to be swinging early and swinging often, and they absolutely HAVE to make sure they don't miss mistakes. Lee doesn't make many of them, but jumping on the ones he does make is possibly the best way to get to him.

Game 1, as always, will be big for setting the tone. If the Yankees win, they are guaranteed to get home 1-1 at worst, and will be one win away from putting the Rangers in a 2-0 hole before Cliff Lee steps on the mound. If the Rangers win, they will be guaranteed to at least give Cliff Lee the ball even at 1-1 at worst, and will be one win away from putting the Yankees in a really bad spot by going up 2-0 with Cliff Lee looming. Getting a dominant C.C. Sabathia start would be a great first step towards going up 1-0. Let's go Yankees.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Heading To Texas

A big question around here since the Yankees advanced Saturday night has been who do you prefer between Texas and Tampa Bay. The biggest preference from a Yankees' fan perspective was for it to go 5 games and keep Lee/Price out of the ALCS until Game 2 on short rest or Game 3 on regular rest. When that came true Sunday, setting up a heavyweight Lee vs. Price Game 5, everyone was asking about and stating preferences, myself included.

I was mostly asking who people preferred. I got asked a bunch, but I learned after 2006 and 2007, when the Yankees got eliminated in the ALDS by teams that seemed like the smart "preference" that preferring one team to another when the teams are close is a waste of time in the playoffs. Anyone can beat anyone in these short series, and that is especially true when you are dealing with teams that are as good as Texas and Tampa Bay. Even if there was one that seemed like it should be the "preference", that team could end up being a tougher matchup over a particular short period of time.

With all of this said, if you had to pick a team that would be a slightly more comfortable matchup for the Yankees on paper, that's the Texas Rangers in my opinion. Not necessarily a better or easier matchup, just a more comfortable one. The main reason for this is that the Rangers play the same style as the Yankees. There is nothing tricky about them: they score runs (5th in the majors) by getting people on base (6th in OBP), hitting for average (1st), and hitting for power (9th in SLG). By contrast, the Rays scored even more runs (3rd in the majors) by getting on base at a decent clip (10th in OBP), but despite hitting for no average (27th) and middle of the pack power (14th in SLG). They did it by leading the majors in stolen bases, being scrappy, putting on all sorts of quirky plays, etc. The Rangers have better pitching right now, but offensively I'd much rather try to beat a team at our game than play a team that is going to throw the kitchen sink at you every inning.

The Rays are also totally comfortable against the Yankees. They know they are capable of beating them in any situation. I'm not saying the Rangers won't be comfortable and don't think they are capable of beating the Yankees, but they are far more likely to have a, "Whoa, maybe we are in over our heads against this team in October" moment when the Yankees deliver a blow than are the Rays. The Rays are going to get off the mat no matter what. Outside of Cliff Lee, I don't know if that is necessarily true for the Rangers, although last night was obviously really impressive from the entire club.

Related, there is an element of familiarity with the Rays. They know the Yankees inside and out. While the Yankees know them the same way, I don't think this helps either team. In a situation where the teams don't know each other as well, as is the case with the Yankees and Rangers, I think it helps the Yankees. They have more guys that can make you pay if you make mistakes.

On the flip side, the Rangers have Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson, and that's not going to be fun at all. Cliff Lee is locked into playoff starts as much as we've seen anyone get locked into playoff starts this generation. But the Yankees have some pretty good pitchers too, and again I'd rather match up playing our game than facing some of the gimmicky stuff the Rays do. It's a lot like when you'd rather play a better team in hoops because they play your game than play a team that might not be as good because they press from minute one and try to create chaos all game. That's loosely how I feel here.

At the same time, getting to play a team that plays their game in Texas over Tampa Bay is only a small victory here for the Yankees. Of the teams that play the same type of game as the Yankees, the Rangers are one of the best in baseball. They also have homefield advantage. And they also have Cliff Lee. The Yankees are going to have to play impeccable baseball to win this series. More to come in a series preview tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dominance or Marginal Failure?

When Bobby Cox's first playoff season started, my youngest brother had not yet been born.

The first October in his lifetime without the Braves playing playoff baseball was when he was a sophomore in high school.

While it is debatable whether Cox was the deciding factor or just a guy who was in the right place at the right time, he was certainly an important part of perhaps the most sustained dominance in the history of baseball. The fact that the team could excel over 162 every year for a decade and a half without the following is incredible:
-A clubhouse implosion amidst a losing streak resulting in Cox "losing the team."
-A major fallout with an erratic owner and a loose-lipped general manager, costing him his job.
-A stupid decision in the playoffs, although Monday night was close.
-A smattering of websites all over the Internet dedicated to the firing of the manager.

This guy apparently had the approval rate close to that of Franklin Roosevelt. He also had similar longevity. Managers don't stay that long anymore in any sport. That's why this is such an improbable story.

Not to say the Braves were not blessed by other circumstances. Due to the TBS connection, they developed a national fan base. They could spend significant money, as they were able to retain a lot of their own players as well as make what was I believe at the time a record-setting free agent acquisition in Greg Maddux. However, did they ever exceed $100 million in their history? I don't think they did. GM John Schuerholz was a tremendous drafter and put together some very good Royals teams before he was the Braves' GM. On top of good player selection and development, he knew how to catch fire with guys in their contract years: Bobby Cox was the beneficiary of the only good year of JD Drew's career, and he got some production out of Mark Teixeira as well.

Unlike Joe Torre, you can't say Bobby Cox had a crappy W-L record when given sub-par to bad teams. And some of the teams he took to the playoffs were shaky at best. But he won 100 games seven times.

But who's to say some of those players didn't take the hometown discount a couple of times because they liked the manager? You've heard what Chipper Jones has been saying about the guy. Cox had a "players' manager" kind of mentality, all the way to letting Derek Lowe make the decision to stay in last night. He's always stood up for his players, as he got thrown out of a legitimate season of baseball games over his tenure. And while I wasn't a regular TBS watcher or AJC reader, I don't think he made a lot of stupid comments to the media. Like T-Pain, all he did was win. While reading the Steinbrenner biography, I learned that in the early 90s, instead of Buck Showalter, the Yankees could have hired Bobby Cox, who was managing NY's AAA team. Sort of made me shudder.

But the real question of debate here is the following: Can this Braves tenure under Bobby Cox be considered dominance, or does the fact that the team only won one World Series and five pennants make this Braves dynasty similar to the Oakland A's or Boston Bruins, showing up to the playoffs, but not being good enough to make it far? Since getting swept by the 1999 Yankees in the World Series, they have won exactly one (1) postseason series. It can be argued that well-managed teams, at least if given enough chances, can just make it happen. Something the Braves only did while making Julian Tavarez cry in the 1995 World Series.

I'm not making that argument: I'm all aboard the bandwagon to say the guy was a crazy genius. But the argument can certainly be made otherwise.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Advantages And Disadvantages Aren't Always What They Seem

For the last few weeks of the regular season, a lot of the talk about the Yankees was about going "all out" for the division versus "resting" and getting the Wild Card. They didn't have the luxury they did in 2009 of having a comfortable lead, allowing them to win the division and rest guys. I think Girardi did a pretty good job of managing this situation by striking a balance of the two, but the Yankees ended up getting caught in a middle ground. They didn't rest their guys but still didn't win the division. This was the one situation I wanted to see them avoid, but like I said Girardi's management made it a lot better than it could have been. It wasn't like they were starting Sabathia on short rest at the end of the season or pitching Rivera four days in a row. However, they did play a lot of guys like Jeter, Rodriguez, Teixeira, and Swisher, amongst others, more than I'm sure they would have wanted to under ideal circumstances. As Girardi has pointed out after the fact, that is evidence that they were going for it.

They didn't get it - thus missing out on homefield advantage - and didn't get to rest their players at the same time. This was viewed as a double negative. And with good reason. Neither of these things are good things.

Then the Yankees came out in the ALDS and turned this whole thing on its head They swept the Twins (showing no concern about the lack of homefield advantage), and now have the time off (six days) that they desired to rest their players while their potential ALCS opponents grind out a five game series. Of course they won't have homefield advantage in the ALCS, but they will now be rested. So they are no longer in that middle ground, and it will no longer be a double negative, there is only the homefield concern. The perceived disadvantages weren't what they seemed.

So now the same should be said about this perceived advantage. Sure, there will be chatter about the Yankees getting rusty. But this is a veteran team that knows how to handle situations like this, and they had five days off between the ALDS and ALCS last year. Most of the talk will probably focus on that point as well as the fact that, again, this rest is a good thing for a club with some older regulars, some banged up regulars, and some regulars that are both of those things.

But using the same logic, this advantage might be no advantage at all. Just as the disadvantage in the ALDS was no disadvantage at all. So it's on the Yankees to be that veteran club, to stay sharp, and be ready to come out and play the same dominating, electric, and relentless brand of baseball Friday night against the Rays or Rangers that they played against the Twins.

On that point, Game 3 was an outstanding performance from the Yankees. Phil Hughes was lights out, turning in one of the best starting performances from a Yankees' pitcher in the last 10 years. It was the first time since Mike Mussina's Game 3 against Oakland in the 2001 ALDS that a Yankees' starter when 7 innings or more and allowed no runs. I was at the game, and he was just awesome. From the first batter there was a tenacity about him that the Twins were not going to touch him in this game. It seemed like he was strike 1/strike 2 to almost every batter, and he just attacked. Going back to this post's title, Pettitte and Hughes' performance is just another example of how quickly advantages/disadvantages can change. Everyone was talking about how it was C.C. and hope for the best, and then Pettitte and Hughes both out-pitched him in this series. It can change again just as quickly, but obviously you expect C.C. to be better (he wasn't bad, but he wasn't C.C.), and if Pettitte and Hughes can be anywhere near their ALDS performances that bodes well for the Yankees moving forward this October. Bodes well is an understatement. It would be huge, changes the Yankees look completely.

Offensively the Yankees continue to get contributions up and down the lineup. They are far more dangerous this way, working teams 1-9, than when they are relying certain guys to carry the load. Of course when they are at their most dangerous when they are playing this way and then get big performances from any number of their key bats. Granderson and Teixeira had pretty big series, but for the most part the Yankees haven't gotten that yet. You have to like the chances of somebody stepping up and providing a showtime performance, if not multiple people, so if they can continue to get these balanced contributions they should continue to score runs. Especially if they continue to do the little things well. They are still not executing the way you'd like with runners on 3rd and less than 2 out, but they are doing most other things well, moving runners, getting leadoff runners on 2nd in, getting big hits with RISP, etc. As Bandi pointed out in the comments last week, they are finding ways to score runs. This means they aren't just relying on homers. When they find other ways to score runs, and then hit 1-2 homers (which happened in every game), those homers can put them over the top as opposed to providing a majority of the runs. It makes the homers more impactful.

Last but not least the bullpen continues to perform. 7 innings, 1 run in the ALDS is getting the job done. No two ways about that. One of the big strengths of the 2009 World Series run was that they scored on their oppositions bullpen far more than the opposition scored on their bullpen. That was the case in this series as well. It's a huge advantage, and hopefully they can keep it going.

One last note to wrap up this series. I have a lot of respect for Ron Gardenhire. I always have despite not knowing a lot about him. He gets his team to win year after year, and he carries himself well. Just seemed like a good baseball man to me. But I had no idea just how classy he was until I watched the Game 3 postgame on DVR after i got home from the game. This is a guy who has been eliminated by the Yankees in the ALDS in 4 of the last 8 years, going 2-12 in those series. he has to be incredibly frustrated. Yet he sits at that podium after the game, answering questions I'm sure he doesn't want to be asked, and offers one honest, high-class answer after the next. This included genuine, more than just your standard "give them a lot of credit", compliments to Joe Girardi, his staff, the Yankees players, and the entire organization for the way they prepare and conduct themselves. That's not an easy thing to do given the circumstances, and I have a lot of respect for him for doing it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Yankee Championship Prevention

We like "preventions" around here in Boston, and with the Yankees having a week this week similar to a Pat F week in August, Pat's going to wrap up his favorite team's obliteration of an overmatched Twins team Monday night. In the meantime, there's a lot of stuff to talk about with the other series featuring the rest of baseball. Not sure where to start. I'm just glad I limited it to 768 words.

1. Which remaining teams can beat the Yankees? This certainly feels like the late '90s again, when all I care about is not seeing Arod talk about how "we're gonna parteeee." But this is a serious question. Can the Yankees be beaten? I'd say they can, and here's why.

Let's start with the Braves and Reds (should they survive the night). I don't think they're capable of doing it. The Yankees are a much, much deeper team, both in terms of pitching and lineups. I love Bronson Arroyo as much as anyone not named Tim McCarver, but is he a #2 starter for any AL team? And while the Braves have taken Eric Hinske from the AL East World Series representative, they are not good enough to take four of seven from this team.

However, Texas can. I think the Yankees are far superior and from a better division, but I can imagine a game where the offense doesn't show up and Josh Hamilton whacks a three-run bomb against a reliever once or twice. It would take a Yankees' failure. But I feel like there have been weekends either this year or last when the Rangers took two out of three from the Yankees and Pat has been complaining in this space about how they're not a good team if they're losing 2/3 to the Rangers. It could be another team, but I feel like the Rangers could play that role. Could they do it 4 times out of seven? Maybe.

The Rays absolutely can. They're tough and they're well-managed by the emo kid. Their bullpen is back to 2008 form, as Orsillo and Buck Martinez was explaining. Soriano's been a pleasant surprise, and Grant Ball Four has gone back to Grant Balfour.

The Giants are a long shot, but they also can. While Aubrey Huff's 1-25 in New Yankee Stadium, I feel like he could be DHed and hit 2-3 homers over that short porch. Lincecum speaks for himself, and if Jonathan Sanchez can come out and toss 1-hitters over seven innings or whatever he did tonight, you can tell this team's in the zone.

The real team to do it, though, would be Philadelphia. Would you rather have Halladay or Sabathia? Would you rather have Andy Pettitte or Roy Oswalt? And would you rather have Phil Hughes or Cole Hamels? I'm liking the pitching matchups, and I like the rise this paragraph will get out of Pat. Okay, that was long. Other stuff:

2. There's been a lot of talk about the umpires. Honestly, what's the disadvantage to having three instant replay breaks? The elimination of managers flipping out and throwing the rosin bag as a grenade? Sad. The Sean McAdam idea of having a fifth umpire-in-a-booth, and having him serve as the official scorer as well makes way too much sense. All I know is that if instant journalism and blogs existed in 1999, instant replay would have been commonplace by now.

3. While the Phillies have executed quite well, the Reds deserve to lose this series they are 9 outs away from losing.

4. I love the Eric Hinske story, especially seeing he hit a heroic home run tonight. It's kinda too bad the Braves lost that game. I feel like the fact that he was on the 07 Sox, 08 Rays, and 09 Yankees must make Tim Kurkjian more excited than Brett Favre's multimedia text messages make Jon Gruden.

5. Out of all the series, the Braves/Giants one has been by far the most compelling. The fact that the Rays might come back from down 2-0 at home is good on the aggregate, but we've had the best games in the 1993 rematch. We had the Lincecum game that some thought was better than Halladay's. We had the Braves' four-run comeback against the league leader in saves. We had the Braves' comeback after a one-hitter tonight. I was pissed at myself because I was going to write in my preview that we all know Ramram is going to cost the Giants a game, but didn't. And there he was, doing exactly that.

Enjoy Pat's analysis tomorrow. Enjoy yo day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

2-0, Heading Home

Andy Pettitte added to a postseason resume full of strong starts just like this one (this being all the more impressive since it was only his fourth start since coming off of the DL). Curtis Granderson continued to show the talent that attracted the Yankees to him last winter, as he is taking this series over so far. Two of Brian Cashman's under the radar trade deadline pickups, Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood, are playing like the stars they were a few years ago, giving the Yankees a boost. Mariano Rivera continued to shut the door. All of this added up to the Yankees taking a 2-0 ALDS lead home to New York. That Carl Pavano lost to the Yankees in the playoffs for the second consecutive year since he left the team made it all the more sweet.

It will be even sweeter if they can close out the series and advance to the ALCS for a second consecutive year.

The Yankees come home with a 2-0 lead, needing one win to advance. Nothing is guaranteed until the last out of this series is made, and the Yankees would do well to not give the Twins any momentum. Five game series can change in a hurry, we see it all the time. So you can't get complacent.

Phil Hughes takes the ball for the Yankees Saturday night. He has every reason in the world to be aggressive up 2-0 and with the home crowd behind him. At the same time, a big key to success for him is limiting the longball. The Twins have a few power lefties in their lineup, exactly the type that have been taking Hughes deep at home all season. In particular, he needs to be careful with Mauer, Thome, and Kubel. I'm not saying don't attack, just try to stay on the corners, particularly away, and make them play to the big part of the park in left field. The offense should be similarly aggressive, as they were tonight. Hopefully they can even take further advantage of all of the runners they have been putting on base and push a few more runs across early, taking pressure off of Hughes.

Go Yankees. Everybody enjoy your weekend.

A Power Win

The Yankees looked like they were in trouble tonight. Liriano was good, but not sharp with every pitch early. The Yankees had chances in the 2nd and 3rd inning and did nothing with them. Then Liriano went into total and complete lockdown mode. He was about as sharp as you can be, non-Roy Halladay division, from the time he got out of the 3rd inning 1st and 2nd no out jam through the 5th. Spotting his fastball to both sides of the plate, and then throwing sliders and change-ups that looked fastball the entire way and moved at the last second. They were both devastating pitches, and he was devastating the Yankees. If the leadoff runner didn't get on, you felt like you had no chance to build a rally. He was that good. One out seemed like more.

Then Mark Teixeira doubled with one out in the 6th, and for the next two offensive half innings the Yankees flexed their muscles. I mean really flexed them. Rodriguez walked. Cano singled to score Teixeira. Liriano got a big strikeout of Thames, and had a chance to get out of the inning with a 2 run lead intact with 9 outs to go. Posada grinds an at bat and lifts a single over the second baseman's head to score Rodriguez. Still a chance for the Twins to get out of the inning with the lead, and Granderson, who does not hit lefties well, is at the plate. He gets a fastball and rips it high off the tall wall in right center (ball is probably gone in every other park) for a 2 RBI triple. Just like that, the Yankees send six hitters to the plate and turn a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 lead. I'm not sure if Liriano lost it slightly or if the Yankees were just dialing in. Probably a combination of both. Either way, it was an offensive explosion that changed this game.

The Twins did a good job getting a run back and tying the game immediately. Ideally the Yankees want to shut the door there after a big inning but the Twins didn't allow it. They worked Sabathia, who grinded but did not have anywhere near his best stuff. They took pitches, five guys on base in the bottom of the 6th, and got a big run across. It could have been a lot worse, but Sabathia being Sabathia he got out of it without any more damage.

Then the Yankees delivered the deciding blow. After blowing a big lead in a hurry and immediately coming back to tie it, the Twins needed a zero top 7. They wouldn't get it. Jeter lined out to center, Swisher singled, and then Teixeira got a hanging 3-2 slider and blasted it to right field. Went completely downtown. If Teixeira gets hot, watch out.

The Yankees coming back to win this game was positively massive. As I discussed in the comments section today, Game 1 was big in this series for most team, maybe more than usual. CC grinded, the offense came to life, and the bullpen was lockdown (with one adventure that Rivera stomped on in the 8th. Which is what he does time after time, the man is just amazing. 2nd and 3rd 2 out in a 2 run game, that's a really tough spot to come in to. And he just gets out of it. It really is incredible to watch, and has been for a long time.). All of that amounted to a Minnesota team that looked full of confidence and energy early on taking a tough loss due to a Yankees comeback, something they lead the majors in this season. Minnesota really needs to win tomorrow. The Yankees should be empowered with Pettitte on the mound, and having just beat Liriano look to jump all over and put pressure on Pavano all night. They should play extremely aggressive baseball.

Only one major complaint, outside of some free swinging against Liriano (although maybe he was just that nasty tonight). What Joe Girardi was doing bunting Nick Swisher in the 3rd inning, I just don't know. Between the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd inning, 4 of the last 5 Yankees had reached base on two walks and two singles. They had 1st and 2nd and no out with the middle of the order starting up (Swisher, Teixeira, Rodriguez). Swisher tries to bunt on the first pitch. Not a one or two run game in the 8th inning. A two run game in the top of the 3rd. With a guy who hit 29 home runs at the plate being followed by guys who hit 33 and 30 home runs respectively. I don't know if Girardi put that bunt on, or if Swisher did it on his own. Either way, that is terrible. Not Brett Gardner at the plate, Nick Swisher. Not only is he a power hitter and a run producer, he can't bunt. Giving away an out that early with those types of hitters at the plate and coming up is ridiculous. Especially with Liriano giving up baserunners recently. It wasn't like he had retired 15 in a row before those two guys got on. What might be even worse is that Swisher was no longer bunting and swung away at the second pitch, flying out to right. If you are going to bunt, bunt. I don't agree with it, but at least go all the way whichever route you choose. Don't go halfway. I can't imagine it's easy to bunt one foul then get back into an at bat 0-1. Just don't give away outs early in games with that type of hitter at the plate.

Actually, one more complaint. Two umpires are added in the postseason to, as far as I can tell, make two calls: fair/foul down the lines and whether or not an outfielder catches a ball on the fly. The fact that with these extra umpires they still missed a blatant catch for the 27th out that brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Jim Thome means this situation just needs correcting. By "this situation" I don't mean missing calls like the one tonight. I mean the incredible amount of calls umpires miss in total. I'm not saying it's their fault. That call tonight was a tough call to the naked eye. But all it took was one look at a replay to see it was a clear catch. I'm not sure what the answer is, but change is needed. These blown calls potentially change games, and have been doing so for a long time.

Other than that, really impressive game from the Yankees. Very proud of the offense tonight, getting blanked for five innings and then going bananas. Big opportunity for the Yankees tomorrow. A win, at least for this ALDS, would turn not having homefield advantage on its head, coming back to The Bronx up 2-0. Again, I hope to see an incredibly aggressive brand of baseball early, really trying to put the Twins on their heels early and take the crowd out of the game. Hopefully Pettitte has his typical big game playoff stuff. Go Yankees.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Quick Hits for Pat to Bury

It's the playoffs, therefore it's time to do more than one post in a day if deemed necessary. Considering that Roy Halladay threw the second no-hitter in playoff history, I consider it necessary. Pat: You SHOULD bury this post once you're done with your postgame assessment. But here's what I have:

-Pat very well might be the Rasheed Wallace of the blog world. I texted this to Bandi and have yet to receive a response. But Rasheed JDed out all regular season, then took it to the next level in the playoffs. He was a little miffed that I wrote last night, preventing him from previewing the Yankees/Twins series. No more technical fouls; he's bringing the A-game now. Ball don't lie.

-Now that he's put another pretty huge notch on his belt, is it time to start considering Roy Halladay in the same breath as Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens? Randy Johnson is not in that category, and frankly, neither is Greg Maddux. Tonight's accomplishment is a pretty big deal. But I still gotta put him in that second category. The best of his era, yes, but not quite transcendent.

-Responding to a great Wednesday comments section, I have the following: The difference between Swisher and Millar is that Swisher is a better player. And we can't quite tell the full Millar story unless we at least mention the whining about playing time and leaving a bag of dog crap in Francona's office as a protest of lineup construction. If you're a soccer fan, it is exciting to see the Liverpool news. And I am, albeit marginally. However, the Red Sox' ownership can stir this drink bad (like Thurman Munson). A good model of what NOT to do is what they've done with Roush Fenway Racing: Please don't shove it down our throats. You can say the same to Lenny Clarke (the guy with Bill Simmons) regarding anything he says. Other than Guy Fieri and Barack Obama, comedians in general are the last people I'd want to have a beer with. Seriously, if you list your occupation as "comedian," you're just going to try too hard. I'd rather have a beer with Mark Teixeira. I'm dead serious.

-TBS must just take both the camera crew and the play-by-play crew from various public access stations. It's like these guys have never seen a baseball game before. You could have sworn a Delmon Young fly out was going to go 475 if you went by the cameras. And on the Granderson two-run triple in which one run scored about 1.7 seconds before the second run, turning a 3-2 game into a 4-3 game, I was told the Yankees tied the game. If they have seen a baseball game before, they must have done it on mute.

Enjoy PF's analysis!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The GM's Playoff Predictions

Because this year's Red Sox team has been so boring and bad that they haven't been worth watching (sarcastic and critical of the "smartest fans in sports"), Red Sox fans had the ESPN 30 In 30 special to watch tonight. I only caught the last 25 minutes, but they were fantastic. Had to tell my roommates to shut up for the rest of the program at one point.

Now, on to my playoff predictions.

American League: Yankees over Twins in 4. Not a steamroll, but the Yankees are convincingly better at the top of the rotation, the bullpen, and with lineup depth. The Twins sort of have the hot hand as they ran away with the Central even without Justin Morneau. They went 44-20 in their last 64 games before last weekend. But the fact that the Twins are lefty-heavy and that Sabathia is lefty and heavy, I just don't like the matchup for the Twins.

Rays over Rangers in 3. Let's talk about the Rays: Better rotation that's probably more rested in the first place. Didn't coast for a month and don't have the best player in the American League banged up. They know that if they want to win, they have to do it now. Therefore they'll play like a team possessed. If they win Game 1, they might turn into the version of the Rays that may never lose again.

Rays over Yankees in 7. This could be an epic series given the Rays' streakiness and the uncertainty of some of the Yankees' pieces. But I think Pat's worries have gotten the best of me. There are some major problems with the Yankees' team, especially as they limped to the end, going an ounce of competence by Papelbon away from being swept at home by a dead team walking. I gotta agree with Pat: Just not feeling it this year.

National League: Giants over Braves in 5. Fans of the 1993 pennant race rejoice. The Steinbrenner book has me shuddering at how close Bobby Cox was to being the Yankees' manager for the last two decades. However, I'm going to take the team who had to fight to get in by playing .667 ball over the last month over the team that almost blew a commanding league by going sub-.500 since September 1st. By the way, the Padres? How can you lose ten in a row as a first-place team?

Phillies over Reds in 4. The fact that the Reds bounced back from a sweep at the hands of the Cardinals during a crucial late-summer series says something about their team. The fact that they ultimately blew out the field in the Central says more. But the Phillies, when their offense isn't completely thrown off by Tim Wakefield for a month, have the best offense and the best pitching. Didn't they throw like twenty shutouts in a row at some point of this season?

Phillies over Giants in 4. Giants run out of gas after having to battle to get to the playoffs and battle more to get past a Braves team playing for their manager in his final season. Phillies steamroll.

World Series: Rays over Phillies in 7. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo. Needless to say, the team might come in fourth place next year.

And perhaps the most important bracket: What's the best commercial out of the last four years? We'll put the "One October" commercials against each other in one bracket and the non-MLB commercials in the other bracket.

I say Dane Cook over the blogger in five due to the magnitude of the ad. Dane Cook became a punch line and lost 40% of his comedic credibility with his 2007 version of the "There's only one October" ad. The blogger didn't have the charisma or the long-standing memorable-ness. I don't even remember his name. Baseball Carlos or something? October Fairytale?

I have the Blackberry "All You Need Is Love" commercials in six because of the catchiness and the curiosity factor. You want to know the stupid thing the guy said on the date, as well as the sweet thing he texted. You want to know how to breakdance like the girl with the messed up hair or the guy breakdancing while hockey-jerseying his t-shirt over his face. You already know all that Frank Caliendo has to offer, so there's no reason to watch the show. Especially if it actually starts a month after the playoffs are over.

In the championship, I have Dane Cook crushing Love 4-0. I'm not picking on love, because I don't think friendship exists either. Seriously, though, twenty years from now we will still know how many Octobers there are and how intense Papelbon is on the mound.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

The Yankees have a number of important decisions to make for their upcoming ALDS matchup with the Twins. It's not as easy as the Yankees have a lot of good players, so they just run those guys out there and hope talent prevails. While that still typically impacts series - positively or negatively - more than anything else, it is far more a macro, regular season, 162 strategy. In the playoffs, little things done by role players to change one game matter, because every game is magnified. Neither of the primary teams covered on this blog have ever had a role player come off the bench and steal a base at a critical moment to change a game and a series, but I can tell you from watching other teams play that this does happen. So you have to choose your roster carefully and employ it strategically.

For the Yankees, the biggest decision for the ALDS is how they want to line up their starters. For me this is a non-decision because it is so obvious, but it is still a decision. I would go Sabathia Game 1. No explanation needed there. Pettitte Game 2, because on the whole I think he is the second best/most reliable/experienced pitcher on the team, and as Joe Torre always said Game 2 is always the biggest game in any playoff series. If you're up 1-0, it's an opportunity to go up 2-0 and really be in the drivers seat. If you're down 0-1 you're trying to avoid going down 0-2 and really being in a hole. Andy Pettitte has been masterful pitching in Game 2's for most of his career, and I think you stick with him here. Hughes in Game 3. Ideally, you'd like to have him start on the road as opposed to at home because he has fairly dramatic splits this season, but a lot of that seems to be sample size. You also can't have everything just how you want it, so you have to prioritize. Pettitte in Game 2 (and a potential Game 5, more on this in a second) is more important than Hughes on the road vs. at home. You would also like to think Hughes might get a boost at home in a playoff frenzied Yankee Stadium, especially if the splits really are just sample size. You bring Sabathia back in a potential Game 4 on three day's rest, because that's what he does. Then you have Pettitte on full rest because of the two off-days for a potential Game 5. This is another reason you pitch Pettitte in Game 2, because you want his big game experience and track record of success in that spot. A.J. Burnett should get a start only if the Twins are substituted out for a local Minnesota little league team. I say little league instead of minor league because A.J. Burnett could not beat a Red Sox minor league team plus J.D. Drew on Saturday night, so that appears to be too high of a bar for him right now. Seriously, he should only touch a ball if it is absolutely positively necessary. The schedule seems to line up pretty nicely for the Yankees to go this route, so we'll see if they do.

Regarding the team in total, here is my ALDS roster:

STARTERS:
Sabathia
Pettitte
Hughes

RELIEVERS:
Rivera
Robertson
Wood
Chamberlain
Logan
Burnett
Vazquez
Nova

STARTING POSITION PLAYERS:
Posada
Teixeira
Cano
Jeter
Rodriguez
Gardner
Granderson
Swisher
Thames (DH vs. lefties)
Berkman (DH vs. righties)

BENCH:
Cervelli
Kearns
Nunez
Golson

The starting pitchers and position players are easy. The decision lie with the bullpen and bench, and as I said above those decisions are important. The first five relievers listed are no-doubters. I take Burnett because if you needed someone really early in a game you're already probably in a bad spot, so there is little downside. He has the upside that he can give you a big outing and give you a chance to win. Vazquez is in because his stuff has been much better out of the pen than out of the rotation lately. He hasn't pitched much recently, but I like his experience if a long-man is needed in the middle innings. Between him and Burnett, there is at least a chance for a "we get the starter out of the game and have to deal with another established starter", even if it is in name only. Mental things like that can have an impact in October. I went back and forth between Nova and Gaudin. Two weeks ago I would have taken Nova running away, but he looked shaky on Saturday and he has so little experience that you worry about the moment getting to him. Not that Guadin has much more, but he has been in a few spots before. I went with Nova in the end because I think he's the better pitcher. You already have your experience with Burnett/Vazquez, and if they are getting to them then you have a different look in Nova.

Cervelli is an easy choice as a solid back-up catcher, although I would not advocate for any sort of personal catcher scenario this postseason as there was last October with Burnett/Molina. First, Burnett should not be starting. Second, you want Posada's bat in there every game. Cervelli has been crushing the ball lately and is very good defensively, and he's great to have if needed. He should also definitely be looked for late in games as a defensive replacement for Posada. But Posada is Posada, he's one of the best offensive catcher's in baseball history, he has to play every game. I'd take Kearns as an experienced bat to give you a pinch-hit option vs. lefties (assuming Thames starts games vs. lefties) as well as further outfield flexibility. That leaves two spots for Pena, Nunez, and Golson. Pena is by far the most experienced of the three, and would be the best choice if a full-time infielder were needed. But the Yankees have a full lineup that he won't be cracking unless there is an injury, in which case he could be added to the roster anyway. Nunez is more suited for the versatile back-up infielder role because he's faster and thus a better pinch-running option. With Gardner likely starting every game, Nunez is the top set of wheels off the bench. Then I take Golson as a second speedster off the bench who also creates outfield flexibility. I don't envision the Yankees doing any defensive subs late in games for infielders because none of them are getting pinch hit for under and circumstances save injury and all are pretty good fielders (which also minimizes the need for a glove-first guy like Pena). I do envision them potentially needing a defensive sub in the outfield. Not for defensive purposes, but if they start pinch hitting (for Gardner and Granderson) they will need subs. Golson is the best defender between him, Thames, and Kearns so he could fill this role nicely.

One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that the Yankees just steam rolled to a World Series title last year. Not true. Yes, they went 11-4 which typically indicates steam rolling. But, like most championship teams do, they caught a lot of breaks that kept things from being closer than they were. Rodriguez hit not one but two game tying home runs in the bottom of the 9th of Game 2's off of closers in the ALDS and ALCS. Right after the Yankees blew a lead in the bottom of the 8th of Game 4 of the World Series, the Yankees rallied off of a closer again, with Rodriguez getting the go-ahead hit, to win that game. These are amongst other things, but these are three of the biggest swing moments the Yankees had last October. If one, two, or all three of them don't happen the Yankees are looking at going to Minnesota 1-1 instead of 2-0, going to Anaheim 1-1 instead of 2-0, and potentially being tied 2-2 instead of up 3-1 starting Cliff Lee in the face for Game 5 and possibly going to New York down 3-2 instead of up 3-2. Any of these scenarios could have altered the course of their October bigtime, and there are others that involve bench players and the last guys in the bullpen. Of course you can point this out about almost any championship run, and that's exactly my point. The Yankees are no different than any other team. They need contributions from everyone and then have to hope to catch some breaks. The entire roster, and how it is used, impacts those things in the playoffs.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Buying It

I think as far as the playoffs go, Pat will take the Yankees (obviously) and I'll try my best to provide some commentary on the Rest of Baseball. Should be an intriguing postseason. Go Phillies. By the way, this comment is mostly for the Gunn, but I was happy that at least for a little while this September, the Braves and Giants were fighting it out for a playoff spot again.

I haven't read this; I have only heard it secondhand because I was eating five potatoes and drinking Guinness with every meal last week (that's a shoutout to the Tank's comment on Monday). But word on the street is that Theo Epstein gave his annual "hey I'm really smart" address. Instead of harping upon JD Drew's OPS, he clarified the "bridge year" comments from this spring. He said that the "bridge" is between the title run year of 2009 and the apparent title run year of 2012. The fact that the short-term signings of Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Cameron happened is further evidence that there is a long-term plan to tread water with decent but not good players for a few years, then when the top prospects are ready, that's when you make a run at it.

And yes, this means that to a certain extent, Theo Epstein is punting the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Part of the convenience of having a $170 million budget every year is that you can have a competitive team while rebuilding. And that's what this team was. You saw it on July 3rd: if a team of this caliber gets a break now and then, it can contend for anything. This team did not get those breaks. In fact, they got a couple of bad ones with the injuries.

But unlike Theo's conference with Felger and Massarotti last year, I buy what he was selling. Not that this is much of a change in opinion: I said I was okay with them punting on two separate occasions last winter. Now that the punt is halfway done, I'm not overly mad at the general manager for executing, once again, a "coolly rational" business plan instead of going after the shiny things and short-term gains at the expense of the long-term interest of the team, where it can potentially succeed with the players it already has plus a few key additions to fill certain holes.

The fact that I read 75% of the George Steinbrenner biography on the plane also helps with this opinion. His emotions and insistence on winning every year cost his team the 1980s and the 2000s.

Bottom line with Theo Epstein and the Red Sox is they gave themselves roster flexibility with this "bridge year" philosophy, and in 2012, when they have a serious shot to be good again with or without a lot of luck, we will be happier for it.

Not that he's executed it perfectly. The fact that there is no flexibility in the rotation - with Matsuzaka, Lackey, and Beckett taking up three of those spots - is troubling. But on the aggregate, he's done a pretty good job. He deserves criticism for the rotation flexibility, not patching a hole in the bullpen when they were close to contending, and for mistakes that have happened in the past. The good years may have been able to happen before 2012. But to be honest, nobody's blocking the first base prospects. Nobody's really blocking the outfield prospects (Reddick and Kalish are both still very young). And nobody's blocking the shortstop prospect like Edgar Renteria did.

You also must remember, the crippling moves of December 6, 2006, once this team is a likely (as opposed to possible) contender again in 2012, will be completely irrelevant.