Saturday, August 22, 2009

Red Sox Wave Early White Flag: Why Did Francona Abandon Fenway Magic?

The Yankees suffered through the most frustrating 20 run performance in major league history on Friday—one that should have been an easy victory filled with smiles and childish giggles.

A combination of mindless defense and incompetent “relief” by Brian Bruney instead left New York wondering if Mariano Rivera would warm up in what used to be a 12-1 stomping.

The final score was not indicative of how close the wheels came to falling off of a seemingly unstoppable Yankee freight train. Even a “comfortable” nine run lead felt like Boston was a mere stone’s throw away.

In any other ballpark but Fenway Park (and Yankee Stadium), the deficit would have been insurmountable. In any other ballpark, what Sox manager Terry Francona ultimately did would have been ho-hum protocol.

Fenway Park is not “any other ballpark.” It is a place where dreams never die and hopes never fade. It has redefined the word comeback, and is widely described as “the park where no lead is safe.”

Countless blowouts have been evaporated in a matter of innings, and even the careers of Ashley Simpson, Milli Vanilli, and O-Town could be resurrected within the stadium’s historic walls.

Francona, meanwhile, thought it logical to remove Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, JD Drew, and Victor Martinez from a lineup that had not yet retracted its fangs.

JD Drew could have used to rest to tend to a balky groin, but he had just launched two home runs against Toronto the night before. A third in two days would have ignited a crowd looking for something to latch onto.

The Red Sox had just scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to cut the lead to 12-4, and had already raised Andy Pettitte’s pitch count near the feared 100.

They were about to be given the opportunity to feast on the underbelly of the Yankee bullpen, and at worst force New York to use its best relievers in a game they should have been donning their Snuggies.

After already falling victim to a 10-run comeback by the Orioles at Camden Yards on June 30, it is surprising that Boston would wave the white flag in the sixth inning at the comeback capital of MLB.

If not for an answered double play prayer off the bat of Red Sox SS Alex Gonzalez (who also swung at ball four) in the sixth, a 15-6 score easily could have become 15-12 in a matter of pitches.

Bruney could not find the strike zone, had just walked in a run, and the lineup was about to turn over.

Bay and Youkilis had now transformed into Casey Kotchman and Nick Green, however, and would have likely destroyed a possible Fenway miracle.

It made perfect sense for Francona to take his chances with unproven relievers as opposed to waste his top dogs on a game likely to end in defeat. The question that needs to be asked is “why did you give up offensively?”

The Yankees were not pitching a two-hit shutout through six innings. They were not maintaining a 10-run lead while Boston’s confidence withered away.

At two different points of the game, the Red Sox were one hanging curveball or poorly located heater away from a four or five run game. Anyone familiar with the rivalry knows that leaves a team one rally away from disaster.

What Francona did on Friday night sent a clear message to Fenway’s tiny visitor’s clubhouse. It told New York that the division was theirs, and Boston was more concerned with preserving a slim wild card lead over Texas and Tampa Bay.

For the first time in a very long time, Francona and the Sox displayed a defeatist attitude. The team that personifies the words fight, grit, and determination had taken on a “we’ll get ‘em tomorrow” persona.

It will be interesting to see how Boston responds with rookie Junichi Tazawa on the mound against the hard-throwing AJ Burnett.

Should New York push across a few runs in the top of the first inning, will the Sox succumb to a “here we go again” mindset?

Could an early deficit with another struggling pitcher on the mound steal the “never say die” swagger they have always had at home?

It should make for a very interesting weekend, and one that fans from both sides should watch very closely.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Yankees About to Introduce Big “Bad” Wolf into their ‘Pen

Everything has been going right for the Yankee bullpen since June 1, and the formally much-maligned group has produced nothing but key outs in the biggest of spots.

In fact, the Yankee bullpen leads all of MLB in strikeouts, batting average against, saves, and WHIP since that date.

The old adage warns that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi seem reluctant to heed that caveat.

Damaso Marte is set to return from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre any day now, and it is possible he could be pitching during the Boston series in Fenway (*gulp*).

As hard as the Yankee “pig ‘pen” has worked to build a weakness into a reliable foundation, it appears Marte and the Yankee brass will attempt to “blow their house down.”

The Yankees and their fans better hope that Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera have built their house out of brick as opposed to straw and sticks, because no one with a pulse wants Marte inside.

It is not simply a matter of performance and replacing a weak link with a once dependable commodity. It is not about a glaring need for another lefty in the ‘pen, or that they have been hurt time and time again by hard-hitting left-handed hitters.

This, my friends, is solely about money. The irresponsible three-year contract they re-signed Marte to in the offseason is valued at $12 million.

They cannot allow their second highest paid reliever to waste away in the minors—though I’m sure Kei Igawa felt like he wasn’t alone for the first time.

No, the Yankees have to give him a chance. The same chance they continually extended to Cody Ransom when young players had already proved their ability to outperform him.

Unfortunately, this is not a matter of “if” New York makes a move. It is going to happen, and David Robertson is going to be the most undeserving of demotions.

Robertson is currently pitching to a 3.06 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 35.1 IP. He has allowed just 27 hits while collecting a remarkable 52 strikeouts—leading all relievers in MLB with a 13.33 K/9 ratio.

To make matters “worse,” the young man’s confidence is about to reach a new apex. His August ERA is 0.00 in eight appearances, and he has struck out 13 hitters over that span. This includes a Houdini-like escape of a bases-loaded, one out jam to preserve an important Yankee victory.

Some readers may be asking, “Why on Earth would the Yankees ever send him down? Won’t they choose someone less productive?”

Welcome to the harsh world of “minor league options.”

Due to the presence of Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin to offset the necessary extra days of rest in the “Joba Rules,” the Yankees are essentially one man short in the bullpen. Both will need to make starts over the next month, which makes it impossible to release either of them.

It’s safe to say that Phil Coke, Phil Hughes, Mariano Rivera, and Alfredo Aceves are going nowhere. If you’re not counting in your head, then Marte, Gaudin, and these four add up to six Yankee relievers.

Most teams, including the Yankees, implement a 12-man pitching staff with five starters and seven relievers. This allows for more bench flexibility for a manager to have at his disposal—especially with Alex Rodriguez’s rest schedule and Hideki Matsui’s balky knees.

This leaves the final battle between Brian Bruney and Robertson. Again, welcome to the harsh reality of minor league options.

Although Robertson has been vital to the bullpen’s success and has vastly outperformed Bruney, his ability to be sent down to Triple-A without first having to clear waivers makes him the odd man out.

To his credit, Bruney has performed much better of late. The problem is, Robertson is better than him, and Marte couldn’t carry Robertson’s jockstrap.

If you remember, it was the combination of Marte and Bruney that got the Yankees into this bullpen mess in the first place—forcing inexperienced youngsters like Robertson to blossom into trusted weaponry.

The days of Marte, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, and Jonathan Albaladejo seem like centuries ago. The Yankee bullpen puzzle is now complete, and it is firing on all cylinders.

The Yankees, nevertheless, are about to try to force Marte’s square peg into the gaping round hole that Robertson’s impact will be leaving behind.

Robertson will be back in pinstripes on September 1, as the 25-man rosters quickly expand to 40.

As the Yankees proved in turning a 3.5 game deficit into a 7 game lead, however, a lot can happen in a few weeks.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Yankees Don’t Need GPS to Find the Easy Road to the ALCS

After a recent discussion with Bleacher Report’s Dave Foster, yet another interesting angle to the Yankee season was brought to the forefront.

There has been much discussion about the American League East race and the subsequent battle for the Wild Card among those unable to capture a divisional title.

Additionally, much chatter has been directed at the topics of the “Joba Rules,” the fifth starter role, Joe Girardi’s managerial skills, and the stark home-field advantage that New York has seemingly established.

However, a new wrinkle to the Yankee playoff debate revolves around the benefits of capturing the league’s No. 1 seed in the postseason gauntlet.

Every fan is familiar with the concept that the No. 1 seed will host the Wild Card winner in the American League Divisional Series (ALDS). This would only be altered in the event that the two teams arrived via the same division.

In all likelihood, this would pit New York against either the Texas Rangers or the champion of the American League Central.

What may not be as well-known or memorable to fans is a key choice that the No. 1 playoff seed is given with regard to the length of the postseason’s initial series.

This team is given the selection of one of two options:

The first of which is a “traditionally” constructed series, and one that would in most cases require the use of a fourth starter. There are fewer off days in between games, and it more so simulates the rhythm of the regular season.

A second option offers the No. 1 seed an extended series that is littered with off days—ensuring that two dominant starting pitchers can throw four of the five games on normal rest.

For example, the “longer” of the 2008 ALDS matchups was played between the Angels and Red Sox. The games were played on Oct. 1, 3, 5, and 6, and allowed (as previously discussed) each team to pitch their No. 1 and No. 2 starters four times.

Though their plan backfired in a four game defeat, the Angels chose to throw their aces John Lackey and Ervin Santana twice each—hoping to hold down a powerful Red Sox offensive attack.

This philosophy could benefit New York considering the uncertainties with fourth starter Joba Chamberlain, as well as concerns over the durability of Andy Pettitte’s body (but not mettle) moving toward the end of the season.

(It doesn’t hurt to have CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett at the top of the rotation, either.)

In the event that the Yankees are matched up with either the Chicago White Sox or Texas Rangers in the first round, the decision is a no-brainer.

Aside from the benefits of resting the aging or injured bodies of Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, and Alex Rodriguez, the bullpen will also be given ample time to recover.

The Yankees have had great success with Mark Buerhle, Kevin Millwood, and John Danks in their history, and they would avoid having to start Joba Chamberlain in a key playoff game.

Texas’ high-powered yet free-swinging offense would be the perfect matchup for the “expand the zone” philosophy that Burnett and Sabathia implement, and it would be very difficult for Texas in a short series.

New York’s rooting interest will clearly be with Chicago heading into September—especially after watching Justin Verlander throw 99-100 MPH fastballs past Red Sox hitters on Thursday. I could have sworn a few of them cracked the sound barrier.

Choosing the “longer” series against the Tigers would force New York to face Verlander and Edwin Jackson four times.

This decision would take away New York’s biggest advantage in the matchup—facing rookie Rick Porcello in the series’ fourth game as opposed to Justin Verlander.

Though Porcello and Chamberlain are both inexperienced starters, Porcello will face immense postseason pressure for the first time in his rookie season in the big leagues.

New York’s No. 1 ranked offense would likely provide the difference in a matchup of youngsters—as Detroit is ranked just 15th in runs scored.

The Yankees would also have an advantage in the series’ third game, as consistent playoff hero Andy Pettitte (14-9, 3.96) would face Jarrod Washburn (1-3, 4.91).

All of these factors would prevent the Yankees from entering into the “less rhythmic” of the series formats with the Tigers, though they would hold a clear edge in every probable ALDS scenario should they capture the No. 1 seed.

The ability to choose formats according to what opponent is placed in front of them in the first round is a benefit that cannot be overlooked or underappreciated.

There are many hurdles on the way to a World Series ring, but the road to the ALCS that is most reminiscent of The Audubon begins with the No. 1 seed and a very important power of selection.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yankees’ Late-Inning Home Run Magic Simply a Bronx Illusion?

The recent performances of Yankee sluggers while being stared in the face by adversity have been nothing short of miraculous.

Time and time again, New York managed to forge last-second escapes reminiscent of Harry Houdini, and made leads disappear in ways even David Copperfield would be envious of.

Whether breaking the hearts of Red Sox Nation or stunning their winged Canadian adversaries, the Yankees have displayed the mettle and “never say die” attitude that personifies a championship ball club.

It may be wise to ask yourself, however, if this tidal wave of valor is merely a product of the comfort, energy, and tiny walls of the imposing stadium they can now call home.

If the ghosts of Yankee past represent the supernatural ingredient, and the supportive crowd plays the role of New York’s assistant, is Yankee Stadium’s tiny right field porch its “magic wand?”

In no way are these statements attempting to diminish the achievements of a star-studded Yankee lineup, nor imply that the short porch was the sole catalyst for each of the game-changing long balls.

Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the majority of the walk-off and comeback magic has occurred within Yankee Stadium’s recently constructed walls.

The back-to-back shots of Sunday and Tuesday lifted the sprits of an entire city, but unveiled a potential problem moving toward October.

While this team refuses to give up, it tends to rely very heavily on the solo home run. Many of these comebacks and late-inning heroics have been built on this foundation, and most of these have gone to right field in Yankee Stadium.

When analyzing the statistics of each of New York’s double-digit home run artists, one will find that 102 of their combined 162 homers have been of the “solo” variety (63 percent).

This attack will continue to be a valuable asset at home, but will likely fail to translate on the road—especially in October.

Teams cannot come back from deficits in as many games as the Yankees have on a consistent basis, and they are going to have to rediscover how to manufacture runs in order to win come October.

The dynasty of the recent past hit key home runs when necessary, but were able to use clutch and situational hitting by Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, and Derek Jeter to score runs in bunches—as opposed to one or two via the solo HR.

The reason the Yankees have struggled so much against teams like the Tigers, Indians, and Angels in recent postseasons is centered on this very dilemma.

These teams pitched and defended very well, put immense pressure on their opponents with team speed, and found ways to scratch out enough runs to win.

The Yankees instead sat back and anticipated a three-run home run that never arrived—stood up like a high school chess captain by the head cheerleader.

The 2009 model has a drastically improved (infield) defense, as well as a starting staff and bullpen that translate much more favorably to postseason success. Unfortunately, the offense continues to rely on souvenirs to provide the difference-maker in big moments.

In many games, including those involved in the recent outbreak of heroics, the Yankees have let pitchers off the hook early in games when they were backed up against a wall.

They avoided placing their cleats on the opponent’s jugular, and were unable to stretch a modest lead into a convincing one. Zeros began to pile up during the middle of the game, where teams bound for consistent playoff success would have been able to add a run or two with small ball.

This “middle of the game complacency” has left New York in many precarious situations in the eighth and ninth innings.

At home, a prescription of muscle-flexing is usually just what the doctor ordered. On the road, however, most of these deficits turn into losses in the standings.

The Yankees have displayed grit, resiliency, and an unrelenting backbone. They have provided countless memories to prove to fans that the mystique of the old stadium did not die in its final game in 2008.

On the other hand, October baseball is an entirely different animal, and New York will have to finger through the recipes for success of a past dynasty in order to achieve a World Series birth.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yankees Turn Familiar Confines, Address of Yankee Stadium into “Home”

What a difference a week makes.

Last Monday, the Yankees and Red Sox took in a rare day off in August—separated by a mere half game in the AL East standings.

Since that day, New York has caught fire while Boston’s offense has shriveled up like a slug dropped into a salt shaker.

A six game losing streak by manager Terry Francona’s crew leaves them 6.5 games back in the standings on August 10, and the sand in the hourglass is beginning to get shallow.

What took place in the rivalry’s most recent confrontation cannot be deemed a “Boston Massacre” like those occurring during the 1978 and 2006 seasons.

The Red Sox pitched beautifully over the series’ final three games, and would have earned a split if they could have borrowed some of the “luck of the Irish” from a proud population of shamrocked hearts in the city of Boston.

The Yankees simply caught the Red Sox at the ideal time, and were able to benefit from the absence (whether mentally or physically) of their rival’s best offensive weapons.

It is important to understand that the Red Sox are not the team that was just mercilessly swept out of the stadium—just as the Yankees were clearly not the team that lost eight straight games to the Red Sox to begin 2009.

The most important aside of the extended weekend was not necessarily the results of the games themselves, but the atmosphere in which they were played.

Water cooler discussions and talk radio segments have spent time and energy highlighting the stark differences in intensity and electricity at the new ballpark—as opposed to its immortal ancestor across the street.

Many of these findings were warranted, though most were also vastly exaggerated.

April and May matchups with teams like Baltimore and Cleveland seemed to doom the stadium’s perception from the get-go, with writers and analysts looking for a way to bring seat pricing issues to the forefront.

What was seemingly forgotten is what originally built the reputation of “The House that Ruth Built.”

The prestige was founded on a history of 26 World Series victories. It evolved from a Petri dish of countless October memories that leaped over the miraculous and into an entirely new category of adjective.

The new stadium could not rightfully be judged on games that had nothing riding on them but momentum or frustration. It had to be given a chance to create a true “experience” at the right time.

That moment manifested itself as a key four game series this past Thursday through Sunday.

Evoking a true playoff atmosphere for the duration of the extended weekend, Yankee Stadium transformed from a simple feeling of familiarity into a warm and cozy “home sweet home.”

The bolts of the still youthful stadium seats were tested by the vibrations that emanated from the loud cheers of a crowd left in pure ecstasy.

The imposing walls of the majestic structure shook like Jose Mesa at the sight of a save situation, and the stadium itself was packed tightly with spectators like a Jonas Brothers farewell concert.

Witnessing the standing ovation extended to CC Sabathia after his masterful Saturday afternoon performance sent chills up and down my spine, and admittedly covered his skin in an army of goose bumps.

It may have taken five months of walk-offs, pie attacks, and record-setting home run totals, but Yankee Stadium gave more than a taste of what playoff baseball will feel like inside of its newest Bronx location.

An old saying correctly states that “home is where the heart is,” and the Yankees left theirs out on the field over the last four games.

Yankees Universe can begin to unpack its belongings and remove its coat, because the stadium’s confines no longer feel like a temporary address.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Yankees Reliever Puts a Dark Cloud Over an Otherwise Uplifting Victory

Any worries of a sweep of the season series in baseball’s biggest rivalry was squelched with a convincing 13-6 Yankee triumph on Thursday night.

The Bronx Bombers emphatically reinforced their moniker by launching four home runs into the night sky—though two of which would have been doubles in any other ballpark.

It was a feel good night for all Yankee fans watching from the Bronx and around the country, as an old-fashioned beatdown was being delivered without rubbing it in or acting like it had never happened before.

Things quickly changed in the top of the eighth inning, however, when Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia strolled to the plate in a 13-4 game.

Yankees reliever Mark Melancon proceeded to throw a 94 MPH fastball directly over Pedroia’s head—successfully crossing one of the most respected lines in Major League Baseball.

To make matters worse, Melancon then reiterated and stressed his intent by drilling the Sox leadoff hitter with the next pitch in his shoulder blade.

Hitters can, in most cases, understand being buzzed off the plate or thrown at when riding a hot streak—so long as all fastballs are kept from the rib cage to the cleats.

Melancon not only abused that unwritten rule twice, but also did so in a blowout win. It added insult to injury, and attacked a respected hitter who has absolutely no previous incidents with the ball club.

Pedroia’s hit by pitch was unprovoked and unnecessary, and added a new wrinkle to the rest of the 2009 season (as if the Youkilis-Chamberlain angle wasn’t heated enough already).

Entering Thursday’s game, Pedroia was just 8-for-31 (.258) with 0 HR and 1 RBI against New York in eight games. Is one opposite field gift home run now worthy of a head-hunting heater?

An old adage clearly states that one should “let sleeping dogs lie,” which is exactly what the Red Sox were. They were a struggling team looking for a spark; looking for a catalyst for a rallying cry.

Josh Beckett and the Red Sox will be out for blood tonight in the series’ second game. A fiery and borderline psychotic competitor when toeing the rubber, Beckett will not allow his MVP to be head-hunted twice without retribution.

The rest of the team will undoubtedly rally behind their gutsy and hard-nosed sparkplug, ensuring that revenge is packaged and sent with a bow to the home team’s clubhouse.

How will Yankee fans respond if their captain and fellow “leader by example” is drilled in Friday’s contest—perhaps suffering a broken bone on his hand?

What if recent Red Sox killer and white hot slugger Mark Teixeira (.343 AVG, .477 OBP, 4 HR) is sent to the trainer’s room with an elbow swollen up like Angelina Jolie’s lips?

Yankees Universe could not spend even one second yelling at the television set or calling for a bench-clearing brawl, because the Red Sox sadly would have done nothing wrong.

The “eye for an eye” retaliation method in MLB has a history as storied as the game itself, and the Yankees unfortunately chose the wrong method of message-sending.

Before hopping onto the couch to watch Game Two tonight, or popping the first potato chip into your mouth, please remember to take a second to say a prayer for the Yankee lineup.

Repent for the bullpen’s actions and ask for forgiveness from the baseball gods. Request that retribution leaves a Yankee star bruised but not disabled—making sure that he does not miss any important games in order to heal.

First instincts may understandably promote slurs, yells, curses, and jeers, but we have to try to remember one important factor: Mark Melancon (and possibly Joe Girardi) asked for this.

Cross your fingers and hold your breath, because tonight might be a bumpy ride.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wealthy Yankee Rotation Needs to Prove Its Bite is as Big as Its Bark

The Boston Red Sox have once again arrived at Yankee Stadium for a crucial four game series between division foes, and any and all excuses have been thrust far out of the window.
It is finally time for the cream of the Yankee rotation to rise to the top, and fly high like the countless home runs hit at the new ball park.

AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia were paid a king’s ransom to come to the Bronx, and they need to show they are prepared to take the throne.

Burnett has undoubtedly been the Yankees best starter thus far in 2009, but he has failed miserably at his most important task: win the big game.

Somehow earning the “big game” moniker without ever pitching a postseason inning, Burnett was 5-0 with a stellar 2.56 ERA in 8 starts against Boston during his Blue Jay career. They hit just .212 against him in those games.

This season, however, it has been a far more painful and less encouraging tale for Burnett.

In his first two introductions to the game’s most heated rivalry, he is 0-1 with a nauseating 12.91 ERA, 2.74 WHIP, and a .382 batting average against.

The man brought in to be Boston’s kryptonite has instead been its Lois Lane—someone to use and abuse and toss to the side when the sun rises and duty calls.

The question is, when will “Clark Kent” Burnett emerge from the telephone booth (locker room) with an “S” on his chest?

Is it finally time to discard the glasses, pen and notepad, and unconfident stammer in favor of an intimidating force to be reckoned with?

The same can be said for CC Sabathia, who is currently the highest paid starting pitcher in all of MLB.

Brought in to be a reliable and unquestionable “ace,” Sabathia has been pitching much more like a 10 of hearts. A steady card, sure, but not worth pushing in as many chips into the pot as New York did on his free agent contract.

Sabathia has given up four or more runs in 10 of his 23 starts, and five or more in four of his last seven. His ERA is floating around 4.00, and he has had just one month with an ERA below 3.75.

Problems have resulted from the inability to get on top of his changeup, displaying a lack of fastball command early in the count, as well as difficulty finishing his slider down and in to right-handed hitters.

We have all heard about the putrid postseason numbers for Sabathia, as he is 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA and 2.20 WHIP in 5 starts—two of which were against these very Red Sox in 2007 (0-2, 10.45 ERA, 2.32 WHIP).

In order for Yankee fans, players, and management personnel to truly believe in the possibility of a World Series run, Sabathia and Burnett are going to have to prove that they can handle the spotlight in the biggest of games.

They will have to out-pitch star hurlers in a pennant race, and stand tall on a mound that has made so many before them appear small and unprepared.

These games will provide as close to an October atmosphere as can be replicated in regular season baseball, and will go a long way in determining how these two infinite bank accounts will respond to a pinstriped playoff run.

It is time to unhook the leashes on New York’s two biggest dogs, and find out once and for all if their bites are truly as damaging as their barks would suggest.

Though it doesn’t have to be perfect, it has to make a clear statement that they can last 12 rounds in a ring with their most passionately despised enemy.

Armed with off-speed pitches as jabs and 95 MPH fastballs as a powerful uppercut, these two hired guns need to deliver a knockout blow.

Blue corner, are you ready? Red corner, are you ready? Ding. Ding. Ding.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Backing the Enemy? Yankee Fans Face Dilemma When Sox Play Rays, Rangers

An old adage advises people to “keep their friends close, and their enemies closer.” This thought process has seemingly never translated to the trench warfare of the Yankees-Sox rivalry.

Even at the expense of level-headedness and the bases of logic, fans on either side of the barbed wire fence refuse to wish good things upon their mortal enemy.

By no means is this concept intended to spark applause and fist pumps from Yankee fans each and every time the Red Sox capture a victory—or spend nights wishing on a star for an ALCS rematch.

There is, however, a time and a place for rationality to overcome disdain.

There exists a situation where it is acceptable and prudent to secretly raise a mental “foam finger” (no, not that finger) in support of the Boston Red Sox.

This does not prevent Yankee fans from sleeping like Rip Van Winkle in the event of a Boston loss, but any matchup of the Sox with a Wild Card contender should at least spawn a dilemma in their thought process.

The Yankees currently sit at 64-42, which is good enough to maintain a 1.5 game lead on Boston in the AL East race.

However, their hypothetical “Wild Card lead” is a mere 4.5 games over a surging and resilient Texas Rangers team. The Rays are not far behind, and currently face a 5.5 game deficit.

What does this mean? The Yankees are one bad week away from fighting for their Wild Card lives, let alone battling for reclamation of AL East supremacy.

With injury and “breakdown” concerns surrounding Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, and the bullpen in general, no team could benefit more from a tranquil September than New York.

The perceived “unmovable” innings limit on improving fourth starter Joba Chamberlain has also allowed doubt to creep into any late-season philosophies.

In order to supply adequate rest for their aging, recovering, and protected players, the Yankees will need to establish an insurmountable Wild Card lead.

The only chance New York has at a run to the World Series is ensuring that it is recuperated and refreshed when entering October baseball.

This is where the Red Sox, and to a lesser extent the Angels, come in.

Boston and New York can blow Tampa out of the race, and LAA can provide the same knockout blow to their Texan foes.

If the Yankees can then handle their business in head-to-head matchups with Boston, and prevent them from gaining ground in the standings over the series’ last 10 games, a playoff appearance is virtually guaranteed.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi and company would then have nothing to fight for in September but playoff positioning—without the pressure of having to overuse key starting pitchers, position players, and bullpen staples.

It may seem unorthodox or uncomfortable, but you should not feel like the baseball version of Benedict Arnold for occasionally golf-clapping Red Sox regular season triumphs.

You are not supporting the Taliban, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or the redcoats—or giving a metaphorical high-five to Kim Jong-il or Adolf Hitler.

You are instead rationalizing what is most important for your team to recapture the ring and trophy that “success” in this city is personified as.

It is ok to root for Brad Penny and Boston tonight in their series finale with Tampa Bay, so long as you can flip the switch to pure and unadulterated hatred come Thursday night.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Top 10 Unknown "Truths" about Yankee Utility Infielder Cody Ransom

Yankees infielder Cody Ransom has had a rather rough time in the Bronx. At 33 years old, he is far from a prospect, and fans are not willing to watch a player who struggled his entire career try to “figure it out” in New York.

Fans have ridden Ransom hard from the beginning of 2009, and countless jeers, screams, and negative gestures have been delivered in his general direction.

The Yankees Universe community on Twitter has been particularly harsh (yet clever) in coming up with many slogans, rhymes, and even songs to help to healthily release some of the anger and stress that his play generates.

In honor of this Twitter community, I have constructed a Top 10 list of facts a reader may or may not know about the much-maligned Yankee bench player.

Some may shock you, but others will help to explain more clearly the true roots of some of the economy and the world’s biggest issues/mysteries.

Pull up a seat, and let’s get started. Here we go:

10. Eve did not commit Earth's first sin by succumbing to the wishes of Satan and eating the forbidden fruit. Cody Ransom did.

9. After experimenting with chemical warfare, plane hijacking, and suicide bombing...the terrorists created Cody Ransom.

8. Cody Ransom shares his birth date of February 17 with Larry the Cable Guy, Paris Hilton, and Michael Jordan. Jordan later changed the date on his birth certificate after being cut from his high school basketball team, so as to never again be associated with Ransom.

Things have gone swimmingly for Jordan ever since. The two who maintained their connection to Ransom? Not so much.

7. There was always an 8th plague of Revelation, but God tried to keep it quiet until a later date. He would later unleash it in the Bronx in 2008 as Cody Ransom.

6. Scientists have finally discovered the central cause of the Global Warming process. It has stemmed from steam rising out of the ears of Yankee fans across the globe at the mere sight of Cody Ransom.

5. Prior to joining the Yankees in 2008, Cody Ransom was far and above the No. 1 subprime mortgage lender in the United States.

4. On July 30, 2004, Cody Ransom took the day off from playing Giants baseball to attend the release party of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village—which he helped direct.

Ransom left MLB for 2005 and 2006 in order to co-write Shyamalan’s next film Lady in the Water. It’s hard to believe Shyamalan had just created Signs and The Sixth Sense before Ransom’s arrival.

3. "It's the End of the World as We Know It" was written by REM when Cody Ransom became old enough to play Little League baseball.

2. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame opened in Springfield, MA on Cody Ransom’s birthday in 1968. As a result, he spent all of his time training himself to jump as high as possible instead of practicing his baseball skills.

2009 Update: Ransom can dunk, but he cannot hit, field, or throw a baseball.

1. In 2002, an episode of South Park presented “psychic” John Edward with the award for “The Biggest [Blockhead] in the Universe.”

Edward later demanded a recount, and a corrected error in the ballot process ensured the passing of the award to its rightful owner: Cody Ransom.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Yankees, Girardi Ensure that Their Bullpen Gets Plenty of “Relief”

The Yankees have surged to first place in the American League standings, and currently have a two game advantage for the best record in the American League.

The names that are most responsible are not quite the first that would roll off of fans’ tongues when asked to highlight impact players.

High-priced free agent acquisitions Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett have provided exactly the spark New York had hoped for upon signing some of the largest checks in MLB history.

Some of the smallest contracts on the Yankee roster, however, are paving the road to consistent success.

Bullpen staples like Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, and the newly “armed” and dangerous Phil Hughes have transformed a lamb into a lion.

The Yankee bullpen has as low an ERA as any in the league since June 1, and their 2.52 ERA since the All-Star break has helped to preserve victories in nine of ten games played.

This stellar ERA is bloated by the first shaky outing of Aceves’ bullpen tenure on Saturday, and he and his mates have been otherwise dominant.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been under the microscope since missing the playoffs for the franchise’s first time in a full season since 1993, and has taken heat for any mistake worth criticizing.

Girardi also deserves credit where credit is due, and his handling of the bullpen’s innings and appearances has been fantastic.

Under the Joe Torre era, the Yankees would annually have three relievers in the top-5 or top-10 of MLB in appearances.

Pitchers like Scott Proctor, Tom Gordon, Luis Vizcaino, and Paul Quantrill were overused and abused—leading to dead-arm periods, injuries, and a downturn in performance over the stretch run.

The 2009 Yankees, however, do not have even one relief pitcher in the top-10 in appearances or innings pitched.

The first name found on the list is Phil Coke, who is tied for 14th with 47 trots out of the bullpen. There are 20 relievers with the same or more appearances than Coke, and he currently sits 24th out of the top-40 appearance leaders in innings pitched at 42.2.

Who is next on the Yankee list? One would have to scroll all the way down to a tie at 49th in MLB with Mariano Rivera’s 42 games. An amazing 60 relievers have the same or more IP than Rivera.

Injuries and inconsistencies have helped to force Girardi’s hand, as formerly reliable pitchers like Jose Veras, Damaso Marte, Edwar Ramirez, and Brian Bruney have been sent to Triple-A, the waiver wire, or a doctor multiple times in 2009.

Either way, Girardi’s Yankees have had a more consistent and rested bullpen than in previous years.

He has been known to leave veteran starters in games at times when everyone knows they have nothing left, but he has handled the bullpen very well considering the sweeping turnover in personnel.

New York is about to embark on a very difficult stretch of games in which it plays 19 of its next 26 on the road, as well as currently being in the midst of playing 33 games in 34 days.

The next month will be a true test of the bullpen’s freshness and durability, and Girardi will have to find a way to find enough arms to give quality innings in relief.

The easy road to this point should help to push them though, but it is up to Girardi to ensure that his bullpen does not suffer a September setback typical of the Torre years.

He will not be able to rest easy that his job is safe until the “Sandman” and his bullpen mates prove that the consistency will continue even in the face of extreme adversity.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Yankees Should Turn to Former Red Sox Hurler for Rotation Depth

Reports out of New York have been anything but positive in regards to the health and comeback status of former ace Chien-Ming Wang.

Wang himself appears openly troubled and pessimistic about toeing a rubber before the 2010 season, and the Yankees should not be leaving the lights on in anticipation of his return.

While the front end of the rotation has been nothing short of electric over the last month, the back end has a fray in its stitching that could eventually lead to a gaping hole.

The old adage states that a “stitch in time saves nine,” implying that an early fix always prevents problems from escalating into an unstoppable avalanche.

Much like the threat of Global Warming, the Yankees rotation is experiencing some setbacks and changes, but the issues have not yet begun sounding the alarms.

Contingency plans should already be in effect, but the recent surge of success in the Bronx has clouded the eventual need for rotation depth.

Whether or not you are a devoted fan and supporter of Joba Chamberlain’s position as the fourth starter, the impending issue is one for you to be concerned with.

Chamberlain’s unwavering innings limit has once again come under discussion within the Yankees organization, and GM Brian Cashman has admitted it is a concern moving forward.

Once Chamberlain reaches 130-140 innings pitched, he will be forced to vacate his spot in the starting rotation in favor of the bullpen—as he is capped at around 150 innings.

Cashman made it clear that this philosophy has not changed whatsoever since the preseason, and that “no new wrinkle” has been added into the dreaded “Joba Rules.”

With the uncertainties surrounding Wang, Chamberlain, and Sergio Mitre’s statuses, manager Joe Girardi has expressed his own valid worries about the back end of the rotation.

This of course does not even include any resurfacing of the arm injuries that derailed the second half of Andy Pettitte’s 2008 season—almost forcing him into an early retirement.

So the burning question remains…what is the ultimate solution? Cashman offered the possibility of Alfredo Aceves permanently thrust into the rotation, as well as one other startling conclusion.

After hearing the words, “Kei Igawa has been pitching very well in Triple-A, so I can’t say you won’t be seeing him this year,” my ears inevitably began to emit a stream of blood reminiscent of Niagara Falls.

While Aceves would likely perform admirably in a permanent role as a starter, he has been far too valuable to the resurrected Yankee bullpen. The ‘pen has been as reliable and important as any facet of the team, and this option should be of the “last resort” variety.

The more prudent solution lies in a pitcher New York is rather familiar with—a pitcher who once stood on the other side of baseball’s most storied and passionate rivalry.

The Yankees should look to acquire Cincinnati Reds hurler Bronson Arroyo.

Arroyo has pitched well in the AL East, is an innings eater (even when he is beaten up early), has playoff experience out of the bullpen, and already has 10 wins on a bad team in 2009.

Do not let his bloated ERA fool you, as he allowed 18 earned runs over 6.2 IP in two deplorable starts. When removing these performances from the equation, Arroyo is an impressive 10-7 with a 4.13 ERA.

The Yankees need a dependable veteran presence in the fifth starter role, and someone they know can provide length.

Arroyo is on pace for his fifth straight 200 plus inning season, and he has pitched seven or more innings in 45 percent of his starts (9-for-20). He is exactly the kind of pitcher New York needs, and can be had for a package of mid-level prospects.

The Reds would be happy to get his salary off of the payroll and open the spot to another talented young arm, and Arroyo is the kind of pitcher that misses throwing meaningful games.

The move will not cost Cashman and the Yankees the likes of Austin Jackson, Jesus Montero, Phil Hughes, Chamberlain, Austin Romine, or Zach McAllister.

It is a proposition that creates a win-win scenario, and provides Cashman with a “nothing to lose” opportunity.

While other teams battle for the services of Erik Bedard, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Jarrod Washburn, it is time for New York to fly under the radar and snatch up Arroyo.

The Yankees cannot wait until Chamberlain’s limit is reached and Mitre hits a rough patch before analyzing their pitching status, and Arroyo is just the man to ease their concerns.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What If the Yankees & Red Sox Took a Year Off from the Rivalry in 2009?

After a century of bean balls, fist fights, blood, sweat, tears, and captivating theater, the Yankees and Red Sox have cemented themselves as the best rivalry in MLB.

Even the most dedicated and hardest workers need a vacation, however, and perhaps the rivalry could use a temporary hiatus for rest and convalescence.

The question must be asked: what if the 2009 baseball season had been chosen for Yanks-Sox prohibition?

What if Bud Selig had arisen before Opening Day and awkwardly waved his hands in confusion like the 2002 All-Star game—effectively putting the east coast conflict into hibernation until 2010?

Anyone who has even casually followed the American League over the last four months is well-educated in New York’s embarrassing effort when confronted by Red Sox Nation.

The Yankees are 0-for-8 in those games—a stat line normally reserved for Robinson Cano’s RISP skills as opposed to an interdivisional record.

Regardless of their rivalry no-show, New York somehow still sits atop the American League East standings at 56-37, while Boston stands one game back at 55-38.

If Commissioner Selig had forbidden the two from squaring off in 2009, the Yankees would currently have a record of 56-29. Boston, meanwhile, would fall to just 47-38.

Though a seemingly irrelevant concept, it is very intriguing to look at each team’s performance against the rest of the league.

The Yankees have a winning percentage of .659 against anyone not named Boston, which is on pace to collect an amazing 107 wins over a full 162 game season.

The Red Sox are playing .550 baseball against the rest of the league, which accounts for just 89 wins over a full season.

Normally these records should be thrown out without much afterthought, but they are of importance to Yankee fans across the globe.

A betting man would not put his paycheck down on New York finishing 0-for-18 in the rivalry. A reasonable expectation would be for the teams to split down the stretch, with each grabbing five of the 10 remaining games.

What this means is Boston has likely cashed out its winnings for 2009, unable to make up more ground in head-to-head competition.

Even while crushing the Yankees into a bloody and dejected pulp, the Red Sox can still be seen from New York’s rearview mirror.

If both teams played equal baseball against the rest of the league down the stretch, the Yankees would still win the AL East title even if Boston finished the season series 13-5.

With neither team looking to make game-changing moves at the July 31 trading deadline, it appears as though no one will have the luxury of taking their foot off the pedal for the final weeks of the season.

Expect the Tampa Bay Rays to play a major role in the final months of the divisional race, as the Yankees and Red Sox have 18 combined games remaining with them (NY 10, BOS 8)

New York is 4-4 against the Rays thus far in 2008, while Boston is 4-6. Whichever team performs better against them down the stretch will have a big advantage—provided that they do come close to splitting the remaining 10 head-to-head games.

Yankees Universe may wish in the back of their heads that the rivalry was postponed for the duration of 2009, but they still rest atop the American League on July 22.

All things considered, New York and its formerly frustrated fan base have to feel very fortunate and blessed to be in this position.

Now it is time to step up and at least split a four game series from August 6-9 at Yankee Stadium against their hated rival.

The baseball gods have given them a gift, and it is time to send out a thank you card.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yankees Hero Hideki Matsui Has Moment Reminiscent of the Big Screen

Yankees starter Andy Pettitte had just left his heart in the middle of the pitching rubber in Yankee Stadium, and his defense was about to use up all of its weekly miracles in a matter of mere seconds.

Somehow scurrying across a bed of hot coals, Yankees reliever Phil Coke pitched just poorly enough to transform a devastating wild pitch into inning-ending magic—blowing the nonexistent roof off of “The House that Steinbrenner Built.”

The Yankees now desperately wanted to hear the loud crack of a wooden bat. It was the 40th anniversary of the moon landing in 1969, and the Bronx longed for someone to put a baseball where Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong once boldly stepped.

They needed anything that could be confused with an offensive pulse, as the Orioles had held New York hitless since allowing a solo home run to lead off the second inning.

The likes of David Hernandez, Mark Hendrickson, and Jim Johnson had recorded 22 outs without allowing a broken-bat single, an infield hit, a blooper over shortstop, or anything resembling an “H” by official scorer standards.

The leadoff hitter for the bottom of the ninth was Alex Rodriguez. The hopes of him sending fans skipping to the motionless lines of Bronx parking garages ended even before a “let’s go A-Rod” chant could get organized.

Suddenly, an unfamiliar sound then began to travel over the stadium’s speakers.

It was the tune to Billy Joel’s “Big Shot,” which of course meant the arrival of Hideki Matsui to the batter’s box?

“The Sayonara Kid” was certainly a sight for sore eyes, though his unmistakable limp implied that his chronically injured knees were equally as sore.

It was a poor man’s Kirk Gibson moment. A very poor man’s…we are talking homeless holding an old Styrofoam coffee cup with “I need change” written across the front of it.

What happened shortly thereafter would have made Roy Hobbs of the legendary baseball film The Natural send a smile and wink in his direction.

Matsui took a healthy cut at a 2-0 pitch from Johnson, and was somehow left holding nothing more than a toothpick.

He wasn’t jammed. He didn’t hit the ball off the end of the bat. His trusty Mizuno simply fell apart in his hands.

“Godzilla” returned to the dugout for a spare, and delivered a blast that Hobbs’ famous “Wonderboy” had produced so many times before.

It was yet another walk-off for the Yankees, and an elated roster was awaiting their newest hero at home plate.

Matsui launched his helmet into the air, as per A-Rod’s request, and the Yankees battled for the catch like a group of bloodthirsty women seeking the bouquet at a wedding ceremony.

It was another magical moment in the new stadium; further enticing fans to believe the ghosts of Yankee past have not yet abandoned their “beyond the grave” duties.

AJ Burnett got one step closer to receiving a sponsorship deal with Reddi-wip, and the Yankees pulled even with Boston for first place in the AL East.

There is a long way to go in the 2009 MLB season, but it was comforting to Yankee fans to see their walk-off lightning strike for already the ninth time of the year.

Monday, July 20, 2009

MLB’s All-Catholic Team: Where Mystique May Come From a Higher Power

There has always been a connection between religion and sports, and Major League Baseball has certainly not been the exception to the rule.

Shawn Green was once wooed by the Yankees in order to attract a wide range of Jewish New Yorkers into Yankee Stadium.

Sandy Koufax once missed an expected World Series start to participate in a Jewish holiday, leaving teammate Don Drysdale to be slaughtered on short rest.

The Pope has spoken multiple times in famous sports venues, which of course included “The House that Ruth Built” in the Bronx.

Countless pitchers are seen tucking cross necklaces into their jerseys before toeing the rubber, or simply squatting for a quick prayer behind the mound.

This phenomenon got me thinking of the best Catholic names in baseball history—especially considering the names New York has employed in the last 12 months alone.

Feel free to offer additions and omissions, and I hope you enjoy the list.

For your viewing pleasure, here is the MLB All-Catholic lineup:

C - Jesus Montero:

Signed at just 16 years old by the Yankees, Montero recently played in the Futures Game for the second straight season.

He has a .328 AVG, 14 HR, 58 RBI, and .386 OBP in 2009 at a combination of Single-A and Double-A—certainly earning him that honor.


1B - Abel Lizotte:

Abel had a very short career with the 1896 Pittsburgh Pirates at 1B. He played in just seven games, "able" to hit just .103 in 29 total at bats.

You may be wondering why his career was so abrupt--especially considering the potential he flashed as a young boy.

Unfortunately for Abel, his envious brother Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants made sure his major league career was nothing more than a cup of tea.

Things have worked out well for Cain, as he is currently a budding superstar with an 11-2 record and 2.32 ERA in 2009.


2B - Angel Berroa:

A former Rookie of the Year in 2003, Berroa has bounced around the majors since--recently signing with the Mets after an abysmal effort in the Bronx.

In 2009, Berroa is hitting just .120 with a .154 OBP in 24 games played with the Mets and Yankees.


SS - Nate Samson:

Samson is a 21 year old Chicago Cubs farmhand currently playing in Double-A playing for the Tennessee Smokies.

He is currently hitting .254 with 0 HR, 28 RBI, and 37 R in 74 combined minor league games at SS in 2009.

It appears as though Samson’s girlfriend Delilah may have given him an untimely haircut after high school, as he has been unable to muster the power necessary to hit a home run.


3B - Matt Moses:

Moses is a 24 year old Minnesota farmhand, originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2003 draft.

He is currently hitting .224 with 6 HR and 40 RBI at Double-A New Britain in the Eastern League. He has split time between the OF and 3B during his many years in the minor leagues.


OF - Justin Christian:
Christian was a temporary call-up for the 2008 Yankees. He played OF and was a pinch-runner extraordinaire (before the permanent arrival of Brett Gardner cast him aside).

In 24 games during that season, Christian batted .250 with 6 RBI, as well as collecting 7 stolen bases in 8 attempts.


OF - Dave Pope:

Pope was an outfielder from 1952-1956 in the American League. He split his five ML seasons between the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians.

He proved to be a solid complimentary player, as he hit .265 with 12 HR and 73 RBI in 230 career games.


OF - St. Louis Cardinals:
With Hall of Fame outfielders like Stan Musial and Lou Brock in their history, the Cardinals seemed like the perfect candidate to fill out the All-Catholic OF.

This illustrious and well-respected major league franchise was founded in 1882 as the St. Louis Brown Stockings.

They have since won 10 World Series and 17 National League pennants, and are currently in first place in the NL Central at 51-43.


P - Eddie Priest:

Priest was originally drafted in the 9th round of the 1994 draft out of Southern Union Junior College.

He broke in briefly with the Cincinnati Reds in 1998, and compiled a 10.50 ERA in 6 innings pitched (2 games).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Yankees Go Bargain Hunting: The Best Team A-Rod’s Salary Could Buy

The calendar reads July 17, 2009, and lumps are beginning to form in the throats of baseball fans nationwide.

We are now just two weeks away from the much-anticipated July 31 trading deadline.

Countless Yankee fans are begging and pleading for either the services of Roy Halladay or to cling to the newly cultivated prospects littered throughout the farm system.
In the wake of inevitable water cooler discussions in offices across the country, it is time to once again discuss player salaries and payrolls.

This time, however, we are going to shake things up by playing a hypothetical game of General Manager budgeting.

What if you had to construct an entire team using only the league’s largest salary as a budget? What if your only asset was Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez?

The goal is the create the best roster of players whose 2009 salaries are as close to A-Rod’s as possible ($33 million), but without going over. This challenge is a perfect blend of fantasy baseball and The Price is Right.

Due to the fact that there are so many talented young stars making salaries near the rookie minimum, no roster is allowed to include more than five players with a salary less than $1,000,000.

The roster must include a C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, RF, CF, DH, five SPs, a RP, and a CL.

Feel free to offer your own rosters, any changes you would make to this list, and any feedback or opinionated responses.

Here we go!

C Pablo Sandoval - $401,750
1B Prince Fielder - $7,000,000
2B Aaron Hill - $2,590,000
SS Hanley Ramirez - $5,500,000
3B Evan Longoria - $550,000
LF Ryan Braun - $1,032,500
RF Justin Upton - $412,000
CF Adam Jones - $435,000
DH Kendry Morales - $1,100,000

SP Tim Lincecum - $650,000
SP Zack Greinke - $3,750,000
SP Matt Cain - $2,900,000
SP Josh Johnson - $1,400,000
SP Jon Lester - $1,000,000
RP Heath Bell - $1,255,000
CL Ryan Franklin - $2,500,000

TOTAL 2009 Team Payroll: $32,476,250

Alex Rodriguez’s 2009 Salary: $33,000,000

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We’re Going Streaking! The 5 Great Streaks in Yankees History

The American League won yet another All-Star game last night in St. Louis, which stretched their current unbeaten streak to 14 seasons.

They are 13-0-1 over that span, with the only blemish being the absurd 7-7 tie witnessed in the 2002 game.

That mockery eventually created the current system in which most fans despise—regardless of what Commissioner Selig would like to believe.

The winning streak of the American League All-Stars made me begin to ponder the greatest streaks in New York Yankees history.

As a result, I have created a list of the five most profound examples of “going streaking” in the illustrious history of the franchise, and would love to hear your additions, subtractions, feelings, and critiques.

I will see you all at the end, and remember to cover up if you see any police officers approaching!

5. Don Mattingly’s Consecutive Game Home Run Streak

Over a span of eight magical games in 1987, Don Mattingly did not lace up his cleats without hitting one into the stands.

Blasting 10 home runs over the eight consecutive games, Mattingly further lodged himself into the hearts of the Yankees faithful—after already becoming the apple of their eye following an MVP trophy in 1985.

Making his achievement all the more incredible, Mattingly was forced to contend with the All-Star break falling in the middle of his power surge.

Any hitter will explain how much a change in rhythm can affect a hitter’s timing and groove, and a three-day layoff was sure to throw a wrench in Donnie Baseball’s plans.

Mattingly somehow maintained his stroke, launching two more home runs on the first day after the break on July 16—carrying the streak to its final day on July 18.

Though a man known more for his sweet swing and unmatchable defensive prowess, Mattingly once again proved that he had power to all fields and could not be underestimated.

4. Yankees Reach Postseason 13 Straight Seasons

Beginning with a momentum-building campaign cut short by a MLB strike in 1994, the Yankees made 13 straight playoff appearances from 1995-2007.

The Yankees reached six World Series during that time period under the command of Joe Torre and a still feisty George M. Steinbrenner III—winning four titles in five years from 1996-2000.

Former GM Gene Michael and Manager Buck Showalter constructed the championship roster from the ground up, and no man but Torre was better equipped to lead them to the Promised Land.

Lead by a blend of home-grown talent (Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Ramiro Mendoza, and Mariano Rivera) and fearless veterans (Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, and Tino Martinez), the Yankees became the personification of greatness.

The 1998 championship team, which won 125 total games, is still often considered the best in baseball history.

3. World Series Individual Game Win Streak

In a miraculous winning streak that eventually spanned four series, the Yankees won 14 consecutive World Series games from 1996-2000.

After originally falling behind 2-0 to the Atlanta Braves, New York won four straight games to capture their first World Series in 18 years.

Next came convincing sweeps in both 1998 and 1999 over the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves respectively—which stretched the improbable winning streak to 12.

Finally, on their way to capturing their third consecutive World Series title in the “Subway Series” of 2000, the Yankees won the series’ first two games before the Mets stole Game Three.
The streak may have ended at 14 consecutive games in 2000, but the accomplishment will live on for many more decades.

2. Consecutive World Series Titles Streak

From 1949-1953, the Yankees captured five straight World Series championships. They defeated the cross-city rival Brooklyn Dodgers three times, the New York Giants once, and the Philadelphia Phillies.

With Casey Stengel controlling the bench, the Yankees had the stability, professionalism, and complimentary talent later resurfacing with the Torre dynasty from 1996-2003.

No team before or after Stengel’s was able to win as many titles consecutively, and no time likely ever will. The Yankees were a special team lead by Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford, and free agency and lack of loyalty prevents teams from maintaining an edge.

Fun Streaking Fact: Did you know that one of the original three New York teams (Dodgers, Giants, Yankees) made the World Series for 18 straight years from 1949-1966?

1. Joe DiMaggio’s 56 Consecutive Game Hitting Streak

As if the list could end in any other way?

Yankees CF legend Joe DiMaggio went without a hitless game from May 15 to July 16 during the 1941 season. It all began with one fateful swing off of White Sox pitcher Eddie Smith.

DiMaggio has yet to have another player approach within 12 games of his streak, and it is often debated if that day will ever come.

The number ‘56’ has become a symbol for all that was once right in the game that has since taken so many wrong turns.

It is one of the few records that is unaffected by the immense changes the game has undertaken over the last century—as opposed to those like Cy Young’s 511 wins.

Also “immune” to performance-enhancing drugs, DiMaggio’s streak is the perfect goal for any pure hitter to try to crack.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Yankees Provide Insufficient Power Source: Homers Pile Up Without Impact

Much has been made of the somewhat secretive process of decreasing fencing distance heading from the right field foul pole toward the bleacher seats in the new Yankee Stadium.

Many more whispers have carried through the Bronx on the same wind currents helping to transform doubles into home runs and lazy fly balls into heart-stopping warning track peril.

The Yankees, who have subsequently launched 132 home runs into the stands, have actually failed to take advantage of the offensive opportunity in front of them.

On the eve of tonight’s MLB Home Run Derby, it was important to take a closer look at the record-setting souvenirs delivered by Yankee sluggers.

While power stats have accumulated in rather impressive fashion, the impact of the pinstriped muscle-flexing has left much to be desired. In many cases, they have provided less “bang for their buck” than a seeing-eye single by Brett Gardner.

Yankee home runs have generally been as “solo” as a socially awkward teenager at the middle school winter formal. They are often quietly sitting alone in the corner watching a halfhearted edition of The Electric Slide—wondering if anyone is noticing their presence.

To illustrate this with a little statistical analysis, not even one member of the Yankee double-digit power contingent has hit more than half their home runs with a teammate manning the basepaths.

This list includes Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Johnny Damon, and Derek Jeter.

They have accounted for 116 of New York’s 132 home runs (88 percent), but have produced “socially awkward teenagers” 70 times. This means that three out of every five homers that they hit is no more damaging a result than a sacrifice fly.

To put this into perspective, Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay of the Boston Red Sox have hit just 36 percent of their round-trippers with nobody on base. Bay in particular has “gone solo” just five times out of 20 opportunities.

The Red Sox are so dangerous because they can truly change the game with one swing—always one hanging curveball away from a three-run homer. Their longballs provide damage, and help to shrivel opponent morale like a slug battling a salt shaker.

New York may be on an alarming power pace, but it needs to find a way to reserve its blasts for more destructive game situations.

Solo home runs can be quite dramatic when timed correctly, such as Johnny Damon’s walk-off in the 11th inning against Minnesota on May 17. The majority of the time, however, they are a minor bump in the road for an opposing starting pitcher.

In fact, many of the game’s great hurlers prided themselves on limiting teams to solo home runs, as they will nine times out of 10 not be the reason a team wins or loses a game.

Hitting well in key situations has been a problem for the Yankees, and even their home runs have been timed poorly during the flow of ball games.

They are currently sitting on a goldmine of power potential, and could soon be dishing out as many “grand slams” as Roger Federer and Denny’s Restaurants.

Yankee home runs need to stop acting like a socially awkward teenager, and much more like the captain of the football team.

After all, nobody likes to be left home alone on Saturday night.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Real “Bronx Zoo”: What If the Yankees Were Reincarnated as Animals?

Once coined to describe the unrelenting turmoil that swirled around the 1977 Yankees, the “Bronx Zoo” moniker has been much discussed over the last three plus decades.

The conflicting personalities of former manager Billy Martin, outfielder Reggie Jackson, and team captain Thurman Munson, the Yankees became as much a soap opera as a title-contending baseball team.

Screaming matches in the dugout, fist fights and shoving bouts behind closed doors, questionable quotes leaking into the media; the 1977 Yankees had it all.

All of this drama was exacerbated by Mr. George M. Steinbrenner III—the powerful and headstrong proprietor of the ball club and Yankee Stadium.

The 1977 season and subsequent hit television series The Bronx is Burning inspired a piece linking the actual Bronx Zoo and the seemingly uncontrollable roster of years past.

This list will identify the animal that the Yankee players would be reincarnated as in a second life, and a brief description as to how each decision was arrived at.

I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to come up with you own renditions of players mentioned or those not included in the list.

Brett Gardner – Cheetah

Often discussed as the fastest land animal on Earth, the cheetah can reach speed of up to 70-75 MPH—including a zero-to-sixty time of less than three seconds.

Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner had been clocked anywhere from 95-190 MPH from home to first, so I believe the comparison is more than warranted.

The cheetah can only maintain these speeds for a short period of time, which has been estimated at about 1500 feet. Luckily for this pinstriped cheetah, a trip around the bases spans just 360 ft, and he appeared very capable of sustaining pace during an inside-the-park home run on May 15.

Johnny Damon – Fish out of Water/Beaver

Johnny Damon’s reincarnation would have to be split into two separate species, due to the differences in his offensive and defensive games at the age of 35.

On defense, Damon represents a fish out of water, often struggling to regain his composure and sense of direction. He appears to flop around hopelessly throughout the left field grass, praying that the fly ball will somehow find its way into his glove.

After struggling for quite some time, a fish out of water will finally succumb to the realization that things will likely not end well. As the fish is released back into the pond or Damon’s glove finds itself wrapped around a pearly-white baseball, both are left with an awkward yet relieved smile.

On offense, however, Damon could return as no other animal than a beaver. Though it may surprise you at first glance, one must first think about what a beaver actually does.

Damon chews through more wood than any player in the major leagues—personally responsible for the destruction of the South American rainforests. He has shattered, cracked, exploded, and splintered more bats than even Rivera’s razorblade cutter.

Nick Swisher – Hyena/Chimpanzee

Nick Swisher is as much a performer as he is a baseball player, and a blend of the hyena and chimpanzee would seem to do him (and his actions) justice.

Hyenas are known for the laughing sound they produce, and have been featured in many movies as sarcastic, teasing, and joking characters. Swisher is rarely seen without a smile on his face, and always seems primed and ready to play a prank at a moment’s notice.

Chimpanzees are as playful as any animal on Earth, and are known to wrestle, tickle, chase, and show signs of something similar to human laughter.

They are often used in stage shows, circuses, movies, and other forms of entertainment, as a chimp is seemingly always ready to perform. Swisher is no different, and his “bleacher creature” companions wouldn’t have it any other way.

Derek Jeter – Lion

The captain of the Yankees is essentially the figurehead of Major League Baseball, as they represent the most recognizable baseball “brand” in the world.

The lion, on the other hand, is the much heralded “king of the jungle.” He is both respected and feared, while representing the symbol of confidence and power for the entire animal kingdom.

When I think of Jeter in lion’s fur, the first image that comes to mind is Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia (I don’t want to hear it…it’s a great book). He is an “elder statesman” full of wisdom, strength, and bravery—never backing down from a battle with a worthy cause.

Author C.S. Lewis often describes Aslan as a symbol of Christ, and you would be hard-pressed to find any Yankee die-hard that considers Jeter anything less than half god.

Mariano Rivera - Bald Eagle

The bald eagle is the proud symbol of the United States of America, and Mariano Rivera is much the symbol of the most recent Yankee dynasty as anyone not named Jeter.

Often perching calmly and alertly until the opportune time to attack, Rivera’s bullpen activity is quite reminiscent of our nation’s favorite taloned predator.

Like Rivera, the bald eagle has many times been considered on its last legs—with widespread fear of extinction placing them on the endangered species list. Similar to many bald eagles currently protected in captivity, Rivera had to “mend a broken wing” in the offseason by agreeing to an offseason should procedure.

Both have responded beautifully, as Rivera is as dominant as he has ever been, and the bald eagle has officially been removed from any endangered or threatened species list.

Ramiro Pena/Francisco Cervelli – Drone Bee

A drone bee’s life expectancy is anywhere from 40-50 days—very similar to the 2009 major league journeys of Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli.

They may not be the biggest, fastest, strongest, or most equipped of the bunch, but the drone bees work very hard to contribute—fitting perfectly into the bigger community that is the “hive” or clubhouse.

Their work does not go unnoticed, but it does go somewhat underappreciated. Once they’re gone, the rest of the group truly realizes the benefits of having them around. This is especially the case when a less productive, deserving, or mentally prepared bee (Cody Ransom) takes their place.

Andy Pettitte – Camel

The camel is slow, workmanlike, and methodical, but does what’s expected of him in the roughest of conditions. Even when times are hard and hope seems lost, he always has a little water on reserve in his hump to get the big outs when he really needs them.

Camels are known to be stubborn at times, but their seniority and importance generally allow them to get their way. The camel will generally say something along the lines of: “Joe, I have trekked through 100s of miles of scorching hot desert…don’t you think I can retire the seven-hitter with the bases loaded? Go back to the dugout.”

They may not be as flashy and eye-catching as other animals, but the camel is more than ready to carry a team on its back (literally) to the Promised Land.

Alex Rodriguez – Rattlesnake

The rattlesnake uses a literal “rattle” in its tail to warn predators when feeling threatened, and can also be used by horrified humans to determine which path not to walk on.

Always letting you know when he is entering a room with his own figurative “rattle,” A-Rod craves bright lights and attention to be thrust in his direction. He wants to look cool yet intimidating, and he always hunts alone.

Stay far enough away from him, whether on the plate or in the streets, and you should be safe. If you get too close (I’m talking to you pitchers and media personnel), however, he will make you pay big time.

He is also never opposed to putting things into your bloodstream to alter body chemistry—whether venom in this case, or, well…you know.

Melky Cabrera – Cow

Do I really need to explain this one?

Mark Teixeira/CC Sabathia – Griffon

Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia are making a combined $341 in pinstripes over the next eight seasons.

They are worth so much cash that they will likely outlive the inconveniencies and setbacks of old age. Living long enough to see medical technologies that we have yet to even fantasize about, Sabathia and Teixeira will live until somewhere between 500 and 1000 years old.

Who knows what kind of evolutionary or cultural changes will have occurred by then—especially with the added factors of Global Warming and space travel?

That being said, what other animal could these two men be reincarnated as aside from one of the most extravagant and spectacular creates to bless the pages of mythology.

Jorge Posada – Bull

One of the more stubborn and aggressive members of the animal kingdom, the bull even has a phrase coined after him: bull-headed.

Known to get feisty at the sight of the color red (see: old Boston-New York footage), the bull is tough, strong, and ready to rumble. The same qualities that make the bull as successful as he is also create problems dealing with others.

Jorge Posada’s bull-like confidence, stick-to-itiveness, and aggressiveness cause many pitchers to “butt horns” with him. Pitch selection, location, and sequence often create a proverbial “pissing contest” amongst the Yankee battery—eventually leading to some hurlers requesting “personal catchers.”

*NOTE: Joba Chamberlain will likely reincarnate as a matador instead of an animal, as Posada will finally have his chance to skewer the most frustrating pitcher on the Yankee staff.*

Robinson Cano – House Cat

This feline comparison is not at all meant to be a compliment, regardless of the fact that I have been a cat owner for 18 years.

Sure, they can jump high, run fast, and quickly change direction. They are also blessed with breathtaking agility and the potential to do great things—when they want to. Cats, however, would prefer to just lie there and take in a few rays of sun.

Unlike dogs, which will run to your side whenever you call, cats will never be there for you in times of need. They may be as smooth and clean as they come, but you will be left cleaning up their messes—whether in the litter box or the batter’s box.

A.J. Burnett – Wild Mustang

One of the most majestic, incredible creatures in all of the animal kingdom, mustangs are big, powerful, fast, and agile. They possess virtually every quality to be exactly what every other animal aspires to become. Regardless of how hard you try, however, they cannot ever truly be controlled.

You can tame it for short periods of time, but you never know what you are going to get from day to day. Burnett currently leads MLB in wild pitches with 13, leads the AL in walks with 53, and is not far behind the league leaders in hit batsman.

That being said, on those days when the mustang allows you to saddle up and ride, it is as magical and unparalleled as any performance the animal kingdom can offer.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yankees Slugger of the Future Profile: Double-A Catcher Jesus Montero

The New York Yankees have had a much-maligned minor league talent pool for quite some time—and rightfully so.

General Manager Brian Cashman ignored the development of talented young prospects in favor of aging and overly priced veterans—which subsequently transformed an “Amazon River” into a “Sahara Desert.”

Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Alfonso Soriano, and Ted Lilly suddenly became Andy Phillips, Colter Bean, Jorge De Paula, Sean Henn, and Kevin Thompson.

Position player prospects have been even harder to come by—forcing fans to latch onto the prized arms of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain for hopes of a farm system resurrection.

Luckily for New York, there is finally a prototypical slugger waiting in to wings of the Yankee minor league system. He’s big, strong, patient at the plate, hits for average, hits for power, and is a doubles machine.

Fans can officially raise the volume level on the buzz already circulating around hitting prospect Jesus Montero of the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

*It was important to highlight the potential of Montero in the wake of the public outcry of Yankee fans to acquire Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Montero began the season at Single-A Tampa, but has quickly risen to the Double-A ranks. In a combined 74 minor leagues games in 2009, he is hitting .336 with 13 HR, 52 RBI, 20 doubles, and a .391 OBP.

When these statistics are calculated over a full 162-game season, Montero would produce 28-29 HR, 114 RBI, and 44 doubles. To put this into perspective, Kevin Youkilis had 29 HR, 115 RBI, a .390 OBP, 43 doubles, and a .312 BA in 2008.

Before an unruly mob carrying torches approaches my front door, I am not at all comparing minor league success to an MVP-caliber season in MLB’s toughest division.

The numbers are so strikingly similar, however, that they could help to project what kind of hitter Montero has the potential to become.

What’s the best part about Montero? He was born in November 1989, which makes him a teenager at just 19 years old.

After a slow start in Double-A, Montero has been adjusting quite nicely. He launched five home runs in a four-game span last week, and is hitting .333 over his last 10 games.

The only problem with the slugger’s game occurs when he is squatting behind home plate—as opposed to standing next to it while wielding a bat.

Montero is an average catcher at best, and is likely to be forced out from behind the plate in order to appear at the major league level. The Yankees would also prefer being able to utilize his bat in the lineup more than 120-130 games per season.

This would not be an issue, aside from the fact that New York is set at most of the reasonable replacement positions.

The corner infield is secure for the better part of a decade with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, and Jorge Posada will likely be a permanent clog of the DH role by the time Montero is ready to contribute in the Bronx.

Corner outfield becomes the only conceivable option remaining, and Montero’s 6’4” 230+ pound frame does not exactly scream “range.”

A name that jumps into mind when picturing Montero as a corner outfielder is Houston’s LF Carlos Lee. While he might not produce as many tape-measure shots as Lee, he could play LF and DH whenever Posada is able to catch.

This is clearly a bridge the Yankees will worry about crossing when they arrive at it, but it is a wonderful “problem” to have. For the first time in nearly a decade, New York will have to determine a way to plug a young star in the making into its lineup.

After all, wouldn’t it be ironic that a man named “Jesus” may be responsible for the resurrection of the Yankee position player prospects?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Yankee Bullpen: When a Glaring Weakness Becomes a Reliable Strength

The 2009 season began with promise and high expectations for a young but talented Yankee bullpen cast.

Damaso Marte was re-signed in the offseason, and would team with Mariano Rivera, Jose Veras, Phil Coke, Edwar Ramirez, and Brian Bruney to create a formidable fireman’s squad—ready to put out flames during the final third of games.

Not far off into the horizon waited Mark Melancon, a much-advertised minor league clone of Joba Chamberlain, who was expected to contribute nothing but swings and misses by the All-Star break.

Some fans remained skeptic regardless of their stellar 2008 campaigns, but most were at worst “cautiously optimistic” that the bridge to Rivera would hold up against the freely flowing winds of the new Yankee Stadium.

Weeks into the season, however, hope rapidly began shifting toward fear and uncertainty.

Marte had injured his throwing shoulder, and Bruney would soon follow with elbow pain. Veras and Ramirez would require a GPS system to get within miles of home plate.

Coke was offering up souvenir balls to fans in right field like it was pregame batting practice. Melancon looked as overmatched as a tadpole wrestling an alligator, and went running back to Triple-A like he had just hopped the fence near the Mexico-US border.

Even the immortalized Rivera had struggled over the early months of the season, appearing oddly human like a werewolf staring at a crescent moon.

Fans rightly attacked Brian Cashman’s $423.5 million offseason expenditure—not a dollar of which was spent acquiring a reliever outside of the Yankee organization.

Suddenly, Queens had the unflappable bullpen—a team torn down like the Berlin Wall the past two seasons by a bullpen as heartless as a storefront manikin.

The currents then began to change direction without warning, and the Yankees were now free from attempting to swim upstream toward the ninth inning.

Alfredo Aceves arrived initially in long-relief duty, but was soon molded into Ramiro Mendoza circa 1998. Phil Coke re-emerged as the dominant lefthander of the final months of 2008, and Rivera became…well, Rivera.

A serviceable bullpen became a trustworthy one with the addition of David Robertson and Phil Hughes—unlikely late-inning heroes now counted on for some of the game’s biggest outs.

A crew that was once the butt of jokes across Major League Baseball now sports five relievers with an ERA under 3.00—including Hughes’ 1.23 ERA, 0.61 WHIP, and remarkable .120 BAA.

Hughes represents one of four Yankee relievers with a WHIP below 1.00—which could continue if the starting rotation stops putting them in so many precarious situations.

If New York is able to acquire a birth into the 2009 postseason, even more help will be on its way to the bullpen mix.

Due to innings limits and subsequently not needing a five-man rotation in October, Joba Chamberlain will be returning to short-relief.

There are concerns as to whether or not he can once again dominate like years past, but he will undoubtedly add a different dynamic and energy level than he displays in the starting rotation.

A postseason bullpen of Robertson, Aceves, Coke, Chamberlain, Hughes, Rivera, and a possibly resurrected Bruney would rival the best bullpens in MLB.

A bullpen nightmare has become a dream come true for Yankees Universe, and they will need every successful inning of relief they can get their hands on—considering only two of five starters are offering consistency every five days.

The bullpen crew has been eating plenty of spinach as part of the Popeye diet—let’s just hope none of their inventory has been stricken with E. coli.
 
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