Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Joba Chamberlain Needs to Drop Anchor on Mariners’ Weak Offensive Fleet

Joba Chamberlain has sparked a debate more perplexing than determining “who framed Roger Rabbit,” “what happened to Amelia Earhart,” or “how many licks it takes to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop.”

Fans, scouts, and analysts will continue to argue whether Chamberlain is best suited as a reliever or starter, with nothing short of unequaled dominance and stardom likely to quiet it.

Chamberlain has become the personification of a Rubik’s Cube—evolving into an even more confusing puzzle as you seemingly get closer to finding a solution.

In 14 starts thus far in 2009, the former phenom has struck out more than six batters just one time. He surrendered four first inning runs in that start, and the Yankees were never able to recover.

Though pitching better in the month of June, Chamberlain has been far from dominating his opponents.

He was rescued in a putrid performance against the Mets in which he walked five and threw 100 pitches in just four innings. He then followed that start by allowing 11 baserunners against the Washington Nationals—the worst team in all of MLB.

Luckily for Chamberlain, his next opponents are the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners are performing admirably in an improved American League West, but are doing much of it with smoke and mirrors—especially on the offensive end.

Seattle currently sits at 29th in MLB in runs scored, 26th in OBP at just .315, and 25th in OPS. They also rank just 19th in home runs with 72, which would be much worse if one player (Russell Branyan) did not have virtually 30-percent of them.

Ichiro Suzuki leads all of MLB in batting average at .372—managing to lift an otherwise poor team batting average up to 13th in the league at .261.

It is time for Chamberlain to show the kind of put-away fastball and slider he utilized in 2008, as well as show better location early in the count.

He needs to deliver a steady diet of 93-95 MPH fastballs and unhittable sliders—ensuring that the Mariners are left “sleeping with the fishes.”

The Mariners are a very difficult team to strike out, and a high total in tonight’s game would go a long way in showing Chamberlain’s overpowering nature has not gone the way of the dinosaur.

Similar to the Atlanta Braves lineup that Chamberlain defeated in his last start, the Mariners have just three truly dangerous hitters.

Nate McLouth, Brian McCann, and Chipper Jones have been replaced by Jose Lopez, Branyan, and Ichiro—with the rest of the batting order leaving much to be desired.

Chamberlain cannot knock the opposing pitcher out of the game with another line drive tonight, so he might actually have to out-pitch Mariners starter Brandon Morrow.

Ironically, Morrow is another stud reliever-turned-starter prospect with an electric arm, and it will be exciting to see the two face off in Yankee Stadium.

All eyes will be on Chamberlain (what a surprise) as he toes the rubber at home—a place where he is pitching to a 0-2 record, 1.55 WHIP, and 5.18 ERA in 2009. He has also walked 21 batters in just 33 IP at Yankee Stadium.

Chamberlain—as well as Wang—will need strong showings over the next few weeks in order to continue to hold off the suddenly electrifying Phil Hughes.

The quest for reacquiring respect and fear begins tonight for Chamberlain—against a team and a lineup he should do nothing but toy with.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Yankees’ Chien-Ming Wang to Become 300 Game Winner on Oct. 21, 2263

According to Matt Gelb of The Star-Ledger, yesterday marked Chien-Ming Wang’s first major league victory in 379 days.

It was a long and painful road to redemption for the once dominating sinker-baller, and one that many New Yorkers would prefer to forget.

A man once “guaranteed” to provide 200-plus innings per season and 15-20 victories is now nothing more than an unreliable project.

Yankee fans are more often than not holding their breath each time Wang releases a flat sinker—as opposed to using it for more encouraging activities like cheering or yelling “let’s go Wang!”

Wang currently stands at 55 wins in pinstripes—46 of which were collected over two and a half magical seasons at the top of the Yankee rotation.

At the torrid pace he was riding through an unfortunate baserunning injury in 2008, he would have been set to reach the 300-win milestone somewhere around his 42nd or 43rd birthday.

Wang’s current pace has been slightly more tortoise than hare, and would create a far different target date for creating history in the Bronx.

If he continues to achieve one win every 379 days, Wang will be penciled in to earn his 300th victory on Oct. 21, 2263.

The Taiwanese right-hander would be at the ripe old age of 284—older than the present age of the United States of America that enabled him this great opportunity.

Some may scoff at the idea of a starting pitcher throwing 260 years in the big leagues, or even surviving long enough to see the middle of the 23rd century.

With the advancements in medicine, technology, and performance-enhancing drugs, however, Wang’s road to 300 is much more probability than fantasy.

After all, Satchel Paige was able to compete at the major league level in 1965 at the age of 59—without the aid of any enhancers outside of the coffee he was served between innings.

Is it that far-fetched to believe Wang could ride the PED train all the way to 2263? Who knows what kinds of chemical concoctions will exist as we move into the 10s, 20s, and 30s.

The only obstacle seemingly in Wang’s way is the same advancements in medicine and technology that will offer him the chance at making history.

Somewhere between now and 2263, it is highly likely that the technology required to clone humans will be developed and utilized in American society.

Furthermore, when taking into account inflation and marketing opportunities in other galaxies, the Yankees payroll will be somewhere around $370 trillion.

This will make it very difficult for Wang to remain in the Yankee rotation through 2263—as New York will be able to purchase the rights to the embryos of Cy Young, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Walter Johnson, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax.

Wang will be relegated to 8th inning duties, but should be able to record the one victory per season necessary to maintain his pace.

Whether or not Wang is able to achieve the milestone remains to be seen.

If the future cloned version of George Steinbrenner has anything to say about it, however, we will be able to add Wang’s name to a very illustrious list of pitching royalty.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Yankees GM Brian Cashman: Nothing More Than an Infinite Checking Account

The glory years have long since ridden off into the sunset, and the days of championships and dynasties are nearly a decade in the rearview mirror.

Arrogant chants of “1918” have been replaced by seated confessions (and denials) before Congress and a spending plan as loose and irresponsible as the US government.

Yankee t-shirts proudly displaying slogans such as “Got Rings?” or “Who’s Your Daddy” are now collecting dust in the back of closets across the tri-state area.

Even mindless banter between rivals has become less enjoyable without a chamber full of witty and damaging verbal bullets.

The vulnerability of MLB’s empire began with the shifting of Gene Michael into the shadows of the Yankee organization.

The deterioration commenced the day Brian Cashman was given laissez-faire authority.

In the years leading up to George Steinbrenner’s ultimate removal as figurehead of the Yankees, Cashman was being given more superiority and freedom to perform his job—without too many strong-arm demands coming from over his shoulder.

Cashman was now somewhat supplanting Steinbrenner in the throne, and all success and failure could be attributed to his name.

As the payroll began to launch skyward like an Apollo mission, the Yankees were left with disappointment after disappointment from their acquisitions.

It technically all started with the signing of an unnecessary replacement for Tino Martinez—a still productive offensive player, unequaled defender, and fan favorite.

Jason Giambi quickly became a one-dimensional slugger and such a defensive liability that he could not even make throws taught on Little League diamonds.

This signing occurred before the era of laissez-faire I am referring to, but signaled a changing of the guard in how the Yankees would do business. It became all about big names, big legacies, and even bigger contracts.

The first regrettable moves made by the General Manager involved the ever-weakening pitching staff.

Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Jimmy Key, Orlando Hernandez, and David Cone were replaced by Jeff Weaver, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Javier Vasquez, Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Esteban Loiaza, and Jose Contreras.

Ramiro Mendoza, Jeff Nelson, and Mike Stanton were replaced by Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, Tanyon Sturtze, Scott Proctor, Steve Karsay, Felix Heredia, Kyle Farnsworth, Sterling Hitchcock, Antonio Osuna, Chris Hammond, Armando Benitez, Felix Rodriguez, and Octavio Dotel.

There are countless other calamities being omitted in the interest of space, but for a five year span to include a name scroll longer than Wilt Chamberlain’s sexual conquests is nothing short of repulsive.

It didn’t matter in 2005 that Jaret Wright was coming off of the first season he started more than 10 games since 1999, his ERA consistently floated around 7.00, or that he had never once thrown 200 innings in his career.

It certainly didn’t matter that Jeff Weaver was 39-51 in his career with a 4.33 ERA when the Yankees acquired him from Detroit. Wouldn’t it be nice to still have Ted Lilly in the Yankee rotation?

Just when fans in the Bronx wondered how things could possibly get worse—Kei Igawa happened in 2006.

The man who boasts a 6.66 career major league ERA in 16 games, and currently decomposes at the Triple-A level while swimming through a pool of gold coins in his back yard.

Cashman, in all his sagacity, coughed up $26 million just to earn the right to sit at a negotiating table.

Another $20 million later, the Yankees were paying more per season for Igawa than Roy Oswalt, John Smoltz, Mariano Rivera, Torii Hunter, and Aramis Ramirez were being paid at the time.

To make matters worse, Cashman admitted that they projected Igawa as “a back of the rotation starter.” Excuse me for a second while I attempt to avoid choking on my own vomit.

The Yankees were then able to “strong-arm” Alex Rodriguez into a 10-year contract worth upwards of $300 plus million—running into the meat of his 40s.

(You certainly showed him who’s boss Brian.)

Cashman’s unlimited resources should allow him to be the best GM in all of baseball. Imagine the Tampa Bay Rays, Twins, Rangers, or Cardinals adding $100 million in payroll for the 2009 stretch run.

Instead, the only moves he gets right are the no-brainers. A gorilla flinging feces at a list of names on a chalkboard could have done a better job.

Not only does are his successes limited to the likes of like Mark Teixeira and Mike Mussina, but his only negotiating tactic is adding years or zeros—eventually leaving New York with a pile of overpaid former stars with diminishing skills.

To put this into perspective, Yankees SP AJ Burnett is being paid a higher annual salary than Albert Pujols—the unquestionable premiere hitter in MLB.

In order to justify this contract, he would have to pitch like Ron Guidry circa 1978—but is instead just 5-4 with a nearly 1.50 WHIP.

Cashman has been a disaster since Hall of Famers and clutch miracles were diving into his lap like kids on a mall’s version of Santa Clause.

It is time that he faces the music, and perhaps embarks on a lonely walk down “the ole dusty trail.”

The Yankees need a man with savvy, a man with baseball intelligence, and a man who can supplement smart-money signings with high-priced free agents.

They need a man who will not ignore the development of home-grown talent for the better part of a decade—only to pretend it has now become his No. 1 priority.

They need a man who will make personnel decisions based on a player’s moxie, dedication to the game, love of the bright lights and big stage, and workmanlike attitude—as opposed to clinging to statistics and star power like an old unwanted girlfriend.

That man is clearly not Cashman, and it is time for a change.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Yankees Response to Girardi’s Ejection Speaks to Team’s Disgust (Satire)

Much credit has been given to Yankees Manager Joe Girardi for his “inspiring and motivating” rant and subsequent ejection on Wednesday night.

Girardi was on a mission to not only light a fire under his team, but to also make opposing manager and “ejection extraordinaire” Bobby Cox proud of his tirade.

Being sent to the showers was as surefire as a New Jersey bar belting out lyrics to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” as passionately as a church choir.

The Yankee offense gave Girardi exactly the response he was looking for—an emotional and spirited effort lead by everyone’s favorite backup backstop Francisco Cervelli.

The sudden arrival of a heart transplant in the sixth inning was not the result of the manager’s temper tantrum, however, and involved a much less “rah rah” initiative.

The Yankees were in fact celebrating the departure of the man they refuse to play for.

Girardi’s absence on the dugout steps sent a jolt of energy and strength through their veins like a steroid cycle absorbed in the buttocks. The sheer avoidance of having to see his always confused face and uneasy demeanor provoked a 180 degree turnaround.

The infectious positivity and uplifting presence of Tony Pena for a mere 60 seconds was all it took to push the struggling lineup towards a much-needed victory.

Pena was even able to awaken Alex Rodriguez from a month-long coma—offering a few sentences of Zen into A-Rod’s normally plugged ears.

(I think he said something like, “Hey Alex, you bagged one of the biggest hotties in Hollywood even when she knows you have tiny steroid testicles and are a cheater. You can at least hit a fastball down the middle, right? Think about it.”)

A-Rod’s first clutch hit in a victory since the Phillies were in town was enough to remind him what two hands repeatedly making contact with each other sounded like—thankfully Atlanta was swarming with members of Yankees Universe.

Perhaps no one was happier to see Girardi go than Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera.

Originally slated to start the game, a mysterious closed-door meeting with Nick Swisher transformed the lineup card to leave Cabrera stuck with bench duty—even after Swisher was 0-for-5 the night before and Cabrera had recorded a double.

(That last paragraph actually happened according to the YES Network, and should not be confused with the sarcastic flavor of the piece in general)

Pena inserted Cabrera into the game as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning, and he proceeded to lace a double to the gap—later resulting in New York breaking open the game for good.

Cabrera was sending a loud and clear message to the visitor’s clubhouse as his manager watched the final innings on television.

(I think it was something along the lines of “Hey you clueless jerk, have you already forgotten how I saved your job in April and May? Do you think those game-winning RBI were easy to come by? You have seen A-Rod, Jeter, and Cano choke like George Bush on a pretzel, right? Play me before the Melk Man begins to curdle…you wouldn’t like me when I curdle.)

New York grabbed victory from the jaws of yet another defeat littered with frustration, anger, and disbelief.

What Girardi did after his tirade is the catalyst for the Yankee victory, as opposed to what he did during it. He left.

Pena was my choice for manager once Joe Torre was removed from the position following the 2007 season. Girardi was fourth on my list behind Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa, and the aforementioned Pena, and I was once again reminded as to why.

Girardi was unable to gather as much fight, respect, and trust from his team in one and a half years as manager as Pena received in four innings.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Robinson Cano Somehow Escaping Ridicule for Failures in the Clutch

Yankees 2B Robinson Cano has been credited with having a very productive season—currently on pace for 28 HR, 99 RBI, 108 R, 200 hits, and a .300 batting average.

The problem, however, is that many fans are overlooking the stark differences in Cano’s performance in the heart of a clutch situation.

Time and time again, the talented young slugger will roll over an outside pitch—resulting in a double play or feeble groundout.

The biggest moments seem to paralyze Cano.

He is always one of the first players out of the dugout to hug Melky Cabrera after a thrilling last-second victory, but is never the Yankee wielding a bat when those moments manifest themselves.

Cano has dethroned Alex Rodriguez as the “King of the Meaningless RBI,” as he consistently piles up statistics in games often confused with football scores.

In Yankee victories, Cano is hitting a robust .377 with 23 extra base hits and 39 runs scored. In losses, he has hit just .219 with 6 extra base hits, a .246 OBP, and scored 7 runs.

Though these numbers are alarming and thought-provoking, they do not tell the entire story—as perhaps Cano has been a major catalyst in important, nail-biting victories.

Unfortunately, the numbers agree with the always important “eye test” that this is not the case.

With two outs and runners in scoring position, Cano is hitting just .212—unable to drive in virtually any of the back-breaking runs that help to grind out close games.

To further emphasize Cano’s inability to rise to the occasion, he hits .384 with no outs in an inning, and a startling .391 when the Yankees lead or trail by four or more runs.

Twenty-five percent of his home runs and runs batted in have been generated in these “blowout games.”

When removing these meaningless hits, Cano becomes nothing short of ordinary. He would be just a .288 hitter with a .324 OBP—on pace for 21 HR and 74 RBI.

Many hitters would have similar drop-offs in power numbers when removing blowout victories from their stat lines—and it is unfair to do so—but it is important to show the impact on Cano’s batting average and on-base percentage.

Cano has also failed miserably in key American League East matchups. After excluding games against the hapless Orioles, Cano is batting .228 (18-for-79) against divisional opponents.

Games against Boston, Tampa Bay, and Toronto often determine the Yankees playoff fate—as they face these three teams a combined 54 times.

Largely responsible for protecting A-Rod for the majority of the season, Cano has had a bevy of important RBI opportunities.

The successes of Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira—coupled with the recent failures of A-Rod—have placed key at bats with RISP in the hands of Cano. If he was able to come through at higher rates, the Yankees would be able to capture a few more of the recent closer and heart-breaking losses.

Cano is playing just his fifth Major league season, and has plenty of time to evolve into a dangerous middle of the order hitter. However, it appears as though he might not be ready to carry that torch at this stage of his career.

Although Cano carries himself as a cool, smooth, laid back performer without a care in the world, he needs to find a way to remove the lump from his throat in game-changing situations.

The Yankees need you, and it is time to elevate your game and progression to the next level.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Power Outage: Alex Rodriguez Has Become a Liability in Yankees Lineup

The Yankees “hot corner” has begun to freeze up like a cameraman at the sight of former Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers.

A lengthy win streak once accredited to Rodriguez’s triumphant and energizing comeback has long since departed, and the Yankees are left wondering what to expect from the wealthiest slugger in baseball.

New York is just 6-8 in its last 14 games, which includes a recent three-game humiliation at the hands of the Washington Nationals—the worst team in Major League Baseball.

Rodriguez has become worse than a one-dimensional “all-or-nothing” slugger—destined to either strike out blindly or launch a pitch into the stands. He is essentially providing an “almost-nothing-or-nothing” dynamic to the center of the Yankees struggling lineup.

The numbers displaying A-Rod’s ineptitude are endless and staggering, and will be condensed in the interest of time. The Yankee slugger is 0-for-14 in his last four games, and just 3-for-34 (0.088) in his last 10.

On a broader scale, Rodriguez is hitting just .145 in the entire month of June, and is sporting an anemic .309 OBP during this time period. He has had just two multi-hit games since his return on May 8, and neither of those has occurred since May 25.

There has been a disconcerting power outage as well, as A-Rod has produced just two home runs in his last 23 games—a pace that would generate just 14 home runs over a 162 game season.

The Yankees and their frustrated fans were not naïve enough to expect the 2007 MVP version of their third baseman—but no one could have expected results this poor.

He looks completely lost and off-balance at the plate—uncomfortable in a batter’s box he once made his own personal sanctuary.

Unfortunately, even Kate Hudson has been unable to relax Rodriguez. Subsequently, he has been greeted with a chorus of boos as loud and persistent as any slump in years past.

Coaching staffs and pitchers have targeted A-Rod’s unquestionable weakness, and have consistently abused it. His hip surgery appears to have vastly limited his ability to rotate and drive the inside pitch—which has resulted in countless two-seam fastballs riding in on his hands.

Furthermore, he seems unable to lift the ball with authority to right field—once his trademark at the Major League level. Balls that once landed in the 15th row are now barely hitting the top of the wall—even while aided by closer fencing alignments, shorter walls, and possible wind assistance.

If he cheats on the inside pitch by opening up slightly early, pitchers are throwing sliders or four-seamers on the outside part of the plate—confident that a single likely represents the worst outcome.

The issue is not the length or timing of the slump, it is the concern that the underlying catalyst of A-Rod’s failures will persist through season’s end.

Unless continuous rehabilitation advances his flexibility, there will remain a rather simple formula to retiring him at the plate.

Mark Teixeira’s hot streak is beginning to tail off, and the Yankees desperately need Rodriguez to snap out of his slump in order to sustain success. If nothing else, they need him to become enough of a threat to adequately protect Teixeira hitting in front of him.

If A-Rod continues to creep closer and closer to the “Mendoza Line,” pitchers will not even take the chance of challenging Teixeira with a base open. This will pass the baton to a man seemingly unable to deliver a knockout punch.

The Yankees and hitting coach Kevin Long need to find a way to reset A-Rod’s circuit breaker, because a continued power outage at 3B could lead to the lights being turned off in Yankee Stadium before the postseason.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Teixeira, Cano Seek Hardware: Right Side of Yankee IF Has “Midas Touch”

It has been virtually impossible to overlook the offensive production supplied by Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano in the middle of the Yankee lineup.

Teixeira is currently on pace for 53 HR, 145 RBI, 119 R, and .618 SLG. These would all be career highs for the new pinstriped addition, as he has become as likely an MVP candidate as any player in MLB.

Cano has rebounded fantastically from a nightmare 2008 campaign—on pace for 28 HR, 104 RBI, 111 R, 41 2B, and just 51 K. All of these production statistics would set or tie career highs for him, and the 51 strikeouts would represent his all-time low.

The way the two stars are producing in other ways, however, could lead to very high praise after the season’s end.

It is how these men are handling the leather—as opposed to the lumber—that is earning them recognition across Major League Baseball. Teixeira and Cano’s “Midas touch” on the defensive end could spell a pair of Gold Gloves in their immediate future.

Already a proud owner of the award, Teixeira has somehow elevated his defensive prowess to new heights.

The new Yankees 1B has erased the clumsy years of Jason Giambi from fans’ minds, helping to reminisce about Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez playing next to flawless at the position.

Teixeira has yet to make an error in 60 games played at first base—of course producing a 1.000 fielding percentage.

His aerial acrobatics and controlled dives have seemingly saved as many runs as he has produced, and he has shown a knack for throwing with accuracy and strength from his knees—or even his stomach.

Teixeira saves a teammate’s errant throw nearly every single night, whether with a perfectly timed stretch or a scoop even Yankees sponsor Turkey Hill would be proud of.

While “Big Tex” has been jaw-dropping at first base, he has been far from alone on the right side of the infield. Cano has partnered with Teixeira in creating the most dynamic defensive combination that New York has seen in quite some time.

It appears the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has added yet another wrinkle, as they will have to wrestle the awards away from Kevin Youkilis and reigning MVP Dustin Pedroia.

While Youkilis has played equally as well at the position thus far in 2009, he has also played 15 fewer games at 1B than Teixeira—putting “Big Tex” slightly ahead in terms of deservingness.

In the second base war, however, Cano has actually out-defended Pedroia. Cano has just three errors, a .989 fielding percentage, and has turned 41 double plays. Pedroia has committed four errors, turned just 36 double plays, and has a .985 fielding percentage.

By no means has it been a stark contrast in skill, as Pedroia is as consistently good as anyone in the league. To this point in the season, Cano has simply supplied a few more karats of gold.

Though I believe Bill James’ new statistical analysis to be a farce along with the rest of sabermetrics, Cano does also have a better “range factor” at 4.50 than Pedroia’s 4.40.

No players were more responsible for New York’s record-breaking errorless streak than Cano and Teixeira, and the publicity generated from the accomplishment should shift Gold Glove votes in their favor.

It remains to be seen if the consistency and impact can continue for 162 games, but it is undeniable how important their glove work has been to the Yankees success.

Every ball lifted into the air to the right side of the stadium may be ending up in the seats, but any ball on the ground is ending up in Cano or Teixeira’s glove.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Judg-Ming-t Day: Wang Faces Last Chance to Stay in Yankees Rotation

Yankees fans attempt to remember a time when Chien-Ming Wang led all of MLB in wins. They try to hold onto the memories of a sinker once described as “trying to hit a bowling ball.”

Concerns of a recurring injury have subsided, and a steady and explosive velocity has returned to Wang’s arsenal—albeit an arsenal now more feared by scoreboard operators than opposing hitters.

If everything is right physically with Wang, then initial fears of a deterioration taking place between-the-ears have begun to come to fruition.

We have all seen the numbers. Wang’s 14.34 ERA through the first five starts of the season is the worst in Major League Baseball history—sadly not at all a hyperbole.

Nothing short of a liability and an embarrassment, Wang has done virtually nothing to change the level of optimism from “completely empty glass” to “glass half empty”—let alone “glass half full.”

Placed into a very precarious situation by the Yankee hierarchy, Wang was originally slated to face both Boston and the Mets in consecutive starts. The baseball gods saved him from being thrown into the lion’s den, as a rainout slightly shifted his fate.

Wang now faces the lowly Washington Nationals, “proud” owners of a 16-45 record, and currently on pace for 119 losses in 2009.

The Nationals are 19th in runs scored, 16th in team batting average, and 14th in team slugging percentage—even while boasting one of MLB’s best power hitters in Adam Dunn.

If Wang cannot pitch dominantly against the worst team in baseball, the Yankees will have their hand forced. They simply cannot continue to run a mentally-weak hurler out to the mound that is depleting an already bungling bullpen.

To put things into perspective, Wang is 0-4 in his five starts in 2009. In 2006—his best season—it took him 19 starts to suffer his fourth loss.

The pitcher that now wears No. 40 for New York is simply a shell of the man once counted on for length and consistency every five days.

Phil Hughes, on the other hand, has been further forcing the issue with stellar pitching over his last five appearances.

Since May 20, Hughes has pitched 18.2 innings while generating a 2.89 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 20 K, and just 4 BB. This stretch included wonderful outings against divisional leaders Boston and Texas.

Wednesday’s start at Yankee Stadium has now become Judgment Day for Wang, as a confident and eager Hughes is now breathing down his neck for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

One more abysmal performance is likely to spell the end for New York’s former ace—at least for the remainder of 2009. Only an injury would reinsert him into the Major League equation.

Promising young phenoms like Rick Ankiel and Jeff Francouer have had their physical tools overcome by their mental doubts, and Yankees Universe can only hope that Wang is not the next in line.

Perhaps a full offseason of work and a fresh start in 2010 is just what the doctor ordered for Wang’s resurrection. Perhaps he is about to turn a miraculous corner that no one in New York could dare to anticipate.

New York may be “the city that never sleeps,” but it will be Wang’s eyes that will be unable to rest easily if he falters on Wednesday night.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Yankees Pummel Johan: No Miracle on 161st Street for Santa-na and Mets

The Yankees were faced with the harsh realization that they deserved to be riding a five-game losing streak entering Sunday’s afternoon matchup with the ace of aces—Mets starter Johan Santana.

Alex Rodriguez had failed in the clutch once again on Friday, awaiting a chorus of boos to inevitably crescendo from all corners of the new Yankee Stadium.

Mets 2B Luis Castillo became the most unlikely of heroes for the Yankees that night, as we all know what happened next—“Luis, the Bad News Bears are on line two for you.”

A Saturday loss almost certainly left the Yankees staring at a disappointing series loss at the hands of their cross-city rivals, as Santana was sure to put his best foot forward in a pressure-packed moment.

The Yankees would counter with high-priced AJ Burnett—a hurler who had just fell on his face in the biggest start of his young Yankee career in Fenway Park.

The characteristically patient and savvy Yankees lineup turned to the game plan that had frustrated opposing aces on many occasions in years past. They would simply wait him out and attempt to create a bloated pitch count in early innings.

This slow death philosophy, coupled with Santana’s reduced velocity and inconsistent command, resulted in the worst performance of his Major League career.

In just three hapless innings in Yankee Stadium, his ERA would instantly transform from Cy Young favorite (2.39) to “quality No. 2 starter territory” in the National League (3.29).

The Yankees would humiliate the Mets 15-0, putting a stamp on a series they were never worthy of winning in the first place. The only team that could have saved New York (AL) from unraveling was the Mets—a franchise dedicated to breaking the hearts of its loyal fan base.

In fact, I believe “the choking man” from all of the Heimlich maneuver instructional posters in restaurants is actually wearing a Mets jersey. (Ok, that was harsh and unnecessary—but I couldn’t resist)

It was an imperative series victory after the mini Boston Massacre at Fenway Park earlier in the week, and the schedule now weakens for a bit until a trip to Citi Field on June 26.

New York (AL) will now receive a first person view of the Mets daily life in the NL East, as the Nationals, Marlins, and Braves are in consecutive order on the upcoming schedule.

It is rather remarkable that the Yankees and Red Sox are in the process of facing 15 consecutive NL East opponents. I am a very strong proponent for interleague play, but this is a rather absurd set of circumstances.

Joe Girardi’s return to Florida will likely add some competitive flavor to an otherwise dull meeting, and New York will hopefully channel the rage and fire flowing through their manager’s veins.

If the Yankees go 6-3 in the upcoming pre-Mets stretch, they will stand at 42-30 on the season. It would put them on pace for between 94 and 95 wins.

This win total would more than likely be enough to earn a playoff spot and get back to October baseball—a month that once felt like home for an annually dominant and feared franchise.

Dismantling the National League’s best pitcher in a rivalry game was an impressive stepping stone into a stretch of games the team should dominate.

Until Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, and the bi-polar bullpen are stabilized, however, it appears that nothing is a given—especially not the always coveted “consistency.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Curse of a Cocky Undergrad: How the 2004 ALCS Changed His Demeanor

It was October 16, 2004, and a young college freshman watched yet another Yankees-Red Sox matchup in the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

Just a year earlier, the boy had witnessed a moment and a swing that would be remembered forever in Yankees lore—as Aaron Boone sent Boston home with one heroic cut at a Tim Wakefield knuckleball.

Shortly thereafter, he sent out numerous college applications to schools stretched across the eastern seaboard.

Ironically, as the 2004 MLB season was set to begin, he received an acceptance letter from a school in New England that would eventually provide his shelter for four years.

The excited high school graduate had little idea that baseball loyalty and his college landscape would be intertwined so tightly—or conflict so powerfully.

After all, he was going to reside in a quiet, historic Rhode Island town named Bristol—known more for its Fourth of July parade and Social-Security-driven economy than cutthroat professional sport obsessions.

The dorms of Roger Williams University were as quiet and somber as any Saturday night in recorded history, as masses of Red Sox fans appeared more like funeral attendees than baseball enthusiasts.

The New York Yankees had triumphantly cast aside their rival for the third straight October night—making a trip to the World Series as set in stone as the sun rising in the east the next morning.

The proceeding games would merely be a formality, only played because no team had yet forfeited a series in order to more easily plan its final fall tee times.

Quiet confidence had suddenly transformed into unbridled enthusiasm and arrogance, as there was now nothing preventing his dreams from coming true. He had never been surrounded by so many defeated Red Sox supporters before: “I could get used to this,” he thought to himself.

The “Curse of a Cocky Undergrad” was born soon after, like another of Dr. Frankenstein’s horrific experiments. The Yankees had created a monster inside of him that could no longer be controlled.

Frantically searching the internet for the best way to rub it in to his newly established friendships within Red Sox Nation, he came across the perfect “medium of mockery.”

The cocky undergrad’s eyes lit up at the sight of a “fan conversion contract”—document dedicated to providing a legal switch of allegiance from Red Sox Nation to Yankees Universe.

After printing out a horde of copies, he floated on air down the hallway—passing out a contract to each and every Red Sox diehard present on his dorm’s first floor. Some greeted him with true disdain, some with a more sarcastic roll of the eyes, and others with a few laughs and good-hearted banter.

Seemingly before the ink had time to dry on the boy’s outward display of arrogance, Boston began nudging Mariano Rivera off of his postseason pedestal.

The blown save on October 17 began to rejuvenate the dormitory, as well as send the first of many shivers down the boy’s once straight and proud spine.

October 18, 19, and 20 snowballed into a relentless nightmare, as if the boy was trapped inside of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Boston had done the impossible—winning four straight games following a 0-3 deficit.

They of course went on to officially shatter Bambino’s curse, and win their first World Series title in 86 long and demoralizing years.

In its wake lied a boy forced to face the harsh realities of the world of athletics—something he hadn’t witnessed since the last half of Don Mattingly’s beloved career.

A powerful lesson was learned over the course of that fateful week, and the boy vowed to never undermine or scoff at an opponent again. The series taught him that confidence and swagger could never again be replaced with arrogance and conceit.

Some may call it pessimism while others may refer to it as realism, but as the boy has turned into a man, he still remembers never to anticipate a victory that has yet to come to fruition.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Yankees-Red Sox Phenomenon: The Biology of a Mental Edge

Though it has been repeated again and again ad nauseum over the course of baseball history, there is no rivalry in the sport as passionate as the Yankees and Red Sox.

Once fueled by the bitterness of a Babe Ruth fire sale, the hatred between the two clubs and fan bases has only multiplied and fortified itself over decades of bloodshed.

The perceived presence of a “never-ending” Curse of the Bambino gradually carved doubt in the minds of Red Sox Nation—creating a feeling of impending doom as opposed to assured confidence.

Moments in history stemming from Bill Buckner to Bucky Dent to Aaron Boone helped to provide New York with as much of an advantage between the ears as they had between the white lines.

It would take a perfect storm in order to free New England of its drought in swagger, and its prayers were answered in the form of a team that eerily mimicked the Yankee teams that once shattered their hearts.

These Sox were emotionally tough, gritty, and determined. They cherished every one of their 27 outs, understanding that the game was never over until they had used up their inventory.

With names like Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Jason Varitek, Boston developed a new identity and an unwavering sense of entitlement.

For the first time in years, these New Englanders decided to write their own history—instead of succumbing to what past history had informed them should happen. If “believing is half the battle,” Boston was well on its way to achieving what had eluded them for the better part of a century.

It understood that Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle were buried under the dirt instead of running on top of it. It realized that David Cone, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte had traded in their pinstripes for suits or other insignias.

Natural talent and athleticism can only take a player or roster so far, and the impact of a mental advantage cannot be overlooked or neglected—especially in America’s Pastime.

Baseball is a sport sitting on the foundation of mind games and statistics, hot streaks and slumps, superstitions and curses. If a player truly believes wearing the same socks for a week will maintain his production, then he will likely go 2-for-4 that day.

Any mental advantage can provide a placebo effect for those whose “9 to 5” occurs on a baseball diamond, and no circumstances better depict this than the Yankees-Red Sox phenomenon.

After a well-documented 86 years of ineptitude and sorrow, it took just one playoff series to completely change the rivalry’s landscape. Just one collapse in the biggest of moments allowed Boston to see New York as any other team.

The Yankees were no longer gods or immortals—they had suddenly had a chink in the armor exposed for all to see. In terms of Greek mythology, the Red Sox were transformed into a poisoned arrow, and the Yankees were now Achilles.

Nothing has changed since that fateful day on Oct. 20, 2004, as Game Seven of the ALCS forced the evolution of a new culture in the American League East.

As New York stares at an embarrassing 0-7 record against its hated rival, it appears to expect to lose—when it once anticipated a memorable victory. The Yankees need their own magical October moment to once again flip the script, and will be at the mercy of Boston’s self-assurance until that time.

The season series will not end at 0-18, and many wins are left on the table for New York to capture.

The problem is, the team that relishes the sport’s biggest moments now sits in the home dugout of historic Fenway Park—when it once crammed itself into the claustrophobic quarters of the visitor’s clubhouse.

A mountain of pressure now weighs down the broad shoulders of Yankees starter CC Sabathia today, as Yankees Universe begs for a salvaging of some shred of dignity. New York’s ace may pitch a spirited gem against the Red Sox and Brad Penny, and he might falter like every other starter in rivalry’s recent past.

Either way, the mental edge will remain in Boston’s favor until New York boldly takes it back from them. They need to once again respond to Red Sox red like a stampeding bull, as opposed to picturing the continuous bloodshed that 2009’s rivalry has greeted them with.

The tables will turn, and the balance of power will shift down the eastern seaboard. The only question is how long will the Yankees and its apprehensive fan base have to wait?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

AJ Burnett vs. Derek Lowe: Why the Yankees Yearn For Shot at Time Travel

The Yankees endured a long and eventually expensive offseason of courting free agents and subsequently flirting with their representation and entourages.

Primary targets on the pitching front included a “no-brainer” in CC Sabathia, as well as two hurlers in their 30s on completely different sides of the mound spectrum.

The first was AJ Burnett—a hard-throwing ball of electricity and intimidation—blessed with stuff that only could be sent down directly from the baseball gods.

In the other corner was former Red Sox nemesis Derek Lowe, a crafty veteran who possesses a sinker even the deepest burrowing of worms has nightmares about.

Both hurlers had won about 53-54 percent of their decisions entering the 2009 season, and their earned run averages were also strikingly similar. The decision would come down to other factors—ranging from age to injury history to American League transitional ability.

New York had to choose between a flashy glove-popping fastball and a stern grass-burning sinker. The decision is an easy one, right? It appears to be, especially considering the similarity in stat lines.

What if I told you that the glove-popping fastball belonged to a pitcher who only once won more than 12 games in a season, has never pitched a postseason game, has a turbulent injury history, and has been known to let innings explode like a Ford Pinto?

What if I included that the grass-burning sinker was released from the hand of a veteran who won the clinching game of each and every series on Boston’s way to breaking the curse in 2004? Or that he has a career 1.15 WHIP and 3.33 ERA in 21 postseason games?

Now that we can agree that the choice is obvious and blatant, let’s take a look at who the Yankees chose to trust the hopes of a World Series run in—the glove-popping fastball.

The move has undeniably backfired, as Lowe stands at 7-3 with a 3.44 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, while Burnett is floundering at 4-3 with a 4.89 ERA and nearly 1.50 WHIP.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman has been seen frantically searching for plutonium, a restored flux capacitor, and a used DeLorean in order to attempt to travel back in time to Dec. 12, 2008—the day he signed an $82.5 million check over to a lifelong tease.

When Cashman was pulled over for speeding down Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, he tried to explain to the NYPD that he was merely pushing his car to “precisely 88 MPH”—the suggested speed for time travel in Back to the Future.

Making things worse, the Yankees passed up a ground-ball pitcher built to throw in “hitter’s parks” in favor of a fly ball pitcher destined for failure in the newly constructed homer haven of the Bronx.

An extra year and $22.5 million separates the contracts of the two pitchers, and the Atlanta Braves are more grateful every day for losing out in the Burnett sweepstakes.

The Yankees won championships because of men taking the mound who knew how to pitch regardless of how hard they may have thrown.

They won with Jimmy Key, Orlando Hernandez, David Cone, and Andy Pettitte—none of which would be confused with possessing a 95+ MPH fastball at that point of their careers.

Lowe fit the exact mold New York needed for an October playoff run, while also not compromising success and consistency during the regular season. He is durable, dependable, poised, and fearless—the perfect compliment to Sabathia in what could have been a flawless winter game of Monopoly.

Burnett may have helped to loosen and otherwise tight locker room atmosphere, and has implemented an interesting celebration following walk-off victories.

As the season begins to wear on, however, it appears as though the Yankee hierarchy and Burnett himself are the ones left with pie on their faces.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Yankees Turn the Page: Top 5 Reasons This Trip to Fenway Won’t be Déjà Vu

The calendar reads June 9, and the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are once again prepared to battle over a three game series.

New York will certainly be looking for payback after a Fenway sweep the last time around from April 24-26, and come in playing much more consistent baseball.

Terry Francona’s Sox are far from slumping, however, and should pose as challenging an opponent as is always expected of them—especially in a home ball park they seemingly never lose in.

This time around, the Yankees are determined to prevent a repeat of recent history. Luckily for them, there are at least five reasons why they can begin to calm their nerves.

The countdown will run readers through a quick list of extenuating circumstances from the first Fenway series that should no longer be factors over the next few days.

Any feedback and suggestions are always welcomed and requested, especially from the always confident members of Red Sox Nation. Enjoy the list, and I hope to talk to all of you soon.

5. The Presence of CC Sabathia

While the Red Sox have been able to deploy Josh Beckett and Jon Lester a combined four times in five games against New York this year, the Yankees have yet to release ace CC Sabathia into the rivalry.

Boston will not miss Sabathia during this trip, and will likely have a much tougher time scoring runs. A matchup with Brad Penny should also benefit the Yankees, and could provide a nice end to the three-game set.

Even is Sabathia has faced Boston in their April series, they would still be seeing an entirely different pitcher on Thursday night.

He was 1-3 with a 4.85 ERA on May 2, but has since gone 4-0 with a stellar ERA—returning to the dominant pitcher New York thought they had signed this offseason.

Sabathia was coaxed into the Bronx to win games exactly like this one, and Boston should provide the first test as to whether or not the Yankees made the right decision.

4. Red Sox No Longer Aided By “The Streak”

The last time New York visited Fenway Park, Boston was in the midst of one of the more impressive win streaks in recent memory.

They had just finished winning seven games in a row before the Yankees arrived, and stretched the overall streak to 11 before it was said and done.

Momentum and confidence are as important to baseball as balls and strikes, and winning does wonders for a team’s overall play. Instead of wondering who is going to deliver a clutch hit, each player begins to expect it to occur.

Boston has recently lost two of three against the Texas Rangers coming into the series—a team New York has handled rather easily thus far this season.

By no means are the Red Sox lacking in confidence or swagger, but there is a stark difference between a seven-game win streak and losing a series at home.

3. No Jon Lester:

The Red Sox are not armed with their talented young lefthander for the series with New York, and the Yankees could not be happier.

The hard throwing southpaw is 3-0 with a 2.02 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over the last two seasons against them. Lester also boasts a remarkable 41:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 35 2/3 IP.

In 2009 alone, the Red Sox are 2-0 in Lester’s starts against the Yankees, and he managed to shut down their lineup even without his best stuff for the majority of the games.

To further emphasize the relief of avoiding Lester, he is currently 16-2 with a 3.30 ERA in his career at home.

When coupling his tremendous home success with the Red Sox 18-8 record in Fenway in 2009, it will be comforting to instead stare out at Tim Wakefield or Brad Penny.

2. The Cooling of the “Jason Bay Factor”

Shortly after the last Yankees-Red Sox series in Fenway, Jason Bay peaked at a .523 OBP and .359 AVG on April 28.

Bay hit the biggest home run of the 2009 rivalry to this date—a two out home run off of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. It clearly shook New York’s confidence, and provided the fuel needed to finish the April massacre.

The Red Sox slugger remained hot for many more weeks, but has since cooled drastically on the heels on the Yankees return to New England.

Bay is just 19-for-86 since May 14, which calculated to an anemic .221 batting average. His power numbers have sustained themselves throughout the decline, eerily similar to Teixeira’s April struggles.

The Yankees will be facing a lineup without a healthy David Ortiz and a struggling Jason Bay, which should help to somewhat reduce the potency of an always dangerous Red Sox offensive attack.

1. The Return of Alex Rodriguez

The Yankee lineup that faced the Red Sox in April was struggling, and was forced to battle without their best hitter.

Furthermore, the absence of Alex Rodriguez helped to spiral new acquisition Mark Teixeira into an unimaginable slump.

When the final out was recorded in April’s three-game sweep, “Big Tex” was hitting just .218—representing a virtual automatic out in most games. He was as susceptible to the strikeout as any point in his entire career.

Rodriguez’s return has reenergized the entire lineup, as well as placing a true “fear factor” back into the middle of the batting order.

Since A-Rod’s return on May 8, Teixeira is hitting .374, and now leads the American League with 18 home runs. He has undoubtedly entered the MVP discussion, and truly appears as though he has been reborn in pinstripes.

The domino effect resulting from A-Rod’s return has finally delivered a feeling of self-assurance to the Yankee clubhouse, which should help to erase the current 0-5 head-to-head record from their minds.

Monday, June 8, 2009

What’s In a Name? The Top 10 Player Names in Major League Baseball

10. Cody Ransom (New York Yankees)

There has to be a Yankee on this list, and no name symbolizes the franchise’s offseason efforts better than “Ransom”.

Isn’t that exactly what Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner do to those teams brave enough to compete with them in free agency?

By offering higher salaries or longer contract lengths than others can afford, the Yankees seemingly hold free agents as personal property, forcing an opposing team to cough up a king’s ransom in order to pry him from New York’s grasp.

9. Matt Treanor (Detroit Tigers)

Treanor deserves to be on this list as a result of simply handing his surname to the beautiful volleyball superstar Misty May-Treanor, but he also has a solid baseball name.

Matt’s last name is actually pronounced trainer, and seems very fitting in a dark age of baseball dominated by these “fitness experts.”

If anyone would supply performance-enhancing drugs throughout a locker room, wouldn’t it have to be a Treanor? (This is of course a joke, and has absolutely nothing to do with bringing into question his involvement in the steroids crisis)

8. Josh Outman (Oakland Athletics)

What better name could a pitcher possibly have than “Outman?”

Since April 17, he has certainly been living up to his name. He has pitched to a 3-0 record, 2.38 ERA, and 1.04 WHIP in 45.1 innings.

The Athletics may have found something here, and they sincerely hope that he can be a reliable “out man” for many years to come.

7. Thomas Diamond (Texas Rangers)

Though still waiting for his Major League debut, this Ranger is named after the very field he plays on for the majority of the year.

Diamond is struggling mightily in the minor leagues right now, but it seemed like a near obligation to put him on a list of players intended to capture the essence of a baseball diamond.

6. Homer Bailey (Cincinnati Reds)

Bailey is the sole first name honoree on the list—and deservedly so.

His name symbolizes the element the saved baseball following the strike of 1994, and subsequently has tried to tear it down through syringe-aided blasts.

Unfortunately for Homer, he has surrendered far too many, allowing 12 home runs in just 86 IP at this point of his ML career.

This equates to nearly once every seven innings, and has prevented him from reaching the high expectations that scouts have placed on him.

5. Brandon League (Toronto Blue Jays)

Arguably much more recognizable for his wide array of tattoos and entirely unique eyewear, League also possesses a classic baseball surname.

His presence and mannerisms on the mound may remind fans of Major League’s Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, but League has made a nice career for himself pitching out of the Toronto bullpen.

Always graced with electric stuff, League has yet to fine-tune his mechanics and consistency in order to become one of the more untouchable middle relievers in baseball.

4. Prince Fielder (Milwaukee Brewers)

The son of a former Major League superstar, Fielder could have made the list for either his first or last name—which is why he climbed a little higher up toward No. 1.

Though weighing in at 270 pounds at just 5’11”, Fielder is much more agile than you might expect. He has earned his last name with some sparkling plays, but he seems to make nearly as many errors as “web gems.”

Fielder will always be known for his potent bat, however, and is currently on pace for 43 HR, 153 RBI, 100 R, and a .430 OBP.

Albert Pujols is certainly the king of National League bat-wielding, but Fielder has numbers fit for a prince.

3. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Texas Rangers)

The Texas Rangers get onto the list for a second time, if for no other reason than my complete inability to spell Saltalamacchia without checking reliable websites multiple times.

Aside from his name being so much fun to say, it is enjoyable to imagine a jersey producer attempting to fit all of the letters across the back—let alone spell it correctly.

After all, you can ask the Washington “Natinals” about how easy it is to misspell keys elements of a baseball uniform.

2. Skip Schumaker (St. Louis Cardinals)

Perhaps much higher up the list than many would expect, Skip Schumaker may have my favorite name of all major league players (you will soon learn why he could never be No. 1).

A simply classic baseball name, Skip Schumaker reminds you of a hard-nosed infielder from the early 1900s—as interested in being covered in dirt and blood as he was anything else.

Schumaker is a nice complimentary player, hitting .294 with 16 RBI and a .342 OBP, all while playing exceptional defense in his first season since transitioning to 2B from the outfield. He has committed just one error in 45 games played at the position.

1. Antonio Bastardo (Philadelphia Phillies)

Do I really even need to explain this selection at No. 1 on the list?

“Antonio Bastardo” is a name even the most creative of comedic writers could not recreate if they tried. It sounds like the name of a leading role in an Antonio Banderas spoof movie.

Although his name is rather comical, Bastardo can laugh back at all of the former classmates that mocked him. He is now a Major League pitcher sitting at 2-0 for the defending World Series Champions—that is what I like to call payback.

No one else could possibly end this countdown, but do not overlook his immense talent. At just 23 years old, Bastardo has electric stuff, as evidenced by his 1.18 WHIP in 11 IP.

Bastardo’s Minor League numbers were even more startling, pitching to a 1.90 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in 47.1 innings at a combination of Double-A and Triple-A levels.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Melky Cabrera Tale: How A Failed Trade Was the Move of the Offseason

A baby-faced ball of energy burst onto the Bronx scene in 2006 and 2007, capturing the hearts of fans eager to find the next homegrown hero.

The player was Yankees CF Melky Cabrera, asked to fill a defensive hole left by an oft-injured and rapidly aging Johnny Damon.

An awkward shot put release was replaced by an intimidating laser arm, and Cabrera completely changed the way opposing teams ran the bases.

In just 247 games in CF during this time, Cabrera generated an impressive 26 outfield assists. He nearly saved as many runs as he was originally expected to drive in at home plate.

The “Melk Man” love affair quickly eroded in 2008, however, as Cabrera instigated many more groans, boos, and expletives than magical moments.

Defensive lapses, a .249 AVG, and an anemic .301 OBP eventually forced New York’s hand.

There were now at least four to five names surfacing as potential starting CFs in the Bronx, and Cabrera’s name was no longer among them.

Speedy youngster Brett Gardner would likely replace him coming out of spring training, and any GM with access to technology could begin courting his services.

Trade proposals subsequently began to flow into Brian Cashman’s cell phone, and one in particular piqued his interest.

The Milwaukee Brewers were on the line, offering 36 year old CF Mike Cameron in exchange for the suddenly lactose intolerant “Melk Man.”

Some fans entertained images of the once Gold Glove caliber defense Cameron played in the past, while others accepted the reality of his age, career .250 AVG, and astronomical strikeout totals.

After a period of flirting and counter-offers regarding the portion of Cameron’s contract that New York would be obligated to pay, the trade interest eventually dissolved.

The Yankees have discovered that not trading away Cabrera may have been the smartest move they made all offseason.

While the calendar only reads June 6, Cabrera has already provided three walk-off hits to go along with a go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth inning of Thursday’s game.

Cabrera has resurrected his career and the “fan favorite” nature of his play, currently supplying stellar outfield defense while hitting .311 with a .360 OBP.

He helped to stabilize a Yankees lineup without Alex Rodriguez, Xavier Nady, and Jorge Posada, and has clearly risen to the occasion during clutch scenarios.

Cabrera has also performed at the highest of levels against New York’s toughest opponents, hitting 16-for-41 (.390) against the Red Sox, Angels, and Phillies.

Cameron, meanwhile, has failed miserably with runners in scoring position—going just 6-for-40 (.150) with two extra base hits.

Though his overall AVG and OBP are far above his career averages, he is making seven times the salary of Cabrera in 2009.

The Yankees already have a bevy of overpriced and aging outfielders with limited range (Damon, Matsui), and yet another would have prevented the athleticism of Cabrera and Gardner to be implemented.

It would have been especially debilitating as a result of Cameron’s propensity to kill rallies by not making contact.

Cameron is currently on pace for 143 strikeouts, which also destroys any ability for manager Joe Girardi to use the hit and run when he is at the plate.

In contrast, the “Melk Man” is hitting over .300 from both sides of the plate, and is on pace for just 65 strikeouts—proving to be very reliable in the aggressive elements of Girardi’s game plan.

Other offseason moves have come up roses, as C.C. Sabathia has begun to present himself as a true ace, and Mark Teixeira has been the unquestionable offensive MVP of the Yankees through June.

However, it may be maintaining Cabrera that has been as important an offseason move as any that Cashman made during the winter months.

It is a good thing most households in New York City are equipped with refrigerators, because the Melk Man continues to deliver—seemingly on a daily basis.

Friday, June 5, 2009

What A Difference an A-Rod Makes: Teixeira Thanks Lucky Star for Slugger

Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira had heard all of the boos cascading onto the field from every corner of the new Yankee Stadium.

The team was struggling mightily, and so was the man signed to replace Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi’s production and “fear factor” in the middle of the lineup.

Once the April nightmare finally concluded, Teixeira was left staring at a .200 AVG, 3 HR, and just 10 RBI on the stat sheet.

Former Yankees hero Tino Martinez must have sympathized for the new addition, as he suffered the wrath of identical fan frustration in 1996.

Though he hit .244 with 13 RBI in April 1996, he was also forced to swap places with Yankee captain and hero Don Mattingly.

Needless to say, fans were not quite so eager to accept him into their hearts.

An instant connection was formed between the two slick-fielding first basemen, and Martinez’s experienced advice was just what the doctor ordered for the slumping “Tex.”

"[He told me] just to be yourself, have fun," Teixeira said. "Maybe just seeing him and seeing his smiling face put a little pep in my step, I don't know. It seemed like from that point on, I started seeing the ball real well and putting some good swings on it."

Martinez began to relax Teixeira, allowing the addition of one more key ingredient to set off a chain reaction that left nothing but long balls and Yankee victories in its wake.

Enter the man that everyone loves to hate and hates to admit that they love—Yankees 3B and chemically-assisted superstar Alex Rodriguez.

If Martinez was the baking soda in Teixeira’s eruption of success, then A-Rod was certainly the vinegar.

Since May 9, the day after A-Rod’s return, Teixeira has accumulated 11 HR, 32 RBI, 22 R, and a .379 AVG in just 24 games played.

To truly emphasize how smoldering “Tex” has become, this statistical pace would equate to 74 HR, 216 RBI, and 149 R when stretched over a full season.

A-Rod’s mere presence in the lineup has supplied Tex with better stress reduction than a week of tai chi or yoga techniques, and a chorus of boos have quickly transformed into curtain calls and jersey sales.

New York is 19-7 since A-Rod’s name was once again penciled into the lineup, skyrocketing the team from a distant third place to a first place tie.

While A-Rod’s name will always be the topic of headlines and the answer to trivia questions, it has been Tex who has ignited a fire under a previously inept offensive attack.

A virtual automatic out has now thrown his hat into the American League’s MVP discussion, and the Yankees have rallied around his resurrection.

Additionally, Tex has played nothing short of Gold Glove defense at first, making every check he cashes throughout the season suddenly seem like a discount.

The Yankees knew it was important to pluck Tex from the Red Sox’s grasp this offseason, but no one could have predicted exactly how important.

Early struggles with an injury epidemic left New York in desperate need of a power threat, and David Ortiz’s failures have created a gaping hole in a once horrifying lineup.

We all knew that Tex was far too good to continue to struggle, but it is nice to see his problems fail to linger into the summer months.

Yankees Universe would now like to say something in the direction of GM Brian Cashman that they have not gotten to say very often in recent years.

Thank you.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Andy Far From Dandy: Pettitte Becoming A Less and Less Dependable Yankee

Yankees starter Andy Pettitte was always deemed the model of consistency in New York’s rotation.

Throughout individual games he appeared as though consistency was in fact an infectious disease he was attempting to avoid, but the end result usually involved a Yankees win.

He might completely lose his control from inning to inning, or pitch brilliantly until a 3-4 run sixth inning, but he won with regularity—which is all Yankee fans care to remember.

Pettitte has won 63 percent of his career decisions, and has twice won 20 games. He was confident, reliable, and accountable, never backing down from a challenge or battle with adversity.

It seems as though Pettitte has another fight on his hands, and his unrelenting self-assurance will be stretched to its limits.

Always just one pitch away from ending his career, he has repeatedly stated that he will hang up his cleats in the event that his elbow finally breaks down permanently.

Recent injury struggles have actually involved a balky back, though perhaps it has resulted from an overcompensation to protect the stresses placed on his pitching arm.

In response to the injury, Pettitte conceded “I guess it’s a little bit of old age.” This is the first sign on a man beginning to succumb to the daily aches and pains of a 162-game season.

The Yankees once won because of him, resulting from his uncanny ability to pitch himself out of trouble—always making the perfect pitch in a key situation.

They are instead now winning in spite of him, battering opposing pitchers into submission in order to squeak out a victory.

In seven starts since the calendar turned over to May 1, Pettitte has pitched to a 5.23 ERA and staggering 1.84 WHIP.

In addition, he has recently needed the aid of a GPS system in order to locate home plate, walking 23 hitters in just 41.1 IP.

This equates to a BB/9 ratio of over 5, including games of 4, 4, 5, and 6 walks respectively over that span.

The Yankees have still managed to go 5-2 during Pettitte’s recent struggles, which has significantly limited the whispers of a possible 2009 “swan song.”

When healthy, Pettitte is still a weapon on the mound, evidenced by his 2.96 ERA in the month of April.

He was also 12-7 with a 3.76 ERA through a July 26 gem against Boston in 2008, before arm problems sent his season spiraling down the stretch—he finished just 14-14 with a 4.54 ERA.

The problem is no one knows if Pettitte’s body will ever be the same, or if he can last a full season without further incident.

No. 46 has always been one of the Bronx’s favorite Yankees, and nothing will ever change that.

He has been at the epicenter of countless heroic victories, and has stood behind a microphone to answer any question asked of him—even in the darkest of times.

Pettitte is still the first member of the staff that I want on the mound in October, and there is plenty of time for him to catch a second wind in 2009.

Perhaps a short stint on the disabled list later in the season can keep him fresh for the stretch run.

After all, New York is desperately trying to find ways to utilize both Phil Hughes and Chien-Ming Wang in the Major League rotation.

The Yankees need Pettitte to stop coming up petite in order to make a significant run at October baseball…so here’s to hoping he can turn it around.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Jeter Finds Yet Another Way to Scatter Name Amongst the Game’s Greats

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has been doing nothing but climbing historic lists since donning the pinstripes for the first time in 1995.

Another milestone was unable to hide from Jeter’s ever-expanding legacy, as he became just the fourth Yankee to surpass 1500 runs scored on Tuesday night against Texas.

The Yankees are a franchise boasting 26 World Series titles, as well as employing 34 Hall of Fame players at one time during their careers.

Any time a player is the “fourth” to do anything in a Yankees uniform, it is always an extraordinary feat worthy of celebration.

This occasion is no different, as Jeter joins only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Mantle in rarified Bronx air.

In true Jeter fashion, he would not score his 1500th run in a moment that did not require it.

He would instead score the go-ahead run in the most emotional of moments, supplying New York with a lead that it would never relinquish.

Aided by a clean, hard slide by an angered Mark Teixeira at second base, Jeter was able to cross home plate and into the history books for what seems like the 100th time.

To save time and effort, baseball historians have been provided with a “Derek Jeter” rubber stamp—making it easier to add his name to any recently achieved milestone list.

Though clearly benefiting from some of the most potent lineups in team history, Jeter was able to accomplish the feat in just 2035 games played.

Excluding the 2003 season, in which Jeter dislocated his shoulder and was forced to miss 43 games, he scored 110+ runs in nine straight seasons.

This streak included four seasons of 120 or more runs scored, something the great Rickey Henderson could only do two times in 25 Hall of Fame seasons.

Henderson is often considered the greatest baserunner of all time, which helps to underscore Jeter’s impressive run-scoring abilities as a Yankee.

Other milestones such as 3000 career hits are simply inevitable for Jeter, and he will become just the first Yankee to ever reach the magic number.

Jeter will soon be No. 1 on the Yankees all-time hits list, passing Lou Gehrig who sits at 2721.

He will be a surefire first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, and will deserve every vote that he receives. He is a class act and a role model for children during a dark era in Major League Baseball.

Congratulations Jeter, and we will all look forward to being there for your next milestone’s celebration.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Yankees FINALLY Return Joba Chamberlain to an Eighth Inning Role

The great Joba Chamberlain debate has raged on for years, rivaling other conundrums of past and present history.

Coke or Pepsi? Boxers or briefs? Paper or plastic? To be or not to be?

The “bullpen or starting rotation” question may never be settled with regards to Chamberlain’s ultimate future, but last night’s effort may have helped New York arrive at a temporary decision.

Chamberlain was sent out to pitch the eighth inning of a close game on Monday night, trying to preserve a victory for a Yankees starter who pitched magnificently over the first seven.

Haunting nightmares of a 2007 ALDS gone bad were revisited by the arrival of the same midges that once shook the confidence of the Yankees reliever.

This time the bugs did not travel alone, as a flock of seagulls blanketed the outfield grass like an eerie sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Chamberlain was able to maintain his composure this time around, determined to not repeat his October meltdown.

He proceeded to effortlessly coast through the inning 1-2-3, like he had done so many times before in setting up for Mariano Rivera. Does this sound familiar?

The eighth inning has always been Chamberlain’s personal sanctuary—a place as comfortable and relaxing to him as a Tempur-Pedic mattress.

The Yankees had finally seen all that they needed to see.

Their talented young hurler was best cut out for a setup role, especially if the team could get such rock-solid pitching out of its starters.

The starter who put New York in a winning position on this day, however, was in fact Chamberlain himself.

Will Chamberlain be a starter or setup man for the Yankees in 2009? The answer that manager Joe Girardi would like to hear is “both.”

In going eight innings while allowing just two runs on four hits, Chamberlain was able to perform admirably in early innings, while also preventing the underbelly of the Yankees bullpen from being exposed.

The most impressive statistic of the evening shows that he recorded 20 of his 24 outs via a groundball or strikeout.

For a power pitcher who likes to throw fastballs up in the zone, allowing just four balls to be caught outside of the infield truly epitomizes his dominance.

Chamberlain followed up two very disappointing starts with possibly his best of the season, which has inevitably caused the emergence of yet another pitching query.

Which two of Phil Hughes, Chien-Ming Wang, and Chamberlain will occupy the final two rotation spots once we reach the All-Star break?

This question may not be answered for quite some time, but the Yankees thoroughly enjoy having to address it.

After all, wouldn’t every team love to have the “problem” of having to choose between three successful young starters?

Chamberlain looked calm and collected in his return to the eighth inning on Monday.

However, it appears that he will only get there again in the near future if he also pitches the first seven.
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