Archives for posts with tag: October

We are still a little over ten games away from the Sparky Mark (40 games), but this year’s New York Yankees show no signs of slowing down or going away quietly – best exemplified by Sunday night’s 18 inning marathon victory over last year’s World Series champion Cubs. Even the most optimistic fan, which I am often accused of being, didn’t see foresee this squad playing .690 ball and making a legitimate claim at being the best team in baseball. This team is far from perfect and yet is finding ways to excel and make a case for World Series talk this year, not next.

Biggest Surprise: Aaron Judge/The Bench (tie) – Following a brief 2016 campaign that saw this Baby Bomber K in 42 of 84 at-bats, Aaron Judge is attempting to lay claim to both the A.L. Rookie of the Year and MVP – and he may just succeed in both. After a slow start, Judge has left little doubt as to who should be the Yankees starting RF for the near future with 13 HRs (tied for MLB league) and surprisingly good defense. I doubt he will keep this pace up with pitchers either making adjustments or dolling out free passes, but Aaron Judge has shown an early knack for overcoming 1-2 counts and deflecting any praise with Derek Jeter-like humility.

While Judge looks like he can carry the team, both figuratively and literally, he has plenty of help from surprising contributors. Injuries to Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez, allowed both Ronald Torreyes and Austin Romine a chance to step up and produce. Torreyes has hit .311 with a once team-leading 13 RBIs and Romine has a .281 BA to go with stellar game calling to ease along a young staff highlighted by Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery. And with Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury needing the occasional spell in the field, Aaron Hicks has finally justified his #1 draft selection by the Minnesota Twins in 2012. Hicks is showing 5-tool ability with a slash-line of .338/.459/.662 to go with 5 SBs. No telling how long this Yankee 4th OF will need a chance to be a #1 somewhere else, for the right compensation.

Biggest Disappointment: Greg Bird – After a monster spring where he looked like the heir apparent to Mark Teixeira, Greg Bird is looking more like the next Nick Johnson. Hitting only .100 through 19 games, Bird is currently on the DL dealing with a bone bruise in his leg. Apparently the injury happened at the end of spring training and its severity is still unknown. What is known is the faith and commitment that Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have in the young Yankee 1B. In the meantime, Chris Carter and Matt Holliday will split time in his absence.

No Surprise: The Bullpen – Sunday night’s 3-run hiccup aside, the Yankees lay claim to the best bullpen in the game, and the sky is still the limit. The new three-headed monster of Tyler Clippard/Dellin Betances/Aroldis Chapman is beastly to say the least. Throw in impressive early work from Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve, and the ever-reliable Adam Warren and the Yanks have little to worry about protecting a lead or giving their team a chance at a comeback as demonstrated in the 8-run rally against the Baltimore Orioles on April 28th.

Honorable Mention: Starlin Castro – In his 2nd year in pinstripes, the Yankees 2nd baseman is providing the type of offensive production that is making Yankee fans ponder, “Robinson who?” Surprisingly, Castro is flying under radar with his league leading .355 average along with 6 HRs and is 2nd to Judge in RBIs with 21. Despite a crowded field at 2nd with the aforementioned Cano, as well as Brian Dozier and Jose Altuve, Starlin Castro should garner serious All-Star consideration and I plan to do my part.

 

Depending on your point of view this year’s Yankees are either ahead of schedule or right on time. No longer being billed as a “re-building year” this team is ready to win now and is. Will they continue at this torrid pace? Most likely not. But they have shown they are adaptable to adversity and still have plenty of gems to deal in the farm system for any in-season adjustments (“Paging, Gerritt Cole”). In March, I had this team competing for a Wild Card slot but I see no reason they shouldn’t be jockeying for 1st in the AL East – especially once the Sawx inevitably get going.

Another great season of Yankee baseball lay ahead, along with the promise of a future filled with October baseball.

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When this past off-season saw the usually big spending Yanks only make waves by re-acquiring Aroldis Chapman and giving Matt Holliday a 1-year flyer, most fans and analysts didn’t know what to think. This was not the Yanks of old. This was not the M.O. of a big-spending team that missed the playoffs for three of the last four seasons. This was definitely keeping with the new plan implemented by Brian Cashman at last year’s trade deadline. The Yankees are getting younger as we watch and the future is now…maybe a year off.

This year’s spring training was an introduction of new names and high double-digit numbers to a fan base desperate for a return to October baseball. And it was a very encouraging introduction with the Yankees playing .700 ball in the Grapefruit League. True, spring training is not a highly accurate predictor of the future, like Nate Silver’s election algorithms, but there was definitely something new and exciting on display.

The biggest surprise was the return of Greg Bird. After a 2015 mini-campaign that had him prepared to displace Mark Teixeira immediately, Bird was sidelined for all of 2016 with shoulder surgery. This spring saw him return with a vengeance, hitting .451 with a team leading 8 HRs. Displaying an ability to hit to all fields against righties and lefties, coupled with solid defense at 1B, Greg Bird may be the answer at 1B, this season and beyond.

Gary Sanchez picked up from where his 2nd place Rookie of the Year campaign left off, hitting .373 with 5 HRs and showing plenty of arm strength from behind the plate. I was a big fan of Brian McCann and sad to see him depart to Houston but Gary Sanchez’s talent at and behind the plate will not be denied and will be on display post haste.

Tyler Wade, Billy McKinney, Ruben Tejada, Clint Frazier, and Gleyber Torres all showed glimpses of future days in the Bronx. Torres in particular may see an early call-up, especially if Chase Headley continues to underwhelm in the 3rd year of his four-year deal. The jettisoning of Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman bore many fruits that the Yankee organization is eager to pluck when fully ripe.

And the addition of 7-time All Star Matt Holliday should easily fill the void left when Carlos Beltran was sent to Texas. Holliday had a banged up 2016 campaign, but as a F/T DH should be plenty healthy to provide much-needed power and veteran leadership.

Starting pitching continues to be the biggest Achilles heel. But considering that an almost identical staff in 2016, minus the recently released Nathan Eovaldi, was good enough for 84 wins anything is possible. The right elbow of Masahiro Tanaka continues to be under more scrutiny than Price Waterhouse’s Oscar night decorum. If Tanaka finally gets to 200 innings this season, there will only be four remaining pitching questions marks. CC Sabathia will most likely end up in the bullpen by June and Michael Pineda has yet to find anything mirroring consistency – both will not be around for 2018. Thankfully, this means plenty of opportunities for Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Bryan Mitchell who have all had success in limited MLB exposure. And Luis Severino continues to be the wild card of them all. Will he return to ROY-esque form from 2015 or only be effective from the bullpen as in 2016? I do hope it’s the former but the latter works just as well.

More than likely, the Yankees will not make the playoffs this season. At best they will be in the run for a Wild Card slot, and anything can happen in that play-in game. I would give this year’s squad about a 15% chance of making it to the divisional round. I expect this year to be a repeat of last year, in the mix but not a true contender. I expect the young talent of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge (who also had an impressive spring) and Luis Severino to gain another year of big league experience in preparation for 2018. 2017 is the new 1995. The future is bright, shining with young talent and hungry veterans prepared to deliver new World Series rings to the Bronx and forcing Joe Girardi to change his uniform number into the 30’s.

The future is bright, Yankee fans, and we may be lucky enough to see Yankee championship history repeat over and over in the next decade….as long as $400 million are not wasted on Bryce Harper. #HeadCase

Yes, I expected the Boston Red Sox to improve on last year. How could they not? But I did not expect such an explosive start out of the gate. Here in mid-May, the Boston Red Sox have announced, with authority, their intention to win the AL East. As we speak they sit one game out of 1st place from the truly surprising Baltimore Orioles. Not sure how long this ride will last, but don’t be surprised if the Sawx can ride this early wave into October.

The Sawx are riding high for one reason: the best offense in the game. Scoring a lot runs will cure a lot of ills and this year’s BoSox are looking a lot like last year’s Yanks: best offense, average pitching. Just about everyone is contributing, including new Yankee-killer, Jackie Bradley, Jr. After a slow first few weeks, JBJ is hitting .336 for season, helped in no small part by his .474 clip against the Yanks in six meetings. The only reason he is not leading the team in hitting is because Xander Bogaerts is off to a slightly hotter start at .340. Mookie Betts continues to develop his 5-tool potential in RF with 7 SBs to go with his 6 HRs. Travis Shaw has paid off John Farrell’s faith as the new starting 3B by slugging .567. Hanley Ramirez isn’t slugging like the Hanley of old but has embraced his new job at 1B and showing some surprising aptitude. Dustin Pedroia is healthy and back to All-Star form. And 40-year-old David Ortiz is hitting like, well, 39-year-old David Ortiz. With a robust .695 slugging pct. and team-leading 33 RBIs, the fans of Boston may want a say in Big Papi’s impending retirement.

On the pitching side, the biggest surprise is that $217 million acquisition David Price is not the ace. After a few good early showings, Price has been touched up repeatedly with his ERA sitting at 6.00. The Yanks have played their part with back-to-back 6 run outputs against the former Cy Young winner. Fortunately, 4 year/$82.5 million Rick Porcello is finally pitching like the stud the Sawx acquired from the Detroit Tigers last season. Porcello is off to a 6-1 start with a 3.11 ERA and earning every penny of the extension that many questioned last year. Also in the running for staff ace is Steven Wright (not to be confused with the Boston-area deadpan comic). Despite a 3-3 record (indicative of a lack of the run support) the 31-year-old knuckleballer has a starting rotation best ERA of 2.36. Sawx fans may be seeing a second-coming of Fenway perennial Tim Wakefield. And on the downside are the continuing struggles of Clay Buchholz. Currently pitching to an ERA north of 6.00, Buchholz can’t seem to return his 2013 form, or at very least, last year’s 3.26 ERA form. I wonder at what point John Farrell decides to send him to the bullpen, especially with the imminent return of Eduardo Rodriguez.

As for the bullpen, the Sawx have found their own formula. Their three headed beast consists of Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel. Despite a few early hiccups from Kimbrel, things seem to be back on track. The bullpen is rounded out by Matt Barnes, Tommy Layne, and Robbie Ross, Jr. who are all pitching sub 3.50 ERA baseball.

Overall, the Sawx are looking good. Of course scoring lots of runs makes you look good, in much the same way that Mickey Rooney once remarked, “Money makes you handsomer.” The Sawx, aside from a few starting pitching issues, seem to be in mid-season form. Not sure how much longer the Orioles can keep up their charade. The Sawx, to me, are the real deal. And the Yankees will have their hands full all year long. Let the trash talk commence.

For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2012, the 2015 Yankees are showing a considerable amount of patience. These aren’t your father’s Yankees and definitely not George Steinbrenner’s, aside from a few bloated salaries. The Yankees shocked all, especially their fans, by not making any big moves at the trade deadline, aside from picking up Dustin Ackley from the Seattle Mariners. Ackley will essentially replace Garrett Jones as a left-handed bat and utility option on the bench. But the Yankees seems content to move forward as is or at least they are not willing to mortgage the future for any 2nd half player rental.

As a Yankee fan, I can say I am satisfied with their actions, or inaction to be more accurate. The Yankees have a 6 game lead in the AL East and a farm system full of talent. The team has experienced a revival this year thanks to comeback seasons from Mark Teixeira and A-Roid and with talent like Aaron Judge, Rob Refsnyder, and Slade Heathcott still developing, the window for future winning seasons is opening wider. The starting pitching is still a precarious factor but holding on to Luis Severino, who will make his MLB debut this Wednesday against the Sawx, may prove to be the winning ticket for entry into this year’s October bonanza.

Best of all, one could say that Friday night’s 13-6 win over the Chicago White Sox could be seen as validation for this year’s trade deadline policy. The Yankees finished the weekend by taking two of three from the ChiSox while outscoring them 27-17. This helped the Yanks finish their ten game road trip at 6-4, buoyed by an offense that scored 78 runs in that span. Perhaps Brian Cashman’s new mantra is “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

And yet, you do wonder if the Yankees might have been served by picking a starter last Friday. Michael Pineda could miss up to month with his forearm issue. Masahiro Tanaka continues to be hit and miss. Nathan Eovaldi gets the brunt of Yankee run support but still can’t make it to the 7th inning on a consistent basis. And C.C. Sabathia keeps testing Joe Girardi’s faith. Or perhaps Girardi cannot fathom the ridicule of putting a $25 million/year pitcher in the bullpen for mop-up duty and lefty matchups.

The Yankees’ season may continue to rest on the explosive offense and ever-expanding bullpen. The Yankees continue to pummel opponents with the 2nd best offense in all of baseball. The usual suspects leading the charge continue to be Teixeira, A-Roid, and Brian McCann. Teixeira in particular has been on a roll, seemingly taking his lack of sugar, carbs and wheat out on every opposing pitcher with 5 HRs in his last four games. I just hope MLB doesn’t pass a “No Gluten-Free” policy anytime soon.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have hit a bit of a rut lately but continue to be threats at the top of the lineup. Even the bottom of the lineup is contributing to the juggernaut with Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius hitting .370 and .317 respectively in the month of July. Each has also improved on their early season defensive woes. Gregorius in particular is showing improved range and a strong arm. Throw in Stephen Drew about to cross the Mendoza line with yesterday’s 3-4 performance, and every bat in the lineup now needs to be accounted for.

But as I have said all year, and as it has been demonstrated, it’s all about the bullpen. The Yankees win games they are supposed because of a reliable and growing pen of arms. Despite yesterday’s hiccup, Chasen Shreve has proven to be reliable against hitters from both sides of the plate and for multiple innings. Justin Wilson and Adam Warren continue to wiggle starters out of jams in the 6th and 7th innings. And Dellin Betances/Andrew Miller is a two headed beast that no hitter wants to face with the game on the line.

From here on out the Yankees have been blessed by the scheduling gods, with a majority of their games played at home and not a single game to be played outside the Eastern Time Zone. The team is healthy, offensively explosive and gearing up for a strong final two months of the season. The course is set and the Yankees control their own destiny, along with hopes of playoff dreams for their highly-opinionated fans. I’m all in on this squad. And apparently so is Brian Cashman.

“And here’s to you, Mr. Robinson/Looks like you got your payday today, hey, hey, hey.
Now, go away, Mr. Robinson/Take Jay-Z and your World Series ring, you’ll never win….again.”

After an entire year of speculation on whether or not Robinson Cano would get shown the money, the Seattle Mariners stepped up and did what the Yankees usually do: overpaid drastically for a player who has no conceivable chance to live up to his contract. And to that I say, good riddance, Robinson Cano. You got what you wanted. I am reminded of the old proverb that says, “When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”

Yes, it is slightly ironic that a Yankee fan is complaining about another team stepping in and buying one of our home grown talents. But, mostly, I am thankful. We now know that Robinson Cano, like many before him, is all about the money. And that’s fine. The good news is that for once, the Yankees showed restraint. After the debacle that is A-Roid’s deal, they drew a line in the sand and refused to give in to the Jay-Z fueled dreams of a ten year deal. Seattle, he is all yours.

Is anyone really worth the kind of money that Robinson Cano can now wipe his butt with? No, it’s unrealistic. But it is the nature of the beast that is free agency. Besides, while it was nice to see Robinson Cano put up monster numbers in pinstripes, it’s not like he had a signature moment or was a post season performer. Robinson Cano is a career .222 hitter in fifty-one post season games, which not only includes his apocryphal 3 for 40 in the 2012 playoffs but hitting a meager .192 in the Yankees 2009 championship run. That really makes you re-think his value in the Bronx. I think my wife said it best when she said, “the only playoff worries Robinson Cano will have in Seattle is where to watch them.”

This situation also makes me look back and value a player like Reggie Jackson. While free agency was still in its infancy, it was Mr. October who turned down more money from the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos to come to the Yankees. Reggie knew he wanted to play on the biggest stage and that whatever he lacked in salary he would make up for in endorsements in the Big Apple. Even before he was playing in the Bronx he quipped, “If I played there, they’d name a candy bar after me.” And they did. I guess in Seattle they can name a tuna roll after Robinson Cano.

Obviously, the Yankees cannot replace Robinson Cano. As a second baseman, his skill set (at least in the regular season) is off the chart. Bringing in Kelly Johnson is a good step, though I would like to see him moved to 3B and see the Yankees go after Mark Ellis with a two-year deal. With the departure of a perrenial All-Star like Cano, I think the addition of a player’s player like Mark Ellis is just what the team and its fans could use.

And maybe the three-year deal for Carlos Beltran reeks of desperation, but at this point the Yankees are doing what they can. There is still plenty of off season left for the Yankees to deal. Who knows what offers will be made? How about Dustin Pedroia in exchange for Brett Gardner, Vidal Nuno, and Derek Jeter’s black book? Just a thought….

Ira Berkow wrote “For many Americans, time is marked, not necessarily by the shrinking of their old houses, but by the aging of their baseball heroes.” Those words are very relevant to me, not only because I am turning 40 in five months, but because my baseball hero is only four months younger than me. So, no, I did not take the news of Derek Jeter being shut down for the season very well. It wasn’t shock so much, since this season has been one disappointment after another, but more resignation. It seems to be time for this nightmare of a season for Derek Jeter to be over.

And yet the Yankees and Yankee fans need him now more than ever, with wild card playoff hopes recently rejuvenated. This is the time of year Derek Jeter lives for and the time we are used to seeing him at short, providing veteran leadership and clutch hits. But this year has been a year of disappointments and changed expectations, as a Yankee team fighting for a wild card spot is now cause for celebration. As for Derek Jeter, the dream of watching him take a shot at Pete Rose’s hits record has come to an abrupt end. It probably ended on that cold October night in game 1 of the ALCS when Derek Jeter’s ankle broke while he was ranging for a ball to his left, a move we have seen him make time and time again.

I do not believe this is the end for Derek Jeter. And, no, this is not denial. Derek Jeter has proven time and time again an ability to overcome odds. Back in 2003, a separated shoulder that was supposed to keep him out for three months, only cost him six weeks. He was a younger man than, but the drive to compete still burns inside. I also think seeing his lifelong teammate Mariano Rivera come back from a torn ACL just a year ago for a final season is very heartening and inspiring. Personally, I just want to see him get another 100 hits to pass Carl Yastrzemski for 6th on the all-time hits list. I know that Derek Jeter doesn’t care much about personal achievements, I just think it would be very cool since I am still a stats monkey at heart.

So, I look forward to 2014 and a healthy Derek Jeter giving Yankee fans another glimpse of what once was, and still can be. If anyone has deserved the right to walk away on his own terms, it is Derek Jeter. If he never plays another game, he will still go down as one of the all-time greats. And if he makes another comeback, like I think he will, the legend just grows.

The good news: the Yankees offense showed up this weekend, scoring 29 runs in the four games against the Red Sox. The bad news: the Red Sox offense showed up as well and are proving they can overcome shaky starting pitching in their quest for the post season. The Yankees had a chance this series to get back in the AL East race, and had chances in every game to beat a seemingly vulnerable Sawx squad, but continued to show themselves to be unworthy of October baseball. In the end, they had to settle for not getting swept in the four game set.

The bright spots were the same as they have been all season. Brett Gardner continues to be a pesky presence at the top of the lineup. Ichiro is the same Gold Glove winning fielder from years back and can win games with his legs like he did in Sunday’s finale. Robinson Cano is still a formidable bat in the lineup. The starting pitching continues to be a crapshoot, but Brett Marshall was very effective on Saturday providing 4 1/3 innings of solid relief, temporarily cooling the red hot Sawx offense. And Mark Reynolds is giving the Yanks what they thought they were getting when they signed Kevin Youkilis in the off season: a timely veteran hitter who provides flexibilty by playing 1B and 3B.

Then there was the reality that is the 2013 New York Yankees…

The bullpen, which had been the one model of consistency this season, showed it’s wear and tear. Mariano Rivera blew two saves and may have changed Joe Girardi’s mind about trying to change Mo’s mind in the off season about retiring. Mo has had seasons like these before, he just usually gets a chance in the post season to redeem himself. This year may not provide that opportunity.

And as if that weren’t defeating enough, Derek Jeter left Saturday’s game with pain in his sugically repaired ankle. On the bright side, he did provide an RBI single just before being lifted for a pinch runner. But The Captain is getting older seemingly by the second. No word yet on whether we have seen the last of Derek Jeter playing shortstop, or in pinstripes altogther.

No one said this season would be pretty. I guess hopes where nutured by the .600 start in mid-May. But that early season team and this September version are Jekyl and Hyde. The Yankees still have a shot at the wild card. But even if that opportunity presents itself, no idea which Yankee team will show up for that play-in game.