Archives for posts with tag: playoffs

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

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  1. Stay the course. The Yankees are looking to get younger and there are plenty of stars in the making from Luis Severino to Greg Bird to Slade Heathcott to Rico Noel and slugger-to-be Aaron Judge. I wouldn’t be surprised if we are witnessing a return to the Core Four (plus Bernie Williams). By no means am I crowning any of these players as future HOFers but as a Yankee fan it is exciting to see young, homegrown talent that is hungry and anxious to prove itself. And I haven’t even mentioned the youthful double play combo of Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro.

 

  1. The improving health of CC Sabathia, physically and emotionally. The biggest surprise of last year was Sabathia’s request to leave the team before the Wild Card game to treat his little known alcohol addiction. It was especially surprising considering he was pitching his best baseball since 2012, with a sub 2.25 ERA in his last five starts. The Yankees have two more years of Sabathia and while he may zero trade value he can still be valuable at the back end of the rotation, as long as he is healthy.

 

  1. A hot April for Jacoby Ellsbury, so he can be traded immediately. I know the Yankees overpaid when they signed the former MVP candidate for 7 years/$153 million and he would never equal his 2011 campaign but the last two seasons have been injury-filled and promise-killing. Ellsbury has shown flashes of brilliance, especially in the field but his inability to remain in the lineup has worn out his welcome in the Bronx. Hopefully he can get out to another hot start this season, like in 2015, and Brian Cashman can find takers with the Yankees willing to eat significant salary. Also, moving him makes it easier for the youth movement of Slade Heathcott, Rico Noel, and Aaron Judge to get much needed playing time.

 

  1. The continued maturation of A-Roid. Despite an apocryphal August and September, the Yankee DH was a key component in the team’s offense, which ranked 2nd in the AL. A-Roid handled just about every game and situation with a newfound grace and humility. Not sure if he has a repeat performance in him but with two years left on his deal, Yankee fans are cautiously optimistic.

 

  1. Leave Joe Girardi alone. I have no idea how the fan base’s vitriol toward the Yankee skipper has gone from simmer to London broil but he has been the only constant holding this squad together for the last three seasons, in addition to being a perennial AL Manager of the Year candidate. Has he overused the bullpen? Yes, but did he have a choice with no ace to rely on. Despite having a fiery reputation, he has proved to be a calming influence on the at-times tumultuous Yankee locker room and has regularly deflected media attention to himself with Joe Torre-esque panache. There really are few mangers I would rather have managing my Yankees…until Don Mattingly becomes available.

Like a procrastinating student writing a term paper at 3AM, the Yankees are finally running out of time. Sure they have a lock on hosting the AL Wild Card “play-in game” but this is New York. It’s the AL East crown or bust. The Yankees squandered an opportunity by dropping two of three to the Orioles earlier this week, while the rival Sawx were nice enough to steal two of three from the formidable Blue Jays. Because of this inability to gain ground in the division, this weekend’s four game set over three days (thanks to last night’s rain out) is even more important. The Yankees have 24 games left in the season and cannot waste an opportunity to stay in the hunt.

Overall, the Yankees have been playing winning baseball. They have won eight of their last twelve, the only problem being that it’s the identical record of the Toronto Blue Jays over the same period. The Yanks need to find a way to capitalize on opportunities and limit mistakes here in September while hoping the Blue Jays somehow find their way back to earth. Toronto having to play a majority of their remaining schedule on the road does foster hope for Yankee fans.

Yankee pitching was dealt a blow by the loss of Nathan Eovaldi for the remainder of the regular season. Apparently he is suffering from the same strained forearm injury that has sidelined Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and Andrew Miller for a month each. On the bright side, Yankee rookie Luis Severino continues to be the ace of the hobbled staff with a 2.04 ERA over six starts. On the not so bright side, C.C. Sabathia has returned to the rotation because what else can the Yanks do when they are down a starter and overpaying Mr. Sabathia $25 million a year. And I thought A-Roid’s contract was a bloated carcass. C.C., per the last few years, was but one pitch from getting out of trouble in Wednesday night’s loss to the Orioles. I do not see his luck changing anytime soon.

The Yankee offense looked doomed with Mark Teixeira’s bruised leg not healing anytime soon. Thankfully, Yankees fans are getting a glimpse of the future with the arrival of Greg Bird. The rookie first baseman does strikeout at an alarming rate but has made up for it with 5 HRs in 24 games. Even if Yankee playoff hopes fall short this year the future does look bright with stars in the making like Greg Bird and Luis Severino.

Didi Gregorius continues to impress both in the field and at the plate. He may never inspire the words “Derek who?” but I’m sure the words “He’ll do” are more than sufficient for Yankee fans. A-Roid has cooled off considerably during the 2nd half but still has enough in the tank to provide timely home runs. And Brian McCann is playing himself into the AL MVP conversation. I know the award should already be engraved with Josh Donaldson’s name, but McCann is putting up Posada-esuqe numbers and making a case to be the next Yankee captain.

The next three days will be full of hope, opportunity, and enough anxiety to remove the few remaining hairs on Joe Girardi’s head. The good news is that the Yankees will be helped by the expanded September rosters so running out pitching will not be an issue. The question is will Yankee pitching be enough to quell this might Blue Jay lineup, which reminds me of the monster squad from Seattle in the late 90’s. The Yankees have plenty of opportunity but not nearly enough time.

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.

Coming off a last place finish in the AL East you would think that Red Sox Nation would be in panic mode. Of course they did win it all in 2013, so they’ve got that going for them, which is nice. The offseason saw the Red Sox reasonably busy, signing top free agents Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez as well as acquiring ace Rick Porcello in exchange for slugger Yoenis Cespedes. The Red Sox have addressed both their offensive needs and lack of a number one starter, but are also showing patience by holding onto a number of their top young stars in the making. Like the Yankees, the Red Sox made some moves without showing any signs of distress, sure in the knowledge that there is plenty of talent on the roster. Funny how you sometimes emulate the behavior of your most hated rival, just saying….

As far as the free agents, both Sandoval and Ramirez are solid investments. Sandoval may not be an All-Star during the season but has proven to be Big Papi-like during three World Series winning campaigns with the San Francisco Giants. And Ramirez, when healthy, has been 2nd only to Troy Tulowitzki as the best hitting SS in baseball. The question is will he stay healthy? And more importantly will his move to LF be defensively detrimental? Considering the Sawx history is ripe will subpar fielding LFs like Jim Rice and Manny Ramirez, the team will be happy for the potential offensive windfall.

As far as the youth movement, the Red Sox seem to have plenty of, if not too many, future stars. Mookie Betts came up with one the best live plays I’ve seen, when he robbed Jacoby Ellsbury of extra bases at the Fenway game I attended last year. He also backed up his stellar defense with an offense sorely lacking in Jackie Bradley, Jr’s game. This will be a make or break year for Mr. Bradley, Jr., that is if he can secure any regular playing time. Xander Bogaerts had what many consider a disappointing season, but I think anytime you get 12 HRS, 46 RBIS, and 28 doubles from a solid fielding SS you’re in Derek Jeter territory. Take a breather, Sabermasochists. And Brock Holt’s only downside has been trying to find one position to play. Holt hit .300 plus while seeing time at every infield position, except C, as well as all three outfield spots. With every position spoken for the foreseeable future, Brock Holt can become a premier utility player.

Also in the mix is Rusney Castillo, last year’s Cuban signing who projects to be a five tool star. He hit .333 in ten games last season and looks primed for a solid rookie year campaign.

The bullpen should be a non-issue with outstanding closer Koji Uehara backed by set-up relievers Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica. The main issue is will they get enough depth from the starting rotation and enough offense from a Red Sox team that was 18th in all of baseball.

The big question mark in Boston is painted on the starting rotation. Obviously losing Jon Lester was a big blow both to the team and the fanbase. Picking up Rick Porcello is a quick remedy but may only be temporary since he, like Lester last year, is in his walk year and looking for a long term deal. The question is who can Red Sox count on in slots 2-5? On the bright side, the Boston rotation contains pitchers all aged 30 and under. On the more realistic side, who among these arms with provide 30 plus starts and 200 innings of quality work? And at some point does Boston pony up one or more of their young stars for another team’s proven starter by the All-Star break?

Which Clay Buchholz will show up this year? He seems to alternate between elite and pedestrian every season and since 2014 was a train wreck history provides he will bounce back, at least for this season. I would classify Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, and Joe Kelly as reclamation projects having shown early promise but all coming off 4-plus ERA seasons. Ideally Red Sox pitching coach, Juan Nieves, has the right formula to develop this five man rotation that most see as the most deficient in the division.

As for the veterans, Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia continue to have recurring injury issues and lack the same power of just a few years ago but make up such shortcomings as plus defenders in the field. Any successful Red Sox team needs their leadership and presence in the day to day lineup.

Of course in the end there is David Ortiz, more than capable of carrying this or any Sawx squad on his back. Despite losing batting average points to the commonplace shift, Big Papi still has plenty of pop left to provide 30 HRS and 100 RBIS. I wish the Yankees had someone on the current roster that had that kind of reliable track record.

The Red Sox of 2014 had just about everything go wrong that could. Many were accepting being just a season removed from World Championship status. I doubt this year will find Red Sox Nation as forgiving. Boston will depend on just the right mixture of health, free agent contributions, and pure luck, just like everyone else in the AL East. But for the first time in a long time, the division is up for grabs.

Good luck, Sawx.

Funny how quickly a game can change. There the Yankees were, three outs away from losing a series to the rival Sawx. Koji Uehara was on the mound with a 4-3 lead and poised to extinguish more Yankee playoff hopes. But with a single swing of the bat, Mark Teixeira made Uehara look human and brought Yankee fans back to life with a bomb to the RF seats. And two batters later, Chase Headley finished the comeback with a Titanic blast into the seats in Right-Center Field. How quickly a game and faint playoff hopes can change.

By no means does this put the Yankees back in the hunt for October, but at least it serves as a stay of execution for now. It is also a reminder that the difference between a winning Yankee team and a losing one is five runs of offense, as demonstrated in their 5-1 and 5-4 victories over the Boston Red Sox the last two nights. The only question is can the Yankees find a way to develop a modicum of momentum. That will be tough with the 1st place Royals this weekend followed by the always stingy Tampa Bay Rays.

Rookie Shane Greene continues to struggle against the Red Sox, and better learn quick if he wishes to remain in pinstripes. Hiroki Kuroda is pitching his best ball of the season and will be key in the upcoming September schedule. Chris Capuano has provided some nice innings but it may be time to move him to the bullpen and give David Huff a chance in the rotation. Offensively, Brian McCann is continuing his solid 2nd half, most recently hitting .368 in the last seven games. Gardner has picked it up while Ellsbury has started to cool off again. If these two sparkplugs can ever get going at the same time, the offense would coast this team to October. And despite many recent articles questioning Derek Jeter’s fading ability, the Captain still finds a way to provide key hits like last night’s two run double. If there is a better option at SS for the Yanks, please step forward….not so friggin’ fast Stephen Drew.

So the Yankees continue to play meaningful games. This season has been frustrating and underwhelming for the players, fans, and media alike. And despite what happens in these last games, even with Jeter retiring, my fandom has been re-invigorated by the likes of Ellsbury, Garnder, Dellin Betances, McCann, Brandon McCarthy and my new favorite Yankee, Chase Headley. If only there were a way to keep him and dump the rotting carcass that is A-Roid.

To stay realistically alive in the playoff hunt, the Yankees needed to sweep the Blue Jays this past weekend. They couldn’t even manage to win the series with yesterday’s 4-3 loss, which was indicative of their season long offensive struggles. With September beginning, the Yankees are nine games back of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East meaning they would need to win 22 of their last 27 while the O’s play just .500 ball. But this scenario is about as likely as a Sarah Palin presidency. Even the 2nd Wild Card play-in slot is a long shot. I do not like to lose hope as a Yankee fan but I also do not like to avoid the truth.

The 2014 Yankees are done playoff-wise. All that’s left is to evaluate the team that has been composed and look ahead to see who should stick around for 2015. It’s also time to truly relish in Derek Jeter’s final games in pinstripes. The Captain’s farewell tour is in its final leg and it has been very heartening to see players, fan, and commentators alike pay tribute to this living legend. So, my future blogs will focus on this upcoming off-season, and what we learned from 2014.

Next up for the Yanks is another series with the Sawx, who have had an even more disappointing season than the Yankees. Of course, the Sawx still have last year’s World Series victory in their belt. The Yankees and Sawx may not have the same bite this year as in years past but both teams are in the same boat in trying to figure out what their teams will look like in next year’s playoff push.