Wednesday, October 03, 2007
ALDS BREAKDOWN: BOMBERS vs. THE TRIBE
BRONX, NY – October 2, 2007
October baseball is finally here. And I've got the complete breakdown of the American League Divisional Series between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians.
CATCHER- Jorge Posada vs. Victor Martinez
At age 36 Jorge Posada has had one of the most productive seasons of any Yankee catcher in history. In fact, if it weren't for A-Rod's unbelievable numbers Posada would likely be a contender for the MVP. Victor Martinez however, has been no slouch himself. He batted .301 for the season knocking in 114 runs and adding 25 home runs for the Indians. This match-up is essentially even, aside from Jorge's significantly greater amount of playoff experience… and ear surface area. Advantage: Push
1st BASE- Doug Mientkiewicz vs. Ryan Garko
Neither one of these players strikes fear into the heart of opposing pitchers, but Garko showed a propensity for power with 20 regular season home runs. Mientkiewicz on the other hand, will be out there mostly for his glove. With the exception of possibly distracting Garko by offering him $1 million to spell Mientkiewicz, Doug is at a slight disadvantage. Advantage: Indians
2nd BASE- Robinson Cano vs. Asdrubal Cabrera
This match-up is simply a landslide. While similar players, Robbie Cano easily trumps Cabrera in every fundamental category including batting average, home runs, RBIs, smiles, celebration dances, accent, hilarious post-game interviews, and perhaps most importantly… ENERGY TONIGHT! Advantage: Yankees
SHORTSTOP- Derek Jeter vs. Jhonny Peralta
Looks like another one in favor of the Bombers, after all they don't call him Captain Clutch for nothing. Jeter has proven to be one of the most clutch performers in MLB postseason history, notching a playoff average of .314 in 11 seasons. Besides, I don't believe for a second that the great Yankee Captain will ever be outperformed by a guy who can't even spell Johnny correctly. Advantage: Yankees
3rd BASE- Alex Rodriguez vs. Casey Blake
For the purpose of saving energy I really could have skipped over this one altogether, but where is the fun in that? Casey Blake hit 18 home runs this season. Alex Rodriguez hit 6 in 6 games against the Indians. Casey Blake drove in 78 runs this season, and could have easily matched A-Rod's total of 156… if the season had only lasted 162 games longer. I think I've made my point. Advantage: Yankees
LEFT FIELD- Johnny Damon vs. Kenny Lofton
Can I be perfectly honest? If you switched their uniforms and skin color I don't think anyone would be able to tell the difference. These guys are both solid hitters/fielders, either of whose superior performance could have an enormous effect on the outcome of this series. On a side note: Kenny Lofton is on the Indians again? This guy is harder to pin down than Kaiser Soze. Advantage: Push
CENTERFIELD- Melky Cabrera vs. Grady Sizemore
Two of the most promising and fun to watch young players in the league, this will prove to be another intriguing match-up. Will Melky's offensive slump continue? Or will a pre-game "win one for Robbie" speech awaken his bat? Will playoff struggles finally bring Grady's flawless image down to earth? Or will commentators continue to tout him as the next Jesus each time they find themselves lost in his piercing gaze? Damn those dazzling eyes… Advantage: Indians
RIGHT FIELD- Bobby Abreu vs. Jason Michaels/Trot Nixon
The solid combination of Michaels and Nixon in the outfield resulted in 70 RBIs this season. A mere 31 short of Bobby Abreu's total for the year (and he basically slept through the first half). Thanks, but I think we'll stick to our one man platoon. Advantage: Yankees
DESIGNATED HITTER- Jason Giambi/Hideki Matsui vs. Travis Hafner
Considering they've been designated to hitting the ball, none of these three exactly took their assignment by the reins and ran with it. Matsui and Hafner did both manage to barely reach 100 RBIs, but Hideki ended in a slump while "Pronk" (best nickname in baseball by the way) finally got hot in September. And in an injury shortened season Jason Giambi stuck to his "hit one massive home run every 3 weeks just to give Yankee fans hope" approach to the game. This is another match-up in which a hot streak either way could have huge implications, but… point goes to the nickname. Advantage: Indians
The Indians' young stars C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona combined for a major league best 38 wins this year. Plus you have to give Carmona extra props for his kick-ass name. I don't know whether this kid is a ballplayer or a 15th century Conquistador. On the other side though, the Yanks top two are nothing to ignore themselves. Chien-Ming Wang just posted his second straight 19 win season, establishing himself as one of the league's most consistent performers. And I don't care how long he's been at it, no hitter wants to look out at the hill and see Andy Pettitte's eyes peering back from under his cap, especially not in October. This could very well come down to the 3-4 starters. Advantage: Push
As far as middle relief goes, Cleveland has what has arguably been the best 1-2 combination in the league. The dual Rafael's, righty Betancourt and lefty Perez, have each posted ERA's under 2. But the Yankees middle relief is nothing to scoff at either. The duo of Joba Chamberlain's fastball and Joba Chamberlain's slider had an ERA of just 0.38. I don't have to hide it anymore and I don't care what you say. I love Joba. And when it comes to the all important role of postseason closer, there isn't much of an argument. Cleveland closer Joe Borowski has been wildly inconsistent, becoming only the third pitcher ever to manage a 40 save season while having an ERA over 4.00… and his was 5.07! While on the opposing bench sits perhaps the greatest closer to ever play the game. Mariano Rivera has been the epitome of consistency over the course of his career and even better when it comes to the playoffs. He has managed an unimaginable 0.80 ERA in 11 postseasons. Advantage: Yankees
This series between the Yanks and Indians should prove to be an evenly matched one. On paper the teams match up quite closely, but I guess that's why they play the games. All I know is, it is unlikely this divisional series will end in a sweep (especially since I got my hands on tickets to game 4). My prediction: Yankees in 5.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
WIN, AND IN
BRONX, NY – September 26, 2007
Going into the All-Star Break this year I, like many other Yankee fans, was beginning to get a little nervous. With the season half over and the Bronx Bombers sitting one game under .500 there was a panic in the Yankee faithful that hadn't been felt in over a decade.
I distinctly remember having a discussion with a co-worker (for the sake of anonymity let's call him Mr. Met) on what the Yanks would need to do in order to find their way into the postseason. I told him I wasn't sweating it, which may not have been entirely true, and that the Yanks would be there in October. I knew they'd essentially have to win 2/3 of their remaining games and I believed they could do it, but Mr. Met was not so strong a believer. He was too busy reveling in his team's stellar first half while smugly enjoying seeing the Yankees stumble, insisting they had absolutely no shot at the playoffs. Oh Mr. Met, how have you not learned? If you had any idea how much pleasure it gives me to look back on that day you'd cringe at the thought of it. Had you only known then that with 5 games remaining the Yanks would be a game away from a playoff birth AND have a better record than "the Amazin's", you may have just let me slap you to avoid the eventual humiliation.
Everyone knew the Yankees needed a miracle second half, but very few believed it would actually happen. Allow me to pat myself on the back though, as I flash back to my July 10th article:
In the end what the Bronx Bombers need is a miracle run. This miracle run requires not a slight stroke of good fortune, but a huge one. Not one minor adjustment, but many significant ones. Not one good month, but a few spectacular ones. The baseball media is right when they say the 2007 New York Yankees are in great danger of missing the playoffs. However, they should do themselves a favor and not count them out until it is a mathematical impossibility. These are, after all, the New York Yankees.
So today, as we stand with the New York Yankees magic number at 1, allow me to point out exactly what they have done right over the remainder of the 2007 season. Everything.
The Bombers have thoroughly lived up to their name by posting numbers that, quite simply, border on ludicrous. They have led the league with a .662 winning percentage since the break, pulling them to within 3 games of the American League East title and giving them a 4.5 game cushion in the Wild Card race. The constant winning has been due, for the most part, to a complete and total offensive explosion.
The Yankees' big three have remained hot in the second half with A-Rod still setting the league pace for home runs (53) and RBIs (151), while Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have both kept up their solid first half production batting .319 and .334 respectively. But it has been the accompaniment of the bats that had been dormant in the first half that has changed the Yankees' fortune overall; Bobby Abreu (.283, 98 RBI), Hideki Matsui (.287, 102 RBI), Robinson Cano (.304, 89 RBI) and Melky Cabrera (.277, 71 RBI) have all recovered from their first half slumps and rounded out the lineup, allowing the team as a whole to dominate at the dish.
Now, here is the section of my article where I warn the readers to brace themselves, and possibly consider a bathroom break before continuing on. If not fully prepared for these revelations, readers could potentially find their brand new slacks riddled with embarrassing stains.
The Yankees have led the league (and that means all of baseball, not just the American League) in EVERY major offensive category. Since the July break the boys in pinstripes have put up the most runs, hits, RBIs, home runs and total bases in the majors, to go along with the best team batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. It is almost completely unheard of for one team to lead in every category for an entire half year, and the Yankees second half detonation will leave them leading in 6 of the 9 categories overall at years end (while remaining in the top 5 in the other 3). All of the Yankee fans who were worried in July knew that there are few things that will trigger a 3 month long hot streak, but the utter annihilation of every other offense in existence is certainly one of them.
The bottom line is, in a year where all of the Yankee haters came out of the woodwork in full force, the "Evil Empire" once again dashed their hopes of a Yankee-less October. It remains to be seen whether the Yankees have the power to ride their hot streak to postseason success, but one thing is for certain, they'll be there. Sorry Mr. Met.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
AUTUMN IN NEW YORK
BRONX, NY – September 19, 2007
There is nothing quite like autumn in New York. No I'm not talking about that foofy Richard Gere movie where he falls in love with the dying chick (although for my money you'd be hard pressed to find a more poignant tale of the triumphant power of love), I'm talking about fall baseball in the Bronx. And I promise you there is nothing better.
With the season winding down and the Yanks in the thick of a heated American League playoff race, there is no better place to spend a mid-September night than Yankee Stadium. So if you're lucky enough to make it to one of the last few Bomber home games, I've got your complete break down guide to the game.
Make a day out of it. The pennant race is no time to be concerned with menial obligations like work and productivity. Arriving 4 hours prior to the start of the game will allow you ample time for game preparation. This early arrival makes traditional baseball activities like grilling crappy sausage and enjoying far too many frosty beverages fit nicely into your schedule. Being one of the first vehicles in your lot also allows you the opportunity to experience quality bum-time you would likely miss out on otherwise. As soon as your first can is empty you've made a new friend. Sure he scares you a little. And sure he doesn't speak a word of English aside from "Yankees, Yankees, Yankees." But that is just some of the spice of the Bronx, and of life.
Hit the head. If at any point, make your way to the port-o-potty now. You're never going to open that half hinged door do a pristine marble facility, but what it could look like later has the potential to scar you for life. So make your way in before the parking lot (and other things) fills up.
Be realistic. Around this time you forget the denial and begin to admit to yourself that once again, you're not making it in to see Monument Park. No matter how strong your intentions were to take in some of the sites, you will rarely ever follow through. A cooler still half full of beer and burgers makes it nearly impossible to justify entering the stadium this early. Fear not though Yankee faithful, this does not make you less of a fan. Feel free to stay in the parking lot and party on. Just be prepared to part with your money when the sticker/soup kitchen donation guys come around, and also accept the fact that the beverage in your hand has made you an easy target for anyone selling a remotely clever t-shirt. Don't kid yourself… just buy the damn shirt.
Game time. It's finally time to head to the stadium. And if you were smart enough to park in the riverside far lots, enjoy the sweet soft melody of the "Adams Family" theme song as you make your way across the walking tunnel. Don't forget to tip the guy playing the recorder; he won't be playing Carnegie Hall any time soon. And don't hesitate to drop a throat lozenge on the way in either, those pipes have got to be ready to yell for the Yankee role-call.
Look for the losers. I hate to admit it, but there are people at Yankee games who for some ungodly reason are not ecstatic to be there. Find these people, for as much as they are lame they are one of our greatest resources. The fans that have already lost the ability to enjoy the game will soon be the fans that make your view that much better. When they disappear into the tunnel and are nowhere to be seen after a half inning, their seats are fair game. And it is your duty as a fan and tax-paying American to steal them.
Get ready to jeer. Like the moon and the tides, it is inevitable that around this time some jackass with a Red Sox cap on will emerge from his seat having made the decision now is the time he wants to die. Standing to a barrage of boos and projectile $9 bags of Cracker Jacks, this staple of jerk-dom ensures not a single Yankee game goes by without at least one "BOSTON SUCKS" chant echoing off the stadium walls. But while you hate him, salute him, he helps remind us all of why we despise the Red Sox so very, very much.
Time for the chairman. Come on people, it's late in the year and we're the New York Yankees, odds are you're witnessing a win. So as the speakers spark up and you stroll out of the stadium to the crooning of Mr. Frank Sinatra, finish the beer you've been nursing since the seventh inning and descend gleefully down the ramps while sloppily singing along to "New York, New York" with 50,000 of your closest friends.
And that my friends, leaves us at the end. Of the night, and of the season. Good friends, New York Yankee baseball, and a cool autumn night just somehow has a feeling to it like nothing else. So pack up the car and begin the preparation for your next visit to the stadium. Whether it's the next day or the next season one thing is for damn sure, we're definitely going to make it to Monument Park next time.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
BRONX, NY – September 5, 2007
Chien-Ming Wang pitched yet another gem last night, holding the Seattle Mariners to just one run on five hits and proving once again why he is a true Yankee Ace. With the Mariners lurking closely behind in the AL wild-card race, Wang took the mound and easily boosted the Yankee lead to 2 games while earning himself a tie for the major league lead picking up his 17th win of the year.
Now in only his second full season in pinstripes, Chien-Ming Wang has established himself as one of the league's most dominant starting pitchers. While not overpowering, untouchable, or certainly not outspoken, Wang is putting together a late string of wins that could end in his second dominating season in as many years.
In his last four starts he has notched four straight wins allowing just 5 earned runs over the course of 28 1/3 innings. He has also solidified himself as the Bombers most reliable stopper winning six straight decisions when he takes the hill following a Yankee loss. If Wang continues on the path he has followed of late, he will indeed close out another season garnering Cy Young votes.
Since his emergence onto the Major League scene in the 2005 season Wang has continued his trend of quiet dominance, managing to consistently succeed while continually flying under the radar. While I'm sure opposing coaches are well aware of what they're facing when coming into a game against the 6'3" right hander, he remains among the league's most under-exposed stars. In fact, everything about this 27 year-old Taiwan native is the opposite of flashy.
Hardly known as a strikeout artist, Wang's double play inducing sinkerball hasn't exactly landed him many starring roles at the top of Sportscenter. And combining his humble pitching style with the fact that he opens his mouth so rarely that even the most die-hard Yankee fans are unsure if he speaks a single word of English, it is easy to understand how Chien-Ming Wang has literally and figuratively become a silent assassin on the mound.
While it is unlikely that Wang will actually take home the Cy Young this year, it is impossible to deny his qualifications. His slightly higher ERA could cause some potential votes to go elsewhere, but if he finishes strong he could very well be at the same level as the other candidates and could even reach the illustrious 20-win mark. He might not overwhelm opponents the way fire-balling well knowns like Josh Beckett and Johan Santana do, but you'd be hard pressed to find a starting pitcher who has been more valuable to his club this season. For whatever he may lack in style, Chien-Ming Wang has still undeniably broken into the top class of the league by consistently doing the most important thing a pitcher can do… win.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
REQUIEM FOR A MOOSE
DETROIT, MI – August 28, 2007
Late in the year and in the thick of a playoff race is not when you want to encounter questions about your starting rotation. This is the time when you want to kick back and rely on your veteran hurlers to bare down, and carry you into the postseason. During his time in pinstripes Mike Mussina has been one of those veterans. He has made his Yankee career out of being Mr. Reliable, a crafty pitcher who just knows how to win. Sadly though, it seems those days may be behind him.
Pitching in Detroit in the final game of what had already been a lackluster Yankee road trip, Mussina was just what the doctor ordered… if the doctor ordered a beat down the likes of Ivan Drago vs. Apollo Creed. Mussina was pounded into dust yet again giving up 6 runs in only 3 innings and starting off what would end as the worst road shutout in Yankee history. Falling on rough times as of late, Mussina seems to have hit rock bottom at the worst possible point in the season.
Over his last 3 starts Moose has had what he dejectedly referred to as "the worst 9 innings of his career," and regrettably he is not exaggerating in the least. In the trio of appearances Mussina has ordered up more hits than John Gotti and allowed an atrocious 20 runs to cross the plate. Sure, his cold streak only shows up as 0-3 in the record books, but the inefficiency with which he has thrown of late is almost unprecedented. In what has been perhaps the most embarrassing string of innings for any starter in the majors this year, he has notched a laughable 17.69 ERA over his last 9 2/3 frames.
Now it is no secret that 2007 has been a turbulent year for my beloved Bombers, but it has certainly not helped that it's also been a year in which Mike Mussina has rarely looked like the pitcher Yankee fans have grown to depend on. Aside from a few solid starts coming out of the All Star Break, Moose has looked mediocre at his best and hopeless at his worst. Too many times this season he has taken the mound and offered up what looks like batting practice in situations where the Yanks were aching for a win. In starts coming off a Yankee loss this year he has garnered an 0-7 record, literally guaranteeing a losing streak to either begin or continue when he took the hill. That, especially this season, is completely intolerable.
I, like most Yankee fans, have enjoyed having Mike Mussina take the field over the years. He has established himself as one of the best pitchers of his generation and a possible Hall of Famer, compiling a career 3.70 ERA and allowing opponents an average against of only .253. This season, however, has not been a reflection of Mussina's career numbers and there just isn't time to let him fight his way back. If this were any other year I'd be singing a different tune, but it may be time for the Moose to be put out to graze. Unlike past years, the Yanks are not spending the latter days of their season sitting comfortably atop the American League. Playing the unfamiliar role of the underdog the bombers are fighting from behind and they simply cannot afford to allow Mussina the time to push through his problems. And it appears they won't.
When asked about Mussina's spot in the rotation Manager Joe Torre, who earlier this season insisted Kei Igawa still had his starting spot only a day before sending him down to the minors, was abnormally unconfident in front of the media saying "Give me a day to digest it, and I'll be able to answer some more questions." The answer he will give now seems all but a certainty, that the once steadfast veteran will lose his spot as a Yankee starter, at least for now. After all, with Mussina's performances of late yielding the same results as a day of digestion normally would, Torre doesn't really have much of a choice.
With the Yanks now facing the unforeseen possibility of finishing the season Moose-less, a few questions remain: Who will they use to fill his spot in the rotation? Will it be time to see what young prospects like Steven White or Ian Kennedy have? I sure hope so, because the only other name that has been mentioned as a possibility is Mr. Kei Igawa. And judging by the effect Igawa has had on the collective gag reflex of the Yankee fan base so far, his re-emergence might just over-fill the hole Mussina will leave.
And what will become of the Yankee favorite? Where will Mussina go from here? Will they drop him down to the minors to regain his composure? Or will they give him a shot at contributing from the bullpen?
My suggestion Yankee fans, just tip your cap to him and remember the good times, because the Moose may finally be cut loose.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
BRONX, NY – August 21, 2007
With August coming to a close the New York Yankees find themselves somewhere few thought they'd be this year, in the playoff race. The question now remains, will they be able to continue their stellar play and find their way into playoff baseball? Speaking from a fan's perspective I know that every year there are things I wish the team would do but they never seem to happen. So this year, I have put together a list of a dozen suggestions I have to help the 2007 Yankees make the postseason.
1. Bring Bernie Back
When the rosters expand in September I say save a spot for Bernie Williams. Why not bring back a legend for one last go 'round? His leadership presence will only further unite the team, and his sweet, smooth classical guitar riffs will melt all of their troubles away.
2. Universalize the Goggles
I vote we make the Edwar Ramirez goggles a mandatory part of the Yankee uniform. By making everyone look more like a nervous 6th grade little leaguer, the Yanks will more easily be able to lull their opponents into a state of trust and comfort before mercilessly crushing them.
3. Don't Waste Shelley
From now on when Shelley Duncan hits a heroic, game tying 9th inning home run, forget the bullpen. Based purely on the intensity in his eyes, I say we let him pitch out the rest of the game. Opposing hitters will undoubtedly fail due to fear of Shelley approaching the plate and brutally executing them with his bare hands.
4. No Seat for Jeet
Require Derek Jeter to stand at the rail of the dugout at all times while his teammates are at bat. The opposing pitcher cannot possibly go an entire inning without being distracted by his dreaminess.
5. Chicken Head
Before each game, rub down the inside of Jason Giambi's helmet with a colonel's classic recipe drumstick; as it has become abundantly clear that his home run production increases exponentially along with the greasiness of his hair.
6. Motivate the Kids
Promise Melky Cabrera and Robbie Cano that for each multiple RBI game they put together, they can open one more present early on Christmas Eve.
7. The Art of Intimidation
Order stoic relief pitcher Luis Vizcaino to remove the 10 necklaces he normally wears to the mound and replace them with only one… adorned with human skulls. I dare you to get a hit off of that guy.
8. The Farnsworth Factor
Summon Kyle Farnsworth from the bullpen each time we have to seek revenge on an opponent for throwing at a Yankee batter. The benefit will be twofold: First, his 100+ mile per hour fastball will effectively render the opposing batter lifeless. And second, his suspension will "force" us to not use Kyle Farnsworth for the duration of at least one game.
9. War Games
Have genius Stanford grad Mike Mussina hack Curt Schilling's computer and post a confessional blog that admits the bloody sock was a fake and that deep down he always wanted to be a Yankee. The pressure to explain himself will drive Schilling to the brink of insanity and eliminate him for the season when he takes a hatchet to his own ankle in hopes of proving his legitimacy.
10. Hate Driven to Deep Center
Triple league leader Alex Rodriguez's home run total by once again changing the balls before he comes to bat; this time stamping each one with a picture of NY Post columnist/king of A-Rod bashing Joel Sherman.
11. Let Him Do His Job(a)
Eliminate the rules that require breakout pitcher Joba Chamberlain to sit a full day for every inning he throws. I want to see Joba in every game regardless of score. I want his presence as a Yankee to be all-encompassing. In fact…. I want Joba in charge, of our days, and our nights… Joba in charge of our wrongs and our rights… and I see… I want, I want, I want Joba in charrrrrrge, of me!
12. An "A" for Hilarity
Throw an extra "a" in Wilson Betamit's name on the scorecard in hopes of getting legendary announcer Bob Shepherd to say "Beat-A-Meat" over the Yankee Stadium loudspeaker. Sure, this probably won't do much to help the Bombers make the playoffs, but it will definitely help make my day.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
FARM FRESH TALENT
BRONX, NY – August 14, 2007
For a guy who was told his job was "on the hook" only a bit over a month ago, Yankees GM Brian Cashman sure looks comfortable. In fact, he looks downright satisfied. Maybe that's because his patience and awareness have helped put the Yankees on a roll that has earned them the best second half record in the bigs.
Over an All-Star Break in which many argued what the Yankees should and should not do, Cashman hung tough. Under an owner with a "win now" philosophy and a notoriously quick tendency towards firings, Cashman refused to stray from his commitment to developing the young Yankee talents. As usual, the Yanks were in the midst of trade talks for every available talent in the league, but for once they stayed relatively quiet. In order to obtain big name additions like Mark Teixeira or Eric Gagne the bombers would have had to offer up some of their best minor league assets. And after being criticized in recent years for trying to buy victory with veteran acquisitions, this year Cashman refused to budge. His belief in the current squad, along with his dedication to developing Yankee youth was too much to compromise. And as of now, it seems he made the right choice.
Three of the players whose names were mentioned in those mid-season trade talks now have lockers in the Yankee clubhouse and are contributing largely to the stability the bombers have enjoyed since the break.
The most talked about minor leaguer in the Yankee system over the last few seasons has finally been given the chance to show his stuff. Thanks to early season injuries Hughes got his first shot at starting on the manor league level, before eventually falling victim to a hamstring injury himself. Now in the second half, thanks to the complete ineptitude of Kei Igawa (which incidentally is Japanese for "I Hate Winning"), Hughes has once again found himself on the hill in pinstripes. While he hasn't been untouchable in his two starts he has shown himself to be a reliable starter. In 10 innings he has notched 11 strikeouts and picked up a win in his most recent outing against the Indians. Hughes, who in the first half improved with each start, has given the Yankees a vast improvement over Igawa and will continue to contribute as the club makes their push for the playoffs.
The 27 year old brother of Cardinal outfielder Chris Duncan has been a most unlikely provider of power over the course of this Yankee hot streak. Coming off to bench as a DH, outfielder, and even a first baseman, Duncan has blasted 5 home runs in just 36 at bats and proved to be a legitimate threat at the plate with a .306 average. Along with his stellar performance, his fiery personality has also made him a quick fan favorite. Nicknamed "Slam" Duncan for his power and his trademark home run celebration, the forearm slam (either that or for the almost insane look in his eye that says "I just slammed 10 shots of Jack and I'm ready to throw a chair through a window"), Shelley has established himself as this year's Shane Spencer-esque feel good story and could very well be the Yankee DH of the future.
In only 3 appearances spanning 5 innings this young Yankee fireballer has already had an enormous impact on the 2007 club. Showing himself thus far to be basically unhittable, Joba has added an air of reliability to the once dismal Yanks middle relief. After crying over the trade of Scott Proctor, Chamberlain has allowed me to happily put my foot in my mouth as he has completely dominated in a way that Proctor simply could not have done. Over his 5 innings the big Nebraskan has struck out 8 batters and given up only one hit while hurling blazing fastballs accompanied by an almost unreasonable slider. While he is projected as a future big-league starter, this year it looks as though he could be the missing link that bridges the gap to get to closer Mariano Rivera.
Whether or not the contributions of these three brand new big leaguers lead to a Yankee playoff birth in 2007 is yet to be seen. But as a Yankee fan you have to love the fact that in the end, they are all still Yankees. When looking to the future it is not too hard to be hopeful. Whether it is Phil Hughes' near no hitter, Shelley Duncan's scary power, or Joba Chamberlain's energized yell as he left the Yankee mound untouched, these baby bombers have made it easy to be thankful for the atypically uneventful trade deadline.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
BRONX, NY – August 7, 2007
When you think New York Yankees, youthful exuberance is hardly the first thing to come to mind. On the contrary the Yankees of recent years have been known as team owned by an over competitive geezer, run by a stoic manager, and carried on the field by mostly established veterans. They are not often associated with beaming smiles or rollicking celebrations.
In the second half of 2007 however, the Yankees seem to have a different air about them. Sure, the crazy old codger in the owner's box is still little more than crazy and old. And sure, the rigid manager still shows about as much emotion as a freshly painted door. But it's the Yankees who live out on the diamond that seem to have taken on a new attitude. They are in a position that few of them have ever encountered, playing from behind. Yet in the midst of being written off by many of baseball's "experts" they haven't seemed to show a single sign of panic. In fact, they all seem utterly relaxed.
Since the All-Star Break the bombers have carried themselves with the laid back approach of a team with nothing to lose. They are swinging free and having fun and by doing so have played themselves right back into the thick of playoff contention. They look as though they've been injected with youth (although I'm hesitant to use the word injected to describe a team that will soon welcome back Jason Giambi). And in fact, they have. It is the play and attitude of two of the youngest Yanks that has played an enormous part in giving the 2007 club new life.
Twenty-four year old Robinson Cano has been arguably the hottest player in baseball since the mid-summer classic. The second baseman continues to make tricky plays in the field with what seems to be careless ease and has solidified the Yankee middle infield as one of the league's most consistent double-play threats. And at the plate? The words "white hot" would seemingly sell Robbie short. After struggling mightily through the first half Cano has brought his season average up to .309, hitting at a ridiculous second half clip of .420 and garnering American League player of the week honors twice. And he's not even the only baby bomber producing.
Serving as the perfect partner in crime has been his twenty-two year old teammate and best buddy Melky Cabrera. Establishing himself as the Yankees most reliable option in centerfield, the "Melk-man" seems to always have the right jump or angle on the ball. And as an added bonus his canon arm has fired 9 outfield assists. Also scorching at the dish, Melky has posted a .379 second half average, proving especially hot as of late with 12 RBI's in the Yankees' last 9 contests.
As vital as their numbers have been though, it isn't statistics that define the overall effect they have had on this team. These young bombers have begun to bring fun back to the Bronx.
Think about the last time you watched a Yankee game without seeing an enormous grin slapped across Robinson Cano's face. He never seems to not have fun. Each time Robbie flashes leather in the field he flashes that giant smile, as though each ball was the first he fielded of his career. And if Melky Cabrera closes an inning with a nice catch or scores a big run he flies back to the dugout with the speed of a guy worried the team bus is leaving without him. Now put the two together. When combined in the dugout, they just feed off of each other's energy. Whether they're yapping and laughing across whatever unassuming soul happened to sit between them, or hopping and dancing around that inning's hero like kids around a Christmas tree, they give the Yankee bench a bit of little league-like energy. I'm just waiting for the time when the YES Network cuts to a late inning shot of the pair wielding their rally-caps and engaging in a "who can chomp more Big Leage Chew" contest.
The fun-loving, laid back mind set of these two close-knit teammates has allowed them to not only contribute immensely to the team's comeback, but has also added a new dimension to the normally "strictly professional" Yankee image. Showing the potential to truly be the Yankees of the future, fans can only hope they remain the same for years to come. So keep your fingers crossed that Robbie forever adorns his "Got Melky?" t-shirt under his game day jersey, that Melky continues to secretly slip on his beaded "B.F.F." ankle bracelet, and that the two always take the field together, with a smile.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
BRONX, NY – July 31, 2007
With the 4pm trade deadline fast approaching on Tuesday the Yankees didn't seem to have any blockbuster deals on the horizon. The talks of going after Mark Teixeira or Eric Gagne had quietly gone by the wayside and the normally ever-present Yankee front office closed with little more than a blip on the radar. But don't be fooled, there was a blip, one that could change the entire season.
The one and only move made by the Yankees was one that I was frankly sad to see happen. In a deal that has been rumored since the mid-season of last year the Yanks dealt workhorse middle relief pitcher Scott Proctor to the Los Angeles Dodgers for infielder Wilson Betemit.
Over his four seasons with the Yankees Proctor made all 190 of his major league appearances, 83 of which took place last season alone. He established himself in 2006 as the go-to middle reliever that Joe Torre turned to without hesitation. Admittedly though, he had slipped from that position this year, possibly due to the frequency with which he was called on. Regardless of the cause, Proctor labored through his 54 1/3 innings this season allowing 53 hits, 23 earned runs, and an ERA of 3.81. Struggling particularly of late it, became clear that he would once again be on the mid-season chopping block.
Despite his clear drop off in consistency however, the Yankees and their fans may find themselves missing Scott Proctor for several significant reasons. The first being, his heart. Every time Proctor took to the hill he did so with a zeal that many players seem to lack these days. After making more appearances than any other pitcher in the league last year all he has to say about it was "I wish they'd use me every day." Even when struggling you never doubted that he was giving 100%, and you could see the frustration and anger in his eyes when he didn't perform up to his own expectations. He felt an obligation to his team, and he was not okay with letting them down. Scott Proctor played with fire (no pun intended toward the recent even in which he tried to break a cold streak by lighting his glove aflame after a string of poor performances) for his team and for the game. When the Mariners threw at teammate Josh Phelps earlier this year, Proctor returned serve with a wild pitch behind Yuniesky Betancourt and promptly invited Betancourt out to the mound with a wide eyed "Bring it on." You can't ask for a teammate with more passion than that.
Secondly, the Yankees have to wonder if they even got a fair deal. Nothing against Wilson Betemit, he is a talented young player with a lot of potential, but the question remains as whether or not they received enough in return for losing Proctor. The key word in describing Betemit is potential. Where we stand this year he is hitting only .231 in 84 games and on top of that it is hard to figure exactly where he'll fit in this Yankee lineup. Is he here as another potential first baseman for the depth chart? With Andy Phillips stellar play and Jason Giambi's impending return that seems unnecessary. Is he here as a back up to step in for the other infielders on off days? With the Yankees frantically chasing a playoff berth it seems unlikely that Jeter, Rodriguez or Cano will be sitting very often. And don't even tell me he's an insurance pickup in case Alex Rodriguez is no longer in pinstripes next year (if Brian Cashman thinks Betemit could even begin to fill the hole A-Rod would leave, he was clearly also of the mindset that Caddyshack 2 would be just as good as the first). For all intents and purposes the Yankees seem to have dealt Scott Proctor for a younger version of Miguel Cairo with a bit better plate presence. But on a healthy Yankee team, how much time did Cairo see? Will the Yanks even be able to use Betemit enough to make dealing an oft used pitcher worth it? It is hard to imagine a scenario in which this addition yields a big payoff, but not so hard to fathom it having negative affects.
And finally, the Yanks may regret the Proctor deal because it adds even more uncertainty to what was already one of the league's most questionable bullpens. It seems odd to see the Yankee decision makers settling on a deal that thins out what has easily been the weakest part of their team (you don't see hobos giving away their shirts, there's a reason for that). I, largely due to the fact that I am not legally insane, am certainly not resting my hopes of relief on Kyle Farnsworth ever getting control of his fragile psyche and becoming a reliable pitcher. So unless the young Yankee prospects like Edwar Ramirez and Joba Chamberlain can come up and make an immediate impact, Joe Torre and the Yankee starters will be saddled with having even less to rely on for the remainder of this already trying year.
In the end it is impossible to tell how any mid-season deal will play out. Year in and year out there are complete busts, and huge pickups that change teams' fortunes. I pray, in fact, that I am thoroughly wrong about which way this deal will go. All I know is that for a fan whose team is already looking up from below, it is hard to swallow a deal in which the odds of an upside are so much slimmer than the contrary.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
THE HITS JUST KEEP ON COMIN'
BRONX, NY – July 26, 2007
The summer is in full swing and apparently so are the New York Yankees. A team that only weeks ago was being dismissed by just about everyone is suddenly playing like the best team in baseball. Are the Bronx Bombers really back? Well it's tough to tell from a span of only one month but they have certainly given the Yankee faithful a reason to hope.
The Yanks have been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break; going 12-3, closing the Wild Card gap to 4.5 games and bringing themselves within 6.5 of the American League East leading Boston Red Sox. Yes, the gap is closing quickly on everyone ahead of the Yankees and it has been thanks to their relentless hitting day in and day out. At the moment, you'll find more angry bats in the Yankee lineup than you'd find in the sacred Wachati caves of Africa (you know everyone loves an Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls reference… GUANO!)
Now any Yankee fan who has bothered to open their eyes this season knows who the hitters have been; Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada. Over the past 30 days these three have remained among the best in the league. While his batting average for July is down, Alex Rodriguez is still hitting at a .310 clip for the year. Over the course of the month he has notched 25 RBIs and added 7 home runs, leaving him only one short of the 500 milestone. The Captain, Derek Jeter, has slapped 39 hits this month putting him behind only Ichiro Suzuki on the year in total hits and multi-hit games. And catcher Jorge Posada has continued his stellar year at the plate batting .310 during the hot streak.
While the three big bats have certainly been the backbone of the Yankee lineup throughout the year, the recent resurgence in the stats can be attributed to something else… the rest of the Yanks finally decided to show up. Thanks to the overall contribution the Bombers have lit up the scoreboards putting up a monstrous 63 runs over the course of only 5 games, posting a hit for each of their starters in 3 of those 5. "It's almost impossible to have nine guys going at once," said hitting coach Kevin Long, "I've been doing this for a long time and there's always going to be someone who struggles. To have this many guys going at one time is a pretty good feeling."
Thanks to extensive work with Long, Robinson Cano has been a crucial piece of the recent run. The newly selective Cano has put up a team high .369 batting average along with a slugging percentage of .573 and 20 RBIs. Employing the odd practice of taking every pitch from Long during batting practice, Robbie has sharpened his eye and regained his immaculate form from last year.
Hideki Matsui has busted out of the All-Star gate in typical Godzilla fashion, leading the team with 10 home runs and a .609 slugging percentage this month. Matsui, who has characteristically been a stronger second half hitter, has of late given the Yanks the legitimate second power threat to compliment A-Rod that they've been lacking all year.
Melky Cabrera is beginning to find his stroke as well. During the streak he is second on the team in batting average at a superb .333. He has remained the most reliable bunting threat on the squad, while also showing the potential for power including a massive shot to right field last night against the Royals.
Bobby Abreu seems to have finally found some consistency in the month of July too. Up until the break Abreu had been as black and white as BET and CBS, either looking wonderful or completely awful at the dish. However, since the break he has earned himself the second most RBIs with 24, behind only A-Rod.
One of the biggest questions for the Yankees going into the second half of the season was first base. How were they going to fill the opening left by the injured (and largely useless at the plate) Doug Mientkiewicz? Rather than going out and buying a Mark Teixiera for millions the Bombers once again called on one of their most hard working and scrappy stand-ins, minor leaguer Andy Phillips. At age 30 Phillips has long been dominant in the minor league system, and he has delivered thus far in the bigs. Coupled with flawless defense, Andy has contributed archetypal 8th man numbers with 16 RBIs for the bottom of the order at a .315 average.
And don't think I forgot the feel good story of the run, the random call-up who has belted 3 home runs in only 5 games and added 7 RBIs. Of course I have to give the honorable mention to DH Shelley Duncan, lest I be murdered by Yankee fans for ignoring this year's Shane Spencer.
Of course it's easy to be a happy fan over a short period. This is a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak season. But the bottom line is the Yanks have done exactly what they need to do in order to begin getting back in the hunt. They have sprung out of the gates with offensive firepower and have lost only 1 game in each of their second half series thus far. If they can continue a similar pace over the next month, don't be surprised to see the supposedly dead 2007 Yankees in the thick of the postseason race.