Greetings Yankee fans! And welcome to the 13th edition of Yankee Yapping.
Well….start spreading the news. We’re leaving today….for October!
If October Gonzalez still blogs here on MLB.com, he needs to get ready to do some…Yankee Yapping.
Away we go!!
My thoughts on…
The AL East Title
As everyone in the world already knows, yesterday the Bronx Bombers clinched the American League East title with a victory over the Red Sox, completing a weekend sweep of their arch-rivals. It marked the first time since 2006 the Yanks have won the AL East and the first time since 2005 they won the title in front of the Red Sox.
In ’05 the Yankees won the crown on the second-to-last day of the season at Fenway Park.
The Yankees also won their 100th game of the season, and that marked the first time since 2004 the Yanks accomplished that feat. And oh, by the way, they have home-field advantage throughout the post-season.
The Yanks pretty much made out like bandits Sunday afternoon.
I have to admit I almost broke down and cried. I was so overjoyed when they won yesterday. Considering the Yanks missed the playoffs last year and remembering how sad I was on the last day of the 2008 regular season, yesterday was pretty special.
I liked the analogy Derek Jeter used when speaking of the Yankees early winter last year. “It’s almost like you’re a kid and your parents don’t let you go outside and play,” Jeter analogized.
“You’re watching everybody outside the window because you’re in trouble. That’s what it felt like. Now you’re off punishment and you can go back outside.”
The last day of the regular season is always melancholy; it means the summer is truly over. As a diehard baseball fan, I wish the season could last forever.
It doesn’t, but at least with your team in the playoffs, you are guaranteed a shot at the World Title and a chance to see your team try and give you a memory that can last a lifetime.
When your team wins it all, you will remember it forever.
But the AL East is only one step toward what the Yankees and we the fans are looking forward to. It was nice to celebrate yesterday, but we are going back to work this week vs. the Royals and this weekend against the Rays.
I’m sure the Yankees were proud of themselves, which they should be, but I’ll bet if you ask Jeter or Mariano Rivera, or any of the other players, they’ll say that there’s a lot more work to be done.
Which is certainly true. The Yankees have accomplished something good. And now they must continue to move forward and hopefully reach “baseball nirvana.”
Weekend Sweep of Boston
After the Yankees went 0-8 against Boston at the beginning of the season, I never would of thought they’d rebound as nicely as they have.
The Yankees have won nine out of their last 10 games against the Red Sox and the way they played them this past weekend gave me even more confidence in the Yankees’ ability to beat Boston if they happen to meet in the ALCS this year.
The last time the two teams squared off in the 2004 ALCS….well, we need not relive that. But at least the Bombers have demonstrated the ability to match the Red Sox punch-for-punch, which is what they need this late in the season.
In this weekend’s three-game sweep, the Yanks outscored Boston 16-7. Back in August when the Yankees swept the Red Sox at home, they outscored them 25-8. So it’s apparent that the Yankees know how to drive runners in against the Red Sox, a good ability to have against a potential playoff opponent.
On Friday I was thrilled to see Joba Chamberlain pitching well and the Yanks won, 9-5. He tossed six innings and gave up three runs on five hits. He walked one and struck out five. He got the win and ironically his last win before Friday came against the Red Sox on Aug. 6.
You see guys: when you let Chamberlain pitch without worrying about his innings limit, he can actually perform well!
However, I did feel sympathy for Jon Lester, getting drilled with a liner off the knee on a ball crushed by Melky Cabrera. I don’t like the Red Sox (obviously) but I have a lot of respect for Lester. He is such a great success story, coming back from cancer and throwing a no-hitter. So yes, I felt bad for him.
Lester had to leave the game in the third inning, but he wasn’t pitching effectively, anyway. He had given up a homer to Alex Rodriguez and was losing before he got hit, so I don’t think he would’ve been in the game much longer, as it was.
Lester was charged with five earned runs and registered the loss.
Saturday looked like a classic pitcher’s duel; Daisuke Matsuzaka for the Red Sox and CC Sabathia for the Yankees.
The “Dice-Man” hasn’t really had much success against the Yankees (going into Saturday he was 3-2 with a 6.35 ERA lifetime vs. New York) but he still put up a good game. Well, I don’t know if I should say “good;” the Yankees left a lot of men on base and just didn’t capitalize. They could have had some big innings, but just didn’t score.
And Sabathia was Sabathia, of course. He fanned eight BoSox over the seven innings he pitched and didn’t give up any runs. In fact, he was tossing a no-hitter up until Mike Lowell broke it up in the fifth with a line drive to centerfield.
Sabathia no-hit the Red Sox through 5 2/3 on Aug. 8 until Jacoby Ellsbury broke it up. I find that so fascinating; Sabathia carried a no-hitter into the middle-to-late innings twice against the Red Sox this year. I don’t know of any other pitcher in recent history who’s done that.
The Red Sox looked lost; I mean, they only had three runners in scoring position all day and they went 0-for-3. Boston also only had two hits all day. That’s containment, if you ask me.
Robinson Cano broke the scoreless tie in the sixth with his 24th homer of the year. It’s funny; I never really thought Cano would generate that type of power. He has made me look at him totally different. When he comes up to bat, I’m thinking, “We may have a shot at a homer here.” What an awesome year he’s had.
Saturday’s final: Yankees 3, Boston 0. Good enough for me.
And Sunday was the finale. Andy Pettitte was the man the Yanks sent to the hill to claim their AL East title and he completed their mission. The veteran lefty went six innings and gave up two runs for a quality start en route to the Yanks’ 4-2 win over Boston.
The champagne celebration followed the final out.
Cabrera and Mark Teixeira each homered while Hideki Matsui put the Yankees ahead in the sixth with a two-run single.
Here’s something I should point out: Derek Jeter led off the game with a single. That marked the 51st time this year the captain has led off the game with a base hit. I think the strategy of Jeter as the leadoff hitter has paid off in a big way and it could be something that is showcased in the playoffs.
Overall, it was a great weekend to be a Yankee and a Yankee fan. And that’s probably the biggest understatement of this century.
Chances in the Post-Season
The Yankees have made it to the post-season for the first time since 2007. But recent playoff memories for Yankees fans are…well….not fond ones.
The Bombers have not won a World Series since 2000. They haven’t played in the World Series since 2003. And they haven’t made it past the American League Division Series since 2004.
But here are a few reasons I think the Yankees’ chances are better than ever in 2009.
The one thing the Yankees accomplished in the off-season was the acquisition of starting pitching. I mean, let’s face it–these last few playoff appearances, the Yanks just didn’t have any effective pitching.
Not knocking Mike Mussina–he did some great things in the post-season. I can’t thank him enough for getting out of that bases loaded, one out jam in game seven of the 2003 ALCS (fans might remember it as the “Aaron Boone Game”)
Mussina came into the game in an extremely pressurized situation–really the weight of the game was on his shoulders. He thankfully got Johnny Damon to bounce into a double play to avoid any further trouble.
I just feel bad Mussina never got a ring. He always called himself “Mr. Almost.” Meaning that he almost got a World Series ring, almost won a Cy Young, and almost had a perfect game (Sept. 2, 2001 at the Red Sox. Carl Everett broke it up with two outs in the ninth with a bloop single to left field)
For as good as “Moose” was, he was never an overwhelming power-pitcher; he was more of a smart, mental pitcher. His strength relied primarily on his knuckle-curve ball and his fast ball was not a live as some of the Yankees’ starters today.
Case in point: CC Sabathia, who is 19-7 this season with a 3.21 ERA. Now a lot of people might be quick to judge Sabathia’s playoff numbers, which aren’t pretty–he’s 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA lifetime in the playoffs for the Cleveland Indians and the Milwaukee Brewers (that includes two losses to Boston in the 2007 ALCS)
But I’m really willing to look past that right now.
Last year Sabathia was pitching a lot on short rest, something that will probably not be done this year. He has been dominant vs. Boston this year, so I’m not concerned with who he faces. It’s not only Boston; save for just getting himself acclimated to New York and struggling a little bit in the beginning of the season, he’s been dominant against every team he has faced.
I have a feeling the ace will be performing and dealing, just like he’s been all year. Sabathia has given the Yankees quality and quantity all season, so I’m not really expecting that to change just because it’s playoff time.
I would also take a guy like A.J. Burnett over a pitcher like Randy Johnson.
Now granted Burnett has not had the easiest season, posting a record of 12-9 with a 4.19 ERA, he has still been a force in the rotation. I would rather have a pitcher like Burnett who is in his prime than the older Johnson who was past his prime when he pitched for the Yankees.
When Burnett is on, he can be one of the best pitchers there is. A lot of people have compared him to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, meaning he is either really good or really bad when he pitches. I cannot say it enough; we need the “Mr. A.J. Burnett-Hyde” to show up in the playoffs.
He’s had some rough starts versus Boston, but also matched Josh Beckett pitch-for-pitch on Aug. 7. Not to mention, he went undefeated in July, going 4-0 with the Yanks winning all five games he started. And his last start–when he beat the Angels—gave me some peace of mind.
There’s also been talk as to which game Burnett will start: game two or three of the ALDS. If he starts game two, he’d be pitching at home where his ERA is 3.65 (lower than the 4.73 ERA he has posted on the road)
Ideally it would make sense to start a lefty, a righty, and then a lefty again, which would mean Burnett starts game two. Manager Joe Girardi has not yet revealed what his post-season rotation will be.
Johnson posted a record of 0-1 with a 7.04 ERA in two playoff starts with the Yankees. I think Burnett can do a little better than that.
And lastly there’s Andy Pettitte, who has been a rock for the Yankees in October. In the LDS, he own a career record of 5-3 with a 3.92 ERA (which includes his 2005 appearance with the Houston Astros)
I remember he was really the only starter who kept the Yankees in the 2007 ALDS vs. the Indians. He started game two in Cleveland and was just incredible. He tossed 6 1/3 innings, giving up no runs on seven hits. He walked two and struck out five.
I expect the usual out of Pettitte, who claimed his 14th victory of the year in the Yankees’ AL East-clinching win on Sunday.
The pitching is just there, which it hasn’t been these past few years.
The Yankee bullpen has been so valuable to the team’s success. In the AL East-post game celebration, many people mentioned the bullpen in terms of the Yankees’ ability to win games.
Consider Alfredo Aceves, a middle reliever with 10 wins. In games where the Yankees looked like they were out of it, Aceves would come in and just get hitters out.
No, his fastball isn’t terribly overwhelming, but he’s demonstrated the ability to fool a lot of hitters with his breaking ball and he has found ways to make big outs.
On July 5 vs. Toronto, Aceves came on in relief of Joba Chamberlain, and tossed four innings of one-hit ball. He struck out five batters and didn’t allow a walk. That was when I thought to myself, “This guy might take us a long way.”
He certainly has.
Then there’s Phil Hughes, who is just virtually un-hittable.
He has cemented his spot as the Yankees’ eighth inning setup man and like I said in Edition 10, he has carved a niche for himself in the ‘pen. He started seven games this year with things not going so well for him, but he was sent to the bullpen and everything went right.
Everything from Hughes’s velocity to his win-loss record improved when he made the transition from the rotation to the bullpen.
In a close game, I fear for the opposing teams. Take Saturday, for instance. The Yankees were up by one run in the top of the eighth. Hughes came in and just shut down the Red Sox, allowing no runs and fanning two for his 18th hold of the year.
Hughes has also only allowed 65 hits in the 84 1/3 innings he has pitched this season. Obviously that is way less than a hit per inning, so the Yankees can feel at ease knowing they have Hughes out there. He keeps the opposition off base.
Oh yeah, and the Yankees have Mariano Rivera.
In the ALDS alone, Rivera is 2-0 with 15 saves and 35 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings pitched. If that doesn’t say lights out, I’m not really sure what does.
This year, Rivera has 44 saves (at press time) and he’s only blown two.
The confidence in the bullpen is existent and if the Yankees are in a close-game situation, they will be in good shape with their bullpen in the state it is in now.
3) Addition by Subtraction
The Yankees got rid of some players and added other players prior to this year and to this point, it’s looking like they made the right moves.
I think what some people sometimes overlook is Jason Giambi’s two home runs in game seven of the 2003 ALCS (once again, “the Aaron Boone Game”) but other than that, he wasn’t a force in the playoffs the way Tino Martinez was.
Martinez had a rough time in the 1996 playoffs, but he basically exorcised his demons in 1998, putting up great numbers and even hitting a grand slam home run in game one of the World Series. Giambi never did that.
He was good in 2003 but was rendered basically useless when the Red Sox came back from 3-0 to beat the Yankees in 2004. I think the subtraction of Giambi was good move.
And along with the subtraction of Giambi came the addition to Mark Teixeira, who has fit in so well in 2009. Not only is he a gold glove caliber first baseman (something Giambi never was) but Teixeira is posting mind-boggling numbers and is an MVP candidate.
He is doing so many things to help the Yankees win this year and his performance could be one of the deciding factors in the playoffs.
It took a little while for Teixeira to settle in, but when Alex Rodriguez came back, he was all systems go. Since Rodriguez’s return on May 8, Teixeira is batting .311 with 32 home runs and owns a .596 slugging percentage.
They protect each other in the lineup, another positive factor that works in the Yankees’ favor and something they never really had these past few years.
The Yankees also possess speed in a guy like Brett Gardner, something they never really had in playoffs past. In a close game situation when the Yankees need a stolen base, they basically have the Flash on the bench, ready to run for them.
They have never had speed like Gardner on the bench (not to mention Gardner is pretty good on defense and not a shabby hitter, either) and once again, it’s something that could decide a playoff game.
If you add players like Teixeira and Gardner (while subtracting them from Giambi and even other useless players, like Carl Pavano and Bubba Crosby…and Gary Sheffield…and…well, this list could go on and on) to the other hitters who have just had great seasons, like Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Hideki Matsui, and Nick Swisher, the Yankee lineup in going to be awfully tough to pitch to in the playoffs.
The Yanks made themselves so much better by adding the right pieces to the puzzle while dumping the liabilities.
Well, on behalf of the fans, I’d like to say Congratulations to the 2009 New York Yankees. The AL East Title is yours, but we have more work to do.
I will be back next week with the final regular season edition of Yankee Yapping. I’ll hand out my end-of-season awards and offer more post-season analysis.
Until then, Go Yankees!!!