Last night, several memories from October of 2006 came back to me. That was a month which started off nicely and ended terribly. The Yankees had made the postseason after convincingly winning the American League East and were the favorites to win the World Series.
The Detroit Tigers dashed the Yanks’ dreams of winning the fall classic by eliminating them in the ALDS. What’s more, by the end of the month, my girlfriend broke up with me. Needless to say, in more ways than one, my spirit was overwhelmed within me; my heart was broken.
Minus the girlfriend issue, the same defeated feeling enveloped me after last night’s 6-1 loss.
The Yanks will not go back to the World Series to defend their crown and the Texas Rangers will represent the American League in the fall classic. Texas will face either the San Francisco Giants or the Philadelphia Phillies, pending the outcome of the NLCS.
28 will have to wait. Until next year, at the very least.
A number of things went wrong for the Yankees in the ALCS and there are plenty of things to consider heading into the off-season.
The ALCS: WHAT IN THE WORLD HAPPENED?!
I’ll start with the obvious: Phil Hughes.
In the division series against the Twins, Hughes started Game Three and he was an absolute stud. The young righty shut the Twins down in seven scoreless innings of work and picked up the win in the clinching game.
When I heard Hughes was starting Game Two of the ALCS vs. Texas, I was confident. Knowing Hughes’s past against the Rangers and taking into account that he won 18 games during the regular season, I had a great feeling about his chances. After Game Five, I had said that Hughes possessed the ability to bounce back after a rough outing, and he usually did during the regular season.
Although those feelings were well-founded, it did not translate to anything good.
Hughes pitched 8 2/3 innings over his two ALCS starts and coughed up a total of 11 earned runs on 14 hits. He walked seven batters and struck out six, becoming a huge part of why the Yankees lost this series. He did not give the Yankees quality, he did not give the Yankees a chance to win the two games he started, and he put the Yankees in a tough spot heading into Game Three.
In both games Hughes started in the ALCS, he registered the loss.
If Hughes had been able to win Game Two, with the Yankees going into a Game Three vs. Jesus Christ A.K.A. Cliff Lee, things could have been quite different. Every news outlet had the Yankees defeated in Game Three at the hands of Lee, and unfortunately for the Yanks it came to fruition.
And speaking of Lee, he was another vital part of the Yankees’ failure to win the pennant.
In Game Three, Lee simply dominated. He made the Yankees look like Little Leaguers and his numbers this postseason (vs. Tampa Bay and New York) are absoluteLEE ridiculous.
· 24 innings pitched
· 13 hits
· Two runs (both earned)
· One home run allowed
· One walk allowed
· 34 strikeouts
· Record of 3-0
· ERA of 0.75
Lee was plugged into the number three spot in the Rangers’ rotation because he started the final game of the ALDS vs. Tampa Bay and could not take the hill in Game One. If the pitching matchups had gone accordingly (Lee vs. CC Sabathia, ace vs. ace) I suppose things could have been different–not saying they would have, but who knows.
The Yankees would have had to face Lee tonight of they had gotten past the Rangers last night. I have a feeling now that it would not have gone well for the Bronx Bombers, but as I stated, anything can happen in a Game Seven. Would the Yanks finally have been able to get to Lee and finally remove him as thorn in their side?
Who’s to say what could have been. I guess it makes no difference now.
Another reason they were done for was the inconsistency in the offense. Save for their 7-2 Game Five win, when runners were in scoring position, the Yankee bats turned into ghosts. They could not get it done when runners were on second and third.
Prime example: Game Three. Brett Gardner led off with a single. Derek Jeter struck out, but Gardner moved to second on a stolen base. Nick Swisher grounded out allowing Gardner to move to third. Finally Mark Teixeira came up and was set back down, ending the frame without a Yankee crossing the plate.
They were only down by two runs at that point. They could not build the run; could not even cut the lead in half. And that was just one issue.
The two key players that needed to be producing and igniting the bats were about as silent as a 1920s picture film. Teixeira (before the injury) and Alex Rodriguez were as off as they could be and could not come up with the big hit when the Yanks needed it.
Teixeira was 0-for-14 in the ALCS before the hamstring injury put him out for the remainder of the year.
Rodriguez hit .190 in the ALCS with no homers, two RBIs, three walks and four strikeouts.
No offense, no pennant.
Teixeira and Rodriguez are two huge bats in the Yankee lineup. When they are not coming up when it matters, the Yankees do not win games. The offense went dead cold at the absolute worst time to go dead cold and as a result, they did not win.
Along with the offense, the middle relief served no help. Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, and David Robertson practically gave it up in the middle-to-late innings in close games, notably Games Three and Four. In Game Three the Yankees were trailing by two runs entering the top of the eighth inning.
Because of them, two runs turned into eight runs, making it impossible for the Yanks to even attempt to mount a comeback in the last two frames. The Yanks lost Game Three 8-0.
In Game Four, the Yankees were only down by two runs (5-3) going into the late innings. Logan and Chamberlain both surrendered earned runs and Mitre gave up three, once again not giving the offense a chance to come back from a deficit.
The Yankees lost Game Four 10-3.
One last factor I believe was pivotal in the Yankees’ ALCS loss was Manager Joe Girardi’s decision in Game Four. I am not going to say A.J. Burnett pitched a bad game; that could not be anything further from the truth. He made maybe one or two bad pitches (notably the Bengie Molina home run) but other than that he held his own very nicely; decent command of his pitches, nasty breaking ball, and a fastball up around 96-97 mph.
The Yankees were down two games to one. They had just been dominated by Lee and they were up against a pitcher who could easily be beaten in Tommy Hunter. Down by two games and in danger of going down 3-1 (which ultimately they did) I feel Girardi should have used CC Sabathia to get them back in the series.
Had Sabathia pitched Game Four, he would not have been on three days rest, but in actuality he would have been pitching on the fourth day of rest. I truly believe that had Sabathia started, pitched the way he usually does, and won Game Four, it would have gotten the Yanks’ morale back and things may have been different.
Burnett could have pitched Game Five on Wednesday afternoon and he probably could have won, especially if he had gone out and thrown the ball as well as he did in Game Four. Not to mention it would have given the Yankees a good chance to go up 3-2 on the way back to Arlington as opposed to down 3-2.
Again, who is to say if it would have been different. But I do know that if I were Girardi, I would have gone in a different direction down two games to one and going into Game Four. Using Sabathia on three days rest worked out perfectly in 2009.
If it worked then, why should it be any different now?
There were so many things not going the Yankees’ way; the Rangers had everything clicking for them. And for a team to win the World Series (let alone get to it) everything has to be going their way.
As for Next Year…
I expect a number of things to be different and the Yankees need to make a few decisions regarding some of their players.
· For one, Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez should not be welcomed back. If the front office so much as talks to either one of these two at the possibility of coming back, they need to have their heads examined.
· Marcus Thames. Do they want him to be the everyday designated hitter or would they rather have an All-Star in Lance Berkman? It’s a toughie. Thames hit 12 homers and came up in some big spots during the season. But aside from being a DH, Berkman can play the field and alleviate some pressure on Mark Teixeira at first base.
· Something needs to be done about the catching situation. As much as I love Francisco Cervelli, he has no power and struggles in terms of throwing runners out. Jesus Montero and/or Austin Romine in 2011? We’ll see how they do in Spring Training…
· Derek Jeter’s contract is up. The Yankees need to pay the captain and show him some respect. I would say give him four years with the option for a fifth and pay him well.
· Mariano Rivera said at the beginning of the year that he doesn’t know if he is going to pitch next year. I get the feeling he will (call it a hunch) but like Jeter his contract is up. The Yankees need to make him a respectable offer and get him back.
· Andy Pettitte will be 39 years old next June and a groin injury sidelined him for the better part of this past summer. His contract is also up, so it’s certainly up to him what he intends to do. If he wants to give it another try and re-sign with the Yanks, great. But if he wants to hang it up, that’s alright with me too. He’s done pretty darn well for himself over the years.
· If I were the Yankees I would definitely hold onto Kerry Wood. Unlike the majority of the bullpen, he pitched like a champ in the postseason. If Rivera signs back, he is the perfect man to set him up.
· Carl Crawford is a free agent. The Yankees need to decide whether or not Brett Gardner is the left fielder of the future or if they want a player with a little more power in Crawford (19 homers in 2010). I heard it said best earlier this year: “Gardner is almost like a cheaper version of Crawford.” Very true. If you want my opinion at the moment, Crawford no. Gardner yes.
· The manager. Along with Jeter, Rivera, and Pettitte, Joe Girardi’s contract is up. There has been some speculation as to whether or not he will come back to manage the Yankees and I have heard some chatter about the possibility of the Chicago Cubs wanting the Yankee skipper to manage them.
That speculation has me wondering, especially since the Cubs recently told Ryne Sandberg they do not want him to manage them. Are they waiting to negotiate with Girardi? I’m unsure. Kim Jones of the YES Network tweeted last night that she expects Girardi to return. She is more of an insider than me, so right now I believe her.
But then again, anything is possible when a lot of money is involved. If the Cubs make him the right offer, he might be leaving town. And the question is, if he does leave town who replaces him? I certainly have no answer to that question.
· The biggest free agent of them all: Cliff Lee. This past July, Lee was literally within hours of becoming a Yankee. The Yanks were ready to ship out minor leaguers and money to Seattle and land the dominate lefty, but it was not meant to be. Texas swiped him out from under the Yanks’ nose and as a result, he helped lead them past the Yankees to the pennant.
Next year Lee is a free agent and according to several insiders, Texas will never be able to pay him, especially if the Rangers win the title; if Texas wins it all, Lee’s value will steadily rise and all the big market teams including the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels will undoubtedly be out to get him.
If you want my insight as of right now, Lee will be in pinstripes in 2011. When the Yanks almost got him from Seattle this year, Lee and Sabathia’s wives were talking about where he might live in New York.
Plus from their Cleveland days, Sabathia and Lee are great friends. In fact when they squared off against one another in the ’09 World Series, they spent time with each other off the field. Just from that, I have a feeling Lee is headed for the big apple.
Derek Jeter usually says, “It’s a failed season if we (the Yankees) do not win the World Series.” The captain has the attitude of the late George Steinbrenner, and I know that somewhere in Heaven last night, the Boss had that disappointed look on his face; he was turning his head and throwing his hands outwardly as if to say, “The hell with this.”
I know that’s what I was doing.
I felt at the beginning of the season that a lot of the magic had left the team. I know Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera did not have the best years numerically this season (especially Cabrera) but they were all part of what made the 2009 Yankees so special.
While the yanks were getting beaten last night by a clearly better team in the Texas Rangers, I thought about Damon stealing two bases in one play and later scoring on an Alex Rodriguez double. I thought about Matsui single-handedly tearing apart the Phillies in Game Six of the World Series last season–an accomplishment worthy of the World Series MVP honor.
I even thought about Cabrera’s weak groundout that turned into an error in Game Two of the ’09 ALCS, in which Jerry Hairston came around and scored the winning run.
And then I wondered where that all magic went? It simply wasn’t inside the group of players known as the 2010 Yankees.
Yet it was inside the Texas Rangers and I tip my cap to them. I won’t act as a sore loser; I won’t be angry with them, they wanted it more. The magic that was in the 2009 Yankees is in the 2010 Rangers. Perhaps now they can do what the Yankees did last year; go into the fall classic and show the National League who rules the MLB.
In any event it was disappointing for every Yankee fan. We took a huge step forward last year, we seemed to be moving in the right direction but it was just halted at the hands of a hotter team.
Yet who knows what can happen next year. If the Yankees make the correct moves in the off-season, they will be the team to be beat. 2009 may serve as our modern day 1996, meaning:
The Yanks won it all in 1996. They lost it in 1997, only to go on a huge World Series winning streak in 1998, ’99, and ’00.
In 2009 the Yankees won the World Series, but came up short in 2010. Maybe 2011, 2012, and 2013 can be the next Yankee Dynasty.
At this time I’d like to extend a HUGE THANKS to everyone who read and kept up with Yankee Yapping this year. It was a fun season. I only wish it had turned out a little better in the end for our beloved Bronx Bombers.
The Yankee Yapping Facebook page is up to just over 730 “likes.” I hope it can grow a little more and maybe get up to 1,000 soon! Once again thanks for the support. This blog would be nothing without its loyal readers.
I’ll definitely be blogging during the off-season and over the winter while the hot stove cooks.
Just keep your heads up Yankee fans. And remember that we’ll always have 2009 and our 27 titles. It’s not the end of the world and the Yankees WILL be back on top in the future. It always happens.
Until then, GO YANKEES!!!
The Texas Rangers will have to wait for another day. And if the Yankees have their way in the end, they will have to wait for another year.
Facing elimination in Game Five of the American League Championship Series, the New York Yankees pulled through and beat the Rangers 7-2, coming off three consecutive losses. The ALCS will now move to a Game Six on Friday night with the Yanks now trailing three games to two.
No A.L. pennant for Texas yet. The Yankees are alive.
The Bronx Bombers broke out of their offensive slump in the bottom of the second, plating three runs to take command. Jorge Posada brought some redemption to himself following his unproductive pinch-hit at bat last night. The Yankee catcher ignited the offense with an RBI single to score Alex Rodriguez.
Later in the frame, Curtis Granderson singled to score Lance Berkman and Posada came around to score on a throwing error by Jeff Francoeur.
With the Yanks leading 3-0 in the bottom of the third, a scuffling Nick Swisher came out of his funk with a solo home run to left field, his first of the ALCS, putting the Yanks ahead 4-0.
Right after Swisher’s shot, Robinson Cano took Texas starter C.J. Wilson deep with a home run of his own, his fourth of the ALCS, giving the Yanks a convincing 5-0 edge. With the homer, Cano tied a record for home runs in the ALCS, becoming the 10th player in Major League Baseball history to have four homers in an LCS.
Josh Hamilton, who was 1-for-4 with a strikeout today, also has four homers this series.
In the bottom of the fifth, Berkman drove in a run with a sacrifice fly scoring Swisher, and Granderson smacked a solo home run in the eighth, sticking the proverbial nail in the Rangers’ Game Five coffin.
“I saw something in the players’ eyes; I saw determination and there was a good mood during batting practice,” Yankee manager Joe Girardi said to the media after the victory.
“I felt like they would do it, because as I have been saying they are resilient. We have been through difficult games and have bounced back. As a manager, you appreciate it.”
Texas only managed two runs off Yankee ace CC Sabathia, who was certainly in better control than he was in Game One of the series. Sabathia threw six innings and gave up two runs on 11 hits. He walked no batters and struck out seven.
Sabathia bent, but he did not break.
The only real pest for Sabathia was Matt Treanor, who hit a solo home run to left field in the fifth and drove in a run with a groundout to third in the sixth, which plated David Murphy.
Other than Treanor’s RBIs, Sabathia battled valiantly.
Kerry Wood followed Sabathia nicely and held the Rangers to no runs in relief, tossing two scoreless innings and only allowing one hit. He also picked Elvis Andrus off second base, his second pickoff of the ALCS. In Game One, Wood picked Ian Kinsler off first.
Mariano Rivera closed the game out with a scoreless ninth, giving the Yankees their first win of the ALCS since Game One.
Now the Yanks and Rangers will get their boots, spurs, 10 gallon hats, and stirrups, because they are heading back to Texas for Game Six on Friday night.
Phil Hughes (1-1, 5.70 ERA) will take the hill for New York, looking to push the series to a Game Seven on Saturday night. Hughes will be opposed by Colby Lewis (1-0, 1.69 ERA).
As I am well-aware, I did not blog about Game Four, because it was too difficult to even think about; too painful. Game Four basically personified this ALCS up until today, as the Yankees seemed to be in control only to have everything collapse on them. A.J. Burnett was dealing and pitching nicely, but along came Bengie Molina; he spoiled it with the two-run home run.
And from there…it turned ugly. A 10-3 loss and the Yankees’ backs are against the wall.
But they responded in a huge way this afternoon. Facing elimination the offense woke up and did what they needed to do to win. I had posted something derogatory about Swisher earlier in the day and (of course) as soon as I said something bad about him, he homered.
“Nick Swisher walks into a bar. The bartender says, ‘We have a drink named after you.’ Swisher replies, ‘Really? You have a drink named I stink in the postseason?’”
And as soon as I said that, he went deep. Figures. I’m just thankful he did something productive.
But if the offense clicks on Friday the way they did today, the chances of a Game Seven are very likely. Every Yankee hitter has practically been dormant for the past three games, but they awoke from their slumber today. Seven runs, nine hits, and they drew six walks.
They need just two more games like that and the pennant is theirs.
If you ask me, I am looking at this situation the same way I looked at the American League Division Series. Right now, there are factors working in the Yanks’ favor and things working against them…
For the Yankees
· Phil Hughes in Game Six.
Not only has he pitched in an elimination game and dominated (Game Three of the ALDS, October of 2007 vs. Cleveland) but he has done better on the road. Especially in Texas; after all (as noted several times) he nearly no-hit the Rangers in May of 2007. Not to mention, Hughes has not really had two consecutive starts in a row where he has been knocked around. When he lost this season, he usually bounced back with a solid game.
· Andy Pettitte in Game Seven.
Pettitte is the winningest pitcher in postseason history and in the only game he pitched in the ALCS, he was a stud. He made one mistake to Josh Hamilton, but other than that, he was lights out. Pettitte clinched Game Three of the ALDS this year and was on the mound for every clinching game in 2009, including the World Series.
· Game Seven, if the Yankees get there
The Yankees know what it’s like to play in a Game Seven. Texas has never been there. If the Yankees win on Friday, it’s a brand new ALCS; it’s winner-take-all. Game Seven is basically a one-game playoff. The Yankees know what it’s like to be in the position of win or go home in the ALCS. Texas has faced elimination in the past, but never in a Game Seven; not in the Championship Series.
And as we have all seen in the past, especially 2003 and 2004, ANYTHING can happen in Game Seven.
Anything goes and everyone is available. “No holds barred,” if you will.
· The Way Alex Rodriguez Swung the Bat Today
If the Yanks want to win, they need their cleanup man to hit. That’s the bottom line. Today A-Rod picked up one hit, walked twice, and scored a run, letting everyone know that he is not asleep and can come through when need be.
Rodriguez spent three years in Texas, dominating in offensive categories. Hopefully he can brush off some of that Texas power and dominate Arlington the way he did when he played there.
If A-Rod is on, look out Texas pitchers.
· Texas Record at home this Postseason
At home this October, the Rangers have only won one game, which was Game Two of the ALCS. They are 1-3 in Arlington, and they have only averaged 4.3 runs per game in their home ballpark this postseason.
Against the Yankees
· Cliff Lee in Game Seven.
It’s hard to ignore the giant elephant in the room. There’s no doubt that Lee was a monster in Game Three. A scary monster; more terrifying than Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Dracula, The Frankenstein Monster, Jaws, the Wolfman, and the Boogeyman combined.
I understand Halloween is almost upon us, but I really do not want to see a monster like Lee in a big game. I’d rather wait until Halloween to be afraid of things like that.
· Josh Hamilton
He has killed the Yankees this whole ALCS. With his fans in Texas cheering him on, and the fact that people are already talking him up to be the MVP of the series, Hamilton (like Lee) frightens me. He also has four homers off Yankee pitching, solidifying his status as a thorn in the Yanks’ side.
· Absence of Mark Teixeira
Yesterday, the Yankees’ first baseman was lost for the remainder of the postseason, running awkwardly to first base on a ground ball and injuring his hamstring in the process. Although “Big Tex” had not being producing much in the ALCS (0-for-14 in the series) he is still a presence; he still has that force about him that can scare pitchers and he has the ability to make a pitcher labor.
As bad as he was performing, he is still Mark Teixeira. He was there when the Yanks needed him to come through in Game One of the ALDS; that home run to untie the game is not far from my mind.
· Lance Berkman’s Fall
Going for a popup in foul territory today, the newly appointed Yankee first baseman took a bit of a tumble and landed squarely on his rear end. According to Girardi, Berkman will have to undergo some treatment before the game on Friday night.
“He hurt his lower back/upper glut,” the skipper said.
After the fall, Berkman stuck it out and played the remainder of the game. Today he was 0-for-2 with a walk, an RBI, and a run scored, but he did not pick up a hit. That being said, there’s no telling how Berkman will swing the bat the rest of the postseason.
· David Murphy in Game Six
Everyone must keep in mind that the Yankees know where they are. As Manager Girardi said, they are resilient; the have been down before but have come back to win, much like they did today. The skipper said that he is confident with his club and they went out today and played a good game.
And that they did. The Yankees undoubtedly played with soul today.
Now what every Yankee fan has to do now is just believe.
Believe in Phil Hughes.
Believe in the offense and their ability to score runs.
Believe in the bullpen.
Believe. Believe. Believe.
And to paraphrase Johnny Damon after Game Three of the ALCS in 2004,
“If there’s a group of guys who can do it, it’s us!!!” (I’m sorry I cannot call the Yankees “idiots.” Sorry Johnny. Wish you were still here, by the way)
See you all after Game Six.
The Yankees trailed the Texas Rangers 2-0 for the better part of Game Three of the American League Championship Series tonight. You would have thought they were trailing 200-0 the way Texas starter Cliff Lee was dealing.
The Rangers went on to win 8-0 behind Lee’s gem, putting themselves ahead two games to one in the ALCS and setting up Game Four tomorrow night.
Up until the ninth inning, the difference in the game was a first inning, two-run home run off the bat of Josh Hamilton. After that, it was “The Cliff Lee Show,” as the dominant lefty puzzled the Yankees for eight strong innings of two-hit ball. Lee walked only one batter and struck out 13, proving once again that he owns the Yankees when it comes to big games.
Case in point: Game One of the World Series last season.
The closest the Yankees ever got to a run tonight was in the bottom of the sixth inning. Brett Gardner led off with a single, exciting the Yankee crowd. After a steal of second, Derek Jeter struck out and Nick Swisher grounded out, allowing Gardner to move to third. Mark Teixeira ended the inning with a groundout to short, silencing the boisterous Bronx and leaving Gardner stranded.
Yankee starter Andy Pettitte matched Lee well, tossing seven innings of two-run ball allowing five hits. The winningest pitcher in postseason history did not walk any batters and struck out five
In a word, Pettitte was studly. Unfortunately it did not translate into another playoff win.
Up 2-0 in the ninth, the Rangers put up six more runs up on the board. Nelson Cruz and Bengie Molina drove in runs with RBI singles and Mitch Moreland singled to knock in two. Elvis Andrus followed suit with an RBI double of his own. Moreland came in to score on a wild pitch by reliever Sergio Mitre, topping off the Rangers’ ninth inning outburst.
Quite a forgettable night for the Yankees, to say the least.
In a critical Game Four tomorrow night, the Yankees will send A.J. Burnett to the mound, who has not pitched since Oct. 2. There is certainly going to be a lot of talk about whether or not the Yankees should use CC Sabathia on short rest or risk it and give the ball to Burnett. However, according to the way Sabathia practiced today, Burnett will start Game Five.
This was easily one of the more frustrating games I have seen all season. As I said, you would think the Yanks were trailing 200-0 all night, not 2-0. The offense was overmatched and I can only say that they needed to wake up. Easier said than done, but Texas is sending a pitcher out tomorrow who can be hit, as evidenced by the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS.
Tampa Bay chased Hunter from his start in four innings.
1-for -21 (this whole ALCS) with runners in scoring position is not going to get it done.
On the postgame show, analyst Michael Kay made an excellent point. He said that he would have loved to see what would have happened if the score was still 2-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Would Lee have stayed out there? (Ron Washington later said he would have sent him out)
If Neftali Feliz had come in only up by two runs and the stadium rocking, at 22 years old, would he have been able to hold it together? Would that magic have sparked for the Yankees? Would they have come back to win only down two runs?
I guess we’ll never know.
It seems that Yankee skipper Joe Girardi will stay with his decision to start Burnett tomorrow. Everyone in the Yankee-fan world (including me) is scared. He has not pitched in 17 days and as we all know, nobody knows how he will do.
With Burnett, it is feast or famine; he is lights out or he gets his lights knocked out. This season vs. Texas, Burnett is 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA in three starts. The numbers in Game Four are undoubtedly leaning the Yankees’ way, in contrast to Game Three when everyone expected Jesus Christ A.K.A. Cliff Lee to dominate us, which he did.
But the regular season numbers don’t really mean much at this point. The postseason is a new season.
The Yankees’ are now trailing 2-1 in the ALCS.
And now their postseason hopes are lying squarely on the shoulders of a man named A.J. …
If Burnett does not pitch well or more importantly if the Yankee bats do not wake up from their coma, winter may come early for the Bronx Bombers.
“We are only down 2-1 and we have to go out and play a good game tomorrow. We’ll feel different. It’s frustrating that we lost two in a row, but we’re resilient; you don’t win 95 games in our division without being resilient. We’ve lost two in a row before this season and have come back to win the next one. Tomorrow is a new day. The sun will come up and we’ll get them tomorrow.”
–Joe Girardi, after the game.
Game One was a blur to me. I wish Game Two was a blur to me instead.
The American League Championship Series is tied 1-1 with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers are heading back to Yankee Stadium for Game Three, which will be played on Monday night.
Game One: Yankees 6, Rangers 5. And I don’t remember much about it.
My cousin Joe had a few people over at his place to watch Game One, and let’s just say I had a few drinks. I don’t get drunk often, but after Josh Hamilton’s three run homer, I figured I should start drinking. I felt I needed to ease the pain of a Game One Yankee loss.
But by the time the eighth inning came and the Yankees mounted their comeback, I was gone. Here is what I do remember about it:
· I told everyone at my cousin’s house that I one day want to have a son and name him “Merrill.” I have no idea why I said this or where that came from.
· There’s a picture of me sliding across the floor with my arms outstretched, as if to say “Safe!”
· I supposedly jumped on my friend Brian several times screaming, “They came back! They came back! I told you they’d come back!”
· When the Yankees started their rally, apparently I acted nuts, jumping up and down and waving my hands around like a third base coach.
For all the kids reading this, don’t drink. Alcohol makes you say and do weird things.
Yet there was certainly a lot to be happy about. The Yankees stole the game from under the Rangers; in all honesty, they were outplayed until the eighth. The Yanks really had no business winning the game, what with their ace CC Sabathia only throwing up four innings of five run ball. Sabathia uncharacteristically walked four batters and only struck out three.
In a word, the Yankee ace was off. He brought nothing with him to Arlington.
Dustin Moseley bailed him out with a great performance in relief and for his effort he registered the win. Kerry Wood also pitched in with a good inning and a pickoff of Ian Kinsler. And who else but Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth to pick up his 42nd postseason save and secure the thieved win.
Yankees go up 1-0. Fast forward to my hangover today.
Rangers 7, Yankees 2. And I wish I couldn’t remember anything about it.
Following in the footsteps of Sabathia last night, Phil Hughes brought nothing with him to the ballpark. The 24 year-old righty pitched four innings and gave up seven earned runs on 10 hits. He walked three batters and struck out three.
The Rangers pounded every mistake Hughes made. He was leaving his pitches out over the plate, missing locations, and the Rangers feasted. Especially David Murphy, who not only smacked a solo home run off Hughes, but also knocked in a run with a double.
Hughes started Game Three of the American League Division Series at home, but was put into the number two spot in the starting rotation because of his history, not only on the road but in Texas. Along with giving up fewer home runs on the road as opposed to home this season, Hughes nearly tossed a no-hitter against the Rangers in Texas in May of 2007.
I understand the logic of using Hughes in Game Two. Unfortunately it did not translate or pay off.
The only bright spot for the Yanks was Robinson Cano, who blasted a long home run into the upper deck in right field. It was his second home run in as many games, as Cano has certainly been swinging a hot bat this month.
The ALCS will now have to go at least five games, and the next three will be played on the Yankees’ turf.
Playing at the big ballpark in the Bronx probably doesn’t bother Rangers’ Game Three Starter Cliff Lee, who won two ALDS games on the road vs. the Tampa Bay Rays. Not to mention Lee shut down the Yankees in Game One of the World Series last year, puzzling the Yankee offense for a complete game win.
But the Yanks cannot let Lee and his hype get to them. It’s not an automatic win for Texas.
The Bombers win turn to veteran lefty and the winningest pitcher in postseason history, Andy Pettitte. At 19 wins, Pettitte will gun for his 20th in Game Three, looking to flip the “on switch,” if you will; erase the two subpar starts by Sabathia and Hughes in the first two games.
Overall it was a rough loss for the Yankees today. But I advise the Yankees and all Yankee fans everywhere to keep their heads up; do not assume Game Three is a loss because of Lee. The Yankees just have to be a lot more aggressive offensively than they were today (especially Mark Teixeira…it seemed he wasn’t swinging at any good pitches today). They just have to hop on Lee and swing the bat.
Everyone just remember a number of things during the off-day tomorrow
1) The series is TIED, the Yankees are not down. They are not facing elimination on Monday night and there is a little more margin for error in the ALCS because it is a seven game series.
2) The Yankees have been here before.
3) Anything can happen in October. Just because Lee has dominated us in the past does not mean he will do it on Monday.
4) A.J. Burnett will not see the ball in Game Four if the Yankees lose Game Three…but then again, he could have done exactly what Sabathia and Hughes did today (So everyone can probably stop crucifying Burnett and start worrying more about the rest of the rotation)
5) Everyone just relax. Enjoy some NFL action tomorrow and we’ll go back to the ALCS on Monday.
As announced on Monday, the New York Yankees will go with a four-man rotation for the American League Championship Series against either the Tampa Bay Rays or Texas Rangers. What this most likely means…
CC Sabathia pitches Game One.
Andy Pettitte pitches Game Two.
Phil Hughes pitches Game Three.
A.J. Burnett pitches Game Four.
Yankee beat reporter Bryan Hoch posted his story to the Yankees’ official Facebook page, sparking an overwhelming reaction from the fans. Much like Burnett’s hot-and-cold behavior, some of the fans were upset and some backed the lanky right-hander.
Another chapter in the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story that is Burnett. Here are some fans responses to the Yankees’ decision of using Burnett in the ALCS:
· “Oh no……Not A.J. We want to win!”–Kibra Phillip
· “Joe better have the bullpen up in the first. He CANNOT allow this idiot to give up seven runs again. This is not the regular season. His excuses are over. There is no such thing as managing for the long haul.“–Greg Baron
· “Please…PLEASE don’t blow it!”–Dawn Diaz
· “Why are they using Burnett?! Keep him on the bench!”–Fran Rutigliano
· “A.J. is horrible.”–David Leary
· “Burnett stinks and does not deserve a spot in the playoffs. What is wrong with a three-man rotation?”–Stuart Knee
· “God help us all.”–Brenda Canizares
· “Do not want.”–Kelly Adcox.
· “Sit him DOWN!”–Teri Horta
· “Burnett is a waste of $82 million. He chokes!”–Mark Slugocki
· “Don’t screw this up, Burnett!”–Brian Trimarchi
· “Well, there’s a loss.”–Amy Fuda Jahnke
· “That’s trouble for the Yankees. A.J. is brutal.”–Patrick Auletto
· “Guaranteed Loss.”–Dillon Coello
· “LOSER. For a veteran pitcher, he doesn’t know how to pitch.”–Allan Reid Nissen
· “Don’t start him.”–Donald Coombs
Obviously many people do not believe in Burnett. However, there are quite a few people who think he can pull it out and pitch as effectively as he did in last year’s postseason:
· “Burnett can redeem himself with a great outing, but admittedly, given his weak season, we are left to hope rather than expect an effective start. Still, in your corner A.J.!”–Tim Rake
· “Call it a hunch, but I think A.J. will rise to the occasion in Game Four. He’s definitely due.“–Jorge Rafael Ruiz
· “If A.J. performs well in the postseason all will be forgotten…“–Mark Consenza
· “Now is the time for A.J. to prove people wrong.”–Kyle Henebury
· “In Joe I trust…”–Nicholas Castano
· “Yankees fans at the stadium should do their best to encourage A.J. and give him a boost. His issues may be in his head. Stand up, cheer, and give the guy some support.“–Anthony Nuzzi
· “I have a feeling Burnett will do a great job!”–Millie Martin
· A.J. deserves a chance. Let him prove himself.”–Dean Butcher
· “He had an awful season that’s obvious but we’re talking about a guy who throws 95mph with incredible movement and has a knee buckling curve ball. Potential doesn’t guarantee wins but when a guy has that kind of talent you can’t blame the Yankees for trying to catch lightning in a bottle.”–D.J. Braman
· “He has the nastiest stuff. He just needs to go out there and do it!”–Bill Treadway
· “Stay strong A.J.”–Brigette Burnett (A little curious about this fan…)
· “I will say, Burnett has not had the best season. But who started Game Two of the World Series last year? Who was the one who beat the Red Sox in the second game of this season? He has potential. He has some of the best stuff in the league, he just needs some work. I guarantee he is working his tail off right now so he can be a stud when he pitches.”–Hunter White
· “Show some confidence in the man. It’s easier to pitch with confidence if you know you have the fans behind you. If Dave Eiland believes in him, I think the rest of us armchair managers can too, for one game.“–Andy Fagerlund
· “I hope he becomes unstoppable and shuts up all the sports commentators…that’s what I’m praying for…”–Joe Santiago, Jr.
· “A.J. deserves a shot! We all know he had a rocky season but he still won 10 games and the Yankees’ offense wasn’t productive during most of his losses. GO YANKEES!”–Frank Berardi
· “Come on, Burnett. You are due for an awesome game.”–Mark Daunt
· “Hopefully A.J. finds his rhythm. He is a Yankee for a reason and I hope he shows it come the ALCS.”–Zac Gallo
· “I fully support A.J. and have faith that he will perform well. And all you haters should be ashamed of yourselves. If you’re a fan of the team, you support the ENTIRE team. That includes management decisions. A.J. is just a reminder to us all that the Yankees aren’t perfect and that’s just how it is. Get over it!”–Val Scho
As you can easily see by the fans’ reactions, there are naysayers and believers; people who cannot stand the Yankees’ decision and those who are willing to give Burnett a chance to win back the fans.
Along with all these comments, I have to say, a few Yankee fans made me laugh; their words were quite amusing (albeit ridiculous) in the midst of all the skepticism and belief.
· “I’m going to jump off a hill.”–Lorenzo Bellone
· “He will be the only pitcher in MLB history to lose a simulated game.”–Joe Castellano
· “A.J. needs to find a new line of work.”–Eddie Bonnier
· “I’m sure Swisher could make himself available.”–Brian Lesko
· “Hopefully he pitches on a weekend so we can all drink. We’ll probably need it.”–MaryLou DiPalo
· “NO! Kill me now.”–Lisa Korman Minnaker
· “Pray for severe rainstorms.”–Neil Berkman
· “A.J. will pitch the second no-hitter of this postseason. Just watch.”–Taresha Foxx
· “I would rather be tased than watch Burnett pitch another game in pinstripes.”–Mike DeTraglia
“My dead grandmother can pitch better than this guy.”–Johnny Luis Reeves
· “Cringing…ulcer…the runs…and lock jaw!”–David Wilson
· “Please, A.J. Stay home and watch the playoffs on TV.”–Edwin Maradiaga
· “Are they TRYING not to make it to the World Series? This is like the Knicks bringing back Isaiah!”–Rich Kim
Finally, among all the hostile, faithful, and funny comments, I came across the most intelligent one. I could not track down who said it, but I totally agree with it…
“I reserve my comment until after he pitches.”
And that’s where I’ll leave it.
Break out the brooms, the Swiffer Wet Jets, the dust pans, the mops…whatever cleaning device you prefer. Tonight, the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins by a score of 6-1, completing a three-game sweep in the American League Division Series.
The Yanks will now vie for the A.L. pennant against either The Texas Rangers or Tampa Bay Rays.
The story of the night offensively was the work of Marcus Thames and Nick Swisher. Already up 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth, Thames blasted an opposite-field home run, a shot that landed in the right field stands. It marked Thames’s first career postseason home run and it put the Yanks up 4-0.
Swisher followed suit in the bottom of the seventh with a solo home run, his second career postseason round-tripper, striking the proverbial nail in the Twins’ coffin.
Jorge Posada started the Yankee scoring in the bottom of the second with an RBI single, knocking in Robinson Cano. Mark Teixeira followed with an RBI single of his own in the bottom of the third to score Swisher, giving the Yankees their early 2-0 lead.
After Thames’s home run in the fourth, Curtis Granderson scored on a sacrifice fly by Brett Gardner, after stealing second and reaching third on an error by catcher Joe Mauer.
Phil Hughes made his first postseason start for the Yankees and he looked as sharp as a brilliantly crafted katana. Hughes tossed seven strong innings of work and gave up no runs on four hits. The 24 year-old right-hander only issued one walk and struck out six batters on his way to a win.
The only blemish on the Yankee pitching was an RBI single off the bat of Orlando Hudson, which plated Danny Valencia in the top of the eighth off reliever Kerry Wood. With one out and the bases loaded, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi summoned Boone Logan and David Robertson to record the last two outs.
Logan and Robertson delivered, escaping the frame without another run allowed.
Mariano Rivera closed it down in a non-save situation, tossing a perfect ninth inning to secure an ALDS victory.
It should comes as no surprise to me that the Yankees won this series. I’ll admit, I was somewhat skeptical coming into this year’s ALDS, simply because of what the Twins had going for them.
I stated in the preview that they had a tremendous record at home (53-28 at home, which I believe was the best in the A.L.). With home field advantage, I never would have guessed that the Yankees could take two from the Twins at Target Field.
In addition to home field advantage, I thought the Twins may have been able to handle Andy Pettitte, being that he had not won a game since July 8. However, Pettitte came up huge in Game Two and was arguably more effective than CC Sabathia in Game One.
I also made mention of Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer, all of whom I imagined would come up with timely hits in big spots.
Not even close.
Aside from Cuddyer’s Game One, two-run homer, they were ghosts.
I just do not have an answer. The Twins must be perplexed and probably frustrated. I guess they just weren’t meant to beat the Yankees. It’s not as though they have a bad team, either; I think that’s why manager Ron Gardenhire is so confused.
This season, Minnesota was able to beat out a competitive Chicago White Sox team and a fairly resilient team in the Detroit Tigers (at least up until late July-early August). They captured the A.L. Central for the second consecutive year and just could not maintain their bearings when the calendar reached October.
I thought that maybe the Twins could quell their postseason demons, meaning the Yankees. In my head I drew a comparison between the Twins this year and the Yankees last year. The Bombers just could not beat the Angels in the past, as they had been eliminated by them twice (2002, ’05).
Could the Twins, with a number of things finally working in their favor, beat the Yankees in the playoffs, the way the Yankees finally beat the Angels in the playoffs last year? Could the Twins, who just opened their new Stadium, win it all in their first season in their new Stadium the way the Yanks had last year?
No. It could not be done. The Twins fell victim to the almighty Yankees for the fourth time.
A clean sweep.
Inside the Series
· The Twins were .111 in the ALDS with runners in scoring position. The Yankees hit .360 with men on second and third.
· Curtis Granderson hit .455 in the ALDS, his first postseason series in pinstripes.
· The Twins have now lost 12 consecutive postseason games. Nine of those 12 losses have come at the hands of the Bronx Bombers.
· With his RBI single in the second inning tonight, Jorge Posada passed Mickey Mantle for ninth place on the postseason RBIs list.
· Capturing the win in Game Two, Andy Pettitte now has 19 career postseason wins. No other pitcher in baseball history has as many.
· Before Game Two of the ALDS, Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire burned his uniform from Game One. Well. That didn’t work.
· Heading into Game Two, lefties were hitting .292 off Carl Pavano. Lance Berkman hit a home run and a double off Pavano…from the left side of the plate.
· Mariano Rivera now has 41 postseason saves and 600 all-time in his career (including the playoffs). Brad Lidge is second on baseball’s all-time postseason saves list with 16.
· Rivera now also owns an all-time postseason ERA of 0.72.
· The Yankees outscored the Twins 17-7 in the ALDS.
· Phil Hughes picked up his first postseason win as a starter. He previously won a playoff game against the Cleveland Indians in 2007, coming on in relief of an injured Roger Clemens.
· All-Star catcher and 2009 A.L. MVP Joe Mauer registered no RBIs in the ALDS.
· Mark Teixeira led the Yankees in RBIs with five for the ALDS. Granderson knocked in four runs and Posada drove in three.
· The Yankees became the seventh MLB franchise to win a World Series and then open the next postseason series with a sweep. The last time the Yankees accomplished the feat was 1998-1999, when they beat the Texas Rangers in the ALDS.
Once again, the ALCS will start on Friday Oct. 15 in either Tampa Bay or Texas, pending the outcome of the Rays vs. Rangers series. According to reports, Girardi will meet with his coaching staff to discuss the pitching rotation for the ALCS, needing to decide whether or not to utilize a three or four man rotation.
It all depends on A.J. Burnett’s focus and confidence level.
But that’s another story for later on in the week. Right now, the Yankees can rest knowing they will once again compete for a chance at their 40th American League pennant; they have another chance to once again represent the A.L. in the World Series.
Rays? Rangers? We’ll soon find out. As for tonight…
I cannot say anything to the Twins. Residents of St. Paul and Minneapolis are probably shaking their heads right now, wondering what they need to do to beat the Yankees; what can they do to finally get over the postseason hump.
And maybe, just maybe…Twins fans are wondering if there’s even an answer.
I certainly do not have one.
Tied at two in the top of the seventh inning of tonight’s game, Minnesota Twins’ starter Carl Pavano pumped a 91mph fastball right over the plate to Yankees’ designated hitter Lance Berkman on a 1-2 count. Pavano took a few steps off the mound, expecting home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt to ring Berkman up.
No such luck.
The pitch was called a ball and then, with a 2-2 count, Berkman doubled in Jorge Posada, giving the Yankees a 3-2 lead. New York added two more runs after the botched call and went on to win the game 5-2 and take a two games-to-none lead over the Twins in American League Division Series.
“It was a tough pitch,” Berkman told the media after the game.
“I thought it was in and off the plate. The umpire was not giving much inside all night and he was pretty consistent with that. I really thought it was in, that’s why I didn’t swing.”
Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire, who is said to have a troubled relationship with Wendelstedt, was run from the game after arguing the call. Despite their rocky history, Gardenhire stated after the game that he spoke with Wendelstedt and they have “cleared the air.”
In addition to his RBI double in the seventh, Berkman broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the fifth with a solo home run, an opposite-field blast that landed in the Twins’ bullpen behind the left-centerfield wall.
Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter contributed to the Yankee scoring, both with RBI singles. Granderson drove in Brett Gardner in the seventh while Jeter padded the Yankees’ lead in the ninth, driving in Berkman.
Alex Rodriguez initially got the Yanks on the board with a sacrifice fly in the fourth, driving in Granderson.
Minnesota only managed two runs off postseason stud Andy Pettitte. In the bottom of the second, Danny Valencia drove in Delmon Young with a sacrifice fly to right field. Later in the sixth Orlando Hudson got around on a hanging, inside curve ball and drove it into the left field stands for a solo home run that knotted the game at two.
Aside from those two hiccups, Pettitte was dealing. He tossed seven strong innings of work and scattered five hits while walking one batter and striking out seven. With the win, Pettitte now has 19 career playoff victories, the most of any pitcher in baseball history.
Backing Pettitte was Kerry Wood, who tossed a perfect eighth inning out of ‘pen. Mariano Rivera nailed it down in the ninth for his 41st career postseason save and second in as many nights. Rivera also lowered his postseason earned run average to 0.73, which is the lowest all-time among any pitcher.
Pettitte and Rivera seem to be a dynamic postseason duo.
The Yankees have now beaten the Twins in eight consecutive postseason games dating back to 2004 and will look for their ninth win in a row on Saturday night at Yankee Stadium.
If you want my honest opinion, the blown call really wasn’t fair. Much like Francisco Liriano last night, Carl Pavano was holding his own for the better part of the game. He finished the night with six innings pitched, he scattered 10 hits, gave up four earned runs, only walked one batter, and struck out three.
Pavano didn’t pitch poorly and he caught a bad break on that blown call. That almost personifies his whole career–a bad call; a bad break. I would have rather had Berkman strike out looking and win the game another way, not by a bad call by the home plate ump.
I hate to say it…
But I don’t think the Twins have it in them. I don’t think they will ever be a team built strong enough for the playoffs. They have not won a postseason game since 2004 and the Yankees have just had their number for the better part of the past 10-12 years. When you really think about it:
· The Yankees eliminated them from postseason contention three times in the last seven years, and potentially could eliminate them four times in eight years if they win this year’s ALDS.
· The Yankees threw a perfect game against Minnesota (David Wells; May 17, 1998)
· Under Ron Gardenhire, the Yankees are now 56-18 against the Twins.
· The Twins have been outscored 63-34 in all postseason games since winning Game One of the 2004 ALDS vs. the Yankees.
· The Twins have now lost 11 straight postseason games. Eight of those losses have come at the hands of the Yankees.
· Going back to last season (including the 2009 and ’10 postseasons) the Twins are 2-14 in their last 16 meetings with the Yankees. Both of their wins came this past regular season (May 16 and May 27 this year)
I refuse to say that the Twins are done right now. In 2004, I repeatedly stated that the Red Sox were done after losing three straight American League Championship Series game to the Yankees and…well…everyone knows what happened. They made history, won four in a row, came from behind, won the pennant, embarrassed the Yankees….
Yeah. It was not pretty. In fact it was my worst sports experience.
However, it will be extremely difficult for them to come back and win. The Twins would have to win two games in Yankee Stadium, then come home and win the final game in order to advance. Considering how well CC Sabathia responds in big games and how dominant Pettitte was tonight, things are not looking up for the Twins.
Not saying it can’t be done…but it will be tough for them.
See you after Saturday night’s game.
Around the seventh inning of tonight’s game, Buster Olney tweeted this:
“I know it’s the postseason, but Joe Girardi looks tortured by all this, as he did all the way down the stretch. It looks like no fun for him.”
It may not have been fun for the Yankee skipper at the time, but at the end of the night, he probably breathed a huge sigh of relief, as the Yankees battled back from a three-run deficit to beat the Minnesota Twins 6-4 in Game One of the American League Division Series.
The difference in the game came off the bat of Mark Teixeira in seventh inning, the very inning Olney noted Girardi’s stressed out body language. With the game knotted at four, the Yankee first baseman blasted a tie-breaking, two-run homer inside the right field foul pole off Jesse Crain to give the Yankees all the run support they needed.
Teixeira ignited the Yankee offense in the sixth inning, crushing a one out double and eventually coming around to score on a base hit by Robinson Cano. Jorge Posada later singled to drive in Alex Rodriguez, and now has 40 career postseason RBIs.
Curtis Granderson capped off the sixth with a monster triple to score Cano and Posada, giving the Yankees a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the frame. The lead was short-lived however, as Yankee starter CC Sabathia walked Jim Thome with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth to knot the game up at four.
Sabathia battled through six innings of work tonight, but hit a few bumps on the way to a win. Michael Cuddyer took the Yankee ace deep in the bottom of the second for a two-run home run, and a passed ball allowed Orlando Hudson to score from third, giving the Twins a 3-0 lead after the first three innings of the game.
Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Kerry Wood held the Twins scoreless after Sabathia’s departure while Mariano Rivera nailed down his 40th career postseason save. The Great Rivera is the all-time postseason saves leader and no one else even comes close to 40 career postseason saves.
In fact Brad Lidge, who is second on the postseason saves list, only has 16.
Francisco Liriano held his own for the better part of the game, mowing over the Yankees until he reached the sixth inning. He finished the night with 5 2/3 innings pitched and he allowed four earned runs on six hits.
Liriano walked three batters and struck out seven.
Despite Liriano’s effort, it all came crashing down on the Twins, as it has so many times when they have played the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers have now won their last seven postseason games against the Twins, dating back to the 2004 ALDS.
With the win tonight, the Yankees have also taken Home Field advantage away from the Twins.
Tomorrow night Andy Pettitte (11-3, 3.28 ERA) will take on former Yankee Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.75 ERA) in a rematch of Game Three of the 2009 ALDS. Pettitte will be making his 41st career postseason start and he stated today that, despite how he has been pitching lately, “everything feels different when the playoffs begin.”
Pettitte has not won a game since July 8 and has only made three starts since coming back from the disabled list. In those three starts, he is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA.
On the other hand, Pavano has had little success against a pair of the Yankees’ key hitters. Derek Jeter owns a .429 lifetime batting average against the Twins’ Game Two starter. Tonight’s hero Teixeira has five RBIs and a home run lifetime against Pavano, along with a .333 career batting average against him.
It’s no secret that Game Two is a must-win for Minnesota. If they cannot get it done tomorrow night, it is obvious their chances of advancing to the next round of the postseason are slim.
Meanwhile the Yankees will look to keep on rolling over the Twins.
Chill out, Girardi.
They say retaining is tougher than obtaining.
Last year, the New York Yankees obtained their 27th World Series Championship. Here we are, almost a year after they won number 27, and the Bronx Bombers are looking to repeat as World Champs.
And much like last year, the Yanks will begin their quest to the title against the Minnesota Twins in the American League Division Series. Tomorrow night 21-game winner CC Sabathia will take the hill, opposed by 14-game winner and the 2010 American League Comeback Player of the Year, Francisco Liriano.
Game One could very well be a legitimate pitcher’s duel.
The same could be said about Game Two, which will feature postseason ace Andy Pettitte facing former Yankee and 17-game winner Carl Pavano. Game Three will take the series back to Yankee Stadium where Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA) will square off against Brian Duensing (10-3, 2.62 ERA).
It seems to me that there are many things working in the Yankees’ favor in this series, but just as many things working against them. Everything is up in the October air right now, and it is the Yanks’ series to win…or lose.
In the Yankees’ Favor
· History vs. Twins
This one almost goes without saying.
The Yankees have eliminated Minnesota three times in the first round of the playoffs (2003, ’04, and ’09). In ’03 and ’04 the Yankees won three games to one. Last year it was a clean sweep, as the Yankees took care of the Twins in three.
· The Yankees vs. Liriano
Brett Gardner, Marcus Thames, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Nick Swisher all have stellar career numbers against the Twins’ Game One starter. Combined, they own a .435 batting average against Liriano, coupled with four home runs and seven RBIs.
Winning the first game of the series is always important and can genuinely set the tone of a playoff series. While it looks to be a pitcher’s duel, the good numbers are probably in the back of Yankee manager Joe Girardi’s head–something he will most likely consider when putting together the lineup card.
· The Twins Aren’t Clutch?
Since the Twins took Game One of the 2004 ALDS from the Yankees, they have lost nine consecutive postseason games. In those nine games, they have been outscored 52-28 by the opposition.
When the calendar turns to October, the Twins’ offense seems to be switched off.
· No Morneau
Before Justin Morneau was injured with a concussion on July 7, he was in the discussion for the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award. In the 81 games he played this season, he hit .345 with 18 homer runs and 56 RBIs. In fact, he led the Twins with Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 5.6.
Morneau has been ruled out for the entire postseason. The absence of a rather dangerous hitter in the Twins’ lineup might somewhat ease the pressure on the New York pitchers.
· Ron Gardenhire’s Attitude
In the press conference after team workouts today, the Twins’ skipper referred to this series as a classic “David vs. Goliath” match. Ron Gardenhire sees his team as David, trying to take out the almighty Goliath-like Bronx Bombers.
He made a great analogy.
Under Gardenhire, the Twins are 18-54 in 72 games against the Yankees, and they only average 3.6 runs per game against the Bombers. The Twins are also 2-9 vs. the Yanks in October, contributing to the skipper’s underdog attitude.
· Alex Rodriguez Carryover?
Up until last year, the Yankees’ slugging third baseman was revered as a goat in the postseason. From his infamous “slap of the ball” out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove in 2004 to his deer-in-the-headlights strikeout with the bases loaded against Joel Zumaya in 2006, Alex Rodriguez struggled when it came to the playoffs.
But all that changed last October.
Rodriguez erased his troubled postseason past with a .378 batting average in last year’s playoffs, along with hitting six homers and knocking in 18 runs. In last year’s ALDS vs. the Twins, Rodriguez hit .455 and slugged 1.000.
He went from “Alexander the Goat” to “Alexander the Great.”
And Rodriguez has really turned it on this past month. In September, he hit .309 with nine homers, 26 RBIs, and maintained a .667 slugging percentage.
The Yankees certainly have plenty of things working for them. However, there are certainly a number of factors working against them as the playoffs begin…
Working Against The Yankees
· Home Field Disadvantage
I know many people say “home field advantage means nothing.” The fact is that home field advantage can mean something, especially because the Yankees do not have it at all this postseason.
Joe Torre said it best: “It’s hard to win extra-inning games on the road.”
He couldn’t be more correct. The Yankees lost five one-run games on the road in the month of September, along with dropping an extra-inning game against Boston this past weekend. In terms of the postseason…well…2004 at Fenway Park is evidence of that “hard-to-win extra-inning-games-on-the-road” mentality.
The Twins were also 53-28 this season at Target Field, which doesn’t help the Yankees’ cause.
· The REAL Andy Pettitte?
The Yankees’ Game Two starter has tremendous numbers in the playoffs. As the winningest pitcher in postseason baseball history, Andy Pettitte owns an 18-9 playoff record with an ERA of 3.90. Lifetime in the ALDS, Pettitte is 5-3 with a 3.73 ERA.
There’s no denying that Pettitte has been championship-tested. But what will we see this year?
Since coming back from his groin injury (suffered in July) Pettitte is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA.
In his final start of 2010 on Saturday, Pettitte was roughed up by third-place Boston, getting chased from the game after four innings of work. He surrendered three earned runs and scattered nine hits, as he walked two batters and struck out eight.
Pettitte remains a little bit of a question mark right now. He hasn’t made it out of the fourth inning in each of his last two starts and has not won a game since July 8.
If the Yanks want to win it, Pettitte has to be in his regular, dominant form.
· Phil Hughes at Yankee Stadium
Although Phil Hughes has 11 wins at home this season, he is far from perfect. The Yankees’ Game Three starter has a 4.66 ERA when playing in the Bronx, opposed to a 3.47 ERA on the road.
Simply put, Hughes gives up more runs at home.
This season, Hughes has failed to keep the ball inside the Yankee Stadium Park. Of the 25 homers he surrendered, 20 of them were given up at Yankee Stadium.
Furthermore, of the 82 earned runs Hughes has allowed this year, 55 of them have been given up at home. He also issued 39 of his 58 walks at Yankee Stadium, subjecting his stats to worse numbers at home than on the road.
If you ask me, Hughes should be the Game Two starter, that way he does not have to pitch at home, where, as his numbers indicate, he tends to struggle.
· Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer
There are not many Twins hitters who have a great deal of success against CC Sabathia. Come to think of it, there aren’t many hitters in the entire American League who have a great deal of success against Sabathia.
However, Alexi Casilla owns a .692 batting average against Sabathia with one career RBI. Denard Span is .333 lifetime vs. Sabathia, and is a serious threat to run when he gets on base.
Michael Cuddyer only has a .222 batting average vs. Sabathia, but he has taken the Yankee ace deep once in his life for one RBI.
· Curtis Granderson vs. Left-Handed Pitching
Before the Yankees acquired him from Detroit, there was a lot of chatter about Curtis Granderson’s struggles against left-handed pitching. He finished the 2010 season with 24 homers and 67 RBIs on top of a .247 batting average.
However, against lefties this year, Granderson only hit .234.
This would not be such a problem if two of the first three Twins starters this postseason were not left-handed pitchers (Liriano and Duensing).
Granderson has a little bit of experience in the playoffs; in 2006 he made it all the way to the World Series as a member of the Tigers only to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals. Lifetime in the postseason he has a .226 average with three homers and seven RBIs.
How he performs in his first postseason as a Yankee remains to be seen, but he may need to spend some extra time in the batting cage if he continues to struggle against left-handers.
· Wild Card Losers
The Yankees were favorites to win the AL East, but it was swiped from under them on the last day of the season by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Bronx Bombers enter as the AL Wild Card winners, something that, historically, has not paid dividends.
The Yanks have never won the World Series when entering the postseason as the Wild Card.
In 1995, the Yankees won the AL Wild Card and were booted from playoff contention at the hands of the Seattle Mariners in the ALDS. In 2007, the Yanks once again captured the elusive Wild Card spot, only to fall to the Cleveland Indians in round one.
As much as the postseason history plays in the Yankees’ favor (their past vs. the Twins) it works against them (they have never won a World Series as a Wild Card team).
It’s anybody’s pennant to win. The road to 28 starts now…