Results tagged ‘ Detroit Tigers ’

Playoffs? You Kiddin’ Me? Yes and No

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It was crushing. Maybe soul-shattering. But not season-ending. Not yet.

The Blue Jays today pulled the rug right out from under the Yankees, rallying late with a power surge to hand the Bronx Bombers a 4-3 loss in Toronto. Melky Cabrera homered to start the comeback, once again proving how all ex-Yankees kill the Yankees. Jose Bautista followed with a home run of his own, and Edwin Encarnacion “walked the parrot” after his home run – which, if he had played that gimmick during the Roger Clemens days, he would’ve earned himself a bean ball.

Munenori Kawasaki delivered the death blow in the seventh with an RBI single.

And that was that.

The Yankees didn’t do themselves any favors this past week in terms of winning series, going 3-4 on their three-city road trip. Now they come home for a nine-game homestand, kicking it off with a series on Tuesday night against the pest-like Boston Red Sox – and you have to have every reason to believe Boston will try to play spoiler.

No doubt the Red Sox would love nothing more than to knock the Yankees down the proverbial Wild Card totem pole.

Even with the recent string of bad luck, the Yanks haven’t flat lined just yet, clinging on with a chance to make the playoffs as the 2014 season enters its final month. After today’s loss skipper Joe Girardi summed it up by saying the Yankees haven’t made it easy on themselves, and added,

“We have nine games at home coming up. And we have to win a lot of them.”

I’m not sure if it’s sad or funny, but any time the words “Yankees” and “postseason” come together in the same sentence, I have coach Jim Mora’s voice in my head yelling,

“PLAYOFFS? YOU KIDDIN’ ME?!”

To be real for a minute though, it will be difficult for the Yankees to make it to October, but the opportunity is there. It’ll come down to whether or not they hit the ball and beat the teams in front of them in September. The key for them is to buckle down and stop giving away games the way they did this afternoon at Rogers Centre.

While the Yanks are treading water, one team that isn’t struggling to maintain a pulse is the Hudson Valley Renegades – the MiLB team I’ve written about a few times this summer on the blog, as I have been their beat writer for The Examiner throughout the New York-Penn League season.

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This past Friday night was the latest game I covered – the ‘Gades hosting the Connecticut Tigers at “The Dutch.” When I got to the press box I was surprised to look at the lineup sheet and see Ben Verlander’s name in the Tigers’ lineup.

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Ben of course being the younger brother of Justin Verlander, the ace of the Detroit Tigers, and the former AL Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young winner.

Oh, and Kate Upton’s boyfriend. #Jealous

At any rate, here is my gamer from Friday night, with quotes from Ben Verlander included, as I interviewed him postgame:

Renegades clinch division, but come up short in extras to Tigers

By A.J. Martelli

After a 5-3 win over the Connecticut Tigers this past Thursday night, the Hudson Valley Renegades celebrated by spraying champagne and dumping the Gatorade cooler over manager Tim Parenton’s head, the Gades having clinched the New York-Penn League McNamara Division and a spot in the postseason.

The excitement and momentum of earning a ticket to the playoffs for the second time in three years didn’t carry over to Friday night at Dutchess Stadium, however, as Hudson Valley came up short in 11 innings to the Tigers, losing 5-4.

“Good ballgame,” Parenton said after the extra inning affair. “Both teams are good teams. It came down to extra innings; they got the hit, we didn’t, and that’s just the way it was played.”

Tied 4-4 in the top of the eleventh inning, Connecticut right fielder Ben Verlander – younger brother of Detroit Tigers’ ace and former American League Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander – led off with a well-struck double to centerfield. Renegades reliever Mike Franco then threw two consecutive pitches that got by catcher Zach Marberry, allowing Verlander to score the decider.

To him, the win was important, as the Tigers are trying to stay alive for a possible slot in postseason as a Wild Card team.

“It was just a crazy game,” Verlander said. “We needed that one as far as the standings go. We try not to look at scores, but we knew in the dugout (the team in front of us) Brooklyn had lost, and to be able to score that run in the eleventh was big.

“It was a big win for us, and just a great team win.”

The Renegades didn’t go down without a fight, putting runners on second and third with two outs in the last of the eleventh. Left fielder Grant Kay stepped up looking to deliver the goods, but struck out swinging to end the game. Parenton feels his team has the ability to put pressure on the other team, even in games they lose.

“We had our chances; had the winning run at second base in the last inning right there, but their pitcher did his job,” he said. “We come out and play the game right; our guys hustle and play hard. We do things that you’re supposed to do.”

The Renegades trailed 2-0 in the third, but were able to take the lead with three runs. Right fielder Hunter Lockwood grounded out to third, allowing second baseman Jace Conrad to score. Designated hitter Bralin Jackson followed by smacking a booming triple into the right field corner, which plated Kay. Jackson then came home on a balk by Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull.

In the sixth the Gades padded their lead, receiving an RBI double swatted down the line in left field off the bat of center fielder Clayton Henning. With Hudson Valley up 4-2 the Tigers answered in the seventh, scoring a run on a wild pitch by reliever Gerardo Reyes, and the tying run on an RBI groundout by Will Maddox.

Renegades starter Nolan Gannon, who came into the game with six wins under his belt and an ERA of 2.77, let up two runs on four hits, but settled down, retiring the last eight he faced over five innings. He walked two and struck out one.

On Saturday the Renegades once again fell to Connecticut, losing 2-1. Parenton doesn’t seem worried though, and is thrilled to be managing in the postseason in just his first year as a professional skipper.

“It’s very exciting, it’s one of the things you play for – you play to win your division and get a chance to go to the playoffs,” he said. “We’re there, now we just have to play and see what happens. We’re going to try and get everybody rested, get our pitching lined up so that when it starts we have a full boat, ready to go.”

The New York-Penn League playoffs begin Wednesday.

Note: I asked Verlander what his impressions were playing at Dutchess Stadium. He said, “The ballpark is great, the atmosphere is great. But I’m not a big fan of turf. It is what it is, though.” The Renegades are one of only five minor league teams that play their home games on artificial turf.

All ex Yankees kill the Yankees

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The Yankees are currently on a cold streak that makes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance as Mr. Freeze in the god-awful Joel Schumacher film “Batman & Robin” look like an Oscar-worthy portrayal. The Bronx Bombers have become the Bronx Bums, losing four straight, however they did snap the losing skid by beating the Oakland A’s 2-1 this afternoon. The Yanks have dropped six of their last 10, falling to third place in the AL East standings in the process.

Six games out of the division lead behind both first place beasts the Toronto Blue Jays and second place contenders the Baltimore Orioles, the Yanks obviously have some catching up to do. What’s unfortunate about some of their recent bad luck has been, specifically, the players who have been beating up on them.

A slew of former Yankees have come back to burn the Yankees – and as a junior baseball historian (if I may call myself that) I’ve noticed the evident concept of former Yankees punishing the Yankees, and it’s not a series of random isolated incidents; rather a pattern that’s developed over time: all ex-Yankees kill the Yankees.

Allow me to demonstrate.

April 27, 1982 – Reggie Jackson

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Reggie Jackson became one of the most beloved Yankees in the late 1970s, helping carry the team to two World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. With three home runs in (the series clinching) Game 6 of the ’77 fall classic, a candy bar named after him, and a tremendous amount of popularity, his legions of Yankee fans were disappointed when management didn’t bring him back for the 1982 season.

So, in his first at-bat in his return to Yankee Stadium, Mr. October showed them what they’d lost.

As a California Angel, he hammered a home run off former teammate Ron Guidry. Yankee Universe was so upset that he wasn’t in pinstripes anymore, that as he rounded the bases they chanted “REG-GIE! REG-GIE! REG-GIE!” in support of its old flame.

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George Steinbrenner would later say, “letting him go was the biggest mistake I made as Yankee owner.”

This is where it started.

 

June 14, 2003 – Tino Martinez

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Tino Martinez was not re-signed after the Yankee Dynasty fell in the 2001 World Series, getting supplanted by powerhouse Jason Giambi (to play first base). He went to the St. Louis Cardinals, and was pleasantly surprised when a trip to Yankee Stadium appeared on the 2003 MLB schedule.

When the “Bam-Tino” returned he was greeted with open arms by the Yankee fans; cheers and fond memories abounded the night of June 14.

He dug in to a chorus of applause in the second inning, and took his former teammate Andy Pettitte deep for a two-run homer – much to the delight of all in attendance.

After the game Martinez lightheartedly said, “Andy Pettitte was a little flustered because, here I hit the home run and they’re giving me a standing ovation. He’s like, I really love you, but c’mon!”

And he wasn’t done.

In the ninth inning he clubbed yet another two-run tater, showing the Yankees what they’d been missing. He accounted for all four runs the Cardinals scored, albeit it was a 13-4 Yankee win.

“My teammates were like, this is the greatest place I’ve ever seen,” Martinez continued. “And I said, I told you – this is the greatest place of all to play.”

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It’s also worth noting that Martinez smacked his 300th career homer on March 30, 2004 against the Yankees as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He touched up Felix Heredia for the milestone home run in an 8-3 Rays win.

It’s no wonder the Yankees brought him back in 2005.

 

July 10-12, 2009 – Bobby Abreu

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Bobby Abreu was a stellar trade deadline pickup in 2006, filling a void the Yankees needed to plug in right field. He may not have been the best when it came to defensively playing the outfield wall, but man could he swing the bat.

And when the Yankees didn’t return him for the 2009 season, he made them pay.

Like Jackson, Abreu went to the Angels. When the Halos hosted the Yankees for three games right before the ’09 All-Star break, he slammed his former ‘mates hard. The numbers tell the whole story.

In those three games, Abreu went 6-for-14 (.428) with six RBIs and three runs scored. He played a huge part in the Yankees losing all three games – getting swept before a few days off. The Angels beat the Yankees 10-6 in the first game, 14-8 in game two of the series, and 5-4 in the finale.

Abreu also smacked a grand slam on April 13, 2010, the day of the Yankees’ 2009 ring ceremony, off now-Yankee closer David Robertson. He nearly spoiled the day, crushing the slam in the ninth inning, but the Yanks held on for a 7-5 win.  

April 15, 2010 – Hideki Matsui

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The man known as “Godzilla” pieced together quite an amazing career in pinstripes. Coming over from the Far East in 2003, he was a Yankee through 2009, when he went out with a bang: winning the World Series and collecting MVP honors of the ’09 fall classic.

Yet, like Jackson and Abreu before him, the Angels came calling when the Yanks didn’t bring him back for 2010.

The night of April 15 in his first year not playing Major League Baseball in pinstripes, Matsui took his former teammate Phil Hughes deep in the second inning.

Hughes watched the ball sail over the right field wall at the big ballpark in the Bronx with the countenance of a stiffened corpse.

More from Hughes later.

 

May 10, 2010 – Johnny Damon

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Johnny Damon was one of the Yankees best turncoats, putting on the pinstripes after becoming a revered player in Boston. Following Matsui’s example, he helped the Yankees reach and win the World Series in 2009, stealing two bases in one deft move in Game 4 to damage the morale of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The proverbial “man of steal” went to the Detroit Tigers after 2009, and was pitted up against his old team on May 10 the following season; the Yankees in MoTown for a four-game set.

In his first game facing off with his old friends, Damon blasted a solo home run off starter Sergio Mitre. His round-tripper proved to be significant, being that the Tigers beat the Yankees by one run, 5-4.

Damon wound up collecting four hits on his former team in the four-game series while scoring two runs.

 

May 14-15, 2013 – Raul Ibanez

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Raul Ibanez was as clutch and as solid as they come in 2012 for the Yankees, seemingly creating magic on a nightly basis in the ’12 postseason. Time after time he came up to bat in key spots, and always delivered.

The Yanks let him go after 2012, and he signed with the Mariners for 2013 – and he basically wasted no time showing the Yankees what they were missing.

On May 14 Ibanez teed off on CC Sabathia, warping a two-run homer. He finished the night 2-for-4 with the tater and a run scored, although the Yankees escaped the night with a 4-3 win.

The next night, however, Ibanez stuck it to the Yankees big time.

In the first inning he took Phil Hughes deep for a grand slam, and ended the night with six RBIs and two runs scored. The Mariners went on to win in a squadoosh, 12-2.

April 4-6, 2014 – Melky Cabrera

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Melky Cabrera spent 2005-2008 up and down with the Yankees, but in 2009 found a permanent home on the 25-man roster. Like Damon and Matsui he left after winning the ’09 title, getting traded for Javy Vazquez.

One of radio announcer John Sterling’s quirky calls for Cabrera (whenever he did anything positive as a Yankee) was, “the Melk man always knocks twice.”

At the beginning of this season, the Melk man knocked his old team three times as a Toronto Blue Jay.

On Friday April 4 he welcomed newcomer Masahiro Tanaka to the bigs with a leadoff home run; a rude welcome to MLB for the Japanese import. The Yanks had the last laugh, however, beating the Jays 7-3.

The next day he gave David Phelps something to think about, taking him deep in the eighth inning. His solo job paid dividends, because the Jays won 5-4.

The third time was the charm on April 6 – the series finale. Cabrera punished the Yankees yet again, homering off his former teammate CC Sabathia. The Yankee offense picked the big man up, and the Yankees went on to win 6-4.

The Yankees may have won the series, yet three homers in three consecutive days – off the bat of a player they gave away for a lousy pitcher (Vazquez) – is enough to make any Yankee fan face-palm.

May 11, 2014 – Mark Reynolds

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Mark Reynolds was acquired by the Yankees on Aug. 15 last year after being designated for assignment by the Cleveland Indians. The Yanks may have thought they could catch some lightning; perhaps get a much-needed offensive spark from an unlikely source.

In all, Reynolds played 36 games in pinstripes. He finished his short-lived Yankee career with six homers, 19 RBIs, 15 runs scored and with a .236 BA. However, combining his numbers with the Indians, he finished 2013 overall with 21 home runs, 67 RBIs, a .220 BA and 55 runs scored.

Not too bad, but maybe his low batting average and his strikeout count from ’13 (154) was too much for the Yankees. Whatever the reason, they allowed him to walk and he caught on with the Milwaukee Brewers.

On Mother’s Day this year, as fate would have it, Reynolds had a chance to remind the Yankees what they let go of when he was at the plate with a runner on third in a 5-5 game at Miller Park in the bottom of the ninth.

Reynolds wrapped a single to left field to plate Rickie Weeks, giving the Brew Crew a walk-off, 6-5 win over the Yankees.

A former player burned the Yankees yet again, and something else to chew on: Reynolds has 13 homers this year and 28 RBIs – more than the Yankees’ team leader in both categories. Mark Teixeira leads the Yanks in homers with 10 and RBIs with 27.

 

May 12-13, 2014 – Curtis Granderson

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Not long after Reynolds made the Yankees remember him, Curtis Granderson gave them a grim reminder of how deadly he can be. Granderson, a Yankee from 2010-13, became a fan favorite while in pinstripes. His stroke was perfect for Yankee Stadium, and it showed.

When his four-year Yankee career was all said and done, Granderson finished with 115 homers (for the Bronx Bombers, not counting his time in Detroit) and 307 RBIs. Yet a cumulative batting average of .242 – and an injury plagued 2013 – most likely made the Yankee brass shy away from bringing back the “Grandy Man.”

That’s when the cross town Mets came calling. Granderson answered for four years and $60 million.

When he returned to Yankee Stadium May 12, Granderson took his old buddy Hiroki Kuroda deep in the sixth inning, a two-run bomb that proved significant: the Mets beat the Yanks by two, 9-7.

The very next night he showed the Yankees up again, this time with a three-run tater in the top of the first off Vidal Nuno. The Mets wound up winning 12-7, taking two Subway Series games at the big ballpark in the Bronx.

Lucky for the Yankees he cooled off when the Subway Series took the Citi Field: Granderson went 0-for-7 in the final two rivalry games with three strikeouts.

 

 

June 1, 2014 – Phil Hughes and Eduardo Nunez

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Phil Hughes came up in 2007, dubbed by The Sports Illustrated the “next Roger Clemens” or in SI’s own words, “the pocket rocket.” Hughes was anything but, finishing his tenure in New York with a record of 56-50. Last year alone, his final year in pinstripes, he went 4-14 with an ERA of 5.19, letting up 170 hits in 145 2/3 innings.

Altogether he allowed 112 home runs as a Yankee pitcher, so naturally the Bombers had a chance to chastise him for all that grief this past Sunday, when he made his return to Yankee Stadium as a Minnesota Twin.

No such luck.

Hughes tossed eight innings of two-run ball on just three hits. He walked only two and struck out six, on the way to his sixth win of 2014. The Yanks couldn’t figure out their former middle-of-the-rotation hurler.

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And it only got worse.

Earlier this year the Yankees opted to designate shortstop Eduardo Nunez – the untouchable piece they wouldn’t let go of in a deal that would’ve sent ace Cliff Lee to the Yankees in a potential 2010 trade that fell through. Nunez was acquired by Minnesota on April 7.

On Sunday the Twins took a 3-2 lead in the ninth – doable, perhaps, for the Yankees to battle back from. But Nunez came up and doubled in Aaron Hicks and Brian Dozier, padding the Twins’ lead. Thus, the game was out of reach and the Yanks ended up falling 7-2.

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A double dose of former Yankee torture.

 

April 29, May 1, & June 2, 2014 – Robinson Cano

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Robinson Cano is not welcome at Yankee Stadium anymore, as evidenced by these three games. After inking a lucrative deal with Seattle this offseason, leaving Yankee fans high and dry, it seemed, Cano made his return to Yankee Stadium on April 29.

An RBI and a run scored on Cano’s part helped the Mariners win a 6-3 game against the Yanks.

A rainout pushed the second game of the series back a day, and on May 1, Cano snatched another hit off his old team and drove in two more runs. Seattle won 4-2.

The makeup of the rainout happened this past Monday night; Cano went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two walks. Seattle once again bested the Yankees, 10-2.

The numbers don’t exactly leap off the page, but looking at the box scores closely, the former beloved second baseman quietly helped slam the Bombers down in the Mariners’ games vs. New York this year. Cano still has a chance to do more damage on his former ‘mates next week, when the Mariners host the Yanks June 10-12 at SafeCo.

And more damage was exactly what Cano did. The slugging second baseman once adored by Yankee fans and now reviled homered off Masahiro Tanaka in the ninth inning to break up a shutout, although the Yankees won 4-2.

After all this proof one has to wonder what’s next. When the Yankees host the Tigers Aug. 4-7, is Joba Chamberlain going to record some saves on the Yankees?

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Will Hughes throw a perfect game vs. them when the Bombers go to Target Field on July 3? Is Cabrera going to smack three more home runs off Yankee pitching on June 17, when the Yankees get back from their upcoming road trip and host the Blue Jays?

It wouldn’t be shocking if they did. Because it’s as factual as it gets.

All ex-Yankees kill the Yankees.

………………………………………………………….

July 10 – UPDATE!

As I typed this blog up on June 4-5, I continually had to go back and keep adding to it. Now, a little over a month later, (not thinking it was possible) I am returning to pile on even more pain caused by former Yankees.

Here goes.

Steve Pearce – June 20-22, 2014

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If you blinked at all during the 2012 season, you may have missed Steve Pearce. He was acquired by New York from the Astros for cash on Aug. 27 and designated for assignment on Sept. 25, probably going hardly noticed bysome fans.

A journeyman, he made his way to the Orioles this year – and made sure the Yankees knew what they’d willingly given up not even two years ago.

On June 20 Pearce went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored in what would’ve been an Orioles win over the Yanks had it not been for some late-game heroics off the bat of Carlos Beltran.

The next day Pearce duplicated his performance from the day before; in fact he did it in more spectacular fashion. Pearce homered off Vidal Nuno, a two-run tater that helped lead the O’s to a 6-1 win over the Yankees.

In the series finale he finished off his assault with a 2-for-4 clip. In that three-game set, overall he went 6-for-13 with a homer, four RBIs, two runs scored and two walks.

Not bad for a guy the Yankees axed right before the playoffs. He’ll have a chance to leave more of a lasting impression on his old team this weekend, as the O’s host the Yankees right before the All-Star break.

 

Nick Swisher – July 7-10, 2014

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The “Swisher Salute” was a staple of every roll call at the outset of every Yankee home game from 2009-2012, but when Nick Swisher got offered a huge deal from the Cleveland Indians, it was time to say goodbye to the beloved right fielder.

This week Swisher darn sure made the Yankees pay for giving him up.

On Monday night he took a mighty hack and broke up Shane Greene’s no-hitter in the fifth inning, homering over the big wall in left-center field.

That’s right. One Swisher swing; no-hitter gone, shutout gone. Yet it made little difference, because the Yankees went on to get the better of the tribe, 5-3.

However Tuesday night, he took another swing that surely made a difference.

Off Tanaka, the Yankee ace, Swisher smacked a go-ahead two-run homer over the wall in right-center to give the Indians a 4-3 lead. Cleveland would go on to hand the Yanks a 5-3 loss, playing to win from behind.

If that wasn’t enough, on Wednesday Swisher was at it again; knocking in two runs with a single right away in the first inning off new Yankee starter Brandon McCarthy. The Yankees would fight back and take that game 5-4 in 14 long innings, but just for good measure, Swisher added a base hit in the series finale tonight – which ended in a 9-3 victory for the Indians

 

Chris Dickerson – July 7-10, 2014

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Believe it or not, Chris Dickerson was originally drafted by the Yankees in 2000, but opted for college instead of pro ball. He was good enough to be drafted again, the second time by the Cincinnati Reds. After making his MLB debut in Cincy in 2008 and enjoying a stint with the Brewers, he was eventually picked up by the original team that drafted him in a deal that sent Sergio Mitre to Milwaukee.

Dickerson was up and down with the Yankees throughout 2011 and 2012, but they ultimately designated him for assignment and released him.

The reason? An overabundance of left-handed hitters.

Great reason to cut somebody, right?

A free man, he went to the Orioles and Pirates before finding a home recently with the Indians. In this past four-game set this week, Dickerson collected seven hits and scored four runs on the Yankees.

That’s not even the best part.

In an even funnier story, last year when he was with Baltimore, he clubbed two homers off Phil Hughes on May 21 – this of course being in 2013, when Hughes was still wearing pinstripes.

Dickerson gets bonus points: he went back-to-back; killed the Yankees last season and this season.

I’m just going to go ahead and end this post with,

To be continued….

UPDATE! Sept. 23

Yes. There is more.

Kelly Johnson – Sept. 14, 2014; Sept. 23, 2014

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Kelly Johnson, we barely knew ye. This year Johnson became the first player ever to put on the uniform of every team in the AL East. In fact, in 2014 alone he’s played with three of the five beasts from the east. He started with the Yankees in New York, where he played 77 games and hit .219 with six homers and 22 RBIs.

At the trade deadline Brian Cashman swapped him for Stephen Drew, shipping him over to Boston. Johnson played in just 10 games with the reigning champs and batted .160 with no homers and just one RBI.

The Red Sox let him go and the Baltimore Orioles took him from there.

On Sept. 14, in a Sunday night game the Yanks needed to take from the O’s for the sake of the standings, Johnson delivered the death blow in a 2-2 game; an RBI double capping a ninth inning Orioles rally to finish off the pinstripers by a count of 3-2.

Johnson proved yet again that all ex-Yankees kill the Yankees Sept. 23 in the Bronx when he homered off Brandon McCarthy. He finished the night 3-for-5 with the round-tripper, in what turned out to be a 5-4 Baltimore win over New York.

 

Top 12 of 2012

Following the untimely and bitter end of the 2012 season last night, the Yankees are undoubtedly heading back to Yankee Stadium to clean out their lockers, and are going to prepare for what will be about a five month layover until Spring Training kicks up in February.

Now that the season has come to a close, it’s time to reflect on everything that made 2012 a great baseball season. There’s no need to dwell on the tragic ALCS sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, so instead, let’s take a look back at some of the best moments and times of this past season.

Just a note, I’ll be including some personal highlights as well; some moments that made it personally a fun season for me, as a writer, a reporter, and most importantly, a fan. Without any further ado, Yankee Yapping is proud to present its Top 12 of 2012!

12. Catching up with Bernie Williams

Believe it or not, one of the best highlights of the season (for me) came before the season even began!

While I was covering a high school girls’ basketball game in February, I happened to be sitting next to none other than the former Yankee center fielder, Bernie Williams. His daughter Bea led her team to a win, and getting to sit next to a Yankee legend – and a proud father – while it happened was truly an honor.

Read all about my evening with Bernie here!

11. The return of Andy Pettitte

He had an itch to come back, and he went ahead and scratched it.

In March, retired longtime Yankee favorite Andy Pettitte announced that he would be coming out of retirement. He signed a contract, got back in shape, and unfortunately it didn’t work out for him in the end.

Pettitte was sidelined for the majority of the season after getting struck in the left ankle with a come-backer on June 27 – fracturing his fibula.

I’ve discussed my feelings on the whole “coming-out-of-retirement” spiel, but when Pettitte went down, I legitimately felt bad for him, knowing he wanted to pay dividends for the Yankees. At the very least, however, he pitched well in the postseason, as he always does.

10. Home opener shutout

There is nothing like Opening Day. Spring; the feeling of new life is in the air, and baseball is back.

The Yankees made their home opener this year one to remember, beating Albert Pujols and the LA Angels 5-0 behind a brilliant start from Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankee win was one of the first of their 95 victories in 2012, setting the table for yet another strong, winning campaign.

9. Beating up the BoSox

On April 20 the Yankees’ most hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox, honored Fenway Park; their home that turned 100 years old. Red Sox Nation could only hope a nice ceremony and a champagne toast would be followed by a Red Sox win over the Yankees.

No such luck.

The Yankees beat the Red Sox quite decisively, 6-2, ruining their centennial celebration.

And it only got sweeter the next day.

Boston rebounded from the loss with a bang, touching up the Yanks for nine runs through the first six innings. Leading 9-1 in the seventh, the Red Sox had seemingly answered their loss with a win, but things are rarely what they seem in Beantown. The Yanks came back with a vengeance; plating seven runs in the seventh and adding another seven in the eighth, clawing their way back for a huge, 15-9 win over Boston.

Without question those two losses took a lot of air out of Red Sox Nation, and the BoSox went on to have one of their worst seasons since the 1970s.

8. A YES contribution

On June 8 the Yankees absolutely clobbered the Mets, beating their inferior cross-town rivals, 9-1. Robinson Cano led the way with two homers off Mets’ ace Johan Santana, and Nick Swisher and Andruw Jones followed with homers of their own.

As a matter of fact, the Yanks smacked three consecutive homers that night.

During the game, I submitted a tweet to the YES Network, and they used it on their “Extra Innings” postgame show – marking the third time they have used my insight on TV.

Hosts Jack Curry and Bob Lorenz even agreed with my comment.

More YES Network action to come later.

7. A win over Atlanta

There’s nothing like going out to your first game of the season. It took me a couple months, considering covering Minor League Baseball basically consumed my summer, but on June 18 (three days after my birthday!) I finally got out to the big ballpark in the Bronx.

The Yanks hosted the Atlanta Braves in an inter-league showdown, and backed by a dominant, complete game performance from CC Sabathia, won 6-3. The victory kept a 10-game Yankee winning streak alive; Cano and Mark Teixeira each going yard to pace the Yanks at the plate.

I did get out to one more game on Aug. 31 – yet it wasn’t as memorable, the Yankees losing 6-1 to the team they eventually ousted in the ALDS, the Baltimore Orioles.

6. Welcome, Ichiro!

The Yankees made a splash before the trade deadline, acquiring Ichiro from the Seattle Mariners. The 38-year-old veteran outfielder joined the team on July 23, and certainly did a fine job on both sides of the field.

Ichiro played in 67 games for the Yankees – and 162 overall, proving just how durable he really is. In those 67 games in pinstripes he recorded 73 hits and scored 28 runs with 14 stolen bases, 13 doubles, and five homers.

Yes. He’s still got it. Much like Derek Jeter, Ichiro has shown he is ageless. And he certainly helped propel the Yankees down the stretch and into the postseason.

Domo arigato, Mr. Suzuki.

5. YES Network Games

Another game, another YES Network appearance.

On Aug. 6, my tweet was used on the YES Network, during their “YES Network Games” competition. Michael Kay even admitted my question was difficult, although he, John Flaherty, and Meredith Marakovits all came up with the correct answer.

It’s only too bad the content and nature of the question in a way foreshadowed the season’s end.

4. Not so fast, Oakland

The 2012 Yankees had a handful miraculous late-game wins under their belt – maybe not as many as the ’09 Yankees – but when the Bombers fought back this season, you could be sure they would win.

Case in point: Sept. 22 at home vs. Oakland.

Tied 5-5 in the top of the 13th, the A’s were able to score four times and take a 9-5 lead.

Facing a surefire loss, the Bombers showcased some resiliency, and battled back to knot it up at nine, highlighted by a game-tying, two-run homer off the bat of Raul Ibanez. Ichiro later scored on an error for a 10-9 Yankee victory.

To think, while all this was happening I was hanging out with (of all people) Hulk Hogan.

3. Taking the tour

Game after game, the Yankees sit in their dugout; chill in the clubhouse. On Sept. 30 I got a taste of what that feels like.

The Yankee Stadium tour is offered year-round and on Yankee off-days during the regular season. It was something I had wanted to do for awhile, and I finally had my day.

Read all about my Yankee Stadium tour here!

2. Raul Ibanez’s heroics

Baseball in October is sometimes defined as, “unlikely hero.” And the Yankees certainly had one this year.

At the end of the regular season and into the postseason, Raul Ibanez proved to be the Yankees’ most clutch player. With game-tying and game-winning hits, he made a name for himself and earned the respect and love of all Yankee fans.

Trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth on Oct. 2 vs. Boston, Ibanez slammed a two-run home run, tying it all up, 3-3. Three innings later he came up and sank the Red Sox with a walk-off single – a hit that gave the Yankees a 4-3 win over their humiliated hated rivals, but more importantly, kept them alone in first place in the AL East going into the game number 162 of the regular season.

Talk about enough drama for one season. But it was only the beginning.

Against the Orioles – the team that crept up on the Yanks for first place in the AL East towards the end of the year – in Game 3 of the ALDS, Ibanez put on an encore performance.

Down 2-1 this time in the ninth, Ibanez swung his bat hard, lifting the ball deep into the New York night and into the seats for another incredible, game-tying homer. He came up, again in the 12th, and clubbed another death blow; another long ball to give the Yankees a 3-2 victory, sending the Bronx faithful home with smiles on their faces.

Two game-tyers and two game-winners within eight days of each other. And he still had some left.

Last Saturday in Game 1 of the ALCS when defeat looked imminent, Ibanez tied the game with one swing yet again, taking Detroit closer Jose Valverde’s offering into the seats in right field.

Sadly for Ibanez and the Yankees the magic stopped there. But there’s no question that Ibanez had the best October of any Yankee player on the roster.

1. Getting past the O’s

The ALCS may not have ended the way the Yankees would have hoped for, but if nothing else, they should take winning the ALDS away from this postseason as a huge step in the right direction.

After all, the Yankees had not beaten a team in the ALDS not named the Minnesota Twins since 2001, when they beat the A’s. By the numbers, the Yankees were 4-0 vs. the Twins in the ALDS – and 0-5 vs. everyone else. The biggest question on my mind entering October was, “if it’s not the Twins, can the Yankees even win?”

Yes, they can. And moving forward, hopefully it gives them confidence. Let’s say (hypothetically) the Yankees are up against the Chicago White Sox, or the Texas Rangers, or the Angels – or even the Tigers again in the ALDS next year. With the win over the Orioles this year, they now know they can win an ALDS against a team other than the Twins.

Beating the Orioles may have taken a lot of effort, but perhaps it gave them some knowledge.

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Honorable Mention: The Hudson Valley Renegades

As I’ve written about several times, I had the pleasure of covering the Hudson Valley Renegades this season, a MiLB team. The ‘Gades were a huge part of my summer. I spent many nights in the Dutchess Stadium press box, watching the team battle to win after win.

The Renegades went on to beat the Tri-City Valley Cats in the New York-Penn League Championship Series, winning their first league title since 1999 – and only their second league title in team history.

I had so much fun covering the Renegades, and it meant a lot when their manager, Jared Sandberg, told me that not only had he read several of my articles about the team/game recaps, but he was impressed with how well-written they were.

Very encouraging to hear, especially from a former big leaguer and the nephew of a Hall of Famer.

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It’s tough to say goodbye to the 2012 baseball season, because it was one heck of a time.

My only hope now is that 2013 will be just as awesome.

The bitter end

The Yankees made all kinds of history in the American League Championship Series. Unfortunately for them, it was the type of history they didn’t want to be making. For the first time since 1976, the Yankees were swept in a four-game postseason series, thus ending their run for what could have been their 28th World Series title.

The Detroit Tigers have clotheslined the Yanks to the canvas on their chase for 28.

There’s always blame to go around when the postseason ends prematurely, but most of it lies on the lack of production at the plate. The Yankee offense went about as frozen as a cooler in Antarctica, batting .188 overall for the playoffs and a miserable .196 with runners in scoring position.

Any self-respecting manager or coach would say those numbers will just not get the job done in October, and obviously it didn’t for the Yankees.

Up until CC Sabathia’s rough Game 4 outing, the pitching was certainly a bright spot for the Bronx Bombers in the ALCS. As a matter of fact, every pitcher (save for Sabathia this evening) turned in a quality performance. Phil Hughes left Game 3 early, but David Phelps and the bullpen piggy-backed him, and the Tigers only scored two runs – the Yankee offense flaking and falling 2-1.

It’s clear pitching wasn’t the problem this postseason.  The bats just died.

Now with the off-season on the horizon, the Yankee front office has a number of decisions to make. The hitters have around 4-5 months to think about what happened in 2012, but will some of them be back in pinstripes in 2013?

Let’s start with the giant elephant in the room.

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod was once again the center of October attention – and again, not in a good way.

After being benched in Game 5 of the ALDS for batting .125, Rodriguez only saw seven at-bats in the ALCS. He finished with an overall BA of .130 with no homers, no RBIs, and 12 strikeouts.

Aside from 2009, A-Rod has been a non-factor in the postseason.

What really caught everyone by surprise were his antics in the dugout during the ALCS, sending the ball boy to give two women (reportedly models) sitting in the stands a baseball with his phone number on it. His act garnered all kinds of media attention, and may have led to his benching in the ALCS. He only played in six of the Yanks’ nine postseason games.

Then, out of nowhere, speculation and trade rumors came up about the Yankees possibly moving Rodriguez to the Miami Marlins. General Manager Brian Cashman quickly squashed the rumors as bunk, but later several sources claimed the possible deal wasn’t as false as Cashman initially said it was.

During his postgame interview Rodriguez didn’t indicate that he wants to leave New York – and he does have a no-trade clause in his contract, although according to sources he told his close friends he’d approve a deal to be traded, if it meant going to another big-market team.

“I will be back,” he said after tonight’s loss. “I have a lot to prove. I’ve never thought about going to another team. My focus is on staying here. Let’s make that very, very clear.”

If A-Rod opts to stay, it will be a tough road moving forward for the Yankees. Rodriguez has been plagued by injuries these last few seasons, his offensive numbers have steadily declined, and as evidenced by this October, he struggles in the postseason – to the point where they’re paying him, a key player, to sit on the bench in important games.

The way I see it, if the Yankees can move A-Rod and receive decent, younger players in exchange for him, jump at the chance. Rodriguez is 37 and will be 38 next year – and he is under contract for another five years.    

Bottom line: if you can get out of it, get out of it, Yanks.

Nick Swisher

Unlike Rodriguez, Nick Swisher is a free agent. He durably played in 148 games this season and hit 24 home runs, knocked in 93 runs, and batted a respectable .272 for the season.

Sadly for Swisher, once the postseason begins everyone forgets about those solid numbers.

Swisher absolutely tanked in the playoffs, batting .167 with no homers, just two RBIs, and 10 strikeouts. He came up short in several key spots in the ALDS and ALCS, and wasn’t his normal self before Game 2; not even facing the crowd in right field while warming up. He also missed a ball in the lights in Game 1, which in turn helped lead to the Yankees’ loss.

Yankee beat writer Bryan Hoch at one point tweeted, “The Yankee faithful have seen enough of Swisher, I’m afraid.”

I’m afraid he may be correct.

Although Swisher did hint that he does in fact want to return to the Yankees, there’s a good chance it might not happen. He will certainly find another team willing to take him on if he doesn’t come back to the Bronx, because he offers such a strong, positive presence wherever he goes – and his success reflects that.

It’s just unfortunate that in what could have been his last game at Yankee Stadium, the fan-favorite was booed and jeered off the field – an ungracious way to bow out, if it was indeed his last game in pinstripes.

Other Free Agents & Decisions

  • Hiroki Kuroda. The righty from Japan signed a one-year deal during the off-season and won 16 games – and probably would have won more had he received better run support. If I’m Brian Cashman, I’d certainly try to return Kuroda. He earned it.

  • Andy Pettitte. I’ll be the first to admit, I was at first a little unhappy when Pettitte decided to come out of retirement (in my personal view, I feel he went back on his retirement, a la Roger Clemens and Brett Favre). However, when he was struck in the leg by that come-backer, and he was sidelined for the majority of the season, I felt bad for him, because I know he wanted to pay dividends for the Yankees, and he didn’t exactly get the chance to. I could see him returning for 2013 but ultimately it’ll be a decision he makes over the winter. If he does come back, I’d expect him to come back for a cheap price.
  • Rafael Soriano. The man who filled in so nicely for Mariano Rivera this year can opt out of his contract and attempt to test the open market for more money. If so, the Yankees will have to decide whether or not to pursue him in free agency. But will they have to if…
  • Mariano Rivera returns? Rivera is a free agent and reportedly made a decision about retirement following 2012, but after his season-ending knee injury in May he told the world he will be back. I can’t imagine him being with another team other than the Yankees, especially if 2013 is his final year.
  • Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones. The way I see it, the Yankees have to get younger. Chavez and Jones are both past their prime; their best playing days behind them. I covered a high school football game last week, and as it was, I happened to catch up with the school’s baseball coach – also a Yankee fan. He raised a legitimate question: “Where’s our versions of (Bryce) Harper, (Mike) Trout, and (Manny) Machado?” I answered him, “Playing for the Seattle Mariners,” referencing Jesus Montero. The Yankees have to breed their younger guys better – and they can’t do that clinging to the older guys.

  • Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Both made their respective debuts in 2007, and both were touted to be the future aces of the Yankees. Six years later, neither has lived up to the hype; both with injury-ravaged careers and mediocre-to-subpar numbers. The Yankees are facing a tough decision with Hughes and Chamberlain. I could see them bringing one back and not the other, but right now I couldn’t tell you which would stay and which would go.
  • Raul Ibanez. About as clutch as clutch can be in the postseason, Ibanez is now a free agent. However, he’s also 40 years old. If he does return, I can’t see him coming back for a lot of money; he’d have to sign back for an inexpensive price. Looking at it objectively though, he may have earned himself another contract, simply by his late-inning October heroics. It’s just another decision the Yanks will be faced with.

  • Ichiro. Although he’ll turn 39 on Monday – and this kind of goes against my plea to develop younger players – Ichiro this year proved he can still field, hit, and run just fine. If it were up to me, I’d try to get him back. It’ll be interesting to see if the Yankees make him an offer to play next year, and if they do, what type of money they’ll offer him. I’d imagine it’d only be a one-year deal. Anywhere between $7-9 million, perhaps?
  • Derek Lowe. No I don’t expect him back. He was a rental.
  • Jayson Nix. He’s a maybe. We’ll have to wait and see.

There are also a number of free agents on the open market; potential players from other teams the Yankees can pursue. I’m anticipating a busy off-season, given the number of possible moves the Yankees can make. I’m also anxious to see what happens, considering Cashman and the front office are hoping to keep the payroll under $189 million.

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As per the end of every season, I’d like to thank the loyal readers of Yankee Yapping! I know 2012 didn’t end with a World Series Championship like we wanted, but it was still a fun year for baseball and the Yankees.

Be sure to keep up with YY during the off-season. I’m sure I’ll have stories, and analysis and highlights of what’s happening as the hot stove cooks. Also be sure to follow me on Twitter (@AJ_Martelli) and keep up with YY on Facebook (#ShamelessPlug)

Thanks again, everyone. And Go Yankees!

In peril and fading fast

Funny, how in a matter of 48 hours, everything changes. On Friday Yankee Universe was in a state of euphoria. Fast forward to now and Yankee Universe is in a state of flux.

The Yankees had no times to rest after ousting the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS, but still celebrated with happiness and champagne in the clubhouse. The good feeling of moving on to the last round before the World Series was short-lived however, given the circumstances surrounding the first two games of the American League Championship Series.

New York dropped Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday night, even after staging an incredible game-tying comeback in the ninth inning, and then proceeded to drop Game 2 yesterday without plating a run.

Just like that, the Yankees are down 0-2 in a best-of-seven, heading into the Motor City.

There are several reasons – well, culprits – for the Yanks’ deficit. It’s difficult to single out just one player, or one event in which the Yankees squandered a chance to take a lead or win an ALCS game. Therefore, it’s only fitting to place the blame on all those who deserve it – basically all of the Yankee hitters that are guilty of folding in key spots.

Nick Swisher

On Saturday in the top of the 12th, the game tied 4-4, Nick Swisher misplayed a ball struck by Delmon Young in right field. Miguel Cabrera scored as a result and later in the frame Don Kelly came to the plate on a single by Andy Dirks.

The miscue proved to be the difference in the game, the Yankees losing Game 1, 6-4.

The situation may have been forgivable had it not cost the Yankees the game – and if Swisher wasn’t batting .154 with eight strikeouts, no homers, and one RBI for the playoffs. What added a fair amount of fuel to the fire was the fact that later in the inning the Yankees’ worst nightmare manifested itself, Derek Jeter suffering a postseason-ending ankle fracture.

Swisher didn’t help his cause, not only barely acknowledging the bleacher creatures before Game 2, but also claiming the fans blamed him for Jeter’s injury.

“I missed that ball in the lights and the next thing you know I’m the reason that Jeter got hurt. It’s kind of frustrating. They were saying it was my fault.”

Nobody can rightfully blame Swisher for Jeter’s injury; it wasn’t his fault, and injuries in baseball can never be predicted. However, Swisher shouldn’t make excuses or in any way call out the fans. The media jumped all over it, saying he blamed the fans for his current trifles.

He’s always been a fan-favorite, but there’s already been plenty of chatter about whether or not Swisher will return next year. If he doesn’t turn things around in Game 3 and moving forward, his leave will not be very gracious; Swisher might bow out of the Bronx in a not-so-endearing fashion.

 

Curtis Granderson  

In the final game of the ALDS on Friday Curtis Granderson lifted a solo home run to help put the Orioles away. Many Yankee fans probably thought the round-tripper was the end of his terrible funk, considering he struck out nine times in the Division Series with a batting average of .158.

If the fans thought that, they were wrong.

Granderson hasn’t yet recorded a base hit in the ALCS, and added five more strikeouts in seven at-bats. His BA has sunk to a measly .115 and his on-base percentage is a joke: .207.

While I was covering a high school football game on Friday, I happened to be standing on the sidelines next to the school’s baseball coach. Before the football game began we were discussing Granderson’s batting stance and mechanics. The coach mentioned that Granderson’s stance and his swing look incredibly awkward, and he’s always trying to uppercut the ball.

This writer can’t argue. Looking at each of his strikeouts this postseason, he’s whiffing on breaking balls in the dirt, swinging under them; almost as if he’s trying swing a nine iron, and horribly missing the tee. His swing isn’t level and it’s costing him.

His offensive neurosis is inexplicable but in a lot of ways isn’t surprising. Granderson homered 43 times during the regular season and knocked in 106 runs. But if you sum up his home run and RBI total, it doesn’t even add up to the number of times he struck out this season: 195.

Bottom line, when he hits, he hits. When he misses, boy does he miss. And he has been missing a lot lately – the wrong time to go ice cold.

Robinson Cano

Another classic case of a hitter going from juggernaut to jugger-not.

Robinson Cano set a career-high in home runs in 2012 with 33 and finished the year with a solid .313 batting average. He closed out the regular season with a bang, homering twice while knocking in six in a 14-2 win over the Red Sox – a nice hitting show to end the year.

Too bad it was curtains for Cano’s hitting show once the postseason began.

The Yankees’ second baseman is batting a mind-boggling .063 this postseason with no hits thus far in the ALCS. Instead of lifting the ball he has been beating it into the ground for easy outs, mostly pulling it to the right side for the first baseman to make unassisted plays.

Unlike Granderson, Cano’s offensive slump has been surprising. He has always had an easy, effortless, and otherwise sweet swing. It seems as though he’s been swinging late at pitches he normally hits, fouling them off then missing them altogether.

If the Yankees want to win, he needs to straighten himself out. Cano has been the best hitter on the team throughout the year – and when your best hitter isn’t hitting, winning is rare. Trailing by two games in the ALCS, Cano must come alive, because .063 just will not cut it.

Alex Rodriguez

Notorious for being a poor producer in the month of October, minus 2009, it doesn’t come as a shock that Alex Rodriguez is struggling as much as he is. It seems as if every key spot which requires the Yankees to score a run comes down to A-Rod – and in each of those spots, he fails.

Unfortunately, with every failure comes boos and jeers from the Yankee faithful.

Rodriguez struck out nine times in the ALDS and tacked on three more Ks in the first two ALCS games. Not that it’s saying much, but his batting average (.130) is at least better than Granderson’s and Cano’s. He hasn’t doubled, tripled, homered, or driven in any runs this postseason.

At this point, it’s a safe bet to say it’s a mental issue with Rodriguez. Even at his worst times, he has never been this bad.

Is he pressing and trying to do too much in every trip to the plate? Yes.

Is he really this bad, though? I don’t know.

In Game 5 of the ALDS Rodriguez was benched – which I saw mostly as a “mental health day,” hoping he’d take the day off and come back with a vengeance. It proved to be ineffective as it was, because he went right back to not hitting when the ALCS started.

At this point, I don’t know what the answer is for A-Rod. Hitting Coach Kevin Long can only do so much, and extra batting practice can only go so far. Rodriguez’s swings are some of the weakest hacks I’ve seen him take.

My advice would be to get him to a psychiatrist. Or maybe just give him a hug and hope for the best.

Other Problems

  • Derek Jeter is out for the remainder of the playoffs. It comes as a huge blow to the Yankees, being that the Captain was one of the only players actually hitting. Jeter left the postseason with a .333 BA, a double, a triple, and two RBIs. His ankle fracture will take three months to recover from, and he won’t be with the team in Detroit. The Captain will be in Charlotte, NC seeing a specialist for his injured ankle.
  • Second base umpire Jeff Nelson made a costly mistake in Game 2 yesterday, calling Omar Infante safe when he was obviously out, trying to get back to the base. The blown call proved to be a game-changer because the Tigers, clinging to a small, 1-0 lead in the inning, went on to score two runs following the blunder. Not that Nelson should be blamed for the Yankees’ dead offense, but different scenarios are possible with a 1-0 lead and a 3-0 lead in the late innings – just ask Raul Ibanez.

  • RoboCop…errm…Justin Verlander is starting Game 3. Verlander, the reigning Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP doesn’t exactly have his work cut out for him; not that he ever really does, considering how dominant he always is. Facing a nearly extinct Yankee offense without Jeter, Verlander and the Tigers must feel invincible going into tomorrow night’s game.
  • The Yankees stranded 12 runners on base in just three instances in Game 1, leaving the bases loaded three times. With that, they made postseason history. And no, not in the good way.

On the Bright Side?

  • CC Sabathia will start Game 4. Even if the Yankees drop Game 3 tomorrow, it’s possible they salvage a game in this ALCS, what with the big ace on the hill in Game 4.

  • June 3. Phil Hughes pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout in Detroit, the Yankees winning 5-1 – a victory over Verlander. He’ll match up again with Verlander tomorrow night; the history on the Yankees’ side.
  • The starting pitching overall this postseason. All four of the Yankee starters have gone out and given the team a chance to win. In fact, every start has been a quality start. The problem lies in run support, as the root of the losing problem stems from the non-existent offense.

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Nothing has really fallen the Yankees’ way over the first two ALCS games. Perhaps losing Game 2 will be a wake-up call, and the bats will come alive; the offense finally breaking out and scoring some runs for the battling starting pitchers.

Maybe Joe Girardi needs to call an angry meeting. Maybe A-Rod needs therapy. Maybe Brian Cashman needs to storm the clubhouse and recreate the scene from Moneyball that portrays A’s General Manager Billy Beane lighting a fire under his players, calling them out on their dead bats.

Something needs to happen. Or else this could very well be the end of the 2012 Yankees.

Yanks oust O’s, now out for RAWR-demption

It wasn’t the Twins, but the Yankees still won.

Coming into the 2012 playoffs, the Yankees were 0-5 against teams not named the Minnesota Twins in the American League Division Series. Finally, they got over the hump; eliminated a team other than Minnesota with a 3-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles last night to advance to the American League Championship Series.

Although they did leap the ALDS hurdle, it will only get more difficult for the Bombers from here. Waiting for them in the ALCS are none other than the Detroit Tigers – the team that not only beat them in five games in last year’s ALDS, but booted them in four in the first round of the 2006 postseason.

The Yankees have a lot going for them in the ALCS, but at the same time, a lot is working against them.

Advantages

  • The possibility of only facing Justin Verlander once. It took five games for the Tigers to finish off the Oakland A’s in the ALDS, and the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP pitched twice. In a best-case-scenario, they deal with Verlander once and be done with it.
  • Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, and Derek Jeter’s numbers vs. Detroit’s Game 1 starter, Doug Fister. Teixeira has a homer and four RBIs in 12 at-bats lifetime off Fister, while Swisher holds a homer and two RBIs over his head. Jeter owns a .385 batting average with two RBIs off him. If they can swing the bats the way they have in the past off Fister, they might be able to take some wind out of the Tigers’ sails, right from the start.
  • Andy Pettitte starting Game 1. It kind of goes with the “taking the wind of out the Tigers’ sails” motif. Pettitte is battle-tested in the postseason, and if he takes the ball tonight and gives the Yankees quality, there’s a good chance the Bombers can get a quick, 1-0 series lead. Pettitte always affords them a chance to win.
  • June 3. Phil Hughes, who hasn’t been consistent this year to say the least, pitched his way to a complete game, four-hit victory in Detroit. Hughes only allowed one earned run to the lead the Yanks to their 5-1 win – and it’s worth noting he outdueled Verlander for that win. The long ball was a problem for Hughes this season (35 homers allowed, second most in the majors), but if he turns in a performance like he did in Game 4 of the ALDS, it’s good news for New York.
  • CC Sabathia and a rested bullpen. Sabathia really strutted his stuff in the ALDS – especially in the clinching game last night, going the distance. Not only did he give the Yankees an extreme amount of confidence going forward, but he rested a rather taxed bullpen, what with two ALDS games going beyond nine innings.

  • The Tigers’ bullpen. Jose Valverde blew a key save to keep the Oakland A’s alive, and is notorious for flirting with disaster. In a close, late-game situation the Yankees can easily capitalize on his mistakes. Valverde saved 35 games for Detroit during the regular season, but he’s not exactly Mariano Rivera, or even Rafael Soriano.

Disadvantages

  • Obviously, the way the Yankees have been swinging the bats. Offensively, the Yankees had about one inning in the ALDS – the ninth inning of Game 1 – in which the bats were clicking on all cylinders. Other than that one frame, the Bombers have been (to put it mildly) struggling at the plate. Swisher, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Ichiro, and, well…virtually everyone might benefit from some extra batting practice.

  • The psyche of Alex Rodriguez. It’s no secret when it comes to the postseason, A-Rod is constantly being thrown under the microscope; then being ragged on for folding at the plate. Outside of the 2009 playoffs, it’s not unfair to say Rodriguez has been an October goat. In the four games he played in the ALDS A-Rod was 2-for-16 with no homers, no RBIs, and the stat that sticks out like a sore thumb: nine strikeouts. He was benched for the deciding game because of his poor performance in the ALDS, but he has an opportunity to channel his inner 2009 and put it behind him. In my opinion, it’s a mental issue – one that he must get over in order to be successful.
  • The King with three crowns. Miguel Cabrera, for his entire career, has never been an easy out for the Yankees; in fact, he’s a Yankee killer. And if you’re talking about the all-time champion Yankee killers – players like Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz – Cabrera must be mentioned in the same breath. It’s going to be quite the task pitching to him, and the guy behind him, big Prince Fielder. The poisonous 1-2 punch in the heart of the Tigers’ batting order will undoubtedly pose the biggest offensive threat and potentially supply the Tigers with plenty of offense.

 

  • Verlander. Kind of tough to ignore the giant elephant in the room. Verlander may not have had the best season numerically vs. the Yankees, but he’s still one of the most feared pitchers in the American League. Like Sabathia he closed out the ALDS with a brilliant complete game gem. I’d like to see what it’d be like if he matched up with Sabathia in the ALCS; a showcase of virtuosos and a pitcher’s duel would be my bet.
  • Postseason history vs. Detroit.  The Yankees were able to get over beating a team not named the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, but now can they get over a team that has twice eliminated them in October?

Well, now that I mention it…

The last time the Yankees faced a team in the ALCS that had twice eliminated them in the ALDS: the Angels, in 2009. They were able to get over the halo hurdle in six games, then go on to claim the World Series. If the Yankees are lucky, history will repeat itself.

But they have to tame the Tigers if they want it to.

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Before the ALDS, my cousin C.J. from Baltimore (yeah, I know about the A.J. – C.J. thing, heard it a million times) wrote me a little message on Facebook:

“Here come the O’s, buddy. Gonna be a good series!”

I responded, “Definitely! O’s have a fire in them, but it’ll be tough to cool off Robinson Cano. May the best team win.”

Obviously it wasn’t tough for them to Cool off Cano, but the Yanks still won. I wrote back last night,

“Good series, cuz. O’s battled like warriors, came up just short. Hope the Yankees can knock off the Tigers now!”

C.J., the class act he is, replied, “Aw man, what a classic series. Already can’t wait for next year. Best of luck to you guys!”

I’d just like to thank C.J. for being (in a way) a gracious loser; not making me, a Yankee fan, feel bad about winning the ALDS, him being an O’s fan – and even going as far as wishing me luck (as a fan) in the next round.

Thanks again, Ceej. And it was a classic series. I hope the Yankees and O’s meet again in the playoffs next year. I’m up for another series.  

Yes Indeed

Last night the Yankees continued their recent string of inconsistency, losing 7-2 to the Detroit Tigers in the opening game of their four-game series at Comerica Park. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano accounted for the only two runs the Yanks plated on the night, mustering the lone RBIs. Last night’s game may have been more appropriately titled, “The Justin Verlander Show.”

Verlander was a virtuoso, shutting down the Yankees with a brilliant 14-strikeout performance over eight innings of work. Ivan Nova on the other hand kept his winless streak alive, falling to 10-6. He only tossed 5.1 innings and let up seven earned runs on 11 hits on the way to the loss. Nova hasn’t won a game in five consecutive starts.

The boys from the Bronx didn’t do much better tonight, dropping a 6-5 decision to the Tigers, a ninth inning rally falling just short. Russell Martin clubbed an RBI double to plate Eric Chavez after Ichiro singled to bring in Raul Ibanez, but they couldn’t get that tying run – or potential winning run - across the dish.

In the seventh Ichiro doubled to bring home Nick Swisher, and Chavez smashed an opposite-field two-run homer in the fourth to highlight the Yankees’ night on offense.

Like Nova, starter Phil Hughes struggled. He was pounded for eight hits and allowed four earned runs in the 4.1 innings he pitched. In the fourth he all but lost command, throwing 42 pitches, laboring through the frame. Hughes now falls to 11-9 and his ERA – which was 3.96 heading into tonight’s action - is back up to 4.10.

The Yanks have now gone 9-13 since July 15; a losing record, although New York still sits atop the AL East standings at 63-46, four and a half games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles.

While the Bombers were getting bombed these past couple of nights in the Motor City, I enjoyed yet another little accolade. Well, something to blog about, anyway.

The YES Network has recently been featuring the “YES Network Games” during its broadcasts; a mini in-game contest in which viewers can tweet in questions to the announcers. If they pick your question, they will show it on TV (along with your Twitter handle) and the announcers have a half-inning to come up with an answer.

If their answer is correct, they get a point, and my guess is, whichever YES announcer has the most points at the end of the season wins. During the day yesterday I tweeted in my question:

Lo and behold, during the bottom of the sixth inning of last night’s game, my name and question appeared on the YES Network. I thought for a second I had Michael Kay stumped. He seemed a little unsure of himself.

But he came up with the correct answer, Jaret Wright, as did Meredith Marakovits and John Flaherty. I immediately attempted to tweet Kay back, trying to tell him to tell Flaherty that I met him in 2009. Flaherty actually came to my college (Mercy) and I met him and wrote an article about him for the student newspaper.

He must not have seen it though, because I didn’t hear back from him.

However, I did hear from a number of people who saw my name on TV. In fact, two of my friends, Mike and Sean – who coincidently enough are also local sports reporters – each texted me and told me that they saw my name on YES. Mike’s text was pretty cool:

I see you made it on YES. You are the man. It was Jaret Wright. Funny that was your question. I was just thinking about that disaster of a series in the beginning of tonight’s game. I at least went to Game One of that series before things went downhill. Take care, A.J.”

Sean’s text was just as nice:

Just saw your name on the YES broadcast. Remember me when you’re famous, broski. LOL.”

I simply replied, “I hope I’m famous someday, Sean. I hope.”

This now marks the fourth time YES has used my name. On June 8 they used my tweet on their “Extra Innings” show after the Yankees squadoosh’d the Mets 9-1, and they’ve used my Facebook comments in 2009 and 2010. My good friend Virginia over at “Eat, Sleep, and Breathe Yankees” wrote on my Facebook wall,

“Seriously, YES should just hire you already.”

That comment sparked a little Twitter hashtag rally – namely among my close friends Brian and Jenn, and my cousin Joe – called, @YESNetwork #HireAJMartelli

I would absolutely love to work for YES; in a way it’d be like a dream. With a lot of support, encouragement, and perhaps some good luck, maybe some day that dream will come true.

99 Problems

Well…at least it may seem like that way. Although the Yankees don’t technically have 99 problems, the gaping holes in the pitching staff are not making things easy for the Bronx Bombers.

Despite a late-game attempt to stage a comeback this afternoon at home, the Yankees dropped the second game in their three-game series with the Detroit Tigers, 7-5.

The loss rested primarily on the shoulders of, no surprise, the starting pitching. As a matter of fact, most of the games the Bombers have lost this year were the result of the starters putting the offense in a hole they weren’t able to climb out of.

Something undoubtedly needs to be done, but the solution to this problem isn’t as simple as calling up a young arm to replace a scuffling starter. Even the highly-touted young men in the minors are in trouble.

To bottom line it: the Yankee pitching hasn’t been consistent. Today’s culprit…

Freddy Garcia

For the second consecutive start, Freddy Garcia only pitched 1.2 innings. His last time out the Red Sox shelled him at Fenway; seven hits, five earned runs before the end of the second inning, and it was time for him to hit the showers.

But the Yankee offense miraculously bailed Garcia out, coming back from a nine-run deficit to win.

Today, he wasn’t as lucky.

The Tigers tattooed Garcia for six earned runs on five hits, chasing him from the game before the second inning concluded. The Yankees tried to chip away on the strength of two home runs off the bat of Nick Swisher and one from Curtis Granderson.

A valiant effort, but it could not be done.

Not that I ever want to wish ill of the Yankees or want them to lose, but in a strange way, I’m glad they did – only because Garcia deserved the loss, which he recorded. Garcia is now 0-2 this year with a skyscraping 12.51 ERA.

He has only pitched 13.1 innings in the four starts he’s made and has allowed 19 earned runs in those games. If that isn’t enough, opponents are averaging .403 against Garcia.

It’s only been four games, nonetheless the question right now is: how long are the Yankees going to let this continue? The fans have lost their patience, as evidenced by the deafening chorus of boos he received walking off the mound today.

Garcia’s nickname is “The Chief.” It’s my presumption that soon he’ll be the Chief of a different tribe.

But Garcia isn’t the only starter who has hasn’t pitched up to his potential.

Phil Hughes

In 2007 Sports Illustrated dubbed Phil Hughes the “Pocket Rocket,” comparing him to a young Roger Clemens. It’s hard enough to live up to such a comparison, but even more difficult trying to live up to it in pinstripes.

Hughes hasn’t exactly been a total bust, but he certainly hasn’t been what the Yankees had hoped for. He’s been a big leaguer since April, ’07 – that’s five years and the start of a sixth, by my math – and really only has two good seasons to show for it.

In 2009 Hughes was relegated to the bullpen where he shined in a setup role for the better part of the year. He went 8-3 and struck out 96 batters in 86 innings pitched. Hughes helped lead the Yankees to the ’09 World Series title and followed up with a stellar overall record in 2010, pitching out of the rotation.

Hughes won 18 games, but started to decline; his arm tired. Since the end of the ’10 season, he hasn’t been the same pitcher, going 5-5 last year with disabled list stints and poor outings.

This season Hughes is 1-3 with an elevated 7.88 ERA. His pitches look flat and his fastball has no movement, giving hitters the ability to feast upon it. Each of Hughes’s losses have been convincing defeats; he’s let up 14 earned runs in the 16 innings he’s pitched.

It’s just not working out for him right now.

I’m not sure if there is an answer for it, other than the Yankees may have flip-flopped him too many times; juggled him from the ‘pen to the rotation too much. The constant role reversal from starter to reliever may have caused too much wear and tear to his arm, and more particularly, his rotator cuff – which he had surgery on.

The same way I have no answer for his sudden pitching neurosis, I have no answer for what the Yankees should do about Hughes.

Trade him? His value is too low.

Send him to the minors? No point.

Hughes may be having a rough go of it, but not as rough as his partner….

Joba Chamberlain

While Joba Chamberlain may not have been given a special nickname by Sports Illustrated (except for maybe “Joba the Hutt” in a joking manner) he was the most excitable and energetic pitcher to come up through the Yankee farm system.

Like Hughes, Chamberlain debuted in 2007 and made an immediate impact, throwing close to 100 mph every time he came out of the bullpen in relief. Another way he was like Hughes: his constant role reversal.

Chamberlain was made a starter in 2008, and then as everyone knows, placed on the infamous “Joba Rules,” limiting his innings in ridiculous ways. In ’09 he worked as a starter and out of the ‘pen before once again being made a full-time reliever.

You would think the Yankee brass would just come up with a definite plan for their young arms, right?

Think again.

The injury bug has bit Chamberlain so many times over the last two years. Most recently, a trampoline incident fractured his ankle, probably ending his season. Chamberlain has made it clear he is adamant about returning this year, but even if he does, it’s fair to say he might not be the same flamethrower he was when he first joined the show.

The Yankees made a trade in the off-season, most likely to help make up for the lack of production they were getting out of Hughes and Chamberlain.

How’d that work out?

Michael Pineda

On Jan. 13 the Yankees swapped one of their prime young bats, Jesus Montero, in exchange for Michael Pineda, a promising starting pitcher who was a sensation in Seattle; the supporting cast member to Felix Hernandez’s star.

After a good-looking Spring Training, Pineda experienced pain in his pitching shoulder. He got it checked out, was diagnosed with tendinitis, and was ultimately placed on the 15-day DL literally right before the first game of the year.  

Following Pineda’s tendinitis, an MRI revealed he has a torn labrum, forcing the Yankees to shut him down for the entire season.

The 23-year-old will not pitch in 2012 while Montero currently has three homers and 12 RBIs for the Mariners.

Talk about a punch in the gut.

I joked the other day that when the Yankees visit Seattle this year, Brian Cashman should walk right up to the Mariners’ GM and simply say, “You hustled me, man.”

All kidding aside, it remains to be seen whether or not Pineda will pay dividends, because his injury hasn’t given him the chance to show the Yankees what he can really do. But until at least 2013, the trade basically was useless.

The Yankees have two other young arms waiting in the wings; possible hole-fillers for Pineda.

 However…

Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos

It’s tough to analyze each of these young hurlers, because they’re both pitching in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. I haven’t seen first-hand what they have been doing, so it’s tough to say if their numbers are indicative of how well or how poorly they’ve pitched.

But what’s that old saying? The numbers don’t lie?

24-year-old Dellin Betances has made five starts this year and is 1-2 with a 7.25 ERA. He’s allowed 22 hits in the 22.1 innings he’s pitched, along with 21 runs (18 of which have been earned). He’s struck out 19 batters – but that doesn’t look good next to the 21 walks he’s issued.

In 2009 Betances had Tommy John surgery and right now it seems as if he isn’t one of those pitchers that has had the procedure and thrived afterward.

After today’s loss, a lot of fans said, “Call up Betances and designate Garcia for assignment.” But from the way things are looking right now, that scenario would be almost as useful as replacing Garcia for…well…Garcia.

According to the numbers, Betances hasn’t been pitching well at all. And his teammate, 21-year-old southpaw Manny Banuelos, is having the same bad luck.

Banuelos has made two starts this year and is 0-1 with a 10.13 ERA. He’s thrown just 5.1 innings and let up six earned runs on 14 hits. Banuelos walked seven batters in those two games and only struck out two.

Making matters worse, Banuelos is currently on the DL, making his improbable call-up basically impossible. After a stint on the DL, I don’t see any likely scenario this year in which Banuelos gets the call to the big team.

What do you do when your present and future are betraying you?

Turn to the past…

Andy Pettitte

Although I have expressed my disdain for Andy Pettitte’s decision to come out of retirement – disdain that I still uphold – I did follow up by mentioning I wish no ill will on Pettitte and that if he returns and succeeds, more power to him; it will only help the Yankees.

And the Yankee pitching is hurting in the worst way right now. Therefore, I don’t see how Pettitte can do anything but help.

Due to inclement weather conditions, Pettitte will pitch for Class-A Tampa in his next start (he had been slated to start for Double-A Trenton). From there he will be evaluated and hopefully, for the Yankees’ sake, be ready to join the team and aid the banged-up rotation in the coming weeks.

The Yankees’ 39-year-old lefty has had noted groin and elbow issues in the past. Hopefully the Bombers can catch a break for once, however, and Pettitte will return and fill the void left by the fledgling, young members of the rotation.

Rest easy, Yankee fans. Help is on the way.

…………………………………………………………

Just a Thought

Today I was texting with a friend while Garcia was getting lit up. He suggested the possibility of signing free agent Roy Oswalt.

If the Yankees could get him cheap, I’d say it’s a great idea. Low risk, possibly a high reward.

Like I said: just a thought.

Breathing Down Our Necks

The 2012 MLB season is just about three weeks away. Players are currently in camp fighting for roster spots, getting in shape, and preparing for what will be a summer-long grind.

29 teams have the mentality of, “let’s put a good team together and have a fun season.”

The Yankees on the other hand have the mentality of, “when camp breaks we need to win the division, win the pennant, and then win the World Series.”

Good logic.

And as usual, it won’t be easy. A number of teams have bettered themselves during the off-season, and will pose huge threats to the Yankees bringing title number 28 home to the Bronx in October. A few teams will be breathing down the Yankees’ neck and they need to keep a sharp eye on them.

The top five are…

The Rays

When the Tampa Bay Rays first entered the league, they were almost a laughingstock; a joke that always finished at the bottom of the AL East. But in 2008 they came out of nowhere, capturing the division over the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, and then going on to win the AL pennant.

Since then, the Rays have been pests; a team that won’t go away, no matter how many times a knockout blow is delivered to them. Last year they swiped the AL Wild Card from underneath Boston’s nose, and have been to the playoffs three of the last four years.

On offense this season, Tampa Bay might be under the microscope, at least a little bit. The Rays didn’t re-sign Johnny Damon in the off-season, but signed Luke Scott – who hit just .220 last year – to supplant him. After a year with the Chicago Cubs, Carlos Pena is returning to the Rays – and he only averaged .225 at the dish in 2011.

One of the only true powerhouses the Rays have at the plate is Evan Longoria, who only batted .244 last year, yet clubbed 31 homers.

With their seemingly thin offense, one might get to thinking, why are the Rays such a threat?

The answer is their starting pitching.

Number one man James Shields went the distance last year, tossing 11 complete games to lead the league in that category. He also threw four shutouts to lead the league, winning 16 games along the way.

Behind him is the pride of Vanderbilt, southpaw David Price. Last year Price compiled a 12-13 record; not the best numerically, but he was an All-Star and was coming off a season in which he won 19 games. He did prove to be a workhorse despite his uneven record, logging 224.1 innings and making 34 starts, which led the league.

Behind the 1-2 punch of Shields and Price is a supporting cast of excellent arms. 24-year-old Jeremy Hellickson is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year. He threw 189 innings in ’11, won 13 games, and notched an ERA of 2.95.

Jeff Niemann won 11 games last year, as did Wade Davis, giving the Rays five pitchers with double digit wins.

If a team has that kind of efficiency out of their starting five, they are going to be very tough to beat.

The Red Sox

Boston seems to be in a little bit of a state of flux. This off-season was busy in Beantown, as they let go of revered manager Terry Francona and signed on the ever-colorful Bobby Valentine to be their skipper. They allowed closer Jonathan Papelbon to walk, as he took his flame-throwing arm to Philadelphia to be the Phillies’ closer.

Two of their big-ticket starters, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, have undergone Tommy John surgery. Lackey will miss the entire 2012 season and Dice-K will be out until at least June or July, leaving the Red Sox with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester as their top starters.

Other than Beckett and Lester, the Red Sox have a ton of questions marks as far as their rotation in concerned. How will Daniel Bard make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation? Is Clay Buchholz going to perform at a high level?

Will Felix Doubront be a factor? What about Alfredo Aceves, who has had back problems in the past?

The starting pitching is not the only part of the team under scrutiny. Boston signed Andrew Bailey to replace Papelbon in the closer role, and will insert former Yankee Mark Melancon into the setup spot, supplanting Bard.

How will Bailey handle closing in Boston as opposed to Oakland? Will Melancon rise to challenge of setting him up in close-game situations?

All of these questions won’t be answered until the season commences, but if the Red Sox score runs – and they are capable of scoring runs – it won’t be a problem. Although Boston got off to a horrendous start and a fatal finish, they still scored 875 runs, which was good enough to lead the majors in ‘11.

And they always seem to give the Yankees a hard time.

Last June Boston swept the Bombers in three games at Yankee Stadium, being led by Yankee killer David Ortiz. Big Papi smacked two homers in the series, and stirred up controversy when he flipped his bat in what many felt was a move to show up the Yanks.

Bottom line: Ortiz proved he still has it when it comes to making the Yankees’ lives miserable.

Along with Ortiz, 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia will undoubtedly be swinging a hot bat this year, as will All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who hit .338 last season with 27 homers and 117 RBIs.

Like the pitching, speedy left fielder Carl Crawford and butch third baseman Kevin Youkilis are question marks. Crawford is dealing with a wrist injury that many analysts say caused a decline in his numbers last year. Youkilis had season-ending thumb surgery last August.  

If Crawford and Youkilis come back – and return to form – the Yankees, and all American League pitchers for that matter, need to look out. These two sluggers have the potential to cause major problems for the Yankees when they are at 100%.

All things considered, the Red Sox will have a potent lineup. And no matter what anyone says, the Red Sox are always in the back of the Yankees’ minds. Always.

The Tigers

Last October the Detroit Tigers dashed the Yankees’ hopes and dreams of winning the World Series, eliminating the Bronx Bombers in five games in the ALDS. New York was forced to watch the Tigers celebrate on their soil, as the team from the Motor City proved to be too much for the Yankees to handle.

And it may have just gotten more difficult to beat them.

This off-season the Tigers signed power-hitting lefty Prince Fielder, who clobbered 38 home runs and drove in 120 runs last year. The hefty first baseman has twice averaged .299 at the plate (2009, 2011) and in 2007 Fielder led the National League in homers with 50.

It’s what you can expect from a big guy, but don’t let the size fool you.

Despite his heavy, 275-pound frame, Fielder is durable. He has played in all but one game since 2009, appearing in all 162 games in 2011 and 2009. He played in 161 games in 2010.

Fielder will join the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Delmon Young, two powerhouses who have already proven their worth in Detroit. Last season Cabrera led the league in doubles (48) and batting average (.344). Like Fielder he is also durable, as he appeared in 161 games in ’11.

Young dazzled in last year’s ALDS vs. the Yankees, punishing them with a .316 BA while clubbing three homers and posting a .789 slugging percentage. He collected six hits in the five game series and drew two walks, showing his worth when the stakes were high.

Detroit is obviously the front-runner to once again win the AL Central, and behind ace Justin Verlander – the reigning AL Cy Young winner and AL MVP – their chances of taking the central are high. The other teams in that division pose virtually no threat, and potentially the Yankees could face the Tigers in the ALDS again this year.

If a rematch is in the cards, the Yankees have to adjust accordingly. It didn’t work out for them in last year’s postseason.

The Rangers

It’s no secret that Texas is one of the prime teams to beat, as they have represented the American League in the World Series the past two years. The Rangers lost their number one starter C.J. Wilson to a division rival, the LA Angels, but something tells me it’s not going to matter. The Rangers’ pitching will still be top notch.

Colby Lewis won 14 games last year, as did Matt Harrison. If you were to ask manager Ron Washington, he would probably say both Harrison and Lewis possess the stuff to be number one aces.  Alexi Ogando went 13-8 last year with a 3.51 ERA and he’ll be another weapon in the Rangers’ rotation.

Throw Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish into the mix, and you have quite a set of pitchers, although there are some questions surrounding Feliz and Darvish.

Feliz is making a transition from the bullpen to the rotation, so much like Bard in Boston, his performance depends on how well his stuff translates; how well he works being stretched out. If it goes well for him, and he throws as hard as he did working in the closer role, he’ll be a feared pitcher in the American League.

Like Feliz, Darvish is making a transition – but not from the bullpen. He’ll be making the switch from Japan to MLB. In his native country, Darvish was one of the finest and most revered pitchers. Last year alone Darvish struck out 276 batters over 232 innings of work, and won 18 games with a 1.44 ERA.

Those numbers can be deceitful, however.

Ask Matsuzaka, or Hideki Irabu, or Kei Igawa, or any pitcher who sparkled in Japan and fell apart here. Pitching in the states is much different than pitching in the Far East, so Darvish is basically going to be an enigma until we really see what he can do – and we won’t know what he can do until he logs some innings here in the good ol’ U.S.A.

As far as the Rangers’ offense goes, they won’t have many problems if Josh Hamilton stays healthy. Even if he spends time on the disabled list, they have plenty of power to make up for it. Mike Napoli, the Rangers’ catcher, smacked 30 homers and drove in 75 runs last year.

You know you’re going to be alright when you’re getting that kind of production out of the catcher spot.

Along with Hamilton and Napoli, there’s Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, and Michael Young – a perfect combination of veteran and youthful offense.

A message to the Yankees: when you’re in Texas, look behind you. ‘Cause that’s where the Rangers are going to be! (I couldn’t resist the cheesy/obscure Walker, Texas Ranger reference).

The Angels

In recent times the Angels have almost had the Yankees’ number, being the only team with a lifetime winning record against the Bronx Bombers. LA’s pesky hitting coupled with their stellar pitching are going to make the Halos one of the best teams in the league this season, if not the best.

And it starts with one of their gigantic off-season acquisitions.

The biggest, obviously, is first baseman Albert Pujols. The slugging 3-time NL MVP signed with the Angels on Dec. 8 – and, as if LA wasn’t hard enough to beat already, they just got that much more difficult; that much deeper.

Pujols adds a surefire power bat to the lineup that already includes scrappy, young hitters like Howard Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Maicer Izturis, and Mark Trumbo. Former Yankee Bobby Abreu gives the Angels a veteran presence, as do outfielders Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells.

Last year LA scored 667 runs. Expect that number to go up in 2012.

Along with their strong offense, the Angels have stacked the deck as far as their pitching is concerned. As noted, the Halos snatched the Rangers’ ace C.J. Wilson over the winter, and he will join Dan Haren and Jered Weaver – who were both in double figures in the wins category last year. Haren notched 16 Ws while Weaver put up 18.

Ervin Santana sealed 11 wins last year with an ERA under four. If he does the same working in the back end of the Angels’ rotation this year, they are going to win a lot of games.

The Angels are pretty much the team that has it all; the complete package. If you were to ask me for my World Series pick, on paper, it would be the LA Angels.

But as Yankee Captain Derek Jeter always says, “on paper doesn’t win you ballgames.”

True. But the Angels look awfully dangerous, and have eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs twice, in 2002 and 2005. The last time the Yankees and Angels met in October (2009) the Yankees came out on top, beating the Halos in six games.   

They may need to do it again if they want to win number 28.

What I’ll Remember About the 2011 Season

Casey Stengel once said, “Most games are lost, not won.” And let’s be honest the Detroit Tigers did not win Game Five of the American League Division Series – the Yankees lost it. The Bronx Bombers dropped the decisive game of the ALDS 3-2, forcing them to an early postseason exit.

It marked the first time the Yanks have been knocked out in the first round since 2007, when they were bumped at the hands of the Cleveland Indians.

And with their loss, they collectively became the second person (if you will) to break my heart this year. That’s no lie. More on that later in this entry.

In the bottom of the fourth the Yanks had the bases loaded with one out and failed to score a run. Russell Martin popped out to first base for the second out, and Brett Gardner – who had been raking this entire series – popped the ball up in foul territory behind third, and it landed in the waiting glove of Don Kelly.

Then in the seventh with one out, the Yanks put the ducks on the pond again. Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging, but Mark Teixeira drew a walk forcing home a run to make the game 3-2. But Nick Swisher came up to the plate and murdered the rally with a K.

The Yankees received their first run on a solo home run off the bat of Robinson Cano in the fifth, his second of the ALDS  – his first being a Game One  grand slam. Derek Jeter nearly clubbed what would have been a go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth.

With Gardner on first, the Captain launched a ball deep to the right field warning track, but it slowly lost wind and fell short of a potential game-winning round-tripper.

What can you say? It just wasn’t meant to be this year.

The Tigers – not the Yankees – will now advance to the American League Championship Series to face the Texas Rangers. A rematch of last year’s ALCS was just not in the cards.

The postseason magic was not there; the aura was absent. But there are a lot of memories and thoughts I am going to take away from this year. Here are a few things I’ll never forget about the 2011 baseball season:

Opening Day

There is nothing like the thrill of Opening Day. Spring is in the air, you get the sense of new life, and warm, happy feelings envelope you. Baseball is back and the Yankees did what they couldn’t do in the ALDS: they beat the Tigers.

Curtis Granderson punished his former team with a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning, and threw in some defensive, game-saving web gems, leading the way to a 6-3 Yankee win over Detroit.

The Bronx Broskis started their year with a clean win over the Tigers. I think I speak for most Yankee fans when I say I wish they could have finished off Detroit in the ALDS the way they did on Opening Day.

May 12 vs. the Kansas City Royals

The Yanks hosted the Royals on May 12, and it was my first trip to the big ballpark in the Bronx this year. Just as Opening Day has a certain, special appeal to it, going out to your first game of the season is always fun.

The game turned into a stinker in a hurry, as the Royals put up six runs in the second inning. The Yanks wound up losing 11-5, really only receiving offense from Cano and Rodriguez, who both went yard.

What I remember isn’t so much the game action, but the people (and more particularly a person) I was with at that game. I am not the type of writer who would bury anyone I personally know in this or any other blog or column, but let’s just say (using no names) I was with the other person who broke my heart this year.

If she is reading this, I don’t know about you, but I had a blast at that game; the time of my life, and I was very happy and blessed to have spent that time with you. Thanks again for the chili dog you bought me, too.  I still think it was the best chili dog I ever had. :)

This game was the only time I can ever recall seeing the Yankees lose, but still being happy at the end of the night. In fact, I was probably the happiest person at the Stadium that night, and I can only hope she shared my happiness at the game.

I wouldn’t have traded the feeling I had for anything, not even a Yankee win.

June 15 vs. the Texas Rangers

On my birthday the Yankees met up with the Rangers – the same team that eliminated them from the ALCS in 2010. I once again went out to the Stadium, and wanted so badly for the Yanks to exact a little bit of revenge on Texas – and boy did they ever.

The Bombers squadoosh’d the Rangers 12-4, playing long ball to an eight-run victory.

Teixeira crushed two homers in the game, and Cano and Ramiro Pena also went deep. But the most special home run the Yankees hit probably came off the bat of Eduardo Nunez – it was his 24th birthday too!

A group of people, who I believe was Nunez’s family, were sitting in front of me, going absolutely crazy after his home run.

They held up signs that read, “Happy Birthday Eduardo!” and they were all wearing “Nunez 12” tee-shirts. Plus, they all bore a striking resemblance to him – so I’m convinced to this day it was the Nunez family in the row of seats in front of me that night.

A home run must have been a nice birthday present for Nunez. And a convincing, vengeful Yankee win was a nice gift for me.

Derek Jeter Leaves the Yard for 3,000th Hit

In what was probably the biggest story of the summer, the Yankee Captain, sitting on 2,999 career hits, smacked a home run on July 9, becoming the first player to ever record his 3,000th hit wearing pinstripes.

It was a moment for the ages.

All the Yankees came out of the dugout and congratulated Jeter, hugging him and giving him his legendary credit. The only picture I take away from that moment was Jorge Posada, his teammate since 1995, embracing him in celebration right after he crossed home plate.

If you were to ask Jeter, I’m sure he would say he was happy to have reached his milestone – but even happier the Yankees won the game. The Captain has always put the good of the team above himself and the Bombers topped the Tampa Bay Rays on July 9, 5-4.

Robinson Cano Wins the Home Run Derby

The prelude to the All-Star Game is the Home Run Derby. Certain clubs show off their most powerful sluggers, and Cano participated in this year’s home run contest in Arizona. To everyone’s surprise, the studly second baseman won it.

Now, I have to ask, what’s better than having a Yankee win the Home Run Derby?

How about a Yankee beating a Red Sox player to win the Home Run Derby!

Because that is exactly what happened.

Cano outdueled Boston first baseman Adrian Gonzalez 12-11 in the final round, becoming only the third Yankee (Tino Martinez, 1997, and Jason Giambi, 2002) to take home the Home Run Derby crown.

August 23 vs. the Oakland Athletics

 

This would mark my third and final trip to the Bronx this summer, a game against the A’s. My good friend and fellow die-hard Yankee fan Micheal Robinson was in New York, visiting from Atlanta.   

He got incredible seats right behind the wall in left field, and although the Yankees once again lost, they nearly capped an unreal comeback late in the game.

Down 6-0 entering the bottom of the eighth, the Yanks plated three runs on a three-run Swisher home run to cut the lead in half. In the bottom of the ninth Posada clobbered a solo home run, and the Yanks later loaded the bases.

We thought we were in for an improbable comeback.

With the bases chucked and two outs, Cano drew a walk, cutting the lead down to 6-5. Then Swisher came up again and clubbed a towering drive to deep left-center field. On the edge of our seats, Micheal and I slowly stood up watching the ball fly, ready for a whipped cream pie celebration…

Only for the ball to slowly die on the warning track for the final out. Yanks lose, 6-5.  

Nonetheless, we enjoyed the game. It was a great night with a great friend. My record in attendance at 2011 Yankee games ended at 1-2.

 

Mariano Rivera Becomes Baseball’s All-Time Saves Leader

On Sept. 19 at Yankee Stadium Mariano Rivera recorded his 602nd career save, passing Trevor Hoffman on the all-time saves list. Rivera, who has been lights-out at the end of each Yankee game for the better part of the past 15 years, only solidified what we have known all along:

That he is the greatest closer in the history of baseball.

In typical Rivera fashion, he mowed down the Minnesota Twins 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, wrapping up a 6-4 Yankee win. When he was finished closing the game, he humbly put his head down, and shook his catcher’s hand.

But after that show of sportsmanship Rivera (of course) realized what he had done and acknowledged the love and support he received from his home crowd. Posada even pushed him back out to the mound where he was cheered overwhelmingly.

Again, in typical Rivera fashion he thanked God, his family, the Yankees, and the fans.

It was just another wonderful moment in 2011 – and in Yankee history.

Boston Losing Out of the Postseason

I know I’ve told this story more than once, but for one last time, I’ll tell it again.

All the way back in January I was with a few friends down at a New York City bar watching the Jets’ AFC Title game vs. the Steelers. Although it was a football game, me and each of my friends were wearing Yankee apparel.

In walks a drunken Red Sox fan, wearing a 2004 Championship shirt. And he began to taunt us.

“Are you guys ready for Michael Kay this year? Swisher on the track, at the wall, looking up, SEE YA! Another home run for Carl Crawford and the Red Sox lead, 7-3!”

We just laughed it off and walked away. On the way home from the bar we made fun of him for not even teasing us the right way.

“Hey, at least he gave the Yankees three runs in his little fantasy game,” we snickered. “If he were smart, or maybe sober, he would have made it 15-0 in favor of the Red Sox.”

Boston failing to make the postseason – when practically everyone on this planet had them picked to win the World Series – in my eyes, was just epic; one of the worst, if not the worst collapses I have ever seen.

I would have loved to see that guy’s face when Tampa Bay battled back from nine games behind the Wild Card standings – and when Baltimore crushed Boston’s hopes at a postseason run on the last day of the regular season.

Unbelievable.  

I will never forget how that Red Sox fan basically had his team in the World Series before the season even began and they didn’t even make the playoffs, going 6-20 in the month of September.

The Boston collapse proved two things to me:

1)      You can never speak too soon, and

2)      You can’t win games on paper. The Red Sox may have had the best-looking team on a lineup card, but if the best-looking team folds like an accordion when it matters, it doesn’t guarantee you anything.

Well, Yankee fans. It was one helluva season; one I’ll probably never forget. It is unfortunate the Yanks could not create the magic for us and bring home Championship No. 28.

I’d like to thank everyone for sticking it out this season and reading Yankee Yapping. I promise to write as much as I can during the off-season while the MLB hot stove cooks, boils, bakes, burns, or does whatever it does.

Hopefully I’ll be blogging about Ivan Nova winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award, and either Granderson or Cano winning the AL MVP.

Until then, I’ll say the same thing I did when the Yanks got booted in last year’s ALCS:

Keep your heads up, Yankee fans.

And just remember: we still own 27 World Titles, and we’re still the best team in the world.

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