Results tagged ‘ Justin Verlander ’

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.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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.

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.

Nova Not AL ROY, Finishes Fourth

Today Major League Baseball announced the American and National League Rookie of the Year Award winners. Atlanta Braves’ closer Craig Kimbrel captured the N.L. award, winning unanimously with all 32 first-place votes.

The A.L. ROY went to starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays, as he received 17 first-place votes. Mark Trumbo of the Los Angeles Angels came in second place and Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals finished third.

Ivan Nova, who most Yankee fans expected to be the first Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996, finished in fourth place with just one first-place vote.

Cue the anger and confusion among the pinstripe faithful.

Truthfully, any one of the top four A.L. ROY finishers could have taken home the accolade. Hellickson, Trumbo, Hosmer and Nova each had seasons worthy of the award.

Since the last two A.L. Rookie of the Year awards have gone to pitchers (Andrew Bailey of the Oakland Athletics in 2009 and Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers in 2010) I had the feeling either Hellickson or Nova would win this year – keeping the trend of pitchers winning the A.L. ROY.

Naturally I felt Trumbo (left field, first base) and Hosmer (first base) weren’t going to win – although each of them put up outstanding offensive numbers for rookies. Trumbo clubbed 29 homers and knocked in 87 runs, despite sporting a .254 batting average. Meanwhile Hosmer smacked 19 home runs and drove in 78 runs, nearly hitting .300 with a BA of .293.

But as expected, the pitching trend kept up.

Hellickson made 29 starts for the Rays and went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 189 innings pitched. His won-loss record may not have been indicative of an overpowering season. Yet serving as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, Hellickson helped the Rays in a major way – especially considering they had traded away Matt Garza, a hurler the Rays thought to be a front-line starter, at the beginning of the year.

Nova struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season. He got shelled and lost some tough games in the early-going, but found a way to persevere and endure, grinding his way to a 16-4 record in 28 starts. He finished with an ERA of 3.70 and notched 98 strikeouts in 165.1 innings pitched.

Looking at overall individual stats – minus the record – Hellickson did have a numerically stronger year. Plus, that brief period when Nova was sent down to the minors in July probably hurt his chances at the ROY.

Yet, look at Nova and how he evolved throughout the course of the season; how he was slated to be a number four starter and was basically forced to become a number two when Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett faltered.

Nova was forced to “carry the ball” so-to-speak, and he carried it very well.

Last week About.com published an article revealing who should win each end-of-the-year award, who the dark horses were, and who they thought would win. Not only did this article say Nova should win – but it said he would win.

“Who should win Rookie of the Year: Ivan Nova of the New York Yankees.  

The 24-year-old Dominican righty finished 16-4, and did it while filling a gaping hole in the rotation of one of the best teams in the league. His ERA is just a so-so 3.70, but has a 2.7 WAR, which is solid in a relatively weak crop of rookies, at least statistically this season.

Who will win Rookie of the Year: Nova. Being in the big market will put him over the top.”

The author of that article seemed to have a lot of faith in the Yankee rookie – and not that I pay that much attention to WAR, or wins above replacement, but it was a good point – one I didn’t even take into consideration.

Those who vote for the end-of-the-year awards, AKA the baseball writers, clearly recognized Nova for his effort and what he brought to the Yankees – but in a lot of the fans’ minds, they did not recognize it enough because he didn’t finish first.

Lately the Yankee fans seemingly have a lot to be upset about when it comes to these awards after every season. Last year many felt CC Sabathia – who won 21 games – was robbed of the A.L. Cy Young when Felix Hernandez, who only won 13 games, captured the award over the Yankee ace.

What’s more, Robinson Cano was a front-runner to take home the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in 2010, but he came in third to Josh Hamilton (the winner) and Miguel Cabrera (first runner-up). I know of more than one Yankee fan who truly felt Cano was, in a word, “shafted.”

The last Yankee to collect a meaningful end-of -the-year accolade: Alex Rodriguez, when he won the A.L. Most Valuable Player Award in 2007. To get there, A-Rod had to crush 54 homers, bat .314, and drive in 156 runs.

It’s a little obvious by now the writers who vote for the awards aren’t exactly Yankee lovers, and the media has apparently become somewhat “anti-pinstripe.” Cano and Curtis Granderson are two Yankees that can easily be considered for this year’s A.L. MVP, which will be announced a week from today on Nov. 21.

Now that Nova did not win Rookie of the Year, I don’t expect either Yankee to win the award.

Sabathia is up again for the Cy Young with his 19 wins this season and 3.00 ERA – but forget it. Everyone already knows Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40 ERA) of the Detroit Tigers is taking home that piece of hardware.

The Yankees may have run out of luck this year when it came to the awards. Like it or not, the media is not on the Yanks’ side and ultimately they choose who goes home with the trophies.

If I ever make the Baseball Writer’s Association I promise to be fair and unbiased, as all writers should be. If I were voting this year, I probably would have given Nova a first-place vote, simply because he was valuable to the Yankees – and you can’t argue that. Just look at the points made in the About.com article.

Just know that if I ever get to the BBWA, there will be at least one writer who doesn’t hate the Yankees on the voting panel – although I would maintain my professional integrity as a reporter and consider every candidate respectfully.

As a Yankee fan though, I can only hope next year Jesus Montero breaks out and has the year of his life. If he can get his game up and have a “coming out party” of sorts in 2012, he can avenge this rather unfair treatment of Nova in this year’s A.L. Rookie of the Year voting – at least unfair in the minds of the majority of the Yankee fans.

On second thought, if I did have a vote this year, I would have voted for this guy

Just kidding, just kidding.

Trending Topics

October 3, 2006: The Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers 8-4 in Game One of the American League Division Series at home – a rather easy win, a good start out of Chien-Ming Wang, and overall a well-played game.

October 1, 2011: The Yankees beat the Detroit Tigers 9-3 in Game One of the ALDS. Again, a relatively easy win in front of a partisan Yankee Stadium crowd; a good amount of offense (namely from Robinson Cano) and a good pitching performance from Ivan Nova led the way to a decisive victory for the Bronx Broskis.

October 5, 2006: The Tigers beat the Yankees in a close game, 4-3, taking game two – and home field advantage – away from New York.

October 3, 2011: The Tigers beat the Yankees 5-3, another close game, and swiped home field advantage, taking the series back to Detroit.

Noticing a trend here?

If you’re wondering, the Yankees were shut out in Game Three of the ’06 ALDS, 6-0, at the (greasy) hands of one Kenny Rogers. Their task tonight is to beat 24-game winner and American League Cy Young Award shoe-in Justin Verlander – a task which may prove to be very daunting.

On Saturday at Yankee Stadium before Game One was suspended, Verlander didn’t look like himself. His pitches were missing up out of the zone, and he walked two batters while giving up an earned run in the lone inning he tossed.

But that could have just been an aberration.

Just as Alex Murphy was transformed into RoboCop in Detroit (I’m not holding back with the obscure Detroit/RoboCop references for this series) tonight Verlander has the chance to morph back to what he really is; erase that mediocre first inning from Game One – and do it in front of his home audience at Comerica Park.

The Yankees will counter with their ace, CC Sabathia. The big man only pitched two innings before the first game was suspended, and while he recorded four strikeouts and didn’t issue a walk, he gave up a solo homer to Delmon Young in the first inning.

Over the last 10 games of the regular season, Sabathia was 4-3 with an ERA of 4.06. He allowed 87 hits in 68 2/3 innings, and gave up 31 earned runs.

Down the stretch, Sabathia seemed to struggle, yet the ace still posted 19 wins and finished with an ERA of 3.00. Even in the face of a scuffle, Sabathia showed he can still put up solid numbers.

Tonight Sabathia will have to stand toe-to-toe with the probable AL Cy Young Award winner – and the Yankee bats have to come alive, more alive than they were in Game Two. Yesterday they made Max Scherzer, a pitcher with nine losses and a 4.43 ERA this season, look like Nolan Ryan.

Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez are the three key offensive players that need to lead the team at the plate – especially A-Rod. Rodriguez is 0-for-8 in this series thus far. In another strange trend, he went 1-for-14 in the ’06 ALDS.

If Verlander happens to outduel Sabathia, the Yanks will find themselves in the same spot they were in back in 2006, down two games to one in the Motor City – and the pattern could continue.

Their ‘06 fate might be duplicated in ‘11.

October 7, 2006: Down two games to one, the Yankees sent Jaret Wright to the mound in an elimination game. Wright labored through two innings and gave up three runs, putting the Yankees in a quick hole they were never ever to climb out of. The Tigers went on to beat the Yankees 8-3 for the ALDS win.

October 4, 2011: The Yankees will send A.J. Burnett to the hill in what could be an elimination game; a loss tonight makes the series two games to one in favor of the Tigers. Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA this season – and you don’t have to sell any Yankee fan on how poorly Burnett pitched this year.

There is no Yankee fan anywhere in the world (at least that I know of) that has any faith in Burnett.

Tonight could make or break the series for New York. If the Yanks can pull out a win, then no matter what, at the very least they will be coming back to the Bronx for a Game Five.

But the Yankees will have to break this vicious trend if they want that to happen.

RAWR! Bring on the Tigers

   

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – Winston Churchill

There have been a lot of bizarre things happening around baseball these past 24 hours. The Boston Red Sox capped an epic American League Wild Card collapse, falling apart at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles…and maybe their 6-20 month of September.

The Tampa Bay Rays – who rallied back from a 7-0 deficit against the Yankees – stunned the world and captured the AL Wild Card.

It proved one thing: sometimes it takes all 162 games to make the postseason.

Now Boston (the team everyone and their mother picked to be representing the AL in the World Series) is going home for the winter, and the Rays will play the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series – a rematch of last year’s first round.

Then there are the Yankees, who are the AL East Champions. They finished with a record of 97-65, the best in the American League. The Bombers will square off with the AL Central winners, the Detroit Tigers, in the ALDS.

Right back to where we started on Opening Day.

But the last time the Yanks and Tigers faced off in the playoffs was 2006 – and it did not go well for New York.

The Yankees were predicted to go deep into the playoffs that year; they had a pitching staff featuring 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang, the tactical and crafty Mike Mussina, and the Big Unit, Randy Johnson.

Game One was easy to watch. The Yanks (with home field advantage) took care of the Tigers in convincing fashion, winning Game One 8-4. Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi both homered – as did Curtis Granderson – but he was on the other side of the field in the other dugout, a member of the Tigers.

After such an encouraging Game One, everything just came unglued.

Game Two was set to take place the night after Game One, but a rainout forced the two teams to play the following afternoon. I can’t say for sure whether or not it halted the Yankees’ momentum, but Joe Torre once said that “playoff rainouts hurt.”

And boy, did the Yanks hurt following that rainout.

Game Two started nicely, but turned into a nightmare. The Yankees had a 3-1 lead after four innings, and it looked as though they were going to be putting themselves in a favorable position: a two games-to-nothing lead going to Detroit.

But the Tigers were able to claw their way back into the game, scoring once in the fifth and once in the sixth. Then in the seventh, they plated a run to make it 4-3, and they never looked back.

The biggest spot in that game came on the shoulders of one Alex Rodriguez. He had been under heavy scrutiny for not putting up the best power numbers in ’06 – although he did smash 35 home runs and he drove in 121 runs. I don’t see what’s so bad about that.

Yet, he had been failing in clutch situations – and all season long, the Yankee fans booed him off the field whenever he didn’t come up big.

Rodriguez was standing in the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the eighth of Game Two, two outs, the bases loaded, down by one run, and facing the flame-throwing Joel Zumaya.

Talk about pressure; needing to come up big in a huge spot.

Zumaya blew A-Rod away on the first two pitches before throwing a breaking ball, buckling Rodriguez’s knees and puzzling him for a called strike three. As he retreated towards the dugout a torrential shower of boos and jeers rained down on the Yankees’ third baseman.

Rodriguez was booed off the field – at home.

The Yanks were never able to capitalize and home field advantage was taken away from them. With the ALDS tied 1-1, they headed to the Motor City. What happened in Game Three still shocks me to this day.

Detroit sent former Yankee Kenny Rogers to the mound and his numbers against the Yankees were unreal. The lineup Torre posted had 20 home runs combined in their career off Rogers. The analysts all said this was the Yankees’ game to win; they even strategized how Jim Leyland, the Tigers’ skipper, should maneuver his bullpen – because they all believed Rogers was going to get shelled.

Not the case at all.

Rogers dazzled the Yanks, tossing 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball. He allowed five hits and two walks, but struck out eight on the way to a 6-0 Tiger victory.

It didn’t make sense. The Yankees owned this guy, how did they not hand him his rear end?

It was revealed when the Tigers made the World Series that Rogers had grease on his pitching hand – and that grease was on his hand during the ALDS vs. the Yankees (and subsequently the American League Championship Series against the Oakland A’s).

Perhaps his greasy hand was the reason the Yanks couldn’t touch him that night?

From there it was all but over. Torre decided to start Jaret Wright in Game Four and he fell apart in the second inning, allowing three runs. The Tigers eventually went on to win the game 8-3 and claim the ALDS.

With the way the Yankees played that year – full of passion and drive – a first round knockout was not how I envisioned the season ending. What shocked me the most was, instead of New York talking about how well the Mets were doing in the postseason, the Yankees dominated the backs of the newspaper pages.

“Why did the Yankees lose? Is Joe Torre Coming Back Next Year? What Happened to A-Rod?”

Even in defeat, the Yankees upstaged the Mets.

For as many differences I see between 2006 and now, some things look the same.

What’s Different This Time Around

Well, for one, different position players. Granderson was on the 2006 Tigers team and now he is a Yankee. It’s worth noting the centerfielder had a big ALDS against the Yankees: two homers, five RBIs, a triple, he slugged .765 and stole a base.

Instead of doing that against the Yankees, he’ll look to do it for them this time.

Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, and Giambi for that matter, were all in the starting lineup in the 2006 postseason.

Now, all of those players are on different teams – or retired. And it works both ways.

Some of Detroit’s difference-makers in ’06 are gone. Craig Monroe, Placido Polanco, Ivan Rodriguez, and Sean Casey are no longer on the team.

A lot of the pitchers have also moved on. Our starting three does not consist of Wang, Mussina, and Johnson – and thankfully Jaret Wright is no longer in pinstripes. CC Sabathia (19-7, 3.00 ERA), Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70 ERA) and Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA) will head up the Yanks’ ALDS rotation.

Aside from the big one, meaning Justin Verlander, the Tigers’ staff has also changed since 2006.

Throughout the season I knew what Verlander had been doing (24-5, 2.40 ERA). But I hadn’t been keeping up with the rest of Detroit’s starting pitching. In fact, the other day I asked myself,

“Who is their number two starter? RoboCop? He’s from Detroit, it makes sense.”

But then I looked up Doug Fister, who is 8-1 in 11 games for the Tigers this year with a 1.79 ERA. Behind him is Max Scherzer, another starter who is not exactly a slouch: 15-9 with a 4.43 ERA.

What works in the Yankees’ favor, though: no funny business or should I say “greasy action.”  

It’s clearly a different corps of players and it’s a different time. But I can’t help but be reminded of what happened in ’06 and parallel it to 2011.

What Looks the Same

The regular season records. In 2006 Detroit finished at 95-67, while the Yankees ended their campaign at 97-65. They met in the ALDS and look what happened.

Fast forward to 2011. The Tigers ended at 95-67; the Yanks at 97-65. They are about to meet in the ALDS, and…well…I am sure the Yankees hope the outcome will be much different, despite the eerie similarity.

There’s also the A-Rod factor.

This year was probably the worst season for Rodriguez. Numerically he failed to hit 30 home runs for the first time since 1997. He hit 16 this year with a .276 batting average and 62 RBIs – and he could not stay off the DL.

Rodriguez was hurt for the majority of the season, and even when he came off the disabled list he could not fend off the injury bug. A jammed thumb, followed by a sore knee – he couldn’t stay healthy.

I have this sinking feeling A-Rod is going to perform poorly in the postseason because of his injuries this year – which in a way mirrors what he did in ‘06. It doesn’t look good for him now, but as they say, the postseason is a new season, and maybe he can come out of his funk and get back to making good contact at the plate.

Once he does that, his power will return.

Along with A-Rod, home field advantage was something the Yankees also had in 2006, which didn’t work in their favor. Splitting the first two games takes home field away from the Yankees. Suppose Verlander outduels Sabathia tomorrow night, but the Yankees answer and get to Fister to take Game Two.

New York would have to go into Detroit and win at least one game – and Comerica Park will undoubtedly be shaking and baking; rocking and rolling. It was difficult for the Yankees to handle in 2006, and expect no difference this year.

Differences and similarities aside, this is looking to be an interesting postseason. Can the Yankees, who most skeptics doubted at the start of the year, win the World Series for the 28th time in their storied history?

If they learned anything from 2006, they certainly have a chance.

CC a Warrior, But Won’t Win Cy

Today he got hungry – and forgot his manners.

Yankee ace CC Sabathia ate up 7 1/3 innings this afternoon, giving up just two earned runs on six hits en route to the Yanks’ 9-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at home. He walked just one batter and struck out 10 for the second straight game.

With the win, Sabathia has collected at least 19 wins in each of his three seasons in pinstripes – which ties him for most 19 win seasons (as a Yankee) with Andy Pettitte, Ron Guidry, and Mel Stottlemyre. He now has four career 19 win seasons and he has a good chance to win 20 (or more) before the 2011 campaign wraps.

Of late, the big man has been dealing like he’s been playing blackjack in Vegas.

But it hasn’t just been the past couple of starts that have put Sabathia in the running for the Cy Young Award. All season long he has been a horse. In fact, since day one he has done nothing but work, grind, and earn everything he has.

Case in point: his last start on Aug. 30 in Boston, a game the Yanks needed and won 5-2.

The Red Sox had gotten the better of Sabathia all season going into that game. His numbers proved that, as he boasted a poor 0-4 record with an inflated 7.20 ERA against the Yankees’ hated rivals. More than anything he needed to showcase his capability to win a hugely important ballgame in 2011 vs. the Red Sox.

And that’s what he did, although it wasn’t easy.

To start the game, Sabathia plunked Jacoby Ellsbury with a pitch – which probably sent a lot of skeptics and cynics into saying, “here we go again.” But he rebounded nicely, getting Marco Scutaro to ground into a force out before striking out Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia swinging to end the frame.

In the second inning, Sabathia threw a wild pitch with Jed Lowrie on first, getting himself into a first-and-second, one out jam (He fanned David Ortiz to open the frame). Boston eventually loaded the bases with two outs, but the Yankee ace responded by getting Ellsbury to ground out to second to end the threat.

The fourth was a bad inning for Sabathia, as he surrendered two runs – one of which came on a solo homer off the bat of Carl Crawford. He also allowed Jarrod Saltalamacchia to score on a double by Scutaro, giving Boston their only two runs in the game.

The Yanks had already put three runs on the board and never trailed.

However in the fifth, he got himself into more trouble. He gave up a one out single to Ortiz, followed by a Lowrie double, setting up the BoSox second and third, one out.  But Sabathia continued to refuse to buckle, as he got Crawford to line out and then whiffed Saltalamacchia to end another threat.

The big man labored; worked his tail off to earn the win – six innings pitched, 10 hits, two earned runs, two walks, 10 strikeouts, and he chucked a career-high 129 pitches to get through the game.   

If that performance doesn’t have the word “Warrior” written on it, what does?

Last year Sabathia came in third in the American League Cy Young Award voting, losing to Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners (who won, coming in first in the voting; 13-12, 2.27 ERA) and David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays (first runner-up; 19-6, 2.72 ERA). Sabathia won 21 games last year while only losing seven, and his ERA was 3.18.

Most proponents for Hernandez’s Cy Young win argue that his individual numbers were better than Sabathia’s and Price’s – and that’s true. He led the league in batters faced (1,001), games started (34), ERA (2.27), innings pitched (249 2/3), and hits-per-nine (7.0).

Plus, he was able to post a winning record on a ballclub that gave him virtually no run support, another factor contributing to his winning of the award. Hernandez had a lot going for him; the writers recognized that and rewarded him for it.

I have always maintained that the Cy Young Award should go to the Most Valuable Pitcher – because the award says MOST VALUABLE PITCHER on it.

Sabathia (and Price, for that matter) were more valuable to their respective teams. Sabathia carried the Yankees into the stretch run and helped get them into the American League Championship Series. Price did much of the same. He stood at the forefront of the Rays’ pitching staff, leading them to the AL East crown.

There’s no doubt that Hernandez had an incredible year in 2010 because the numbers do not lie. Yet, the question has to be asked: if he was on a team (like the Yankees or Rays) that was locked a tight pennant race, would he be the same pitcher?

The Mariners were not going to the playoffs last year. Hernandez could have taken the mound every fifth day with no pressure whatsoever. Win or lose at the end of the day, Seattle wasn’t in the running for the AL West. Hernandez probably pitched “hakuna matata,” if you will; with no worries in his head.

Sabathia and Price had a lot to worry about, though. Both were the aces of pitching staffs that were going to be playing autumn baseball; they were under much more scrutiny and more likely than not, were thinking hard about the postseason.

But that was last year. Hernandez won. It’s over and done with.

With Sabathia’s outstanding numbers this year (19-7, 2.99 ERA) he is once again a candidate for the Cy Young Award. His stiffest competition is, without a doubt, Justin Verlander (21-5, 2.34 ERA) of the Detroit Tigers.  Verlander has put the Tigers on his back and carried them to first place in the AL Central.

You name the pitching category, Verlander leads it.

I think what is going to win him the award, along with his numbers, is this question: where would the Tigers be without Verlander?

It’s a legitimate question. The answer: probably not in first place.

But another question needs to be raised: where would the Yankees be without Sabathia?

Same answer: probably not in first place.

The Yankees have three pitchers in their rotation with losing records. Bartolo Colon is 8-9, Phil Hughes is 4-5, and A.J. Burnett is 9-11. Without Sabathia’s 19 wins and brilliant workmanlike efforts, the Yankee ship would be sunk.     

I still find it amazing the Yankees are in first place, considering three of their starters don’t own winning records. It’s pretty incredible that they have been able to continue to win games despite receiving subpar starting pitching at times.

Verlander has a little bit of an edge over Sabathia in terms of the Cy Young voting, as his numbers are a hair above the Yankee ace. Knowing the writers, they will give it to Verlander – and if he does win the award over the big man, I cannot dispute it in any way – certainly not the way Hernandez’s  Cy Young win can be brought into question .

It was easy to point out why Sabathia (or Price) should have won over Hernandez, but Verlander is for real.

If a pitcher has 21 wins and September just started, he is doing something right.

There are, however, a couple different Yankees who are in consideration for other awards, namely the AL Most Valuable Player Award and the AL Rookie of the Year. Curtis Granderson is leading the majors in runs scored with 125 and in RBI with 107. He is second in home runs with 38 to Toronto’s Jose Bautista, who has 40.

The only thing that’s killing Granderson is his .271 batting average. If he can raise his BA, he’s a shoo-in for MVP.

Meanwhile Ivan Nova (15-4, 3.89 ERA) is up for AL Rookie of the Year. Each of the past two seasons a pitcher has captured the award (Andrew Bailey of the Oakland A’s in 2009 and Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers in 2010). Nova will hopefully keep the line moving and become the first Yankee to win Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter won it in 1996.

Last year I truly felt Sabathia deserved the Cy Young. Although he is having a great season, Verlander looks to be the favorite this year. But there are other Bombers who are in the running for league-wide end-of-the-year accolades. If not one player wearing pinstripes takes home an award, I will be thoroughly convinced that…well…

The writers hate the Yankees.

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