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Yanks’ Have What It Takes, But Will It All Come Together?

One month ago, many people including myself were incredibly worried about the Yankees potentially missing the playoffs. The Bombers’ huge ten game lead in the division had dwindled down to one, as the Baltimore Orioles played their best baseball in 15 years. Not only that, but the Yankees themselves were playing absolutely terrible baseball, and many were calling for Joe Girardi’s head.

But by re-gaining some important sidelined players and taking advantage of an easy schedule to end the year, the Yankees came together and wound up making the playoffs and could clinch the A.L. East tonight with a win over the Red Sox. The calendar has now flipped to October, and this postseason is shaping up to be an uphill battle for baseball’s winning-est franchise.

As displayed in September, this Yankees team is not one to be taken lightly, and very easily could the club come together on all aspects and make a fierce run for their 28th world championship. For that to happen, the team will need to play as one unit, consistently producing by way of clutch pitching AND hitting – something we haven’t seen from the Yankees on a nightly basis really all year.

And ironically every time the playoffs roll around, the Yankees go about it saying, “it’s just another game on the schedule”. Yet for the past few years, they’ve played their worst baseball in October. Last year they couldn’t buy a run with men on base; and in 2010 their pitching (besides Andy Pettitte) tanked against Texas in the ALCS. Besides the glorious season of 2009, you can trace every Yankee playoff loss in the past 10 years to a lack of either clutch hitting/pitching, or both in the same series. Don’t even get me started about Jaret Wright or Chien-Ming Wang.

I’m not saying the Yankees lie about their approach to the postseason, but clearly something changes in them over the course of the days following Game 162 and Game 1 of the ALDS. They just aren’t the same Bombers we see throughout the summer.

Maybe this year though, that would be a good thing. No, a great thing.

I’m not saying it’s as simple as the law of averages, but the Yankees really haven’t been the consistent, overpowering force in the American League they normally are each regular season. Sure, they wound up on top of the division again, and you bet they were right there in the standings for the best record in Major League Baseball. But more often than not there was uncertainty and inconsistent play by New York. They’d sweep a series versus a pennant chaser, then lose 2 of 3 to a non-contender. The injuries piled up as well, largely the reason why the Yankees faltered in mid-August and nearly lost a grip on control of their playoff destiny.

Now, the Yankees are a much healthier and complete team then they were. Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira have returned and (for the most part) really haven’t skipped a beat. Not only that, but the past couple weeks the Yankees played some of their best baseball, getting hits with runners in scoring position that aren’t also known as “home runs”. Sure, they still heavily rely on the long ball, but guys who can’t crush a fastball 400 feet every night are learning to be better situational hitters, and looking to rather move a runner to third then trying to score him on one swing of a bat. As I mentioned, hitting with RISP has been the Yankees’ Achilles heel for most of this season and certainly a prime reason for their first-round exit last year. Hitting well now should have some level of a positive impact on how the Yankees swing the lumber as the playoffs begin in a couple days.

Not forgotten is also the pitching staff this year, which has had some streaks of success and streaks of utter failures. As mentioned earlier, the rotation is now re-stocked with the clutch southpaw Andy Pettitte returning from the freak injury he suffered in late June. He’s come back and shown no signs of slowing down, and is absolutely essential to any World Series run the Yankees want to make this year. If he didn’t come back from retirement, the Yankees may not have been back in the postseason.

The other pitchers who haven’t been gone as long – CC, Kuroda, and Hughes, all had solid seasons, Kuroda especially. From May on, he arguably was the ace over a hobbled and inconsistent Sabathia, posting a 3.34 ERA (as of the morning of October 3rd) with 15 wins. Hughes, as I tabbed him the Yankees “Comeback Player of the Year”, looked like his 2010 self here in 2012, hovering around a 4 ERA but putting in a number of quality/dominant outings. More importantly, CC has clearly re-gained his health and strength, as he finished the season with three outstanding starts following an up and down second half of the year.

Say what you want about them, but the Yankees’ bullpen still has many quality relievers who have postseason experience. That’s not something you can say about the Orioles and A’s, of course. It’ll certainly be bittersweet when instead of the Sandman entering, we have Rafael Soriano jogging out to some mamba music in the 9th inning. But he still did a fantastic job as the first successor to the great Mariano Rivera. Sori has been mostly automatic all year for New York, but of course, nothing is certain with closers in the postseason, so all we can do is hope Girardi doesn’t over-use him and he stays fresh enough to produce just as well as he did in the regular season.

The supporting cast, as I like to call them, also had good years, and should be able to transition into the fall. Set-up man David Robertson pitched to a tune of a 2.67 ERA, once again shutting down hitters and building the bridge to Rafi’s entrance in the 9th. Joba Chamberlain has emerged as the Yankees’ 7th inning man, returning back to pumping his 96 mph fastball and getting outs when needed. He’s nowhere near the superstar status he nearly achieved when he first burst onto the scene in 2007, but he’s definitely already had his share of moments in the playoffs and should be able to be relied upon to help the Yankees in those close game situations.

You’d figure the Yankees’ top flight starters of CC, Kuroda, and Andy should be able to get the Yankees to the 6th inning at the very least, but if not, you still have other options out of the ‘pen. Boone Logan, Cody Eppley, and David Phelps can all too contribute to the Yankees’ quest for another world championship.

All in all, this Yankees team is absolutely good enough to win it all. When they are firing on all cylinders, they are a very hard team to beat. The problem is, normally they aren’t. Stranger things have happened in the playoffs before, but the Yankees are going to have to do some quick soul searching and quick rebounding to try and play as a complete team and get those 11 more wins needed, for #28.

Is Selig’s “New Deal” Working?

Maybe people haven’t been thinking about it much with the postseason still about two months away, but boy is change coming this October. The playoff format included in the new collective-bargaining agreement adds another wild card team to each league and a one-game playoff between the two wild cards to decide who plays in the ALDS.

If that’s not enough for you, the ALDS itself is going to run in a 2-3 format, like it did during the 1995-1997 seasons. Which means, the wild card team will have home-field for the first two games, and the higher-seeded, division winning club will have the remaining three, if necessary. Next year, it will go back to the 2-2-1 in place since 1998.

Maybe that was just a waste of web space, because most MLB fans are aware of what’s to come. And even though many of them, including myself, are opposed to it – in a way, Bud Selig’s original idea for this plan is being realized.

If the playoffs started today, 7 of 11 (three-way tie in AL Wild Card right now) teams would be in the playoffs for the first time since at least before last season. Selig’s hope for more first-time contenders (or first time in a long time – looking at you Baltimore and Pittsburgh) was one of his big reasons for adding the extra wild cards.

As much as it pains be to say this, there’s no doubt Selig knew what he was doing – at least for this season. It’s been exciting to this point, with a lot of teams contending who simply have been horrible in recent years. If those clubs keep it up and make it a tense, epic finish to the season come September, it might change my view – only slightly – on the new playoff system.

Of course the actual postseason need to be played, but I really have to hand it so Mr. Selig – you really hit the nail on the head for this one. You’ve crushed your fingers with mostly everything else though.

Yanks have the pitching to go far this postseason

Baseball fans can breath a sigh of relief as the intense trade deadline has come and gone, leaving just a few waiver-induced deals to take place in the month of August. Many big names changed uniforms, but none of them put on the pinstripes, and the Yankees’ only deal came in the form of acquiring third baseman Casey McGehee for reliever Chad Qualls.

There were reports up until the final minutes that the Yankees were very close to acquiring the NL-ERA leader Ryan Dempster, but instead Texas jumped ahead and acquired the 34-year old. Though I and other Yankee fans were hesitant on giving up any solid prospects for a three month rental, there is little doubt Dempster would have improved our chances in the postseason.

In the end, the Yankees were unable to nab any starting pitchers to help bolster their currently weak and hobbled rotation. It’s certainly not the end of the world, but the Yankees are going to have an uphill battle to climb this October.

To me the team is caught in a very difficult state right now. Recently joining Andy Pettitte on the disabled list is their (at the time of his injury) hot-hitting slugger Alex Rodriguez. It seemed he was finally turning it around, but one pitch to the hand ended any chance of a second half surge – A-Rod won’t be back until late September, and will have to work very hard to get back his strength and be ready for October. We all remember last year, when he was on and off the DL and produced mostly nothing for the Yanks in the ALDS.

As for Pettitte, he recently felt soreness in his ankle while rehabbing, and though that is nothing serious, it got me thinking about the southpaw. What if he’s not the same when he returns? He was simply awesome when he came back after his one-year retirement, pitching better than he did before he left. As much confidence as I have in Andy, it will be very hard for him to get back to that form at the age of 40. Also, as we saw in his original return, he needed a good amount of minor league rehab starts to get in shape, so September 1st seems like a stretch for his return, and if it is, he’s in trouble – the minor league season ends that day.

Now I know Brian Cashman was trying in the end to get Dempster, but now that he hasn’t, it seems the Yankees are now in “once we get Andy back..” mode. Meaning their mantra no matter what happens is that once Pettitte gets back the Yankees will be fine and will have a strong enough rotation to go deep in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, that’s not something I can really buy into at the moment, given the recent acquisitions by other teams and their already formidable pitching staffs. Also, add our ongoing RISP failures and a bunch of injuries to the mix, and the Chase for 28 may not be so simple to complete this fall.

But, trying to be confident, the Yankees’ rotation would not be the worst and most surprising staff to win a World Series. The 2011 Cardinals’ rotation was nothing spectacular, yet by just coming up in the clutch the Cards beat a ferocious Texas team with both a solid lineup and rotation.

Also, look at the ’09 Yankees. Heck, they only used three starters, and one of them was A.J. Burnett! (I’m only kidding.)

But the point I’m getting at is the Yankees do not need equally good or better pitching than Texas and LA to win. They just need consistency and players coming up in the clutch, which isn’t necessarily something that either the Rangers or Angels just acquired.

Looking at the likely rotation we’ll have when the season ends, the Yanks could go with CC, Pettitte, Kuroda, and Hughes in that order for the playoffs. And no matter what anyone says, that is a solid postseason rotation. Each pitcher has experience, and most of all, success on the big stage, which is not something the Angels or Rangers can say about their starters.

And you cant’ forget about the bullpen either – the Yankees still have one of the best bullpens in the majors, and so combine experienced solid starters with an experienced strong bullpen and you get a championship-caliber pitching staff. Simple math!

It’s funny how when I set out to write this article, I was thinking down on the Yankees and their chances of winning the World Series. But as my negative thoughts normally deteriorate and the positive ones start flowing through my head, anything is possible in sports and the Yankees are by no means a weak team or the underdog in the American League. They’re still a great team with a great chance to go far this October, and it would be awesome to see them go out and prove everyone, including myself wrong. Go Yankees!

What do you guys think? Are the Yankees doomed, have a puncher’s chance, or will be the cream of the crop come playoff time?

Playoff Expansion Lowers The Bar For Some And Raises It For Others

For only the third time in the history of MLB, a change has been made in the number of teams that qualify for the postseason. An extra wild card has been added in both the AL and NL, bringing the number of teams who now qualify for the postseason to ten. Exactly one-third of the teams who compete in MLB will play at least one playoff game in October this year. Bud Selig’s dream has become a reality.

Opinions on this expansion range from apocalyptic to fantastic.  Those in the fantastic camp feel that you can never have too much of a good thing. Those in the apocalyptic camp feel that the more teams you add to the postseason the less emphasis there is on a regular season that has always meant more than any regular season in all of professional sports, a regular season that was always a key element in baseball’s charm and appeal. You can count me firmly as a member of the apocalyptic camp.

The one game playoff in the first round presents a plethora of troubling possibilities. Lets suppose the Red Sox trail the Yankees by two games for the division lead heading into the three game series between the two teams that ends the regular season in 2012.  Lets also suppose that the Rays are four games behind both the Yankees and Red Sox yet have the fifth and last playoff spot locked up. What does Bobby Valentine do in such a situation? Does he pitch the first three pitchers in his rotation attempting to sweep the Yankees and win the division? Or does he rest his ace, figuring that he has to save his best pitcher for a possible one game playoff with the Rays? Joe Maddon could set up his rotation over the last three games of the season knowing he had nothing to gain and have his best starter on regular rest for the one game playoff.  That would actually be a reward for the team with the lesser record in a scenario such as this. This is just one of the many troubling possibilities that a one game playoff represents.

MLB’s season is 162 games. That’s almost twice as many games as the NBA and NHL teams play, and more than ten times the number of games that NFL teams plays. 162 games played over six months are more than enough games to establish who the best teams are.  The notion that a one game playoff is in any way a fair way to decide who should be eliminated after a 162 game season borders on insanity. Many of us have never accepted the best of five format in the opening round from 1994-2011 as a valid way to decide who should advance after such a long season.  It’s astonishing that MLB would lengthen the postseason yet choose to add a one game playoff rather than lengthen the Divisional Series to a best of seven format.

One of the results of the expanded playoff format will almost certainly be to lessen the intensity of the regular season for teams and fans alike.  Losing streaks used to create panic for the teams who suffered them. Will that still be the case in this new playoff era? Consider the case of the 2011 Boston Red Sox.  Heavily favored in the preseason to win the 2011 World Series, the Red Sox lost their first six games of the season and ten of their first twelve games.  Headlines of horror screamed throughout the nation and it was only the middle of April.  The Red Sox righted the ship and looked to be a cinch to make the postseason, before losing twenty-one of their last twenty-nine games. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion as the headlines roared and the pressure on the Red Sox built to the same fevered pitch it had in April during their horrendous start. When the Red Sox lost their final game of the season to the Orioles just minutes before the Rays had come from behind to defeat the Yankees in their final regular season game, it completed one of the most dramatic up and down seasons in the history of baseball.  You know what it would have meant under the new playoff system? Nothing, absolutely nothing at all.  The Red Sox finished with the fifth best record in the American League in 2011, four games clear of the Angels. The drama surrounding the Red Sox in April and September of last year would have been relegated to a very minor story.

Read the rest of this entry

NLCS Game 6 Open Thread

We have one team (Texas) in the world series and they sit back and wait for the winner of this series.  With a pretty bad Sunday night football game on tonight this game should have some interest.  Below are the start times and match ups. Enjoy.

St. Louis at Milwaukee 8:05 PM TBS Jackson vs Marcum

NLCS Open Thread

And here are the pitchers and game time….

TEAMS TIME (ET) NAT TV PITCHERS
Milwaukee at St. Louis 8:05 PM TBS Greinke vs Garcia

Another 2 Playoff Games Open Thread

Here are the games, pitchers, and start times.

Texas at Detroit 4:19 PM FOX StubHub Wilson vs Verlander
Milwaukee at St. Louis 8:05 PM TBS StubHub Wolf vs Lohse

Two Playoff Games Open Thread

Here are the starting pitchers and start times.  Enjoy the games.  Please leave a comment about the games or about anything Yankee related.

Texas at Detroit 4:19 PM FOX Harrison vs Porcello
Milwaukee at St. Louis 8:05 PM TBS Gallardo vs Carpenter

Game 3 ALCS Open Thread.

Rangers are up 2 games to none.  Very important game for the Tigers tonight.

Texas at Detroit 8:05 PM FOX StubHub Lewis vs Fister

Two Playoff games Open Thread

little late on this one.  The Tigers are up 3 to 2 in the 6th inning.

Detroit at Texas 4:19 PM StubHub Scherzer vs Holland
St. Louis at Milwaukee 8:05 PM TBS StubHub Jackson vs Marcum

Two Games Today.

and here are the matchups and the times.  Enjoy these games and football as well.

St. Louis at Milwaukee 4:05 PM TBS Garcia vs Greinke
Detroit at Texas 7:45 PM FOX Scherzer vs Holland

Game 5’s Open Thread

Tonight we have two Game 5’s going on.  I’m sure most of you are all baseball fans in general and will be watching.  The schedule is below.   Could it be Albert Pujols or Prince Fielders last game tonight? Who is everyone pulling for in tonight’s games?  Enjoy.

TEAMS TIME (ET) NAT TV PITCHERS
Arizona at Milwaukee 5:07 PM TBS Kennedy vs Gallardo
St. Louis at Philadelphia 8:37 PM TBS Carpenter vs Halladay

2011 ALDS: Game 3 | Yankees @ Tigers

Lineup:

Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Nick Swisher RF
Jorge Posada DH
Russell Martin C
Brett Gardner LF

Pitchers:

C.C. Sabathia (0-0, 4.50) vs. Justin Verlander (0-0, 9.00)

Enjoy the game. Here is Ricky’s preview podcast for the game.

Series Preview: 2011 ALDS | Yankees vs. Tigers

Fri., 9/30/11, 8:37PM EST – Yankee Stadium

C.C. Sabathia (19-8, 3.00) vs. Justin Verlander (24-5, 2.40)

Sabathia career postseason: 7-4, 4.66, 71 K in 77.1 IP (13 starts)
Sabathia vs. Tigers: 15-12, 4.54, 165 K in 202.0 IP
Verlander career postseason: 1-2, 5.82, 23 K in 21.2 IP (4 starts)
Verlander vs. Yankees: 4-3, 3.97, 54 K in 56.2 IP

Sat., 10/1/11, 8:37PM EST – Yankee Stadium

Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70) vs. Doug Fister (11-13, 2.83)

Both Nova and Fister will making their first postseason starts.
Nova vs. Tigers: 2 IP, 0 ER, 1 K
Fister vs. Yankees: 1-2, 6.00, 10 K in 18.0 IP

Sun., 10/2/11 : OFF-DAY

Mon., 10/3/11, 8:37PM EST – Comerica Park

Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62) vs. Max Scherzer (15-9, 4.43)

Garcia career postseason: 6-2, 3.11, 45 K in 55.0 IP (9 starts)
Garcia vs. Tigers: 18-8, 3.88, 172 K in 213.1 IP
Scherzer will be making his first postseason start.
Scherzer vs. Yankees: 3-0, 2.84, 21 K in 19.0 IP

Tues., 10/4/11, Time TBD – Comerica Park (if necessary)

TBA vs. TBA

Wed., 10/5/11 : OFF-DAY

Thurs., 10/6/11, Time TBD – Yankee Stadium (if necessary)

TBA vs. TBA