Who is THAT in the rear view mirror?…

Knocking on the door in September…

I am surprised.  Pleasantly surprised, but what a ride it has been since Alex Rodriguez was released.  All season, I have been pessimistic about the 2016 Yankees.  The inconsistent, uninspired play leading up to the July trading deadline gave me no reason for optimism.  The Yankees had arguably the best bullpen in baseball, but it didn’t matter because the offense couldn’t consistently produce.

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Credit:  Associated Press

The trading deadline found the Yankees to be sellers as they moved Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova for prospects.  The youth movement had begun.  Through those trades, the only notable veteran acquired was reliever Adam Warren.  The subsequent release of Rodriguez allowed the Yankees to bring up catcher Gary Sanchez, first baseman/outfielder Tyler Austin, and outfielder Aaron Judge.  The trade of Nova opened the rotation for Chad Green and Luis Cessa.  Green has subsequently been lost for the season, and starter Nathan Eovaldi is out for 12-18 months due to Tommy John surgery.  Cessa has shown signs of brilliance with his multiple pitches and is a bright spot for the future.  The latest entrant into the starting rotation, Bryan Mitchell, excelled in his first major league appearance this year following his recovery from a spring training injury.

You’d think that losing the top relievers in your bullpen, a starter in the rotation, and your best offensive player without equal or better major league replacements would mean further regression in performance.  Instead, the Yankees have become a more exciting team to watch.  The youthful attitudes of the rookies have energized the team and the city.  Suddenly, the Yankees are mentioned as a play-off contender.  As I type this, they are only one game out for the second wild card slot.

Seriously, I still do not expect this year’s team to be a World Series contender or to have success in the play-offs if they do miraculously nail that last Wild Card.  But who would have thought the Yankees would be in the conversation in mid-September.  The last month has given so much hope for future success.  Sanchez, Austin, and Judge will be so much stronger next spring for this experience, and 2017 will see the potential infusion of the continued youth movement through the possible call-ups of outfielder Clint Frazier, pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Justus Sheffield and others.

Brian McCann has been a solid Yankee, but Gary Sanchez has quickly become one of the league’s best through his combination of professional hitting and highlight reel worthy defense.  Even if Sanchez is slumping with the bat, he has made himself an invaluable piece of the starting lineup with his stellar defensive play.

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Credit:  Wendell Cruz, USA Today Sports

Tyler Austin starting with a bang (home run in his first at-bat) but followed it up with a prolong slump.  But recently, he’s turned it around and hit a home run on his recent birthday and again the other night with a walk-off to beat the Tampa Bay Rays.  He has shown that he knows what he is doing with a bat in his hands, and clearly has a plan with each at-bat.  It is assumed that Greg Bird will become the starting first baseman next year, but Austin is showing that there may be spring training competition for the job.

It’s fun to be excited about the Yankees again.  Win or lose, the latest version of the Pinstripers has shown they are a team to be reckoned with in future years.  This is so much better than being an old team in decay.  While I greatly miss guys like Andrew Miller, the team is better because of those July trades.  The returns may not bear fruit until future seasons, but it opened the door for the organization’s existing top farmhands.

Excellent job by GM Brian Cashman to recapture the mystique and aura for Yankee Stadium.

The Hired Gun…

I have had a week to digest the news that Sam Bradford is the quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings.  He may not be the starter in Game 1 (tomorrow against the Tennessee Titans) but there’s no doubt it is only a matter of time.  From afar, I’ve always looked at Bradford with disappointment given his injury history and unfulfilled promise.  But here we are.  I do think the talent and potential still reside with Bradford and the Vikings represent his best supporting cast yet.  He has the ability to show that he was once worthy of being the first overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.

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Credit:  Jeff Zelevansky, Getty Images

I feel so much better about the Vikings’ quarterback situation today than I did the days immediately following Teddy Bridgewater’s devastating non-contact knee injury.  The oddsmakers obviously do too as they have restored the Vikings chances this year to the pre-Bridgewater injury level.

I had really felt that this was going to be Bridgewater’s breakout year.  He had a tremendous pre-season, and the Vikings have done a good job in finding talented playmakers on both sides of the ball.

Nothing against veteran QB Shaun HIll, but the thought of Hill as the starting quarterback was disappointing at best.

It is a bit scary that the Vikings go into the regular season carrying only two quarterbacks on the active roster.  QB Taylor Heinicke is still a few weeks from returning due to injury, and practice squad QB Joel Stave has shown that he is not ready for this level.  I really felt that the Vikings should have added a third quarterback with potential.  I thought the Denver Broncos did a good job in adding former Rams quarterback Austin Davis as their third-stringer and thought Minnesota should have added someone like that.

While I expect Shaun Hill to be named the starter for the Titans game, I do anticipate the entry of Bradford into the game at some point.  I am glad that he chose to go with his Rams number of 8 as opposed to the number 7 he wore with the Philadelphia Eagles.  Not that a number really matters in the grand scheme of things, but I know that I still associate #7 with underachievement and poor play thanks to former Viking Christian Ponder.

It’s tough having a new playbook thrown at the quarterback a week before the start of the regular season, but I expect Bradford to progress quickly.  May good health be his…

—Scott

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