Tagged: Athletics

The Losing Skid Continues…

Credit:  Andrew Villa-USA TODAY Sports

A’s 4, Yankees 3…

The Yankees finished their West Coast trip with a six-game losing streak.  After winning the first game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim last Monday, they did not win another game in the Pacific Time Zone (finishing the trip with a 1-6 mark).  The A’s series is the first time the Yankees have been swept this year. This has been a long, agonizing road trip. Late games, blown leads, emotional losses, pileup of injuries, etc.  Every loss was a winnable game which makes it that much harder to accept. The starting rotation was 0-2 with 6.98 ERA for the last six games. The Yankees fly back home for a much-needed day off before resuming play on Tuesday in the Bronx against the Angels.

On Sunday, the Yankees jumped out early to a 2-0 lead over the Oakland A’s.  Matt Holliday homered off A’s starter Jharel Cotton in the top of the 2nd inning to start the scoring.  In the third, Brett Gardner led off with a double.  After Gary Sanchez struck out, Aaron Judge singled to right, scoring Gardner.

Unfortunately, like the other games, the Yankees couldn’t hold the lead.  In the bottom of the third, the A’s tied the game at two on a two-run double by Chad Pinder.  They then took the lead when Khris Davis hit his 18th home run of the season off Luis Cessa to put the A’s up, 4-2.

Didi Gregorius quickly answered with a home run leading off the fourth to pull the Yankees within a run.  But unfortunately for our guys, it would represent the last run scored in the game.

Luis Cessa (0-1) was pulled after four innings, allowing a total of 5 hits and 4 runs. One bad inning but enough to push the team to another loss.  He walked one and struck out 4 in an outing that will most likely buy him airfare to Scranton, PA.

Credit:  Thearon W Henderson-Getty Images

The Yankees had a scoring opportunity in the 9th against the A’s Sean Doolittle.  Didi Gregorius reached second on a two-base throwing error with one out.  Sadly, Chase Headley struck out and Chris Carter weakly popped out to Yonder Alonso in foul territory to strand Gregorius, the potential tying run.

It’s incredibly painful to lose so many close games.  After showing signs of fighting back in the earlier losses, the last two were feeble offensive performances after the Yankees lost their early leads.  Chris Carter is killing this team.  There’s a reason that the Milwaukee Brewers said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ when they cut Carter after a season in which he hit 41 home runs.  At least they got a plethora of bombs.  Although Carter has gotten a hold of a few mistake pitches this season, he is mostly providing rally-killing outs.

Aroldis Chapman was able to get one inning of work in to at least justify the cross-country flight to join the team for one game before boarding the eastbound plane back to NYC.  It was a clean inning for Chapman as he retired the three batters he faced with just 8 pitches.  He struck out the first batter he faced.  The other two were groundouts.

Credit:  Tony Avelar-Associated Press

The Yankees (38-29) will now have a day to regroup with the return to New York.  The Eastern Time Zone never looked so good.  The Boston Red Sox beat the Houston Astros 6-5 to move into a first place tie with the Yankees.  Every team in the AL East picked up a game on the Yankees yesterday.  The Tampa Bay Rays are just 3 1/2 games behind, followed by the Baltimore Orioles (4 1/2) and the Toronto Blue Jays (5 1/2).  The Red Sox play this evening against the Royals in Kansas City so it’s very possible the Yankees could find themselves in second place when play resumes tomorrow.

Odds & Ends…

After a two-day stint backing up Austin Romine while Gary Sanchez sat out a couple of games, Kyle Higashioka is headed back to Scranton.  He was optioned on Sunday to make room for closer Aroldis Chapman.  Higashioka did not appear in any games so he remains in search of his first Major League hit (hitless in 18 at-bats this season).

Chance Adams gets the attention at Triple A, but RHP Caleb Smith is now 5-0 for the RailRiders after throwing a one-hit shutout on Sunday.  The RailRiders defeated the Buffalo Bisons, 2-0.  Smith, 25, went the distance (7 innings), walking two and striking out seven.  His season ERA is 2.44.  Adams, who also won this weekend, is 4-2 with 2.43 ERA.

Credit:  Fred Adams-For Times Leader

Gleyber Torres has been placed on the 7-Day Disabled List with the hyperextended elbow.  He will consult with Yankees team physician Dr Christopher Ahmad on Monday.  They are saying that Torres could be out of action for more than a week.

Former Yankees prospect Peter O’Brien, who has become much-travelled, has been claimed by the Los Angeles Dodgers.  O’Brien was designated for assignment by the Texas Rangers earlier this month and subsequently placed on waivers.  The Yankees traded O’Brien to the Arizona Diamondbacks in July 2014 in the deal that brought Martin Prado to New York.  The D-Backs traded O’Brien to the Kansas City Royals this past January.  He was subsequently claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds, and then the Rangers.  The Dodgers become the fifth team to take a chance on O’Brien this year.  Teams love his power but quickly grow weary of his plate discipline and questionable defense.

Have a great Monday!  On the bright side, it is impossible for the Yankees to lose today. Here’s hoping for better results tomorrow.

No Fight in this “Dog”…

Credit:  Tony Avelar-Associated Press

A’s 5, Yankees 2…

A funny thing happened on our way to a fun and exciting season.  We got our butts kicked by the American League’s worst team. The season-high losing streak has now reached five games (three in a row to the lowly A’s) as the agony on the West Coast continues.  

After the return of the “batting practice” pitcher (Masahiro Tanaka), the Yankees thrust a Triple A pitcher into the role of stopper later today.  It’s going to be a very long flight back to New York for the Yankees if they can’t at least salvage the final game of the four game series.

Masahiro Tanaka’s performance yesterday showed me that I really hope that he opts out of his contract at the end of the year.  But unfortunately, the worse he pitches, the more foolish he’d walk away from guaranteed money that he’d be unable to top on the open market.  Tanaka is no ace and I am becoming very pessimistic about his chances to reclaim any resemblance of a top of the rotation guy.

Tanaka did strike out 10 batters, when the A’s weren’t sending the pitches out of the park (three home runs in the first four innings).  In fact, Tanaka is the only pitcher in the last 100 years to strike out at least ten while allowing three homers in four innings or less.  It’s not exactly a record that I’d be proud of.

After the Yankees failed to score any runs in the top of the first inning despite a runner in scoring position, the A’s Matt Joyce hopped on the first pitch thrown by Tanaka and homered to right-center.  Tanaka struck out the next 3 batters to end the first (giving the false illusion that the homer was an aberration).  

The next inning, the Yankees took a 2-1 lead when they scored two runs on three successive singles and a sac fly against A’s starter Jesse Hahn.  But it was temporary.  In the bottom of the 2nd, Ryon Healy blasted a shot to left center to tie the game.  Like the inning before, Tanaka subsequently recorded all three outs by strikeout, leaving runners at first and second through a double and a walk which followed the homer.  Tanaka faced the minimum of three batters in the third (one by strikeout), but Ryon Healy opened the fourth with his second home run of the game.  The A’s had the lead for good, 3-2.  It was another inning of all three outs recorded by strikeout, but sadly they were mixed in with four singles that produced two more runs.  5-2, A’s.

Credit:  Getty Images

Tanaka (5-7, 6.34 ERA) didn’t come back for the fifth inning, and he was replaced by Domingo German who finished up the game (protecting the other tired arms in the bullpen).  German did an admirable job with four scoreless innings (6 strikeouts of his own) but the Yankees offense was silent for the remainder of the game.  Swinging strikeouts in the 9th by Chris Carter, Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine ended the game (leaving Ronald Torreyes, who had singled and taken second on defensive indifference, stranded).  

The Boston Red Sox missed out on an opportunity to tie the Yankees (38-28) for the AL East lead and they remain one game back thanks to their 7-1 loss to the Houston Astros.  The Red Sox seem to be having their own Tanaka-like problems with last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner, Rick Porcello (3-9, 5.05 ERA).  The Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles both won so they are 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 games behind, respectively.  

Luis Cessa will be on the mound for the Yankees later today, making his season debut.  The Yankees bullpen will be at its strongest for the first time in a long time with the expected activation of closer Aroldis Chapman.  I am hopeful that the return of Tyler Clippard to the 7th inning allows him to be more effective with the pressurized latter innings under the control of Dellin Betances and Chapman.  

Odds & Ends…

Since his elevation to the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 28th, first baseman/outfielder Cody Bellinger, son of former Yankees pitcher Clay Bellinger, has been on a home-run tear.  He already has four multi-homer games, and his 19th home run yesterday matched Gary Sanchez’s MLB record for most home runs in a player’s first 49 games.  The Dodger Days for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, currently on the DL with a degenerative disc in his lower back, appear to be numbered.

Credit:  Jeff Roberson-Associated Press

The Yankees received a scare yesterday when top prospect Gleyber Torres was pulled from the game with an injury suffered on a headfirst slide at home plate.  He has been diagnosed with a hyperextended elbow.  X-rays performed after the game were negative.  He’ll undergo further medical evaluation before returning to Scranton.  Hopefully all is well except for a few days of rest.

I hadn’t really seen a list yet, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported this weekend that the Yankees must place the following players on the 40-man roster between now and November 20th or risk losing them in the Rule 5 draft:  Gleyber Torres, Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Tyler Wade, Zack Littell, Thairo Estrada, Clint Frazier, Dustin Fowler, Ian Clarkin, Billy McKinney and J.P. Feyereisen.  It would seem that the abundance of talented prospects requiring protection will be a factor in the days leading up the trading deadline next month.  

Happy Father’s Day to all dads in the Yankees Universe!  I hope it’s a tremendous day for you, complete with a Yankees victory!  Enjoy!

How do you spell “R-E-L-I-E-F”? No clue…

 

Credit:  Ben Margot-Associated Press

A’s 7, Yankees 6…

I am not gonna lie.  This has been a tough week with games that don’t start until after 10 pm EDT and a series of losses that could have been wins if not for bullpen breakdowns.  Aroldis Chapman is within our sights yet he seems so far away as the bullpen provides loss after loss. Sunday cannot get here quick enough.

This was another game that saw the Yankees fight back after falling behind early.  The A’s jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning but the Yankees answered with a three-run homer by Aaron Judge in the top of the 3rd, his 23rd HR of the year.  

Credit:  John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

They picked up single runs in the 5th through 7th innings, including a solo shot by Chris Carter in the 6th, to take a 6-4 lead.  

In the bottom of the 7th, with Chasen Shreve on the mound, the A’s picked up a run on a sac fly by Chad Pinder.  Jonathan Holder replaced Shreve for the 8th, but a walk, double and intentional walk, which loaded the bases, set the stage for A’s rookie third baseman Matt Chapman to deliver the game-winning hit with a two-run single.

A’s closer Santiago Casilla struck out three of the four batters he faced to seal the 7-6 victory for Oakland.  

Aside from the disastrous second inning, Luis Severino pitched well. He went six innings, allowing four hits, runs, and walks.  He struck out six.  He banged his knee against a locker prior to the game but didn’t attribute it as a cause for his early struggles.  Jonathan Holder (1-1) took the loss with a pitch that was supposed to be in the dirt but was left where Chapman could emerge as the victor with the winning hit. 

With a starting lineup that included Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams, Austin Romine, and Ronald Torreyes, I was concerned about this game from the start.  Nothing against those guys, but the players who sat (Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius) are heavy artillery.  Hopefully everyone is feeling a little healthier and/or rested today.  

The 8th inning has been a major problem area with Dellin Betances as the designated ninth inning guy.  It will be nice to have Betances back to provide the late setup coverage when Chapman returns.  For all the bullpen failures, Betances has stood alone as the bright spot.  Note to Yankees Prez Randy Levine, Betances is worth more than $3 million.  Pay him, you blithering idiot.

While the Yankees (38-27) were losing to the American League’s worst team, the Boston Red Sox were beating its best (2-1 victory over the Houston Astros).  So, the Red Sox have pulled to within one game of the Yankees in the AL East standings.  All the other AL East teams lost.  The Yankees have now lost four in a row, a new season high, after snapping their six-game winning streak in Anaheim.  

Odds & Ends…

Prior to Friday’s game, the Yankees made a few roster moves.  The injuries to Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks forced their hand.  With both players day to day, a trip to the DL doesn’t make sense for either guy.  So, roster help had to come from other areas.  Adam Warren, dealing with a sore trapezius muscle, was moved to the DL and Giovanny Gallegos was returned to AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  Kyle Higashioka was recalled to back up Austin Romine while Sanchez is dealing with his tight groin muscle, and Mason Williams was elevated to provide the Yankees an additional outfielder to help offset the temporary loss of Hicks.  Necessary moves, but ones that weakened an already strained bullpen. 

Speaking of Aroldis Chapman, the results of his final rehab tune-out at AA-Trenton were less than ideal.  Chapman started the Thunder’s game on Friday against the Erie SeaWolves.  He threw 20 pitches (his pitch limit).  While he struck out two in pitching 2/3rd’s of an inning, he walked two and threw two wild pitches which allowed the SeaWolves to score a run.  The Thunder eventually won the game, 4-2.  After the game, Chapman, through an interpreter, said, “I felt good out there.  I know my command wasn’t 100%, but I felt really good.  The good thing is I know I am going to come back strong.”  I hope so as the Yankees need a strong and healthy Chapman now more than ever.

Credit:  Greg Slaboda-The Trentonian

It does not sound good for first baseman Greg Bird.  He met with the Yankees team physician and had a CT scan and MRI for his knee and ankle on Friday.  He’ll meet with Dr Bob Anderson in North Carolina for a second opinion.  It’s starting to look as though this will be another lost year for Bird.  

Yesterday saw a nice Triple A debut for starting pitcher Domingo Acevedo.  He pitched 7 innings of three-hit ball in the RailRiders’ 8-1 win over the Buffalo Bisons.  He gave up only one run, and struck out four.  Walks were high (five) but it was a great start for Acevedo.  Gleyber Torres was 3-for-4 in the game with a run scored.  

Have a great Saturday!  Please let today be the start of a new winning streak.  Go Yankees!

Losing the Game of Inches…

Credit:  Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sport

A’s 8, Yankees 7…


I love California but this road trip has been horrific.


The Yankees fought back in this game time and again and took the lead in the 10th, only to lose another game with a rookie pitcher on the mound.  I am not pinning this on Giovanny Gallegos but it’s a testament to the mounting bangs and bruises on this team.


After the Yankees failed to score with the bases loaded in the first inning, the A’s took the early lead in the bottom of the frame with a solo shot by Jed Lowrie.  The A’s took a 3-0 lead in the second when Adam Rosales doubled off Jordan Montgomery, following a walk by Matt Chapman, making his Major League debut, and a ground-rule double by Josh Phegley, scoring both base runners.


The game stayed that way until the sixth.  In the top of the inning, Chase Headley singled with the bases loaded to score two runs.  Chris Carter followed with a single to tie the game at 3.  The A’s replaced starting pitcher Sonny Gray with Sean Dolittle who retired the next two Yankees to get out of the inning.  In the bottom of the 6th, Yonder Alonso homered as the A’s re-captured the lead, 4-3.  


The seesaw battle continued in the 7th inning when Gary Sanchez doubled with Starlin Castro on second, scoring Castro with the tying run.  But the A’s answered the run with a run-scoring single by Chad Pinder in the bottom of the inning and the A’s were back up, 5-4.


Chris Carter homered in the top of the 8th to once again tie the game, 5-5.  Like the inning before, the A’s answered the call in the bottom of the inning when Matt Joyce hit a grounder into a force out with the bases loaded and only one out, scoring the lead runner.  6-5, A’s. Tyler Clippard had started the inning but he was ineffective (again) as two of three batters he faced reached base through a single and a walk.  Dellin Betances was on the mound when the A’s scored their run, but he was able to strike out Rajai Davis to prevent any further damage.


The 9th inning saw the Yankees tie the game again when Starlin Castro doubled off A’s closer Santiago Casilla and Gary Sanchez followed with a run-scoring single.  Gary Sanchez stole second to give the Yankees a runner in scoring position (replaced by pinch runner Ronald Torreyes as Sanchez came out of the game with a tight groin) with only one out, but Didi Gregorius and Chris Carter could not move the runner.  Didi flied out, and Carter went down swinging on a 3-2 count.  In the bottom of the 9th, the A’s loaded the bases with two outs against Betances but he was able to get out of the inning by striking out Matt Chapman.


The Yankees took their first lead of the game in the 10th when Starlin Castro hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded.  Matt Holliday, entering the game at DH to replace Torreyes, struck out against A’s reliever Liam Hendricks to end the inning.  The Yankees could have used a few insurance runs on this night.  In the bottom of the 10th, Giovanny Gallegos replaced Betances.  He retired the first two batters he faced, but then Rajai Davis singled and Chad Pinder doubled to move Davis to third.  Jed Lowrie was intentionally walked to load the bases.  Khris Davis ended the game with a single just over Starlin Castro (ball tipped off his glove), scoring Davis and Pinder with the winning runs.  A’s emerged with the 8-7 victory in another lost opportunity for the Yankees.  

Credit:  Jason O Watson-Getty Images

Manager Joe Girardi summed it up after the game, “It hurts because it’s a matter of a couple inches that you lose that game by and it’s frustrating.”


This was another game that shows how much the Yankees miss closer Aroldis Chapman.  It will be good to get Chapman back this weekend (hopefully on Sunday) so that Betances can get into games earlier and lessen the reliance on other arms.  


Fingers crossed for both Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks who also left the game in the 9th with tightness in his Achilles Heel.  After the game, it was disclosed that reliever Adam Warren is battling tightness in his trapezius muscle which accounted for his unavailability.  Hopefully, none of these ailments are serious.  

Didi Gregorius singled in the game to extend his current hitting streak to 17 games.


Fortunately, the Yankees (38-26) did not lose any ground to any AL East team except the Toronto Blue Jays as everyone else lost.  The Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays remain 2 games and 5 1/2 games behind, respectively, while the Blue Jays moved up to 6 1/2 games back (bringing  the Baltimore Orioles into a tie for the AL East cellar).  


Hopefully, better results await the Yankees today.

Odds & Ends…

Ronald Herrera, we hardly knew ye.  After taking the loss in his lone Big League appearance on Wednesday night, Herrera has found himself back with the Double A Trenton Thunder.  I thought it was much to ask of Herrera to make the jump from AA to the Majors, and the proof was in the pudding with the pitch he threw Andrelton Simmons.  What works in AA goes for a long home run in the Big Leagues.  The Yankees also placed CC Sabathia on the Disabled List, as expected.  To replace Herrera and Sabathia, the Yankees have recalled Luis Cessa and Domingo German.  Sunday’s starter has not yet been determined but Girardi has a pool of Cessa, German and Chad Green to choose from.  Cessa appears to be the favorite to start on Sunday (or on Saturday if Girardi decides to push Masahiro Tanaka back a day).

The Yankees stopped the rehabilitation for Greg Bird yesterday and he’ll see Team Physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad today.  Bird told Trainer Steve Donohue on Thursday morning that the leg was not feeling right and not functioning right.  This is not good news.  The Yankees are already suspect at both infield corners.  Tyler Austin has not exactly set the World on fire at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  He is currently batting .303 but only has 1 homer and 6 RBI’s in 17 games (66 AB’s).  In my opinion, the best first baseman in the system is Thunder first baseman Mike Ford.  This year, including his time at AAA, Ford, 24, is batting .289/.410/.509 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI’s.  He has played 61 games and has walked 44 times.  He even stole a base…once.  But he has the same disadvantage as Chance Adams and others, he does not have a place on the 40-man roster.  

There was already talk the Yankees needed to upgrade at third.  If the priority becomes first base, does this increase the likelihood that we’ll see Gleyber Torres as soon as next month?  I still think it is too premature for him and his AAA manager is on record saying that he is not ready yet.  I guess this is why GM Brian Cashman is paid to make these decisions.  The added pressure on him is the moves over the next 45 days will go a long way toward determining his future at the end of the year with the expiration of his contract.  


Have a great Friday!  Let’s win one of these close games for a change…

Mr Splitter, you are cordially invited to Yankee Stadium tonight…

Credit:  Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The big question today on everyone’s mind is Masahiro Tanaka.  After two consecutive disastrous starts, where are we?  With an extra day of rest due to yesterday’s rainout, we’ll soon find out.  

Since Tanaka’s gem against the Boston Red Sox on April 27th when he threw a complete game three-hit shutout, the results have not been pretty.  In his subsequent four starts, he has given up 21 earned runs (22 overall).   By definition, the only quality start since that time was his May 8th win over the Cincinnati Reds when he went seven innings, allowing only three earned runs.  But the Reds were able to get their hits against Tanaka as they racked up a total of 10 including a home run by Joey Votto.  In his last two games, Tanaka has lasted a combined total of only 4 2/3 innings and has been hammered for 14 runs and 7 home runs.  

The Yankees have confidence in Tanaka.  During a HOPE Week charity event yesterday, GM Brian offered the following comments:

“We’ve done the ‘CSI: The Bronx’ on him a number of different times.  We’ve gone through the analytics comparison from when he’s flying high to the current low.  There are no indicators other than the splitter’s not splitting like it usually does, and the command of the fastball is off.”

“But in terms of velocity — even swings and misses in the the zone, a lot of background statistics that you try to study to try to measure certain things that are alarming in nature that are off.  So we can’t point to anything other than the fact that I don’t think his splitter is as good as it’s been.  I know that for a fact.  His splitter’s not performing up to what his past standard has been.”

“Other teams are doing damage against him, but there’s no indicator of an injury.  I know the player doesn’t feel that he’s hurt, and I know the pitching coach doesn’t feel there’s an injury relation, either.”

“From an analytics standpoint and front-office perspective, we can’t seem to come up with some reason that would lead us to take that step.  We’re not afraid to do it if we felt that was necessary, but we’re not going to do something that appears to be unnecessary.” (spoken regarding whether the Yankees should have Tanaka undergo a MRI).  

“All indications are no (regarding an MRI exam).  We have all departments on call, whether guys are flying on high and doing well, as well as when guys are struggling.  Whether it’s mechanical, whether it’s something from the analytical side that shows a drop in performance that could lead to why, all those things aren’t indicating there’s an area to pursue on the medical side.”

“Obviously we want everybody playing to their capabilities at all times, but that’s just not how the game works.  It’s just about managing through the down times, and that’s what we’re all here for.”

“Right now he’s in a down stretch and so we’re looking forward to getting him up and running to what we’re used to seeing.”

Credit:  Paul J Bereswill

If Tanaka goes out and pitches at least six innings and gives up no more than 2 or 3 runs, will we feel that this was just a blip on the radar and that all is good?  Or if he strains his neck watching balls fly out of Yankee Stadium, are we going to be fearing the end of the world?  I honestly do not know what to expect with Tanaka’s performance tonight.  We’ll get early indications when we see his first few splitters and how he performs in the all-important first inning tonight against the Oakland A’s.  I am hopeful that these are just mechanical flaws and the typical slump that everyone encounters from time to time.  But if not, I am concerned.  We need the Tanaka that we’ve grown accustomed to and cannot afford a ‘Daisuke Matsuzaka’-type downward spiral.  

The Yankees enter an important three-game set tonight against the Oakland A’s.  While the A’s are only 21-25 this season, the Yankees need to take care of business with a road trip to Baltimore looming on the immediate horizon.  Here are the scheduled pitching match-ups:

TODAY

Athletics:  Kendall Graveman (2-2, 3.83 ERA)

Yankees:  Masahiro Tanaka (5-3, 6.56 ERA)

SATURDAY

Athletics:  Sean Manaea (2-3, 5.24 ERA)

Yankees:  CC Sabathia (4-2, 4.62 ERA)

SUNDAY

Athletics:  Andrew Triggs (5-3, 2.77 ERA)

Yankees:  Michael Pineda (5-2, 3.35 ERA)

Have a great Friday!  I hope an early ‘splitter’ (from work) is effective for everyone today!

It’s 613 miles to Detroit. We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses…hit it!…

 

Are you mocking me?…

The final series of the season has begun and the Yankees find themselves a game up on the Baltimore Orioles with two games to go in the battle for AL East supremacy.  It’s been a dogfight since the O’s caught the Yankees earlier in the month, and the two teams have pretty much matched each other stride for stride since that time.  Sunday, when the Yankees were trailing the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 after the O’s had won was the first time that I legitimately felt the Yankees could end the day in second place for the first time since early in the season.  Fortunately for me…and the Yankees, they fought back to emerge with a 9-6 victory.

A season of surprises…

After years of Yankees-Red Sox and most recently, Yankees-Red Sox-Rays, I never expected this to be the year that the Baltimore Orioles would emerge as the Yankees’ primary nemesis.  Still, the Tampa Bay Rays are the team that scares me the most.  With their pitching, they have the potential to go all the way if they make it.  Granted, it’s clearly an uphill battle for them, but they are perhaps the hottest team in baseball right now with 11 wins in 12 games.  Hopefully, the Oakland A’s will end the Rays’ quest but I’d like to see the Rays with an opportunity for at least one more night so they’ll play at the top of their game against the O’s again tomorrow night.  If the A’s win against the Texas Rangers tonight, then it’s over for the Rays.  I am thankful that the Rays’ run got started so late in the season.  If it had occurred earlier, there’s little doubt they’d be bumping shoulders with the Yankees and O’s.

While I am surprised about the successful O’s season, I am flabbergasted by the dismal failure of the Boston Red Sox.  This is a team that could have and should have won the AL East in 2011, but after tonight’s game, the team stands at 91 losses.  It is the highest loss total since 1965 when they lost 100 games.  There’s no threat of 100 losses, but this is clearly an inferior Red Sox team.  I think they’ll be much improved in 2013 but the team has much to do in order to re-tool the once championship squad.  In my opinion, Bobby Valentine has to go.  He has contributed to the dysfunction of the 2012 season and while the losses may not be his fault, he is not the right man for the job.  I do not necessarily think that John Farrell is, or that last year’s runner-up, Gene Lamont, should get the job.  If I were the Red Sox GM, I’d probably go with a guy who has a great deal of minor league managerial experience but has never gotten the opportunity at the major league level, Ryne Sandberg.  He’d be respected by the players and he has the ability to effectively communicate with the younger prospects.

I thought this would be the year the Toronto Blue Jays would take a step forward.  If I would have had to choose between the O’s and the Jays at the start of the season, I probably would have taken the Jays. But I felt they regressed this year.  Well, actually they did.  Who knows how this plays out for John Farrell.  It could be ownership is more willing to let him go to Boston, but of course, does Boston want him and is he truly the right fit?  This remains to be seen.  Nothing like some good old fashioned drama as we head toward the off-season.

As for the other races, I was disappointed to see the Chicago White Sox fade.  I felt they had their division, but the talent of the Detroit Tigers persevered and thrust the team into the lead with a few games left.  Out west, there’s no doubt the Texas Rangers were going to be the champion, but to put the A’s into the play-offs over the Los Angeles Angels was a surprise.  Oakland’s pursuit of Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t look so far fetched now.

In the National League, I never would have predicted a division championship for the Washington Nationals.  They earned and deserved it, but I didn’t foresee it.  The awful season the Philadelphia Phillies experienced was a surprise.  Hey, Cliff Lee, how does that decision to rebuke the Yankees feel now?  I know, one season does not a mega-million contract make, but hey, this is baseball and it’s all about ‘what have you done for me lately?’.  Congratulations to the Atlanta Braves for at least nailing the Wild Card slot.

The Cincinnati Reds were not a surprise, even playing in the same division as the St Louis Cardinals.  This was destined to be a challenging year for the Cards with a new manager and first baseman.  The Cardinals should still make the play-offs, but this division played out as expected.

The NL West is where I am perplexed.  Although I currently reside in the Bay Area, my NL team is the Los Angeles Dodgers.  This is primarily because of the manager (Don Mattingly).  But after the expensive acquisitions late in the season (Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Brandon League and others), I really thought the Dodgers would be well poised to surge to the division championship.  Of course, I fully underestimated the San Francisco Giants and their pitching staff.  Tim Lincecum may have had his struggles this year, but I’d still hate to face him in October with all the chips on the table.

Welcome to the 2012 World Series…

As for my prediction of World Series participants, I am going to go with the Cincinnati Reds versus the Texas Rangers.  The Reds, in my opinion, have a slight advantage over the Washington Nationals.  Of course, I’ve underestimated the San Francisco Giants all season long so why should I change now?  I know this is a Yankees blog and I should be ‘all in’ on another Yankees participation in the World Series.  But I am just not convinced the team has the clutch hitting to succeed.  Hey, I hope they prove me wrong, but I don’t really see anyone else emerging from the AL than the Rangers.  I do not like the Rangers but I recognize that their hunger for a World Series championship remains and they have the talent to succeed.  Best case scenario?  The Yankees go to the World Series to face the San Francisco Giants and see how their hitters perform against former closer Dave Righetti’s aces.

It seems like the season just started but now just two games separate us from the 2012 post-season.  The race to the World Series begins…

—Scott

 

Forgiving Damon for that 2004 homer…

 

Sayonara, old friends…

This was a sad week for former Yankees stars as Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon were designated for assignment by their respective teams (Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians).  Matsui has subsequently been released and Damon’s release is imminent.  I doubt that either player will be picked up at this point in the season so it is most likely the sunset of both careers.

For Matsui, I think his original plan was to only play in the United States for three years but I am grateful that he extended his stay. He may not have been the “monster” player that he was in Japan (a/k/a Godzilla), but he knew and understood the power of the timely hit.  Time and again, Matsui had a key hit to propel the Yanks to victory.  He always seemed to rise to the occasion in the intense Boston-New York wars.  In terms of character, he could easily stand in the same room with guys like Derek Jeter.

It hasn’t been fun watching Matsui wear Angels, A’s, and Rays jerseys, but he will always be Yankee.

As for Damon, it is ironic that a player who played such a key role in the Red Sox breaking ‘The Curse of the Bambino’, plus the entire Caveman image, could become a valued Yankee.  Unlike Matsui, I won’t view Damon as a “Yankee” given his long tenure and success with other teams, but for his time in New York, he showed nothing but class and dignity.  Like Matsui, he was a clutch player who seemed to excel in the bright lights.

Introducing Billy Beane’s latest star pitcher…

With the apparent end of two great careers this week, I saw the opposite on a plane trip from Portland, OR to Oakland on Thursday.  The guy I was sitting next to was excited to be flying to Oakland to see his son, Dan Straily, make his major league pitching debut for the A’s on Friday night.  He was proud to say that his son led all of baseball in strikeouts, and talked about the hard work his son had accomplished to get to this point.  For the game, Straily didn’t figure in the decision, but his performance was a success:

 

Oakland Athletics
Pitchers

IP

 H

 R

ER

BB

SO

HR

PC-ST

ERA

D Straily

6.0

5

1

1

1

5

0

102-70

1.50

 

The A’s won the game, 5-4, in 15 innings.  I am sure that we’ve not seen the last of Mr. Straily.  Here’s hoping this is the start of a long and memorable career for Straily, his father and the rest of their family.

When in doubt, pick up a Pirate…

While the trading deadline was very active compared to recent years, it was another quiet period for the Yankees.  As the now fiscally conservative Yankees had been preaching, they did not make any moves for expensive, short-term rentals.  They picked up a need (third baseman Casey McGehee) to ensure that backup third baseman Eric Chavez is not over exposed to playing time while starter Alex Rodriguez is on the DL.  It’s a shame that Chavez is such an injury risk at this stage of his career, but I agree that it is best to limit his playing time for the good of his long-term health.

I thought the Yanks might try to make a move for a pitcher (someone like Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza) but it was clear that they would not overpay.  Time will tell if they made the right decisions, but I still have concerns about the team’s offense in the play-offs when every pitcher they face will be a #1 or #2 starter.  But September should see the return of top pitcher Andy Pettitte and a fresh Alex Rodriguez so perhaps those will be the team’s noteworthy “acquisitions” that boost team momentum.

Magic seems to be enjoying his new hobby…

The Los Angeles Dodgers have clearly re-emerged as a force in baseball with the new ownership group as they were the most active team in acquiring upgrades over the past couple of weeks (Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton).  I guess they’ve gotten over the reign of Frank McCourt and have shown that they are back in the game.  The San Francisco Giants are a strong team, but I think the Dodgers’ moves will help propel them past the Giants to the NL West pennant.  Good for Dodgers manager Don Mattingly who remains one of my favorite guys in Major League Baseball.

Nothing but crickets…

I was surprised the Boston Red Sox didn’t make any moves.  If there was a team that I had expected to make noise at the trading deadline, it was the Sox.  I don’t think they should give up quality guys like Jacoby Ellsbury or Jon Lester, but there were moves they could have made to give the team a jolt.  I may not be a fan of the Red Sox so I might be biased in making this comment, but I hope that this is a ‘one and done’ season for Boston manager Bobby Valentine.

We’ve moved into August and the Yankees hold a 6 ½ game advantage at the moment, but admittedly, it’s hard to get comfortable when that team in the rear view mirror is the Tampa Bay Rays.  The next couple of months should be interesting.  Let’s win this thing!…

–Scott