Waiting for Otani…
Given every other writer (or blogger in my case) has written that this has been the slowest off-season in recent memory, I will do my obligatory part to say that it’s been so slow. November 29th and the best we can say is that former Boston Red Sox starter Doug Fister has signed a free agent contract with the Texas Rangers. The Red Sox picked Fister up off the scrap heap last summer and he gave them some decent starts down the stretch when they had holes popping up in other parts of the starting rotation. Good for him that he parlayed it into some sense of short-term job security in Texas.
I expected the Thanksgiving weekend to be quiet and it was. No Yankees news other than the preparation by all teams for the much anticipated posting of Japanese superstar Shohei Otani which should occur shortly after Friday when the MLB Owners ratify the new posting agreement. The Yankees are obvious favorites but of course some teams have been very vocal about their intent to pursue the two-way star. The loudest has been the Seattle Mariners. We know that this move is not about money so the fact the Yankees can offer the second highest amount of green does not necessarily mean anything. I’ve felt all along that this move, for now, is about the endorsement dollars. I read one writer say Otani could make up to $20 million per year in endorsement deals between the United States and Japan. I realize that Otani played in a smaller market in Japan for a “ham company” but I feel that if he wants to be the best, there is none other than the New York Yankees for him. He’d have the opportunity to play in the greatest city (highest potential for endorsement deals) and he’d join a young team on the verge of something truly special. His age would fit nicely with the other Baby Bombers to ensure an extended competitive run for the duration of his stay. He’d have a pitcher on the Yankees pitching staff that could help serve as a mentor (Masahiro Tanaka) and he’d have access to one of Japan’s greatest baseball players with Hideki Matsui (who knew a thing or two about incredible clutch hitting), currently special assistant to GM Brian Cashman.
I think it is an easy decision for Otani but of course, at this point, it is anybody’s guess where he ends up. In the end, I do hope it is Team Yankees while recognizing there are risks with a player attempting to both pitch and hit on a regular basis. Otani is a special talent and there may never be an opportunity to get a player of his caliber for only $3.5 million under team control for multiple years. No question that fits into Hal Steinbrenner’s 2018 budget.
Next Up, Carlos Beltran…
Carlos Beltran will become the sixth man interviewed for the Yankees managerial opening today. I like Carlos and I value his ability to communicate with players and the media, but I struggle with the idea of the player-to-manager path with no coaching experience. I wouldn’t mind seeing Beltran as part of the Yankees coaching staff but I’d really prefer someone who at least has coaching experience as its new manager. I saw a bunch of tweets yesterday that compared Beltran to Joe Torre as a player who successfully made the transition. But no one was mentioning that Torre’s record with his first team, the New York Mets, was a .405 winning percentage (286-420). He didn’t experience post-season success until he managed his fourth team, the Yankees. Beltran may prove to be an excellent manager one day but for a team that is positioned for success now, I’d rather not have a guy learning on the job.
Yankees fan yesterday, Yankee today…
Credit to Peter Gammons for this piece that I found interesting. Newly acquired RHP Michael King (who joined the Yankees in the trade that sent LHP Caleb Smith and 1B Garrett Cooper to the Miami Marlins) was a second team All-State performer for Bishop Hendricksen High School in Warwick, Rhode Island in 2012. That summer he played in the Annual Summer Rivalry Classic held for Northeastern high school kids at Yankee Stadium. Among the free offerings that day was bubble gum that King was very fond of, stuffing perhaps 6 or 7 sticks of gum into his mouth at one point. Asked what he did with that big wad of gum, King indicated that he stuck it under the bench. According to Gammons, King, a childhood Yankees fan, said, “I figured I’d get it back when I get back there to the bullpen as a Yankee.” I love that story and the optimism. I look forward to the dream being fulfilled.
The Bronx, Home of MLB’s Best Executive…
Congratulations to Brian Cashman for being named as Baseball America’s 2017 Major League Executive of the Year! It was a much deserved honor for the great GM. It probably doesn’t hurt the contract negotiations for his new deal either. Hal Steinbrenner issued a statement that read, “Brian plays a crucial role in our success, and I’ve known for quite some time how fortunate we are to have him leading our Baseball Operations Department. He cares deeply about this franchise and our fans, and he skillfully navigates the many challenges that come with holding the position he does in the media capital of the world.” Not bad for a kid who grew up as a Dodgers fan. He is ensuring that his name will be forever marked in Yankees history as one of the great pillars of success. Next stop, World Series!
|Credit: Stan Grossfield, Boston Globe Staff|
Like everyone else, I am ready for some real off-season baseball action. But I am sure that once the calendar page turns to December, we’d better hold on. It should be a fun ride!
The Hot Stove League Begins Play…
There is always a quietness about the days that follow the World Series unless of course you’re a fan of the World Series champion. Teams have five days following the conclusion of the World Series to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents. It’s rare to see much activity and unlike the NFL and other sports, there is not a flurry of immediate activity when the free agents become free to talk to other teams. So, I guess that puts us in the calm before the storm…the days and weeks leading up to the Baseball Winter Meetings next month in Orlando, Florida. The meetings will be held from Sunday, December 10th through Wednesday, December 13th. The annual Rule 5 Draft will be held on Thursday, December 14th.
The two biggest opt-out clauses this off-season belonged to Justin Upton of the Los Angeles Angels and Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees. This week, the Angels announced they had signed Upton to a new 5-year deal, apparently worth $106 million. Then on Friday night, Masahiro Tanaka announced that he would not opt out of his contract and will remain with the Yankees. His current contract has three more years, through the 2020 season, at $67 million.
|Credit: Jim McIsaac, Getty Images|
As a Yankees fan, the latter situation is more relevant to me. I am very glad that Tanaka decided to remain in New York. There had been strong speculation that if Tanaka opted out, the Yankees would not aggressively pursue him. Three more years at $22 million plus per year is not chump change and it would have been hard for Tanaka to capture more dollars. Maybe more years but the partial tear of his UCL and the associated risk of eventual Tommy John surgery would have most assuredly scared teams away. Regardless of the risks, the starting rotation for the Yankees is stronger with Tanaka in it than not. He did have an inconsistent 2017 regular season and there was a brief stretch that he looked absolutely awful but he rebounded with a strong finish. He was dominant in the post-season.
So, the front of the Yankees rotation in 2018 will feature Luis Severino, Tanaka, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery. There’s a chance the Yankees bring back CC Sabathia on a one-year deal if the two sides can come together on a mutually beneficial contract. But regardless of what happens with Sabathia, the Yankees have Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield, among others, gnawing at the door for opportunities. There had been a fear at one time that the 2018 would be a total rotation rebuild situation but now it appears to be a strength before the off-season strategy even begins.
With the Yankees trying to make a very strong effort to get under the salary cap this year and reset the luxury tax penalties, it is unlikely the Yankees will pursue any high-priced free agent talent. It’s unfortunate that third baseman Todd Frazier will most likely not return, but with another year remaining on Chase Headley’s contract and the near-readiness of prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, there simply is no room for the Toddfather. Bummer. He was a great fit for the Yankees.
|Credit: Adam Hunger, USA TODAY Sports|
There seems to be stronger speculation this off-season that the Yankees could actually move Jacoby Ellsbury. They’ll have to eat a good portion of what’s left on his contract but regardless of the cost, this is a move that has to happen. I do not see the Yankees parting with Brett Gardner, and of course Aaron Judge owns right field after his spectacular season. So the Yankees have to make room in the outfield for Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier without even considering promising young talent like Billy McKinney or Jake Cave. The most likely team with interest (assuming the reports are true) are the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners would allow Ellsbury to return to his native Northwest (he’s from Oregon). The primary problem for the Mariners would be the heavy financial commitments they have invested in other players, most notably Robinson Cano. Therefore, the Yankees would probably have to pay a very significant portion of Ellsbury’s contract to move him to Safeco Field. Hopefully, GM Brian Cashman can figure this one out so that Ellsbury doesn’t become baseball’s highest paid pinch-runner again next year.
Other guys that are vulnerable to potential trades appear to be Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, Austin Romine, and Dellin Betances. With the disappointing end to his 2017 season, the value for Betances is down which probably enhances the potential for him to stay with the team (why try to sell the four-time All-Star while his value is low) but I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to include him in a deal if it makes sense for the team. The Yankees also seem to be at the crossroads for making a decision about who backs up first baseman Greg Bird. With 40-man roster spots at a premium, it would seem that a choice needs to be made between Tyler Austin and Garrett Cooper. My preference probably leans toward Austin due to his versatility to play the outfield.
The Yankees lost a valuable prospect last year in the Rule 5 Draft when the San Diego Padres kept catcher Luis Torrens on the MLB roster all season. I expect this year’s Rule 5 Draft to be equally painful if not more so. It’s certainly a testament to the strength of the farm system but it is still difficult to see talented young prospects depart.
|Credit: Alex Gallardo, AP|
Now that Tanaka has made his decision to stay in the Bronx, the biggest immediate problem facing the Yankees is finding a new manager to replace the dismissed Joe Girardi. I am surprised the Yankees have not announced a new deal for GM Brian Cashman since his current deal expired at the end of October, but it doesn’t seem like Cash is going anywhere. Neither the team nor Cashman have tipped their hand to show potential managerial candidates but it does seem like the team is looking at outside alternatives. The question is how much they’ll prioritize actual managerial experience. If they want experience, then former Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus seems to be the best possible option. He was drafted by the Yankees in the 48th Round of the 1987 draft, although he never played for the Major League team. I can still remember the sense of loss when he was taken by the Colorado Rockies in the November 1992 Expansion Draft. Nevertheless, he is a Connecticut guy who grew up in close proximity to New York (even if his childhood team was the Boston Red Sox). He was criticized for being out-managed in the 2014 ALDS when the Detroit Tigers lost to the Baltimore Orioles and like Girardi, has a tendency to lean heavily on his veterans. But by all accounts, he is a player-friendly manager (good communicator) and would interact well with the media. For guys who lack managerial (or coaching) experience, Jerry Hairston, Jr seems to stand out. I also like Mark DeRosa of the MLB Network. I have no idea who the Yankees will ultimately choose but you have to believe that Cashman had someone in mind when the decision was made to part ways with long-time manager Girardi.
|Credit: Corey Sipkin, NY Daily News|
I am ready for the craziness that will ensue over the next six weeks before we settle into the Winter hibernation that precedes the opening of Spring Training camps next February. The Yankees are a team on the rise and the moves made this off-season will contribute toward the team’s success (or lack thereof) as we move forward. No pressure, Brian Cashman. The goal is simple…bring the Yankees’ 28th World Series Championship to New York City now. Teams like the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim are not going to sit idly by. The job is to do it better so that we can celebrate on the streets of New York this time next year.
2017 World Series
Astros 5, Dodgers 1…
Astros Win Series, 4-3
In the words of the former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, it’s not what you want. Sadly for me and those who were pulling for the Los Angeles Dodgers, it was a very long night. From the second consecutive horrific start by Yu Darvish to Cody Bellinger shattering Aaron Judge’s post-season strikeout record, it was a forgettable night for the Dodger Blue as the Houston Astros claimed their first ever World Series Championship.
|Credit: Robert Gauthier – LA Times|
This should have been a special and magical season for the Dodgers. Their start to the season created much talk about surpassing the tremendous accomplishments of the 1998 Yankees, then came the extended losing streak. They rebounded but in the end, they were just another World Series loser. It was a good Dodgers club, but not quite good enough.
As for me, I am kind of tired of the Houston Astros after losing two seven-game series in a row to them…first the Yankees in the ALCS and now the Dodgers in the World Series. Plus, word started popping last night that Yankees third base coach Joe Espada has decided to join the Astros as their new bench coach (replacing Alex Cora who will become the new manager for the Boston Red Sox). I guess it was just adding salt in the wound.
Nevertheless, congratulations to the Astros for the championship! It was a hard-fought win for them and the city of Houston.
The Astros controlled the game from the start. It took three pitches for Houston’s George Springer, leading off the game, to double into the left field corner off Dodgers starter Yu Darvish. Alex Bregman reached base on an error, making it to second on first baseman Cody Bellinger’s throwing error. Bellinger had moved toward second in front of the second baseman in shallow right to scoop up the grounder, but his throw back to first sailed past Darvish. It probably would have been easier for second baseman Logan Forsythe to make that play.
|Credit: David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG|
While Bregman advanced to second, Springer scored the game’s first run. Bregman stole third to put himself in prime scoring position. It played to perfection when Jose Altuve grounded out to first, with Bregman racing home to score the second run for the Astros. Darvish settled down and retired the next two hitters to get out of the inning and finally bring the Dodgers to bat.
The Dodgers looked like they were going to answer the bell in the bottom of the 1st. Chris Taylor led off for the Dodgers with a double to deep right center. Corey Seager struck out swinging, but there was still hope with the heart of the Dodgers batting order coming up. Justin Turner was hit by a pitch when he took a ball off his forearm, the first of four batters that Astros starter Lance McCullers, Jr would plunk. Cody Bellinger struck out for the second out. Yasiel Puig was next and he, like Turner, was hit by a pitch, on the arm, to load the bases. The reinvigorated Joc Pederson came to the plate, flashing a smile, with the chance to bring momentum back to the Dodgers. Unfortunately, he grounded out to second baseman Jose Altuve for the final out. No runs for the Dodgers. A missed opportunity for them. In retrospect, one of the game’s key moments.
Yu Darvish was back out on the mound for the 2nd inning but he would not survive. He started the inning by walking Brian McCann. Marwin Gonzalez doubled to the right field wall, with the slow-footed McCann moving to third. Josh Reddick grounded out to second for the first out. Then, in one of the game’s critical moments, McCullers, who should have been an easy out, hit a slow grounder between first and second. The only play for the Dodgers was to throw out McCullers at first. McCann was able to easily jog (sorry, it is hard to use the word “run” when it comes to the former Yankees catcher) home to pick up an RBI for McCullers. George Springer was next and he put an exclamation point on the Astros’ early performance with a two-run homer high over the center field wall. The Astros led, 5-0.
|Credit: Wally Skalij – LA Times|
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts came out and pulled Darvish in favor of Brandon Morrow. It may have been the final Dodger appearance for Darvish, a free agent to be. Morrow struck out Alex Bregman to end the inning but using one of your best relievers in the second inning is not exactly a blue print for success.
The Dodgers looked like they had another opportunity in the bottom of the 2nd. Logan Forsythe started things with a single to left. Austin Barnes grounded out to third (great defensive play and throw by third baseman Alex Bregman), but Forsythe was able to advance to second to put himself in scoring position. Kike Hernandez pinch hit for Morrow and was hit by a pitch (ball grazed his shirt but it would have been Ball 4 anyway). Runners at first and second. But it was not the Dodgers’ night. Chris Taylor lined a shot directly to shortstop Carlos Correa and the Astros were able to double Forsythe off second to complete the double play. Again, no runs for the Dodgers and yet another missed opportunity.
Clayton Kershaw took over for the Dodgers in the top of the 3rd inning. Kind of makes you wonder why the Dodgers didn’t go to Kershaw sooner but he did his job, retiring the Astros in order. There was still time for the Dodgers to claw their way back into the game. In the bottom of the inning, Corey Seager led off with a single to center over Jose Altuve’s head. I tried to think of a humorous line about that but I came up short. Justin Turner was hit by a pitch for the second time, this time under his left shoulder blade, and the fourth hit batter by McCullers.
|Credit: Wally Skalij – LA Times|
After McCullers struck out Cody Bellinger, Astros manager A.J. Hinch removed him and brought in Brad Peacock. Yasiel Puig flied out to center but Seager was able to tag and move to third. Two outs for Joc Pederson with a runner just 90 feet away. Pederson went down swinging. Still no runs for the Dodgers.
Meanwhile, with Kershaw pitching strongly, the Dodgers had their next chance in the 5th. Corey Seager took a one-out walk and moved to second when Justin Turner singled to left. Alex Bregman dove for the ball and knocked it away from Carlos Correa, allowing the ball to roll into left field. The Astros pulled Brad Peacock and brought in Francisco Liriano. Cody Bellinger hit a fielder’s choice to Jose Altuve and the Astros were able to force Turner out at second with Seager moving to third.
|Credit: Wally Skalij – LA Times|
Another pitching change which brought Chris Devenski in to face Yasiel Puig. Devenski won the battle when Puig lined out to first for the final out.
The Astros were able to load the bases in the top of the 6th against Kershaw on only one hit but Kershaw was able to get out of the jam unscathed.
In the bottom of the 6th with Charlie Morton taking over the mound for the Astros, Joc Pederson singled to center…a hit that would have been more useful in his earlier at-bats. Logan Forsythe walked and the Dodgers looked like they might be in business. After Austin Barnes popped out to Carlos Correa in shallow left for the first out, Andre Ethier, pinch-hitting for Kershaw, singled to right on a roller past Jose Altuve, scoring Pederson. Forsythe moved to second. A home run now, and it would have been a one-run game. Unfortunately, like the earlier innings, the Dodgers couldn’t move the runners. Chris Taylor struck out and Corey Seager grounded out to short. It had seemed like it might be a big inning for the Dodgers but all they had to show for it was a single run. 5-1, Astros.
From there, Morton shut down the Dodgers, retiring the next nine batters in order. When Corey Seager hit a grounder to second baseman Jose Altuve who, in turn, threw the ball to first baseman Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the 9th, the Houston Astros were World Series Champions.
|Credit: Luis Sinco – LA Times|
I am happy for Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. For them, it was good to see the elusive World Series championship come their way. It might be the final hour for Beltran’s career so if it is the end, he gets to go out the right way.
|Credit: Jason O Watson, Getty Images North America|
George Springer was rightfully named the Series MVP. His five home runs tied a World Series record and he was seemingly at the heart of every big Astros rally in this series.
|Credit: Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG|
For as much as I ripped Yuli Gurriel for his offensive gestures directed at Yu Darvish and his subsequent 2018 suspension for same, it was a very nice touch by Gurriel to tip his cap to Darvish when he came to the plate in the bottom of the 1st inning.
|Credit: John McCoy, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG|
The first pitches for the game were thrown by Dodgers legends Sandy Koufax and Don Newcombe, with Steve Garvey and Rick Monday on the receiving ends, respectively. It was a very nice moment for the Dodgers and their fans.
|Credit: David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG|
Now, the MLB season is over and the Hot Stove League begins. Time for the Yankees to find a new manager and begin preparations for the path that hopefully leads to the 2018 World Series championship.
Odds & Ends…
Now that the World Series has ended, Masahiro Tanaka has three days to decide if he’ll opt out of his contract. So, we’ll know by Saturday where we stand with the right-hander. I am hopeful that either he decides not to opt out or that he and the Yankees are able to come together for an extension. I would prefer to see Tanaka stay.
|Credit: Anthony Causi, New York Post|
It looks like the Yankees have found their replacement for former VP of Player Development, Gary Denbo, who recently departed to join Derek Jeter in Miami. Kevin Reese, most recently Director of Professional Scouting for the Yankees, will apparently take Denbo’s former role. There has not been an official announcement yet by the Yankees but it is expected shortly.
The New York Mets did not retain hitting coach Kevin Long when Long’s contract expired so there are rumors that Long could return to his former role as hitting coach for the Yankees. Nothing against Alan Cockrell or Marcus Thames, but I’d like to see Long back in Pinstripes. He is one of the many rumored names for potential Yankees manager. I do not really want to see him as the manager, but as part of the coaching staff, he’d be a great fit.
The coming days should be interesting for the Yankees and the managerial search. I find it very hard to believe that they did not have a specific choice or choices in mind when they made the decision not to retain Joe Girardi. So I don’t buy they are in the process of gathering names. I think they’ll go with an outsider rather than someone with immediate Yankee connections but we’ll see. Things should become more transparent as we move forward. I would not be at all surprised if the new manager is Jerry Hairston, Jr.
|Credit: USA TODAY Sports|
Have a great Thursday! It was a wonderful season and a successful one for the Pinstripers. They are only going to get better. Go Yankees!
Yankees 5, Astros 0…
Yankees lead the Series, 3-2
The Yankees rode stellar pitching and a few clutch hits to take the advantage in the ALCS as the series now shifts to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night.
It was great to see Andy Pettitte throw out the ceremonial first pitch and it certainly brought a championship pedigree to the mound. Nothing like starting a game exactly right! As a Houstonian and a former Astro, it would be easy for Andy to root for the road team but I am so glad (and proud) that he has always been entrenched in his love for the Yankees.
|Credit: John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com|
The Yankees proved that they are not afraid of Chris Sale and Corey Kluber, the AL’s best, and while they may not be afraid of Dallas Keuchel, the latter has proven to be an enigma in recent years and, in particular, this season. So, there was some reservation, at least on my part, with the thought of Keuchel picking up the ball for the pivotal Game 5.
First up, though, was Masahiro Tanaka to face the potent Astros line up. It was not that long ago that Jose Altuve blasted three home runs in an ALDS game against the Boston Red Sox. The man short on stature and long on talent will most likely beat out Aaron Judge for AL MVP. Throw in the countless other stars in the Astros lineup, and it is easy to see why the team won 101 games in the regular season. Tanaka easily retired the first two hitters, but then a fielding error by third baseman Todd Frazier allowed the dangerous Altuve to reach first base. Time and again, Altuve has worked his way through the bases, through speed and superior baseball instincts, to find home plate, but not this time. Carlos Correa hit a soft grounder to third to end the inning and send the Astros to the field for the first time.
Of course, Dallas Keuchel treated the top third of the Yankees order like kindergartners trying to connect with Major League heat. He retired the Yankees in order to complete the first inning, including strikeouts of young sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. It looked like it might be one of those days.
Yuli Gurriel led off the top of the 2nd with a double to the wall in left to put the Astros in business. However, Tanaka wasn’t having any of it. Although Gurriel would find his way to third, there would be no homecoming as Masa retired the next three hitters on ground outs.
In the bottom of the 2nd, it looked like it was going to be more of the same with Keuchel. He struck out Didi Gregorius on a foul tip and got Aaron Hicks to ground out to short for the first two outs. Hits were starting to look like they would be hard to come by when Starlin Castro hit a sharp line drive to the warning track in left and off the wall for a double. Greg Bird followed with a single to right and the Yankees had their first run off Keuchel in the post-season. Todd Frazier struck out to end the inning but the Yankees were able to walk back onto the field with a 1-0 lead.
|Credit: Michael Ciaglo-Houston Chronicle|
After the Astros were unable to do anything with a one-out single by George Springer in the top of the 3rd, Chase Headley led off the bottom of the inning with a single to center. Brett Gardner grounded into a force out at second but all things considered, I was okay with substituting the speedier Gardner for Headley. It paid off when Aaron Judge ripped a double to the left field corner, bringing Gardner around to score. The Yankees were up, 2-0. A couple of strikeouts ended the inning, but at least the Yankees were getting their hits against the very difficult Keuchel.
|Credit: John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com|
After the teams traded ‘3-up, 3-down’ innings in the 4th, the Astros looked like they might put together a little rally in the top of the 5th. Tanaka struck out the first batter, Carlos Beltran, but Marwin Gonzalez followed with a single to right. A wild pitch during Brian McCann’s at-bat moved Gonzalez to second. McCann subsequently took a walk to put two runners on with only one out. Tanaka rose to the occasion and struck out both George Springer and Josh Reddick. A huge performance by Tanaka in a tough spot.
|Credit: Andrew Maclean-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com|
Chase Headley hit a soft grounder to third to lead off the bottom of the 5th. A throwing error by third baseman Alex Bregman (ball was low and skipped past first baseman Yuli Gurriel) allowed Headley to take second. After a ground out by Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge drew a walk. I think the FOX TV Crew described it as the ‘intentional unintentional walk’. That’s fine. Bring Gary Sanchez to the plate. El Gary did not disappoint when he singled to left into the corner, bringing Headley home to score. Judge moved to third. Didi Gregorius lined a single up the middle that deflected off the glove of diving second baseman Jose Altuve in center field. Judge scored to make it 4-0. End of the day for Yankee killer Keuchel.
|Credit: John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com|
The Astros made the call to the pen to bring in Will Harris. Win or lose, the Yankees were finally able to find the solution for Keuchel like they had Sale and Kluber. Harris got the Astros out of the inning when Aaron Hicks flied out to left, but it had been a very productive inning for the Pinstripers. However, last night showed that a 4-0 lead is not safe, so onward we go. Or rather I should say onward Tanaka went.
Tanaka breezed through the 6th and 7th innings although the final out of the latter inning saw the third strike get away from Gary Sanchez. Fortunately, El Gary was able to retrieve the ball in foul territory and throw a zinger to Greg Bird ahead of Marwin Gonzalez to complete the final out.
|Credit: Karen Warren-Houston Chronicle|
Regardless of the final outcome of the game, it was a masterpiece by Tanaka. Seven innings, three hits, no runs, one walk, and eight strikeouts. Okay, I think I am back in “Masa, please do not opt out” mode.
While David Robertson was warming up in the Yankees bullpen, Gary Sanchez unloaded on a pitch from Astros reliever Brad Peacock in the bottom of the 7th to send it flying into the left center seats.
|Credit: Kathy Willens-AP|
Didi Gregorius followed El Gary with a sharply hit ball to left and he slid into second just ahead of the throw for a double. David Robertson took a seat after the Sanchez home run and Tommy Kahnle began warming up. The Yankees weren’t able to do anything with Didi when Aaron Hicks struck out and Starlin Castro grounded out to third, but at least they had padded their lead by one and now led the Astros, 5-0.
Kahnle, as expected, got the call for the 8th. He did his job…make it an uneventful inning and he did. A couple of fly outs and a punch out of Josh Reddick and it was time to get the Yankees back up for hopefully their final at-bats of the night.
With Francisco Liriano taking over for Brad Peacock in the bottom of the 8th, Greg Bird led off with a walk. While Todd Frazier was batting, a wild pitch freed Bird to take second. Frazier subsequently grounded out to third. Chase Headley was next and his short squibbler that died in front of home plate was scooped up by catcher Brian McCann who threw Headley out at first. Bird made his way to third. Unfortunately, Bird was left stranded when Brett Gardner struck out. Off to the 9th inning…
Holding a five-run lead, Tommy Kahnle returned for the top of the 9th. Jose Altuve jumped on Kahnle’s first pitch to fly out to center. One out. Carlos Correa lined a hard hit ball to right for a double, causing some movement in the Yankees bullpen. Nevertheless, Yuli Gurriel hit a grounder to short which Didi Gregorius threw to first for the out. Two outs. Correa advanced to third on the play. Obviously, Correa was inconsequential at this point, but everyone wanted the shutout (well, except for maybe the Astros, their fans and the Red Sox Nation). Kahnle made it happen when he got Alex Bregman to fly out to Aaron Hicks in center. Three outs…game over. Yankees win!
|Credit: John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com|
Best case scenario played out as the Yankees now head back to Houston needing one win in the next two games to advance to their World Series since 2009. The Astros are now the team with their backs to the wall. The road ahead remains difficult but the young Baby Bombers have heart and ‘no quit’ desire like none other.
This was a great team victory, led…obviously…by the great Masahiro Tanaka. I am sure that Sonny Gray is asking, “What is this run support you speak of?”. Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius…too many heroes to name. Great job by Tommy Kahnle to finish off the win for Tanaka!
Let’s keep this winning streak alive. Great job, Bronx Bombers! Thumbs down, Guys!
|Credit: Michael Ciaglo-Houston Chronicle|
Odds & Ends…
There was a funny Twitter exchange between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees prior to Tuesday’s game. The Red Sox tweeted “Today’s basically a holiday…” showing a clip of Game 4 of the ALCS on October 17, 2004 when the Red Sox tied the series on a walk-off home run by David Ortiz in 12 innings after falling behind 2 games to none. The Yankees had the perfect response, “Ah, work day for us. Game time is 5:08pm, if you’re not busy”. The Red Sox could only respond with a rolling eyes emoji.
Have a great Thursday! It’s a day off as the Yankees head back to the deep of the heart of Texas. Bring home the AL Championship, Boys! Go Yankees!
|Credit: Tony Gutierrez-AP|
American League Championship Series
Astros 2, Yankees 1…
Astros lead Series, 1-0
The Yankees had the answer this season for Chris Sale and they finally figured out likely AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in the post-season but Dallas Keuchel remains a mystery. Unable to generate any runs against Keuchel, the Yankees fell to the Astros in the first game of the ALCS despite a solid outing from Masahiro Tanaka.
|Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports|
The Yankees didn’t pick up their first hit against Keuchel until Brett Gardner lined a single to left with two outs in the 3rd inning. Unfortunately, he didn’t go anywhere when Aaron Judge followed with his only strikeout of the game.
Starlin Castro picked up a single to left, just past the outstretched glove of running shortstop Carlos Correa, in the top of 4th inning, also with two outs, but like Gardy, he did not do anything except have a brief conversation with first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Aaron Hicks flied out to center, on huge fly that nearly took center fielder George Springer to the wall, to send Castro looking for his hat and glove to take the field. A couple more feet and the Yankees might have taken the early lead.
The Astros, meanwhile, didn’t miss the only opportunity that Masahiro Tanaka gave them. With one out in the bottom of the 4th, Jose Altuve singled on a grounder to second, beating the throw to first. He subsequently stole second to put himself in scoring position. Carlos Correa’s single to left brought the probable AL MVP around to score the game’s first run. Marwin Gonzalez hit a slow grounder to second and was thrown out at first for the second out, but Correa advanced to second base. Yuli Gurriel’s single to center, a grounder up the middle between Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius, scored Correa and the Astros had a 2-0 lead.
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The Yankees had their chance in the top of the 5th but were unable to convert. Greg Bird led off with a single to right, a sharply hit ball just past first baseman Yuli Gurriel. Matt Holliday reached on a fielding error by Jose Altuve (bobbled the ball after stopping the grounder) so the Yankees had runners at first and second with no outs. Todd Frazier lined out to center and Brett Gardner struck out but Aaron Judge followed them with a single to left. Bird hesitated a moment and then raced around third and headed home. Unfortunately, left fielder Marwin Gonzalez threw a perfect strike in to catcher Brian McCann to nail Bird at the plate for the final out of the inning. The Yankees challenged the play but replay showed Bird was less than a second too late. Sadly, Bird’s run around third seemed like slow motion compared Jose Altuve’s run in the prior inning. Credit Gonzalez and McCann for the stellar play.
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Dallas Keuchel finally left the game after seven scoreless innings (and ten strikeouts). Houston fans may love Dallas (the pitcher, not the city) but I was very glad to see him leave. But the Astros bullpen is strong and set up artist Chris Devenski has been a better version of Dellin Betances this year. Still, the Yankees had their chance in the 8th against Devenski. Brett Gardner worked a one-out walk, which brought Astros manager A.J. Hinch out of the dugout to replace Devenski with closer Ken Giles. Giles promptly threw a wild pitch with Aaron Judge at the plate, allowing Gardy to move to second. Judge grounded out to third for the second out, but Gary Sanchez walked to put two runners on for Didi Gregorius. The Yankees replaced Sanchez at first with pinch-runner Ronald Torreyes. Didi has come up so big for the Yankees in key spots this year but on this night, Giles won the battle when Didi swung and missed on an 0-2 count after three successive foul balls.
In the top of the 9th, Giles struck out both Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks to start the inning. Greg Bird finally put the Yankees on the board when he homered to right, a high fly inside of the foul pole, to make it a one-run game.
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DH Matt Holliday was due up next, but Manager Joe Girardi opted to send Jacoby Ellsbury to the plate. Ellsbury went down swinging to end the game and hand the series advantage to the Astros.
In retrospect, the huge missed opportunity was Greg Bird’s out at the plate in the 5th inning. If he had gotten a good jump when Aaron Judge hit that drive to left, he might have beaten the throw. But hats off to the Astros for making their plays. The Yankees pitched a good game but the Astros pitched a little better. Fortunately, the bullpen will be rested for Game 2 as the Yankees only had to burn Chad Green in relief of Tanaka. Green pitched two frames of scoreless relief with 31 pitches thrown.
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On the bright side, Dallas Keuchel won’t take the mound again until a potential Game 5. The Yankees offense should fare much better against crafty veteran Justin Verlander (15-8, 3.38 ERA) and the rest of the Astros starters. For Game 2, Verlander will be tough, no doubt, but the Yankees can win this game and send the series to New York with a split. We’ll have staff ace Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98 ERA) to lead the way. I like those odds.
Have a great Saturday! A perfect day would feature a Yankees win! Let’s make it happen. Go Yankees!
American League Division Series, Game 3
Yankees 1, Indians 0…
The Yankees rode the arms of Masahiro Tanaka and Aroldis Chapman, the glove of Aaron Judge and the bat of Greg Bird to to their first win in the ALDS. It was a very exciting game and one that cannot underestimate the value of Gary Sanchez’s defense behind the plate.
After a postseason that was seen a bevy of starting pitching blowups in both leagues, this was a classic pitcher’s duel. Going against Cleveland Indians starter Carlos Carrasco, a “quiet” 18-game winner during the season, I figured that getting runs would be difficult.
The Indians threatened first. With one out in the top of the 4th, the Indians got their second hit of the game when Jason Kipnis lined a shot into right field for a triple. Aaron Judge, running hard, tried to reach the ball but it bounced off the palm of his glove. It looked like the Indians might score the game’s first run but Tanaka struck out both Jose Ramirez and Jay Bruce, very dangerous sluggers, to retire the Indians (much to the delight of the very loud Yankee Stadium crowd).
As great as Tanaka was pitching, the Yankees were unable to register their first hit against Carrasco until the bottom of the 4th when Didi Gregorius singled to center. He didn’t go anywhere but at least the Yankees had eliminated the goose egg under the hits column.
Roberto Perez opened the top of the 6th inning for the Tribe with a single to left. Giovanny Urshela lined out to right for the first out to bring superstar Francisco Lindor to the plate. Lindor smoked a Tanaka splitter high to right field and it looked like the Indians might have the first runs of the game. Hold your horses! Aaron Judge perfectly timed his leap and with his glove stretched high from his 6’7″ frame, he caught Lindor’s ball from landing in the first rows of the right field seats. It was a brilliant game-saving catch. If you can’t beat them with your bat, beat them with your glove.
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The Yankees mounted their first genuine scoring opportunity in the bottom of the 6th. The inning started when Aaron Hicks reached first base on a slow grounder to third off the end of his bat. Unfortunately, Brett Gardner hit a grounder to short which the Indians turned for a double play. Aaron Judge was next and he walked on five pitches. Gary Sanchez followed with a single to center. Didi Gregorius, like Judge, also walked on five pitches from Carrasco. Bases loaded for Starlin Castro. Tribe manager Terry Francona made the call to the bullpen and brought in the great Andrew Miller. Miller retired Castro on a pop up to shallow left, leaving the bases full of Yanks. Ugh…
While Tanaka was continuing to breeze through the Indians’ lineup, Greg Bird led off the bottom of the 7th against Miller with a massive home run into the second deck (almost into the third deck) of right field. Remind me again why we (which includes me) wanted Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour, Lucas Duda or Jay Bruce for first base before the trading deadline. Bird is showing that he was the best first base “acquisition” of the second half. The Yankees were up, 1-0.
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Todd Frazier followed Bird, however, he flied out to left. Francona made another call to the pen, this time for one-time Yankee Tyler Olson. Olson struck out both Chase Headley and Aaron Hicks to end the inning, making me wonder why the Yankees cut Olson in 2016. Olson had come to the Yankees in the January 2016 trade that also brought Ronald Torreyes from the Los Angeles Dodgers for third baseman Rob Segedin. The Yankees ended up cutting both players, although we know that Torreyes eventually found his way back home. Nice job by Olson although I was hoping for a much worse result for him.
David Robertson took over for Tanaka in the top of the 8th. He got Austin Jackson to fly out to right for the first out, but then he walked Michael Brantley on a full count. Manager Joe Girardi wasn’t going to take any chances so he pulled D-Rob and replaced him with Aroldis Chapman. Chapman did his job, racking up two strikeouts on eight pitches.
|Credit: John Munson-NJ Advance Media for NJ.com|
In the bottom of the 8th, with Olson still pitching for the Indians, Brett Gardner led off with a fly to center that dropped barely in front of the glove of center fielder Jason Kipnis for a double. The Indians brought in former Los Angeles Angels reliever Joe Smith who struck out Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. After Didi Gregorius was intentionally walked, Starlin Castro hit into a fielder’s choice at third to retire Gardy on the force out. I would have preferred an insurance run or two in that spot but it was not to be.
Onto the top of the 9th, and time for a showdown between Chapman and the Indians, facing the top of the order. Chapman struck out Francisco Lindor for the first out. Then things got very tense. Jason Kipnis singled up the middle to center field, followed by a very sharp grounder to third by Jose Ramirez. Todd Frazier made a great stop but the ball came out of his glove on the transfer from his knees. Runners at first and second with only one out. Chapman, firing at 100 mph+, dug deep and struck out Jay Bruce for the critical second out. One man stood between Chapman and victory and it was Carlos Santana, more than capable of sending one out for the tying run. Chapman won the battle when Santana got under a 102 mph Chapman fastball and lifted a fly to left center into the glove of Aaron Hicks for the final out. The Yankees win!
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It was a nail-biter at the end but the Yankees persevered to live another day. I honestly didn’t think that Greg Bird’s solo home run would hold up as the margin of victory but to my pleasant surprise, it did. Clearly, if Aaron Judge hadn’t made that great catch in the 6th inning, there would be champagne stains on the floor in the visitor’s clubhouse.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi was booed heavily by the home crowd during the pre-game introductions. I blamed Girardi for the Game 2 loss as much as anyone, but I thought it was unfair to treat Girardi so poorly. Regardless of his faults, he is the current manager of the Yankees and his job is win games for us. The last thing he needed was our non-support. Not one of the better moments at Yankee Stadium.
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Gary Sanchez, who has taken much heat for his defense and league-leading passed balls, did an excellent job catching this game.
For today’s game, the Cleveland Indians have announced that Game 1 starter Trevor Bauer, pitching on short rest, will get the nod. He’ll be opposed by Luis Severino who made the less-than-stellar extremely short start in the Wild Card game. Hopefully, Sevy will have the answer for his nerves tonight when he steps out on the main stage. His job is to get this series back to Cleveland and into the hands of Sonny Gray.
Odds & Ends…
I enjoy reading Nick Cafardo’s Sunday Baseball Notes in the Boston Globe even if it does have a slight Red Sox taint to it. Cafardo is a very good baseball writer. But one entry this weekend was disturbing. I know that there’s a strong possibility and very likely that new Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter will draw upon past relationships as he builds his new organization in Miami. Already, names like Gary Denbo and even GM Brian Cashman have been mentioned. Cafardo threw out a few more names of potential possibilities…Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. Ugh, I really hope that this does not happen. While I may never have been a great fan of Jeter, he’s hitting on some names that I hold very dear within the Yankees history. I didn’t dislike Jeter when he was a Yankee (I appreciated his time in Pinstripes), but he wasn’t one of my favorites. The other names would be a little harder to accept (for me). It is tough enough watching Don Mattingly in a Marlins cap…
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Have a great Monday! Let’s even this series! Go Yankees!
Credit: Julie Jacobson-AP
Yankees 4, Blue Jays 0…
I ripped Masahiro Tanaka for his last start and he looked at me and said “F-U!” with his latest performance. I love it! Outside of Dellin Betances, I liked everything about this game as the Yankees took down the Jays for their 90th win of the season on Friday afternoon.
While many people were speculating about whether this was Masahiro Tanaka’s final regular season start wearing a Yankees uniform, Masa-hero came out strong. I always like to use the first inning as a barometer and Tanaka was firing on all cylinders, striking out the side on thirteen pitches.
In the bottom of the first, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a one-out single through the hole to shallow left field off Blue Jays starter Joe Biagini. With Aaron Judge at the plate, Ellsbury stole second for his 22nd stolen base of the year. Judge ended up taking a walk anyway. Didi Gregorius was next and he singled to right on a looper that dropped in front of right fielder Michael Saunders to load the bases. Starlin Castro hit a soft grounder between third and the pitching mound, and Biagini had no play by the time he got to the ball. Ellsbury scored on the play. Greg Bird’s sacrifice fly to deep center scored Judge. It was the seventh consecutive game with a RBI for Greg Bird who has gone from a season afterthought to one of its prime performers in a matter of just a few weeks since he returned from the disabled list.
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Chase Headley struck out to end the inning but the Yankees had a 2-0 lead.
Tanaka held the Blue Jays hitless through two outs in the top of the 5th inning, when Ezequiel Carrera hit a grounder to second. Starlin Castro went hard after the ball, crashing his knee against the ground, but his throw was not in time to get Carrera at first. With Raffy Lopez batting, Carrera stole second. However, Tanaka got out of the inning when he turned to fire a perfect strike to Didi Gregorius at second to nail Carrera who was trying to dive back to the base.
Austin Romine led off the bottom of the 5th with a single over the second baseman’s head into right center. Romine was forced out at second when Aaron Hicks hit a grounder to second but Hicks was safe at first. With Jacoby Ellsbury at bat, Hicks stole second. Jacoby Ellsbury lined out to first for the second out. Aaron Judge followed with a single to left, scoring Hicks. Blue Jays catcher was up the line for the outfield throw so there was no play at the plate but they got Judge between first and second for the final out.
Ryan Goins picked up the Blue Jays’ second hit off Tanaka in the 6th, a single to center that dropped in front of Jacoby Ellsbury, but Tanaka was still mowing hitters down so Goins didn’t go anywhere when Tanaka struck out the side again. Thirteen strikeouts through six innings for Tanaka. Incredible.
Matt Dermody replaced Biagini in the bottom of the 6th inning. Didi Gregorius led off with a single to left. With Starlin Castro batting, Didi Gregorius stole second on what appeared to be third strike on Castro. However, Joe Girardi came out with the argument that it was a foul tip. The umps agreed with Girardi, and Didi returned to first base with Castro coming back to the plate. Two pitches later, the outcome was the same. Castro swung at the third strike but Didi successfully stole second. Next, Greg Bird (rapidly becoming one of the Yankees best post-trading deadline “acquisitions”) drilled a line drive single off the wall in the right field corner to score Gregorius. Danny Barnes entered the game in relief of Dermody and induced Chase Headley to hit into an inning-ending double play, but no matter, the Yankees had increased their lead to 4-0.
Tanaka allowed one more hit, a double down the line into the left field corner by Josh Donaldson in the top of the 7th, for a total of three. Donaldson got as far as third on a ground out, but Tanaka retired the next three batters in order including two by strikeout to end the inning and his time in the game. He finished with fifteen strikeouts to go with no hits, no runs, and no walks. It was simply an outstanding performance by Tanaka. If this was his final regular season start as a Yankee, thank you very much. It was a masterpiece to remember.
|Credit: Julie Jacobson-AP|
David Robertson pitched the 8th inning. It started with the first walk by a Yankees pitcher in the game, but the runner was erased on a beautiful double play. Raffy Lopez hit a grounder to Greg Bird at first. Bird threw to Didi Gregorius for the force at second. Didi’s throw back to first hooked out but Bird sprawled out on the ground for the catch with his right foot still on the bag. Excellent defensive play by Bird. D-Rob struck out Ryan Goins to end the inning.
The 9th inning was not quite as much fun…at least not at the start. Dellin Betances came in with a chance to prove he has finally righted the ship. Richard Urena had other ideas and led off with a single to right, a one hop off the wall. With Teoscar Hernandez at the plate, a Betances pitch went off Austin Romine’s glove for a passed ball on the catcher. Urena moved to second. Betances ended up walking Hernandez and all you could do was shake your head. End of Betances, who is running out of time to prove that he can be trusted with late inning relief again. I hate to say it, given my disdain for the man, but Dellin is proving Yankees president Randy Levine was right for his critical comments about Betances after the reliever’s arbitration hearing in the off-season.
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Enter Aroldis Chapman. Man, oh, Man, I am so happy this guy is the Missile again. He struck out Josh Donaldson on three pitches for the first out. Jose Bautista hit a grounder to short and the Yankees were able to force Hernandez out at second but they couldn’t turn the double play when the ball went over Greg Bird’s head. The ball bounced back so Urena had to hold at third. With Rob Refsnyder batting, Bautista took second on defensive indifference. Chapman laid three 100+ mph fastballs across the plate for Refsnyder, with the last pitch hitting 102 mph. Three swings and misses by the former Yankee. Game over. Yankees win!
The Yankees (90-70) looked like a playoff team in this game. They picked up a game on the Boston Red Sox, who lost 3-2 to the Houston Astros at Fenway Park. The Yankees trail the Sox by two games with two to play. I don’t expect the Yankees to catch the Red Sox but they’ve certainly made it interesting these final days of the season.
Mike Axisa had a great tweet after the game about Tanaka pitching on seven days rest: “One day it will be acknowledged that Tanaka does not actually pitch better on extra rest. Today is not that day.”
Odds & Ends…
Brad Ausmus became the first managerial casualty when it was announced earlier this week that he would not be retained after the season by the Detroit Tigers. I can still remember being disappointed when the Colorado Rockies chose Ausmus, a catcher, in the 1992 Expansion Draft out of the Yankees farm system. Of course, I didn’t really know anything about a guy named Jorge Posada at the time. The latest non-returnee is Pete Mackanin of the Philadelphia Phillies. After the season, Mackanin will become a special assistant to Phillies GM Matt Klentak. As a rebuilding team, I thought that Mackanin would be back but apparently the Phillies leadership team felt otherwise. Two managerial job openings and counting although it’s been widely speculated that Terry Collins of the Mets will not return. So make it three…
The Minnesota Twins have activated their best hitter, 3B Miguel Sano, off the disabled list. Sano was placed on the DL in August when he fouled a ball off his left shin. Sano will have the weekend to get ready for next Tuesday’s Wild Card game.
Credit: Bill Kostroun-AP
Tonight, I will be at Coors Field to watch Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the Colorado Rockies. It will be Kershaw’s final appearance of the regular season as he tunes up for his NLDS Game 1 start next week. This will be the first time I get to see Cody Bellinger play in person. It should be a great game. As a former Los Angeles resident, I have so missed the ability to go to Dodger Stadium on a regular basis.
Have a great Saturday! My only request for today is a Pinstriped victory! Go Yankees!