Tagged: post-season

Bye-Bye Birdie, Hello Playoffs…

Credit:  Tom Szczerbowski-Getty Images

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 1…

What a difference a day makes! Put Sonny Gray on the mound, give him a few runs and all is better in the world as the Yankees beat the Blue Jays and secured a post-season berth.  

On paper, Sonny Gray versus Joe Biagini seems like a mismatch. But early, Biagini was the better pitcher. Biagini breezed through the first three innings facing only the minimum number of batters (thanks to a double play in the second inning which eliminated the only Yankee baserunner). Meanwhile, Gray had a runner in scoring position in the first inning (which he escaped) and then allowed a third inning home run to Teoscar Hernandez which gave the Blue Jays the early 1-0 lead. Hernandez absolutely crushed the ball high into the center field stands. It was his second home run against Yankees in as many days.

The Yankees finally broke through against Biagini in the fifth inning. Chase Headley led off the inning with a walk. While Jacoby Ellsbury was batting, Headley successfully stole second. Ells subsequently struck out, but Starlin Castro followed by taking the second walk of the inning. Greg Bird, with a beautiful swing, homered to right center. As John Sterling said, “Bye-bye, Birdie! In the right field seats…the Birdman of New York…and the Yankees promptly take the 3-1 lead”.  

Gray was cruising until the sixth inning when he had trouble throwing strikes and had two men on base with free passes with only one out. Kevin Pillar lined a sharp fly to left center on a ball that looked like it might have a chance to drop in but a great running catch by Brett Gardner prevented the potential extra base hit. Gray retired the next  batter, Ryan Goins, on a ground out to get out of the inning.  

Credit:  Tom Szczerbowski-Getty Images

For Gray, his day was done. Chad Green came in for the bottom of the seventh, and did what he does best. Three up, three down…two by strikeout. C-Green will certainly help the Yankees see green (the money) in October.  

Credit:  Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Todd Frazier added an insurance run in the top of the eighth when he hit a solo home run over the center field wall. 4-1, Yankees. David Robertson took over in the bottom of the eighth and repeated Green’s performance…three batters, two strikeouts. Wash, rinse, repeat…it works for me.

On to the top of the ninth and the Yankees weren’t done. Gary Sanchez led off the inning with a double off the center field wall. Kevin Pillar went to the wall and got his glove on the ball but surprisingly, for Pillar given his strong defense, wasn’t able to make the catch. Gary Sanchez hesitated as if he thought the ball was either caught or out of the park but then ran safely to second after realizing it was in play. Moral of the story, always hustle. Chase Headley reached on a one-out walk, but he was erased when Jacoby Ellsbury hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Headley at second. But Sanchez was able to move to third. So, runners at the corners and two outs for Starlin Castro.  Castro hit a slow infield grounder that got past the pitcher. Third baseman Josh Donaldson charged the ball but couldn’t make the transfer. Runners safe as Sanchez crossed the plate for the Yankees’ final run.

Aroldis Chapman took over in the bottom of the 9th. He didn’t have the strikeouts of his two predecessors, but he still retired the three batters he faced in the non-save situation for the win. It was appropriate the final out was recorded by former Yankee Robert Refsnyder, pinch-hitting for Ryan Goins, when he hit a grounder to first with Greg Bird stepping on the bag to end the game. The Yankees win!

Credit:  Fred Thornill-AP

The Yankees (86-68) were business-like on the field with hugs and high-fives after the game, but pandemonium broke loose in the clubhouse as the Yankees celebrated their first post-season appearance since 2015.

Credit:  Tom Szczerbowski-Getty Images

Credit:  Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the win, they were unable to make up any ground on the Red Sox and remain four games behind in the AL East. Boston defeated the hapless Cincinnati Reds, 5-0, in a game that featured an inning of relief by Reds reliever Luke Farrell, son of Red Sox manager John Farrell. It would have been poetic justice for the younger Farrell to beat his pop but it was not meant to be.  The Yankees also remain 5 1/2 games up on the Minnesota Twins for home-field advantage in the Wild Card game. The Twins haven’t secured their WC spot yet but they continue to win and presently hold a commanding 4 1/2 game edge over the Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, and Los Angeles Angels.  

Sonny Gray (10-11) showed what Masahiro Tanaka did not. When the stakes are high, raise the level of your play. Gray may not have had his best stuff on Saturday but he held the Blue Jays to four hits and one run in six innings. He walked three, but that was primarily the two he walked in the sixth when he was tiring. He struck out four.  

Excellent job by the Bullpen. Three innings, no hits, no runs, four strikeouts.  The Bullpen is the October difference-maker. If the Yankees can only get Dellin Betances right, you have to like the team’s late inning chances against the game’s best teams.     

Odds & Ends…

Magic Numbers:  The Yankees magic number to clinch home-field advantage for the Wild Card game is three (any combination of Yankees wins or Twins losses). The more impossible reach (AL East Championship) stands at five games (any combination of Red Sox wins or Yankees losses). With eight games remaining, the Red Sox do not play a team with a winning record until they entertain the Houston Astros at Fenway Park starting Thursday for the final series of the season. Even then, it’s possible that the Astros won’t have anything left to play for if the Cleveland Indians secure home field advantage for the play-offs. In other words, I don’t see the Red Sox losing anytime soon.

It does seem weird to have a champagne (and beer) celebration for the right to play one game that may or may not be won by the best team. I know, it’s better to have some chance than no chance. I personally do not buy into the Yankees’ dominance of the Twins as reason for optimism. Too much can happen with a single game and a bad start by the likely starter, Luis Severino, can send the Bombers home for the winter. My excitement will come if the Yankees can win that single game to advance to the expanded play-offs against the division winners.  

Luis Severino was struck by a batted ball before yesterday’s game. He was in the outfield playing catch during pre-game warmups when he was hit in the shoulder. The ball was believed to have been hit by Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile. Sevy dropped to the stadium turf but was able to get up to resume playing catch after being checked out by head athletic trainer Steve Donohue.  Fortunately, it was his non-throwing shoulder but it’s still scary to see your ace go down.  

Have a great Sunday! Hopefully this is a winning final road game of the regular season kind of day. Go Yankees!

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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