Thursday, May 28, 2015

Turning Back Time: Yankees Sweep Royals

Things like this aren't supposed to happen anymore. At least, if you believe the Kansas City Royals they aren't. 

The Royals started this season with a chip on their shoulder, angry about not being picked by the prognosticators to repeat their outstanding 2014 season. They still might repeat it, but if they continue to play the way they played over their last three games, it will be harder and harder for them not to turn back time.

I'm definitely not expecting them to turn back time, but getting swept by the Yankees this week makes it easier to imagine. Those times were great for the Yankees. They included years in which the Yankees swept the season series, and did it easily. Royals pitching was non-existent. Their offense wasn't much better. Fans were reduced to entertaining themselves with gimmicks such as "$hare The Wealth."  They urged the team owners to sell.

That's all in the past now. The Royals are one of the best teams in baseball. But are they an elite team?  The answer to that question depends on, among other things, how well they play in their next series, against the Cubs this weekend in Chicago. If they win it, they will continue to cement their 2015 destiny. If they lose it, however, they will continue to turn back time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Yankees' Girardi Plays It Safe with Warren But Takes Risk With Health of Bullpen

Questioning Joe Girardi is not exactly high on my list of things to do as I tend to give the Yankees manager the benefit of the doubt. After all, 750 wins doesn’t happen without some skill, even if it’s the skill of knowing when you don’t have to meddle.

Still, after he pulled Adam Warren in Tuesday night’s game after 6.1 IP and only 88 pitches, I’ll admit I raised an eyebrow. Warren didn’t look gassed, there was no funny ankle turn or elbow grab after his last pitch and the lead was not in jeopardy as there was no one on base. It was one of the best starts of Warren’s career and continued a recent positive trend for him.

After the game, during his post-game presser on the YES Network, Girardi said of Warren, “The young man’s getting the job done” and also admitted, “He’s pitching as well as anyone in our rotation.” With all that being said, Girardi still pulled him with a very reasonable pitch count and with eight outs still to go.

It’s a move that was made all the more confusing when he called upon Dellin Betances (who struck out the side and has retired 28 straight batters while still holding onto the 0.00 ERA for the season) and Andrew Miller (0.89 ERA, .074 BAA) to wrap up the game in a non-save situation.

YES put up a graphic in the late innings comparing the back-end of the Kansas City Royals bullpen (Wade Davis & Greg Holland) vs. the back-end of the Yankees bullpen (Betances & Miller). Both have been dominant and, while the Yankees stats were marginally better, the number that stuck out was the IP for each duo. The Royals are under 30 IP while the Yankees duo is fast approaching 45 IP.

For Joe Girardi, who is known for the meticulous managing of his bullpen, it seemed like a very odd choice. Certainly it has been awhile (May 10) since the Yankees won a series, and the team is just coming off a six game slide that took them out of first place in the A.L. East. Add in the fact that a four run lead against a team with one of the best offenses in the league is not exactly safe and you can see why Girardi went to his reliable tandem.

What does that mean for the rest of the bullpen, though? Is there no one else in there who can be counted on to get outs? Surely, between Justin Wilson (who contributed 2 outs), Chasen Shreve, David Carpenter and Esmil Rodgers, they could get 8 outs before giving up four runs right? If not, however, Cashman has some work to do to fix the bullpen.

With a day game today followed by seven games on the West Coast, it would have been great to see Warren get through at least 7 IP and Betances and Miller get a night off.

It’s hard to quibble with Girardi when he managed the team to a series win at home after a horrific road trip but, thinking long term, he has to get Betances & Miller some rest. Tuesday night’s game was a good chance to do so, but the Yankees manager went for the short term win.  Let's hope it doesn't have long term ramifications.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Heathcott, Lindgren Part Of Bright Future For Baby Bombers

Of all the many Yankees highlights from yesterday's 14-1 drubbing of the Kansas City Royals, the best ones, in my opinion, were the ones involving the rookies: OF Slade Heathcott and LHP Jacob Lindgren.

Heathcott, who first appeared in a Major League game last week in Washington, DC, went 2-5 yesterday with two RBIs, hitting his first big league home run. Lindgren made his debut yesterday, pitching two scoreless innings, giving up two walks but also striking out two.

Lindgren's appearance was extra special. His debut came just one year after being drafted by the team. Deion Sanders is the only other Yankee to have made his debut that early.  Upon being told this during his postgame meeting with the media, Lindgren joked, "Maybe I should try to play football."

Those in the know about the Yankees farm system believe Heathcott and Lindgren are just the beginning, the beginning of a whole slew of debuts for prospects touted not only by the Yankees, but by experts throughout baseball. We all know the names, the biggest of which are Rob Refsnyder, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge and Greg Bird. By the end of the 2016 season, the Yankees should be adding some of these names to their roster, while removing dead contracts, including those of Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran.

There was a time, in the not too distant past, that prospects in the Yankees farm system didn't stand much of a chance of making it to the big club. Those days appear to be over. There is a bright future ahead for the Baby Bombers.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Core Four Honors Bernie, Watches Yankees Fall Back to .500

Not even the presence of the Core Four + Bernie Williams could propel the Yankees to a win last night against the Texas Rangers.

Derek Jeter, in his first appearance at Yankee Stadium since his walk off single last September, was joined by the rest of the recent Yankees dynasty in celebrating an all too often overlooked Williams, who had his #51 retired by the Yankees and a plaque dedicated in his honor in Monument Park.

It was just about the only thing to celebrate o in an otherwise terrible night as the Yankees were swept by the Texas Rangers in the weekend series and fell back to .500 for the season.

Just two short weeks ago, the Yankees were 8 games above .500 and riding high on strong, if not lengthy, starting pitching, dominant bullpen and clutch hitting. Since then, they have gone in an absolute tailspin. Of the starters, only Adam Warren has turned in a quality start in their last turn through the rotation.

Coupled with the ineffective bullpen (here’s looking at you Justin Wilson, David Carpenter and Esmil Rodgers) and a spotty offense, everything is going poorly for the Yankees right now. Just a short while ago they couldn’t do anything wrong. Now the season has done a complete 180.

Over the past 10 games, the Yankees are 1-9. One win, Nine Losses. It has been an absolute miserable experience for Yankees fans and, you would have to think, for the Yankees themselves. In fact, the only positives to come out of that stretch are that Carlos Beltran (.293 BA, 2 HRs) and Didi Gregorious (2 HRs, 2 multi-hit games) have started to show some consistency at the plate. Between the two of them, however, it is a misadventure in the field and it is hard to trust them to make even the most basic plays.

So, yes, it has been terrible. As for what do from here, I’m still not willing to call for Brian Cashman’s head. This is the same team (less Jacoby Ellsbury who is down due to a fluke injury) that had us all cheering and applauding just two weeks ago, so this isn’t squarely on the Yankees GM’s shoulders.

He is making changes where he can, including calling up their 2014 first round draft pick, Jacob Lindgren, to fortify the pen. On offense, aside from benching Stephen Drew and calling up the defensively challenged Rob Refsnyder, there isn’t much that can be done.

This may just be a situation of waiting and seeing. The Yankees aren’t as great as they seemed two weeks ago but nothing in me believes they are as bad as they have played since then.

It is still unclear when Ellsbury will return, but he doesn’t need surgery so, hope remains. Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova are on the mend, and the return of one or both will push Chris Capuano to the pen or off the team entirely. Plus the bullpen will have more built-in rest days in June.

As for the offense, aside from Ellsbury returning, there’s really nothing the Yankees can do there, except hope Brian McCann’s injury isn’t too severe and that he, plus Drew and Gregorious, can show more than they have this year.   

The Yankees need to just hold the fort here. It won’t be easy but it is possible. It starts this afternoon against the Royals, and the Yankees need to take it one game at a time.

 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Thurman Munson Bobblehead Night On Tap For Mid-June

Promotional days are typically a highlight on the MLB schedule. There will be two such notable events coming up at Yankee Stadium when the calendar flips the page into June. One, of course, is the 69th annual Old-Timers’ Day, which is one of the most anticipated and celebrated traditions in all of baseball. Generations of Yankees fans can witness numerous of the franchise’s biggest icons, and even lower-tier players, from many different eras of the organization’s storied history, when they resurface in the Bronx on Saturday, June 20.

The other big promotional offering slated for June involves a Yankees legend who unfortunately is no longer with us, that being Thurman Munson Bobblehead Night. That is scheduled just days prior to Old Timers’ Day on Thursday, June 18, when the Yankees get together for a rare interleague series with the Miami Marlins. Given Munson’s immense popularity during his playing days, and his untimely passing from a plane crash, it’s probable this will be one of the most-attended Yankee home games of the whole schedule. The first 18,000 fans in attendance will receive the Munson Bobblehead giveaway.

Like with most special promotional games, especially ones revolving around top sports franchises like the New York Yankees, tickets will be at a premium on the secondary market. According to TiqIQ, the current average price of Yankees tickets for this game are $94.79, which is considerably higher than the other contest in this short two-game series, while the get-in price is $18.

Without question, these prices are higher than the average game at Yankee Stadium, which is why it might be more beneficial seeking out tickets directly through the Yankees themselves. In fact, there are some distinctly glaring savings when you compare the two sources. For instance, if fans wanted to acquire 200-level tickets for this affair, they would have the option of paying $139 in section 212, row 5, while on Yankees.com, they can get similar seats in section 212, row 5 for $90, which is more than 50% savings.

In his era, Munson was considered the “heart and soul” of the Yankees. In his 11-year career, all spent in pinstripes, Munson gathered numerous accolades and is actually the only player in Yankees history to win both the AL Rookie of the Year (1970) and AL MVP (1976) awards with the Yankees. Furthermore, he was a seven-time All Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, and perhaps most importantly, was an integral part of two World Series championship teams in 1977 and 1978. The former Yankees captain had his legendary No. 15 retired shortly after his unfortunate death in August 1979. Even to this day, he remains one of the most popular Yankees fan-favorites of all-time