Monday, October 5, 2015

Podcast 44: Previewing The AL Wild Card Game

Pete and I preview Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game (and even dare to look beyond it!):

Leave your comments below or email me at with your feedback. You can also hit me up on Twitter at @LadyWriting, or contact Pete at @nyypete.

Enjoy the Wild Card Game, everyone!

Yankees Back Into Home Field Advantage, Face Tough One-Game Test

With a 9-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon, the Bronx Bombers wrapped up the 2015 season with a record of 87-75, 2nd in the A.L. East and six games behind the Toronto Blue Jays.

They head back to post-season play for the first time since 2012, as they will face off against the Houston Astros, the 2nd Wild Card winner, in Yankee Stadium on Tuesday evening. However, they don’t look so good as they head to into that game.

More so than any of the other nine teams who punched their ticket to the 2015 post-season, the Yankees have backed their way into the playoffs. Needing to win just one game over the weekend to secure home-field advantage for Tuesday’s wild card game, the Yankees were instead swept by the Baltimore Orioles in disheartening fashion.

It ended a 1-7 week for the team during which their pitching stumbled and their hitting was again ineffective. The Yankees went an appalling 4-for-41 with RISP over the weekend, which included a 1-for-12 showing on Sunday.

They mustered 10 hits during the game but none by the top three in the line-up. Aside from Carlos Beltran, Greg Bird and Dustin Ackley, names that no one would have expected as saviors in April / May, the line-up was largely silent.

This line-up, bullpen and rotation, led by Masahiro Tanaka, who went just 5.0 IP in his tune-up start against the Boston Red Sox and did not look sharp, will now have to face Dallas Keuchel in a win or go home game.

Keuchel, a young lefty with a 2015 season ERA of 2.48, faced the Yankees in June and August and threw a total of 16.0 shutout innings.

The Yankees hit better in Yankee Stadium (.255 BA, .431 SLG and .759 OPS) than they do on the road (.247 BA, .411 SLGL and .729 OPS) but those numbers are distorted by first half stats when the Yankees were considerably better at home than on the road.

The Astros may have had a terrible September that cost them the A.L. West division title, but make no mistake, they are a dangerous team capable of putting up a lot of runs, even against the likes of Tanaka.

This past week was not the one a playoff team wants to have entering the intense playoff cauldron. The good news is that every team starts the post-season with an 0-0 record and anything can happen. Also, to be clear, it is wonderful to see the Yankees with their post-season hoodies on and it will be terrific to see playoff baseball in Yankee Stadium again.

That being said, if the Yankees don’t want this to be a one game return to the party, they need to wake up, and quickly, from their week long slumber. There are no more tomorrow’s. There is no more “focus on winning the series, not the game. There is no more "well, we’ll get them tomorrow.”

This is it. The season on the line. Let’s Go Yankees!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Yankees' Postseason Berth: Stuff of Nightmares Or Glimmer of Hope?

Inexplicable seems to be the word that best describes the Yankees effort during the 2015 season. Just when you think you've got something going......

And the thought just trails off, unfinished and unfulfilled. Except that the Yankees somehow made the playoffs. So there is still light at the end of the tunnel, though many believe it is the headlight of a locomotive bearing down on them. It is the stuff of nightmares. Or, is it a glimmer of hope?

After three straight losses to the Red Sox at the stadium, the nature of each loss seemed to make it clear that the Yankees have no business playing in October, Game four of the series was played last night, and the Yankees did what they do best. They hit three home runs. Carlos Beltran, Rob Refsnyder and Greg Bird all hit solo home runs in a 4-1 Yankees win that clinched a spot in the 2015 American League post season.

The Yankees live to play another day beyond the regular schedule. And one day is all they may get, playing a winner take all game that will catapult the Yankees or their yet to be determined opponent, into a Division Series match up against either Toronto or Kansas City.

For the first time in three seasons there is life at the end of the regular season. And  that feels good.

What doesn't feel good is that the Yankees face uncertainties. Masahiro Tanaka returned to the rotation against Boston, back from a slight hamstring injury and threw an unimpressive five innings. He is the Yankees one game ace next Tuesday. CC Sabathia, the Yankees leader in total innings pitched in 2015, who has pitched well lately, is a certainty for the rotation should the Yankees advance. Adam Warren, who pitched three solid innings out of the bullpen last night, might be the best starting pitcher after Luis Severino. What is Warren's role if the Yankees do advance? What about the physical status of Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and maybe a couple of guys we haven't even heard about yet?

All that is known is that the Yankees are in the post season for the first time since 2012.  Who among us thought this possible back in April? That  alone, issues aside, feels good.

Milestones on Thursday
The Yankees won their 10,000th game in the franchise's history. The franchise began in 1903 as the Highlanders. Now in their 113th season, the Yankees have averaged just over 88 wins per season. In 1961 the season went from a 154 game schedule to the 162 game season, which is still in place. Despite recent struggles at home the Yankees finished the regular season 47-34 in the Bronx.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Losing Streak Therapy: Writing Lists

One of the things I find myself doing when I am frustrated is that I start writing lists. Any kind of list. Following the Yankees first three games at home with the Red Sox, I may have outdone myself. As the Yankees limp to the finish line with Wild Card hopes still intact, but advancement beyond that very much in question, here are four lists of players currently on the roster. From these lists we can gain a little insight into the upcoming off season and the possibilities for the 2016 opening day roster.

List #1 We're Stuck With These Guy Through (Year)

DH Alex Rodriguez (2017) DH flexibility once he is gone

1B Mark Teixeira (2016)     Greg Bird, are you ready?

SP CC Sabathia (2016) Maybe 2017 if shoulder holds up. What about his knee?

SP Masahiro Tanaka (2020) Unless he opts out after 2017

CF Jacoby Ellsbury (2020) The worst contract going forward?

C Brian McCann (2018) In the DH mix after ARod?

RF Carlos Beltran (2016) Will Aaron Judge be ready in 2017

List #2 We Could Trade Any of These Guys

3B Chase Headley Contract through 2018, but defense is suspect.

LF Brett Gardner Also signed through 2018. Manageable contract. Could he be gone?

RP Andrew Miller Highly unlikely to be traded. But Betances awaits his chance.

SP Nathan Eovaldi Could be dealt in rotation makeover.

SP Ivan Nova   Never found the consistency and he was mentioned in July 31 rumors.

2B Dustin Ackley Utility player, second base answer or trade bait?

SP Michael Pineda Maybe there were no winners of Montero-Pineda trade?

RP Chasen Shreve Late season slump makes him expendable?

2B Rob Refsnyder Yanks don't seem to treat him like a top ten prospect.

P Bryan Mitchell Big league starter, long reliever or AAA starter all possible.

Note: Not to suggest all these players will be traded, but all could be dangled this off season. Gardner is the most intriguing. His contract is manageable for prospective suitors and there is an old baseball adage that it is better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late. Gardner at 31 seems to fit that perfectly. The Yankees could use a right handed bat for the outfield and with free agents like Cespedes and Upton, the Yankees could be interested in making some moves to boost their offense. 

List #3 We Like These Guys

SP Adam Warren Not an ace, but a solid starter that was sent to the bullpen before called back to the rotation.

RP Justin Wilson Much needed left handed reliever. Solid 7th inning performer.

RP Dellin Betances Could be the closer of the future. He isn't going anywhere.

SS Didi Gregorius All Star shortstop in 2016? He is that good.

C John Ryan Murphy Solid number two behind McCann. Could be a backup at first base as well.
1B Greg Bird If A-Rod and Teixeira are healthy does he get enough ABs?

SP Luis Severino See what player development and sticking to your guns by not trading him can do?

OF Slade Heathcott If healthy, a very good option for 4th outfielder. Another reason Gardner could be dealt.

List #4 GONE, Please

P Chris Capuano Do I really need to say anything?

2B Steven Drew Poster child for "Yankees Love the Home Run Much to Their Own Peril"

IF Brendan Ryan Option for 2016 return, but should we care?

OF Chris Young Did a nice job in Pinstripes. Hate to see him go, but a likely victim of a roster crunch.

The big change would be dealing Brett Gardner. Certainly, he would draw some interest from teams looking for a center fielder and leadoff hitter. With guys like Heathcott and Mason Williams on the roster, the depth chart behind Ellsbury would have legitimate options. Then bring in an outfield free agent or make a surprise trade. Brian Cashman makes those kind of trades that no one sees coming, so the return in such a trade could also bolster the rotation or fix second base. A trade coupled with at least one big free agent signing, and the roster could be much stronger come Opening Day 2016. Judging from the recent struggles, really since the All Star Break, Cashman needs to make at least a move or two this winter.

Now I feel a little better.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Yankees' Rotation Woes Continue As Wild Card Game Looms

With the Yankees loss to the Boston Red Sox on last night, it’s becoming increasingly clear that their playoff run, should they hang on to make one, will start with a Wild Card play-in.

The Yankees have dropped the first two games of a four game set against the Boston Red Sox and have erased any reasonable chance they had at the A.L. East division. Now they need to be more concerned with staving off the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Minnesota Twins.

Still, with the playoff probabilities still heavily favoring the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees should make the playoffs via a Wild Card spot and, barring some terrible misfortune, Masahiro Tanaka will get that start.

He’ll get one tune up start before the Yankees put the weight of their 2015 season on his shoulders (or, perhaps more accurately, on his elbow and his hamstring). He has had a mixed, and injury shortened, season during which he has thrown 149.0 innings with an ERA of 3.38 and a WHIP just under 1.00.

On the surface, those are not ace stats but he has turned it on when needed and seems to be the one pitcher who is peaking at the right time as he has a 2.55 ERA over his last seven starts.

If the Yankees earn a the wild card they will need Tanaka to have the game of his life to get the Yankees to the ALDS. If he’s successful, it becomes a question of who will follow him.

Right now, that’s not a pretty picture.

By giving up six runs in the first inning of Tuesday’s start, Michael Pineda did absolutely nothing to inspire confidence that he should be second out of the gate. Pineda, who was so promisingly dominant early in the season, has been struggling over the past two months. Over his last 15 games he is just 5-6, with a 5.02 ERA and does not give the Yankees the depth they need.

Ivan Nova has an ERA of 6.88 over his last 7 starts giving up 44 hits vs. 25 strikeouts in those 35.1 IP. He has gone 1-6 over that span and would be working out of the bullpen if Nathan Eovaldi hadn’t suffered his regular season ending injury.

CC Sabathia has been much improved since his return from the DL earlier this year but he’s still not going to give the Yankees the length or shut down starts they need either. If he gets a playoff start it will be because his rotation mates are so terrible that he looks decent in comparison.

Then there’s Luis Severino, who has been everything the Yankees could have dreamed of since being called up, but is still a rookie who has never been through a long major league season or pitched in the playoffs. As great as he has been, he is still unproven.

With those options, the Yankees post-season rotation (again, assuming they get there) looks like this: Tanaka, Severino and roll the dice. Still, stranger things have happened than a Wild Card team winning the World Series (see 2014 playoffs).

So, c’mon Yankees. Win these next two games to get into the playoffs and let’s see what you can do from there.