Thursday, July 31, 2014

Yankees' Gardner Playing This Week The Way Ellsbury was Expected To

After last night's 3-2 loss to the Rangers, the Yankees are now worse off in the AL East standings (5.5 G B) than they were coming out of the All Star Break.  All the optimism and confidence the team gave to fans after the sweep of the Cincinnati Reds has gone down the drain.  The main culprit for those lost feelings is, of course, the offense.

Aside from a 12-run outburst on Tuesday night, the bats were frustratingly quiet in Texas this week. The only player with any real consistency during the series was Brett Gardner.  Gardner's numbers against the Rangers were outstanding: 8-11 (.727), 6 R, 2 2B, 4 HR, 4 RBI.  You might have heard that his performance promoted Rangers ace Yu Darvish to joke, "I blame the parents...."

Whatever it is, Gardner has been on fire this week. His power surge makes me think back to the off-season when the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury.  In Ellsbury's signing, the Yankees thought they were getting the player Gardner has been recently.  Ellsbury was thought of as Gardner with a little more pop.  I don't know if Gardner can keep adding to his power numbers,  but Ellsbury certainly should be able to.  Though he has had a very good season so far, his nine home runs have been a bit of a disappointment.

Ellsbury might be able to add to that nine this weekend, when he returns to his old stomping grounds, Fenway Park.  He has hit the Red Sox well this season and, though he hasn't homered there (well, he almost did), he has done well at Fenway, batting .333.

Everyone else in the Yankees lineup should do well at Fenway this weekend as well, with the Red Sox in full seller mode.  If they don't, they might have to think seriously of kissing the 2014 season goodbye.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yankees Offense Saves Bullpen After Disastrous Performance

If Tuesday’s win wasn’t the ugliest win this season for the New York Yankees, it’s definitely in the competition.

In his post-game interview on the YES Network, David Robertson said, "I feel like the luckiest guy in the world right now." Robertson gave up two ninth inning runs and still managed to get the save. It's easy to believe his fellow relievers felt the same way.

Given their workload, it was inevitable that the Yankees bullpen was going to struggle at some point in the second half of the season. Heading into Tuesday’s game Yankees relievers had thrown the sixth most innings of any bullpen in the American League and had two pitchers, Dellin Betances and Adam Warren, in the top ten of innings pitched for relievers. Not coincidentally those are the same two pitchers who combined to turn a 10-4 laugher into a 10-8 ball game in the bottom of the seventh inning as Warren loaded them up and Betances let J.P. Arencibia unload them on one pitch.

It was painful to watch. For Joe Girardi, who has a reputation as a fantastic bullpen manager, it must have been doubly so. Despite his calm appearance whenever the cameras panned to him he must have been frustrated. Giardi told YES that he believed his bullpen would be fine down the stretch, but he  acknowledged that he is a bit worried about fatigue.

He knows the importance of winning games at this point in the season, which is why he went to Betances in the first place, but also knows that the Yankees relievers need rest. It’s not something he’s been able to do with his rotation giving him at most 6 innings on most nights. Up until recently, however, it hasn’t come back to haunt them too much. It did on Sunday and it nearly did on Tuesday night but, for a change, it was the Yankees offense that bailed out the pitching instead of the other way around.

If the Yankees can take any positives from last night’s game it’s that maybe the cathartic release of scoring six runs in one inning and double digit runs in a game could be just what the Yankees offense need. Maybe now they’ll remember just how much fun these types of games are for the scoring team and maybe they’ll do it more often. The Yankees pitching can only hope so.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jeter Passes Yaz In Yankees Loss, But Will He Pass Mo?

Aside from Brett Gardner solidifying his dominance over Yu Darvish, there was nothing else to cheer about in last night's 4-2 Yankee loss to the Texas Rangers. Unless, however, you want to focus on Derek Jeter. That's what I want to do.

In case you didn't know, Jeter collected three hits last night, upping his career total to 3,420. With the three hits, he tied and passed Hall Of Famer and Boston Red Sox icon Carl Yastrzemski.  Jeter now sits alone in seventh place on the all-time hits list. His next target is Honus Wagner (3,430), considered by many to be the greatest short stop in baseball history.

When he passes Wagner, don't assume Jeter will be the best short stop in baseball history. Wagner won eight batting titles, led the league in slugging six times and led the league in stolen bases five times. Jeter has never done any of those things. He has, however, made more postseason appearances than Wagner, collecting five World Series rings to Wagner's one.

Will there be a sixth ring for Jeter before he walks off into the sunset this Fall? I think it's safe to say that the answer to that question is a resounding "no." Jeter has said a number of times this season that he wants to avoid the fate Mariano Rivera was dealt last year: knowing when his last game would be. If the Yankees keep playing the way they have played over the last three games, Jeter will face the same fate.

The Yankees explained their reason for scheduling their Yankee Stadium farewell for Jeter on September 7th, by saying they didn't want it to distract a possible playoff race later in the month.  Well, unfortunately, there is a good chance that it will turn out to be a non-issue.  What a sad way to say, "Farewell, Captain."

Monday, July 28, 2014

Yankees Drop Crucial Series During Otherwise Successful 10 Game Homestand

Prior to the All-Star break one of the main goals for the Yankees was to play better at home. From that perspective, going 7-3 in their first homestand after the break would seem to be a big victory.

However, considering that two of the three losses were against the Toronto Blue Jays, the trip was definitely less successful than it could have been. It is late July, and the difference between 8-2 and 7-3 starts to matter at this point in the season. Instead of being in second place with a game of breathing room, the Yankees now head off to face the Texas Rangers (who are struggling but nevertheless played the Yankees well last week) needing every game they can get just to keep pace.

There was always a bit of fear of the second half of the Yankees season. Yes, despite playing mediocre baseball for essentially the first 90 games, they were still in it. They just needed to stop playing mediocre for a few weeks so they could surge back to the top of the A.L. East, or at least to the second Wild Card. Such wishful thinking, however, was somewhat predicated on the the rest of the A.L. East playing just as poorly and lackluster as they had in the first 90 games.

Instead, the A.L. East has suddenly woken up and decided that it’s time to play. Over the past 10 games, the division leading Orioles have gone 6-4, the Blue Jays have matched the Yankees 7-3 record and the Rays have gone 9-1 to jump right back into the race. Only the Red Sox have struggled and even they managed to break even at 5-5. Everyone seems to be getting hot at exactly the wrong time for the Yankees.

Save for six games, three each against the teams from Texas, who are fighting for last place in the A.L. West, the easy part of the Yankees schedule is over. Even those games are no sure thing, as the tough play of the Rangers is still fresh in the minds of the Yankees from last week, and the opening series loss against the Astros in April still stings just a bit.

None of this is meant to disparage the 7-3 homestand by the Yankees. It was great and showed what this team can do when it plays to its skill level, with just a bit of luck is thrown in. It is more a word of caution that, for all their success, the Yankees still dropped the one series they really needed to take, and they are fast approaching the time of the season when all they’ll have left are series they need to take.

Even with a tiring bullpen, an exposed pitching staff and a spotty defense, the Yankees were right in Sunday's game but couldn't finish the win. Somehow, between now and Friday, when they next meet a division opponent, they need to find a way to close that gap. Otherwise they can kiss that .700 winning percentage over the past 10 games goodbye, and their playoff hopes with it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Yankees Getting Stronger, Thanks To Brian Cashman's Recent Moves

After Monday's loss, the Yankees were faced with having to win their series against the Rangers the "hard way," as YES announcer Ken Singleton refers to winning the remaining games of a series after losing the first.  They did just that. Now they go into the weekend series against the Blue Jays with more work to do, but with a team that is just a little bit stronger than it was at the start of the nominal second half of the season.

Reasons for that increase in strength include Brandon McCarthy, who has followed up his debut in Cleveland with two excellent starts against the Reds and Rangers at the Stadium.  They also include Chase Headley, who had the Yankee debut of the century. Could they also include LHP Chris Capuano?

Acquired yesterday from the Rockies for cash, Capuano will likely pitch out of the bullpen and make a spot start now and then.  Though he's had his problems throughout his career, his left arm be just a little better than that of Matt Thornton.

So, is Brian Cashman done making deals to acquire pitching?  He should be, even if Masahiro Tanaka doesn't come back this season (and, it's looking more and more likely that he won't).  Add Michael Pineda to the mix next month, and the Yankees will be all set on the mound.

They're not all set in the batter's box, however.  Cashman finally admitted as such yesterday according to several media reports.  Speculation as to whom he might acquire includes players such as Marlon Byrd and Matt Kemp.  Judging from the low-key deals Cashman has made thus far, he will likely acquire a Byrd type, rather than a big splash like Matt Kemp.

In any case, the Yankees will keep buying.  After all, they are only 3 GB in the division and they now lead the Wild Card by a half game.  I hope you're open for business, MLB.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Last Night's Tarp Fail Could Have Been Tarp Gate for Yankees

After last night's game quickly deteriorated into Tarp Fail, it was easy to see how it could have been worse: Tarp Gate.

Thanks to the worst-record Texas Rangers, we will likely not hear too many complaints about the failure of the Yankee Stadium grounds crew to get the tarp on the field in a reasonable amount of time.  However, imagine if the Yankees had played a team in contention for a playoff spot.

Even if that team's manager had witnessed the debacle and had seen that no one was at fault other than Mother Nature, those connected with his team would have somehow found fault with the Yankees for what happened last night.

Instead, other than a misplaced comment or two from a Rangers announcer, everyone seemed ready to put the incident behind them. The Rangers were content to accept another loss in a season that has already ended, and the Yankees were happy to be on the other side of things after losing a 5-inning rain-shortened game last week in Baltimore.

The Yankees now have a chance to take the series with a win today. Raise you hand if you thought this would happen after Monday night's loss.  (My hands are still on my keyboard.)