Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yanks reclaim favorite role with Teixeira

Well, I don't think many of us could say they saw that coming.

Mark Teixeira is a Yankee, and with that, the balance of power in the American League East has shifted. With a fortified starting rotation and now the most coveted slugger on the market in the fold, the Yankees have become the team to beat.

Phew. That underdog stuff didn't suit us around these parts.

It goes without saying that this transaction has people up in arms. A whole new line of venomous "The Yankees are ruining baseball" chatter has filled the interwebs, the club being painted as the demonic warhorse that cackles in the face of a recession. The angry mob points out that the Yanks have committed to nearly half a billion dollars in salary this offseason and that the four highest-paid players in the league will now call Yankee Stadium home in 2009. The general manager of some team called the Milwaukee Brewers even went as far as to send a missive to the press calling for a salary cap. It was adorable.

I can certainly understand the anger in some respects. This is the Yankees' Shawn-Michaels-kicking-Marty-Jeanetty-through-the-Barber-Shop-window move, a defining act of power lacking any sense of subtlety. This is who we really are, screw you for thinking we were anything different. The Yankees have the financial might to dig deep into their war chest, and when the Red Sox hesitated on pulling the trigger to get Teixeira, Brian Cashman jumped in. An eight-year, $180 million mega-deal was born.

And how about those Red Sox? It's hard to say they didn't drop the ball in a big way here. The Yankees needed a young slugger like Teixeira in the worst way, but Theo Epstein and the Boston brass were apparently convinced by New York's possum act. The Sox have become the model for front office excellence in recent years, but their policy of refusing to go beyond set financial limits backfired in this case. Was that $10 to $15 million difference on their end really worth allowing one of the league's premier players to suit up for the archrival? It doesn't seem to make sense.

I have to hand it to Cashman here. If this was his plan all along, it was pretty damn brilliant. You got the two pitchers you coveted and now you stole the top position player right out from under the hated Red Sox's nose. Sure, his job is made exponentially easier with all the resources at his fingertips, but this hot stove work is very much a finesse business. Cashman has kept his cards close to the vest throughout, and now it is the Yankees who will head into April with baseball's best hand.

A winter wonderland, indeed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Good news or a front?

My personal offseason wishlist was all about 1a and 1b. Get that ace in CC Sabathia and get that young slugger in Mark Teixeira. Mick Jagger taught us that you can't always get what you want, but at least the Sox may not get what they need, either.


It looked Thursday afternoon as if the Boston Red Sox had made strides toward completing a deal for first baseman Mark Teixeira, major league sources told

But by Thursday night, Red Sox owner John Henry had sent an e-mail to The Associated Press saying they had been outbid for Teixeira and "are not going to be a factor" in signing him to a nine-figure free agent contract.

"We met with Mr. Teixeira and were very much impressed with him," Henry told AP. "After hearing about his other offers, however, it seems clear that we are not going to be a factor."

The Red Sox seem aware that their once-robust lineup could be significantly weakened this season, with Manny Ramirez long gone and David Ortiz a year older, a year fatter, and coming off tricky wrist surgery. They are also a smart, albeit despicable, organization that has earned a reputation for making smart business decisions in recent years. It will be interesting to see if Henry's bluffing, or if the Boston braintrust actually feels Teixeira is not the best fit at this time.

That said, if he is true to his comments, more good news for the Yanks. If the Angels are stupid enough to let him get away, even better. This offseason is going very well for the Bombers thus far.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Yanks ransack Winter Meetings

The Yankees remind me right now of one of those movies where the bad guy is sucking power from somewhere (a scientist's brain, the city's electric current) and while the source gets weaker, the bad guy keeps on getting stronger, laughing maniacally along the way.

The Yankees are, of course, the bad guy ... familiar thespian ground for the Bombers. And the rest of baseball's recession-conscious organizations are helpless to stop them from taking over the Winter Meetings. You see that when they bid $60 million more than the next suitor to lock down CC Sabathia, and you're seeing it again with the reported fifth year (are you kidding me?) that has been offered A.J. "Don't Call Me Carl" Burnett.

Brian Cashman is not messing around here. He has a fortune in which to rebuild the starting rotation, and he isn't taking any chances. If he gets his way, Phil Hughes will have gone from No. 4 starter in the Bronx to Double-A ace waiting for someone to get injured on the parent club ... all in the space of eight months.

Burnett scares the hell out of me, but on paper it would further fortify a rotation that has come a long way since the end of the 2008 campaign:

September '08
RHP Mike Mussina
LHP Andy Pettitte
RHP Carl Pavano
RHP Sidney Ponson
RHP Alfredo Aceves

December '08
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Chien-Ming Wang
RHP A.J. Burnett
RHP Joba Chamberlain
LHP Andy Pettitte

As for Sabathia, the Yankees are catching a lot of flak for their supposed over-pursuit of the left-hander, but the fact is that the guy did have reservations about playing in New York and Cashman did a great job alleviating them (adding the extra year was a nice bullet to have in the chamber as well). The pursuit and eventual securing of Sabathia showed a world of improvement over the laughingstock that was the Johan Santana dance. Remember Hank Steinbrenner spewing forth those hollow deadlines? It made the franchise look foolish. This time Hank -- perhaps forcibly -- was completely out of play, allowing Cash to do his job. It was a delicate process, and the GM got the job done.

The Winter Meetings end today, and you get the feeling the Yanks are far from done. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Yanks may dodge Burnett bullet

It looks like A.J. Burnett may not be in the Yankees' plans after all.

The pitching-starved Braves are making a big play for the talented right-hander. According to Jayson Stark of, Atlanta has offered a four-year deal with a "easily vesting" option on a fifth year. Burnett has been chasing a five-year pact since he opted out of his contract with the Blue Jays and Atlanta is said to be willing to guarantee that fifth year if it will get it done.

Let's assume this deal goes down. First off, congrats to Allan James Burnett, who went from being the Great White North's answer to Carl Pavano to signing the richest free-agent pitcher deal this side of CC Way over the course of 12 months. Bravo. Secondly, this is great news for the Yankees. Admit it ... you weren't looking forward to holding your breath every time Burnett through a pitch for the first Obama administration. The guy was a walking M.A.S.H. unit for two seasons in Toronto before last season. You're not getting consecutive seasons of 34 starts, you're just not.

On top of that, a deal with the Braves would mean Burnett wouldn't be re-signing with the Jays and he wouldn't be going to the Red Sox. In fact, he wouldn't even be in your freaking league anymore. This dude kiiiillllls the Yankees, going 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in five starts against New York in '08. With the exception of one Interleague series next June -- a likely three-hit shutout, of course -- Burnett would be out of the Yankees' lives. Praise Jesus!

My wish when free agency kicked off last month was that the Yanks would sign Sabathia and Derek Lowe. Well, Mark Teixeira as well, but that's a whole other story. While Sabathia continues to take his sweet time -- hey CC, no one else is giving you $140 mil, get over it -- you still have to figure he'll end up in slimming pinstripes. Lowe is more of a longshot at this point and there's talk that he may return to Boston. If he does end up back at Fenway, bring back whatever's left of Pettitte and head into 2009 like this:

  • LHP CC Sabathia
  • RHP Chien-Ming Wang
  • LHP Andy Pettitte
  • RHP Joba Chamberlain
  • RHP Phil Hughes/RHP Alfredo Aceves/RHP Ian Kennedy
That would potentially be the best 1-2 punch in baseball, but the rotation as a whole looks dangerously thin to me in this scenario, with a innings-limited Joba coming off a scary DL-stint, Pettitte on the decline and Hughes/Kennedy reprensenting huge question marks. Burnett isn't the right fit for the Yanks, but general manager Brian Cashman should remain committed to making a splash that goes beyond Sabathia. If I'm in charge, I lock up CC and lock up Lowe, even if I have to overpay for the playboy sinkerballer. Sabathia gives you your ace, Lowe provides you peace of mind.

It's just money, Cash. Spend it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Yanks roll the dice with Swisher deal

The Yankees opened free agency on Friday making no secret of where their focus would be.

CC Sabathia was reportedly offered the biggest deal for a pitcher in the history of the game. A bit of a gamble when you're talking about an overworked, overweight left-hander. That said, desperate times call for desperate measures and the Yankees desperately need a true ace. Big offers to right-handers A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe are said to be coming as well. The Yankees, it seems, are not messing around with their offseason plan to overhaul their rotation.

Prior to free agency's start, the Yanks made an interesting move Thursday that gives you an idea where they feel they're at offensively heading into 2009. New York acquired 1B/OF Nick Swisher from the Chicago White Sox, dumping Wilson Betemit and two mid-level prospects. Looking at the deal by itself is a no-brainer for general manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees. Betemit was never close to being the player that Cashman coveted before dealing for the strikeout/error machine in 2007. The underlying story of the trade was that it effectively removed the Bombers from the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, a somewhat curious move considering the Yankees' steep offensive decline in 2008.

Listen, Swisher had a poor season under Ozzie Guillen, but he proved in his seasons with the A's that he can be a very effective player. If you can throw out his .219 '08 season -- and I understand if you can't -- Swisher had some nice seasons by the bay, including a 35 homer, 95 RBI year in '06. He'll also be just 28 on opening day, can play first base, is a switch-hitter and he's known to be the gregarious type the stiff Yankees can always use more of in the clubhouse. If nothing else, he helps fill the Oakland Idiot role vacated by Jason Giambi.

But this decision is not without risks. Teixeira was the perfect fit for this Yankees lineup, but New York's pitching-pitching-pitching free agency doctrine simply didn't have a plan for a $120 million first baseman. Can you blame them after the Giambi fiasco? I suppose I'd be gun shy, too.

Barring an unforseen deal, the Yanks now seem content to go into the season with an offense high on potential but also risk. Do you get 2008 Swisher, 2006 Swisher or somewhere in between? Will A-Rod continue his trend of monster seasons every other year? Can you expect another productive season from Jeter? Will Cano regain his stroke after a lost '08? Can Damon remain healthy and effective? Will center field become an offensive albatross? Can Nady be a consistent everyday player? Can we really still expect big numbers from Posada?

Those are a lot of questions. Looking at it in a glass half-full kind of way, the offense will likely be just fine if even half of those answers come back favorably, but Cashman is still rolling the dice here. And if it's June 1 and CC Sabathia has a 2.70 ERA and eight no-decisions?

Too many ... angry and misinformed Hank Steinbrenner ... sound bytes ... brain cannot ... compute.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A look inside the new Stadium

The Yankees gave select media members a tour of the new Yankee Stadium on Friday. Tyler Kepner of the New York Times was there to document it.

The upside here is all over the place, for fans, players and the media. The only downside (besides the ticket prices) is that the seats are further from the field, which is kind of a bummer.

I can live with it though as long as Cotton Eyed Joey doesn't make the trip across the street. I would literally lock that dude in his stupid little box and throw the key into the Harlem River if I had such power.

(Photo via the NY Times)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ranking the Yankees' top FA targets

After a couple of painful months of reflection following the Yankees' first dark October since he was 13, River & Sunset returns today with a look at the free agent class of 2008. The free-agent signing period begins on Friday.

The Yankees find themselves in a precarious position as free agency begins. They have hundreds of millions of dollars burning a hole in their pocket and an especially high level of stakes. Botch these signings, and a veteran team coming off a down season could go tumbling into a steep decline. Make the right moves, and you have a World Series contender playing in your new zillion dollar stadium. It's possible that general manager Brian Cashman is going to age worse than a two-term president this winter.

Here at River & Sunset, we're not crazy about the free-agent class. Even the sure things (with one notable exception) seems to carry baggage, and the drop off to the Randy Wolf's and Jim Edmonds' of the world hits quick. It proves that the dudes that run baseball are getting smarter. If you have a stud, don't let him get near free agency. Chances are you ain't getting him back if you do. If you are a complete baseball nerd like me, check at this Yahoo! Sports article that breaks down each of the 183 free agents. Here's to hoping the sweet Lord finds it in himself to grant a roster spot to Cousin Sal Fasano (No. 177). Not on my team though.

Here's my thoughts on the Yankees' likely free-agent targets, in descending order of desire. To get you "geeked up" (you're a dork, Michael Kay), keep in mind the Yanks will probably end up landing at least two of these dudes. Who knows, maybe all of 'em.

CC Sabathia, LHP - If you think highly enough of him, he's the reason why you didn't give up Hughes to get Santana last offseason. Two things that worry me: a) His physical condition, which falls somewhere between the aforementioned Sal Fasano and that dude who had to be taken out of his house on a flatbed truck for his wedding, and b) The Brewers, perhaps irresponsibly, rode Sabathia real hard after acquiring him from the Indians on July 7. Sabathia made 17 starts for Milwaukee, going the distance in seven of them. He averaged nearly 7 2/3 innings each start he made. In 1978, those are numbers that you'd expect from your ace. But in 2008, that makes you worry. That said, he's a left-hander who was a monster with the Brewers (11-2, 1.65, 128 K/130 IP) and will be just 28 on Opening Day. As someone who always thought the Wanger to be baseball's best No. 2 starter, this would perfectly set up the rotation with a developing Joba not getting asked to carry too much of the load. Simply put, Sabathia has to be the priority.

Mark Teixeira, 1B - For all the talk about how badly the Yankees need starting pitching (which they do), it cannot be understated that their offense is in need of a serious boost as well. Teixeira, a switch-hitting, power-hitting, Gold Glove-winning, beast in his prime, is the perfect fit for this team. He is essentially a better-rounded, less steroidy and sweaty version of the player Cashman thought he was getting when the Yanks signed Jason Giambi in 2001. Think about a Bombers offense without Teixeira filling the three-hole in front of A-Rod. With Abreu in all likelihood history, your outfield would consist of Damon, Gardner/Melky and Nady, while your first baseman would be perhaps Casey Blake. Yikes. With Jeter on the downside, Posada 37 and coming off shoulder surgery and Cano standing as a huge question mark, runs could end up being at a dangerous premium in New York. The Steinbrenners are going to want fireworks in their new park, Teixeira would ensure that. While pitching conquers all, Texeira is very nearly as important to the Yankees as Sabathia.

Derek Lowe, RHP - I have always been a big Derek Lowe guy ... for several reasons. Back when I was in school in Boston, Lowe was the social heart of those crappy Red Sox teams of the early 2000s, a rabid bar fly who'd get drunk with hot blondes at Northeastern University's White Hall (the freshman dorm, natch). Beyond having sex with 18-year-olds, Lowe managed to squeeze in some good moments on the mound in Boston as well, and in his four subsequent seasons with the Dodgers he became one of baseball's most dependable starters. This is what you know you're getting from Lowe: 33-35 starts, 210-220 innings, 13-15 wins and an ERA in the 3.50 range. Like Wang, he's a sinkerball pitcher who doesn't pick up a ton of strikeouts but doesn't walk many either. He's proven he can pitch in the AL East, and at 35, probably has three more good years in him. If you're not worried about him sleeping with your sister, he's the perfect No. 3 starter for the Yanks.

A.J. Burnett, RHP - Using the Carl Pavano Corrollary here, there's no chance in hell you should go near this guy. Prior to his healthy and effective '08 season, Burnett was essentially Toronto's version of Pavano, missing large chunks of the '06 and '07 campaigns among whispers that he wasn't working hard enough to get healthy. Funny what a contract year will do for your health, however. This past season Burnett became the pitcher the Jays thought they were getting in 2006, making every start in an 18-10 season, while striking out 218 in 210 innings, killing the Yankees every chance he got along the way. Burnett likely opted out of his contract last week in part because he (or, more accurately, his agent Scott Boras) believed New York would bite hard at the chance to pry a Yankee Killer away from a division rival. My feeling is the Yanks won't gamble, especially with the $40 million sting of Pavano still fresh. That said, if the Yanks can't acquire Sabathia, everything changes.

Manny Ramirez, OF - As you may have heard, our beautiful country is in a bit of a financial crisis. It seems to have affected everybody, including the poor New York Yankees, who said today that seven of their luxury suites in the new Stadium are without a tenant. For shame! With exorbitant ticket prices, the Yanks need to field a winning team to keep that new ballpark filled in '09 and beyond. Now let me ask you this: If the Yanks were to lose out to Sabathia, and if the Angels managed to retain Teixeira, is it beyond the realm of possibility that a panicked Yankees brass may give sure Hall of Famer, known quitter Manny Ramirez the four-year, $100 million that Boras is asking for? If Boras is smart (and we know Manny isn't), they should ride this process out to see if the Yankees get desperate. As a philospher named Bono once said, "Desperation is an ugly thing." Maybe. But Manny killing the Saux in pinstripes sounds kind of beautiful, no?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Jeter accepts the torch

Derek Jeter had already done enough to ensure he'd never been forgotten.

The Jeffrey Maier game. The backhanded flip to Posada. The walk-off vs. Kim. The head-first dive against Boston. Those four rings. In between, there have been enough jump throws from left and inside-out singles to right to build a lifetime worth of legend cred.

And yet, the Captain managed to outdo himself on a special night at the Stadium. The last night at the Stadium.

“Every member of this organization, past and present, has been calling this place home for 85 years, There’s a lot of tradition, a lot of history and a lot of memories. Now the great thing about memories is you’re able to pass it along from generation to generation.

“Although things are going to change next year. We’re going to move across the street. There are a few things that New York Yankees that never change. That’s pride, tradition and most of all we have the greatest fans in the world.

We want you to take the memories from this stadium, add them to the new memories that come at the new Yankee Stadium and continue to pass them along from generation to generation. So on behalf of the entire organization, we want to take this moment to salute you, the greatest fans in the world.”

That's pretty cool, huh?

Here's the thing about Jeter. He's 34 years old. It's quite possible that, as a player, his best days are now behind him. He's got two more years left on his contract, and it's extremely likely he'll sign another deal for two or three more that ensures he retires a Yankee. He'll get 3,000 hits, maybe even 3,500, have his number retired, probably get a monument and enter the Hall of Fame five years later.

But beyond all those hits and all those rings, I feel like Jeter has now become an equal with the Yankee greats that came before him. I now see Jeter the way I picture Mantle was viewed in his final seasons. Someone who has become bigger than his peers, but for all the right reasons. Jeter's not just the shortstop for the Yankees anymore. He represents a piece of history. He's become another link in a very exclusive chain. For me, watching him give that postgame speech in the middle of the diamond clinched that ideal.

Over the past 12 years, he has been the Yankees' most visible star despite a public profile that favored vanilla quotes and actions that served only to avoid controversy. But when he took that microphone and addressed those 57,000 fans and millions more watching on TV, it was as if he officially accepted his role as the newest Yankee icon.

I grew up worshipping Don Mattingly as my idol. He was baseball to me, and he's the only player that can rival Jeter's popularity since Mantle retired prior to the 1969 season. But despite his immense popularity, Mattingly will never be viewed the same way Jeter will be once he retires. You can make the argument that Mattingly was the better player before his back quit on him, but without any tales of October glory, he'll always be earthbound when talk turns to the legends of the franchise.

Jeter has the rings. He has the numbers. And now you can see that he's finally took on the responsibility for what he means to America's most storied sports franchise. It was the perfect way to close the big ballpark in the Bronx.

Jeter said during his speech that some things about the New York Yankees never change. He's absolutely right. Some things will always be what they are, the history of the franchise will always give it immense meaning to millions of people. With Whitey and Yogi in attendance on Sept. 21, 2008, a new legend accepted his place amongst the satellites.

Goodbye to the Cathedral

Saturday, September 20, 2008

You may say I'm a dreamer ...

... and yes, I'm the only one.

If the Yanks sweep three games from the Jays at Toronto and the Red Sox get swept at home against the Indians in a four-game set, the Yankees can go into Fenway Park mathematically alive.

So yeah, tell Hideki to put off that surgery. We may going to the Dance after all!

(Yes, I understand I'm in dangerous denial.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Weird times in the Bronx

The Yankees season is basically devoid of meaningful competitive storylines these days, replaced by coldly manufactured ones like Derek Jeter having the most hits in Yankee Stadium history and Billy Connors piling the most dead hookers and buffalo wings under the right-field bleachers.

And with so little in the balance -- the Yanks can be officially eliminated from playoff contention as early as this weekend -- it wouldn't have been surprising for the bottom to fall out as players began turning their attention elsewhere.

With that said, you have to hand it to the veterans that they're making the last homestand at the Stadium a winning one. After taking two of three from the Rays last weekend, they won their first four-game series of the season by taking three from the White Sox. On Thursday, Mike Mussina built upon a season in which he is undoubtable his team's MVP, winning his 18th game. He will have to go 2-for-2 down the stretch to reach elusive No. 20.

It seems as if even Robinson Cano has temporarily put aside his plan to bang every co-ed in America, picking up five hits over the past two nights. On a side note, is it too obvious that the Yanks will deal Cano to the Dodgers this offseason, reuniting the prodigal son with Larry Bowa and Joe Torre? I mean, that almost makes too much sense right? I don't think it's necessarily a good idea to deal Cano when his value is through the floor, but knowing the Dodgers, they'd probably pay the cost of '05-'06 Cano thinking the coaching staff can turn him around. This is the next Rod Carew after all. He converted, by the way.

Thursday's victory clinched a winning season for these Yankees -- their 15th straight such campaign -- and with nine games remaining it's very possible they'll win between 87-89 games. Though hardly a consolation for a dark October, it should be recognized that their record shows that this hasn't been such a terrible season ... at least technically. Just terrible by Yankees standards, standards are ridiculously high. Let me ask you this: If Chien-Ming Wang had made 34 starts instead of 15, are the Yanks in a three-team dogfight in the AL East right now? Yeah, that's what I thought.

But sadly, Wang didn't make those starts and the Yanks have no part in that aforementioned dog race. It's a reality that's still hard to swallow for prideful Bombers fans like me and you. I made my final visit to Yankee Stadium on Monday night -- my reflections on that will come shortly -- and it was weird to watch the mighty Yanks actually playing out the string. As we walked through that stuffy old tunnel-bridge for the last time my buddy Howie, a season-ticket holder and eternal Bombers pessimist, remarked that it had been years since he had seen the Yankees play for nothing. It was 1993 to be exact, a time when I was still hitting wiffle balls in my front yard pretending I was hitting cleanup behind Don Mattingly.

The Yanks were a team on the rise then, with players like Jeter, Pettitte, Williams and Rivera ready to return the franchise to glory. Whether the likes of Chamberlain, Hughes and Jackson can restore this club once again is the new question.

It could be 1993 all over again for the Yankees. It could just as easily be 1965. Thomas Earl Petty famously once said that waiting was the hardest part. He's absolutely right.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Help arrives too little, too late

There haven't been many good stories in Yankee Land these past few weeks, so watching Mexican right-hander Alfredo Aceves' fine performance in his first big league start Tuesday was a welcome change of pace. Signed out of the Mexican League a year ago for $450,000, Aceves showed surprisingly good stuff over seven one-run innings in the Yankees' 7-1 victory in Anaheim. With 27 passes handed out to family and friends before the game, I'm guessing Mr. Aceves and his loved ones are enjoying their Dos Equis tonight.

I do have a complaint though, one that I couldn't shake as the big right-hander wearing No. 91 mowed down the AL West-leading Angels. What took the Yankees so long to give Aceves -- or anyone else thriving within the organization -- a chance?

Week after week Yankees fans were subject to the brutal stylings of Darrell Rasner, a nice enough dude I bet, but certainly not the first guy getting picked in kickball. And while Kennedy and Hughes had the opportunity and coughed it up, it stood to reason there had to be somebody -- anybody -- in the organization worth taking a flyer on as Rasner's poor starts piled up.

Aceves is a perfect example of this. The 25-year-old was 8-6 with a 2.62 ERA in 25 games (23 starts) at Class A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season. He was an effective pitcher on every level. And yet he remained in the farm system until Aug. 28. You have to wonder: At any point during Rasner's deadly eight-start winless streak from July 22-Sept.4 did the club think about sliding in another arm from the system?

It's not fair to blame the Yankees' second-half fade on poor Darrell Rasner; you can't put that much on someone never meant to carry the weight of 13 straight playoff appearances on his shoulders. This maddening season can only described as a team effort. But this Yankees team needed an unknown quantity to step up in the rotation the way Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon saved the day in 2005. For a short time it seemed Rasner would fit that description, the product of a 3-0 start in May. Rasner is now 5-10, simple math stating the right-hander had been very bad for a very long period of time before the Yankees finally pulled the plug for good last Thursday.

The damage had already been done by then, however. Too little, too late. Just like Aceves' performance. Injuries and age helped put the Yankees into decline this season, but as Aceves' start tonight prove, roster indecision has played its part as well.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Distractions help during end of an era

For many fans, the start of the NFL seasons brings with it a new dawn in the sports experience.

Watching Brett Favre continue to pump life back into my team was certainly a welcome sight. But it's not a sports cure-all by any means. The average fan is able to turn his or her attention away from baseball and the struggles of their favorite team and hope that the Giants or the Jets or the Patriots will be heading toward a date with the Super Bowl. Well, maybe not the Pats.

But for the diehards out there, this blogger included, the blinding optimism of the NFL season can't make the pain of this Yankees season go away. There's no way to talk yourself into the Bombers going to the playoffs now, not after they lost two of three this weekend to a team with a .380 winning percentage. River & Sunset's Unofficial Theory of Survival is no more. The defibrillators have come out and they couldn't jumpstart the pinstriped heart. It's all over.

There will be a time to reflect on the end of this amazing Yankees run, admittedly soured by postseason failures in recent years, but amazing nonetheless. Say what you will about Brian Cashman -- and with his contract up plenty will be said both for and against him -- but he was the engineer of a franchise that hadn't missed the playoffs since he took the gig in 1997. With a little luck -- Joe Torre playing the infield back in '01, Tony Clark's liner into the corner not bouncing over the wall in Fenway in '04, the unlikely Cleveland humidity descending bugs into Joba Chamberlain's soul in '07 -- this could have been a team with one or two more championships under its belt.

But this isn't about crying over spilled milk. The point is the Yankees of 2001-07 were in a great position to extend their dynasty from one decade to the next. For a variety of reasons -- three of which are listed above -- it didn't happen. But Cashman helped give this franchise that chance. You can argue that his free-agent signings have been more bust than boom, but this guy knows what he's doing. Fans should remember that come next month.

What comes next? Well, I'll definitely begin diving into that as the season's final month wraps up. Suddenly there's a lot of room for different content now that the games mean less than nothing. I guess the lesson here is that every great run in sports comes to an end. And the struggles of '08 will only make it sweeter when New York gets back to the promised land again.

Seeing if Favre and the Jets can claim a suddenly Brady-less AFC East will be fun to watch this fall and winter. Watching how the Yanks try to rebuild this team may end up being just as interesting.

Around The Horn: When I graduated college, I took my first sportswriting job at The Journal News in Westchester County, NY. My favorite gig during my time there was covering the Rockland County baseball beat in 2003. I ultimately decided the everyday life of the newspaperman wasn't for me, but I have a great deal of respect for the business, and the beat guys in particular. The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is Pete Abraham. He's been the Yanks' beat guy for The Journal News for a few years now and his Yanks blog is the best on the 'net. Anyway, if you're interested in the newspaper life, check out Pete's post today, "So what's it like to cover the Yankees?" Really insightful stuff.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Pitching loses championships

If it was the moribund offense largely responsible for putting the Yankees in this unenviable position, then it stands to reason that the back end of the rotation is taking the honors of finishing the season off. See, sports are all about teamwork!

Oh my God. Can you even believe how bad Darrell Rasner is? As the Razz let the game spin out of control in the second inning on Thursday, I started thinking to myself how amazing it is that he was even in this position in the first place. What other Yankees team in my 20+ years as a fan allowed an obviously inferior pitcher to repeatedly shipwreck the team like this? Even more amazing, this undermanned version of the Yankees gainfully employs TWO such pitchers in their starting rotation. Where the fuck is the logic in that? That's bad managing. That's bad management.

After Rasner walked off the mound in a performance he was "ashamed" of (and that's saying a lot), he had allowed five runs on six hits over 1 1/3 innings. He gave his team no chance. The right-hander is now 5-10 with a 5.43 ERA on the season and has not won a game in the second half. I don't care what your team's pitching problems are, how the hell do you leave this guy in the rotation when he literally CANNOT WIN? Where's Adrian Balboa when you need her?

He has a 6.08 ERA in his last 10 games. He has allowed 87 hits and 24 walks in his last 62 1/3 innings. He has just two wins since May 26. And yet the Yankees have trotted him out there every fifth day, save a one-start audition by Ian Kennedy, the journeyman right-hander giving his team zero opportunity to sustain momentum in this lost season.

Rasner's partner in crime, of course, is Sidney Ponson. If you combine their last six starts, this is what you get:

Actually, hide the women children first.

Ready? OK, here we go: 20 1/3 innings, 29 earned runs, 44 hits, 8 strikeouts, 11 walks. That the Yankees actually one two of those six games is a miracle.

Add this slop to Mr. Pettitte's slide into mediocrity, and the Yankees never really stood a chance. I don't think I'm out of turn in saying whoever is in charge of this roster in the offseason has a lot of freaking work to do.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Are Rays vulnerable?

People have been wrong about the Tampa Bay Rays a hundred times this season, this blogger very much included. Every time they've seemed to look vulnerable, Joe Maddon's team has reeled off five of six or eight of 10 and put any theories of a meltdown to rest.

I mention this only because they look vulnerable again and it's the Yankees who are reaping the benefits of it. The irony of the situation is that the Yanks are actually doing the hated Red Sox a great service, as Boston and its unstoppable superstar(?) Dustin Pedroia moved within three games of first place following a third straight win Wednesday.

The Yankees continued to do a good job getting ahead early on Wednesday, taking it to on-again off-again talent Edwin Jackson. Carl Pavano, making his third start off the 500-day DL, couldn't make it out of the fourth inning but the Yanks bullpen did the job in clinching a series win over the Rays with an 8-4 victory. New York now leads Tampa Bay 9-5 in the season series.

The game achieved historic footnote status in the ninth inning when A-Rod's long home run to left became the first play to be reviewed under MLB's instant replay system. It took the umpires two minutes, 15 seconds to make the final ruling, dooming Yankees and Rays beat reporters to 2-3 extra slugs in the process. PeteAbe nailed it a couple days ago when he joked that the Yankees would of course end up being the first team to be involved with a replay. Even more obvious was that A-Rod would be at the center of it all.

The Rays don't look very good right now. Their starting pitching has been poor in both games of the series (in fairness the Yanks haven't seen Kazmir or Shields), the defense and baserunning has been suspect, and the lineup isn't very deep at all with Longoria and Crawford on the shelf. And I'm sorry, Troy Percival is going to kill this team in a big spot (or three) before this season is over. By no means am I writing this team off (I'm sick of being wrong), but they are certainly pregnable at this point. It will be very interesting to see where they are 10 days from now.

It's almost certainly too late for the Yanks to catch the Rays in the standings -- they still trail the AL East leaders by 10 games entering Thursday's finale -- but a sweep would certainly keep the juice flowing into the pinstriped life support system. We all know the Yanks' bleak situation at this point in the season, but being the optimist I am, I will continue to track their playoff hopes and bang you over the head with my utter nonsense. Working under the River & Sunset Unofficial Theory Of Survival, that being the Yanks must win 92 games to potentially win the Wild Card, New York must now finish their schedule at 17-6.

Sounds impossible? Kinda, yeah. But it ain't as bad as 20-6. Just keep winning games. As far as the Rays go, it won't be an easy road to thier first AL East title. After Thursday's finale, they will play nine straight on the road, come home for six games against the Red Sox and Twins before closing the season with an eight more games away from the absurd shitbox that is Tropicana Field.

It's not quite an enviable position ... though in truth it's a place the Yankees would give anything to be in right about now. Like most things in life, it's all about perspective.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The return of Joba

Yankees fans may not have much to cheer about these days, but I'll tell you what we still do have. Joba Freaking Chamberlain. Not to mention his giant, lumbering bluetooth-loving father. And that ain't bad.

Chamberlain was back on the mound for the first time in a month in the opener against the Rays on Tuesday. More effective than sharp, he pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in New York's 7-2 win. His fastball was clocked in the mid-90s, and the big man looked comfortable all things considered.

Joba's injury in Texas on Aug. 4 really turned out to be the death knell of the Yankees' season, the moment when the air went out of New York's balloon for good. It was good to have him back in action on Tuesday, even if the damage of his absence has already been done.

The injury did more than sink the Yanks' postseason chances in 2008, it has also now presented the team with the same issue it had entering the season. Had Chamberlain remained healthy, he probably would have thrown between 150-160 innings for the season, which would have set him up in 2009 for the 190-200 inning workload of an upper-tier starter. The DL stint wiped out that carefully orchestrated plan, and it's now likely Joba will finish with around 100 innings for the season.

It's pretty obvious the Yanks won't ask their prized possession to double his workload next year, so you can bet your arse the right-hander will begin the season setting up for Rivera ... again.

This has almost become a comical issue at this point. The Yankees were so careful with Chamberlain that they have actually now managed to foul up his development. In a sense, they will be paying the price for bringing him up as a reliever in '07 for two complete seasons, and that's assuming '09 will go off without a hitch. Let this be a lesson to other teams that may want to emulate the Yankees' move with their own young studs.

But while the future is once again muddled for Joba, there's no debating the Yankees are a much better team with Chamberlain on it, regardless of his role. With Joba setting up Rivera, the Yanks once again have baseball's best bullpen. Needing to go 18-6 to reach 92 wins (my predetermined win total New York must reach to possibly win the Wild Card), the Yankees must be nearly perfect. Having Joba back in the 'pen can only help.

Welcome back, hoss.

Gotta love the Moose

If the Yankees have less than a one percent chance to make the playoffs this season (as Baseball Prospectus leads us to believe), then it makes sense to start taking solace in the smaller things in life. Will Derek Jeter finish over .300? Will Mo get to 40 saves? Will Abreu crack 100 RBIs? Will A-Rod misjudge a popup and have a crippling emotional breakdown?

Most important on this list of personal quests centers upon Mike Mussina, who is going for 20 wins for the first time in his utterly solid career. Mussina moved one step closer to that milestone on Tuesday, going six-plus innings in the Yankees' 7-2 win over the AL East-leading Rays. Tampa Bay is still in first place? What world am I in? This is like a Tom Berenger movie.

Mussina is now 17-7 and he will have five more starts this month to get three wins. He’ll face Seattle, Tampa, Chicago, Toronto and Boston before the regular season wraps on Sept. 28. It's difficult to fathom how a man with 267 career wins can never have reached the 20-win milestone, but with Moose there is a reasonable explanation. From 1994-1996, Mussina could have, probably should have, had 20 wins in each season, but he came up empty each time. In '94, he had 16 wins before the strike wiped out the season in mid-August. The 1995 season was affected by the labor strife as well, not beginning until April 26. That lost time cost Mussina five starts. He finished 19-9. In 1996, he was at 19 wins entering his final start of the season against Toronto. He left the game with the lead after eight innings, but Armando Benitez blew the save (and probably Mussina's mind).

Mussina has now won at least 17 games in four of his eight seasons in New York. His highest win total with the Bombers was 18, achieved in 2002. His 3.39 ERA is the lowest mark since he sported a 3.15 mark in his first year in the Bronx in 2001. Mussina is one of, if not the best, free-agent signing of the Brian Cashman era.

Pettitte faded into oblivion in the second half, wilting when his team needed him the most. Mussina has been a steady presence for five months now, the very definition of a veteran leader. Given the choice to bring one back for '09, I believe it to be a no-brainer.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Still running to stand still

River & Sunset took a Labor Day respite this weekend, a time the Yankees spent playing uneven baseball that gave their fan base ulcers. In other words, absolutely nothing changed.

Carl Pavano made it 2-for-2 in starts off the 500-day disabled list. The Yanks blew a 6-2 lead on Saturday, as Robbie Cano made a crucial error that opened the door for a late Blue Jays rally. Cano once again displayed that he didn't get it after the game, leaving the clubhouse without speaking with reporters. Yes, we have a problem here. Sunday became the Roy Halladay show, as the stud right-hander beat New York for the fourth time this season. Andy Pettitte was not competitive and has one win in his last seven starts. So much for his second-half prowess.

With your season on life support, I'm not sure losing both series of your homestand is a great idea. But such is life when you're talking about the 2008 New York Yankees.

The biggest issue this offseason for Brian Cashman -- or whoever fills his shoes -- is how to fix the offense, and the lumbering lineup showed its warts again in the Bronx. The Yankees scored 19 runs on the six-game homestand and were 9-for-48 (.188) with runners-in-scoring-position. Giambi is obviously history. If I'm in charge I look to move Damon and Matsui as well. This team needs to get younger in a hurry.

Today's makeup game against the Tigers was ugly, but I suppose a win is a win. Justin Verlander (what happened to that dude?) was awful and Sidney Ponson was just as bad. The fat Aruban has a 15.83 ERA over his last three starts, allowing 24 hits, 18 runs, six walks and four strikeouts over 9 2/3 innings. If the Yankees' plight this season could be summed up by one player, it would be Ponson, who is out-of-control awful but continues to pitch every fifth day because the Yankees have literally no other option. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this guy won't even be in baseball next April, yet he is in the starting rotation for a team that's made the playoffs 13 straight years? Amazing.

The Yanks have won six of their last 10 games overall, but they'll need to be much better than that to keep their slim playoff aspirations alive. Working under the assumption of 92 wins at least putting them in the equation for the Wild Card, the Yanks will need to go 19-6 down the stretch. If that isn't sobering enough, keep in mind the Red Sox would have to stumble to a 12-13 finish to complete their schedule at 92-70.

Reality has set in. As Damon said following the second loss to Boston last week, we all need to be professionals now. That includes your area Yankees blogger.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pride of the Yankees

Even the most optimistic of Yankees fans (read: me) understood what Wednesday's 11-3 drubbing by the Red Sox meant, the second loss in as many games to the arch-rival Wild Card leaders. Simply put, it was all over.

No following the other races to see who the Yanks would match up with in the division series, no features on whether this was the year A-Rod would come up big when it counted, no pull-out sections in the Post and Daily News to pour over come Oct. 1. Yankee Stadium, for the first time since 1993, will be dark when the postseason begins. Turns out me and my Dad were at the final playoff game ever at The House That Ruth Built, a 6-4 loss to Paul Byrd and the Indians in Game 4 of the '07 ALDS. Lucky us.

The players accepted the season's lost nature as well on Wednesday night, even if Joe Girardi's hollow rheteroic said otherwise (how annoying is this guy sometimes?). "We have to be professionals now," is how Johnny Damon put it. The Yankees entered Thursday losers of 18 of their last 30 games, turning a three-game deficit to the Rays to 11 and one-game distance from the Sox to seven. You couldn't have been surprised if Boston had finished off the funeral of the Bombers with a sweep in Thursday's matinee finale.

But here's the thing about these Yankees, particularly the veterans. They may not be the same players they used to be, but they still have their pride. And you have to respect the fight they put up in Thursday's 3-2 win in what is in all likelihood the final game these two great rivals will ever play against each other in this park.

Jason Giambi was the hero, launching the game-tying two-run homer with two outs in the seventh. Pinch-hitting for Jose Molina, the 'Stache lined an 0-1 pitch from Hideki Okajima off the facing of the black in left-center to finally get the Yankees on the board. When he came to the plate again with the bases loaded and no one out in the ninth, he stroked the walk-off single to center off douche closer Jonathan Papelbon. Who says people don't get work done on half-days?

Giambi is about to begin his final month in what has been a long, strange and ultimately unfulfilling journey as a Yankee. Always a fan favorite despite the steroid scandal that will forever blight his career, Giambi has always had a knack for the big hit in his seven-year pinstripe run. His skills have eroded greatly as an offensive player, but he's given this team everything he's had left this season, playing more first base then anyone could've imagined while being a good run producer and on-base man in spurts. He will be useful somewhere as a DH next season and he will be cheered loudly when he steps into the box as a visitor at the new Stadium.

These next 29 games will have a lot of that feel. Saying goodbye will be the big theme. Saying goodbye to some mainstays on the roster and saying goodbye in the place the club has called home since 1923. Let's hope Thursday was a sign that this team will send the cathedral out with the respect -- if not the results -- it deserves.

Around The Horn: New York finished 484-285-4 in the regular season at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox. New York has beaten Boston in six of 10 postseason games in the Bronx. ... Alex Rodriguez went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Thursday, finishing the biggest series of the season at 2-for-13 with five strikeouts and one RBI. The crowd let him have it again, hopefully Madonna can hold him in her veiny arms as he sobs uncontrollably. ... The Red Sox lead the season series against the Yanks, 8-7, with three games to play Sept. 26-28 at Fenway. ... New York is six games back of Boston in the AL wild-card race with 29 to play. ... Mike Mussina is now 0-for-2 in tries at win No. 17 despite a solid seven-inning outing against the Sox. The Moose will have six more starts to get four more wins. I sincerely hope Stanford's son does it. ... Pete Abe reported today that Joba threw 45 pitches in the bullpen on Thursday. His next step will be throwing batting practice on Saturday before the game against the Jays. ESPN reported Thursday night that the Yanks are hoping to have Hoss in the bullpen sometime next week. Of course, they really need him as a starter, but I suppose beggers cannot be choosers. Another helping of Sidney Ponson? It's beefy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Understanding the mystery of A-Rod

If you managed to make it through all nine innings of Tuesday's excruciating blood-letting in the Bronx, you couldn't miss the singular emotion oozing from the Stadium. Anger.

Anger that Andy Pettitte came up small against the big rival again. Anger that the offense refused to accept multiple Boston invitations to get back into the game. Anger that a promising season had gone so wrong. But must of all, anger toward A-Rod.

We need to be fair here, because there's a good chance talk radio and the papers won't be. The Yankees didn't lose this crucial series opener solely because of A-Rod's brutal 0-for-5, two DP, one error showing. In reality, Johnny Damon may be the only Yankee without blood on his hands. But Tuesday was a perfect microcosm of everything that makes A-Rod what he is. More to the point, Tuesday perfectly displayed everything A-Rod isn't.

He has the most physical gifts. He puts up the biggest numbers. He has the highest salary. But he'll never be your savior. The Yankees can win a World Series with Rodriguez on the roster, but they won't ever win title No. 27 because A-Rod is on the roster. It's a head-scratching reality that even the most ardent A-Rod apologists are now starting to understand. He's not the Alpha Dog the Yankees thought they were getting when they traded for him prior to the 2004 season. He proves this time and time again, but for some reason Yankees fans refuse to accept it. Each failure just adds more fuel to the fire. Tuesday became an inferno that stands among the darker days in a Hall of Fame career.

The cautionary tales of the '04 ALCS and subsequent ALDS losses didn't stop the Yankees from bestowing upon their superstar a lavish 10-year deal prior to this season. The contract did more than ensure A-Rod would hit homer No. 763 in a Yankee uniform. It also announced Rodriguez as the new face of the Yankees. Perhaps if the team had taken a closer look at A-Rod's makeup and track record, they would have called his bluff and let him walk when he opted out of his deal in October. Maybe he would have hit his 50th homer of the season on Tuesday for another team with deep pockets and a spotlight that didn't shine so bright. But ultimately, the club made the same mistake that I and countless other fans were guilty of. Blinded by what seemed so obvious, the Yankees assumed there was no way that talent wouldn't translate to titles.

But what the Yankees may ultimately have is a damaged soul, a player who probably never was cut out to be in New York in the first place. The error he made in the seventh inning was a direct result of the boos raining down on him. He was rattled by the rejection of his home crowd and he acted accordingly. The special professional athletes have the ability to block out distractions. Roger Clemens famously said he heard nothing when he stood on the mound. Silence. Imagine that? A-Rod can't. A-Rod can't tune out the criticism. It consumes him. And that thin skin is what ultimately makes a great talent very human.

Human was the very definition of A-Rod's performance on Tuesday. Problem is, human is not what the Yankees paid for, and it isn't what their fans will ever accept.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First things first against Sox

It's hard to imagine the Yankees actually catching a break this season, but Josh Beckett's absence from this week's series against the Red Sox certainly qualifies as that.

Tim Wakefield will be Beckett's replacement. Fresh off the disabled list, Aaron Boone's best friend hasn't pitched for Boston since Aug. 6 and his recent history against the Yankees portends to a big day for the Bombers bats. The 42-year-old knuckleballer is 9-17 with a 5.18 ERA in his career against New York. The Yanks knocked Wakefield around in their last matchup, touching him up for six runs over 5 1/3 innings in July.

The Yankees will counter with Andy Pettitte, one of two dependable pitchers on the staff. The road to the postseason will be nearly impossible unless a pitcher in the rotation not named Pettitte or Mussina steps up in a big way, but for now the two vets must be at the top of their games. If either pitcher is injured or falls into a slump, this season is done.

All that said, the series-opening Pettitte-Wakefield matchup is an essential game for the Yankees. The last time Pettitte opened a series against the Red Sox, he crapped the bed. If you know anything about No. 46, he hasn't forgotten that 7-0 loss on July 3. Pettitte and the Yanks need to take advantage of this matchup. Urgency my friends. URGENCY!

Sidney Ponson will face Paul Byrd in the middle game, a contest with potential to become a battle of the bullpens. It will be interesting to see how Ponson bounces back from his atrocious start in Toronto. Unfortunately, his history against the Red Sox as a Yankee isn't very promising. Ponson's introduction to the rivalry was a pounding in the series finale at Fenway Park on July 27. The hope here is that Ponson can gut through five or six innings without giving this thing away.

Mike Mussina will then take the ball in the finale, a matinée game at the Stadium. Jon Lester will make the start for the Sox. Like Ponson, Lester was beat up by the Blue Jays in his last start. The left-hander allowed seven runs on eight hits in just 2 1/3 innings, the shortest outing of his career as a starter. As evidenced by his track record, Lester is a tough dude, so I look for a competitive performance from him. Moose, just four wins from 20, will have to keep pace.

One X-factor to keep in mind as we approach Tuesday's opener. For the first time since 1999, this rivalry will be without the ultimate Yankee Killer, Manny Ramirez. This has been lost in the shuffle with all of the last-trip-into-the-Stadium-for-Sox stuff, but it cannot be understated. Jason Bay has been a very capable replacement in left field, but I stand by the fact that Boston made a big mistake in letting Manny's latest spat blow up into a trade. This is a weaker Red Sox team than the Yanks saw the last time these two teams met. Even the most ardent Sox fan blowhard would have a hard time disagreeing with that.

And yet, they probably would. This, my friends, is why Boston sucks.

Walking The Wire in Baltimore

To get back into this playoff race in earnest, the Yanks are in need of an extended winning run. Today's 8-7 marathon win over the Orioles completed a three-game sweep at Camden Yards. That's three straight. And that's a start.

But Sunday's game also illustrated how difficult it will be to put together the necessary run with the starting rotation being what it is. This will put the spotlight back on an offense that will get one last chance to re-write the story of its season as anything other than a bust. They will need to produce when those Ponson-Pavano-Rasner turns come up. If the Yanks swing the bats -- as they did all weekend in Baltimore -- it's certainly possible to win eight of 10 or 15 of 20. But we must remember that we're talking about a team on pace to score the fewest number of runs in a season since the Bush Sr. administration. It's unclear if they are capable of being consistently productive anymore.

Darrell Rasner is terrible. Just God awful. He's had more chances than Robert Downey Jr., and while I'd love to make a cute pun here saying that the Razz is more Tin Man than Iron Man, I won't, because the fact is Darrell Rasner is all heart. Unfortunately, that's all he is. If Wang didn't get hurt and Kennedy didn't implode and Joba didn't point to his shoulder, Rasner would have been at best, in long relief and, at worst, sitting on his couch drinking Budweiser. Instead, he's still here, still pitching poorly and there's not really a thing the Yanks can do about it other than hand him the ball in six days against the Blue Jays. That's just the way things are in '08. Stupendous.

What we saw this weekend is what we expected from this team all season. The Yanks took it to a last-place team with an offensive attack that was too much to handle for middle-of-the-road starters and weak middle relief. So strong was the lineup that the team overcame Carl Pavano and Rasner only collecting 25 outs in their starts.

The offense couldn't have done it alone. The bullpen seems back on it feet after The Road Trip That Shall Not Be Named. Mariano Rivera is back in form, collecting saves in all three O's games to give him 31 for the season. It was also nice to see Damaso Marte excel Sunday with three strikeouts over 1 1/3 scoreless innings. Joe Girardi lied -- yes, flatly lied -- to the media prior to the game, saying the reason the left-hander hadn't pitched much in the past 10 days came down to the right situation not presenting itself. Marte let the cat out of the bag later, saying his elbow had been bothering him, likely the product of a 42-pitch outing on Aug. 4 against the Rangers. Me thinks Girardi still has some things to learn about dealing with the New York press. If you lie, you will be exposed, and when you get exposed, you look like a dick. Understand this and adapt.

The Yanks have been excellent in close games this season. Sunday was the 38th come-from-behind win of the year, tied with the Tigers for the most in baseball. Eleven of the Yanks' last 13 wins have been come-from-behind victories. These are numbers that are either telling me the bullpen is way better than I give it credit for or this season has been very close to being embarrassingly bad. I suppose it's both.

And just like that, the Red Sox re-enter the picture. Three games at the Stadium starting on Tuesday, with New York trailing Boston by five games in the Wild Card chase. In the words of Mike Francesa, this is huuuuuuuuuuge. The Yanks need this series in the worst way, and while it may be asking too much to ask for a sweep, the Bombers need to be thinking that way. The Yanks caught a break on Saturday when the Sox announced that Josh Beckett will miss his next turn with arm issues. In his place will be Tim Wakefield, fresh off the disabled list and hopefully ready for another shit show in the Bronx. To keep this momentum going, the Yanks need to win this series. This may be their last chance to make noise.

Around The Horn: The Yankees swept the Orioles at Camden Yards for the first time since 2004. New York leads the season series, 8-7, with three more games to be played in the Bronx Sept. 19-21. That series finale could be the final game ever at the Stadium. Good luck getting tickets to that. ... I like Pudge Rodriguez. I like the way he plays. He's a gamer. But he's not showing much game for the Yankees. He has one RBI since joining the team. This is not the walk-year that agents dream about. ... The Yankees' punishment of Daniel Cabrera on Sunday was an anomoly of sorts. The big-righthander had been 3-0 with a 3.15 ERA in three previous starts against the Yanks in '08. Cabrera's velocity has seriously dipped (his fastball was maxing at 89-90), which makes you think he has to be hurt. Why do the O's keeping running him out? ... I watched the Orioles telecast of the game on Sunday. That Jim Palmer sure is a whiny bitch. He was all over the umpires, highlighted by his near conniption when Rivera fanned Nick Markakis to end the game. Like many announcers across baseball, Palmer seems to put waaaay too much faith in those silly pitch-tracker boxes. "They're embarrassing themselves," Palmer said of the umps, seemingly unaware of the irony that he was a tighty-whities model in the late-80s. ... I'm going to say it. This team will be so better off without Jason Giambi next season. Sure, he's a fun guy, but you take out that hot stretch in June and he's been a shadow of the shadow of his former great self. ... Phil Hughes got bombed in his Triple-A start on Saturday, his second consecutive poor start down there. Suddenly, a Sept. 1 call-up isn't a sure thing. Phil Franchise? Certainly not this year. Meanwhile, I haven't heard if Ian Kennedy getting married again this ALDS? Prospects are suspects.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Well, that's a start ...

I've gotten past the point this season where one win will set my mind in motion on a Yankees return to greatness. Like the girl who was stood up on prom night, I've been hurt before and now I'm just kind of on guard about everything.

But being the eternal optimist I am, yesterday's 9-4 win over the Orioles at Camden Yards was certainly nice to see. They haven't quit yet, something I thought was a real possibility after Thursday's debacle in Toronto. It would have been nice for Moose to get win No. 17 (he probably has six more starts to get to 20), but at this point we can't exactly be picky about how the Yankees win games. Such is life when your favorite team has to play five weeks of .700 ball to make the playoffs.

Six games out of the Wild Card with 34 to go, the odds are against this team. That said, it's still premature to write this team off mathematically, which was the rage on the 'net after Thursday's drubbing. I'll concede the American League East, of course. But are the Yanks really finished in the Wild Card chase?

Oh geez. Here I go again.

What if, per chance, the Yankees were to win eight of the next 10 games while the Red Sox and Twins/White Sox went 5-5 in that same stretch? Is that a completely impossible thought? I don't think so. That would put the Yanks three games back on Sept. 2. Everyone would be going apeshit saying the Yanks were back, including those who went tumbling off the bandwagon in the past month.

Doubters have plenty of ammunition to shoot down that possibility. The Yanks still have no pitching depth, the offense still kind of sucks and with the schedule being as it is (lots of road games, lots of quality opponents), a betting man would probably mark this as an 83-win team and move on.

That's certainly fair. But let's see how the rest of this month plays out before we put the finishing touches on that headstone. You get to play a last-place team the next two days before coming home for six games -- three of which are against those Red Sox whose tail lights are in the distance. Now's the time for that 8-2 run. Tonight I'm counting on Carl Pavano to get the momentum going, and shockingly, I don't even feel that apprehensive about it.

Okay. I'm fucking nuts.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lost in the Great White North

There's a helpless feeling being a Yankees fan right now, a ping in your gut that didn't usually show up until the late innings of their last three ALDS ousters.

For the first time, you can truly sense that the end is near. This is officially unchartered territory for teams in the Jeter Era. Sputtering without direction, well back in the standings, and no light at the end of the tunnel.

I wrote in this space prior to Thursday's game that the series finale against the Blue Jays would serve as a serious gut check for the Yankees. The matchup (Halladay vs. Ponson) certainly wasn't promising, but the Yanks had looked good on Wednesday and I had a feeling they were ready to put up a good fight.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Ponson threw an absolute stinker and the offense looked intimidated and then apathetic in Halladay's presence. It was 13-0 after four innings. Are you freaking kidding me?

In the first half of the season, I was frustrated by the feeling that I was watching a great team that was underachieving. I don't believe that anymore. This is not a great team. This isn't even a good team. Injuries destroyed the pitching staff. Age consumed the lineup. It makes you wonder if this team has even 85 wins in it. Would you be shocked if they finished under .500?

One more observation on a truly revealing night in Toronto. After Billy Traber -- who's terrible by the way -- surrendered a three-run double to Matt Stairs to extend Toronto's lead to 10 runs in the third, the Yankees came to bat in the top of the fourth and showed absolutely no desire to be on the field. Xavier Nady, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano saw a combined five pitches in the frame. Halladay was cruising to another complete game without breaking a sweat. Did that ever happen under Torre?

They quit. And they didn't even try to hide it. The Yankees had a chance to make a statement on Thursday and instead they embarrassed themselves. Six games out of the Wild Card with just 35 games to play. Math says their alive, commonsense may not agree.

Another "must-win" for Yankees

The Yankees got back on their feet yesterday at Rogers Centre, bouncing back from Tuesday's brutal Johnny Damon-led loss with a workmanlike 5-1 win over the Blue Jays.

Fitting that it was the old guard that came through in a big game, as Andy Pettitte tossed seven excellent innings for his 13th win while the resurgent Derek Jeter had three hits including a game-breaking two-run homer. The Captain has 16 hits in his last 28 at-bats, raising his average to .298. He's also having sex with the hot brunette from Friday Night Lights. There may or may not be a correlation there.

With the series knotted at a game a piece, the Yankees face a huge uphill challenge tonight with Yankee Destroyah Roy Halladay squaring up against the man who loves crabs, Mr. Sidney Ponson. Though hardly a promising matchup for the Yanks, Ponson has been a good pickup by Brian Cashman, giving the Yankees a chance to win in almost every start he's made for the team. New York has won six of Ponson's nine starts since the big drinker was signed off the street in June.

You've probably heard the term "must-win" thrown around a lot of late. This was widely considered to be the case in the third game of the Texas series, the finale of the Angels series, all three games of the Royals series as well as yesterday against Toronto. "Must-win" is a flawed term, of course, seeing as its mathematically incorrect. But I will say this ... it is a very important game for a team desperately in need of momentum.

The Yankees have been very consistent this season in losing games they're supposed to lose. It seems whenever they have an unfavorable pitching matchup, the game is basically decided prior to first pitch. This team needs to buck that trend in the worst way tonight. Take it to Halladay. Put up some crooked numbers early. You are still the Yankees, right? It's not impossible to think you can get the better of a star pitcher ... is it?

Actually, I don't even need you to knock around Halladay. This offense has shown me this year that I can no longer ask for things I got as recently as a year ago. Give me four runs in seven innings. Take some freaking pitches. Get the dude out of the game. If Ponson can hold down an inept Toronto offense (not a sure thing at all, but it could happen) then they have a shot. Give me a tie game in eighth inning. Then get the job done. Figure out a way. This isn't a must-win, but it's sure as hell important for a team running out of days in August.

The Yankees must understand that fact and play accordingly. Not sure what kind of heart this team possesses yet? We could have a much better idea by 10:15 tonight.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No country for old men

These are exactly the type of games that explain why the Yankees in all likelihood will not qualify for the postseason in 2008.

The offense, simply put, is not good enough to compete on a day-to-day basis. Toronto starter A.J. Burnett struck out 13 over eight innings on Tuesday, exposing the once-great Yankees lineup as an old and slow group. Take Johnny Damon, the affable outfielder who singlehandedly beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS. Damon was a 31-year-old All-Star back then. Four years later, Damon can still hit, but his defensive struggles make him little more than an unorthodox designated hitter. And yet, on a roster of beat-up veterans, the Yankees are asking Damon to be the starting center fielder for the rest of the season. Damon showed why this is an error in judgment on Tuesday, dropping two fly balls -- the second costing his team an incredibly important game. As always, Damon was accountable for his actions after the game, but that doesn't make the gaffes disappear.

Jason Giambi was a monster when the Yankees signed him to a seven-year, $120 million deal prior to the 2002 season. He was 30 and arguably baseball's best hitter not named Bonds at the time. Now? You still pay him that monster salary ($23 million in '08 alone), but his production doesn't come close to matching the dollars. Four strikeouts in four at-bats against the Blue Jays, looking geriatric and helpless in the process.

And while some are helpless, others are just hopeless. Take Alex Rodriguez. No seriously, take him. As he always does when facing real competition, A-Rod was completely overmatched by Burnett, striking out in each of his first three at-bats. When he led off the ninth with a blooper over the first-base bag, he hesitated out of the box, allowing just enough time for Lyle Overbay to make the throw to nail him easily at second base. Did Overbay make a fine play? Of course. But too often A-Rod plays the clown for the Yankees. He's the face of failure.

The woeful offense wasted an uncharacteristically strong performance by Darrell Rasner, who allowed one run on three hits over 6 2/3 innings. The team fell to 16-27 in series openers, a statistic that illustrates the lack of urgency that has helped shipwreck this season.

My confidence in this team has reach a season-low. I believe the Yankees need to go 4-2 on this road trip to stay alive by the time the Red Sox come to the Bronx. Well, they're 0-1 so far with Yankee-destroyer Roy Halladay looming in the series finale.

Dark days, my friends. If you have some extra faith send it my way ... because I'm starting to lose hope.

Pavano or Hughes?

The Yankees have a very interesting decision to make on Saturday, when they'll need a starter to face the Orioles at Camden Yards.

Your first option -- and certainly the more popular choice among Yankees fans -- is to bring Phil Hughes back. The prospect has completed his lengthy rehab from a fractured rib, and despite a rough last rehab start, has looked sharp overall. Still, you have to think there are those in the organization that feel they rushed both Hughes and Ian Kennedy, and they may want to make sure they don't make that mistake again. Hughes was pummeled in Spring Training this year, and yet the Yankees gave him the ball in the third game of the year. The results were astoundingly bad, as the right-hander went 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in six starts before limping to the disabled list.

Meanwhile, Pavano's situation is unlike any New York sports has ever seen. Signed to a four-year, $39.95 million contract prior to the 2005 season, Pavano has been sidelined by a litany of injuries, some very real and some potentially imagined. Pavano has made just 19 starts for New York, winning a total of five games over the span of the agreement. That's a cool $8 million a win! Some speculate Pavano doesn't want to pitch at all, a feeling that has made the right-hander a very unpopular man both within the organization and in the Yankees clubhouse.

That said, Pavano has pitched better than Hughes as he's rehabbed from Tommy John elbow surgery. The 32-year-old is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in three Eastern League starts with Double-A Trenton, allowing six runs on 14 hits while walking three and striking out 13 in 14 innings. On paper, he should be the man for the job.

What would you do if you were the Yankees? If I was the one who got robbed by the American Idle, I'd probably want to run him out there. Who knows, maybe you catch lightning in a bottle and he wins four or five games down the stretch to help the Yanks make the playoffs. That wouldn't erase four years of nonsense, but it would still help.

For that reason, I see Pavano on the mound Saturday in Baltimore. If Hughes were lights out at Scranton, I'd see it differently. But his inconsistencies combined with Pavano's fat pay check may make this decision for New York. After four long years, the Yankees may try to get one last return on their worst investment ever.

**UPDATE** Pavano skipped his bullpen session on Tuesday due to a "stiff neck." What a freaking thief. Meanwhile, Hughes complained of a dead arm after his last start. Sometimes it's hard to escape the feeling that it's just not the Yankees' season.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hey, I remember those guys!

The Yankees dropped a little deja vu on their exhausted fanbase Sunday at the Stadium, pouring 15 runs on the Royals to capture their first winning series in six tries. Two straight wins coupled with the two straight Red Sox losses pulled the Yanks within five games of the American League Wild Card lead.

The Yanks scored 10 in the first two innings alone, led by A-Rod (three-run shot) and The Stache (grand slam). All the support enabled Mike Mussina to grab win No. 16 in what's become an increasingly special season for the 39-year-old right-hander. If he stays healthy, he will have 7-8 starts to get to 20 wins for the first time in what suddenly appears to be a Hall of Fame career.

The Yanks are off today, a welcome respite for a team of beleaguered old men. It will be interesting to see how the offense builds off Sunday's outburst. A similar breakout occurred on July 2, when a slumping lineup exploded for 18 runs against the Rangers. They were shut out at home against Boston the next night.

The Yanks have scored 10 or more runs 12 times this season. They are 5-6 in the games that have followed these outbursts, including five losses in the last six such situations. The lineup needs to really takeoff to secure a postseason berth, and now is the time to do it.

Of course, this is easier said than done, especially when you're heading to Rogers Centre for a three-game series. The Blue Jays aren't much of a hitting team, but they can really pitch. And unfortunately for New York, the Toronto arms seem to get especially amped when facing their AL East rivals.

The Yanks are 4-5 against the Jays this season, losers of two of three in Toronto in their last meeting in July. Yankee Killers Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett held New York to one run over 17 1/3 innings in the bookend games of the first half's final series. The Yanks will get both those pitcher again this week, 15-gamer winner Burnett opening the set against Darrell Rasner and 14-game winner Halladay closing it out against Sidney Ponson. The rotation couldn't be stacked any worse for the Yanks, but put simply, they need to find a way to take one of those games in tandem with beating up on left-hander David Purcey (2-3, 5.93 ERA) in the middle game.

There's really no more room for messing around. Just look at the numbers. The Yanks have 12 series from now until the end of the season. Being five games back in the Wild Card race, they'll need to win nearly all of them to make up the ground. Looking at recent history, the Yanks needed 89 wins to grab the Wild Card in '07 (they got 93), the Tigers needed 91 in '06 (they got 95) and the Red Sox needed 94 in '05 (they got 95). So, if I were a betting man, I'd say the Yanks need to get around 93 wins to snag the Wild Card in '08. At 66-58, they'll need to go 27-11 to pull that off. Even if the Wild Card is a race to as low as 90 wins, the Yankees are going to have to play well over .600 ball from now until Sept. 30.

An uphill climb to be sure, but hardly impossible. Hey Joba, how ya feelin'?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Needed win a great relief

The Yanks have sputtered recklessly close to the point of no return in 2008, and heading into the bottom of the seventh on Saturday, you could have sworn you were watching a funeral at baseball's grand cathedral.

The Yankees had, after all, done everything in their power to fall in the opener against the lowly Royals on Friday, an inexcusable loss that featured a ninth inning that perfectly symbolized the infuriating nature of their season. That Joe Girardi didn't walk to the opposite end of the dugout to rip out Justin Christian's heart was a welcome surprise for me.

But now it was the seventh inning on Saturday, Zack Greinke cruising against the Yankees for the first time in his star-crossed career. If they were unable to come back from a 2-0 deficit, a back-breaking seventh loss in eight games was staring the Bombers right in the eyes. Somebody had to do something.

The Royals -- as bad teams are wont to do -- lent a hand. Alex Gordon booted a groundball off the bat of Alex Rodriguez, and A-Rod came around to score on a two-out triple by Robinson Cano. (remember him?) Greinke then uncorked a wild pitch to tie the game.

The bullpen then put the team on its back, finishing with 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball to pick up the slack for a brutal Yankees offense that provided another agonizing performance (3-for-16 RISP, 13 Ks, three GIDPs). Brett Gardner won the game in the 13th inning with a slap single, but the real stars of the game -- Bruney, Veras, Ramirez, Rivera and Robertson -- cannot be overlooked.

So what did we learn on Saturday? The Yankees still cannot hit, a fact that I don't see changing from now until the end of the season. Much has been made of the Yanks' inability to drive runners in from scoring position with less than two outs, and this is definitely not a question of perception differing from reality. The Yankees are on a pace to score nearly 200 runs (!!!!!) less than last season. The will likely score the fewest runs in a full season since 1992. Me thinks big changes are on the horizon.

Joba threw again on Saturday, this time 28 tosses from 65 feet with no ill-effects. My gut feeling is hoss has thrown his last pitch of '08. Unless, of course, the Yankees can close out this month with a bang that gives the organization some hope the season isn't lost. A smart move is a wait-and-see approach leading to Sept. 1. If the Yanks are playing well and are within shouting distance of the Wild Card, Joba should return if he is up for it. That said, expecting this clueless (incapable?) unit to realize the enormity of the moment is taking a huge leap of faith.

The Yankees need Sunday's finale in the worst way. They haven't won a series in their last five tries. There is literally no more slack on the rope here. They picked up a game on both the Rays and Red Sox on Saturday, which is a good start. The Rays are too far gone at this point, up 9.5 games with39 left to play. But the Sox margin is 6.5 games, with six games still remaining between the two rivals. If the Yanks could carve the deficit to three games by September, there is hope.

This is a deep hole, but it's not an insurmountable one. It's time to start clawing.

Around The Horn: Gardner's game-winner in the 13th was his third hit of the day, the first three-hit game of his young career. He is now batting .176 on the season. ... Saturday's game took four hours and 53 minutes to complete. A low-scoring finale could be on its way. ... Damaso Marte was the only member of the 'pen left out of the glory parade, walking the only batter he faced in the seventh inning. Though mostly overlooked, his struggles in pinstripes have really hurt the Yankees during this dry spell. ... A more visible goat has been A-Rod, who took the collar with an 0-for-5 showing Saturday. You can begin carrying your fading team anytime now Mr. MVP. ... The coverage of Mariano Rivera's "struggles" in tie games has been a bit odd. First off, his ERA is still below 3.00 in those situations, which is excellent. Secondly, nobody seems to say boo on days like Saturday when he fires two scoreless innings in a 2-2 game. I suppose it's all because he's created such monumental expectations, and that can't be a bad thing. ... Mike Mussina goes for his 16th win on Sunday. The Yankees are 5-1 in Mussina's past six starts. The Stanford man is 4-1 with a 2.48 ERA over that span. A win would give Mussina 16 wins for the first time since 2003. He finished that year 17-8 for the American League champions. Ah, the good ol' days.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Melky to farm; Sexson to pasture

The Yanks made two roster moves this afternoon, optioning center fielder Melky Cabrera to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre and releasing first baseman Richie Sexson.

While best buddy Robbie Cano has looked like a man adrift at sea this season, Melky has looked like a player exposed at the big league level. After a solid April, Cabrera fell apart, batting .234/.206/.272 in May, June and July. He was 3-for-26 (.115) in August and had recently lost his starting job. He had four RBIs after June 25, which is a pretty freaking hard feat to pull off when you're playing just about every day. He'll certainly return when the roster expands on Sept. 1, but whether he's with the Yanks in 2009 is up for debate. I'd take him as a fourth outfielder, but I wouldn't lose sleep if the Melk Man's pinstripe days were numbered.

As for Sexson, there's not much to say. A veteran with the tank on empty, he batted .250 with 10 strikeouts in 28 at-bats over 22 games. He had a grand slam in a loss to the Rangers last week, but otherwise was completely lost at the plate. The Yanks took a flier on Sexson last month after the Mariners cut him, obviously it didn't work out. With little money involved, it was worth the gamble. Scary how a player's skill-set can just disappear sometimes. It's certainly possible this is the end of the line for Sexson.

Outfielder Brett Gardner and infielder Cody Ransom have been added to the roster. I don't know much about Ransom, but I do know that Girardi will now have two blazing speed options on the bench in Gardner and Justin Christian. This is always an underrated aspect to a reserve core.