Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The wheelin' and dealin' Yanks

That Brian Cashman is a sneaky little critter, isn't he?

With Jorge Posada resting in a hospital bed mere hours after surgery, the Yankees general manager completed a deal that produced a brand-name replacement at catcher in Pudge Rodriguez.

You see that one coming? Heh, me neither.

It cost New York a maligned but ultimately important part of its bullpen in Kyle Farnsworth. As unpopular as the right-hander is around these parts and just about everywhere else, you couldn't help but feel for him after Wednesday's win, standing at his locker with tears in his eyes as he spoke with the media about his sudden Bronx departure.

Say what you will about Farnsworth, but he played a key role in this Yankees team turning their season around in the past month. Sure, his inconsistencies helped dig the hole as well, but he was always accountable and he always took the ball. I'm not saying the Tigers got the better of the deal here, but I am saying that Farnsworth can be a very effective reliever at times. You just better know the right times to use him. In a related story, it's quite possible Jim Leyland is about to go from eight to 12 packs of smokes a day.

With Rodriguez, the Yanks won't need a how-to manual. He'll get plugged in as the starting catcher and probably bat eighth in the lineup. Jose Molina -- who performed gamely in Posada's absence but was ultimately too limited offensively -- returns to his rightful place at backup.

It's important to note here that Pudge is in the option year of a $50 million deal he signed with the Tigers in 2004. In other words, the Yanks have control of him for this season only before he's back on the market. Before I knew this, all I could think of was Posada waking from his surgery to see the ESPN ticker before proceeding to break the necks of six doctors and 11 security guards, Seagal-style.

Knowing Pudge is a rental makes this deal highly logical for the Yankees. Rodriguez, 36, will fill the void for Posada and then in all likelihood be on his merry way. While his offensive skills have eroded -- he's batting .295 with five homers and 32 RBIs in 82 games -- Rodriguez still plays a mean catcher and the hope here is that the Yanks will hit on one of those veteran rejuvenation kicks through October. Undoubtedly, Pudge will then sign a $40 million deal with the Dodgers where he will proceed to gloriously shit the bed. But for the Yanks, there is no downside here on the position player end. In Pudge, they've upgraded undeniably at catcher, not to mention they got a guy who earned a ring in '03 by beating the Yanks. If you can't beat 'em, trade for 'em.

Whether the bullpen now takes a step back depends on the guts of the remaining members. The bridge to Rivera will remain strong as long as Ramirez, Veras and Marte continue to pitch up to their standards. The return of Brian Bruney may prove to be a lift as well. If you're a Yankees fan, you can't now start talking yourself into saying the bullpen is screwed with Farnsworth gone when you spent the last three seasons bitching that he was the reason it sucked in the first place. Take a step back and examine Farnsworth's entire contribution, not just what he produced in the last two months. The bullpen will survive, and even if it doesn't, I don't want to hear the dudes who wore "Anybody But Farnsworth" T-shirts to the Stadium telling me that Cashman messed up.

That said, you can't go as far as saying this deal is a total slam dunk. Playing devil's advocate, Farnsworth was a key contributor in what had become one of baseball's best 'pens this season. Will his departure mess up the chemistry of the group? Relief pitchers are beastly creatures of habit, after all. It won't take long to find out if this puts the Yanks over the hump, or if it just creates more obstacles in an already exhausting season.

"We are robbing Peter to pay Paul here and I hope it works out," Cashman said Wednesday.

That makes two of us.

A hiccup becomes a slide

Raise your hand if you've seen enough of the Wilson Betemit Era.

Yeah, that's what I thought.

I suppose an optimist should see the Yankees' 7-6 loss to the Orioles on Tuesday as some sort of close-but-no-cigar moral victory, the type of noble college try that has you holding your head high as you walk off the field. New York did almost wipe out a five-run deficit after all. But apparently, I'm no optimist.

Terrible job by the Yankees last night. Terrible job by Marte, who get knocked around in a big spot. Terrible job by A-Rod, whose having another brutal season in the clutch. Brutal job by the aforementioned Betemit, who I can't even say hits like a girl since girls can make contact sometimes. Even a brutal job by Mo, who let Aubrey Huff touch him up for a home run that Baltimore ended up needing. Good teams don't win eight in a row and then give three right back, especially when a last-place team comes into your house.

As you can tell, I was angry about this one.

Daniel Cabrera has been one of baseball's worst pitchers since May, and yet the Yankees were completely muzzled on Tuesday before home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild foolishly tossed the right-hander for hitting A-Rod with a pitch in the seventh. The Yanks have now been beaten three times this season by Baltimore's career underachiever. That is unacceptable.

Also unacceptable is Joe Girardi's decision to let Betemit -- a truly terrible strikeout machine, I must reinforce -- bat with two outs in the ninth and the tying run on second. I'm of the opinion that Richie Sexson should be DFA'd first thing Wednesday, the reason being if manager Joe Girardi doesn't have the confidence to bat the faded slugger in that spot, then he's just taking up space on the roster. I mean, wasn't Sexson signed specifically to come to the plate in those situations? I don't get it.

Instead, Betemit -- a .222 hitter in 36 at-bats against left-handers this season -- gets an undeserving shot and does what he did an inning earlier in the clutch ... strikeout. Betemit is now batting .244 with 37 strikeouts and four walks in 123 at-bats. Yes, this is the same dude that Brian Cashman coveted for two years before finally landing from the Dodgers in exchange for Scott Proctor's tortured corpse last year. He's officially the LaTroy Hawkins of the Yankees offense ... if only Cashman would wake up and bestow the same fate.

After Ponson and Moose duds and poor bullpen work and shoddy offense behind Rasner, the Yankees try to salvage the series finale behind Joba Chamberlain. You fear a Joba letdown in a day game coming on the heels of his adrenaline-pumping start in Boston last Friday, but quite frankly, the Yankees can't afford that to happen.

Are we asking too much from a kid? Sure. But we've been doing it for two seasons now, there's no use trying to stop now. Get us back on track, hoss.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Stop the bleeding here

The Sidney Greenstreet virus seems to be going around the Yankees clubhouse right now, infecting Mike Mussina, David Robertson and Kyle Farnsworth in yesterday's ugly 13-4 loss to the cellar-dwelling Orioles.

You try not to read too much into these games, or the two-game hangover that's followed New York's eight-game win streak. At the same time, the losing skid has a very real possibility of hitting three with sometimes Yankee killer Daniel Cabrera taking on AAAA superstar Darrell Rasner tonight at the Stadium.

This again illustrates the need for pitching help in the back end of the rotation. When you have Ponson and Rasner each getting the ball in a three-game stretch, you damn sure better do your best to get that game where a real Major League pitcher is going. Mussina didn't have it last night, and now you're counting on a dude who has two wins in his last 10 starts to stop a hiccup from becoming a slide. Color me uninspired.

In terms of bright spots, take solace in Xavier Nady going deep for his first hit in pinstripes. Does that make him an Official Yankee? I'm always confused about the exact qualifications needed to have that honor bestowed upon you. All Jason Giambi had to do was hit a homer in the rain. It may just come down to Joel Sherman or something.

The other big news off the day was Jorge Posada's season reached its conclusion with the decision to undergo season-ending surgery on his busted shoulder. You have to wonder if Yanks president Randy Levine was asked to fall on the sword with the whole "I want return on our investment" company line report that was going around. In reality, it's very possible the Yanks never had any intention to get Posada back this season, instead using his possible return to keep leverage as they pursued the bat that became Nady.

Luckily for the Yanks it was an all-around bad day for AL East contenders. The Rays and Red Sox -- suddenly fallible at Fenway -- both came up losers, keeping the Bombers three out in the division and two in the Wild Card chase.

Daniel Cabrera is having his typical "Am I good or do I suck ass?" season, but the 6-foot-9 beast has already beaten the Yankees twice this season. On the plus side, he has just one win in his last 12 starts and has generally been getting bukkaked this month, so it's very likely his night could last three innings.

Let's just hope Ponson doesn't follow suit.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Can't win 'em all

The Yankees' eight-game winning streak came to an end on Sunday night at Fenway Park, and if you're like me, it didn't come as much of a surprise.

Sidney Ponson was on the mound after all, a pitcher with such a limited skill-set that it's amazing he's still kicking around in this league. If anything, Ponson's dreadful performance (4 IP, 10 H, 7 ER) provides general manager Brian Cashman with a clear reminder that as strong as the front end of the rotation is, the back end is equally as weak. In Ponson and Darrell Rasner, you have two AAAA pitchers, and question marks surrounding Chien-Ming Wang and Phil Hughes make it a hole worth filling prior to Thursday's trade deadline.

The Jarod Washburn deal has hit a snag -- the Mariners are wishfully thinking they can get a high-end prospect in addition to the contract dump -- but you get the feeling Cashman will get an upgrade done whether it's with Seattle or someone else.

The game featured a painful flashback to the first-half inadequacies of the Yankees offense, the wasted bases-loaded, nobody out opportunity in the fifth inning effectively deciding the game. In a related story, Xavier Nady remains tied with former New York Knicks forward Xavier McDaniel on the Yankees' all-time hit list. And though it didn't affect the final outcome, how does Johnny Damon not score from third on Nady's flyout to center in the fifth? Third-base coach Bobby Meacham hasn't been Mr. Popular in his first year on the job, and it's not just because he lacks the maniacal intensity of the completely insane Larry Bowa. This guy may need to go.

The Red Sox also reminded you tonight that they won't be pulling any 2006-style fadeout. I have a better chance of becoming the Yankees' fifth starter than Manny Ramirez does of getting traded away from Boston. The Sox would suffer a devastating blow if he were dealt, and as he proved tonight (three hits, two RBIs), Manny's stupidity is matched only by his offensive greatness. With Ortiz hitting in front of him and Lowell and Drew behind, the core of the lineup is deadly. The weaknesses lie in the bullpen -- not close to the unit it was a year ago -- and the bottom of the lineup, a light-hitting trio anchored by the Artist Formerly Known As Jason Varitek.

But all-in-all it was a fine weekend for the Yankees, and I'll sign off on two-of-three at Fenway every time. It was good to see a little edge return to the rivalry as well, courtesy of Joba Chamberlain's apparent distaste for noted crybaby Kevin Youkilis. A-Rod may need to start wearing full body armor if this bad blood rolls to a boil.

With the Yankees' recent moves, these are two teams that are evenly matched, and if Tampa Bay is somehow able to stick around and claim a postseason spot, baseball's greatest rivals will end up in a dogfight for their seasons, not just playoff positioning. I suppose this is a good time to point out that the Yankees next trip to Fenway is on the final weekend of the regular season.

That could be worth tuning in for, huh?

Brooms on the ready at Fenway

The Yankees train kept rolling on Saturday in Boston, as a gutty performance from Andy Pettitte and 10 runs from the revitalized offense powered New York to its eighth consecutive win. The Bombers are now tied in the loss column with the Red Sox, one game off the pace in the American League Wild Card race and three games behind the AL East-leading Rays.

Not bad for a team written off as a probable trade-deadline seller as the fireworks crackled on July 4, huh?

Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte both made their debuts and each contributed to the win. Nady was hitless but reached base twice and scored a run, while Marte gave a glimpse of why he can be so valuable to this team, striking out David Ortiz with two runners on in the seventh inning.

Check out some of these stats for the Yanks during their season-best win streak:

  • The Yankees have won 13 of their last 16 games
  • The Yankees have outscored the opposition 49-15 since the All-Star break
  • Robinson Cano is 18-for-35 (.514) since the break with seven RBIs
  • Yankees starting pitchers have allowed three earned runs or fewer in 15 of their last 16 games, going 9-2 with a 2.22 ERA
  • In July, the Yankees own a Major League low 2.81 ERA (182 innings, 57 earned runs) through 20 games
  • The Yankees are a season-high 13 games over .500. Two months ago, they were 25-26 and in last place in the AL East
The Yankees clearly have no fear playing in Fenway Park. They are 7-4 since June 1 of last year, and 19-15 since 2005. Those numbers may not seem overwhelming, but keep in mind the Red Sox have been one of baseball's best home teams in that time. You get the feeling the Yanks enjoy the big stage playing the part of a WWF heel. Think Sgt. Slaughter and Col. Mustafa at the Gulf War-tinged Summer Slam '91 proceedings.

Saturday's game featured some extra-curricular activities as well, as St. John's product Craig Hansen drilled A-Rod in the arm in what had to be the least surprising HBP in the history of baseball. A-Rod jumped around like a little girl and later came out of the game but was ultimately fine. Watching from a bar in Santa Monica, I originally thought he took one in the hand, which shows how dangerous this whole you-hit-my-guy-I'll-hit-yours BS really is. Interesting that Rodriguez's teammates didn't even do the macho walking-up-the-dugout-steps posturing. This is likely because Rodriguez's teammates don't like him. You can bet your arse Farnsworth and The Stache are throwing down if Jeter took one in the pipe.

Can the Yankees actually sweep their way out of Boston? Well 37,000 fans at Fenway and Joe Morgan hope not, and it will certainly be an uphill battle for New York with Sidney "Greenstreet" Ponson on the mound. (My 88-year-0ld grandfather has referred to people he considers flunkies or lightweights as "Sidney Greenstreet" for as long as I can remember. As inexplicable as that moniker it is, it makes perfect sense for the Yankees' No. 5 starter.) Ponson's success since joining the Yanks has been misleading, and he may be due to get absolutely pummeled. Greenstreet is 3-11 with a 6.61 ERA against Boston with a 7.16 ERA at the Fens.

That said, this Yankees team has some serious mojo right now. If they can step on the Sox's throat and leave town with their third straight sweep, the sky is the limit.

Around the Horn: To create roster space following the Bucs deal, the Yanks did the inevitable by DFA'ing LaTroy Hawkins. The right-hander had a 5.71 ERA in 33 appearances in his first (and hopefully) final season in pinstripes. ... In another move, Brett Gardner was optioned to Triple-A Scranton. Gardner brought another dimension to the lineup with his speed, but he was clearly over matched at this point. He was 9-for-59 (.153) with 17 strikeouts and one extra-base hit in 17 games. ... Phil Hughes gave up his No. 34 to Xavier Nady, saying his hardships in '08 proved the number was no good-luck charm. ... A trade for Seattle lefty Jarrod Washburn seems to have reached an impasse as the veteran made the start against the Blue Jays this afternoon. Rumors of a Melky for KC right-hander Brian Bannister are swirling. ... Tim Wakefield is now 2-10 in his last 12 starts against the Yankees. Aaron Boone just gave himself a pat on the back, Barry Horowitz-style. (pro wrestling reference No. 2) ... Johnny Damon's entire body cramped up on him, proving once again there are times the cherubic outfielder seems to be older than the crypt keeper. He said he is fine and expects to be in the starting lineup tonight. ... Count with me how many factual errors Joe Morgan makes during the ESPN telecast tonight. The River & Sunset over/under currently sits at 12.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A beautiful summer night

Congratulations Yankees fans ... you officially have yourself a World Series contender.

Friday, July 25, was a glorious night to be a fan of the pinstripes. On the field, you had a masterful performance by Joba Chamberlain, a 22-year-old blowing away the Red Sox for seven innings before getting a little (lot of) help from the incomparable Mariano Rivera. In the end it was an exciting 1-0 win that pulled New York within one game in the loss column of Boston.

The Yanks have now won all seven of their games since the All-Star break.

But it gets better. General manager Brian Cashman proved his worth again, pulling the trigger on a deal that added a big bat to the lineup (Xavier Nady) and a big-time lefty in the bullpen (Damaso Marte). And he didn't need to give up any of his big-time pitching farmhands to do it.

So, in summary, this is what we learned about the New York Yankees last night. We have a young right-hander in Joba who had his official coming-out party as an ace in the league, shutting down the defending world champions on the road while turning eternally-annoying Kevin Youkilis into his own personal bitch in the process. Meanwhile, a Yankees offense that has had trouble scoring runs received a new everyday left fielder who hits for average (.330) and pop (13 homers, 57RBIs) annnnd you filled the only hole in your already excellent bullpen by bringing on a left-hander that half the league had been coveting.

These are better days. No wonder Manny's afraid to play us.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Big trade for Yankees

The Yankees have made a deal with the Pirates, receiving outfielder Xavier Nady and left-handed reliever Damaso Marte in return for Russ Ohlendorf, Jose Tabata, Phil Coke and George Kontos.

Nady is having a great season, batting .330 with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs. Marte was coveted by multiple teams, and his addition makes the Yanks bullpen second to none. The lefty was 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings with the Bucs.

Tabata may have been the toughest player to part with, he entered the season ranked amongst the club's top prospects. More analysis on this big deal later, but on paper it seems like a great move by Brian Cashman.

According to PeteAbe, the deal has been restructured.

The Yankees are sending RHP Dan McCutchen, RHP Jeff Karstens, OF Jose Tabata and RHP Ross Ohlendorf to Pittsburgh for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte.

LHP Phil Coke and RHP George Kontos are not in the deal.

Yanks invade Fenway

This weekend is the good stuff about being a baseball fan, as the Yankees and Red Sox begin a key three-game series tonight at Fenway Park. Let's take a closer look at the matchup in Beantown.

"We're going streaking!"

The Yankees have won six straight games, securing back-to-back sweeps over two teams they began the second half looking up at in the American League Wild Card standings. The Red Sox started the second half on the opposite note, getting swept by the Angels before righting themselves with a sweep of the pathetic Mariners.

Call it the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object

The Yankees may be baseball's hottest team, but the Red Sox have been nearly unbeatable at home in '08. Boston enters tonight's action with a 36-11 mark at Fenway, the best home record in the game. From a historical standpoint, the 1932 Yankees (62-15, .805) and '61 Yanks (65-16, .802) are the two greatest kings of their backyard.

It's all about pitching

The matchups for this weekend:

Friday: RHP Joba Chamberlain (2-3, 2.52) vs. RHP Josh Beckett (9-6, 3.98), 7:05, My9

Saturday: LHP Andy Pettitte (11-7, 3.86) vs. RHP Tim Wakefield (6-7, 3.69), 3:55, FOX

Sunday: RHP Sidney Ponson (6-1, 4.02) vs. LHP John Lester (8-3, 3.20), 8:05, ESPN

Tonight could be a glimpse at a future rivalry between an established young ace and a phenom heading in that direction. Joba will need to keep his emotions in check in the early-going tonight, but with 17 K's and one walk in his last two starts you get the feeling he's getting the hang of this starting thing. Beckett got off to a slow start this season, but has turned it on as the weather has warmed up. He's coming off a tough complete-game loss against the Angels in his previous start.

Potential X-factors


Robinson Cano has been on fire since the All-Star break, going 14-for-27 to bump his average up 19 points to .265. He has two homers, seven RBIs and five runs in that span. He's been the missing link in this offense all season, so the correlation to his production and Yankees wins is hardly coincidence.

The Yankees bullpen has improbably -- impossibly, even -- become a strong suit. Since July 4, Kyle Farnsworth and Edwar Ramirez have combined for 11 1/3 innings of no-hit relief, David Robertson is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA and closer Mariano Rivera is 2-0 and 3-for-3 in save opportunities. The Yanks are 11-3 in that span and 10-0 at home.


David Ortiz is back. Big Papi wrapped up a successful Minor League rehab stint and is scheduled to be in the lineup tonight. It will be Ortiz's first game action since May 31, when the slugger partially tore a tendon sheath in his left wrist while swinging in Baltimore. Ortiz is a notorious Yankee killer who forms with Manny Ramirez the most feared back-to-back presence in the league.

I worked the Red Sox-Mariners finale for on Wednesday, and I can tell you that Justin Masterson could give the Yankees fits. The hard-throwing side-armer was dominant in his first relief outing of the season, and he could prove to be a dangerous setup weapon alongside Hideki Okajima. Masterson started against the Yanks on July 5, allowing two runs over six innings.

How important is this series?

In the big picture, it's still relatively early. But with Tampa Bay looking vulnerable, you get the feeling both teams sense the time to move is now. Boston has taken five of the first nine meetings, with the teams splitting a four-game set in the Bronx in their last meeting over July 4 weekend. Starting tonight, there are nine games remaining between the rivals, including a three-game set at Fenway to close out the regular season. Yikes.

Who will win the series?

The Yankees, of course. Let's say two-out-of-three.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Things change fast in the AL East

Standings on July 4

Tampa Bay5332.624-34-1319-19408340
NY Yankees4542.517923-2222-20410389

Standings on July 24
Tampa Bay5941.590-40-1619-25454412
NY Yankees5645.5543.533-2223-23474424

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Masterful Moose

Where on earth would the Yankees be this season without Mike Mussina?

The veteran right-hander delivered another gem of a performance on Wednesday against a sloppy Twins team, tossing eight scoreless innings in the Yankees' 5-1 victory. New York has now won all six of its games since the All-Star break and 10 straight overall at the Stadium.

It's a shame that Mussina won't pitch against the Red Sox this weekend at Fenway, because frankly, I'm no longer surprised by what he's doing. I expect him to perform like a front line pitcher. It's almost like the clock has been turned back to 2001 and we have another ace in the rotation. It's incredible.

It's not the same Moose, of course. Much has been made about why Mussina has returned to past glories, the popular theory being that the veteran has mixed up his approach to combat his eroded skills. "Pitching backwards" is the baseball term, though I think that confidence is a big part of it as well. You can see the way he carries himself, he's a different pitcher than the one who got bullied by Manny Ramirez in April.

Remember that Mussina? The Mussina who tried to beat Ramirez at Fenway and watched a game-deciding double slice through the right-center field gap? The Mussina who a week later tried to challenge Ramirez with an 87-mph fastball at the Stadium only to give up a pair of bombs? It was almost sad to watch, a former great player betrayed by age. And now a couple months later he leads baseball in victories? Wow.

His monthly splits tell the story. In April, it was very much the Mussina that you expected heading into the season. But then -- without warning -- he simply took off:

April: 3-3, 4.73 ERA, 32.1 IP, 36 H, 12 K, 5 BB
May: 5-1, 3.72 ERA, 29.0 IP, 34 H, 21 K, 5 BB
June: 2-2, 3.18 ERA, 34.0 IP, 33 H, 25 K, 5 BB
July: 3-0, 1.04 ERA, 26.0 IP, 28 H, 23 K, 1 BB


It will be fun to watch if Mussina can get to 20 wins, a figure he's never reached in his distinguished career (he's won 19 twice, 18 three times and 16 in the strike-shortened '94 season). Working under the premise that he has 13 starts remaining, Mussina will need seven victories to get to 20. Pitching at his current level, this is very possible.

Let me state that I cannot friggin' believe I just typed that last paragraph. With much respect to Mo, Mussina is the MVP of this team right now. He's the reason the race to surpass the Rays is beginning to seem inevitable. He's the reason why this rotation actually has improved since Wang's foot injury. He's the reason the Yankees aren't a .500 team. He is the ace of the New York Yankees.

Who would've thunk it?

Posada done for year ... or is he?

Some weird happenings at the Stadium today, where Jorge Posada finally broke the silence on the results of yesterday's tests on his injured right shoulder.

The exam revealed that the labrum tear is now worse than it was when the 36-year-old catcher originally hit the shelf in late April. He additionally has capsule damage. It's now certain that Posada will need surgery and six months of rehab. This is a bummer if you're a Yankees fan, but it's hardly a surprise at this point. Let's get Georgie on the operating table and hope to have him at 100 percent by Spring Training in '09.

Well, not so fast. Apparently, there are higher ups in the organization -- PeteAbe reports it's team president Randy Levine -- that want a return on their huge four-year contract investment. So, Posada, despite the fact that the injury was a proven drag both defensively and offensively, will go through two weeks of rehab before attempting to return in a 1B/DH role.

It's a decision straight out of clown college. I understand that Posada's being paid $52 million the next four seasons, and if you shut him down you're essentially getting zero return on the first $13 million of that deal. But these are the risks you take when you give a veteran catcher an unprecedented contract. The Yanks rolled the dice on Posada, and so far it has come up snake eyes.

Trying to get him back in the lineup this season seems like an exercise in futility. Tests have proven the shoulder is messed up. When he came off his first DL stint, the power was sapped from his swing and Posada admitted he wasn't the same hitter in his current condition.

The Yankees brass needs to huddle and get on the same page post-haste. Set up a surgery date, get it done and move on with your season. By trying to get him back in the lineup now, all they risk is losing the next $13 million and beyond.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Going for the perfect 10

Being the nostalgic Yankees fan I am, there are times that I miss Joe Torre. Not because he was such a managerial tactician (he wasn't), but because he was like the wise old Italian uncle I never had.

During his time in the Bombers dugout, he was especially good at two things: a) Ruining Scott Proctor's life and b) Dealing out simple but sage advice about the game. One of my favorites was his theory on the importance of getting 10 games over .500. Again, this doesn't seem like any brain busting genius, but Torre believed a team couldn't begin to take a season to the next level until it reached that 10-game plateau. From there, a team can chip away toward the 20 games over mark -- a record that usually gets you into the postseason.

This seems like a good time to note that Torre was 13-for-13 in attempts at reaching the playoffs while with the Yankees.

I bring this up today because the Yankees enter tonight's action against the Twins nine games over the .500 mark. The Yanks are already at a high-water mark for the season, and getting to 10 games over on July 22 would set the team up nicely.

Darrell Rasner makes the start tonight, a man who does little to inspire confidence. That said, the Yankees have won eight straight at the Stadium -- finally defending their home turf after a brutal first half in the Bronx -- and you get the feeling the Bombers may be in the Twins' head at this point.

What's next for Posada?

This Yankees season has had a funny way about never letting the good times stick around for too long, so it makes sense that news of Jorge Posada's busted shoulder came to light prior to the team's fourth straight win yesterday against the Twins.

Posada hit the disabled list for the second time this season, and this time it may be for good. Doing some surfing around this morning, there seems to be universal agreement that the Yankees' lineup took another big hit with the news, though that theory may need closer inspection. Posada was never Posada at any point this season ... and it wasn't just defensively. The injury had sapped him of his power, making him a very pedestrian presence at the plate.

Posada hit just .248 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 33 games since returning from his April 28-June 3 DL stay. Defensively, Posada was a nightmare, throwing out only 3 of 37 attempted baserunners. Looking at the statistics, it's clear that Posada was hurting the team in his current carnation.

The injury sounds like a nasty one. The veteran has an appointment today for another MRI, and the fear is that there is now a rotator-cuff tear in addition to the previously diagnosed torn labrum. An operation would sideline him 4-6 months, and at 36 years old, lead to speculation whether he can be an effective big league catcher going forward.

There are questions that need to be answered here. First off, was Posada's shoulder structurally sound when he received his four-year, $52.4 million contract in the offseason? It seems hard to believe the shoulder would simply begin to implode in Spring Training, but then again we're talking about a catcher who had a ton of miles on the odometer heading into the season. Nearly every other team would've had an awkward situation on its hands if its aging catcher put up a career year in a contract season. Not the Yankees though, who just threw money at the situation and hoped problems wouldn't surface.

All of which brings the question of what will become of Posada going forward. The speculated plan at the time of the deal's announcement was that the club was hoping to get at least two years of catching from him before a segue into a designated hitter/first baseman role. That seems like wishful thinking this morning. The Yanks are loaded with 1B/DH types on their roster right now, but by 2009 it's very likely that Giambi, Betemit and Sexson will all be history.

Increased roster freedom for Joe Girardi will help deal with the Posada Conundrum. When the Yankees sign Mark Teixiera -- and yes, it is very likely the Yankees will sign the Braves' slugging switch-hitter -- Posada can back him at first, split DH duties with another beat-up vet in Matsui and hopefully work in a platoon catching role. I love what Molina brings to the team defensively, but the Yanks must go in a different direction if another catcher is to get 300-400 at-bats next season.

The farm system has little to offer in terms of catching prospects close to Major League ready, so GM Brian Cashman -- or whoever is in charge by this winter -- will look via trade or free agent pile to find Posada's partner in crime at the new Yankee Stadium.

Here's to hoping this isn't the beginning of a precipitous decline for Posada, who has been a great, great Yankee who deserves to have his number retired when his playing days are done. Strong play through the course of this contract likely would have punched him a Hall of Fame ticket, a prospect that doesn't look too bright these days. But Posada has a way of exceeding my expectations. Here's to hoping he can do it again.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Nay Sayers Sweep

Let’s get the good out of the way first. The Yankees have started off the second half with a sweep of a team they were looking up at in the Wild Card race. They rode outstanding pitching and the resurgent bat of Robinson Cano to the weekend victories and gained some ground in the race for the AL East and the Wild Card.

BUT….(here comes the nay saying) the Yankees still can’t buy a run for their starters. After games like Friday night, it’s easy to let the mind start thinking, “Yea, here it is. The offense is back baby!” And then Saturday, Joba Chamberlain gives you 6 one-run innings only to have his team put up 2 runs on the scoreboard and eventually lose a lead for him. And today, Andy Pettite pitched as well as you’ll ever see him only to receive the same run support as Joba.

Now thankfully the Yankees played well enough and got the big hits when it counted to win two very tight games. But is this offensive production going to be enough to win the 92-95 games that will be needed to play in October? The answer, of course, is no. It will only be enough for a team to finish 8 games over .500 (85-77), where the Yankees have been hovering for about a month.

This weekend turned out to be very positive. Moose, Joba and Pettite all gave up only one run each. The bullpen, save for some hiccups on Saturday, was good again. And Cano, Melky and Jeter….3 Yankees who have definitely had more downs than ups this year…..all had solid weekends. The signs for an extended run are ever present with this team. It’s time to break through. Hopefully a sweep of a team with good starting pitching like the A’s will finally be the catalyst they’ve been waiting 98 games for.
Positive spins on sweeps return tomorrow with the homecoming of our author Dan Hanzus.

Mark Glazman is pinch-blogging for Dan this weekend.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Here We Are Again....Kinda

Another second half starts with the Bombers looking up at the teams they have to pass for the right to play October Baseball. The fact that it has come to this again doesn't surprise me. Coming from behind to play fall ball via explosive second halves has been the route the Yanks have taken for several seasons already. The reasons behind the Yanks' current plight, however, are as confusing as they are well documented here and everywhere else. The starting pitching has survived to perform adequately without Wang and the young guns while the bullpen has been fantastic. On the flip side, the offense has been so inconsistent and inefficient that teams pitch to them like they're an expansion club full of rookies and grizzled vets on their way out. Obviously, this scenario is mind boggling. Yet the Yankees still find themselves in the thick of things.

So how exactly can we do it this year? What has to be done to make it 14 straight Octobers in a row for the final season at the Stadium? Well, just play every single game left on the schedule like they did last night. Simple, right? The Yankees 7-1 victory over the A's (one of the teams looking down at the Yankees in the Wild Card race) has to become a microcosm of what the Yankees second half will be. They did it all last night. The pitching was outstanding and the offense hit in every situation including production out of newly acquired Richie Sexson who went 1-3 with an RBI and his first strikeout of what will be an obscene amount. What was even more encouraging was that Robinson Cano is continuing his ascent from the land of .220 hitters. And of course, the poster boy for emotional therapy Alex Rodriguez had another stellar game, blasting his 20th home run of the season. Whatever people think of him personally, there is still no bigger thrill than seeing possibly the greatest player of all time hitting one out of the ballpark.

So, the offense needs to do what it did last night; produce with runners on base and for the love of God hit fastballs. If the offense can achieve this, then all that has to happen is for the pitching to remain steady. Is there anything more that can be said about the revelation that is Mike Mussina? Ask yourself this question: If you saw 12-6, 3.49 ERA as a prediction for Moose before the season started, wouldn't you sign up for those numbers as a complete season? Well, here we are, July 19th, and Mussina is in the midst of a comeback season for the ages which may put him over the top in the HOF conversation. Simply amazing. And oh yea, the bullpen threw a perfect 3 innings. No big deal, right?

So here we are again, kinda. The Yankees have to win a bunch of games in the second half to make the playoffs. This time, it's the bats that have to wake up and play some ball.

Around The Horn: I'd like to take this opportunity to thank our author Dan Hanzus for inviting me to write in his absence. DH and I have been close friends since college and I have yet to come through for him when he asks for help. Hopefully I'll fill in better here than when I went 1-5 with 2 errors on one play which cost his team a softball game in which I was asked to fill in by our fearless author. Thanks for the second chance.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A message from your local sports blogger

Hey there. The second half officially begins tonight for the Yankees, but sadly I must pull myself away from this Web log for a weekend trip to Vegas. I know, I know, what with all The Dark Knight-ing and summer barbecuing and general revelry that comes with being cool, you probably were going to divorce yourself from my blog anyway this weekend and I understand that.

But if you weren't, you're in luck because I have my good buddy Mark pinch-hitting for me the next three days. (Did you see the clever use of a baseball analogy there?) Mark and I go way back to the year 2001 when we were dorm buddies at Boston's Northeastern University. In the times immediately following 9/11, many students used their dorm windows to protest or call for war with messages scrawled on bedsheets. Mark and I had '1918' taped against the plexi-glass in block numbering, by far the most controversial statement on West Campus.

It should also be noted that Mark and I sat through all nine innings of the Yankees' 10-3 loss to the Red Sox at the Stadium in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, earning our Bombers badges of courage for life in the process. We saw things that night that no man, woman or child should ever see.

So yeah, welcome Mark. He's a longtime season ticket holder who loves himself some Bombers. I'll be back Monday, hopefully without bookies chasing my black jack-obsessed soul across the Mohave. Have a good weekend.

I want your Sexson?

So the Yankees made on the surface what seemed to be a very "Yankees" move of recent times on Thursday when they reportedly signed veteran slugger Richie Sexson off the street.

Will Sexson be another example of the Bombers making a cash grab of a faded star -- the 2000 Jose Canseco Initiative and 2002 Raul Mondesi Embargo come to mind here -- or does Sexson have the ability to help this team and its woeful offense in the second half?

A look at the numbers say it's possible. Though Sexson's overall statistics were brutal in Seattle, his splits against lefties -- a Bombers weak point -- show he's not a total lost cause. The first baseman had a .344 average with five home runs in 71 at-bats against southpaws this year, making a matchup tandem of Sexson and Giambi potentially fruitful. And while Sexson's no Donnie Baseball defensively, he represents a sizable upgrade over Wilson "The Butcher" Betemit. The additional facts that he's only 33 and will be paid the prorated minimum makes this a low-risk high-reward scenario. Let's hope they catch lightning in a bottle here.

With reports clearly pointing to the reality that Hideki Matsui's season is over, the Yanks may be looking for another bat beyond Sexson. Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday is an intriguing possibility, and his free-agent status should lend itself to a lower price tag. Braves first baseman Mark Teixiera is another option also in the walk year of his deal.

Of course, this all means we have another test of the Yankees' new development-friendly front office policy. Will the club let its farm system continue to develop without outside interference? Or will they abandon the philosophy in light of the Hughes-Kennedy regressions and very real possibility that there won't be any October baseball in Yankee Stadium's final season?

If George was still George, I would think he'd go all out in an attempt to send the Stadium off with a winner. But George ain't George anymore. I think we all know that for sure now. That they stayed out of the Sabathia and Harden sweepstakes should provide you with a pretty good clue that a trade for a big-time slugger probably isn't happening unless something literally fell into his lap.

Cashman knows the truth here. This team is built around its offense of All-Stars. If the unit doesn't improve as a whole, all the trade deadline maneuvering in the world isn't going to save the Yankees in 2008. Cashman can only go by track records, and the track records say this team will eventually score runs in bunches on a consistent basis.

He has no other choice but to hope probability and reality sync up before it's too late.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

First Half Report Card (Part 2)

The following is Part 2 of the River & Sunset First Half Report Card. On Monday we covered the position players, today we're tackling the pitching staff and manager. Click here to check out Part 1.

Starting rotation

Chien-Ming Wang
It was the lowest point in the Yankees season, a moment they're still scrambling to recover from. Wang, New York's ace, rounds third in a lopsided game in Houston and blows out his foot. He's been on the disabled list since June 16 and his return in 2008 is very much in question. Prior to his injury, Wang had just come out of a month-long slump and was back to looking like the pitcher who had won 38 games the two seasons prior. So far, the Yanks are 2-2 in his missed starts.Barring an unlikely trade for an ace, the Yanks need Wang back and productive by September if they're going to make the postseason. I don't see any other way around it.
Grade: B+ (prior to injury)

Mike Mussina
Admit it, you didn't see Mussina's jumpstarting his career the way he has in 2008. Could you have seen him fighting his way to a 12-10, 4.40 type year? Sure. How about a final season in pinstripes as a long reliever? Not out of the prism of possibility in March. But here he is, with 11 victories and a 3.61 ERA at the break. Without a revitalized Moose, it's likely that the Yankees' season would have been already lost. His production has meant that much to this team.
Grade: A+

Andy Pettitte
Pettitte has been a streaky little critter this season hasn't he? Rock bottom was a series of poor starts that culminated with a 10-run outing against the Royals on June 7. Pettitte responded by going unconscious in allowing three runs over 27 innings in his next four starts. Three starts in July have provided more pedestrian production, but Pettitte is giving you what you expected, 14-16 wins and a bulldog fight every time he's out there.
Grade: B+

Joba Chamberlain
Despite media and fan calls to the contrary, the Yankees beautifully handled Chamberlain's transition from setup man to starter. By the time the Yanks hit the break, he was already a full-fledged rotation member without limits. Nicely played. Meanwhile, Joba has silenced the other doubters who thought he was better suited for the 'pen. He may have only one victory since joining the rotation, but blame that on the pathetic Bombers offense of the past month. This kid is a stud, and he's pitching like somebody who will be an ace for many years. Joba rules, indeed.
Grade: A

Darrell Rasner
If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you know by now that Rasner has already been consumed by The Karmic Curse of Aaron Small. This happens when a mediocre pitcher jumps out to an unexpected fast start and the media inevitably likens him to the 2005 Bombers hero. Because of this, River & Sunset asserts, the compared pitcher will immediately be struck down based on the reasoning that only once in 10,000 years is a team allowed to have a bad pitcher go 10-0 for them. After his 3-0 start, the Razz has been more or less brutal. His spot in the rotation is very tenuous at this point and if the Yanks had even a decent option, he may have already been history.
Grade: C

Sidney Ponson
I find it funny that Josh Hamilton has drug and alcohol problems and he's hailed as a hero while Sidney Ponson enjoys grandpa's cough syrup a little too much and he's an unredeemable dirtbag. Whatever the reason, Ponson isn't very well respected, and Yanks fans are waiting for the other shoe to drop on another Sidney DFA. Problem is, he hasn't been that bad for the Bombers in the three starts since joining the team on June 27. I'm not saying he's a longterm answer, but he'll do for now.
Grade: Incomplete


Mariano Rivera
What else can you say about the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All-Time)? Of all the amazing things Mo has done in his 12th season as Yanks closer (23-for-23 saves, 50 K's, 4 BBs), this one truth probably distills his amazing 2008 the best: At 38 years old, Mariano Rivera is better than he's ever been. Is it impossible to figure out? Of course. All we can do is sit back and watch the greatest Yankees pitcher ever do his thing. He is the American League's leading Cy Young candidate in my mind.
Grade: A+

Kyle Farnsworth
Mr. Farnsworth is not well-received around these parts ... a fact that I'm sure kills him. But you have to hand it to the big guy, he's been better than expected since Joba's move to the rotation and, combined with Veras, he has created a very walkable bridge to Rivera. He's still allowed too many homers, and I don't trust him as far as I can throw him, but Farnsworth will continue to be a key piece of this team unless Brian Cashman upgrades the 'pen. And since he hasn't allowed a run in his last eight outings and has been generally good since June, it's fair to get off his back for the time being.
Grade: B-

Jose Veras
Veras has been a flat out savior to the Yankees bullpen this season, the X-factor the team desperately needed when Joba began his departure for the starting rotation. He has been a steady seventh-inning man for the Bombers, a hard-throwing right-hander who has been a rock for the better part of the season. If he and Farnsworth can keep up their surprising production, the Yanks might not have any issues in their bullpen after all.
Grade: A

LaTroy Hawkins
Hawkins was one of those players that you knew would fail in New York the moment you heard he was acquired. Arriving in the Bronx via the Rockies in the Jose Vizcaino deal, Hawkins has been a nightmare, a proposed setup man reduced to infrequent tasks of long relief. It's hard to imagine another team even taking a flyer on the veteran at this point, though it seems so many of these crappy relievers have nine lives. Hawkins may have used eight of them here in three months.
Grade: F

Edwar Ramirez
If a relief pitcher has only one good pitch, and it's a changeup, can he succeed in the Major Leagues? That is the question that encapsulates Ramirez, who has looked equal parts excellent and awful for the Yankees this season. Ramirez is the type of relief pitcher that really scares you only because you never know who you're going to get ... Jekyll or Hyde. He needs to become a more consistent player to stick around in the long term.
Grade: B-

Dan Giese
Giese is the obligatory spot starter-long reliever of the team, providing mostly middling production with moments of success. If you're looking for someone to hand the mop to, he's the man in the bullpen.
Grade: C+


Joe Girardi
Girardi had some giant Italian loafers to fill upon assuming Joe Girardi's spot as manager of the Yankees and he's done a very good job overall. Watching him handle the bullpen catching duties in yesterday's All-Star Game, it made me think how refreshing it is to have a young and energetic leader in the Yanks dugout. Strategically, the Yankees are a more aggressive team then in season's past, the Joba transition was handled very well, and the overall management of the bullpen and bench has left little room for complaint. He seems to mess with the lineup a bit too much, and he will make the occasional strategic gaffe, but it's important to remember he still has just one full season of managing under his belt. Nothing against Torre, but it was the right time for him to exit. Girardi is a student of the game, he's passionate, and he's respected by his team and the fans. So what if he's a little bit smug or sometimes testy with the media? He's a strong personality, which is a job requisite for the toughest manager job in the Majors.
Grade: B+

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Live blogging the All-Star Game

Welcome to River & Sunset's first annual All-Star Game running blog. As you all know, this year the Midsummer Classic is being held in the Boogie Down, so let's get right to work documenting this piece of Yankee Stadium history.

Starting lineups

Ichiro Suzuki (Mariners) RF
Derek Jeter (Yankees) SS
Josh Hamilton (Rangers) CF
Alex Rodriguez (Yankees) 3B
Manny Ramirez (Red Sox) LF
Milton Bradley (Rangers) DH
Kevin Youkilis (Red Sox) 1B
Joe Mauer (Twins) C
Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox) 2B
Cliff Lee (Indians) RHP

Hanley Ramirez (Marlins) SS
Chase Utley (Phillies) 2B
Lance Berkman (Astros) 1B
Albert Pujols (Cardinals) DH
Chipper Jones (Braves) 3B
Matt Holliday (Rockies) RF
Ryan Braun (Brewers) LF
Kosuke Fukudome (Cubs) CF
Geovany Soto (Cubs) C
Ben Sheets (Brewers) RHP

8:16 - After an emotional look inside the American League clubhouse where George Brett spoke candidly while Derek Jeter put on his pants in the back corner, starting lineups are being announced. Kevin Youkilis was just booed unmercifully. I'm fairly certain they weren't saying "Youuuk" in the Bronx.

8:19 - I'm such a sucker for this old-time baseball stuff. I'm really enjoying seeing these old dudes. Meanwhile, A-Rod just got a big ovation, but not nearly as big as Mo's minutes earlier. This place will go crazy for Jeter.

8:21 - And there, my friends is the difference between Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod is liked. The Captain is loved.

8:28 - Yogi Berra just delivered the first goosebumps of the night. Along with Whitey, Yogi is the last link to the great Yankees teams of the '50s and '60s. A very nice moment to see both recognized.

8:41 - They literally just wheeled George Steinbrenner into the festivities. Ole George has clearly seen his better days and he appeared to be crying as they drove him around the warning track and to the middle of the diamond. It didn't have the emotional cache of Ted Williams at Fenway in '99, but Steinbrenner is a vital figure in the history of the franchise. If this is his twilight, it's good to know he got to see this.

8:46 - Whitey Ford reminds me of my grandfather. He never really seemed to put much thought into taking care of himself, but here is, still ticking while many of his similarly hard-living friends have long since left the living. The Mick and Billy Martin are long gone, but Whitey is standing in the middle of Yankee Stadium in 2008 with a standing ovation in his honor ringing in his ears. Amazing.

8:49 - And we're off. Hanley Ramirez fouls back a Cliff Lee offering to begin the game.

8:53 - All-Star fun fact: The NL hasn't won an All-Star Game since 1996. In 2002, there was a 7-7 tie. It was dumb.

9:00 - Derek Jeter reaches on an infield single before stealing second base. The Yankees could use action like that in the second half.

9:17 - Sorry, had to buy tickets for the midnight showing of The Dark Knight at the Grove on Thursday. If you've never been to The Grove before, it's a terrifyingly bizarre place. It's plastic and shiny -- the perfect metaphor for the city in which it resides -- but it's filled with real living people. It's Disney Land without the rides and it scares the crap out of me.

9:21 - Meanwhile, Midget Pedroia strands a runner at second with a flyout to center. No score after two innings.

9:26 - Uh oh! Yogi Berra is in the booth. McCarver and Buck will now proceed to try to get Yogi to say something stupid for the next 10 minutes.

9:48 - This time seems as good as any to call Manny Ramirez a bitch. Thanks.

9:58 - Terry Francona removes A-Rod from the game with one out in the fifth to allow the Yankee Stadium crowd to acknowledge its All-Star. Not sure if the crowd was taken by surprise, or they didn't really care that much, but the ovation was minimal. Meanwhile, Matt Holliday cranks an opposite-field homer to right off Ervin Santana to break the scoreless tie. Holliday is a stud.
9:59 - A-Rod went 0-for-2 with a popout and strikeout.

10:05 - I have to say, I've been impressed with the crowd. My fear was that it'd be filled with 50,000 corporate douches and 7,000 real fans, but it sounds to be closer to 50/50. It's the best you could ask for in an event like this.

10:13 - Jeter strands the tying runner at second with a bouncer back to the box. New York Yankees today with RISP: 0-for-2, .000.

10:24 - The parallels continue. Jeter is pulled from the game with one out in the sixth to a long standing ovation.

10:30 - Lance Berkman's sac fly gives the NL a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth. Sometimes a 2-0 deficit looks like a 2-0 deficit. Sometimes it looks like a 12-0 deficit. Tonight feels like the former.

10:40 - File this one under: Cry Me A River Dickface. My boy Ian Browne at has a report that Jonathan Papelbon is upset because he and his wife were threatened by fans during the All-Star parade in Manhattan today. "I feel like I needed to be in a bullet-proof car," Papelbon said. "My wife is pregnant and she's getting her life threatened. It's stupid." I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Mr. Papelbon, you're no Jack Kennedy.

10:55 - J.D. Drew lines one into the short porch in right with Morneau on third and suddenly it's a tie game. Effin' J.D. Drew. Good stuff.

10:58 - We're heading into the eighth inning and the game is tied at 2. Awesome. Watching Edison Volquez's reaction to that homer, you can tell this isn't just another exhibition game to these guys. These guys want to impress their contemporaries, a soldout crowd and millions watching on TV. They are giving their all. Who cares if the intentions aren't about pride for their league?

11:03 - This crowd is ALL OVER Papelbon. Chants of "Mar-i-ano" and "Over-rated" are ringing through the Bronx. I love being a Yankees fan.

11:10 - Single, stolen base, throwing error, sac fly and Papelbon hands the lead back to the NL. Well played, douchebag. He is, of course, booed unmercifully as he leaves the mound.

11:16 - Bank of America just revealed Lou Gehrig's speech as Yankee Stadium's greatest moment. I'm so glad that Bank of America has answered this question definitively for all of us. Their respect for the game is so strong, I may just have to take my business to them!

11:19 - Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in this All-Star Game or any other All-Star Game prior, is warming in the bullpen.

11:24 - Evan Longoria comes through, as the rookie ripped a pinch-hit RBI double off Billy "Not The Sandman" Wagner to knot the game at 3. Isn't it great that all the mortals that have disrespected the Great Mo have received their comeuppance?

11:29 - Enter Sandman. G.O.A.T. Greatest of All-Time. Of course, FOX flubs the intro by cutting to a Budweiser commercial featuring one of the co-stars of the 1992 spoof comedy Hot Shots. This is a hard town to make a living ... I must say.

11:37 - PeteAbe reports in his LoHud blog that while Jeter has remained in the dugout for the entire game, A-Rod is long gone. All you need to know about the characters of the two guys.

11:40 - It's important to note to new baseball fans: If Tim McCarver is not explaining rudimentary elements of the game, he is wrong 100 percent of the time.

11:55 - Classic Mo there. First and third, one out and he induces an inning-ending DP. 1 2/3 scoreless innings. The Greatest Of All-Time. We head to the bottom half of the 10th. The NL has never lost an All-Star Game in extras (9-0-1).

11:59 - I feel bad for Uggla.

12:00 - Some sequence for the Marlins second baseman. Grounds into a double play to end the top of the 10th, then makes back-to-back errors to put the AL on the precipice of victory. FOX's Ken Rosenthal then chimes in with some story about how Uggla's dad was finally getting to see his son play or something. Man, that sucks.

12:05 - Thank God Uggla made that play. Geez. That ball will find you when you're struggling, no doubt about it.

12:06 - Longoria fails to get the job done. Two outs. Uggla may not have to wear those goat horns after all.

12:07 - Tejada makes a great play on a slow grounder by Morneau and the NL lives. Uggla is saved. Are we heading toward another one of those ties? To the 11th.

12:13 - Seeing as "This One Counts" and all, what happens with home field advantage in the World Series if this game ends in a tie? Coin flip? A game of Asshole? Beer pong? The possibilities are endless.

12:16 - Here's a suggestion: Teams split games into 4 1/2 innings home-and-home parts for World Series games 1, 2, 6 and 7. I'm awesome.

12:18 - I didn't mention this before, but what a job by Aaron Cook to get out of the 10th inning alive. Some real Houdini stuff.

12:20 - Great job by FOX, waiting until bottom of the 11th inning to give the late Bobby Murcer his due respect. Clown college.

12:22 - I can only imagine the agony of all the reporters at the game right now. A long day is becoming a very long night. Meanwhile, the second-base umpire blows a call by ruling Ian Kinsler out on a stolen-base attempt. Instead of man on second, nobody out, the AL is back to square one.

12:24 - A walk and single follow. This game should already be over.

12:25 - Prediction time: Michael Young wins it here.

12:26 - Holy crap, Navarro is slow. Young singles to center, but McClouth makes a great throw from center and Martin makes an unbelievable play at the plate. Carlos Quentin still has a chance to win it here with runners on second and third and two outs.

12:27 - Quentin bounces out to third. 3-3, going to the 12th. What a game.

12:30 - I have to be honest: I don't like seeing my fantasy team closer (Soria) pitching a second inning here. I have a feeling the Royals aren't crazy about it either.

12:35 - Uggla has gone Section 8 on us. With a chance to put the NL ahead, he looks terrible striking out looking with runners on second and third. Francona gets Soria and brings in Sherill.

12:38 - Sherrill strikes out Adrian Gonzalez on three pitches. Great job by the O's closer. Does anybody want to win this game?

12:42 - Carlos Guillen rips an opposite-field double off the left-field wall leading off the 12th against Cook. Grady gets another shot to be hero now.

12:43 - Uggla nearly makes his third error before retiring Sizemore. Man on third, one out. Longoria can be hero now.

12:45 - Cook, in his third inning of relief, fans Longoria. Morneau is intentionally walked to get to Kinsler. This is a mistake. Mark my words.

12:50 - Nevermind. Kinsler fails. This is going to be a tie.

12:58 - Great job by Sherill there. Pitches around a leadoff single to David Wright and we head to the bottom of the 13th inning. What a great, great, baseball game. The last All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium will certainly be remembered. Kazmir is the only AL pitcher left, and he threw 110 pitches for the Rays on Sunday. What the hell is Tito going to do? It's very possible -- in fact almost guaranteed -- the limit on this game is 14 innings.

1:00 - The new Yankee Stadium will be 63 percent larger than the current model? Holy crap. P.S. FOX waited until the bottom of the 13th to show that interesting piece on the Yankees' future home. Strange.

1:10 - Sherill's in for a third inning?!? That ain't right folks. This game should be the example going forward: If you are not available to pitch in the All-Star Game (Kazmir in this case), you should not be taking up a spot on the roster. Meanwhile, McClouth just misses hitting one into the short porch in right. A loud out.

1:12 - This is the longest Sherill has pitched in a game all year. In the words of Warner Wolf, "This was supposed to be an exhibition!"

1:40 - Hallelujah! Four hours and fifty minutes after first pitch, Michael Young lifts a sac fly to right field as Morneau just beats the throw at the plate. The AL is now unbeaten in its last 12 All-Star Games. I have to admit it's a relief to see the game end with a decision, a tie would have been real bittersweet. Plus, now Game 1 of the World Series is at Yankee Stadium. Sweet!

I think this game has made me delusional. Have a great night ... or morning.

All-Star Game links

As you probably know, there is a ton of Yankees coverage tying into All-Star week at The Stadium. Here are some interesting stories that I've come across:

  • The Post's Joel Sherman names his all Yankee Stadium team ('76-'08). If Donnie didn't make the list, I wouldn't be linking this.
  •'s Buster Olney correctly asserts that Mariano Rivera -- and not goofball Jonathan Papelbon -- should be closing out the All-Star Game. The News' Bill Madden provides his take as well. The biggest non-story story of the week.
  • LoHud's PeteAbe says Yankee Stadium itself is the biggest star of tonight's Midsummer Classic.
  • The News' John Harper reports on A-Rod being in the eye of the media storm. You got what you asked for, Mr. Madonna.
  • Did you know there was a time when MLB hosted two All-Star Games? The Times' Richard Sandomir discusses this strange moment in baseball history.
  • The Times' William C. Rhoden reports that erstwhile Mets manager Willie Randolph will be a guest of the Steinbrenner family tonight. Very interesting.
  • Mac Montandon of New York Magazine has an interesting piece on the big business of selling off Yankee Stadium junk. People are stupid.

Thoughts about a Bronx Derby

The media over-saturation of addict-turned-baseball god Josh Hamilton reached a tipping point with his incredible performance in last night's Home Run Derby. His 28 homers in Round 1 shook the Bronx as he launched balls into territory never-before-chartered in game action.

With A-Rod sitting out the festivities due to his inability to be anything but unlikable, Hamilton made the Derby a memorable one, even if Justin Morneau ended up taking the title. As an aside, this is now the second award in three years Morneau didn't deserve, joining his bogus MVP win over Jeter in 2006. So yeah, congrats on that.

ESPN continued to be insufferable in every way, with Rick Reilly bravely calling out MLB for having eight white guys in the Derby (what a spineless douche) and Joe Morgan incorrectly judging the trajectory of about 20 home run balls (didn't he play in the Majors for like 15 years?). On the plus side, they've officially muzzled Chris Berman, even if it wasn't really their choice. If you noticed, the obnoxious "Back, back, back" and play-on-words nickname shtick was mercifully toned down. This is clearly a product of the rise of sports blogs -- specifically Deadspin -- which has gamely served the public by making "The Worldwide Leader" accountable for its inane bullshit. We're still subject to insipid crap like "Titletown USA" and the infamous "Who's hot?" campaign of 2007, but you get the feeling ESPN is officially on its toes, like the school bully who suddenly has someone his same size watching him from a distance. What the blog world lacks in ESPN's financial clot, it makes up for in its ability to raise the public consciousness, a fact that clearly has Disney Sports on notice.

I didn't watch the Celebrity Softball Challenge, only because I may have to shoot Billy Crystal in the chest if I see him try to ingratiate himself to the Yankees one more time. Let it go, Billy. Maria Menudos is super foxy, but there wasn't enough eye candy on the bill to make me tune in. That reminds me, I do give ESPN kudos for the existence of Erin Andrews. She literally makes my life better.

I couldn't quite decide if the Derby would have been a fun event to attend in person. I suppose if you were in the bleachers or the middle to low sections of the upper deck in right you had a good time. But there seemed to be an awful amount of downtime as well, and everything after Hamilton's explosion seemed to be a anti-climatic. And boo to MLB for its ridiculous corporate whoring with the "Call Your Shot" promotion, which grinded the entire event to a halt prior to the finals. Talk about sucking the life out of a joint.

Overall though, I did enjoy the event. I loved watching the upper deck and bleachers get assaulted, I loved the NYPD cop straight up choking a dude who ran into The Black to retrieve a home run ball, I loved the hot mike catching Chase Utley's valley girl reaction to being jeered during introductions ("Boo? Fuuuuck youuu!"), I loved the Stadium crowd booing Ortiz when he casually walked his fat ass toward the home dugout, I loved Morneau awkwardly getting blown off in favor of Hamilton by Erin Andrews after the final round. Oh yeah, and I loved Erin Andrews.

Did I mention that already? Oh well.

Monday, July 14, 2008

First Half Report Card (Part 1)

The Yankees enter the All-Star break at 50-45, six games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East and 5.5 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card race. Under new manager Joe Girardi, the team has faced adversity from the beginning and battled inconsistencies in all phases of the game. The farm system went belly up with Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy failing to win a game before both landed on the disabled list. In June, the team suffered an even more devastating blow to the rotation when ace Chien-Ming Wang suffered a potentially season-ending foot injury. The offense has been plagued by injury and subpar production from its veteran stars, leading to speculation that general manager Brian Cashman may look to boost the sagging unit with a trade prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline. In spite of all the pitfalls, New York is very much in the thick of the race for its 14th straight postseason appearance. Here is the first annual River & Sunset Yankees Midseason Report Card:


Jorge Posada
At 36 years old, giving Posada a multi-year contract extension this past offseason was certainly a risk, but the veteran's incredibly productive 2007 season made it a move the Yankees almost had to make. Unfortunately for the team, Posada has looked very much like a 36-year-old catcher in the first year of the new deal, missing extended time with a bum shoulder while baring little offensive resemblance to the Silver Slugger Award winner he was a season prior. The Yankees need Posada to pick up his game in a big way in the second half.
Grade: C-

Jose Molina
Molina provides the Yankees their steadiest backup catcher option since Girardi. He can't hit ... at all, but he works with pitchers well and has a strong and accurate arm behind the plate. He caught six games in a row at one point last week, leading to speculation that either Posada's shoulder was not sound or Girardi preferred Molina at catcher. With a .226 average and no homers in 164 at-bats, Molina is not an everyday player. Girardi would be a fool to shoehorn him into that role.
Grade: B-

Chad Moeller
Moeller has one of the cushiest jobs in baseball. He almost never plays (three at-bats this month), yet he gets a big league salary and plenty of R&R time. Not bad. When Posada was shelved, he served as a serviceable stop gap.
Grade: B-

First base

Jason Giambi
The Big G's season started in the tank, but the mustache brought new life to the veteran slugger, who batted above .300 with 12 homers and 33 RBIs in May and June. July has brought with it a return to April-like struggles, but at this point of the game we know what to expect from Giambi. Peaks and valleys. Defensively, he remains a butcher, but to his credit he's played a lot of first base and he has stayed healthy, an achievement for a guy that many considered a fragile designated hitter entering the season. That said, Giambi should be a DH at this stage of his career, and importing a productive offensive and defensive first baseman (Mark Teixiera anyone?) should be near the top of Cashman's wish list. If you're a fan of the Big G, savor the second half ... it's likely the final time you'll see him in pinstripes.
Grade: B

Wilson Betemit
If Giambi is a butcher at the bag, then Betemit can best be labeled as an ax-wielding psychopath. In truth, it's difficult to see what Betemit brings to this team. He's terrible defensively, he's a switch-hitter who can't hit from the right side, he strikes out constantly and never walks. There has to be a better option here.
Grade: F

Second base

Robinson Cano
Cano has been a maddening disappointment this season, hasn't he? Touted by many as a potential MVP candidate heading into the season, Cano responded with a dreadful April in which he batted .151. He's been trying to dig his way out ever since, but the bottom line is he's a .246 hitter at the break, inexcusable for a player of his skill set.
Grade: D


Derek Jeter
Let's take the kid gloves off with Jeter. The Captain is on pace for the worst statistical season of his career, and it's coming at a time when the Yankees need him the most. His batting average, slugging and on-base percentage and run production numbers are all down below his career average. Jeter is the man who makes the Yankees offense go, and he needs to put up a big second half to help save his team. Let's hope a strong start to July is a portend of things to come.
Grade: C-

Third base

Alex Rodriguez
You knew matching his near-historic production of 2007 was going to be nearly impossible, and a groin injury early in the season set the All-Star back. But a healthy A-Rod remains the greatest force in the game. His numbers with RISP have dropped back into 2006 territory, something that clearly needs to change. But overall, A-Rod is one part of the offense you don't need to worry about. He'll have between 37-40 homers and 100-110 RBIs by the end of the season. Defensively, he's as good as ever while his baserunning instincts are second-to-none. Madonna ridiculousness aside, A-Rod is doing just fine.
Grade: B+


Bobby Abreu
Despite fine production during his career with the Phillies, Abreu was never particularly well-liked by the City of Brotherly Love. And while people in Philly seem to be rather pig-headed about their sports, I'm starting to understand why he's never been embraced. Abreu just kind of chugs along, picking up RBIs here and there, hitting a homer every two weeks or so. He very rarely carries a team, but he also very rarely kills you either. He continues to slip defensively, and his batting average is down, but you're still going to get between 15-20 homers and 100 RBIs. In a sea of inconsistency on offense, I'll take that.
Grade: B

Melky Cabrera
The Melk Man has not delivered. Not by a long shot. He remains a capable defensive player, but Cabrera has slipped precipitously on offense leading to speculation his job is no longer safe. A strong April gave way to porous production in May and June (12 runs and 20 RBIs in two months). When Matsui and Damon return, Melky's future as a starter will be in doubt if Brett Gardner is able to produce on a steady basis.
Grade: D

Johnny Damon
When Damon is swinging the bat well, this offense is a different beast. And with that in mind, the team's recent downturn since he hit the disabled list last weekend may not be a coincidence. Damon was a dynamo in June, when he batted .363 and registered a six-hit day against the Royals. He's not much of a defensive player at this stage of the career, but he's still a spark plug at the top of the lineup. The Yankees need to get him back into their attack ASAP.
Grade: B+

Hideki Matsui
It will be interesting to see what the Yankees get out of Matsui, not just this season, but for the rest of the veteran's deal with the club. His knee problems just don't sound very good, more chronic than temporary. But Godzilla has always been a run-producer for this team, and having him back in action would go a long way in lengthening this lineup. I've always admired the steady way Matsui goes about his business, the Yankees definitely miss him. Held to just 251 at-bats in the first half, Matsui was still productive. Clearly Godzilla can still hit. But can he stay on the field?
Grade: B

Brett Gardner
Here is the true wild card of the Yanks' offensive attack in the second half. When Gardner has been able to get on base, he's been a nuisance, stealing bags and generally running wild. Problem is, he's looked overmatched at times since being called up on July 1. Six hits and 11 strikeouts in 36 at-bats doesn't inspire much confidence, but if you've watched this kid everyday, you get the feeling he may be close to getting a hang of this big league thing. The veterans need to protect him and allow him to grow as a player. If he sticks around, he remains a potential X-factor at the bottom of the lineup.
Grade: Incomplete

Click here for grades on the pitchers and manager.