Wednesday, September 30, 2009

102 and rising: Yanks reunite with Krazy Kyle

As the great PeteAbe leaves Yankee Universe for browner pastures in Boston, it was nice to have the not-so-great Kyle Farnsworth remind us that some things never change.

It's all about the simple pleasures as the Yankees play out the string in advance of next Wednesday's ALDS opener. Farnsworth, whose incompetence yielded the creation of the Kyle Farnsworth Terror Threat Level Indicator on this very blog a year ago, provided a nostalgic whiff of suck for Yankees fans on Tuesday.

Meaningless game or not, it was nice to be on the other side for Krazy Kyle's antics.

It was very cool to see the veterans swarm Juan Miranda after he clocked the game-winner off Farnsworth's shin. My girlfriend had been aware of the game's meaningless nature and was baffled as to why the team was celebrating so wildly. I explained that, yes, the game had no effect on the standings, but it also happened to be the best moment of young Juan's life.

It goes without saying that Robbie and Melky will salsa with Mr. Miranda well into the night. Glow sticks will be prominently involved.

The game was important for more than just seeing sweat droplets of anxiety wash over Krazy Kyle's bitchin' tribal band tattoo once again. Other positives include:

- The Yankees are heading into pretty heady airspace in terms of regular-season success. That's seven straight wins, moving New York to 46 games over .500 at 102-56. The last time a Yankee team cleared 46 games? Yup, the pesky 1998 gang.

- A.J. Burnett is back? Screw it, I'll say it with confidence. A.J. Burnett is back. The right-hander delivered his third straight solid start, allowing two runs on three hits over 6 1/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked three. Burnett has allowed just four earned runs over his last 19 innings, striking out 25. One thing to be wary of: When Burnett takes the hill for Game 3 in Detroit/Minnesota, he will be pitching on 11 days' rest. How many times can a dude watch 300 before losing his mind?

- Eric Hinske may have clinched a spot on the ALDS roster with his pinch-hit single in the ninth. He may look like Kevin James, but the Yanks want him to hit like Matt Stairs in the playoffs.

- From the bullpen department: Brian Bruney was effective for a second consecutive outing, going 1 1/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts. I think No. 99 will have to be perfect from now until the season ends to have a shot at a roster spot. Compadre David Robertson made his return from the DL, getting two outs. Assuming he wakes up happy and healthy, he's a postseason go. Phil Coke performed like he just rolled in from a Phish concert, but we'll give him a pass.

- Mark Teixeira snuck one over the wiffleball fence in right-center for his 39th homer. He is now tied with Carlos Pena for the AL lead. This pisses Pena off especially since right now he's sitting in a recliner watching The Biggest Loser with a bunch of pins in his hand.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Media still trying to figure out how to jinx Yanks

With pennant races ending in a whimper in every division but AL Central Casting, baseball writers across the country are apparently starved for interesting storylines these days. How else to explain the dizzying takes of late on the Yankees' playoff aspirations?

Last week, a stumble against the Mariners and a series-opening loss to the Angels in Anaheim led to a barrage of stories hinting that the mighty Yankees were heading toward another hard fall in October.

There was the After Sabathia, the rotation is horrible-angle, the Sabathia is terrible in the playoffs and Pettitte's shoulder is FUBAR-angle, the Joba sucks, it's the Yankees' fault, and they will pay for that reality accordingly-angle, and my personal favorite, the Albaladejo is stealing everybody's lunch from the office fridge and it's destroying team chemistry-angle.

Okay, the last one (probably) isn't true, but the other storylines were all reported ad nauseam in newspapers and blogs across the country last week. It was enough to make you wonder if the Yankees should even show up for the ALDS.

But writing off a team that has played .700 ball for over three months isn't exactly smart journalism. Following their hiccup, the Yankees beat the Angels twice in a row and then flew home and swept away the Red Sox to clinch the AL East and home-field throughout the playoffs. New York (101-56) has now won six straight.

With that, the Yankees are a juggernaut again, the "team to beat," etc., etc.

The binging and purging of Yankee Kool-Aid this season is enough to make a Gossip Girl jealous.

Ultimately, both sides of the argument are entirely plausible. The Yankees are both unstoppable and imminently stoppable, depending on how you want to look at it. We won't know for sure until they play meaningful games again.

Eight days and counting. The suspense is killing me.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Yankees finally gain peace of mind against Angels

There are times when you're watching the Yankees play at Angel Stadium and all you want to do is change the damn channel.

And so you do.

You surf around in anger, until you realize that it's past midnight and Dharma and Greg reruns or Late Night with Carson Daly aren't better options, only an alternate form of torture.

You keep surfing, wondering why your pitching and defense can't execute, why your fly balls always seem to die at the warning track, why Major League Baseball allows Chone Figgins to bat 12 times a game against the Yankees.

This is not fun. I might actually rather watch Dharma and Greg try to figure out if they should risk their amazing and hilarious friendship for something more.

But in the end, you do return to the Yankees. You keep coming back, hoping against hope that this team can face down its fears in a place that has become a house of horrors.

The last two days served as a beautiful reward to the faithful masses.

Tuesday was one of the biggest Yankees wins of the year. It had all the makings of a classic meltdown in Anaheim; the Yankees kicking away a five-run lead as the Rally Monkey plotted its way into my nightmares once again. As I sat on my couch, I began thinking of not if, but how, the Angels would finish it off.

But Brett Gardner proved the value of his bat and legs once again and A-Rod continued to be, dare I say, clutch. The Yanks won, 6-5, all but clinching the AL East and home-field throughout the postseason.

From the soon-to-be-departed PeteAbe, this stat on Rodriguez: Of his 89 RBI, 33 of them have come from the seventh inning on with 14 of those either tying the score or giving the Yankees the lead.

I'm still not exactly sure how the Yankees won on Wednesday. If someone were to tell me that A-Rod, Posada and Swisher were on the bench, A.J. Burnett didn't last through the sixth and Kennedy and Albaladejo were used in place of Aceves and Hughes, and the Yankees won, I would contact your family to get you into a rehab clinic as soon as possible.

I mean, seriously. Shelley Duncan was prominently involved here! There's mailing it in, and then there's mailing it in. Joe Girardi should have been wearing a postal uniform in the dugout.

And yet, they pulled it off. It was a strange series ... and an important one.

The Yanks have won three-of-four games against the Angels, aka their personal demons, this month. As the playoffs inch closer, that right there is a heaping slice of peace of mind, my friends.

And to that I say, screw you, Rally Monkey. You shan't be causing any night terrors on this evening.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Yankees still wait to learn Burnett's true identity

As a baseball season reaches its final month of regular season games, you should be able to tell what you have in a first-year player.

You usually know well before that.

We figured out by the All-Star break that Mark Teixeira was well worth the investment. Same goes for CC Sabathia. Nick Swisher was a bit more tricky, but as the summer wore on it became clear we had a productive goofball in the fold.

But then comes the curious case of Allan James Burnett.

We still have no idea what to make of the talented right-hander, now 29 starts deep into his first season with the Yankees. Can you honestly say you have any clue which Burnett will show up tonight against Felix Hernandez and the Mariners?

Will it be the guy who one-hit the Mets at Citi Field in June, the same guy who, during a 12-start stretch, was baseball's best starter? Or will it be the guy who allowed six-run innings to the Red Sox in April, the White Sox in August, and the Orioles in September?

There is no gray with Burnett, only black and white. Either excellent or atrocious.

Maybe this is what Burnett always was. If you throw out 2008, (18-10, 234 K season in Toronto) a walk year in which he was basically pitching with a "For Sale" sign on his back during the second half, he's been a remarkable ordinary pitcher in his career.

Check out his numbers in seasons he's made at least 25 starts:

  • 2001: 11-12, 4.05
  • 2002: 12-9, 3.30
  • 2005: 12-12, 3.34
  • 2007: 10-8, 3.75
  • 2009: 11-9, 4.33

Yes, win-loss records can often be misleading—Royals ace Zack Greinke, for example, has eight losses hung on him with a 2.14 ERA. But with Burnett, you get the feeling he earns that .500 record. He has this season, anyway.

A lot of that has to do with his temperament. When things are going well, and batters are waving feebly at his curve ball, he can cruise easily through seven innings. But when things aren't falling into place, when he can't spot the fastball, or when Posada gets in his face one too many times, he can project the appearance of a pitcher who checks out.

When Andy Pettitte admitted this week that the ache he felt in his shoulder was the same discomfort that wrecked his second half last season, a shiver shot up the spine of every Yankees fan. There is no hiding Burnett in a postseason series anymore. There never really was, but a banged up Pettitte removes any security blanket.

Burnett was supposed to be the security blanket this season, the guy who would line up behind Sabathia and Wang and quietly do his job. Things are different now, and the stakes are about to change in a big way.

A strong outing against King Felix would be a positive sign tonight, but in the end it's October that will reveal how this plays out. Only then will we find out what we have in Allan James Burnett.

Hopefully by the time we learn it won't be too late for the Yankees.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Yankees' future may be haunted by Angels

I look forward to a potential ALCS matchup with the Angels in the same way I anticipate turning 40 and having my wife tell me I need a fully-invasive prostate exam.

To clarify, I dread the future worse than Chris Russo.

The Yankees beat the Angels at their own game on Monday in the Bronx, manufacturing the go-ahead run thanks to the infinitely valuable Brett Gardner and a helping hand from Chone Figgins, who was more skittish at third than Tom Brady in the pocket against the Bills.

The final score read 5-3, allowing New York to increase its lead over LA Anaheim of California to six games in the race for home-field advantage in the postseason. It was a key win for the Yankees, but the context of the matchup was perhaps even more important:

A postseason series between these two teams would be a bloodbath.

That reality doesn't shake my confidence of this excellent version of the Yankees, but the playoff-intensity of the game only reinforces the notion of how evenly-matched these teams are.

I know, I know, there is that whole matter of the division series to be settled. The Yankees will need to get by the Tigers and the Angels must figure out a way to beat the Red Sox, a team that always seems to bury them. But in a season where the Yankees have earned the designated title as "The Team To Beat", it's impossible to not think about the Angels in the long term.

The Halos roster is loaded with players that scare me. Figgins, Torri Hunter, Kendry Morales, and yes, Bobby Abreu form the heart of a deep lineup that mirrors the patience of the Yankees' order. Phil Hughes' misadventure in the eighth was a perfect example of the Angels' ability to wait out a pitcher.

Expect a series between these two teams to go to the distance or close to it. Expect a series where a three-run margin of victory is considered a blowout. What I'm trying to say is, expect a series where you'll need to drink plenty of fluids...and I don't mean water.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jeter joins Mattingly in special fraternity

All I want to do in my life is to sit in Derek Jeter's private suite at Yankee Stadium.

Seriously. That's all I want.

I can't imagine a better place on Earth. You get the deep leather seats. The unlimited Premio sausages. The constant face time on YES. The opportunity to make off-color jokes with Derek's friends. The chance to awkwardly hug Minka Kelly and perhaps inadvertently brush up against her firm buttocks once or twice.

Best of all, sitting in Derek Jeter's private suite would in all likelihood make you a friend or family member of Derek Jeter, which in turn, would make you awesome.

Perhaps I sound a tad sycophantic, or, in regards to Minka Kelly, straight-up creepy. But the love affair between Jeter and Yankees fans has gone to the next level this season, and I'm just as swept up in it as everybody else.

I grew up idolizing Don Mattingly, and I never thought I'd see a player in my lifetime who could be as beloved as Donnie Baseball. I was at Game 1 of the 1995 ALDS, Mattingly's first playoff game in 13 years, and I still get chills thinking about how the crowd lost it when he first emerged from the dugout during pregame warmups. Mattingly didn't have any rings, and he was a shell of his former self physically, but he was absolutely, uniquely, adored.

Jeter has always been adored, but never in the gutteral sense that fans loved Mattingly. That's all changing now, ironically over a team record that nobody was even aware of a month ago.

This is a good thing, since Jeter's statistical exploits have always been overlooked. Why talk about how Jeter is one of the most consistent hitters of his generation when, for the 1000th time, you can talk about how he used moxie alone to back up Shane Spencer's throw in the 2001 ALDS?

Jeter will likely finish his career amongst the all-time leaders in hits and runs scored. He'll also probably end up with around 300 homers, 400 steals and 1,500 RBIs. These are big-time Hall of Fame-worthy credentials.

Jeter has always been about intangibles. But the guy is about numbers, too. The week-long celebration that has accompanied his chase of Gehrig has provided some long overdue recognition of that fact.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Yanks continue to piledrive toward playoffs

The Yankees managed to take two of four from the Blue Jays this weekend in Toronto, and they didn't appear to put in an ounce of effort to do it. I'm not sure if this speaks more to the ongoing realization that this could be a special Yankees team, or that the Blue Jays are an organization devoid of even the basic human notion of hope.

Let's put it this way about Jays manager Cito Gaston: The Kris Kross guys aren't the only ones who still wish it was 1992. At least poor Cito doesn't age, he's like a Madame Tussauds wax figure at this point.

But back to the AL East leaders. Their lead over the Boston Red Sox (remember them?) has ballooned to 7.5 games. Meanwhile, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is increasingly looking like a certainty. They lead the Angels in that race by five lengths.

Very quietly, we may be watching one of the best teams in franchise history...during the regular season anyway. The Yanks have 25 games remaining on their schedule, and if they go 18-7 (hardly a stretch considering their clout these last three months), they'll win 105 games.

The 1998 team, of course, won 114 games in the regular season. But the last time a Yankees team won that many games before that? You'd have to go all the way back to 1961, when the M&M Boys led New York to 109 victories.

I should mention here that both those squads went on to win the World Series and are now on the short list of baseball's greatest teams.

So yes, this Yankees team is having a pretty damn good season. All of which means absolutely nothing if Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson lock it down and A-Rod hangs another 2-for-15 on us in the ALDS.

But the more you watch this team, the more you get the feeling this is a different group, one that can break that division series jinx and explore the upper reaches of the postseason bracket.

That's my sincerest hope, anyhow. Anything less than a trip deep into the postseason would represent the most bitter disappointment since The Series That Shall Not Be Named back in 2004.

On a related note, the opponent in that unnamed series could quite possibly be the opposition in the ALCS this season.

Again, I'm getting waaaaay ahead of myself here. But a win there would have to rank pretty high on the Full-Circle Revenge Scale, huh?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pettitte Power: Surging vet sparks Yankees

I hope you didn't buy what Andy Pettitte was selling last night in Baltimore.

Because, contrary to what the rejuvenated Texan may have said, he wanted to straight-up murder poor Jerry Hairston Jr.

Think about it. If your buddy misplayed a routine grounder that cost you a perfecto in wiffleball, you'd be beside yourself. Now picture it happening with two outs in the seventh inning of an actual game to the psychotically-intense Pettitte. Oh boy.

Poor Hairston already has to deal with never being good enough for dad...and now this?

Sometimes life isn't fair. Let's just hope that Hairston isn't soon on the wrong end of a hunting rifle and Pettitte the wrong end of a level-one felony charge because we need both of these guys.

Especially Pettitte, who, let's face it, has been the Yankees' second-best starter this season. How crazy is that?

The left-hander is 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break and is 12-6 with a 4.03 ERA overall. He's on pace for another season of 200-plus innings and he says his body is feeling better than it has in years.

These are all stunning revelations when you remember where this guy was a year ago.

Pettitte seemed cooked by the end of last season. Like, well-done, burnt on both sides cooked. He was a .500 pitcher with a 4.54 ERA; a guy with a chronically tender elbow and a bum shoulder. He seemed primed for the requisite final season where the once-great pitcher dreadfully embarrasses himself—better known as The David Cone—before he headed off into the sunset.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Deer Park. Pettitte has somehow managed to sidestep a cruel demise, like he's been studying the ending of all 14 Final Destination movies.

He came back after an extended dance with the Yankees in the offseason, taking a steep paycut in the process. He was slated to be the No. 5 starter, a guy who could eat some innings, maybe win 10-12 games and keep his ERA around 4.50.

Instead, he leapfrogged over Chien-Ming Wang's decomposing corpse and both Good Joba and Bad Joba. Now, pitching his best baseball in years, is it that insane to think you'd rather have Pettitte in a big postseason spot over A.J. Burnett?

At 37, Pettitte is improbably an essential piece of the puzzle in the Yankees' drive for No. 27. Let's just hope he realizes the personal and team ramifications that would come with poisoning Jerry Hairston's coffee.