Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Yankees news: The CC's a Beast edition

The buzz following last night's game was all about CC Sabathia, who took a perfect game into the seventh inning in the Yankees' 4-1 win over the hapless Mariners. Carsten Charles finished with 14 strikeouts, setting a career high.

"He's always got Sabathia stuff. But today, that was by far the best I've ever seen him pitch," said Brendan Ryan, who broke up the perfecto with a single in the seventh. "I almost feel disrespectful saying that, because we all know what he's capable of. But when you're locating the fastball and the way he's throwing that slider, stealing strikes with curveballs here and there, he's absolutely filthy."

  • Joe Girardi spoke about his decision to bring Sabathia back out after two separate rain delays.
  • Tom Verducci reminisced about the 1998 Yankees in's "The Best Team I Ever Covered" series. A choice snippet from the piece says it all:

    "The '98 Yankees had such great chemistry that when Dale Sveum was released in August, he volunteered to stick around as a bullpen catcher rather than go home to his wife and kids."

To be fair, Dale could've really disliked his family. Just sayin'.
  • With each dominant Sabathia outing, his price tag goes up, up,up. The opt-out is a formality now.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

CC flirts with perfection, M's drop 17th straight

In 1978, Ron Guidry went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA. It's widely regarded as the greatest year a Yankees pitcher ever had, a once-in-a-generation accomplishment.

A generation later, CC Sabathia is putting together a season that has evoked memories of Louisiana Lightning. That was more apparent than ever on Tuesday night, with the big left-hander taking a perfect game into the seventh inning in a 4-1 win over the woeful Mariners, who lost their club-record 17th-straight.

Sabathia is now 15-5 with a 2.56 ERA. He's won eight of his last nine starts.

Brendan Ryan broke up the bid with a clean single with one out in the seventh, but Mother Nature can take just as much credit for throwing a wrench in history. The game was halted by a 30-minute rain delay with one out in the sixth, especially painful because Sabathia was literally untouchable at that point. He struck out seven consecutive batters before the tarp was rolled out.

Sabathia wasn't quite as sharp after the delay, hanging a breaking ball that Ichiro swung through in the seventh, then falling behind Ryan 2-0 before grooving a fastball. He did recover, striking out the final two batters of the inning to set a career high with 14 Ks.

A second rain delay figured to end Sabathia's night after 84 pitches, but the left-hander made a surprising return to the mound. It turned out to be a bad decision. Sabathia walked three consecutive batters, ending his night on a sour note. David Robertson came on and limited the damage, striking out Ryan, getting a fielder's choice RBI groundout by Chone Figgins before freezing Ichiro (.266) with a fastball to end the threat.

My personal opinion: Hindsight is 20/20, but there was really no reason to bring Sabathia back into the game after the second rain delay, unless you were cognizant of the Yankees strikeout record (Guidry struck out 18 in a game in '78). The counter-argument is that the second rain delay was brief (just 14 minutes). That said, I'm sure a pitcher's mindset is completely different than when he's sitting on the bench during an extended half inning. Factoring in injury-risk, it just didn't make sense. End of rant.

Curtis Granderson's 28th homer in the third opened the scoring, an opposite-field shot that snuck over the left-field wall. Mark Teixeira capped the scoring with his 28th homer, which doubled as his 100th homer as a Yankee. Doug Fister was the hard-luck loser — he's now lost his last seven decisions despite a 3.33 ERA. That's just not fair.

Mariano Rivera closed it out with a scoreless ninth, keeping Seattle winless since July 5. The G.O.A.T. picked up his 26th save of the season and 585th overall.

The Red Sox blew out the Royals at Fenway, maintaining a two-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East. New York leads the LA Angels of Anaheim of Los Angeles of California by 6.5 games in the wild card standings.

Stray Observations:

  • Ron Guidry was actually in the house tonight, according to Sweeny Murti.
  • A couple of depressing shots of Yankee playoff hero and current Seattle hitting coach Chris Chambliss. Can't imagine how depressing it must be being around that team.
  • Chone Figgins went 0-for-3 and is down to .180. 180!!! What possibly does the man have to do to get DFA'd? Kidnap somebody's daughter? Light the clubhouse on fire? Amazing to think that not long ago he was a certified Yankee Killer.
  • Sad watching Ichiro waste away on such a bad team. Get the feeling he would be revitalized by moving to a contender. Hasn't been back to the playoffs since his rookie year.
  • Granderson is just two homers shy of his career high. According to YES, it was the first of his 28 homers to go to left field.
  • Eric Chavez returned to the lineup after missing 71 games. He went 1-for-3. It goes without saying that the former Gold Glover is a huge defensive upgrade at third over Eduardo Nuneeeeeeeeeeeeeez.
  • "I'd love to see what Robbie hits if he only swings at strikes." -- Paul O'Neill after a classic Cano giveaway at-bat in the second.
  • Courtesy of Mark Feinsand: "Sabathia's streak of seven straight strikeouts is over, one shy of the AL record. (Nolan Ryan 2X, Ron Davis, Roger Clemens and Blake Stein)"
  • If home-plate umpire Bob Davidson doesn't give Robertson a very-generous 3-1 strike call in the eighth against Ryan, it's a two-run game with nobody out and the bases loaded. The Mariners are awful, and they probably would've found a way to blow it anyway, but the Yankees caught a break, especially when Ryan chased ball four to strikeout.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tracking the Cash: Yankees at the Deadline, Part 2

Yesterday, we took a look at Brian Cashman's July trade history spanning his first year as Yankees GM in 1998 through the fateful 2004 season. Today, we take it to the present.


July 2: Traded Paul Quantrill to the San Diego Padres. Received Darrell May, Tim Redding, and cash.

July 16: Received Al Leiter from the Florida Marlins as part of a conditional deal.

July 28: Traded Eduardo Sierra (minors) and Ramon Ramirez to the Colorado Rockies. Received Shawn Chacon.

July 29: Received Joe Thurston from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a conditional deal.

July 31: Sent Buddy Groom to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a conditional deal.

The Yankees scrambled their way to the postseason in 2005, winning the AL East despite an unusually sluggish start. One notable Cashman deal was a big reason for that.

Shawn Chacon was a relative unknown when the Yankees acquired him from the Rockies in exchange for two minor leaguers on July 28. Chacon had gone 2-16 over the past two seasons in Colorado, yet Cashman saw something in the right-hander.

Chacon, using a bowling ball sinker, was a revelation out of the starting rotation, going 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 12 appearances (10 starts) for the Yankees. Chacon, along with journeyman Aaron Small, formed an unlikely dynamic duo in the back of the rotation, combining to go 17-3 for a team in desperate need of pitching.


July 30: Traded C.J. Henry (minors), Carlos Monasterios (minors), Jesus Sanchez (minors), and Matt Smith to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle.

July 31: Traded Shawn Chacon to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Craig Wilson.

Much as David Justice revitalized the Yankees offense upon his arrival in 2000, Bobby Abreu brought similar results to the team six years later.

Abreu was the perfect fit for the Yankee lineup. A left-handed batter with pop and patience, he was an ideal player to be hitting in front of Alex Rodriguez.

Phobia of outfield walls aside, Abreu was everything the Yankees could have hoped him to be, batting .330 with seven homers, 42 RBI, 37 runs, 10 steals, and a gaudy .419 on-base percentage in 58 regular-season games.

Abreu went on to play two more full seasons in the Bronx, quietly producing all the way through his tenure before leaving for the Angels via free agency in 2009.

Chacon was quietly dealt away, injuries and inconsistency robbing him of the ability to match the success of a season earlier.

Lidle appeared in relief in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Tigers, getting hit hard in the game that eliminated the Yankees. He died in a Manhattan plane crash in a week later.


July 21: Traded Jeff Kennard (minors) to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Received Jose Molina.

July 31: Traded Scott Proctor to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Received Wilson Betemit.

The acquisition of Molina was a particularly deft one by Cashman. Molina was known as a defensive standout who worked with pitchers well. He possessed qualities that Jorge Posada lacked and vice versa, making them a good combination behind the plate.

Proctor was once a contributor out of the bullpen, but overuse by Joe Torre and a secret struggle with alcoholism led to his exit.

Betemit was of very little use to the Yankees, though they would later flip the strikeout-prone switch hitter for Nick Swisher, which has turned into one of Cashman's greatest deals.

The Yankees cut ties with Molina after the '09 season, handing his backup role to the emerging Francisco Cervelli.


July 26: Traded Daniel McCutchen (minors), Jose Tabata (minors), Jeff Karstens, and Ross Ohlendorf to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady.

July 30: Traded LaTroy Hawkins to the Houston Astros. Received Matt Cusick (minors).

Traded Kyle Farnsworth to the Detroit Tigers. Received Ivan Rodriguez.

July 31: Traded Alberto Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals. Received Jhonny Nunez (minors).

2008 was the first year the Yankees failed to qualify for the postseason in Cashman's tenure as general manager. It wasn't for lack of effort, as the GM attempted to repair a team loaded with holes at the deadline.

The big move involved the acquisition that brought Nady and Marte from the Pirates for prospects. Nady did give the team another presence in the lineup, but he blew out his elbow in April '09 and never played for the Yankees again.

Marte was a revelation in the 2009 postseason, stringing together eight scoreless appearances. Unfortunately, he now has a left shoulder only in theory. It's unlikely we'll see him again.

Tabata made headlines shortly after the trade for a kidnapping case involving his daughter and insane cougar wife. He's now a regular for the Pirates.

Ohlendorf had a promising 2009 campaign with the Pirates, but has since dropped off the grid.

The disposal of Farnsworth was a necessary move; the erratic right-hander had long since worn out his welcome. Fourteen-time All-Star Rodriguez was supposed to help offset the loss of an injured Posada, but Pudge was a shell of his former self in pinstripes, batting just .219 with three RBI in 33 games.


July 31: Traded Chase Weems (minors) to the Cincinnati Reds. Received Jerry Hairston Jr.

June 30: Traded Judsan Golson (minors) to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Eric Hinske

The Yankees were thought to be smack in the middle of the Roy Halladay trade talks that swirled around baseball leading up to the '09 deadline, but Halladay eventually stayed in Toronto.

Cashman was smart enough to know he had a loaded team that needed more of a tweak than an overhaul.

Enter Hairston, a versatile player who could spell A-Rod at third base and also provide depth in the outfield.

Hairston batted .237 (with a .352 OBP) in 93 plate appearances during the regular season, but he earned a small place in Yankee lore in the playoffs, when he singled and eventually scored on a throwing error to end Game 2 of the ALCS against the Angels.

Cashman elected not to re-sign Hairston in the offseason, inserting the younger, cheaper Ramiro Pena into the same role.

Hinske was picked up to add depth and some pop off the bench, and he did that, smacking seven homers in 74 regular season at-bats. He was used sparingly in the postseason and signed with the Braves in the offseason.


July 31: Traded Zach McAllister (minors) to Cleveland Indians. Received Austin Kearns.

Traded Jimmy Paredes (minors) and Mark Melancon to Houston Astros. Received Lance Berkman and cash.

Traded Andrew Shive (minors) and Matt Cusick (minors) to Cleveland Indians. Received Kerry Wood.

Cashman pulled the trigger on multiple deals on deadline day, attempting to fortify a Yankees team looking to repeat.

The results were mixed. Kearns was largely invisible, hitting .235 with two homers and seven RBI in 106 at-bats. The Yankees had no problem cutting ties when the season was done.

Wood was brought aboard to do what Joba Chamberlain could not -- build a stable bridge to Mariano Rivera. The one-time Cubs phenom seemed like a risky play at the time, but he quickly became a trusted piece of Joe Girardi's bullpen.

Wood struck out 31 over 26 innings and allowed just two runs in 24 appearances, a stunning turnaround from the 6.30 ERA he pitched to as closer for the Indians. He wasn't quite as untouchable in the postseason (two runs over eight innings), but on balance ranks among Cashman's best deadline acquisitions.

Berkman is an MVP candidate in St. Louis this season, which is hard to believe if you remember his time as a bumbling, overweight 1B/DH during his three-month stay in the Bronx.

Acquired to add pop to the lineup, Berkman hit exactly one home run in 123 plate appearances in the regular season. To his credit, Berkman came alive somewhat in the playoffs, going deep in the ALDS against the Twins and driving in four runs in 16 at-bats.

It gave Yankees fans a fleeting glimpse of what Fat Elvis once was, and improbably, what he would soon be again.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tracking the Cash: Yankees at the Deadline

Brian Cashman was a lowly intern when he joined the Yankees organization in 1986, but he proved skillful at climbing the most slippery corporate ladder in professional sports.

Cashman was named general manager of the club in 1998, and on his watch the Yankees have captured six American League pennants and four World Series titles. The 44-year-old New York native has been something of a lightning rod in his time as GM.

Supporters say he's a smart, hard-working executive that has earned the respect of colleagues around the game. Detractors believe Cashman was simply along for the ride during the dynasty run, is a poor talent evaluator, and was directly responsible for the team's title drought last decade.

Whatever your opinion, the man has staying power. With the trade deadline upon us, let's take a look at the Yankees' July trading activity under Cash.


The Yankees were a staggering 76-27 at the end of play on July 31 in 1998, so it's likely the young GM was warned like a kid standing next to grandma's china closet.

Don't. Touch. Anything.

Cashman made the right decision, standing pat with a juggernaut team on his hands. The Yankees would go on to win 125 games and the first of three consecutive World Series titles.

One note of interest came during Cashman's first draft a month earlier. He selected, but was unable to sign, a talented San Diego high school kid by the name of Mark Prior. This likely led to daily cane lashings from George Steinbrenner for the next five years or so.

I'm sure Cash really misses answering to the Boss.


July 31: Traded Geraldo Padua to the San Diego Padres. Received Jim Leyritz

Before Jim Leyritz became the tragic drunk he's known as today, he was a Yankee hero, hitting the three-run homer off Mark Wohlers that swung the 1996 World Series.

The King, as the loquacious Leyritz was known, was brought back to the Bronx on July 31 for an unheralded minor leaguer.

This was the '99 season, in which Andy Pettitte struggled mightily in the initial months, leading George Steinbrenner to demand his trade. Cashman wisely convinced the Boss otherwise and, perhaps to placate him, reacquired Pettitte's one-time personal catcher.

Leyritz played sparingly in his Bronx return engagement, though he did hit a home run in the World Series against Atlanta that year. Though an inconsequential homer in the context of that Fall Classic wipeout, Steinbrenner rewarded Leyritz with an unnecessary contract for the 2000 season.

According to Buster Olney's excellent Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, Leyritz referred to the blast as his "one-million-dollar home run."


June 29: Traded Zach Day, Ricky Ledee, and Jake Westbrook to the Cleveland Indians. Received David Justice

July 12: Traded Jackson Melian, Drew Henson, Brian Reith, and Ed Yarnall to the Cincinnati Reds. Received Mike Frank and Denny Neagle

July 21: Traded Ben Ford and Oswaldo Mairena to the Chicago Cubs. Received Glenallen Hill

The Yankees were a flawed team in 2000, playing nothing like the dominating clubs of the past two seasons. Substantial work needed to be done to buoy the team. Cashman would hit pay dirt.

But not without a little luck. Cashman had been foiled in attempts to acquire Moises Alou and Juan Gonzalez when the veterans each rejected the idea of playing in New York.

Not to be denied, Cashman plowed ahead and eventually acquired Justice. The deal is widely considered to be Cash's greatest trade.

Justice hit .305 with 20 homers, 60 RBI, and 39 walks in 78 regular-season games. After lifting the Yankees into the playoffs, he had the defining hit of that postseason, blasting a late three-run homer off the Mariners' Arthur Rhodes in Game 6 of the ALCS to put the Yankees into the World Series.

Ledee never realized his promise, while Westbrook fizzled out after a promising start to his career in Cleveland. Day had a nondescript career, throwing his last pitch for the Nationals in 2006.

Justice was the primary score, but Cashman acquired two other known big league entities with mixed results.

The trade for Glenallen Hill further aided the sagging offense, as the veteran slugger hit .333 with 16 homers and 29 RBI in just 132 at-bats. A deal to add depth to the starting rotation was less successful, as Denny Neagle pitched to a 5.81 ERA in 15 starts.


July 1: Traded Ricardo Aramboles to the Cincinnati Reds. Received Mark Wohlers.

July 4: Traded Brian Boehringer to the San Francisco Giants. Received Joe Smith and Bobby Estalella.

July 31: Traded Darren Blakely and Brett Jodie to the San Diego Padres. Received Sterling Hitchcock.

Cashman was busy again in 2001 but was ultimately unable to match the impact of the deadline deals a year earlier.

Wohlers was on the wrong side of Yankee history in the 1996 World Series. Five years later, the right-hander was brought in to fortify the bullpen under Joe Torre.

Wohlers appeared in 31 games and battled command issues, finishing with a 4.54 ERA in pinstripes. He pitched one more season with the Indians before calling it quits.

Hitchcock was the NLCS MVP for the Padres in 1998, but he was a disappointment in his second go-around in the Bronx, going 4-4 with a 6.81 ERA. His season in New York wasn't a complete loss, however. He was the winning pitcher out of the bullpen in Game 5 of the World Series against the Diamondbacks, the Yankees' final win of that memorable season.


July 2: Traded Scott Wiggins to the Toronto Blue Jays. Received Raul Mondesi.

July 5: As part of a three-team trade, traded Jason Arnold (minors), John-Ford Griffin, and Ted Lilly to the Oakland Athletics. Received Jeff Weaver from the Detroit Tigers.

In addition, the Oakland Athletics sent a player to be named later, Franklyn German, and Carlos Pena to the Detroit Tigers, and the Detroit Tigers sent cash to the Oakland Athletics. The Oakland Athletics sent Jeremy Bonderman to the Detroit Tigers to complete the trade.

This was a deadline that Cashman would like to forget, even if all the damage wasn't his doing.

The trade for Mondesi was a disgrace, a direct product of George Steinbrenner's petulance.

Mondesi was a player in decline in 2002, a hard-living, undisciplined, expensive slugger whom the Blue Jays believed they had no chance to rid themselves of. J.P. Ricciardi was so sure that he was stuck with Mondesi that the Jays GM nearly drove off the Mass Pike when he learned the Yankees were interested.

Sure enough, Mondesi was a slug in New York, the antithesis of the kind of player that helped build the recent dynasty. Can't really blame Cash here. Sometimes the Boss was just going to be the Boss.

The Jeff Weaver debacle was on Cash, however. The Yankees gave up left-handed prospect Ted Lilly to acquire the Tigers' Weaver, a talented right-hander who had yet to live up to his potential playing for a bad Detroit team.

The deal blew up in Cashman's face.

Weaver didn't have the temperament to pitch in New York, looking eternally uncomfortable and unhappy on the mound. His lasting legacy is the game-winning homer he allowed to Alex Gonzalez in Game 4 of the World Series against the Marlins in 2003.

The walk-off blast turned the tide in the series, and as Lilly went on to flourish, it ensured the trade would be remembered as among Cash's worst.


July 16: Traded Ryan Bicondoa (minors), Jason Anderson, and Anderson Garcia to the New York Mets. Received Armando Benitez.

July 22: Received Jesse Orosco from the San Diego Padres as part of a conditional deal.

July 29: Sent Dan Miceli to the Houston Astros as part of a conditional deal.

Traded Raul Mondesi and cash to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Received John Prowl (minors), David Dellucci, and Bret Prinz.

July 31: Received Gabe White from the Cincinnati Reds as part of a conditional deal.

Traded Robin Ventura to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Received Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor.

Traded Brandon Claussen, Charlie Manning, and cash to the Cincinnati Reds. Received Aaron Boone.

Cashman officially cemented himself as one of baseball's premier deadline movers and shakers in 2003, orchestrating several deals for the eventual American League champion Yankees.

Of course, of all the above names, only one truly stands out: Aaron Bleepin' Boone.

Boone was acquired to replace a fading Robin Ventura, but things didn't get off to the best of starts. Boone batted just .254 in 189 regular-season at-bats and had been in a deep funk when he stepped into the box against Boston's Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the ALCS.

One flat knuckler changed all that, making Boone a folk hero in the process.

Boone went on to blow out his knee playing basketball in the offseason, paving the way for a move that would change the face of the franchise: the acquisition of one Alex Emmanuel Rodriguez.


July 31: Traded Jose Contreras and cash to the Chicago White Sox. Received Esteban Loaiza.

The season that will forever live in infamy for Yankees fans, 2004 was a relatively quiet year on the deadline front for Cashman.

Dealing away Jose Contreras was a white-flag maneuver; the Yanks had fought hard to acquire the rights to the Cuban defector only to see him struggle both on the mound and off in his two seasons in New York.

Esteban Loizia was thought to be a potential wild card, having won 21 games a season before with the White Sox. But Loaiza looked nothing like the All-Star he had been in Chicago and was banished to the bullpen after a succession of poor starts.

Had Cashman been able to flip Contreras for a more usable part, maybe it wouldn't have been a broken down Kevin Brown starting Game 7 of the ALCS against Boston that season.

Ah, the power of regret.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 ...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Big lessons to take from Small memories

A few weeks back, I was watching coverage of Old-Timers Day at work when Michael Kay introduced Aaron Small to a generous ovation. My colleague — a Red Sox fan and staunch Yankee hater — started cackling wildly then made a condescending remark about Old-Timers Day not being what it used to be in the Bronx.

In a way, he was right. With the exception of Reggie, Yogi and Whitey, all the team's icons of yesteryear have joined The Boss at that big ballyard in the sky. (The only other living Yankee great who can electrify the Stadium happens to be trapped in baseball Siberia as manager of the Dodgers. Ugh.)

This has created a transitional period for Old-Timers Day, a period that will abruptly end when Andy Pettitte's Core Four pals join him in retirement, grow out the necessary guts and double chins and begin attending the event themselves.

As for my Red Sox fan colleague, I gently reminded him that Ted Williams has been turned into a RoboCop security guard in Scottsdale, Ariz. We didn't talk much the rest of that day.

But back to Small.

Before my Teddy Ballgame frozen-head riff, I explained that Small is one of those guys that Yankees fans will always remember fondly. For whatever reason, we love referencing mediocre players from the past — the likes of Andy Stankiewicz, Horace Clark, and Homer Bush get brought up in bars and around T.V. sets far more than logic would dictate.

Small, of course, was a savior of the 2005 Yankees in much the same way Bartolo Colon has rescued the current Yankees. Calling Small a journeyman is a slight to journeymen: The right-hander played for more than 20 teams at various levels before getting called up to the Yankees in July 2005. Incredibly, he proceeded to go 10-0 in 15 games (nine starts), helping to dig New York out of a deep early hole to win the American League East.

That Yankees team entered the postseason riding high ... only to be eliminated in five games by the Anaheim California Angels of Los Angeles County Angels in the ALDS. Small entered Game 3 in relief and took his only loss of the season.

There could be a lesson to be learned there for this year's Yankees, as the '05 and '11 teams share similar DNA strands. If Colon is Small, then Freddy Garcia is Shawn Chacon, another drifter who became a stalwart in the back end of the rotation. Both team's had a veteran offensive core with most key players in their 30s. Both leaned on their aces (CC Sabathia and Randy Johnson) in an excessive way. Both had veteran No. 2 guys (Mike Mussina and A.J. Burnett) who struggled to be consistent on a start-by-start basis.

The great Sabathia over a decaying Big Unit is the biggest advantage the current Yankees enjoy, though this team also has substantially inferior versions of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada ... not to mention a less-sturdy edition of Mariano Rivera.

Brian Cashman should remember that 2005 team as the trade deadline approaches this season. Given the landscape of the AL this season, it's likely the Yankees will win the 93 or so games necessary to advance. But are they built for the postseason?

There are certainly question marks: Can Rafael Soriano be counted on to be productive once he returns? Is Boone Logan really going to be depended on in big spots? Should we assume Phil Hughes can get back to being Phil Hughes? How about that veteran Yankee lineup? Is A-Rod expected to be good-as-new once he returns from knee surgery? Is Derek Jeter going to be suddenly rejuvenated by 3,000 as so many people seem to think?

The Yankees have put together a half-season worthy of our respect, especially in light of the injury issues they've managed to overcome. That said, it's hard to shake the feeling that this is merely a very good team masquerading as a great one. Cashman shouldn't let a cushion in July dictate whether the team should be improved for October.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Jeter gets closer, Yanks sleepwalk into second place

During Casey Kotchman's at-bat in the top of the seventh on Thursday, Yankee Stadium fell so silent, I wondered if 47,787 people had simultaneously dozed off.

I'm (almost) serious about this. If you have this game on your DVR, listen for yourself. It was so strangely calm I was surprised when Michael Kay or John Flaherty didn't make reference to it.

There are a few possible explanations for this. We'll start with the game itself, a 5-1 stinker in which the Yankees seemed only marginally invested. Then there were the paid customers, who likely featured many more parachute fans than usual with the Derek Jeter hoopla surrounding the team.

Ah yes ... the Derek Jeter hoopla. The captain had another hit tonight, going 1-for-5 to move within two of 3,000. That march toward the milestone has certainly altered the fan experience of watching the team, which begs the question: Is it also having an effect on the Yankees as a unit?

Regardless of who or what's to blame, the Yankees' sudden funk — they've followed seven straight wins with four losses in five games — has dropped them out of first place after the Red Sox beat up on Baltimore.

Just as Justin Masterson had silenced their bats in the finale in Cleveland on Wednesday, the Yankees had no answers for Rays right-hander Jeff Niemann on Thursday. He allowed just one run on six hits over 7 1/3 innings, escaping early trouble before locking into cruise control.

Bartolo Colon, meanwhile, looked much more like the pitcher most Yankees fans expected him to be when he was signed off the scrap heap in January. After a stellar four-start run in which he compiled four wins and an ERA of 1.00, Colon's two-seamer deserted him against the Rays in a bad way. Stripped of his most effective pitch, Colon had to lean on his less-than-stellar off-speed assortment.

It was not a recipe for success, as the 38-year-old's final line told the story: 5.2 IP, 5 ER, 10 H, 4 BB, 1 K, 2 HR.

Colon certainly deserves a pass here, considering his immense contribution this season. But after every clunker, there's always the lingering concern that big Bartolo is ready to turn back into a big pumpkin.

Stray observations:

  • Hector Noesi is alive! Someone call his family and deliver the incredible news!
  • Johnny Damon is 37 years old. I love the guy, but at some point the mohawk hairstyle needs to be put to rest. C'mon, Dad.
  • We had both a Tino Martinez and a Gerald "Ice" Williams sighting in the Derek Jeter Box.
  • Quick rant: I know some people say that batting average is dead, but to me, Mark Teixeira's .241 average accurately reflects that he's no longer a complete hitter. The monster run production is great, but are we all comfortable with his transformation into a rich man's Jessie Barfield? Not me.
  • Alex Rodriguez (0-for-4) continues his career-worst home run drought. As Flaherty alluded to after A-Rod hobbled to first during a groundout, wouldn't it make some sense for him to rest his knee (and hips and shoulder) during the All-Star break?
  • Robinson Cano had two hits, including his 15th homer, to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. He's up to .297.
  • Kyle Farnsworth is one of the best closers in baseball. We're in the Twilight Zone.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

With CC as foundation, Yanks on good footing

The Yankees are on pace to win 100 games this season. If you're a student of the game, and looked at what was on paper on March 31, this is fairly remarkable.

(OK, this is the Yankees, an organization that spends more freely than 1992 MC Hammer at a gold-plated bathroom fixture convention. Just play along.)

Several things had to go right for the Yankees to be in this position a week before the All-Star break, and nearly all of them resided in the starting pitching department:

1) Back end of rotation: After Andy Pettitte walked, Cliff Lee got cold feet, and Phil Hughes broke down, Brian Cashman had to hit on some bargain basement alternatives to fill out the rotation. He did just that with the troika of veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia along with newbie Ivan Nova, who have combined to go 21-13 with a 3.37 ERA over 270 innings. I don't care if you're Buster Olney, Bill James, or a sports almanac-toting Biff in Back To The Future II, there's no way anybody could've predicted this.

2) Burnett bounce back: If the rotation had any chance of forming a cohesive unit, A.J. Burnett needed to rebound from a disasterous 2010 in which he may have single-handedly cost the Yankees from returning to the World Series. Burnett has hardly been great (8-7, 4.12 ERA over 113 2/3 innings), but he's far from the trainwreck liability he was last year ... at least for now. If nothing else, he's been consistent, posting ERAs of 3.93, 4.06, and 4.15 in the first three months of the season. He's on pace for right around 15 wins, which is basically the most you could ask from him.

And last but certainly not least ...

3) The Big Man had to be The Big Man

Given all the obstacles the Yankees faced, CC Sabathia had to deliver a season that bordered on the best of his career. Of course, he's done just that. After throwing seven more scoreless innings in a win over the Indians last night, Carsten Charles now stands at 12-4 with a 2.90 ERA over 136 2/3 innings. He might not be an All-Star (dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb), but Sabathia is the closest you can get to a sure thing in baseball right now.

The standard-bearer for all Yankee pitching seasons is Ron Guidry in 1978. The Gator went 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA over a whopping 273 2/3 innings that year, winning the Cy Young unanimously and leading the Yankees to their 22nd title. He finished with nine shutouts and struck out 248. I had less dominating seasons playing MVP Baseball 2005 on my old PS2. Aces such as Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez have posted similarly impressive seasons in subsequent years, but I'll take Guidry's '78 campaign as the best of the past 35 years.

Sabathia won't match the dizzying heights Guidry reached in the disco days, but he's every bit as important to this Yankees team as Guidry was to his. Translation? Cashman might as well rip up CC's contract right now. The Big Man has earned a raise.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The cruel nature of Citi Field

If Alex Rodriguez finishes with 699 homers , or 713, or 761, I will always remember the majestic drive he hit on July 1, 2011.

Though I wasn't listening to the radio broadcast, I'm assuming John Sterling informed his listeners that the ball was high ... it was far ... it was gone. And dear old John would be right ... mostly. Because while the blast was indeed high, and quite far, it was not gone, not at cavernous Citi Field.

The ball traveled roughly 400 feet before striking about 13-feet up a 16-foot wall in left-center field. A glamorous home run was relegated to unsexy double status. And back in Miami, A-Rod's centaur portrait shed an oily tear.

You can always tell when A-Rod knows he got all of a pitch. He pauses his follow through and tracks the flight, opening up his hips so that he's almost completely facing the pitcher he just beat. If he's in a particularly dick-ish mood — and let's admit it, this is often — he'll take a quick glance into his own dugout as he flips the bat and starts his trot.

Rodriguez did these things in his final at-bat last night. And yet we wake up this beautiful morning and A-Rod is still sitting on 13 homers. Huh?

I suppose these are things you get worked up about when your team is on a winning streak. And we can't go on without mentioning that A-Rod's home field, Yankee Stadium III, has been very kind to the third baseman and many of his teammates.

But Friday's double. I mean, wow.

I mentioned in yesterday's recap that the Mets will perennially struggle to sign elite power hitters if they don't alter their dimensions at some point. If they were to ask me what I would do — which would be weird, but if they did — the first thing I'd say was to cut the height of the 16-foot wall that runs from left to center in half.

This move wouldn't be unprecedented. Amazingly, the center-field wall also used to be 16-feet before they mercifully lowered it prior to last season (likely following a particularly commendable David Wright hunger strike.)

It's kind of funny when you think about it. Two hugely expensive big-league ballparks open in the same year, one many say is too big, and one many say is too small. Makes you wonder if there's a field somewhere in the tri-state area that got it just right, "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" style.

If it's out there, I'm guessing Kevin Costner owns it. If you build it, Jason Bay will come.

Onto the links ...

Until next time, hang onto the roof ...

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Yanks Keep Rolling in Subway Opener, Top Mets 5-1

When you're playing good baseball, this is how you build winning streaks.

It's not always going to be flashy, there won't always be tape-measure blasts or 13-strikeout efforts. Sometimes you just grind it out, which is exactly what the Yankees did in a 5-1 win over the Mets in the opener at Citi Field on Friday night.

The Yankees have now won six straight. They are 15-4 since being swept at home by the Red Sox last month.

It might not go down as the most memorable game in Subway Series history, but that doesn't matter to the Yankees, who maintain their 2.5-game lead in the AL East.

The Yankees jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and stayed ahead the rest of the way. Mark Teixeira continued to be a monster run-producer, driving in two runs with a double of losing pitcher Jonathan Niese. Robinson Cano drove in Teixeira with another double.

Ivan Nova wasn't particularly sharp, but he pitched effectively with men on base to pick up his eighth win of the season. He allowed one run on seven hits in five innings, throwing 89 pitches.

He could've went deeper, but Joe Girardi lifted the right-hander for pinch-hitter Jorge Posada in a bases-loaded situation in the top of the sixth (Posada struck out). Girardi then used six different pitchers to take the Yankees home, including the downright baffling decision to summon Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation in the ninth.

(You cannot tell me The Binder said that was the right move.)

The most memorable moment in the game occurred in the seventh inning. With the Yankees leading 3-1, Jose Reyes (2-for-5, .352) led off the frame with a single off Cory Wade. Justin Turner followed with a flyball to deep center that was caught by Curtis Granderson. Reyes tagged and slid safely into second, and when Eduardo Nunez didn't field the relay cleanly, Reyes took off for third. Nunez's strong throw beat Reyes to the bag and Rodriguez tagged out Reyes to complete a double play.

At least according to home-plate umpire Jerry Layne, who had rotated over to the bag to make the call. Replays were inconclusive, though the SNY crew were absolutely certain Reyes had evaded the tag. (I think Keith Hernandez's head exploded at one point.) It would be the last time the Mets threatened in the game.

The seven Yankees pitchers allowed 10 hits, but the Mets were never able to get a big hit when it counted, dropping their record back to .500 at 41-41 in the process. The Yankees are now 49-31, which trails only the Philadelphia Phillies for the best record in baseball.

Stray observations:

  • That high wall in left-center field at Citi Field is a joke. A-Rod hit an absolute bomb in the ninth inning that would've been a homer in any other park in the league. Instead, he had to settle for an RBI double. The Mets will have difficulty signing power hitters for generations unless they make changes to the dimensions.
  • Nunez might be a mess defensively, but the young man can hit. The shortstop had his best day as a pro, going 4-for-4 to bump his average from .234 to .261.
  • The game marked the largest crowd in Citi Field history with 42,020 paid customers. This is why interleague play will never disappear.
  • Speaking of attendance, according to an unscientific estimate by WFAN mid-day guy and Met die hard Evan Roberts, the crowd was only 55/45 in favor of the Mets.
  • "That's three." -- A-Rod to Teixeira after the game. Tex saved A-Rod three errors on low throws tonight. To A-Rod's credit, he made a couple of great throws as well. Busy night at the hot corner.
  • Just for fun, here are the Yankees' record through July 1 the past five years — 2010: 48-30; 2009: 45-32; 2008: 44-40; 2007: 38-41; 2006: 45-33.

Dan Hanzus can be reached at or on Twitter @danhanzus.