Another long gap between blog posts. I really didn’t intend to let a month pass between mylast post and this one…but life happens.
The regular season is over, and the Yankees are once again the AL East champions. The irony of this title is the fact that it was clinched with a sweep of the Red Sox, against whom the Yankees were 0-8 at one point this season. The Yankees ended up splitting the season series with Boston.
The ALDS had the potential to be a fierce battle.
The Twins had made a ferocious comeback against the Tigers at the end of the season, winning 5 of their last 8 games against Detroit, including a wild one-game playoff, to win the AL Central title. But that last game may have been a bit too much for the Twins…or maybe it’s just the Yankees that are too much for the Twins. The Yankees are up 2 games to none in the ALDS, thanks to a 9th inning home run by Alex Rodriguez to tie Game 2 and an 11th inning home run by Mark (The $180,000,000 Man) Teixeira in Friday’s game.
So much for a fierce battle. Now it looks like the only “battle” will be to see which Yankee ends the ALDS with the most RBIs — Derek Jeter, Teixeira or Rodriguez.
I must admit that I had some concerns about the Yankees, going into the ALDS. With the exception of the 2004 ALDS — ironically enough, vs. the Twins — A-Rod’s postseason performances as a Yankee had been pretty horrendous. CC Sabathia’s recent postseason performances had been less than stellar as well. Both have eased my concerns…in a big way.
I am very confident that the Yankees will win the World Series this year. My confidence is based partly on how the team itself has performed this season, and partly on the fact that Mike Mussina retired. Stay with me here, people…if you have read my profile here at MLBlogs, then you know I became a Yankees fan when Mussina signed with the Yankees on November 30, 2000. After Mariano Rivera’s blown save ended the 2001 World Series, I wondered if Mussina had joined the Yankees a year too late to be a part of the “Dynasty.” When Moose retired without having gotten a World Series ring, I wondered if he left a year too early. It would be just Mike’s luck to retire the year before the Yankees not only return to the postseason but also the year before they finally win another World Series.
I apologize to my readers — all 4 of you! — for being AWOL for more than a week. My roommate had surgery last Monday, so I’ve been visiting her most evenings. Between being busy at work and the stress of the hospital visits (hospitals creep me out), I just haven’t had the energy to post anything here.
To catch up a bit, since my last post, the Yankees have 5 wins and 3 losses. Some notable games:
The June 1st game vs. the Indians featured another attack of the midges, but the bugs didn’t bug starter Joba Chamberlain too much this time. The Yankees set a new MLB record of 18 error-free games, breaking the record that the Red Sox set in 2006, and they beat the Indians 5-2.
In the June 2nd game vs. the Rangers, there was an exceptional amount of testosterone flying through the air, after Mark Texeira was hit by pitches from Vicente Padilla in the 2nd and 4th innings. Tex then slid into Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus at 2nd base in the 4th. Inspired by Tex’s display of manliness, the Yankees scored 7 runs in that inning. A.J. Burnett sent a message of his own in the 5th inning, throwing a pitch over the head of Nelson Cruz. That display of testosterone drew a warning from the home plate umpire to both dugouts. It also drew a fine, as well as a 6 game suspension two days later. (Padilla was also fined.) Burnett’s appeal of the fine will allow him to play until a hearing takes place.
Tex’s comments about being hit by those pitches:
“There’s really no reason for it in baseball. You know, if you can’t get a guy out, don’t hit him. You know, if you don’t want to pitch to a guy, then, you know, put four fingers out there and walk him,” Teixeira said.
I agree, Tex. As I mentioned here, I think the pitcher and hitter should just drop their pants, let everyone see who is bigger, and then tuck it back in and get on with the game.
Unfortunately, the Yankees errorless innings streak ended in this game. Oh well, at least they set a new record and won the game, 12-3.
The June 4th game vs. the Rangers featured Chien-Ming Wang’s return to the starting rotation. Unfortunately, he was not particularly effective, giving up 5 runs on 7 hits, including a home run, in 4.2 innings. But the Yankees rallied in the 8th inning, overcoming a 5-1 deficit to win the game, 8-6.
In the June 5th game vs. the Rays, Mariano Rivera blew his first save of the season and got his second loss, when Joe Dillon broke a 5-5 tie with a single in the 9th inning. The Rays scored 4 runs (3 earned) off Rivera in the 9th for the win.
I watched the Yankees beat the Rays tonight (Monday), 5-3. Andy Pettitte got the win, Mariano Rivera got the save; it was the 59th time the two have combined for a win and a save. Pettitte and Rivera are the all-time MLB winner-closer combo leaders, with two more wins/saves than Oakland’s Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley.
Since my last blog post here, the Nationals have 5 losses and 2 wins. It’s really quite astonishing that they have those two wins in 7 games! Some notable games:
On June 2nd, the Nationals had a surprising 10-6 win against the Giants and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. The Giants were leading 5-2 when the rally began with the Nats scoring 2 runs at the bottom of the 6th. The Nats offense exploded for 6 runs in the 8th inning. Joel
Suckrahan Hanrahan gave up a run in the 9th inning, but managed to finish the inning and the game without any further damage. Prior to that win, the Nationals had lost 6 straight games.
On June 3rd, the Giants’ Randy Johnson was supposed to be going for his 300th career win, but Mother Nature did not cooperate. The start of the game was delayed for over 3-1/2 hours as MLB hoped the game could be played and history could be made. Now, I understand the historical significance of the game, with Stretch trying for career win #300. But come on… a 3-1/2 hour delay?! That’s ridiculous!! At 10:46, the game was finally postponed and rescheduled for the following evening.
Stretch did get his 300th win on the 4th, in the first game of a doubleheader, as the Giants beat the Nats 5-1. Ironically, the start of this game was also delayed by about an hour because of rain. Too bad so few people actually saw this historic game; attendance was so low that the attendance stats weren’t even listed in the box score. Perhaps the 16,787 attendance figure for the second game was actually a combination of attendance for both games? Anyway, some of the Nationals commentators, members of the media, and Nats fans have fussed about a called strike against Adam Dunn on a 3-2 count to end the 8th inning, which preserved the Giants 2-1 lead with the bases loaded. The call was a bad one — it was definitely NOT a strike — but hey, those are the breaks. Lots of bad calls have been made against the Nationals this season…and against the 29 other MLB teams as well. Bad calls happen. I saw comments on one particular Nats message board which hinted that the umpire had intentionally called a strike to prevent a run from being walked in to tie the game…that, of course, would have given Stretch a no-decision. OK, so in a split second, when the pitch is thrown and caught, the umpire was thinking, “If I call this a ball, then a run will score, and that means that Randy Johnson will end up with a no-decision instead of getting his 300th win tonight, so I should call this a strike even though the pitch was a ball….” Riiiiiiiiight. [SARCASM] I’m sure that’s exactly what that umpire was thinking at that moment. [/SARCASM] This, of course, was the second time the Nationals were involved in a history-making game. In August of 2007, former Nats pitcher Mike Bacsik gave up Baroids Bonds’ 756th career home run.
After the Nats 3-1 loss to the Mets on June 5th, Joel Hanrahan went back to being Joel Suckrahan as far as I’m concerned. With the game tied at 1 in the 10th inning, Suckrahan gave up a single to Luis Castillo, a walk to Carlos Beltrán, and a double to David Wright which scored Castillo and Beltrán. And that was that. The loss caused Suckrahan to lose his job as the closer for the second time this season.
The June 6th game vs. the Mets was another surprising win for the Nationals. John Lannan pitched the first complete game of his career, allowing just 1 run and 4 hits in a 7-1 win. He even hit a single in the 5th inning and scored a run on Nick Johnson’s home run. Adam Dunn and Elijah Dukes also hit home runs in the game, which lasted exactly 2 hours.
The Nationals reverted back to their usual form on the 7th, losing to the Mets 7-0. Just more of the same suckitude.
At least the Nationals didn’t lose tonight…they didn’t play tonight…….
Despite a 4-5 performance, including 4 RBI, from Johnny Damon, the Yankees lost to Tampa Bay. This is the second straight 2-game series sweep of the Yankees by and AL East opponent. The Yankees have now lost 5 straight games and have won only 1 game so far this month. Pitching continues to be a concern, not just with the bullpen now but also the starters. Andy Pettitte wasn’t particularly impressive tonight, giving up 5 runs on 9 hits in 6 innings, including 4 home runs. Even Mariano Rivera, who most Yankee fans believe could walk on water without getting his feet wet, gave up 2 home runs. Only the Cleveland Indians have a higher team ERA than the Yankees…even the Nationals have a better team ERA than the Yankees (5.26 vs. 5.77, though that could change after tonight’s game). As someone stated on my message board:
This is the toughest division in MLB and it’s possible to be out of the race by Memorial Day.
Indeed. If the Yankees don’t get their crap together soon, that may be their fate.
If you have read the first few entries in this blog, then you know that I became a Yankees fan when they signed Mike Mussina. Now that Moose is retired, I really thought I’d miss him a lot in this first season after his retirement…but I gotta say, I’m glad he’s not a part of this train wreck.
Despite Jonathan Albaladejo and Mariano Rivera trying to give the game away in the 9th inning, the Yankees beat the Tigers this evening, 8-6. A solid effort from Joba Chamberlain, along with two home runs from Nick Swisher, earned Chamberlain his first win of the season.
Good thing the Yankees scored 8 runs, considering that the Tigers scored 5 runs in the 9th inning. Jeez, were Albaladejo and Rivera trying to imitate the Nats’ Joel Hanrahan and Saul Rivera?!
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In addition to tonight’s win, there’s very good news for the Yankees: Alex Rodriguez may rejoin them within 10 days, according to the doctor who operated on his hip. That’s well ahead of his targeted return date, May 15. Let’s hope his recovery continues ahead of schedule!
It’s been so long since I last posted a blog entry that I nearly forgot my password! Work’s been kicking my butt…by the time I get home from work in the evening, I’m too tired to even turn my computer on, much less post anything here. 😦
Anyway…Round One of the 2009 Yankees vs. Red Sox battle went to the Red Sox, with a three game sweep over the weekend. Who’d have thought that Mariano Rivera would blow a save vs. his team’s biggest rival in their first meeting of the season, opening the door for a Yankees loss? (Kinda reminds me of the Nationals bullpen!) Was that loss so demoralizing for the Yankees that they were unable to recover and keep from being swept, or did they just flat out suck in Boston? If you chose the latter, you’re right!
The good news is that the Yankees ended a 4 game skid (including a loss to Detroit after the Boston series) by clobbering the Tigers last night, 11-0. This time it was the Yankees who were on the giving end of a double digit offensive explosion in one inning, scoring 10 runs in the 7th inning. And it was great to see Phil Hughes pitch so well. The Yankees desperately needed someone to stop the bleeding, and Hughes provided the bandage. Perhaps the Yankees should consider keeping him in the rotation a bit longer, while keeping Chien-Ming Wang on the DL for a while…hey, CMW’s weak hip may take a while to heal y’know!
Speaking of the DL, it’s a good thing that Alex Rodriguez’ recovery from hip surgery is going better than expected, since his replacement — Cody Ransom — is now on the 60-day DL. Not that Ransom’s performance will be missed…he isn’t even hitting his weight (and the dude doesn’t even weigh 200 pounds). I don’t particularly like Alex Rodriguez, but it will be good to see him back in the line-up.
Brand new stadium. Same old expectations.
The New York Yankees are heading into the 2009 season with a new home, some new faces, and the usual expectations of winning it all. After missing the postseason for the first time since 1994 and then spending $424 million on free agents, the Yankees are once again expected to win the World Series. The front office, the players, the media, and the fans all have high hopes for the team this season. That’s nothing new; however, the failure to reach the postseason last year, and the astronomical amount of money spent on free agents has raised the stakes considerably. I can only imagine how frustrated and furious the Steinbrenners were when the Yankees were unable to clinch a spot in the 2008 postseason, which is why they (once again) broke the bank to sign the top free agents. My guess is that heads will roll (Cashman’s? Girardi’s?) if the Yankees fail to win it all in 2009.
Gone from the 2008 starting rotation are Mike Mussina (retired), Sidney Ponson (Kansas City), and Darrell Rasner (Japan). Also gone from the team is Carl Pavano (Cleveland)…not that anyone would notice or care, since he played in less than 30 games in 4 years for the Yankees. Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain have returned, and are joined by expensive newcomers CC Sabathia (7 years, $161 million) and A.J. Burnett (5 years, $82.5 million). This rotation looks extremely good on paper…one of the team’s strengths. Wang missed most of last season with a broken foot, so his health will be one of the keys to the Yankees rotation. Burnett’s health could also be a question mark, since he has been somewhat injury prone during his career. The biggest key to the rotation, of course, will be Sabathia. He has been a workhorse for most of his career — he had 10 complete games in 2008 — continuing this trend will, obviously, help the Yankees bullpen. The concern about Sabathia is whether or not he’ll be able to handle playing under the microscope that is the New York Yankees. He supposedly was reluctant to play in New York…it will be interesting to see how he responds to the pressure from the media and the fans. Also of interest will be how Chamberlain performs as a starter for an entire season. Personally, I think he should remain in the bullpen and be groomed as Mariano Rivera’s successor. In my very un-expert opinion, Chamberlain’s personality seems to be far more suited to that of a closer than that of a starter. I realize he’s still young, but he can’t be a particularly effective starter if he can only pitch 5 innings. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up back in the bullpen at some point this season.
Speaking of the bullpen, this could be a problem area if Mariano Rivera is not fully recovered from shoulder surgery or suffers another injury…not out of the question for a 39 year old pitcher. Jonathan Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez, Phil Coke, and Jose Veras pitched well this spring. The Yankees will need those good performances to continue through the regular season. Brian Bruney will also have to perform well. If Rivera is healthy, the bullpen could be another of the Yankee’s strengths.
The lineup will start off with a problem…the absence of Alex Rodriguez, who is recovering from hip surgery. Cody Ransom will fill in at third base until Rodriguez returns. Considering all of the off-the-field issues with Rodriguez, the time off for his recovery may actually help him prepare for the season without all of the drama related distractions. Like fellow free agent Sabathia, first baseman Mark Teixeira — the biggest free agent signing of the offseason — must learn how to handle the pressure of playing in New York in order to perform well on offense and defense. Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada are both recovering from injuries; they need to stay healthy for the Yankees to be successful. With Bobby Abreu gone, Xavier Nady takes over as the Yankees right fielder, having (surprisingly) won the job over Nick Swisher. Brett Gardner gets the nod as the starting center fielder over Melky Cabrera. And then there is Derek Jeter, who, at age 34, is still a good hitter and a good shortstop, but is no longer great at either. Depth may be an issue for the Yankees, particularly if Rodriguez, Matsui, Posada, and Rivera are unable to stay healthy.
Considering the $424 million spending spree, some people will scream about the Yankees buying another championship if the Yankees do manage to win the World Series this year. And the fact is, those screamers will have a point…an extremely small one, but a point nonetheless. As recent history has proven, it does take more than baseball’s biggest payroll to win the World Series. The Yankees did not violate any rules by spending all of that money. But the fact is that no other team could afford to spend the kind of money that the Yankees spent during the offseason. And that is precisely why people claim — perhaps unfairly — that the Yankees will have bought a(nother) World Series title.
As I said, expectations are sky high for the Yankees this year. Anything less than a World Series championship will be considered a disappointment, if not a failure.
My prediction for the Yankees 2009 record is 95-67, with a first place finish in the AL East in a very close race with Boston…perhaps as close as just 2 or 3 games. Will the Yankees win the World Series? Definitely…maybe! (Sorry…I’m not bold enough to make THAT prediction.)
The Nationals will be a better team in 2009 than they were in 2008. Of course, after losing more games than any team in the majors last year and finishing the season 32.5 games out of first place in the NL East, with a 59-102 record (the final game was rained out), they couldn’t get much worse…they almost have to be better. If the Nats can gain an additional 11 wins over last year, they would finish 2009 with a 70-92 record…certainly not enough to put the team into contention for a pennant, but still an improvement. The Nationals have a long way to go before they will be in a position to challenge their division rivals for the pennant. The baby steps will begin this season.
One of highlights of the Nationals spring training was the departure of embattled general manager Jim Bowden. His departure has enabled the team to focus on baseball, rather than the negative publicity that surrounded the Nats in general and Bowden in particular. Two other spring training highlights were the overall performaces by rookies Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann, who earned the 4th and 5th spots, respectively, in the starting rotation based on their strong showings this spring.
The starting rotation will be…well, an adventure. John Lannan pitched pretty well for the Nationals last season, considering the overall performance of the team. He has pitched well this spring and was named as the opening day starter. I like John Lannan…he’s a tough kid, nothing seems to faze him. He was one cool customer during his rookie season in 2007 when facing Barry Bonds, who had yet to hit his record breaking home run. That was enough of a reason to make me a fan. I like the fact that he bounces right back after poor starts, not allowing them to bother him. That said, Lannan is the team’s #1 starter pretty much by default…the Nationals simply don’t have anyone who’s better just yet. I’ve seen some local baseball writers refer to Lannan as the Nationals’ “ace” — he is absolutely not an ace. On a stronger team, he would be a 4th or 5th starter. As for the rest of the staff, newcomer and fellow lefty Scott Olsen’s numbers last year with the Marlins were similar to Lannan’s, so he, too, should be adequate. His strength is the fact that he’s an innings eater, which, if that trend continues, should help the bullpen. Olsen hasn’t had a particularly impressive spring, so I must admit that I’m a bit concerned how he’ll perform once the games start to count. Former Baltimore Oriole Daniel Cabrera, the elder statesman of the starting rotation at age 27, will be a wild card, with the emphasis on “wild.” He’s a hard thrower who gives up too many walks; there’s a reason why the Orioles gave up on him. He’s had an unimpressive spring training; Nats fans will just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best when Cabrera is on the mound. The really interesting part of the Nationals rotation this year will be the performances of Martis and Zimmermann, who both could end up being future aces for the team. They both were very impressive during spring training, which is what got them into the starting rotation in Washington rather than in Syracuse.
The bullpen got a boost when acting GM Mike Rizzo acquired lefty Joe Beimel from the Dodgers. Beimel is a welcome addition to a weak bullpen. he should be a good set-up man for closer Joel Hanrahan. Speaking of which, Hanrahan became the closer by default last year after Chad Cordero was injured and John Rauch was traded and pitched well enough in the closer role to retain that job this season. How he will perform over an entire season remains to be seen. He’ll probably be effective, but Mariano Rivera he is not.
The offense last year was horrendous, because of injuries and just flat out poor hitting. Adam Dunn, the Nationals’ biggest offseason acquisition, will improve the starting lineup, as will/should Nick Johnson, who appears to be fully recovered from the wrist injury he suffered last season. If the injury prone Johnson can remain healthy, he’ll provide a big boost to the team, both offensively and defensively. But that is a HUGE if and, in my opinion, a huge gamble. The rest of the lineup, with the exception of Cristian Guzman (who hit .316 last year) needs to step up their performances and score some runs for the offense to improve significantly.
The outfield may end up looking like a game of musical chairs, with a surplus of outfielders. Five players — Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, and Josh Willingham — are vying for three outfield spots and for at-bats. And Willie Harris will be in the mix at times as well. It should make for an interesting season.
Unless the other teams in the NL East completely fall apart, the Nationals will not be contenders this year, and probably not next year either. But there will be some interesting things for Nats fans to keep our eyes on:
* The development and maturation of Jordan Zimmermann and Shairon Martis. Will their spring training success continue through the regular season? Will either (or both) of them evolve into a bonafide ace for the Nationals?
* Adam Dunn’s home run production. For the last 5 straight years, Dunn has hit at least 40 home runs. Will that streak continue?
* Ryan Zimmerman. Will this finally be the year that the so-called “face of the franchise” Ryan Zimmerman finally earns that title, by proving that he is a great player rather than just a good one? And will Zimmerman’s defense finally be dazzling enough to earn him a gold glove?
* Overall team health. Nationals Park resembled a hospital ward last season. Nearly all of the Nats key offensive players, including Johnson, Zimmerman, and Dukes, spent time on the disabled list. Will the Nationals remain healthy this year?
I wish I could say that I think the Nationals will improve enough to climb out of the NL East cellar in 2009. But, realistically speaking, I don’t think that will happen. I think the Nationals record will be 75-87, a huge improvement over last year, but not enough to avoid finishing in last place again.