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Today is July 14, 2010.  There’s no baseball being played anywhere.  So I’m going to take this opportunity to do my mid-season Yankee rankings.  Overall, I don’t think Yankee fans could be much happier with the team.  The Yankees lead the entire league with a 56-32 record, two games ahead of Tampa for best in the AL and four games ahead of the NL-leading Atlanta Braves.

Most Valuable Player – Robinson Cano

Hands down the Yankees MVP this season, Cano has been almost unstoppable at the plate and has played superbly on defense as well.  He earned his second all-star appearance this season and his first ever appearance as a starter.  Cano leads the Yankees in batting average, runs scored, doubles and slugging percentage.  He is second in on-base percentage and homers, and third in RBI.  He also boasts a team low 40 strikeouts out of all Yankees with at least 200 at-bats.

Most Improved Player – Nick Swisher

Swish is one of my favorite Yankees and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.  The attitude and passion that Swisher brings to the game is unmatched.  His fun-loving personality is a big reason for the Yankee’s success the past season and a half.  Swisher has improved his eye at the plate, putting in a lot of work with hitting coach Kevin Long.  Last season, Swish hit .249 with 29 homers, 124 hits 82 RBI, scored 84 runs and had a .371 on-base percentage in 498 at-bats.  Midway through this season, in 315 at-bats, he is hitting, .296, with 94 hits, 15 homers, 49 RBI and has scored 55 runs due to his extra hits.  His OBP is .377.

Biggest Disappointment – AJ Burnett

The sad thing is Burnett is exactly what everyone has criticized him for in the past – being inconsistent.  Only two years removed from an 18-10 season for the Blue Jays, Burnett is performing below his salary at 7-7 with a 4.70 ERA.  He is arguably the Yankees weakest starting pitcher right now, especially considering his win on July 7 in Oakland was his first since May 30th.  He was 0-5 in five starts with an 11.35 ERA in June.  The sad thing is Burnett started the season 4-0 with an ERA under 2.40, then was 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA before things went very downhill.  The Yankees will need his veteran presence on the mound in the second half, especially since Phil Hughes will face innings limits later this season.  Burnett needs to find a way to turn his season around.

Biggest Surprise – Phil Hughes

In spring training, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain had to compete for the fifth spot in the Yankees starting rotation.  Hughes had a successful spring while Joba struggled, earning Hughes the nod.  Hughes dominated for the Yankees from the beginning.  He started his season 5-0 with a 1.38 record, taking advantage of massive run support from the Yankee offense.  Hughes is one of the top ten pitchers in the American League this season, boasting an 11-2 record with a 3.65 ERA, earning him a spot on the All-Star team.  However, he will face inning limits later on this season, requiring the Yankees to get someone else to finish the season after he hits the limits.  No word on his post season availability.

Grades

Offense: A The team is 2nd in runs scored and RBI, 5th in hits and 7th in batting average.

Starting Pitching:          A- Sabathia & Co. are 1st in wins, 7th in ERA(2nd in AL only) and 10th in strikeouts.  By the way, Andy Pettitte is 11-2 with a team leading 2.70 ERA.  He could end up having the best season of his career at age 38.

Relief Pitching:              B- Joba and David Robertson are the go-to guys in the pen’ but their ERA’s are 5.79 and 5.46,          respectively.  The bullpen has also only lost 10 games, a little better than average.  But the Bombers still have the best closer of all time, Mariano Rivera.

Coaching:                        A Joe Girardi appears to have a good thing going with the Yankees right now and a great support staff, including pitching coach Dave Eiland and hitting coach Kevin Long.  Whatever they’re doing, it’s working.  The Yankees are in first place, enough said.

Opens on two Red Sox fans at home, singing “Sweet Caroline,” which if you didn’t know is played every game at Fenway Park.  As the two sing it, they get to the part of the song where the singer goes “oh, oh, oh” and they point at someone off-screen who ends up being Yankee outfielder Nick Swisher.

Swish, wearing a Yankees World Series Champions t-shirt, holding a bowl of pretzels says, without skipping a beat “no way dude.”

Classic.

Don’t forget, the season starts Sunday night – Yankees at Red Sox.

…is what Tyler Kepner characterizes the season by the Yankees in one of his blogs yesterday afternoon.

Everything came together for the Yankees this year. They shed a lot of unnecessary contracts, and actually trimmed payroll this year, in spite of a $450 million spending spree. A-Rod stopped trying to do too much and became more natural, aided by Tex and Swisher.

The Yankees finally had good arms after the struggles of Brown, Johnson, Pavano, et al.

So this year was peaceful and easy….definitely!

 

When you’ve got the major league record of wins in a postseason, you don’t question a man’s character. And last night, after a early 3-0 lead, Pettitte never gave up.

He was not at his best, but when it came to key points of the night — Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, he got them to go 0-9 with 6 strikeouts. Howard now has 9 strikeouts in three games, and he is on pace to obliterate the World Series record of 12 strikeouts.

Instead of writing a game recap, I’m going to defer to Greg Cohen at Sliding into Home. He always provides a good recap.

Here’s what Greg said about last night’s game

It was a gutty and gritty performance by the Yankees tonight as they fought their way back from a 3-0 deficit to win and take a 2-1 lead in the series. But the way things started out this one looked like it was going to be a total disaster.

Ed Valentine on Pinstripe Alley brought up several good points

  • Lack of reporting from FOX on the home run that was reversed — the first one ever in the World Series.
  • Praise for Pettitte from Mike Lupica of the Daily News.
  • Cole Hamels’ curveball to Pettitte that he hit for a RBI and eventually scored on.
  • Swisher’s performance last night — a hit and a home run.
  • Phil Hughes. More on that later.

I watched the first five innings of the game from Greene Turtle restaurant in my area except for the 6th inning (missed Swisher’s bomb). Then at home I watched the last 3.5 frames. I felt confident with Hughes last night in the 9th and felt he could get it done, even after giving up a home run to Ruiz. My attitude is like, ok, move on. He could have gotten the last two outs, I feel.

So, Girardi’s decision to go to Rivera was a little premature in my opinion. I can see that Girardi won’t take any chances at all, but we cannot gas out Rivera when there are at maximum four games left. IF Hughes had allowed one more run, then I’d go for Rivera, but not when there’s still 3 runs left to tie the game.

Two more links for you to read this morning — Jayson Stark’s column on ESPN.com.

Five outs into his memorable Saturday evening, he was three runs down. He’d already huffed and puffed his way through 50 — yep, that number was 50 — pitches. And he looked like a bigger threat to be heading for the nearest shower stall any second than for the winning pitcher’s spot on the interview-room podium three hours later.

But when a man has spent his whole career pitching on the October stage, his heart doesn’t pump at 4,000 beats a minute at times like that.

When a man has started more World Series games than anyone in history not named Whitey Ford, he doesn’t feel the ballpark shaking, doesn’t hear those 46,000 people shrieking.

And so, on the final night of October 2009, on the most important night of his season, Pettitte found a way to do what he had to do:

Survive.

Jim Capel talks about A-Rod.  Yes, the man some people despise, and the man some people have reconnected with after such a memorable postseason.

After all, 2009 has been A-Rod’s personal reality show, better known as “Alex & Kate Plus 28 (Counting Coaches).” The home run simply added to Rodriguez’s 2009 saga that already included Joe Torre’s book, the steroids revelations, the hip surgery, the Kate Hudson relationship, his superb second half, his extraordinary postseason … and then came the latest episode of Days of Our A-Rod in which Rodriguez homered to spark a Yankees rally, made a throwing error, was hit by not one but two pitches and helped make World Series history.

Gene Woj thinks Girardi is out of his mind with going on a three-man rotation. Pettitte needed 106 pitches to make it through 6 innings and doing Burnett and Pettitte on short rest may come back to haunt Girardi… Read an excerpt.

…Girardi is giving every indication that he’ll push all-in with his three big chips: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. He’s doing this because his team has a $208 million payroll, but it doesn’t have a fourth starter he trusts. This is like buying a tank but not having the Parts Department attach the gun turret.

Today will be a fun-filled sports day. My Giants vs the Eagles at 1pm. Favre’s return to Green Bay at 4:15 and the game #4 at 8:20. I hope I can watch all three and get everything else done that I need to.

 

A lot of questions stand unanswered regarding the Yankees and the World Series, such as: who is pitching games 4 and 5; who is starting in right field in games 3-4-5 and what to do with Hideki Matsui in games 3,4 and 5.

Matsui is the Yankees full-time DH.  A former outfielder, Matsui has not played in the field since injuring his knee in 2008.  He has been either the DH or on the bench.  It seems as if Matsui will remain on the bench while the series is in Philly, despite his good bat.  Even though going with Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, Jerry Hairston, Jr, or Eric Hinske means a worse bat at the plate, it does mean a better defensive player in the field.

Which leads me to who starts in right.  Nick Swisher was the everyday starter in the regular season, but has struggled greatly at the plate this postseason.  He is hitting .114 (4-35) with 3 walks and 1 RBI.  He has struck out an amazing 12 times in 10 games before being pulled after Game 1 of the World Series.

I would want to choose Brett Gardner, but it seems as if skipper Joe Girardi wants Gardner’s speed off the bench.  I am torn.  I can appreciate how much his speed can make the difference as a pinch-runner, but couldn’t he impact the game more with his speed in center field (move Melky Cabrera to right) and his speed as a batter with 4+ chances to get on base?  Gardner is also 2-4 in his 4 AB this postseason

Hinske and Hairston provide some veteran experience in the field and at the plate AND both were acquired in trades from National League teams mid-season – so they both have experience against Philly and national league teams in general.  I want to resist Hinske as a starter because he was a beast as a pinch-hitter this season and with no DH in games 3-4-5, I would want him available to pinch-hit for the pitcher when needed.

Finally, what to do about the starting pitching.  With no day off between games 4 and 5 like there was in the ALCS, the Yankees can start CC Sabathia in Game 4 on 3 days rest and then Burnett and Pettitte in games 5 and 6, also on 3 days rest (which I am sure both can handle) and then CC again for game 7 (if needed) on 3 days rest.  This is probably the least likely scenario.  If a Game 7 is needed, you don’t want to have tired out CC as much.

The most likely scenarios are Game 4-Sabathia, Game 5- Chad Gaudin, Game 6 Burnett, Game 7 Pettitte with Sabathia in relief or Game 4 – Gaudin, Game 5- Sabathia, Game 6 – Burnett, and Game 7 Pettitte with no Sabathia available.

My predictions?  Hideki Matsui stays on the bench.  Gardner should start in CF, Cabrera in RF, with Hinske, Hairston and Swisher off the bench and the first pitching scenario (Sabathia, Gaudin, Burnett, Pettitte/Sabathia.)

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