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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.

The New York Jets Head Coach, Rex Ryan, called the Yankees on Monday to request some help teaching rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez how to slide.  Both Ryan and Sanchez are in their first seasons with the Jets and Ryan apparently met Yankees manager Joe Girardi earlier in the baseball season.

Girardi had some time on Tuesday and headed over to the Jets’ practice facility to help teach Sanchez how to slide.  I was at Sunday’s game between the Jets and Panthers, which the Jets managed to win 17-6.  Sanchez had three runs Sundqay for a total of 27 yards, and each time he landed awkwardly.  One time, he slid headfirst, another time he just crumpled to the ground and a third time he was hit going out of bounds, injuring his already sore left knee.

Here is what Coach Ryan had to say about it, (thanks to Lohud Yankees Blog):

“Today, we had the privilege of having Joe Girardi out here. We had a couple of issues that we needed to go over. Number one, the obvious free agents, who’s available. So, after the counseling and my input, which I know he regards highly (laughter), then we got into the other business. I had Joe come out here and teach Sanchez how to slide (laughter). That’s the truth. I actually did that. We had a little sliding mat out here. I told Schotty (Brian Schottenheimer), ‘I’m going over your head. I’m going over (Matt) Cavanaugh’s head. I’m going over my head. We’re bringing in a world champ to get this done.’ We did have Joe Girardi out here and quite honestly, we spent 10 minutes out there. He was running and learning to slide off his right leg. We literally did that. He’s (Sanchez) too valuable and he needs to understand that we need him out there and people are going to take shots at him if he doesn’t start sliding. I really did want to make an emphasis to Mark and get the best guy that we can in the area. I made a call today to the Yankees and I was really happy that Girardi came over and did that for us.”

I spent nearly 5 hours in the car today and got pretty tired of listening to music, so I turned on sports radio, catching some Mike and Mike in the Morning (who I always listen to), some Colin Cowherd and even a little bit of Doug Gottlieb this evening.

As expected, most of the talk today was about the World Series and the news surrounding it.  There are a few big stories out there that I want to talk about tonight.

First, a lot of criticism is being levied at Yankees skipper Joe Girardi for his “micro-managing.”  As an example, he has chosen to use three pitchers in relief when another manager might have just left the first pitcher in.  Take a look at my previous post for more on this issue.

#2 – Apparently Cole Hamels is tired of the season. He said after his Game 3 loss, “I can’t wait for it to end. It’s been mentally draining. At year-end, you just can’t wait for a fresh start.”  Many people interpreted this to mean he wants the season and the World Series to be over, win or loss.

But, I can relate with Hamels.  One year after an outstanding postseason where he was named both the NLCS and World Series MVP’s, Hamels is struggling on the mound with an ERA over 7.00.  The Yankees knocked him out of Game 3 in the fifth inning.  Obviously the man would probably like the offseason to relax and focus on getting his pitching back to where he feels it should be.

Plus, in the midst of all this, Hamels and his wife just had their first child last month, a baby boy.  I am sure he is proud to be a father and would love to spend time at home with his wife, spending some quality time with the newest addition to their family.

Rumors are abound that Phillies pitcher Brett Myers confronted Hamels in the dugout during Game 5, reportedly saying “What are you doing here?  I thought you quit.”  This was initially reported by Yahoo Sports.  The two apparently had an exchange of words and had to be separated.

Good.  Drama like this can tear a team apart.  Good for the Yankees.

#3 – Shane Victorino told the media today that his hand is fine after being hit on the right index finger during Monday night’s game 5.  I didn’t think a fiery guy like Victorino would even think about missing a crucial game 6.

#4 – The Yankees need some Mark Teixeira.  Fortunately the team is set up well that if one guy isn’t performing, others can step up and clinch a win.  But winning game 6 would be much easier if Teixeira could find a way to spark a good game at the plate.

It seems as if Teixeira is feeling the pressure at the plate.  Most of his hits aren’t falling and he just looks weird at the plate. With the Yankees rallying in the top of the ninth last night, Tex struck out swinging to end the game – with A-Rod on deck.

Tex is not giving us many clues to his actual state-of-mind right now.  Slumps are normal in a baseball season and unfortunately they even happen during the postseason.  It’s just surprising to see a guy who was so clutch in the regular season not be able to be there for his teammates when it truly matters.

Finally, much respect to Alex Rodriguez – who with his 3 RBI Monday night set a new Yankee record of 18 RBI in a single postseason.  After struggling most of the first 3 games, Rodriguez got pissed off about getting hit all the time by the Phillies pitchers and started hitting strong again in Game 4.

It’s nice to see him doing well and setting records.  I’d love to see # 13 retired in Monument Park, right next to  # 2 (Derek Jeter) and # 42 (Mariano Rivera).

Despite the Yankee loss Monday night in Philly and the atrocious 2 innings pitched by AJ Burnett, I feel Yankees manager Joe Girardi is making the right decisions.  Burnett had been 3-0 with a wonderful ERA under 2.00 in his previous starts on three days rest and had been steady this entire postseason.

Burnett struggled for the same reason he has struggled this entire season – control issues.  For some reason the strikeout pitcher has thrown a ridiculous amount of wild pitches in 2009, but that did not cost the Yankees the game.

Neither did Burnett’s inability to get almost anyone on the Phillies roster out.

No, the Yankees lost because of Chase Utley.  Take away Utley’s 2 home runs and subsequent 4 RBI – and the Yankees win the game 6-4, not lose 8-6.

I write this because I am shocked by the amount of “hate” being thrown at Girardi for his pitching choices.  The Yankees took the same risk for Game 5 that they took for Game 2 – because one never knows which AJ Burnett is going to show up on the mound – the one who pitches a 3-hit gem, or the one who allows 5 earned runs in 3 innings.

Again, this was the right call.  Girardi said in September that he planned to use a three-man rotation in the post-season.  He spent the last two weeks of the season making sure the starters had enough rest to get them through some potential 3-day rests instead of the usual 4-day rests.

Fortunately, this worked out well.  The Yankees were able to start CC Sabathia twice in the ALCS – leading to a 4-2 win over the Angels in the best of 7 series.  It also set up the prime pitching matchups for the World Series.  Sabathia in games 1 and 4, Burnett in games 2 and 5, and Andy Pettitte in games 3 and 6.  This puts the very dominating and consistent Sabathia in for Game 7 – who is exactly the guy you want in there if the series goes that far.

I say question Girardi if the Yankees were losing the series.  Not if they are up 3-2 with the series shifting back to the Bronx.

With the Fall Classic slated to start tonight, here’s the preview from Generation Third.

The Bombers are coming off a thrilling 5-2 win in ALCS game 6 to eliminate the Angels and head to the World Series for the first time since 2003. Andy Pettitte pitched great, Mariano Rivera got a 6-out save.

And right down the Turnpike is Philadelphia, the defending champs, and after winning the NLCS almost a week ago, the Phillies were resting up to see who they would face in the Fall Classic. Last year the Phillies waited 6 days until playing the Rays in last year’s WS, and this year it will be 7 days until first pitch is thrown.

Let’s get to the comparisons.

First Base: Both Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard had huge years, but as soon as the playoffs started, Howard jumped in front of Teixeira by driving in 14 runs combined in the NLDS and NLCS, while Tex struggled and drove in only 4 combined. But, while Howard may be a bit better offensively, Tex provides much better defense at first, and after hitting that big 3-run double in Game 5 and then after picking up a couple hits in Game 6, Tex may be on the verge of a huge World Series. But it isn’t the same as actually doing it.

Edge: Phillies

Second Base: Both Chase Utley and Robinson Cano are slick fielding, power hitting, RBI machines, and both of them proved that in the regular season as Cano knocked 25 out of the park and drove in 85, and Utley slammed 31 out and drove in 93. Defensively, Cano has a better arm, but other than that, they’re pretty much even.

Edge: EVEN

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez is having the postseason of his life, as the slugger has finally gotten out of his playoff slump. ALCS and ALDS stats combine show A-Rod is hitting .438 with 5 home runs and 12 RBIs. Hopefully he can continue his dominance in the World Series, and if he does that, the Yanks have a very good chance to bring home #27. Pedro Feliz is having the complete opposite of the postseason that A-Rod is having. He’s batting .161 with just 1 walk in all 9 playoff games.

Edge: Yankees

Shortstop: Derek Jeter had an MVP-caliber year for the Yanks during the regular season, and Jimmy Rollins didn’t do that much worse for the Phillies. They’re both pretty even, regular season stats wise. But in the playoffs, Rollins has failed to pick up an RBI, while the Captain has drove in 5 and hit 3 long balls. Even if Rollins played better than Jeter this postseason, Jeter would get the edge, because of his postseason experience.

Edge: Yankees

Catcher: Jorge has more experience and is having a good postseason, hitting a couple homers and driving in 3 RBIs. The only bad thing – 7 strikeouts and leaving 10 men on base in ALCS game 6. He needs to swing at more pitches, and needs to actually make contact when he does swing. Fixes that, and he’s golden. Carlos Ruiz is in his 4th year in the Bigs, and had a pretty nice year. He hit 9 homers, drove in over 30 RBIs, and is a pretty good defensive catcher. He also had a big NLCS. But like with the shortstop comparison, its the experience that plays a factor, and Jorge has much more experience and really, is a better player overall.

Edge: Yankees

Designated Hitter: Back in May, when in Yankee Stadium, the Phillies used a better fielding outfielder twice and used Ibanez as a DH (Mayberry Jr. as the outfielder). Their DH/OF, in this case Matt Stairs and John Mayberry Jr. went a combined 3/13, with 1 HR, 3 RBI, and 3 Ks. Matsui is the more experienced DH, and obviously has better numbers than Stairs/Mayberry.

Edge: Yankees

Outfielders: For the Yankees, Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Nick Swisher, is good – offensively, at least. Defensively, Damon, even though he’s one of my favorite players, plays a terrible outfield and Swish is right about average defensively if not a bit below average. Melky really is the only really good defender out in the outfield, but thanks to the power of Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher, putting them out there inning after inning isn’t a bad thing at all. For the Phillies, you got Raul Ibanez in left, Shane Victorino in center, and Jayson Werth in right. Ibanez has power and plays an average outfield, Shane Victorino “The Flying Hawaiian” has speed and plays a very good outfield, and Werth is a big home-run hitter and plays a good enough outfield to get by.

Edge: Phillies

Bench: The Yankees have Eric Hinske and Brett Gardner off the bench. Hinske went on a mini-offensive tear when he was acquired. Brett Gardner, if he had gotten more playing time, might have gotten ROY. For the Phillies, they removed former Yank Miguel Cairo in favor of pitcher Brett Myers. I think having Cario on your bench speaks volumes.

Edge: Yanks

Pitching Rotations: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte have all shined during the postseason, and rightfully so have been tabbed as the best rotation in the World Series. CC was the ALCS MVP, A.J. tossed a couple nice games before allowing 6 runs in Game 5, and Andy has been his normal postseason self. The Phillies’ have Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Pedro Martinez. Cliff Lee has been great as expected, Cole Hamels, has been okay, and Pedro, in his only playoff start, allowed a run against the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS. Besides CC against Cliff Lee in Games 1, 4, and 7, it doesn’t look like the other matchups will be intriguing. The edge goes to the Yanks here.

Edge: Yankees

Bullpen: The Phillies have two reliable arms out of the ‘pen. Closer Brad Lidge and Scott Madson. Even though Lidge blew 11 saves this season, he’s regained his form. The Yanks have a potential unstoppable 7-8-9 bridge in Joba-Phil-Mo, along with Dave Robertson, Damaso Marte, Al Aceves, and Chad Gaudin. Lidge he does not compare to the best closer in baseball in Mariano Rivera.

Edge: Yankees

Managers: And last, but certainly not least, the managers. Charlie Manuel, coming off his first World Series Championship last year, has been the Phillies manager since 2006, and has lead the Phillies to three straight NL East titles. Joe Girardi has improved this year, and while I believe he handles the line-up better, he has made some questionable decisions regarding the bullpen. I’m hoping his bench coaches will help him make decisions.

Edge: Phillies

I don’t believe in making predictions ‘cuz I don’t want to jinx anything. It’s obvious, being a third generation fan, who I want to win.

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