Off To Game 3

Headed up to the Bronx shortly to attend Game 3 and see if I can channel enough karmic energy to defeat Cliff Lee. Obviously, this game will be a tough one, but what a psychological lift if the Yankees pulled it out! The key will be Andy Pettitte keeping the Yankees in the game, something their starters haven’t done so far.

Back with more sometime tonight/tomorrow.

It’s A Simple Game

Coming back one night from 5-0 is lucky enough. Expecting it to happen twice is really greedy. Obviously, something has happened to the Yankees’ pitchers between the Minnesota series and now. Maybe that’s too simplistic and the Texas hitters deserve the bulk of the credit, but the Yankees should explore this further. One theory I have is that they have had way too much rest. I could be wrong, but If I am Joe Girardi, I am whispering to CC Sabathia that he may get the ball in Game 4.

Anyway, the Yankees actually accomplished what they needed to in Texas. If the Rangers didn’t have Cliff Lee going in Game 3, I think everyone would be in a pretty good mood right now. Lee’s going to be a bear, but the Yankees can beat him. They just need their starter to keep them in the game for more than an inning.

Back tomorrow.

An Imperfect Plan

On a rare night when we had free babysitting, my wife asked me to consider going out to a movie since we see about one a year. Thinking about the game and my wife, I figured the perfect solution was to DVR the game and come home later and watch it. Unfortunately, I never factored in text messages into the equation. They started early with predictable panic and moved onto euphoria later in the evening. Throughout them all, I never looked at a score, arriving home in the 9th inning and watching that live before rewinding the remainder of the game. Lesson learned, in the 21st century you can’t avoid hearing about the game in some fashion. Also, “The Social Network” was excellent.

As for the game, what else do you need to say besides “wow”. The Yankees pulled it out of the fire tonight. But, Joe Torre always said that momentum was the next day’s starting pitcher. If the Yankees can leave Texas with a 2-0 lead they would really have a handle on the series. If not, they have done what they absolutely had to in Game 1.

Back tomorrow.

Fact And Fiction

Fact- Cliff Lee is one of the best pitchers in baseball

Fiction- The Yankees can’t beat him.

It seems like the Yankees should not bother showing up if the ALCS goes 7 games. As I understand it, Lee is destined to win both Game 3 and Game 7, so the Yankees not only have to win in 6, but they had better make sure they win both games in Texas. Otherwise, they will return home and lose to Lee in Game 3 and then probably lose Game 4 with AJ on the mound.

Hogwash.

The funniest part of this narrative is that is completely ignores what happened in the World Series last year. You keep hearing about how Lee beat the Yankees twice in that series. That part is true, but let’s remember that there was a big difference in the two games. In Game 1, Lee dominated the Yankees for eight innings and then hit a rough patch in the ninth, allowing the first two runners to reach. The problem was, the Phillies already had a 6-0 lead at that point. In Game 5 he cruised though seven innings until he his another rough patch, this time allowing 3 runs in the 8th. The problem was, the Phillies had an 8-2 lead entering the 8th. Overall, the Yankees scored five runs off of Lee in that game, a total which should be good enough to win in most circumstances.

In both cases, the Yankees got to him once he got over 100 pitches. You can make the argument that Lee didn’t win Game 5 of the World Series as much as AJ Burnett lost it by burying the Yankees chances when he surrendered six runs in the first two innings.

No, beating Lee won’t be easy and obviously, I would much rather avoid facing him in Game 7, but the Yankees certainly can beat him if they are patient and work the count. It will certainly be an interesting series.

Why Keep The Roster The Same?

The Yankees announced today that they will pitch Phil Hughes in Game 2 and Andy Pettitte in Game 3. They also added that they will most likely keep the roster as is.

That’s a mistake because the four players they have ready to go in Tampa (Nunez, Alby, Ring and Nova) could all play a valuable role in the ALCS.

Let’s start with Nova, to me the clearest candidate for activation. Joe Girardi has already said that he doesn’t view Sergio Mitre as a long reliever. Well if he isn’t a long reliever, what value does he have for this team? The Yankees have Robertson, Chamberlain and Wood as righties out of the pen in a close game to set things up before Rivera. They have Moseley to pitch in a blow out. But what happens if they need another long guy? What happens if Pettitte gets lifted early in Game 3 and AJ is AJ in Game 4? They obviously would throw Mitre for as long as he could handle it, but wouldn’t it make more sense to just have Nova there and ready to go for five innings? After all, Mitre isn’t going to see the mound unless something goes wrong.

Ok, assuming you don’t see the need for Nova, then how about Alby? Alby was amazing as a closer in AAA this year and you would think he could be a lot more effective than Mitre if the Yankees needed an inning or two from a reliever.

Failing that, how about Royce Ring? The Yankees are going to start righties in 3 of the possible 7 games. The Rangers really only have one lefty hitter, but he is a killer. Josh Hamilton absolutely killed the ball in 2010, putting up an OPS over 1.000 and a slugging percentage over .600. He did most of his damage against RHP, hitting an insane .401/.447./.716 against them. Against lefties he was reduced to a much more human .271/.331/.458. Boone Logan gets the first shot at him, but wouldn’t it make sense to have another lefty ready to go- just in case Hamilton gets up again in a tight spot? With all the righties in the Rangers lineup, you know Logan is a one-batter pitcher in the ALCS.

And finally, how about Eduardo Nunez. If the Yankees need to pinch run, he would be their best option. Wouldn’t a speedy guy make more sense on the bench than say Austin Kearns?

The Yankees have until 6pm Friday to change their minds.

Who Do You Want In Game 7?

As the Yankees talk about setting their rotation, it seems to me that Game 7 should play a big part of the discussion. We pretty much know the rotation is going to line up like this:

Game 1- CC
Game 2- Pettitte/Hughes
Game 3- Pettitte/Hughes
Game 4- AJ
Gmae 5- CC
Game 6- Pettitte/Hughes
Game 7- Pettitte/Hughes

The Yankees could bite the bullet and try and pitch Sabathia on short rest twice (Games 4+7) but I think we will only see that if they are down 2-1 or 3-0 heading into Game 4. Assuming they are ahead, they will give the ball to AJ.

That means you have a choice of Pettitte or Hughes in Game 7. It’s a tough call. Pitching Hughes in Game 2 means both his starts are on the road in this series and he has a career ERA of 0 at the Ballpark in Arlington and has allowed only 3 hits in 15 innings. Pettitte has been awful in Texas, posting an 8.22ERA in 38 innings. But I still think that of the two, Pettitte is the guy I want with the ball in his hands and the season on the line. I say give Hughes the ball in Games 2+6 and let Andy take it in Games 3+7.

The Stars At Night…

Yup, I was the guy who picked the Rangers last in their division this year. It was all part of my epic whiff at the AL playoff teams (apart from the Yankees). I fared better in the NL, picking the Phillies, Braves and Giants to make it and my Yankees-Phillies World Series is still a possibility.

For now, let’s focus on Texas which just saw Cliff Lee dominate Tampa and send them into the ALCS for the first time ever. They are going to be a very dangerous opponent and the way they took apart Tampa tonight is pretty telling.

But, Cliff Lee just threw 120 pitches which convinces me he won’t be seen until Game 3 and the Rangers bullpen doesn’t equal that of the Rays. But, I keep going back to the night of July 8th. That’s when the Yankees came within a hair of acquiring Cliff Lee and I keep wondering if the Yankees will ultimately regret that whiff. At the time I wrote

I still think that trade would have been a slam dunk, but luckily the rotation is not the Yankees weakness. They didn’t need Lee in the way that other teams did. Where Lee could haunt them is in the playoffs and Texas will present a challenge with Lee and CJ Wilson, both lefties at the top of the rotation.

That’s a worry for the future, for now the needs are the same they were this morning. Figure out how to solidify the bullpen and find a bat that can offer some positional flexibility.

Obviously, the rotation didn’t quite turn out to be the strength it was at the time and the bat never showed up. On the plus side, Kerry Wood did a pretty good job of solidifying the pen. Will it all add up to a win in the ALCS? We will start to find out Friday.

A Big Break

Tampa’s win in Texas today forces a Game 5 on Tuesday. That means David Price and Cliff Lee will not be available to pitch Game 1 of the ALCS and could only pitch Game 2 if they went on three-days rest. That’s a big advantage for the Yankees, but it also means they have to figure out a way to win Game 1 now.

Step 1

Leave it to Jorge Posada to sum this one up as “the first step of three”. While the Yankees don’t appear to be going nuts on TV, they deserve a celebration. They swept a very good Twins team with ease. That’s a pretty great accomplishment.

There are so many things to feel good about. Pettitte and Hughes were great. The lineup looked really good and delivered a lot of key hits. Nick Swisher seems to be over his postseason blues from 2009. The only dark cloud, if you want to look for one, has to be Kerry Wood. Wood looked bad in Games 1 and 3, not exactly the “lockdown” guy the Yankees hoped for.

But that’s a minor complaint. What the Yankees just did isn’t easy and the ramifications of it are huge. By sweeping the Twins they get six days of rest heading into the ALCS. Looking ahead at the ALCS schedule, the Yankees could throw CC on three-days rest in games 4 and 7 if they wanted to and I bet they lean that way if they need to.

For now, enjoy the win. Let’s hope it rains in Texas for 3 or 4 days and then the Rays win Game 4. Follow that up with a 27-inning Game 5 and things will have really broken our way.

Tomorrow- thoughts on the ALCS roster.

Very Superstitious

One of the great things about baseball is all of the superstitions that the players and the fans have. Wade Boggs was famous for his pregame chicken meal. You always see pitchers step over the baselines on the way to and from the dugout. I succumb to them myself. On Wednesday I sent Andy a text to turn on the Phillies game, not daring to explain why.

Well Mayor Bloomberg clearly doesn’t believe in them. Yesterday he started talking about planning the Yankees’ World Series parade. Bad karma, your Honor.

Then again, this could all be a hideous plot constructed by a closet Red Sox fan. I remember when Mayor Mike first came on the scene and was asked if he was as big of a Yankees’ fan as his predecessor. He said that he grew up in Massachusetts and didn’t answer the question. He also heavily promoted the Mets when he first came into office. But being a smart politician, he quickly embraced the better ballclub and now you can see him sitting in some very expensive seats during most Yankees’ playoff games.

So add a jinx to the list of things the Yankees have to overcome if they want to repeat.