Clueless

As we all expected, AJ Burnett blew up on the mound yesterday. Staked to a 5-0 lead, he gave up a run in the 4th and then escaped a bases loaded jam. In the 5th he gave up a single, home run and a double before being lifted from the game. He pitched four-plus innings allowing nine hits, 1 walk and striking out 8. You can’t fault Girardi for lifting him, but here are two AJ quotes from after the game.

“Joe does what he can to get this team a win, and we won. Heaven forbid I give up a couple hits. But you do whatever you can to get your team a ‘W,’ I guess.”

“I didn’t get through the fifth because I wasn’t allowed to get through the fifth. So it wasn’t that I couldn’t get through the fifth.”

If CC Sabathia made these quotes, it would be a minor problem (and completely out of character I should add) the fact that a pitcher with a 5.28 ERA made them should show the Yankees everything they need to know about AJ. Jon Heyman tweeted yesterday “If the yankees don’t know by now that burnett should NOT get a postseason start, I can’t help them” and he is absolutely right. This guy can’t be trusted with the ball in a big spot. His quotes show that he is beyond salvation. Assuming the Yankees have clinched a playoff spot by this weekend, give him the ball against the Red Sox and make that his final Yankee start. If not, give the ball to Betances or someone else. This offseason, send AJ away to the NL by paying most of his contract. As AJ said, “you do whatever you can to get your team a ‘W'” and that means getting rid of AJ.

The Record

Mariano Rivera can now lay claim statistically to a title he earned many years ago, the greatest closer of all time. He has saved games for sixteen seasons, fifteen as the officially closer and he has appeared in 31 playoff series. His plaque in Cooperstown is just a formality at this point.

Two things struck me as he set the record today. The first was when his teammates forced him to go back to the mound to receive the applause of the crowd. You could tell that Rivera just wanted to get inside and out of the spotlight. For a guy who is so comfortable when the pressure is on, it was a remarkable display of discomfort and a reminder of what a humble guy Rivera truly is.

The second thing was his interview with Kim Jones. Despite her best efforts, he wouldn’t say that he thinks he is the greatest closer and he even said he doesn’t consider himself to be. Well Mariano, you are, even if you won’t say it.

Congrats Mariano, here’s to many, many more saves.

2012 Schedule

MLB announced a preliminary schedule for the 2012 season today. The thing that caught my eye for the Yankees is the fact that they will play the Red Sox 15 times over the final three months of the season.

They travel to Boston on April 20th for three games, but do not see them again until July 6th when they return to Boston. Boston comes to New York July 27th and August 17th for three games each. The Yankees then make their final trip to Boston September 11th-13th and close out the season at home against the Red Sox October 1st-3rd. This could be really fun.

Back to our scheduled programming, the 2011 season and it is amazing to think that two weeks from tonight the regular season ends. The Yankees still have some pretty big questions to decide.

Let’s start with the biggest one, the rotation in the playoffs after Sabathia. Much is being made of AJ Burnett’s adjustment with his hands last night. I suppose we should start by complimenting him on actually making an adjustment during the game, but I can’t get too excited, even though the numbers and results looked great. For one, Seattle is a horrible offensive club. Second, this is AJ we are talking about. I need to see this repeated about 10 more times before I even begin to believe it.

At this point, I think you have to believe that starters 2-4 are Colon, Garcia and Nova in some order. Unless AJ miraculously keeps up his performance from the later innings last night and Garcia continues to falter, that’s it. We have 15 games left for these plans to solidify.

The next question is the makeup of the playoff bullpen. We can assume Mo, Robertson, Soriano, Wade, Ayala and Logan are in. I would also assume that the Yankees won’t take more than 11 guys in the pen so the last spot comes down to one of the two starters left out of the rotation and a wild card like Laffey. I would bet on AJ or Hughes being the final piece, but nothing is set in stone.

Finally, what will the bench look like? This is a real wild card because we don’t know the status of Francisco Cervelli. We can assume that Chavez, Jones and Nunez will be on the bench. Assuming all the regular position players are healthy and the Yankees take 14 hitters, that leaves three spots on the bench. One has to go to the backup catcher and that is where it gets messy. If Cervelli isn’t able to play, I doubt the Yankees feel comfortable with Posada or Montero backing up Martin. So, that means Austin Romine makes the team. The Yankees could still take Posada and Montero of course, but would they really do that when someone like Golson or Dickerson makes more sense? Plenty of things will be decided in the next two weeks.

Timmy!

It took forever, but Tim Wakefield finally got his 200th career win.

While it was a tough balancing act the past few weeks as Wake wasn’t pitching well and the Red Sox really needed wins, Tuesday night proved the perfect elixir as Wakefield won (as did the Red Sox of course) and the Rays lost giving Red Sox fans a double reason to cheer.

Wakefield’s arrival in Boston was an after thought. He’d excelled with Pittsburh in 1992, but couldn’t find the same magic a year later. Pittsburgh shelved him in AAA in 1994 where he was, well, not good. Given his release, Boston signed him and he went 16-8 in 1995 with the big league club.

I remember his first 3 months with the club were otherworldly, how did he do it? He dominated and basically put the Red Sox on his back, he pitched so well and so deep into games. He scuffled a bit in his last 2 months, but still posted a 2.95 ERA on the season.

The Red Sox made the playoffs for the first time in 5 years and to me, it was a new era in Red Sox baseball. For all the crap Dan Duquette gets around here, and some of it deservedly so (he isn’t Mr. Personality after all), he brought a “process” to the baseball side of things. No more dart throwing. He introduced, heaven forbid, some study and reason behind his decisions.

While tonight is a great night, I’m not going to get carried away. Wakefield is no HOF player, but he has been both a dependable, durable pitcher and great for the Red Sox community having been nominated 8 times for MLB’s Roberto Clemente Award, winning it in 2010.

Here’s to you Timmy.

MLB Should Be Ashamed Of Itself

It’s really hard in the 21st Century to find anything else that baseball can screw up. The Bud Selig era has been mess that included a strike, massive steroid use and most importantly, fan interests being sacrificed for TV dollars.

So, I wasn’t surprised when MLB decided to move the Mets Cubs game scheduled for 1pm on September 11th to 8pm. ESPN and MLB could wrap themselves in the flag and claim they were honoring the victims of 9/11 by showing the pregame ceremonies, etc.. The only problem is, they screwed it up by preventing the Mets from wearing the first responder caps of the FDNY, NYPD and PAPD like they had in 2001. (And I can’t believe it was Joe Torre that made this decision.)

Now keep in mind, the NFL, let players and coaches wear the cap. I saw Tom Coughlin seething on the sidelines in one many a time during the Giants game Sunday. Novak Djokovic, a tennis player from Serbia, wore a FDNY cap before and after his US Open match last night. But baseball, the sport that forces teams to wear awful looking hats on Memorial Day and the 4th of July, wouldn’t let the Mets wear them.

Bud Selig is reportedly angry that the Mets made this public. What about the fans who bought tickets to a 1pm game to see it rescheduled to 8pm shouldn’t they be angry? What a joke.

Breathe Easy Boston

It’s not often that I go out of my way to console Red Sox fans. (Ok, this may be the first time) But, I think everyone jumping off the bandwagon should take a look at the schedule. First off, Boston plays a lot of games against Baltimore. Baltimore is really bad, chances are they should win a few of those.

More importantly, Red Sox fans might notice that the Yankees and Rays play each other seven times over the remaining 2-1/2 weeks. Since this isn’t hockey, only one of those teams can improve their playoff chances in each of those games. Boston will have seven chances over those games to either gain ground on the Yankees or widen their lead over Tampa. Since they only need to finish ahead of one of those two teams, the schedule is Boston’s friend. (I could also point out that the Rays’ odds of making the playoffs stand at 2.7%, but I am growing ill from writing about Boston and will turn my attention back to a more pleasant topic)

I think Yankees’ fans exhaled a bit when Mariano locked that game down last night. The timing of their four-game losing streak was good since Boston matched it, but it was a losing streak nonetheless. Part of the blame for it can probably be placed on a brutal stretch of games. Since the start of the month, the Yankees have played 11 games, 9 of those have been decided by one or two runs. I suggested the other night that the Yankees “took a knee” and I really believe that. Joe Girardi doesn’t want to burn out his relievers heading into the playoffs, so he let a game get out of hand in exchange for the chance to rest his bullpen. I can’t argue with that.

What I found fascinating in yesterday’s game was Girardi’s decision to put Romine behind the plate in place of Montero. Consider that Joe Girardi had said for the past 11 days that it would be unfair to put Montero behind the plate because he didn’t know the pitchers. Yet another rookie, Austin Romine, left his house at 4:30am to fly to Anaheim, arrived at the stadium in the middle of the game and was inserted into the lineup to catch those same unfamiliar pitchers. As they say, actions speak louder than words and the Yankees clearly do not think a lot of Montero’s catching abilities, no matter what they say. (And guess who is starting at catcher tonight with Martin and Cervelli shelved? Hint, it’s not Montero.)

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The Yankees will probably go into the offseason insisting Montero is a catcher, but I hope that is simply a stance to drive up his trade value. (I’m not suggesting they trade him either, but it never hurts to see what he might bring back) They should send him to winter ball with an outfielders glove in his bag and see what he can do there. Nick Swisher’s option will almost certainly be picked up in 2012, but after that right field will be pretty empty.

Today

I remember the night of September 10th, 2001 vividly. It was the Giants season opener and they were on Monday Night Football facing the Broncos. The Giants had been blown out of the Super Bowl seven months before and this would be a good indicator of the season ahead. I don’t remember the final score, but I remember they got killed.

As I drove to work that next morning, I kept replaying that game in my mind. How could they look that bad? It was a HUGE deal to me. I got pulled into the parking lot at 8:57am. I remember the time for some reason and I remember two guards in the lobby of my building making some comments about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I remember my blackberry buzzed with an email from CNN about the crash as I went up in the elevator.

There are some crystal clear moments from later on. A panicked phone call from a family member to locate my wife. A phone call with the guy on the other side of this blog to suggest he leave the John Hancock Tower in Boston. Lots of emails from CNN reporting crazy things, bombs exploding on the National Mall, fighter planes being scrambled. Without a TV and unable to get radio reception, my colleagues and I were at the mercy of the internet to provide us with details of what was going on and the internet in 2001 wasn’t what it is today. My office was underneath one of the main flight approaches to Logan Airport and I remember looking out my window later that day and being stunned that the usual parade of planes coming in to land was missing.

My wife and I drove down to New York City that Friday. I sent an email to my friends and family detailing that experience and here is a portion of what I wrote.

The next day we went down to Union Square to see the memorial. Words cannot describe the sadness of the scene. One man was handing out flyers with a picture of his daughter asking for any information about her whereabouts. People were huddled around impromptu memorials, crying, hugging, just trying to cope with the entire scene.

As sad as the sights of the weekend were I was struck by a real change in the way people interacted. There was tremendous civility and beneath the grief, you could sense a grim resolve to make things right. I looked at the flag of New York State flying at half mast. I was struck by the symbols on it, Justice and Liberty and the motto- Excelsior, how appropriate.

The following weekend my wife and I flew to Baltimore to attend a Yankees-Orioles game. The thing that struck me was all the people standing outside Camden Yards with signs of love and support for New York. There were Baltimore firefighters collecting money and supplies to support their brothers in New York. People came up to us and asked us if we were from New York and hugged us when we told them we were both from there. I remember the Yankees lost and I remember not really caring.

And that was the mode I slipped into for a long time. The 2001 World Series would have probably destroyed me if it had happened before that awful day, but I remember standing in my kitchen in Boston as Arizona scored that final run and just not feeling a thing.

But at some point, the games started to matter a little bit again. And then, they started to matter more. I remember the joy of Aaron Boone and the absolute agony of Games 4-7 in 2004. I started yelling at the TV again and I started replaying the games in my head again. I was back.

At 3:35 today the Yankees will try and break a four-game losing streak and at 4pm the Giants open their season. I will be frantically flipping back and forth between the two events, trying to take it all in and yelling at the TV- I will be fully invested. And around 7:30, I will get up, go to my window. stare at two enormous beacons of light in the sky and remember a terrible day that I will never forget.

Taking A Knee?

Just have to wonder, did the Yankees take a “strategic” loss tonight? Let’s just put it this way, Hector Noesi pitching the 7th of a game that is 1-0 is an “interesting” choice. And then George Kontos when Noesi got into trouble? Hmmm, seems like a rested bullpen might have been the goal more than a win….

Beyond that, was that Jorge Posada catching tonight? I understand that Cervelli was concussed and Martin had his thumb split open, but where was this move all year? I am sure Girardi will say it was an emergency move only, but the Yankees could have chosen to move Montero to catcher and lose the DH without much pain since the rosters have expanded. Do we view this as the Yankees doing everything they can to avoid Montero catching in a game or the Yankees deciding that a guy who hasn’t caught all year is preferable behind the dish over Montero? No good answers either way there.

The good news is the Yankees’ four-game slide has coincided with a similar one by Boston. So, they remain 2-1/2 up with 18 to play. But, a win would certainly be welcome tomorrow (later today)!

Potential

It’s a small sample size, but so far Jesus Montero has been exactly what we thought he would be offensively. Last night, he was the only guy in the lineup who did anything against a very good pitcher. Seeing Montero thrive makes me happy (obviously) but it also frustrates me because his success once again exposes the Yankees’ conservative approach with their prospects.

The thing that frustrates me about their approach is that they have been greatly rewarded the majority of the time when they did turn to a prospect. Think of Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang in 2005, Joba in 2007 or Nova this year. It hasn’t always worked, see Kennedy and Hughes in 2008, but more times than not, the Yankees have been rewarded when looking within the organization- like the past few years with David Robertson.

This year Montero has been the guy we have all been focusing on, but I wonder about some other names. David Phelps put up a 3.19 ERA in AAA this year and Adam Warren put up a 3.60, but neither one saw the big leagues. Kevin Whelan pitched 52 innings in AAA, striking out 54 and is on the 40-man, but he didn’t even get a September promotion.

We keep hearing about the Yankees’ prospects and the potential of the farm system, but none of that matters if the Yankees don’t use the players in the system. Prospects have a shelf life, sort of like milk. At some point they go from being prospects to “organizational players”. If the Yankees aren’t going to use these players themselves they need to trade them to an organization that will.

Next year, the Yankees will probably have a number of open spots in their rotation. Before they run out and sign free agent pitchers or bring in fringe players from other organizations, the Yankees should think about the guys already in their system.

I’m Not Nervous, Am I?

The Red Sox sure know how to mess with us. Entering Friday’s games, the Red Sox were 6.5 games up on the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s a nice cushion to be sure, but given the way the Red Sox have been playing of late, I’m not sure it is a big enough cushion.

I really won’t worry unless the Red Sox get swept by the Rays this weekend leaving them with a 3.5 game lead.

Considering the way the pitching staff has performed of late, perhaps they don’t have what it takes. As I write this, John Lackey is getting his doors blown off. Again, and has a 6.30 ERA on the season. That is an F+ grade if I ever saw one. His line thus far Friday night? 3.0 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 3 BB. Nice John.

Andrew Miller was nice early on, but I think this experiment is over. He has been terrible and can’t be counted on for any consistency (good consistency anyway).

Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz are hurt, Tim Wakefield is average at best, Eric Bedard is in Boston getting his a lat checked out by the medical staff. Only Jon Lester is holding up his end of the bargain. Really, it’s Lester and then pray MLB changes all playoff series to one-game affairs with 4 days rest in between.

Add to it, the bullpen hasn’t been stellar with Matt Albers a mess, Dan Wheeler coughing up a walk-off HR, Daniel Bard walking 3 and hitting 1 and giving up 5 ER in a recent loss. Any Bobby Jenks is all but shut down for the year.

6.5 games is a bunch, but the Red Sox are falling apart before our eyes and need to get healthy and play better and have very little time to do both.

Back to Bard’s last game, he clearly didn’t have it and I believe Jonathan Papelbon was available. Why subject Bard to that performance, one where he through well north of 30 pitches and one that basically decided the game if Papelbon was available? That doesn’t make sense. Papelbon did throw 27 pitches 2 nights before, but a full day off had to have been enough.

Right now we can expect Lester, Lackey, Miller, Wakefield and Kyle Weiland to be the starters in the home stretch, not great. Entering tonight coolstandings.com had the Red Sox chances of making the playoffs at 99%. I’m sure they are right, but I can’t wait until it’s 100%.