Game 158

Think about this for a second. We are four days from the end of the season and not a single team in the AL has clinched a playoff spot. That will almost certainly change by the end of the day today, but I find it remarkable nonetheless.

As for the Yankees, Game 158 proved to be as frustrating a game as they have played all year. They loaded the bases two separate times with nobody out and scored a grand total of two runs. They had the leadoff hitter on base in the first five innings and scored a grand total of two runs. Joe Girardi was at his jumpy worst, bringing in Jeter as a defensive substitution in the SIXTH inning, which meant he lost the DH and didn’t have anyone left on the bench to play short or second if he needed an injury substitution. (Nix was in New York getting his hip examined.)

So, we reach the final Sunday of the baseball season with the Yankees tied with the Orioles for the AL East, but needing only a win and an Angels loss to clinch a playoff spot. So, what will a “perfect” day in Yankeeland look like today?

1- Start with a win, obviously. And while we are at it, make it a blowout. 15-2 would be perfect.
2- And follow that with an Orioles loss.
3- And then let’s see the Rangers and Angels split their doubleheader. Assuming the Yankees won, that puts them into the playoffs, while leaving them with a chance to get the best record in the AL.
4- A Tampa win. The Rays are almost, but not quite out of the wild card picture. Since they play the Orioles next, we need them to stay in the race.
5- An Oakland win. It would hurt the Rays wild card chances, but it would leave Oakland with a chance to sweep Texas this week and take the AL West crown.

None of this is too much to ask, is it?

Seven Days

The baseball season has entered its last week. Barring ties, the playoff matchups will be settled by this time next week. For the Yankees, the two magic numbers are 6 and 4. Any combination of Yankee wins and Anaheim losses that add up to 4 means the Yankees are a playoff team. Any combination of Yankee wins and Oriole losses that add up to 6 means the Yankees win the AL East. The Yankees have clinched at least the #2 seed in the AL if they win the AL East, meaning they will have homefield advantage in the first round. And, the Yankees are currently one game behind Texas for best record in the American League. The Yankees won the season series, so a tie in the standings mean the Yankees clinch homefield until the World Series. Finally, it’s important to remember that homefield advantage this year means that you open on the road for two games in the ALDS and then host games 3-5 at your stadium.

Obviously, the Yankees need to win some games over these final seven days, but they also need to start to figure out a playoff roster. I think we can make the following assumptions for the roster:

Pitchers- CC, Kuroda, Hughes, Pettitte, Soriano, Robertson, Logan, Rapada, Phelps

Hitters- Martin, Stewart, Cano, Jeter, A-Rod, Chavez, Nix, Ichiro, Granderson, Swisher, Ibanez

That leaves five spots up for grabs. Assuming Teixeira is healthy, he obviously makes it leaving four. Figure three hitters and one more pitcher.

The pitcher will probably come down to Nova, Eppley, Lowe or Joba. Unless Nova shows something in his final two starts, I think the spot goes to one of the three relievers because Phelps can be the long guy. If I had to handicap this race, I would say Joba has a slight edge.

The three hitters are a bit harder to predict. I think one of the battles will be Andruw Jones versus Brett Gardner. If Gardner can hit, I think the Yankees would put him on the roster. The second spot is probably Eduardo Nunez’s. Nunez can obviously pinch run, but I could also see the Yankees using him as a DH against LHP in the playoffs. The final spot could go to Jones, but his line of .146/.262/.262 since the All-Star Break, certainly leaves the spot open. If someone gets hot over these final seven games, they could steal this spot. We will find out soon.

As Sting crooned- “Seven days, so quickly go….”

Crunch Time

Here’s the good news. Since leaving Baltimore on September 9th with a one-game lead, the Yankees have gone 9-2. Here’s the bad news, the Orioles have matched that record.

I thought the Orioles would fade away, boy was I wrong. In fact, while both teams have been a lucky, from a runs scored/allowed perspective to go 9-2 over the past 11, the Orioles have been the stronger team, outscoring their opponents 58-34 as compared to the Yankees’ mark 53-41.

So, in a race that looks like it is going down to the wire, what could tilt the balance? Keep an eye on Tampa. The Rays close the season with three games at home against Baltimore. Before that, they have a game against Toronto, two @ Boston and four @Chicago. They currently sit 3-1/2 games out of a wild card spot, meaning those games against Baltimore could be tuneups for next year or could be critical.

On the other hand, today marks the last time the Yankees will play a potential playoff team. They close with three @Minnesota, 4 @Toronto and three against Boston. Obviously, if Tampa is still playing to win, the Yankees have a scheduling advantage over the final 10 days of the season.

One final note. At this point you have to wonder if the Yankees will make the playoffs, but burn out their bullpen in doing so. They have won seven-straight, but everyone of those wins has been by three runs or less. In fact, apart from their 13-3 victory in Baltimore earlier this month, the last time the Yankees won a game by more than three runs was August 13th. Joe Girardi did a great job managing the bullpen most of the season and you can’t blame him for overusing some of those arms now. It’s crunch time and he has no choice. But, there is a good chance that it will come back to haunt the Yankees in the very near future.

Rotation Calculations

The Yankees are making a mistake with their rotation. As it stands right now, they will pitch Pettitte, Hughes and Sabathia this week against the Blue Jays. That means that Sabathia will pitch again on the 25th and then on the 30th, leaving him in line to start in the playoffs on October 5th. Assuming they stay in rotation and pitch Nova and Kuroda Friday and Saturday, that would line Hiroki up to pitch again the 27th and then the 2nd, putting him in line to start Sunday, October 7th. So, CC and Kuroda are in line to pitch either games 1 and 2 of the ALDS or a wild card game and the first game of the ALDS. The problem is, what if there is a tie?

Under the new rules for the MLB postseason, all ties are broken on the field. So, if the Orioles and Yankees end up tied for the division, they play a one-game playoff to determine the winner. That game would be on Thursday, October 4th. If the Orioles and Yankees are tied along with another team, there will be tiebreaker games on the 4th and 5th and then the wild card and ALDS rounds will start.

With the off day today the Yankees could pitch CC on Wednesday. That would line him up to pitch the 24th, 29th and October 4th, if necessary. They could move Kuroda to Friday which would line him up to pitch the 26th, 1st and be available Saturday, October 6th. So, worst case scenario is you have CC available for a possible tiebreaker game and if it doesn’t happen, he gets a bit more rest. You also have Kuroda available to start Game 1 of the ALDS if CC gets used in a tiebreaker. By not juggling the rotation, the Yankees put Phil Hughes in line for the start if a tiebreaker is needed.

Now, I like Hughes, but he is the thrid-best pitcher on the staff right now. (We can’t say what Pettitte is at this point.) Do you really want him pitching in a big game instead of CC or Kuroda? I don’t and that is why I am surprised that the Yankees didn’t juggle the rotation. They could simply flip CC and Hughes for this upcoming series. CC would go on regular rest and Hughes would six days off between starts. It preserves options down the road which could be important.

Someone Is Going To Go

The Yankees are going to activate Andy Pettitte from the DL on Tuesday and based on yesterday’s news, they might also be activating Brett Gardner in the near future. Both players are on the 60-day DL, which means that spots on the 40-man roster have to be opened up when they are activated.

The Yankees only have 5 players on the 40-man roster who are not in the majors right now: Betances, Romine, Adams, Joseph and Almonte. I can’t see them exposing any of those guys to waivers, so that means that the 40-man roster cut will be someone currently on the big-league club. Looking at that roster, it seems pretty obvious who the cuts will be.

I would bet that Casey McGehee is the first roster victim. He was obtained for Chad Qualls and has gone 8-for-46 since being acquired. His lack of production led the Yankees to acquire Steve Pearce from the Astros. McGehee is eligible for arbitration and is slightly older than Pearce. He will be the first cut.

The second cut will only happen if Gardner is really able to help, but it seems obvious that Justin Thomas would be the victim. Thomas is a lefty specialist and the Yankees already have two of those on the roster. The only reason he isn’t the first cut is the fact that he offers a bit more value than McGehee at this point.

The Yankees have the opportunity to go 5-games up on the Rays with only 16 to play if they win today. That’s a significant margin and while it doesn’t mean anything in terms of the actual playoff picture, it would virtually eliminate one potential foe.

Sad, but True

Did last night’s win feel like something special? Well, it was because that was the first time the Yankees had won back-to-back games since August 15th!!

Since August 15th, the Yankees have done the following: LWLWLLLWLWLWLLWLLLWLWLWLWW That’s an 11-15 stretch for those of you keeping score at home.

Here’s another stat that sort of sums up everything about this team right now. Last night Michael Kay said that in the Boston series, Derek Jeter was 2-for-2 with runners in scoring position. The rest of the lineup was 0-for-31.

And let’s spend a minute on Derek Jeter. He tied Willie Mays on the career hits list last night. Willie Mays! I don’t normally get wrapped up in individual accomplishments, but that is a brand name he just passed. I wish people would just cool it on the talk of Jeter being able to pass Rose someday, but think about what he could do. With 232 hits he will pass Tris Speaker for fifth on the all-time list. Look at the names that would be ahead of him: Rose, Cobb, Aaron, Musial. That’s it, think about that for a second.

So, the Yankees took 2-of-3 from Boston. It wasn’t easy, but they did it. Now they have the reeling Rays coming to town. If ever there was a time for the Yankees to play small-ball, this is it. I am not normally a fan of that style of play, but Tampa has the third-worst offense in the AL to go with the best pitching in the league. If I were the Yankees, I would think long and hard about dropping some bunts down this weekend.

Nice to see Eduardo Nunez resurface yesterday. With Jeter still hurting and a lefty on the mound tonight, how about a repeat of last night’s lineup? Nunez looked pretty good in the field too.

One last note. Phil Hughes since May 6th: 14-8 3.46ERA.

The 2013 Schedule

I always like when MLB issues the schedule for next year as it gives you a chance to dream of some exciting matchups next season. For the Yankees let’s take it month by month.

Opening Day is a home game and it is April 1st vs the Red Sox. That should be good. They then take a trip to the Midwest with games in Detroit and Cleveland before returning home to face the 2012 AL East champion Orioles (kidding I think) Their first interleague series will be a good one, Arizona returning to Yankee Stadium is always entertaining and then it’s back on the road to face Toronto and Tampa before coming home to face Tampa. The month closes out with a series against the AL’s newest club, Houston.

The 2012 AL Champion A’s visit during the first weekend of May. The Yankees then play their second interleague season in Colorado before swinging through Kansas City and then a homestand against the Mariners and Blue Jays. A quick jaunt to Baltimore and Tampa will be followed by a four-game Subway Series, two at Citi and two at the Stadium. The Yankees close out May and open June hosting Boston again.

Cleveland follows the Red Sox and then the Yankees do their first swing out to the left coast with the usually nine-game swing through Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim. They come home for two home games versus the Dodgers. (It will be weird to see Mattingly in a road uniform.) The Rays and 2012 World Series champion Rangers follow the Dodgers into the Stadium. A road trip to Baltimore on the final weekend of June wraps up the month and gives me an excuse to go get some blue crabs.

July opens with four games in Minnesota before the Orioles, Royals and Twins come to town. The Yankees’ All-Stars will then take a bus seven miles to Citi Field for the All-Star Game followed by their first visit to Boston of 2013! They then head to Texas for four and return home to face Tampa. The Yankees then play two in LA against the Dodgers to close out July.

Three games in San Diego open August followed by three in Chicago against the White Sox. Detroit and Anaheim come in for a homestand and then the Yankees head back to Boston, come home for three against Toronto and then play the Rays and Jays on the road before closing out the month at home against Baltimore.

That Orioles’ series kicks off September with the White Sox and Red Sox closing out the homestand. The Yankees play the next 10 on the road with 4 in Baltimore, 3 in Boston and 3 in Toronto. They return home to face the Giants in their final interleague series and the Rays before closing things out in Houston.

So, some weird things that stick out are the fact that the Yankees will visit Boston 9 times after the All-Star Break. Only four games against the Mets and ending the season in Houston.

Only 200 days to Opening Day!

This Will Be Weird

Tonight will be a weird series in Boston. For starters, today is a terrible anniversary and I am sure the Red Sox will do something to note that. But it will mostly be weird because since we last saw them, the Red Sox stopped being the Red Sox. They traded away three of their biggest names and they are on pace to lose 90 games for the first time since 1966. Things have gotten so bad that Andy has moved to Baltimore so we can reopen this site as YankeesOrioles.com next year. (I kid, I kid)

But, I have to imagine that guys like Pedroia, would love to puncture the Yankees’ playoff hopes and with six games left against New York, the Red Sox certainly can. The Yankees have been handed a golden opportunity with the schedule. Of their remaining 22 games, 16 are against the trio of Boston, Toronto and Minnesota. Apart from Cleveland, those are the three worst teams in the AL. And, with Tampa facing Baltimore over the next three nights, the Yankees will be guaranteed to gain ground on one of their closest opponents every night if they win.

It seems strange to say this 140 games into the season, but does anyone really know what to expect out of the Yankees this series? There have been signs of hope, like Granderson having a huge day Sunday, or Joba suddenly turning back the clock. But there are also signs of despair, like watching the club try and hit with runners in scoring position. The Yankees have no excuse not to take two-of-three this week.

Where To Begin?

Last night’s loss bothers me on so many levels that I don’t know where to start with my complaints.

Obviously, the call at first base was terrible, but it wasn’t the reason the Yankees lost. They lost because CC Sabathia did not pitch well. I’m very torn on what I see in Sabathia right now. I can see that his velocity is down. But the numbers provide an interesting counterpoint to that. He is striking out batters at the same rate he did before the All-Star Break, but his walk rate has plummeted. However, his ERA is higher because he has given up more home runs in the 62 innings he has pitched since the break than he did in the 107 before it. Does that combined with the lack of walks mean he isn’t wasting enough pitches and subsequently getting burned? I don’t know, but the Yankees need him to figure it out.

Another thing that really bothered me was Mark Teixeira calling himself out of today’s game last night. I understand he is hurt, I understand he slid into first because he felt something in his calf, but couldn’t he have at least seen how he felt this morning before saying he wasn’t playing? This is crunch time and the Yankees need him. If he can’t play I understand, but try a night of treatment before ruling yourself out.

And why is Jason Nix playing third last night? A-Rod missed six weeks and since he has returned he has DH’ed four times. Nix is 9-for-49 over the last month with two extra base hits. Remember Eduardo Nunez? I’m not sure the Yankees do.

Finally, let me address what happened between Joel Sherman and Joe Girardi. I understand the media is going to protect their guy and they did quickly on Twitter, but let’s not pretend that there isn’t a history between these two. Take a look at this and tell me how you would feel about the author if it was written about you. Sherman’s an excellent baseball writer, but he also wasn’t an innocent victim last night.

A Classic Rivalry Renewed

Ask any Yankees’ fan over the age of 30 which team they dislike the most after Boston and I would bet the answer you hear most often is Baltimore. It’s been 15 years since this rivalry mattered and Baltimore’s home park has become Yankee Stadium South, but in the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s, this was a real rivalry.

I remember as a kid watching Tippy Martinez come in to close out the Yankees and every time he did it the announcers would remind the fans that he had once been a Yankee. (Oh for the days when the local broadcasters could actually criticize the team.) It was a good introduction to the realities of the Steinbrenner era back when George was truly in charge. Jay Buhner may have been immortalized in Seinfeld, but I swear that Tippy came up and shut down the Yankees in more big spots than I care to remember.

I remember the night of May 19th, 1998. I went to Fenway with the guy on the other side of this site and as we were in the habit of doing at the time, went across the street after the game to have some additional adult beverages at Jillians, a bar that at the time had the biggest and best TV I had ever seen. That’s where I first saw this highlight. (Jeter and Girardi look young, but Posada and Pettitte look like babies! I still can’t believe the Yankees actually traded for Benitez and allowed him to wear the pinstripes after that.)

Now a new generation will be introduced to Yankees-Orioles games that matter. Four games with first on the line, it’s going to be a great weekend.