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Wild Card Roster

The Yankees announced their roster for tonight’s game and it contained one small surprise, CC Sabathia is on it.

There are ten total pitchers- Severino, Gray, Sabathia, Chapman, Betances, Robertson, Green, Kahnle, Shreve and Warren. Sabathia pitched on Saturday, so he isn’t going to give them a lot of length and they have Gray if Severino gets hit hard early. The fact that they chose Sabathia over Tanaka, who has more rest under his belt, makes me think they are going to use Sabathia as to get a lefty on lefty matchup if needed. We shall see.

The 15 batters are pretty much what we thought, but the lineup has one surprise. Hicks is in center and Ellsbury is the DH with Headley on the bench. Full lineup is

Gardner-LF
Judge-RF
Sanchez-C
Didi-SS
Castro-2B
Bird-1B
Hicks-CF
Ellsbury-DH
Frazier-3B

That leaves only Judge and Sanchez as consecutive hitters from the same side of the plate. By DH’ing Ellsbury, the Yankees can bring in someone else to hit for him against a lefty in a big spot (Almost certainly Holliday)

Four hours to first pitch, enjoy the game!

For The Best

Winning the division would have been nice, but winning it by playing a tiebreaker would not have been great.

If the Yankees and Red Sox had ended up tied after tomorrow, there would have been a playoff game Monday in New York to determine the winner of the AL East. That would have thrown a real wrench into the Yankees’ rotation for the ALDS. Start with the playoff game Monday, which Severino would have started. If the Yankees had lost, they would have had to pitch Gray on Tuesday in the wild-card game. That would mean your Game 1 and Game 2 ALDS starters, if the Yankees won the wild-card game, would have been Tanaka and Sabathia. And you would have had the Yankees playing high-stakes games straight through the weekend and on into the playoffs, which would have stressed the bullpen.

Instead, the Red Sox finally took care of business and now we know the road ahead. A game against Minnesota Tuesday with Severino taking the ball. Win that and a trip to Cleveland for Game 1 on Thursday with Gray taking the ball. Win that series and a trip to either Houston or Boston for a trip to the World Series. It will not be easy, but the Yankees look good. Judge is destroying baseball again and that bullpen will be nasty. I think this team is better built for October than for April through September.

The only remaining question is how the postseason roster shakes out. Because the wild card game is considered a single event, the Yankees can set a roster just for that and change it for the ALDS. That means you really only need a starter and a backup long guy. The Yankees will probably carry nine pitchers, which leaves you with 16 hitters, or four more than usual. We know the first 13- Sanchez, Romine, Bird, Castro, Didi, Todd Frazier, Headley, Torreyes, Gardner, Ellsbury, Hicks, Judge, Holliday. I bet Wade gets a spot as a pinch-runner since he has speed. They won’t pinch-run for any of the outfielders, so perhaps they take Tyler Austin as a multi-positional backup? Or maybe a 3rd catcher? Time will tell. For now we get the shakedown game tomorrow and then the real fun begins.

A Great Season

The Yankees are going to the wild card game, and the way they are built, might be able to do some serious damage in the postseason. Whatever happens, it’s the cherry on the sundae of a marvelous season. Beyond the success this year, the Yankees have laid the foundation for another successful era.

Start with Aaron Judge who erased all doubts. Yes, he will strike out 200 times, but any team would gladly trade that for 50 homers and 100 walks. He is also a good defender and a humble guy. He will be a lineup mainstay for years to come.

Next go to Gary Sanchez who proved the last two months of 2016 were not a fluke. Yes, he needs to get better blocking balls in the dirt, but that is a small critique for a catcher who shuts down the running game while hitting 30 homers.

Let’s not forget Luis Severino, a guy who will get the ball on opening day next year and hopefully for many years after that. He’s 23 and he had a wonderful season.

A season where you found two cornerstones of your lineup for years to come and an ace for the front of the rotation would be a huge success, but it didn’t stop there. Didi showed he is one of the best shortstops in the game. Greene emerged as a dominant bullpen arm. Hicks showed he can contribute a lot. Montgomery proved he belongs in a big league rotation. Really the only disappointment was Greg Bird, who needs to prove he can stay on the field in 2018.

And there is plenty of more talent on the way. Chance Adams should compete for a rotation spot in 2018. Gleyber Torres is currently the top prospect in baseball. Miguel Andujar torched AA and AAA and the bigs in his only game active. Justus Sheffield, Billy McKinley, and Tyler Wade could all contribute in 2018 as well.

It may end next Tuesday, or it may end long after that, but whenever it ends, it will be remembered as a great season for the Yankees.

Nets, Bad Plans, and the AL East

The scene at Yankee Stadium yesterday of a small girl being cradled in her grandfather’s arms and rushed to medical attention was sickening. I saw Matt Holiday visibly shedding tears. Todd Frazier looked devastated. It was awful. And completely unnecessary because a net would have prevented it from happening. I’ve written about this before and reviewed a HBO sports special on it. I never knew until today that a fan has actually died from a foul ball into the stands. His name was Alan Fish, he was 14 and attending a Dodgers game. It happened 47 years ago, and we still don’t have nets. I just don’t understand how that is possible and we are still waiting for nets.
*****

I wrote the other day about the strategy the Yankees were employing skipping Severino for the Twins series. They reversed themselves shortly after that and pitched him yesterday because it would allow him to make three starts over the final weeks of the season, and not two. It was dumb, almost as dumb as moving Sonny Grey’s start up to Sunday, and it backfired just like that had. The Yankees still walked away with a sweep, but their coaches should have thought this out more.

Start with the simple math in the AL East. Entering Tuesday’s game, the Red Sox had a three-game lead with 12 to play. It doesn’t sound like much, but if Boston merely finished 6-6, the Yankees would have to go 9-3 to tie them. The Yankees could have noticed that they had gone 9-3 over the previous 12 games and picked up exactly 1/2 a game over Boston. That doesn’t mean the results would follow the same pattern this time around, but it also illustrates how big a lead 3 games is when you have only 12 to play.

They could have also looked at the schedule. Boston played Baltimore two more times, the same team the Yankees turned into road kill over the weekend. They then head to Cincinnati of all places, one of the worst teams in the NL. Then it’s back home to face Toronto, the same team the Yankees will play this weekend, before finishing the season against Houston. And here’s the key to that. Houston has already clinched a playoff spot as a division winner. They are also 5-1/2 games ahead of Boston for the right to host the ALDS when it starts October 5th. Are they really going to play their hearts out in a four-game set against the team they are likely to face when the games really count the following week? I doubt it. In fact I bet that both teams turn that series into an almost spring training like atmosphere. Pitchers will be hidden and starters will play a half game at most. The only way that doesn’t happen is if Boston still needs to wrap up the AL East, but once they do, forget it. I don’t understand why the Yankees didn’t think about that.

But they should have plenty of time to sort things out again. They need to win three games to wrap up not only the wild card, but guarantee that they will host it. Once they’ve accomplished that expect the shuffling of pitchers and players to begin.

Strategy

The Yankees did a last-minute shuffle of their rotation this weekend that didn’t make sense at first, but does if you think a bit deeper about it. Moving Sonny Grey to Sunday’s gamne while putting CC Sabathia on the mound Tuesday and Jamie Garcia on Monday seemed odd. The Yankees are playing the Twins, their closest pursuers in the wild card, starting Monday and they had their three best starters- Grey, Taanaka, and Severino, lined up to get the ball. And the excuse they used, trying to keep Sabathia off the turf in Toronto didn’t ring true because they have an off day Thursday and six guys who can start. Skipping Sabathia in Toronto wouldn’t have been that hard. So what’s going on?

This is all about Luis Severino. By making this move the Yankees are lining Severino up to get the ball in a wild card game start. He will pitch Friday in Toronto, Wednesday in the Bronx, and then have an extra day off before a Tuesday wild card start. You can’t argue with that logic, he’s been their best pitcher, but it goes deeper than that. As mentioned above, if the season ended today the Yankees would face the Twins in that wild card game. By moving Severino, the Yankees avoid letting the Twins face him two weeks before potentially facing him in the playoffs. In fact, the Twins have never faced Severino, the only AL team not to have done so. It is a bit of a risk because the Yankees haven’t sewn anything up yet, but their playoff odds are almost a lock at this point (Magic number is 8. Angels would have to go 13-0 if Yankees finish 6-7.)

Furthermore, it sets things up for the ALDs if the Yankees make that. Grey is now slated to pitch Saturday in Toronto, and probably would get the ball in a ALDS Game 1. Tanaka would have plenty of rest before an ALDS Game 2 with Severino getting the ball again in Game 3. We’ve still got a few weeks to worry about it and things could always change, but for now that’s the way the Yankees are setting things up.
*****
On a separate note, the Yankees clinched their 25th-straight season with a winning record Saturday. It’s the second-longest streak in baseball history behind the Yankees of 1926-1964. A few facts I find interesting about that bit of trivia.

1- Over half of all losing seasons the Yankees have had since 1926 (9 total) came during Steinbrenner’s tenure.

2- Since 1903, they have had a total of 21 seasons with a losing record. They’ve had 18 seasons with more than 100 wins.

A Night at Citi Field

Last night’s game was a bit of a bummer, but my experience was not. For $25, I got to sit three rows behind the Yankee on-deck circle. When the Rays decided to move their three games against the Yankees to Citi Field, MLB put all the tickets online for $25 a piece. If you acted quickly, like I did, you ended up with some very, very, nice seats.

I had been to Citi Field once before, and it still remains a very nice ballpark. When I originally went to Citi Field, I had not been to the new Yankee Stadium. Now that I can compare the two, I see a lot of similarities, though Citi Field feels more intimate. (It does seat about 9,000 fewer fans) I was struck once again by how I couldn’t see the whole field from a really nice seat. Not surprisingly, Yankee fans were out in force and the place was loud. My only complaint about the whole experience is that MLB decided not to open the upper levels of Citi Field, but then decided to sell standing room only tickets at $15 a piece. This put a tremendous strain on the concessions and bathrooms on the lower level as there were too many fans and not enough concessions and toilets. It was a beer vendor’s dream however as they didn’t have to walk through the stands to sell a beer, standing in the concourse brought the customers to them. My friend and I, who have attended many playoff games and Opening Days together, could not recall ever seeing lines like we saw last night.

With 18 games left on the schedule, the Yankees have no one to blame but themselves if they can’t clinch the wild card. The schedule was already favorable with only a road trip to Toronto splitting up 14 remaining home games. Now they have this quasi-home set and a five-game lead in the wild card race. Baseball Prospectus has the odds of them making the playoffs at 99.2%. That seems about right.

March 29th?

The 2018 schedule is out and the Yankees are opening on March 29th. Has the world gone mad? This is due to the fact that the new CBA adds 4 more off days into the regular season. The Yankees opened on April 2nd this year, so you can see how the 4 days impacts the start of the regular season. I get that the regular season has become a grind and the players wanted more time off, but this is insane. The Yankees open in Toronto, which thankfully has a dome, but teams like the Mets and Tigers will be hosting outside games on March 29th which is a bad idea.

The smart move would be to reduce the number of games in the regular season. Want 4 extra days off? Go to a 158-game schedule. Don’t want to do that, schedule doubleheaders. Problem is, both of those ideas reduce revenues and the owners won’t agree to that. So, we are going to have to get used to baseball being played in March and games getting snowed out.

Ugh

Thank You, Stick

You could start a very interesting debate trying to apportion the credit for this era of Yankee history to say five people. But no matter what five names you ended up with, Gene Michael would have to be one of them.

It was Michael who took over control of the team when George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball. It was Michael who rebuilt the farm system, installed Buck Showalter as manager, and traded for Paul O’Neill. And it was Michael who withstood the tantrums and ravings of the Boss, not allowing him to undo all the work that Michael had accomplished.

Without Michael you probably would have seen Derek Jeter in a different uniform. You certainly would have seen Bernie Williams traded. Michael had to actually lie to Steinbrenner and tell him other teams didn’t want Bernie, to keep him from being sent to another club. You probably would not have seen five championships and it is very possible that the Yankees are currently playing in a stadium in North Jersey.

In short, Yankee fans of the past twenty-five years owe an enormous debt to Gene Michael. RIP

Stealing Signs

One of my favorite stats has nothing to do with sports. It is the fact that on the day he resigned the Presidency, Richard Nixon had a 24% approval rating. To me that stat captures how viciously partisan people can be in the way they view things. I bring that stat up because the Red Sox have admitted to a very modern method of cheating.

I will fully admit to being biased here, this cheating took place against my team. I also suspect a solid portion of Red Sox fans will defend it and go with arguments like “it’s no big deal” and “everyone does it”. That’s the nature of a partisan divide. We saw a good example of it with Deflategate and the other Patriot scandals. Outside of New England, the majority thought they cheated. Inside, the minority did. So, I am not going to dwell on the nuts and bolts of this case, other than to ask Red Sox fans what they would be saying if the situation was reversed? I want to focus on the larger issue, why is sign stealing able to happen considering all the technology available in the world today?

Why do pitchers and catcher still communicate with signs? Why couldn’t they both wear a device that allowed one to signal to the other what pitch to throw? Why couldn’t the same technology be employed to send signals from the third base coach to the runners and batters? If the goal is to speed up baseball, wouldn’t every player wearing some form of Apple Watch and getting a signal telling them to bunt, steal, throw a fastball, or move three steps to their right, improve the pace of play? I get it, there would have to be safeguards and security, but it seems feasible.

And let’s go further. Why do we still need the manager to come out and take the ball from the pitcher when he is bringing in a new one? Couldn’t he press a button that tells the umpire to go out to the mound while the new pitcher runs in from the bullpen? And finally, why does replay take so long? Why doesn’t MLB have its replay officials looking at close calls before they are challenged in order to speed up the process?

Just some random thoughts on a wet Wednesday.

The Home Stretch

The Yankees took three-of-four from Boston, but probably also saw their chances at the division title disappear. A 3.5-game lead with only 26 games to go sounds doable, but is a significant advantage. In fact, Baseball Prospectus sees the Red Sox as 77% favorites to win the AL East.

The good news is the Yankees have their own 3.5-game lead in the wild card race. They have nine games against their immediate pursuers, Baltimore and Minnesota, and a favorable schedule outside of that. Their playoff odds sit at 94% today and it is clear that anything less than a wild card appearance would be a disappointing end to a surprising season.

There are a few questions the Yankee need to find answers to over the next few weeks.

1- What’s the lineup? Hicks is back on the DL. Holliday is back and Todd Frazier hasn’t done much with the bat, last night being an exception. Meanwhile, Chase Headley is hitting well. With Bird back at first, it makes sense to bench Frazier and let Headley play third, but the Yankees might take advantage of an expanded bench to matchup strategically each game and at bat.

2- Can Chapman be turned around? Without Chapman, the Yankees still have a great bullpen, but if they can somehow fix him, it would be incredibly dominant. With the playoffs littered with days off, the Yankees could shorten every game to five innings from their starters with the sextet of Betances, Chapman, Green, Kahnle, Robertson, and Warren. That could be huge.

3- Assuming the Yankees are a wild card team, who gets the start? They currently have four starters clicking and while Severino has clearly been the best, would the Yankees prefer Tanaka’s experience in that spot? The good news is that they have choices.

26 games to go. September should be fun.