Saturday, November 07, 2009

New York Mets - 2009 Debrief

The New York Mets and their fans have to be gnashing their teeth. Not only did they have their arch rival Phillies in the World Series, but also their cross town rivals, the Yankees. All that occurred while the Mets had one of the highest payrolls, the highest of expectations and it all evaporated in a New York minute. The team couldn't hit, they couldn't pitch and their front office was back pedaling after a myriad of scandals. It was a tough year for the New York Mets in their brand new stadium.

The big story for the Mets in 2009 was injuries. At various times, they lost Beltran, Jose Reyes, John Maine, Johan Santana, Carlos Delgado and J. J. Putz. And these stars weren't lost for just a week or two, but huge chunks of time. Reyes, their once promising building block at shortstop, has tremendous damage to his wheels. Santana had elbow surgery and will be lost for an extensive period of time. Putz, who was expected (along with Francisco Rodriguez) to shore up the bullpen, which led to catastrophic results in 2007 and 2008, was a huge disappointment and then went down to season-ending injury. The Mets have declined to pick up his option, so he is history.

Beltran came back at the end of the season and produced like he always has. He is one of the most underrated performers in the majors. So he'll be fine. Delgado is a free agent and probably won't be resigned. He is going to be 38 after all. Maine came back at the end of the season to mixed results. And nobody seems to know what will happen with Jose Reyes. Cora is a free agent as his backup, but it seems that the Mets should plan on a one-year fill in for Reyes as he tries to rebuild his body.

The other big story for the Mets was their new ballpark. Despite the Mets 92 losses and the fact they were out of the race by June, the fans came out in droves to the tune of 3.3 million. That's encouraging and should continue the stream of income. But the new ball park seemed to make Shea look like the Polo Grounds. Daniel Murphy (of all people) led the Mets in homers with 12. Yes, you heard that right. 12. David Wright, who hit 130 homers his first five seasons with the Mets hit 10 in 2009. And he apparently was so discouraged by the ballpark that he changed his entire hitting philosophy. That has to be discouraging for the Mets when they are used to him popping 30+ homers a year like he did in 2007 and 2008.

So you would think that the Mets would have a good pitching chance in such a ballpark. But in fact, the pitching was bloody awful. Santana pitched great despite his arm being all messed up until he had his surgery. Nelson Figueroa was decent and Fernando Nieve showed promise (plus, he can hit!), but too many starts went to Livan and then his replacement, Tim Redding, with predictable results. But perhaps the Mets' biggest mistake was resigning Oliver Perez. And that's a huge understatement. He was brutal. And many of us who write about baseball predicted this and yet, the Mets went ahead and did it anyway.

The Mets do have some hope for a decent rotation in 2010. Maine, Figueroa, Nieve, Pelfrey and young Jonathan Niese could hold their own. Pelfrey is a disappointment of sorts. His K/BB ratio shows he will never be more than a fourth starter, which is a lot lower than expectations. But if he is fourth or fifth, it's a lot better than at the top of the rotation where he was forced to be in 2009. The Mets also need to figure out if Bobby Parnell is a relief pitcher or a starter. He shows promise but seems to be in the same limbo land that faces the Yankees' Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

The Mets' relief core wasn't all that bad. Francisco Rodriguez was perfect early and then stumbled quite a bit at the end. He ended up with 35 saves but finished with a 3.71 ERA and blew a lot of saves late in the season. Dessens (who is probably gone as a free agent), Feliciano and Ken Takahashi did some nice work. But Sean Green and Brian Stokes got way too many innings that didn't work out too well. It seems the Mets will need to pick up some arms in the off season.

As for the regulars, nearly all (with the exception of Delgado) are signed for 2010, so the cast will remain about the same. It will be interesting to see if they bring back free agent, Fernando Tatis, who was useful. Angel Pagan did surprisingly well while filling in for Beltran. But Beltran is one of the best centerfielders in baseball. Daniel Murphy is very questionable as Delgado's replacement at first. He doesn't hit enough for the position and he is a lousy fielder. The Mets seem to like the guy, but it doesn't make sense.

Their are questions at catcher. Schneider can't hit and is a free agent. Santos hit okay, but isn't wonderful. So it will be interesting to see if the Mets do something there. Other than that, the Mets will have Castillo, who had a decent 2009, at second. Wright will still be one of the elite third basemen (though he did make 18 errors and can be erratic in the field). Beltran will do his thing in center. That leaves left field (Pagan?), right field (is Francoeur staying?), first base and catcher as question marks.

The Mets certainly should be better in 2010 than they were in 2009. A lot will depend on the rotation and what the Mets do in the off season. But no matter how you look at it, this team does not look like an elite team and will do well to play around .500 ball and finish in the middle of the pack in 2010.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Philadelphia Phillies - 2009 Debrief

Right after the regular season ended, a series of posts began to debrief all the major league teams to look at the 2009 season and to look ahead to 2010. The series has already concluded the National League West and one post covered the Atlanta Braves for the National League East before the playoffs and World Series began and left little thought to anything else. Well, it's time to get back to business and restart the process. Since the National League East is our current target and since they just finished a World Series that is fresh in our minds, it seems fitting to start back up again with the Phillies.

It seems to be an obvious statement that the Phillies had a very good year. They had the second best record in the National League. They easily beat the Rockies and the Dodgers in the playoffs and handed a powerful Yankee team two losses in the World Series. They drew 3.6 million fans meaning the money has been good. But some of their weaknesses were exposed against the Yankees. This off season will be a critical one for the Phillies and toeing the line does not seem to be what's needed to repeat again next year as National League champs.

What Went Right

Again, it isn't difficult to pick the Phillies' strengths in 2009: Utley, Victorino, Werth, Ibanez and Howard. Those five players accounted for 228.3 of VORP or Value Over Replacement Players. That's a staggering number. Werth in particular, seems to be getting better and better every year. Howard and Utley figure to continue putting up the numbers. Ibanez doesn't figure to match this year's numbers next year as he is getting up there in age. Victorino is a little harder to figure.

One thing the Phillies have going for them is that Utley, Victorino, Werth and Howard are all in the 29 to 30 year old range meaning they should be at the peak of their baseball prowess. So they should all be able to at least replicate their statistics this coming year. The Fan isn't all gellin' with Victorino. The guy seems like a decent player. His OPS+ is just a little over league average the past two seasons after three seasons below league average. He has more pop in his bat from the left side (he's a switch hitter), but he's a better hitter from the right side. His range in centerfield is about league average and he only had one assist all year, meaning his arm seems to be below standard.

What seems to be the best case for the Phillies would be to move Victorino to left (the Fan insists that Ibanez was a one year hit and that's it) and then sign Marlon Byrd, who is a free agent this year. Byrd has more range, is growing as a hitter and has a better arm. Plus, Byrd hits right handed, which would seem to even things out more for the Phillies (more on that later).

Another thing that went right for the Phillies was trading for Cliff Lee. 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA and money in the post season. You can't ask for much more than that. Just ask the Angels about their Kazmir deal. The other pitching highlight for the Phillies was J. A. Happ. The question that has to be asked is: How can your most valuable pitcher during 2009 not get a post season start? The guy had a 46.7 VORP. He finished with a 2.93 ERA. What!? If the Fan was in charge of the Phillies, the post season rotation would have been: Lee, Happ, Hamels and then whomever.

Happ is only 27 and figures to continue improving if he stays healthy. Hamels had an off year, but if you look deep into the numbers, he wasn't much worse statistically than in 2008 when he was "great." It seems to this Fan that Hamels had an unlucky year and should bounce back just fine next year. So you already have Lee, Happ and Hamels in your rotation. Blanton is a decent fourth guy and the free agent list includes useful pitchers like Harden, Duchscherer (who has more consonants in his name than should be allowed) and Doug Davis if you want to round out your five. Pedro won't be back and it is doubtful that Moyer will be anything more than a swing man. The Phillies should let Brett Myers leave via free agency.

The Question Marks

Let's start with Jimmy Rollins. Despite a late surge, Rollins finished with his lowest batting average since 2002, his lowest OBP ever, his lowest stolen base total in five years and the lowest number of triples in his career. His 85 OPS+ was astounding. He's only 31, so the age thing shouldn't be a factor yet. Perhaps it was just a bad year. Perhaps he had an injury no one knows about. But if he doesn't bounce back, he can't bat lead off. You have to move him down in the batting order. His fielding seemed okay. Maybe it was just a bad year.

Pedro Feliz is a liability at the plate. He hasn't been above 85 in OPS+ since 2004. On the other hand, he's a very good third baseman. So do you sacrifice the offense for a slick fielder? It seems the Phillies have enough offense to warrant it. The Fan really thinks Adrian Beltre is going to have a bounce back year, especially if he goes back to the National League. He might be an intriguing possibility for the Phillies. He's just as good with the glove as Feliz and has more potential upside at the plate.

Ruiz is a good catcher. Granted, he doesn't throw many runners out. But he had only one passed ball all season. Plus, he's money in the post season. The Phillies are all set there, but they have no catching depth. Bako and Coste didn't cut it.

Sooner or later, you all knew the Fan was going to get to the bullpen. Frankly, it was a real liability in 2009. But Madsen has the potential to be a really good closer. He doesn't seem to get rattled and he did his job in the World Series. Just as frankly, what are the Phillies to make of Brad Lidge? From the Fan's observation, he can no longer blow you away with his fastball and has to rely on his slider, a pitch that can be an angel or a devil depending on the game. One thing the Phillies can't do is take too long to figure it out in the spring. They can't keep waffling when it comes to the closer. If Lidge doesn't light it up early, then they have to go with Madson or bring somebody else in. There are a ton of free agent relief pitchers on the market. Bring in a few of the top arms and see what happens.

The other weakness that the Yankees seemed to exploit was left handed pitchers versus the Phillies left handed batters and right handed pitchers throwing inside to those same Phillies lefties. As a team, the Phillies struck out 22% of the time against left-handed pitching versus 20% versus right-handed. And strikeouts are a problem. Werth and Howard struck out 342 times combined. Utley added 110 more. Werth needs more help from the right side of the plate and the Phillies could use a guy who puts the ball in play more often. Their team batting average was ninth in the sixteen team league.

2010 Prognosis

Again, the Phillies had a great year. They benefited nicely from the Mets falling apart due to injuries and a weak Washington team. They have horses and they know how to win. A few tweaks here and there and they should be right in the mix for their third straight NL pennant. The Braves figure to be stronger and you have to figure the Mets will be better. The Marlins' young pitching could always put it together some day. But it would be surprising if the Phillies weren't on top of the NL East again next year.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Yankees Are Champions

The old guys did it. Derek Jeter had three hits. Pettitte did what he always does by keeping his team in the game. Jorge didn't have a great game but he's had a good season and some big hits this post season and Mariano Rivera...what is there to say? There has never been anyone like him. He is the difference. He always comes through. Even nearly forty and his cutter down to 89 MPH, he locates, he repeats his delivery, he doesn't give in and he's a champion.

It is easy to understand the ennui that exists around the country for the Yankees. It is easy to understand how hated they are. They spend the most money. They make the most money. They play in the greatest venue in sports. But you can understand all that and still insist that these guys deserve the special place they have attained in the sport. As the last nine years have shown, you can't just spend the money and make it happen every year. From 1996 to 2000, it seemed easy but it wasn't and it still isn't. Derek Jeter said it best, "People don't understand how hard it is to get here." And people don't understand. Just ask the Red Sox or the Cardinals or any of the great organizations that work so hard and so diligently. Everything has to fall into place and it's more than money. It's a team.

Joe Girardi and C. C. Sabathia deserve a lot of the credit for making this a team. Add Nick Swisher to that list and a new and different A-Rod who finally understood what a team meant. Girardi took the guys to a pool hall in the spring. Sabathia took the team to an Orlando Magic game. Swisher enjoyed every moment and kept people loose. And A-Rod took all those young latin players under his wings and kept them going. This was a team. You could tell by the way they played, by the way they celebrated and by the way they pulled for each other each and every game.

Punch all the holes you want in the games of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. Posada isn't a great catcher. Jeter isn't the best fielder. Pettitte never overpowers you, but they are professional ball players. Much was made about the Twins and the fact that they had ball players. But these three guys know how to handle themselves. And they know what it takes to win. And after nine years of futility, they also know how sweet it is to be champions again.

And give all due credit to Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. Both are near the ends of their careers. Both have big questions about next year. Both were in the last year of their contracts. And yet every at bat, every game, they battled and they scratched and they came up with big performances that won games. It will be tough for any Yankee fan to say goodbye to either one of them next year.

And let's give a little heap of appreciation for Mark Teixeira. He's a great player, but he also seems like a great guy with humility and faith. And pooh-pooh all you want about the importance of fielding at first base. Take all the points away you want in the fielding bible for playing that position, but Teixeira's fielding saved innings, saved games and was sparkling. He rarely if ever made a bad throw or made a bad decision. He rarely relied on the pitcher to cover the bag, and he scooped everything and he made some incredible plays around the bag. The Yankees don't win without that. The Fan will never be convinced otherwise about the importance of Jon Olerud, first for the Blue Jays, then the Mariners and later the Mets for his skills around the bag at first base and what it meant to those winning teams he played for.

And finally, it all comes down to Mariano Rivera. Everyone kept saying that this one was for George Steinbrenner. All well and good and the feeling is understandable. But this one was for Mo. Has any relief pitcher in the last twenty years been asked to do more? Has any relief pitcher been relied upon so heavily? Two innings, forty pitches several times in the three series and he never faltered. He never let his team down. He never looked ruffled or worried. He never gave in. It's been a remarkable ride watching his career. The Yankees may have won five championships without him. Maybe. But don't say that to any Yankee fans. The guy is class. The guy is a pro. But more than all of that, he is money.

Tell this to everyone. Some will say this was for George. Some will say this was for the fans of New York. But this Fan says that this one was for Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera. If those four guys never taste a championship again, this one, at the twilight of their careers is validation and worthy caps to what has been an incredible ride.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Two Non-World Series Stories

While the baseball world waits for tonight's Game 6 between the Yankees and the Phillies, other teams are not standing around doing nothing. The Rays made a trade with the Pirates and a Blue Jay had a surgery that will hopefully help him start earning his pay.

The Tampa Bay Rays seem to be run by a bunch of smart people. Their two glaring weaknesses this past season were behind the plate and the relievers that threw to those catchers. The Bay Rays started fixing the relief problem by trading expendable Akinori Iwamura to the Pirates for Jesse Chavez.

Iwamura became expendable with the emergence of Ben Zobrist. The Bay Rays also have the added bonus of saving nearly $8 million in salary. Iwamura should help the Pirates as he is a smart player and a good fielder with a decent penchant for getting on base. His .354 OBP will do nicely for a Pirates team that hasn't always been great in that department.

Meanwhile, the Bay Rays pick up a cheap puzzle piece for their bullpen in Chavez who pitched in over 70 games for the Pirates last year and other than having more homers allowed than you would like, pitched admirably with a 4.01 ERA with 15 holds. Chavez is only 25 and his success despite being a 43rd round draft pick seems to show a fighter.

Fans up in Toronto might have some hope that struggling slugger, Vernon Wells, might have had a solid medical reason for his evaporation of skills in 2009. Wells underwent surgery on his wrist to repair some cartilage. Wells, who became a target for his large contract and small results became the boondoggle of former GM Ricciardi. Blue Jays' fans might now have hope that a bad wrist might have been Wells' downfall and can hope the repairs will fix the problem.

Let's face it, a batter with a bum wrist is in a heap of trouble since the wrists are instrumental in swinging the bat. One only has to remember the struggles of Nomar Garciaparra who suffered with wrist problems that sapped him of his former extraordinary abilities. A healthy Vernon Wells would be like picking up a new player for the Blue Jays and Blue Jays' fans can only hope he returns to the type of player that he has showed in the past.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Phillies Hang On

Cliff Lee was okay, which is what he's always been. A. J. Burnett was atrocious. And that was the difference. That the Phillies built a big lead and then watched the Yankees chip away at it despite missing a third of their regular lineup for at least part of the game should be of concern. But the good news for the Phillies is that they are still alive and as long as you have life, you have a chance.

The Yankees scored a quick run in the first on a Damon single and an A-Rod double but A. J. Burnett couldn't hold the Phillies. He gave up a lead off single to Rollins on a fastball that tailed back over the plate. The next play was a big one. Victorino squared to bunt. Burnett's fastball came right at him. Before Victorino had time to react, the ball hit off his knuckles and he was awarded first base. Posada asked for an appeal at third, but the third base umpire said Victorino didn't offer on the bunt. The announcers of course, agreed with the umpire going so far as to call it a, "good call." But it wasn't. The bat never left the hitting area and was still across the plate when Victorino got hit. That, friends, is a strike. But it was a painful one. Victorino tried to gut it out, but it was easy to see that his hand was useless after that. It wouldn't be a surprise to see that it was broken when all this is said and done.

That blown strike call was huge as Chase Utley, now known around the world as, "Superman," hit a three run homer. Utley said after the game that it was surreal all the homers he has hit (he has tied Reggie Jackson's World Series record). What is surreal is the number of pitches Utley has had offered to him right in his zone. Take nothing away from Utley because you have to hit the pitches, but man, were they sweet for him. Every homer he's hit has either been a grooved fastball or a hanging curve.

Burnett continued his pathetic outing in the third when he walked the first two batters (Utley and Howard). That was followed by two singles to score two more runs. That was the night for Burnett as Robertson came in to clean up. Robertson allowed one more run on a fielders choice, but other than that, Robertson was great and held the game there for two innings.

Robertson was followed by Aceves who was also great for his two innings. Meanwhile, the Yankees scratched out another run on a ground out by Damon to make it 6-2. Lee was getting the job done, but he didn't look invincible like Game 1.

Phil Coke then got the call from the Yankees and he didn't fare well at all. Superman hit yet another homer and then Ibanez hit one too. The Phillies had built an 8-2 lead, which is a pretty big lead, even against the Yankees. Phil Hughes had a great outing in relief of Coke and ended the damage.

The Yankees got to Lee in the eighth and knocked him out of the game with three runs, the biggest blow by A-Rod on a double to plate Teixeira and Damon. Chan Ho Park came in and ended the threat.

After Hughes dispatched with the Phillies in the bottom of the eighth, Charlie Manual decided on Ryan Madson for the close instead of Lidge. Posada doubled to lead off and then Matsui hit a single to make it first and third with no outs. The body language of every fan in Philadelphia at that point was, "Oh crap!" The Fan looked at his good wife and said, "The worst thing Jeter could do at this point would be to hit into a double play." And that's what Jeter did. The dreaded rally killer. A run scored, but it took all the starch out of the inning. Damon, who has really been a hero this series, had another terrific at bat and after many pitches, hit a single to keep the Yankees alive. Then Teixeira came up.

The Fan looked at his good life and said, "Teixeira will swing at three change ups in the dirt." And that's what he did to end to the game. And so the series goes back to New York. There will be a Pedro repeat against all of Yankee Fandom as Pettitte tries to end it for the Yankees. This thing is far from over and the Phillies are a great team.

Observations from Game 5:
  • Brent Gardner really hurt the Yankees on offense. He failed to put a single good at bat together. He made his reputation in the minors for his patience. But in a big game against a pitcher who throws strikes, you have to be aggressive and he was not. He let several hittable fastballs go right by for strikes.
  • Losing Victorino would hurt the Phillies, but not as much as losing Melky. The Fan can't see Victorino coming back from that injury.
  • Poor Matt Stairs. He finally got to hit off somebody not named Rivera but grounded into a double play against Hughes.
  • Molina should really retire after this season. He has no chance at the plate anymore. When a guy has zero chances for a hit, then it's time to hang it up.
  • Robinson Cano had a much better game at the plate. He had several good swings which is good news going into Game 6.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Yankees Surge to a 3-1 Lead

It was a game of moments and fortunately for the Yankees and their fans, the Yankees had more of them than the Phillies did. Thanks to three runs in the top of the ninth inning off of Brad Lidge (more on that later), the Yankees broke open a 4-4 tie and handed the ball to Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth to do what he does better than anyone else.

The Yankees started quickly on Joe Blanton, who was given the ball when Charlie Manual refused to consider pitching Lee on three days rest. According to news sources, Lee said he discussed pitching with Manual but apparently wasn't convincing enough to change his manager's mind. You can't blame this game on Blanton though. The first inning could have been worse and he settled down and pitched a decent game. But still, it was 2-0 after the Yankees first ups.

The Yankees had no reservation about starting Sabathia on three days rest. Heck, they really have no choice. Who are they going to pitch, Gaudin? Sabathia, who looked all game like he had ants crawling inside his uniform all night, promptly gave a run back to the Phillies in the bottom of the first. This Fan hates to say it but the more the series unfolds, the more easy it is to understand about Burnett and Posada. Posada seems like a bully catcher to his pitchers and Sabathia shook him off several times during his outing and Posada made a dozen or more trips to the mound to iron it out. Sabathia could be seen at one point shaking his head slightly and rolling his eyes.

Which leads to an interesting question concerning tomorrow's Game 5. The Yankees have already lost their DH for the game and now they have lost Melky Cabrera, who pulled a hammy on a ground out. Will they go into the game minus three of their hitters and put Molina out there for Burnett? Or will they go with Posada and roll the dice? Interesting.

Anyway, Blanton ran into trouble again and gave up two more runs on a single by Jeter and another RBI from Damon. Sabathia coughed up another run though and then it was 4-2. It stayed that way for a couple of innings as both pitchers gutted it out and hung in there. Sabathia and Blanton both deserve a lot of credit for the way they pitched when they really didn't have their "A" games going.

That guy again, Chase Utley tagged Sabathia for another solo homer. They graphic they showed was amazing. Utley is now 4 for 6 against Sabathia and the rest of the team was like 4 for 45 or something. After Utley's homer, Girardi brought in Marte who had another great outing by getting Howard to end the inning.

The Yankees didn't do anything in the top of the eighth and Joba Chamberlain came in (instead of Hughes - again, interesting). Pedro Feliz, who is having a good series, deposted a Joba pitch into the bleachers to tie the game. The Phillies fans were going crazy. The house was rocking. The hankies were waving.

And then Brad Lidge came in and pitched for the first time in the series. I'm sure the critics will blast Manual for the Lidge choice. But it almost worked out. After all, Lidge had been perfect this post season after a horrendous year. And Lidge got the first two outs easily and then Johnny Damon had the at bat of a lifetime.

And it almost wasn't. Lidge had two strikes on him and threw a nasty slider. Somehow, Damon just nicked it and it bounced under Ruiz for a harmless foul. Damon fouled off a few more pitches and worked the count to 3-2. They he rifled a single to left and the Phillie fans got a little quieter. They'd seen this happen before...not last year...but all this year.

And then Damon, that crafty little pest stole second on the first pitch to Teixeira. Manual had the Phillies in a shift on Tex with Feliz behind second base. Damon slid in before the ball, which was in the dirt. Feliz had to move in a little to catch it. Damon saw that and saw nobody on third because of the shift and ran over there ahead of Feliz. Beautiful base running!

The Fan doesn't know if Lidge was rattled at that point, but he promptly hit Teixeira to make it first and third with two out. A-Rod came up. What a difference this year makes for A-Rod. Last year, he looked fidgety in these situations. Last year, he flailed away at everything. But even though he's struggled in the World Series, he's never lost that relaxed and confident look. Lidge tried to get A-Rod out on sliders, Lidge's best pitch, but it didn't work. Then Lidge, who used to throw 96-98 MPH and now throws 92-93, tried to get A-Rod out on a fastball inside. It didn't work. A-Rod turned on it and laced a double to left, scoring Damon. Honestly, the Phillies are lucky that A-Rod didn't loft the ball because he crushed it.

Lidge got two quick strikes on Posada, but couldn't put him away and Posada hit a single to left to plate both Teixeira and A-Rod. Posada then ran into an out at second. Fortunately, A-Rod hustled and already scored.

Mariano then made it easy in the ninth. Matt Stairs must be wondering what he's done to deserve the fate he has. He has been forced to pinch hit three times now against Mariano and hasn't come close to solid contact. He was the first out. Rollins then ham-fisted one to Teixeira. Victorina then did the same to Teixeira and the game was over.

Some quick observations:
  • The home plate umpire was horrible. He had no consistency and had complaints all night long.
  • Victorina isn't nearly as scary looking from the left side as he is on the right side of the plate.
  • The Yankees will have to decide whether or not to start Gardner tomorrow with Melky out. Another lefty against Lee isn't optimal, but the Fan doesn't see any choice for Girardi. You have to have defense out there. Let's all hope that his choice isn't Hairston.
  • For all his lofty postulations before the series, Rollins isn't playing with any swagger and doesn't look confident as a player right now.
  • Robinson Cano looks totally lost at the plate. But his defense has been spectacular. He is no Soriano.
  • Let's see if the Yankees listen to the Fan's scouting report and swing more aggressively early in the game tomorrow off of Lee. Lee will start with fastballs to get up in the count and he can be had if you are aggressively looking for a fastball to hit early in the count.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Yankees Take a 2 to 1 Lead

The game turned on a ball four count to Mark Teixeira. Up until that point in the fourth inning, Cole Hamels looked in complete control. The Yankees hadn't even gotten a hit to that point. Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte looked off and the Yankees were quickly down 3-0. Then Teixeira came up and with a full count in the fourth inning, took a pitch that was low and inside according to the umpire. But the Pitch Trax thing featured by FOX showed the pitch to be a strike. Then A-Rod came up.

A-Rod could have been coming up with two out and nobody on. But instead, there was one out and a man on first. No way you can pitch around A-Rod at that point. Hamels jammed A-Rod just slightly but A-Rod got enough of it to send it to the wall in right. A-Rod chugged into second and Teixeira held up at third. But A-Rod thought it was gone and the replay showed it hit the camera in right. The umpires huddled and then looked at the replay and ruled it a homer.

The question that was never asked and we'll never get an answer to was whether the ground rules before the game discussed whether the camera was in play or a homer if hit. The replay didn't clearly show that the ball would have cleared the fence if the camera wasn't there because a bit of the camera hung out further than the fence, or so it appeared. This Fan thought the replay was inconclusive. But if the camera had been discussed during the ground rules before the game, and it was said that if a ball hits the camera, it's a homer, we'll never know.

That made the game 3-2 and the Fan isn't a sports psychologist, but Hamels probably had a bit more pressure on him at that point. After Pettitte held the game at three, Hamels gave up a double to Swisher, a single (lucky dunk shot) by Pettitte tied the game. Jeter then hit another dunk shot to center to make it first and second before Damon rattled a double to right to put the Yankees up 5-3.

At that point in the game, the Yankees had received a couple of favorable calls, gotten a couple of lucky hits and were up by two runs. But the Fan told the good wife that the game was far from over. Jason Werth made that statement sound ominous with his second homer of the game to make it 5-4, but Pettitte held it from there.

That's the thing about Andy Pettitte. Is Andy Pettitte a great pitcher? No. He isn't. He isn't overpowering. He isn't really tricky. But he consistently keeps the Yankees in the game long enough for good things to happen. He made 32 starts for the Yankees this year. He gave up six earned runs twice and five earned runs four times. That was the most he gave up in any game all year. He bends, but he doesn't break. He doesn't get blown out. The same holds true for the post season and Saturday night was no different. He gave up four runs in six innings. His ERA for the Series stands at 6.00. But it could have gotten much worse, but he doesn't let it. And that's why he has more post-season wins of anybody ever.

Of course, a good bullpen doesn't hurt either. The Yankees got a good inning from Joba, a great inning from Marte (surprise!), one out and a homer by poor Phil Hughes and a two out, non-save from Rivera. Rivera has probably already earned his Hall of Fame ticket, but if the Yankees can win this series, then it's more of a lock than ever. The guy has just been a life saver.

Sabathia goes tomorrow for the Yankees against Joe Blanton. On paper, it looks like a mismatch. But nothing is a mismatch until the game is over. If the Phillies win, we have a heck of a series going. If Sabathia is sharp and the Yankees win, then the Phillies are in a heap of trouble.

Addendum: According to a next day story, the ground rules DID state the camera was out of play. Aha! Click here.