October 2010

In Wake Of Late Slide Yankees Ready For 2011 Arms Race

The 2010 Yankees season ended abruptly in Arlington, TX, with a starting pitching staff left in tatters and there will be work to do on it before the 2011 season begins.
At least one big mystery has been solved. Those of you wondering why CC Sabathia was not his usual self in the playoffs can blame a meniscus tear in his right knee, which was repaired on Friday.
Sabathia’s 21-7 record an 3.18 ERA may be worthy of his second Cy Young Award and he did not lose any of his three postseason starts. However, he allowed 10 earned runs and 22 hits in 16 innings and he did not look anything like the shutdown ace he has been for the Yankees the past two seasons.
Behind Sabathia it is no secret the Yankees would like to add a quality starter and Texas left-hander Cliff Lee will be at the top of the shopping list this winter. The Yankees can pretty much open the vault to bid for his services.
The question is: Will Lee sign?
Having his old Indians’ pal Sabathia will be a great help in getting Lee on board if the money is right.
The Yankees also would love to have Andy Pettitte come back. It was his groin injury, suffered on July 18 against the Rays, that exposed the weak underbelly of the Yankees rotation the rest of the season.
Though Pettitte was able to return in late September and though he pitched the best of all of the starters in the postseason, the starting pitching staff collapsed down the stretch and cost the Yankees the American League East title.
But the Yankees would love to have Pettitte back simply because he pitched his best baseball in years when he was healthy. At the time of his injury, Pettitte was 11-2 with a 2.88 ERA and he made the All-Star team.
The question is will Andy give it one more go at age 38? The Yankees hope the answer is yes.
Phil Hughes, 24, emerged as a potential ace for the future. Winning the No. 5 spot in spring training, Hughes was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. But it hardly was as easy as it looked. Hughes was 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA and made the All-Star team in the first half.
However, he was only 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA in the second half. He also pitched poorly in both of his starts in the American League Championship Series. Hughes was bolstered by great run support. He led all major-league pitchers with 7.45 runs per nine innings.
Hughes needs to develop a swing-and-miss pitch that will keep opposing hitters from fouling off his good fastball and running up his pitch counts. But the Yankees still believe that Hughes can become an excellent pitcher now that he will be able to pitch without any restrictions on his innings pitched.
If the Yankees can look to any players that may have cost them a championship season, look no further than Exhibit A: A.J. Burnett and Exhibit B: Javier Vazquez.
Burnett was 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA with the Blue Jays in 2008, which earned him a rich four-year deal with the Yankees. In 2009, Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA and he was coming off a strong showing in the postseason.
But 2010 was anything but strong. Burnett has always been a poster child for inconsistency but the Yankees were shocked by how bad Burnett was in 2010.
He was 7-2 with a 3.28 ERA in the first two months. In July, he was 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA. But in the other months, Burnett was 1-12 with a 7.85 ERA. No amount of offense can overcome pitching that bad.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, they are stuck with Burnett and his huge contract for two more seasons. The Yankees can only hope that pitching coach Dave Eiland can find him a consistent release point in his delivery and shorten the lengths of inconsistency.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Vazquez is a goner. Much like Burnett, Vazquez would pitch poorly for a while, then rebound, only to pitch poorly again. He was 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA and he spent most of late August and September in the bullpen.
Vazquez, 34, lost zip on his fastball and his breaking stuff was just too easy for hitters to crush. So the Yankees are not going to bring him back in 2011.
Though Vazquez was a disappointment after his 15-10 season in 2009 with the Braves, Brian Cashman must take the blame for this deal. Vazquez and left-hander Boone Logan came over from the Braves and the Yankees shipped Melky Cabrera and promising left-hand reliever Michael Dunn to the Braves.
The Yankees passed on free agent John Lackey, allowing the right-hander to sign with the Red Sox. Lackey was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA. Somehow the difference between the salary Lackey earned and the money paid to Vazquez does not seem so great when kept in context of how Vazquez was a major reason the 2010 Yankees did not advance to the World Series.
The Yankees do have some hope on the horizon in 23-year-old Ivan Nova. Nova was summoned as a replacement starter in late August and was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in seven starts. The only question for Nova is if his stuff can translate into getting through a batting order three times as a starter.
If the answer is no, Nova could be a candidate for short relief because the Yankees love his composure and competitiveness on the mound. His poise really impressed manager Joe Girardi.
The Yankees also have a contingency plan if Lee somehow escapes them. They may be able to convince the Kansas City Royals to trade Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke. The 27-year-old right-hander might be on the market if the Royals can get some prospects to rebuild their team for him.
Of course, the asking price might include catcher Jesus Montero, Nova and reliever Joba Chamberlain. But if the Yankees believe Greinke can get them back to the World Series they may be willing to make the deal.
Greinke is coming off a bad season. He was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. But there is no doubt he would benefit greatly from the Yankees’ offense because the Royals were unable to support him with many runs in the past two seasons.
It would appear that Cashman will be on the hot seat again this winter. His job is repair this rotation with the best arms he can find. 
The Yankees’ hopes for 2011 pretty much hang in the balance.

CC’s Grit And Yankees’ Guile Force Texas Into Game 6

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES – GAME 5
YANKEES 7, RANGERS 2

It was not pretty. In fact, as victories go this one was just about as gloomy as the weather in the Bronx on Wednesday afternoon.
But ace left-hander CC Sabathia and the Bombers will take their backs-to-the-wall 7-2 victory over the Texas Rangers that forces a Game 6 in Arlington, TX, on Friday night.
Sabathia (1-0) may have been less than Cy Young worthy this postseason, but he battled and fought the Rangers for seven tough innings. He gave up two runs on 11 hits while walking none and striking out seven.
The big difference between the Rangers of the last three games was they failed to get any extra-base hits, they hit into two double plays and they had another runner picked off. On the night the Rangers were a 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Sabathia’s last two innings of work were symbolic of the Rangers’ struggles to get the key hits they seemingly dialed up at will the past three games.
The Rangers were trailing 5-0 when backup catcher Matt Treanor lofted a fly ball into left-field that carried into the seats. Mitch Moreland followed with a single. After Elvis Andrus struck out, Michael Young battled Sabathia for a single into right.
The Yankee fans that dominated the 49,832 in attendance all of s sudden were nervous as Roy Hobbs, er huh, Mickey Mantle, er huh, Josh Hamilton strode to the plate. If any one player in the Rangers’ lineup has sucked the life out of the defending world champions it has been this modern-day Dr. Jack Kevorkian with a Louisville Slugger.
But, alas, on this night, “The Natural” grounded into an inning-ending double play. 
In the sixth, Sabathia worked his way into another huge jam, despite the Yankees getting him a run back in the bottom of the fifth that made it 5-1.
With one out, David Murphy started a conga line of runners with a single to right. Ian Kinsler and Jeff Francouer followed with singles of their own to load the bases.
Manager Joe Girardi, showing how important the situation was, ordered Kerry Wood to start throwing in the bullpen.
But, with Yankee fans bundled up in the cold, saying their prayers and gritting their teeth, Sabathia induced Moreland to bounce out to Alex Rodriguez for the second out, although Murphy managed to score on the slow roller.
Then Sabathia battled Moreland in a tense eight-pitch at-bat in which the rookie Rangers first baseman ended up watching strike three whisper high and inside. If the Yankees were indeed on life support, they got some breathing room with that big out.
It also seemed to take starch out of the Rangers.
In the last two innings, Sabathia gave up two runs on six hits and threw 55 pitches. But, like the pillar of strength he has been all season, he bent but never broke.
The Yankees offense this series pretty much has consisted of one player: Robinson Cano. Everybody else has been in need of the Heimlach Maneuver. The prospect of playing Game 5 and the rest of the postseason without an injured Mark Teixeira did not really lighten the dire mood either.
But he Yankees were fortunate enough to get a wild and unhinged C.J. Wilson (0-1). Unlike his impressive series-opening performance, Wilson showed pretty early he would need a road map, a GPS, a compass and floodlights to find the strike zone and the Yankees took advantage.
In the second inning, Wilson walked Rodriguez and Teixeira’s replacement Lance Berkman on four pitches, sandwiched by one out. Jorge Posada made Wilson pay for his wildness by lacing an 2-0 pitch for a single to left that scored Rodriguez.
Curtis Granderson followed with a lined single to left to score Berkman and then the Rangers started treating the baseball like a hand grenade. Right-fielder Jeff Francouer, attempting to throw out Posada at third, air-expressed his throw over Young’s head.
Posada unwisely tried to make it home even though Young had caught the ball on a carom and had him dead to rights at home plate. However, Young’s throw home similarly sailed over Treanor’s head and Posada gave the Yankees an early 3-0 cushion.
The Yankees added to their lead in the third inning when Nick Swisher and Cano greeted Wilson with back-to-back home runs to start the inning. For Cano, it was his fourth home run of the series.
The Yankees added another run off Wilson in the fifth. They loaded the bases with one out on a leadoff walk to Swisher, Rodriguez smacked a ground-rule double to left-center and the Rangers elected to walk Marcus Thames in order to face Berkman.
Bad idea.
Though Berkman has struggled against left-handers batting right-handed all season, he delivered a long sacrifice fly to center that scored Swisher. That made the score 6-2.
Wilson gave up six runs on six hits and four walks and he struck two in his five innings of work. Three of the four batters he walked eventually scored.
Wilson was 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA in the regular season, but in his five starts against the Yankees (three in the regular season and two in this series) he is 0-2 with a 5.81 ERA.
Granderson capped the Yankees’ scoring in the eighth with a one-out line-drive home run to right-center off rookie reliever Alexi Ogando.
The Yankees, taking no chances in the final three innings, turned the game over to Wood and Mariano Rivera. Wood pitched two scoreless innings, striking three and picking off Andrus at second base for his second pickoff of the series.
Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth and the Yankees lived to fight another day.
But do not get too carried away with this victory. The Yankee offense still could improve. Despite the victory they were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
The Yankees hope to shake some more cobwebs off their bats on the trip to Arlington. The patient is beginning to show some signs of life. Don’t tell Dr. Kervorkian.
ON DECK

The Yankees are working out at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington today. Trailing 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, the Yankees will turn to 18-game winner and All-Star right-hander Phil Hughes to get them even in the series.
Hughes (0-1) was blasted for seven runs on 10 hits and three walks in four-plus innings last Saturday. Before that, he had pitched 15 1/3 scoreless innings against the Rangers in Arlington. The one big statistic in Hughes’ favor is that he never lost two starts in a row during the regular season.
His opponent again will be right-hander Colby Lewis (1-0). Lewis pitched a solid, but not dominant, 5 2/3 innings against the Yankees in Game 2, giving up two runs on six hits and three walks and fanning six batters. Despite the fact Lewis threw a wild pitch, hit a batter and lacked command at times, the Yankees were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
In order to beat Lewis to win the game and force a Game 7, the Yankees will have to do better in that category. The Yankees are a dreadful 8-for-50 (.160) with RISP in the series.
Game-time will be 8 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by TBS.

Rangers’ Pen Implodes As Yankees Rally To Take Opener

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES – GAME 1
YANKEES 6, RANGERS 5

The New York Yankees are a lot like a cockroach. When you step on them you better make sure they are dead.
As the Texas Rangers found out on Friday night, the cockroach may be limping but still may have enough strength to get away from you.
Down 5-1 in the top of the eighth inning with a dominant C.J. Wilson on the mound, the Yankees fashioned a five-run comeback as seven consecutive batters reached base on five different Texas pitchers to snatch Game 1 of the American League Championship Series away from the stunned Rangers.
Since the 1995 postseason, the Yankees have registered 14 victories after trailing after seven innings, which is tops in the majors. They also have outscored the Rangers in their postseason meetings 15-0 after seven innings.
With the victory, the Yankees also dealt a very deep psychological blow to a Ranger bullpen that was second to the Yankees with a 3.61 ERA during the regular season. More importantly, they also managed to take home-field advantage away from the Rangers.
Brett Gardner started the inning and the rally by legging out what looked to be a routine ground ball to Jorge Cantu at first. But Gardner slid in headfirst to beat Wilson to the bag on the relay throw from Cantu.
Derek Jeter followed by lacing a line-drive double down the left-field line to score Gardner. The hit also chased Wilson from the game, despite the fact he had cruised through the first seven innings.
Veteran left-handed reliever Darren Oliver dug the Rangers an even bigger hole by walking both Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira on 3-2 pitches. Manager Ron Washington then went to his bullpen for side-winding right-hander Darren O’Day to pitch to Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez ripped O’Day’s first offering so hard he nearly took Michael Young’s glove into left-field with it and Jeter and Swisher scored to draw the Yankees to within a run.
Washington dipped into his bullpen again for left-hander Clay Rapada to pitch to Robinson Cano, who had homered off Wilson to lead off the seventh inning to put the Yankees on the board. Cano laced Rapada’s first pitch up the middle in to center-field to score Teixeira with the tying run. 
Center-fielder Josh Hamilton bobbled the ball and allowed Rodriguez to take third.
As Washington started to wear out a visible path to the mound at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, a crowd of 50,930 — the fourth largest in Rangers history — mostly sat in stunned silence as left-hander Derek Holland was summoned to pitch to designated hitter Marcus Thames — still with nobody out.
Thames battled to a 2-2 count and muscled a broken-bat line-drive single into left-field to give the Yankees their first lead of the night. The Rangers looked to see if team president Nolan Ryan, who threw out the first pitch before the game, would begin to warm up for his shell-shocked Texans.
Wilson ended up his nightmare evening by being charged with three runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 7-plus innings of work. O’Day (0-1), who oddly was unscored upon in the American League Division Series against the Rays, was charged with the loss.
The real unsung heroes for the Yankees were relievers Joba Chamberlain and Dustin Moseley (1-0). 
Ace left-hander CC Sabathia was uncharacteristically wild in giving up five earned runs on six hits and four walks and three strikeouts in only four innings of work — the shortest outing of his postseason career. 
However, Chamberlain and Moseley came on and combined for three no-hit shutout innings of relief. Moseley struck out four of the seven batters he faced in two innings. The pair laid the groundwork for the Yankees’ comeback by silencing the Rangers’ bats, which had put up three runs in the first inning on a Hamilton home run.
They added two runs in the fourth on a two-out double by Young, which put the Yankee cockroaches down 5-0. They were limping but still breathing.
Kerry Wood made things interesting for the Rangers in the eighth by walking Ian Kinsler on four pitches to start the frame. But Wood forced a cardinal sin from Kinsler and picked him off first base with the potential lead run at home plate. Wood escaped the inning without further incident, which turned the game over to the best closer in postseason history.
Mariano Rivera gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland to begin the ninth. The Rangers, who had rallied to force Rivera to blow two saves this season, felt pretty good about their chances to do it again when Elvis Andrus bunted Moreland to second on a two-strike sacrifice bunt.
However, postseasons to Rivera are different from the regular season. 
Rivera fanned Young and Hamilton bounced out to Rodriguez on one pitch to end the game and give the Yankees their 10th consecutive postseason win over the Rangers, which dates back to 1996.
For Rivera it was his major-league-leading 42nd career postseason save. In 137 2/3 career innings in the postseason, Rivera also has a major-league-best 0.72 ERA and an 8-1 record. 
Rodriguez put it best after the game, telling reporters “I wouldn’t say I’m surprised. You’ve still got to get 27 outs. We had a lot of good at-bats [in the eighth inning].”
Unfortunately for the Rangers, they recorded only 21 outs before the walls of Rangers Ballpark at Arlington came crumbling down.
Perhaps a play in the first inning was the harbinger of what was to come. 
With Sabathia wild and out of the strike zone, he walked Andrus and Young slapped a 3-1 cripple pitch into center for a single to move Andrus to third. Before Sabathia knew it, Hamilton blasted an 0-2 pitch on a line down the right-field for a three-run home run.
It was the first home run of the postseason for the Rangers’ MVP candidate, who hit .111 in the ALDS with the Rays.
After Sabathia retired Vladimir Guerrero on a long drive to center-field that Curtis Granderson caught at the base of the wall, Sabathia loaded the bases. Nelson Cruz singled, Ian Kinsler walked and, one out later, Matt Treanor drew another walk.
With Sabathia on the ropes again, the left-hander uncorked a pitch high in the strike zone that eluded Jorge Posada behind the plate. But the ball ricocheted off the wall and bounced right back to Posada as Cruz broke from third attempting to score.
But Posada flipped to Sabathia and Sabathia managed to tag a sliding Cruz on the left shoulder just before the left foot of Cruz reached the plate to end the inning.
Sabathia now has an ERA of 5.83 in his five postseason starts in which he has had more than six days of rest. 
For Wilson there is nothing left but to ponder what could have been. In his three starts against the Yankees in the regular season, he was 0-1 with a 5.86 ERA and he never got past the sixth inning in any of them.
Tonight he and his teammates in the bullpen let the cockroach and a very important game get away.
ON DECK

The ALCS resumes on Saturday afternoon and the Rangers have very little time to recover from a devastating loss.
They will start right-ha
nder Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72 ERA). In the ALDS against the Rays, Lewis pitched five scoreless innings but he did not get a decision because — stop me if this sounds familiar — the bullpen gave up the lead late to the Rays. Lewis did not face the Yankees this season but he has a 6.89 ERA against them in three career starts.
The Yankees will counter with All-Star right-hander Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA). Hughes is coming off a brilliant series-clinching victory over the Twins in the ALDS. Hughes gave up just four hits over seven scoreless innings. Hughes has not given up an earned run in 15 1/3 career innings at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington.
Game-time will be 4 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS.

Yankees Will Defeat Rangers With Pitching, Experience

Before the American League Division Series, I predicted the New York Yankees would sweep the Minnesota Twins in three straight games on the basis of the superior pitching. Now the Yankees move on to the American League Championship Series and a showdown with Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers. Needless to say, with Lee and home-field advantage, the Rangers present a stiffer challenge. Who will win?

OFFENSE

The Yankees hit .314 as a team in the ALDS against the Twins and they hit .360 with runners in scoring position. It also looks like manager Joe Girardi’s decision to rest injured players in September to get them healthy also paid big dividends.
The hitters will also begin the ALCS with a full five days of rest. For a veteran club like the Yankees, that could be a huge edge heading into the series. The Yankees begin the series without a major injury to any of their hitters.
Curtis Granderson led the Yankees with a .455 average in the ALDS, picking up where he left off when he finished the last month of the season with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira also hit well during the series. Brett Gardner, who hit .200, was the only regular who struggled in the series.
The Rangers hit .253 as a team in their best-of-five series with the Tampa Bay Rays. More alarming was they hit a dreadful 14-for-66 (.212) at home in the two games they lost. Oddly, the Rangers did not hit well with runners in scoring position. They were 6-for-30 (.200) and they were 1-for-11 (.091) at home.
Ian Kinsler had a red-hot ALDS with three home runs, six RBIs and a .444 batting average. Nelson Cruz added three solo home runs and hit .400. However, Josh Hamilton, nursing broken ribs, hit .111, third baseman Michael Young hit .150 and first baseman Mitch Moreland hit .200.
Of course, the Rangers played a very aggressive style on the bases against the Rays with bunts, steals and taking extra bases. Oddly it is the same style of play that the Rays employ. I would suspect that the Rangers will try to do the same in the ALCS.
The Yankees have their share of speed, too. Gardner is the best base stealer in this series and Granderson and Jeter will run on occasion. But the Yankees will not run the bases recklessly and give up outs.
There is a decided hitting edge to the Yankees here. With their power and circular lineup, they scored the most runs in the majors this season. They also can play a running game but they prefer to play it smart. They love to run when they are ahead.
The Rangers are not getting production from Young and Hamilton and it hurt them, especially in the Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. Hamilton is their only left-handed power threat and the Rangers are going to see a lot of right-handed relievers to neutralize Vladimir Guerrero, Kinsler and Cruz.
DEFENSE

The Yankees committed the fewest errors in the American League this season and they committed no errors in the ALDS with the Twins.
The strength of the defense is their Gold Glove infield around the horn of Alex Rodriguez (two Gold Gloves), Derek Jeter (four), Robinson Cano (who is likely to win his first this season) and Mark Teixeira (three).
The outfield features speed in left and center (Gardner and Granderson) and some good outfield arms (Gardner and Swisher combined for 22 outfield assists this season).
The only weaknesses are Posada’s tendency towards passed balls and his poor arm behind the plate and Swisher does not have the best range in right-field. Girardi likes to use Greg Golson as a defensive replacement for Swisher late in games when the Yankees have a lead. Golson has great range and an electric throwing arm.
The Rangers are not a very good defensive club, particularly in the infield. The left side of the infield (Young and Elvis Andrus) committed 35 errors this season. In contrast, the Yankees’ left side if Rodriguez and Jeter committed 13.
Kinsler is also very shaky in the field at second base.
The outfield is excellent. Hamilton in center and Cruz in either left or right are good fielders with good throwing arms. Julio Bourbon has great range and David Murphy committed only one error all season.
The Rangers have a solid defensive catcher in Bengie Molina with a good arm behind the plate. In addition, his pitch-blocking ability has not slipped with age. He had only one passed ball all season. 
Backup catcher Matt Treanor can cut down a running game. He threw out a higher percentage of base-stealers than Molina (39% vs. 31% for Molina). He is not as skilled as Molina but he is not much of step down either.
The Yankees likely will be cautious in the running game in this series.
But there is no doubt the Yankees have the big edge in defense. They do not make many errors and they also play solid fundamentals by hitting cutoff men and not giving the opposition extra bases.
The Rangers are likely to commit some errors in this series and the Yankees are also good at forcing the other team into mental or physical lapses.
STARTING PITCHING

The Rangers and the Yankees split the season series and that is why a lot of pundits are focused on saying the Rangers’ hitters present problems for the Yankees. 
Here is something to chew on: The Yankees swept a three-game series with Texas at Yankee Stadium in April with CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte winning two of the games. Sabathia, in fact, beat C.J. Wilson in the opener 5-1.
The teams split a two-game series in Arlington in August, both of them one-run games settled by the bullpens. But, against Lee and Wilson, the Yankees scored six runs on 13 hits and three walks in 11 2/3 innings (4.63 ERA). 
In fact, in the second game, Lee tired and blew a 6-1 lead in a game the Yankees eventually won 7-6 after Lee left the game. In defense of Lee, though, he was suffering from severe back pain and eventually had to be shelved for a time to recover.
The Rangers then swept a three-game series in Texas in September, However, the Yankees started Javier Vazquez and A.J. Burnett in the first two games of that series, as they did in the two-game series in August. The Rangers won both of those games by one run.
In the finale, Lee dominated the Yankees, giving up only one run on two hits and three walks in 8 1/3 innings. However, his mound opponent was Dustin Moseley.
So although the Rangers won four games, they only faced Sabathia and Pettitte once and they did not face Phil Hughes at all. 
Also take in to account the Yankees played that September series without Swisher and Gardner, who were out nursing injuries. The Yankees also did not play Jeter in the second game and Rodriguez in the finale. So the Rangers did not face the Yankees with their best lineup or their best pitchers in all three games.
The Yankees’ top three of Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes were 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in the ALDS. In the regular season, they were a combined 50-18 during the regular season with a 3.53 ERA.
The Rangers’ top three of Lee, Wilson and Colby Lewis were 3-0 with a 0.66 ERA against the Rays in their ALDS. In the regular season they were a combined 39-10 with a 3.41 ERA.
The Yan
kees will be starting A.J. Burnett in Game 4. He was awful for most of the season with the Yankees. He was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA. The Rangers will counter with Tommy Hunter in Game 4, who was 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA.
The Yankees have one big edge in this series. They will not face Lee until Game 3 and Lee also will only be available to pitch a potential Game 7. That means the Yankees will be starting their two winningest starters in the regular season (Sabathia and Hughes) against the Rangers’ No. 2 and No. 3 starters (Wilson and Lewis).
There is a good possibility the Rangers could be down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series before Lee even throws a pitch. The Yankees are also lined up well for Games 5, 6 and 7 with Sabathia, Hughes and Pettitte scheduled to pitch those games.
As a result, the Yankees have a very slight edge in pitching. If the Rangers want to win this series they will have to beat either Sabathia and Hughes in the first two games. That is going to be tall order. Hughes has not given up an earned run to the Rangers in his career in 11 1/3 innings.
The Rays’ ability to extend the series to five games really hurt the Rangers leading into the ALCS.
BULLPEN

The Yankees strong starting pitching meant the bullpen was not used much in the ALDS. They pitched only seven innings and gave up just one earned run (1.29 ERA). 
As usual, Mariano Rivera was two-for-two in save opportunities. Boone Logan and David Robertson were unscored upon. Kerry Wood pitched well as the setup man for Rivera in the first two games but faltered in Game 3, giving up an earned run after a regular season in which he had given up only one earned run since he joined the Yankees on Aug. 1.
Joba Chamberlain, Dustin Moseley and Sergio Mitre were not used in the ALDS.
This group has been a strength of the Yankees after the All-Star break and they look primed for another good run in the ALCS. When Rivera and Wood are on top of their games, the Yankees effectively reduce the game to seven innings.
While the Rangers’ starters were at the top of their games against the Rays, their bullpen did not do a very good job at all.
Closer Neftali Feliz did not have a save and he posted a 6.75 ERA in two games. The Rangers also enter this postseason without former closer and setup man Frank Francisco with a strained right ribcage. 
Lefties Derek Holland and Darren Oliver also did not pitch well. They combined for an ERA of 5.00 in five appearances. Hard-throwing rookie Alexi Ogando blew a save opportunity.
The only real effective reliever the Rangers had was right-handed side-armer Darren O’Day, who was perfect in his two innings over four appearances.
Feliz showed, at age 22, he might have been a little too amped up in his first postseason. But, remember that only Oliver has extensive postseason experience in this group and the absence of Francisco makes the Rangers a bit more vulnerable in this series.
The Yankees have a decided edge here. Veterans like Wood and Rivera are far superior to the young guns of Feliz and Ogando. 
BENCH

The Yankees feature a platoon at DH with lefty Lance Berkman and righty Marcus Thames. They combined to hit .364 with two home runs and four RBIs against the Twins. The Yankees only used Golson as a defensive replacement in right-field for Swisher.
They did not use Austin Kearns, Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli at all. With the starters healthy and the team in command of all three games, there really was no need to use them.
The Rangers have Treanor, Jorge Cantu, Julio Bourbon and Jeff Francouer in a platoon with David Murphy in the outfield. 
This group was a combined 2-for-26 (.077) in the ALDS.
This is not a strength of either team but the Rangers definitely use their bench more. They have some former starters from the regular season in Francouer, Cantu and Murphy. Bourbon also played extensively when Hamilton was hurt.
The Rangers have a slight edge here. But their weak showing in the ALDS is telling.
MANAGER

Ron Washington is managing in his first postseason with a team that has won its first postseason series in franchise history. Washington won’t be awed by the “big stage” but there could be a few players who might be.
Washington plays an aggressive style by allowing Andrus, Kinsler, Hamilton and Cruz to run the bases at will. He even will send Guerrero and Molina stole a base in Game 5. They also can hit for power with Kinsler, Cruz, Guerrero, Hamilton and Young capable to hitting a ball out of any park.
However, the Rays silenced the Rangers in two games at Arlington and, if it were not for Lee, the Rays may have won the series in Game 5. 
Girardi is not seen as a great manager because of the team he manages and their payroll. But his decision to rest his starters in September proved to be a huge in the ALDS with the Twins. 
The Yankees pitching staff entered the ALDS full of questions. But Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes answered them. The offense was able to come from behind in the first two games and they broke the game open early in Game 3.
That made Girardi look very smart. In this series he will have to manage more and there is no doubt he will be able to keep up with Washington on tactics.
This area is even.
INTANGIBLES

The Rangers do have home-field advantage with Game 6 and Game 7 (if necessary) in Arlington. However, the Yankees did not seem to have a problem with that in the ALDS and they played well on the road all season.
The Rangers’ biggest intangible is their aggressive style of play. The bunts, the steals and taking their chances on the bases. The Antlers. Not mention they have power. The Claw.
But the Yankees are the most fundamentally sound team in baseball. They rarely make errors that give the other team an edge. As long as Jeter is playing shortstop you can count on him to make a play or two that can takes outs away from the other team.
He has done it so many times, the Rangers are going to have to be careful taking extra bases or rounding the bags in this series. 
For that reason the intangibles belong to the Yankees.
PREDICTION: YANKEES IN SIX


Perception Yankees Tanked A.L. East May Be Wrong

There is a perception that the Yankees deliberately lost games in order to face the Twins in the American League Division Series.
Of course, if it were true it worked like a charm. The Yankees entered the ALDS as the wild card and played the Twins, who seem to play the Yankees like they are in such awe they are eliminated before they even realize the national anthem is over.
Meanwhile, the first-place Rays of the A.L. East were left to have to battle the A.L.. West champion Texas Rangers and Cliff Lee. The Yankees seem to hit Lee as if they do not realize the national anthem is over, too.
So while the Twins were being swept out of the playoffs like a dust mite and the Yankees were a Hoover vacuum, the Rays and Rangers were left tied at two games apiece and both team’s aces (Lee and David Price) will pitch Tuesday night to determine which team will face a well-rested Yankee team.
Lee or Price, depending on which team wins, will be limited top pitching Game 3 and Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees, meanwhile, have their rotation set up with CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes ready to pitch in the same order.
However, I am not so sure the Yankees really did throw the opportunity to finish in first place as much it was manager Joe Girardi and the organization determining that September was a time to get their players healthy for the playoffs.
Remember the Yankees entered September with a significant number of injuries. 
Alex Rodriguez, Lance Berkman and Pettitte were each on the disabled list. But, in addition, the Yankees had some walking wounded like Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner.
Berkman was activated Sept. 3 and Rodriguez was activated on Sept. 5. Pettitte was activated on Sept. 19 and he made three tune-up starts to prepare him for the playoffs.
Teixeira played most of September despite two injuries: a sore left thumb that made it hard for him to hit and a broken little toe on his right foot, which also affected his swing.
Swisher missed seven starts in the field and had to DH twice due to recurring inflammation in his left knee. Swisher fouled a ball off his left knee in August and spent nearly a month trying to rehab the injured knee, which affected his swing and hurt his mobility in the outfield.
Gardner also has had recurring issues with his left wrist and thumb. Gardner broke his thumb last season and missed two months of the season. It never has properly healed. This season Gardner revealed his wrist also was bothering him.
Both issues cropped back up and Gardner sat out four games in September at the same time Swisher was out of the lineup. That means for four games the Yankees were without two-thirds of their starting outfield.
In addition, Girardi was obligated to continue to rest Jorge Posada two games each week to keep his 39-year-old body ready for the postseason.
Girardi also was dealing with a starting lineup that featured two everyday players well over 30: Derek Jeter and Rodriguez. They required regular rest. In Rodriguez’s case it was because of his hip surgery in 2009 as well as his calf injury.
In Jeter’s case it was less about health that it was about a terrible slump at the plate. Girardi hoped by resting Jeter some in September, he would come around with the bat.
The starting rotation, already minus Pettitte, was also dealing with issues since Pettitte’s injury in July. The most important ones were the ineffectiveness of A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez.
Vazquez was removed from the rotation in September and replaced by 23-year-old rookie Ivan Nova. Burnett was left in the rotation but he continued to struggle.
There also was an innings limit placed on Hughes, which forced the team to skip him a few starts in September. The Yankees used Dustin Moseley to replace him and he was inconsistent at best in those starts.
Nova showed promise in his early starts but he continued to struggle the second time through the batting order and had to be removed from games early because of rising pitch counts. 
The flux in the starting rotation forced Girardi to use his bullpen more than he ever had all season. It also took a toll in September. The overwork ended up taxing the staff and they, in turn, were ineffective at times.
It is no wonder that the Yankees from Sept. 6 through the end of the season recorded a record of 9-17, given all the injuries, the flux in starting rotation and the overuse of the bullpen.
Girardi had to make a choice heading into the last week of the season: Do I continue to play my starters, run out my best pitchers and continue to use up my bullpen to win the division. Or do try to win these games the best I can while resting players and not taxing the bullpen and keep an eye on getting the rotation ready for the postseason.
He did the latter and it has paid off.
The Yankees entered the playoffs as healthy as they have been in months. To be sure, Teixeira, Swisher, Gardner and Rodriguez feel tweaks every now and again. But, by and large, they are all able to perform at their best when it counts.
It also worked wonders for Pettitte to make sure his groin injury and subsequent back issues were not a problem when he faced Minnesota.
The same can be said for Hughes, who looked refreshed and renewed in pitching seven dominant innings to put the Yankees into the championship round. It could arguably be called the best start of his young career.
So the pundits and critics can still keep harping on Girardi and the Yankees for deliberately losing the A.L. East in order to avoid Cliff Lee. 
The truth is that the rest the injured and the veterans received in September allowed the Yankees to get well at just the right time and put their best foot forward in the playoffs. Isn’t that what is really important anyway?

Rays’ Win Assures Yanks Will Face Lee Or Price In Game 3

The Tampa Bay Rays have provided the New York Yankees with a big favor by winning Game 4 of their best-of-five series with the Texas Rangers 5-2 on Sunday.
By extending the series to a fifth game, the Rays have assured the Yankees will not face either David Price or Cliff Lee until Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, depending on whether the Rays of Rangers win Game 5 scheduled for Tuesday at St. Petersburg, FL.
This means the Yankees likely would face either James Shields of the Rays or C.J. Wilson of the Rangers in a potential Game 1 while the Yankees will begin the series with CC Sabathia.
In Game 2, the Yankees would face Matt Garza of the Rays or Colby Lewis of the Rangers while the Yankees would start left-hander Andy Pettitte.
This is a huge pitching matchup advantage for the Yankees heading into the American Legaue Championship Series, which will open either in St. Petersburg or Arlington, TX, depending on who wins Game 5.
Lee has been a tough matchup for the Yankees over the last two seasons. Last season, Lee won both of his starts against the Yankees in the 2009 World Series while he was pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.
This season the Yankees did defeat Lee when he was pitching for the Rangers, however, Lee defeated the Yankees in September. In three starts against the Yankees this season, Lee was 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA. Overall, Lee was 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA.
Price was 2-1 with a 4.39 ERA in four starts against the Yankees. Overall, he was 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA.
Price and Lee, depending on which team wins Game 5, would pitch Monday, Oct. 18 at Yankee Stadium and face Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes, who pitched seven shutout innings to clinch a three-game sweep over the Twins on Saturday night.. In addition, neither pitcher likely would pitch again the series until a potential Game 7 on Saturday Oct. 23.
This is a huge advantage for the Yankees no matter the result of the Rays-Rangers series. 

Hughes Answers Doubters As Yanks Sweep Twins Again

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES – GAME 3
YANKEES 6, TWINS 1

The baseball pundits’ mantra entering this postseason was: The Yankees have CC Sabathia and a lot of question marks in their starting rotation.
Phil Hughes’ reply on Saturday evening was to pitch seven dominant innings of shutout baseball to eliminate the Minnesota Twins and put an exclamation point after the sentence: The Yankees rotation in this ALDS was 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA!
With the victory the Yankees qualified for the American League Championship Series for the second time in two seasons and it was the first time they have advanced in the AL playoffs as a wild card.
The Yankees also eliminated the Twins from the playoffs for the fourth time in four meetings since 2003 and they have defeated the Twins in nine consecutive postseason games, the longest such stretch of domination in major-league history between two teams.
Hughes (1-0) is participating in his third postseason with the Yankees but had never started a postseason game until Saturday. If he had any nerves he never showed it as he mowed the Twins down in order for the first three innings.
He gave up a leadoff single to Denard Span to start the fourth but Span was erased on a double play off the bat of Orlando Hudson on the next pitch. 
The Twins put two runners on in the fifth on a one-out single by Delmon Young and veteran DH Jim Thome drew a walk. But Hughes struck out Michael Cuddyer and induced rookie third baseman Danny Valencia to pop out to Mark Teixeira to end the threat.
The Twins also mounted a two-out threat in the sixth when Hudson and Joe Mauer stroked singles that both just eluded Cano’s leaps. However, Hughes fanned Jason Kubel to end that frame.
Hughes threw 99 pitches and 67 of them were strikes. He gave up four hits and one walk and struck out six batters with an electric fastball that the Twins’ hitters could not center. 
While Hughes was throwing up zeros, the Yankees were having their way with left-hander Brian Duensing (0-1). 
The Yankees scored single runs in the second and third innings on RBI singles by Jorge Posada and Teixeira to stake Hughes to an early 2-0 lead. Posada’s RBI was the 41st of his career and moved him past Mickey Mantle to ninth on the all-time list.
The Yankees expanded that lead and chased Duensing in the fourth inning when Cano opened the inning with an infield hit and DH Marcus Thames followed with a two-run blast into bleachers in right-center to put the Yankees up 4-0.
But the Yankees tacked on another run that inning when Curtis Granderson drew a one-out walk, which ended Duensing’s night early. Granderson stole second on Twins reliever Mark Guerrier and took third when Mauer’s throw to second trickled into center-field.
It was the first and only error of the series between these two teams, which were also the top two teams in the AL in committing the fewest errors. (The Yankees were first and the Twins were second).
The error came back to take a big bite out of the snakebit Twins, too. Gardner then lofted a fly ball to left-field that scored Granderson with the Yankees’ fifth run.
Duensing was charged for all five runs on seven hits and a walk in 3 1/3 innings. Duensing is 0-2 in two postseason starts. Both losses have come to the Yankees. Duensing lost Game 1 of the 2009 AL Division Series to the Yankees in what also would eventually become a 3-0 sweep.
Nick Swisher made it a half-dozen-run lead in the seventh inning with a leadoff home run off Twins right-hander Scott Baker. 
The Yankees then turned to their bullpen in the eighth inning to close out the game. However, the usually reliable Kerry Wood instead decided to pay homage to much-maligned former Yankees’ setup man Kyle Farnsworth.
Wood gave up a leadoff double off the left-field wall to Valencia. Then, with one out, he gave up a single to Span and Hudson followed with an RBI single to score Valencia and spoil the shutout bid. Wood dug a further hole by walking Mauer to load the bases.
However, the Yankee bullpen, which has been so reliable since the All-Star break, came to Wood’s rescue.
Left-hander Boone Logan threw one pitch to Jason Kubel and retired the lefty slugger on a weak popup to Alex Rodriguez at third. Manager Joe Girardi then summoned right-hander David Robertson to face the right-handed-hitting Young.
On Robertson’s third pitch Young flied out harmlessly to Granderson in center and the Twins lost their last good chance to climb their way back into the game and the series.
Girardi, taking no chances, used All-Star closer Mariano Rivera to polish off the game and the series. Rivera needed only 12 pitches to put away the Twins quietly in order in the ninth.
As Valencia lofted a two-out fly to Gardner in left, a majority of the 50,840 fans at Yankee Stadium — who were on their feet throughout the inning — cheered their defending champions, who are now four victories away from their 41st World Series appearance.
For the Twins, it was the fifth time they have been eliminated in the first round and the fourth time the Yankees were the culprit. The hits by Span and Hudson off Wood in the eighth were their only two hits in the series the Twins had with runners in scoring position. In the series they were 2-for-16 (.125). The Yankees, by contrast, were 9-for-25 (.360).
The Yankees, who refused to celebrate the clinching of a playoff spot or their entry into the ALDS as a wild card in the playoffs, popped the corks of champagne in their clubhouse in their first celebration of the first step on their quest for the 28th world championship.
The Yankees must now await the winner of the Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers series to find out where they will be open the AL Championship Series. The Rangers currently lead the best-of-five series 2-1.
Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday.
The Yankees, in the meantime, will have time to get some rest for their veterans and those players who have been hobbled by nagging injuries. In addition, they can reset their rotation for the best-of-seven ALCS with Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes scheduled to pitch in that order.
I just have one question for the baseball pundits: Are these question marks after Sabathia (Pettitte and Hughes) pitching well enough for you to stop questioning them, please? 

Why Blame The Ump? The Pitcher Gave Up The Home Run

I found it very amusing when I saw Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon going nuts as home-plate umpire Jim Wolf during Thursday’s 6-0 loss to the Texas Rangers.
It amused me because the reason Maddon was angry was because first-base umpire Jerry Meals did not call Michael Young out on a check-swing appeal. Rays reliever Chad Qualls thought he had Young struck out but Meals ruled no swing.
Of course, Young hit the next pitch for a three-run home run that turned the game from 2-0 to 5-0 and the Rays go on to lose 6-0.
The odd thing about it is Wolf and Meals were not to blame. Not even Young was to blame.
Instead of being angry at the the umpire how about getting angry with the pitcher who served up the home run? If Qualls makes a quality pitch and Young makes an out, does Maddon go out and act like a 8-year-old child in front of a national TV audience?
No!
Yet he waited until the home run is hit to make an issue of the call because it ended up hurting his team. But Qualls hurt the team by serving a fat pitch to a good hitter. Maddon should have vented his wrath against him and not the umpires.
No matter how much you want to believe it is not true, umpires are not perfect. They are human and they make mistakes. Meals did miss the call. 
But, so what? It is part of the game and by putting on a uniform and participating in the sport you have signed up to abide by the rules and how the rules are interpreted is up to the umpires.
Are the Rays 0-2 and on the brink of elimination because of one missed call or could it be because David Price was outpitched by Cliff Lee and James Shields was outpitched by C.J. Wilson?
Is it Meals’ fault that the Rays have scored only one run and have only eight hits in two games?
I can’t believe how silly this controversy is all about one second out of 18 innings in which the Rays have played like they have never seen a bat or ball or know what game they are playing.
It really has been a problem with this team all season. Look at the batting averages of their players in the starting lineup. They have been no-hit so many times in the past two years it has become a joke. They have also been a few near no-hitters, too.
That indicates to me a team that has overachieved. The Rays draw walks and get on base anyway they can so they can turn games into track meets. They have to do that or they will lose games.
When they fail to get on base, they end up looking like the team we saw the last two days in St. Petersburg, FL.
Years ago the Oakland Athletics decided to sign world-class sprinter Herb Washington as a pinch-runner. The idea was he would wreak havoc on the bases with his amazing speed. It was another idea from the mind of Charlie O. Finley, the team’s flamboyant owner.
It did not work out to well.. Washington could run alright. But he did not know the nuances of the game: How to read pitchers, how to get a good lead, how to slide properly, etc. The end result of the Washington experiment is that it is impossible to steal first base.
That is why the best base stealers in baseball history had one thing in common. They could get on first base enough to make that speed work.
The Rays have a gifted base stealer in Carl Crawford. No doubt.
However, the rest of the team is severely lacking in players who can consistently get on base to make the running game enough of a weapon.
This may not show itself during a regular season when the Rays are playing the Orioles or Tigers or Mariners.
But it will rear its ugly head when the playoffs start and instead of facing pitchers like Brad Bergesen, Jeremy Bonderman and Jason Vargas, they are facing guys like Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay. 
Suddenly those .230 hitters like B.J. Upton and Jason Bartlett are not getting on base. The more the Rays try to get them on base, the more frustrated they get when they don’t.
Then when their pitchers get hit around by the better hitters they are facing like Young, Robinson Cano or Ryan Howard they fall behind. But they do not have the offense to catch up because Carlos Pena is hitting .200 and their speed can’t get out of the starting gate.
It is shame, too.
The Rays do not have the financial resources to keep Crawford and Pena this winter. Both will leave via free agency to teams that actually can afford to pay them what they are worth.
So it makes you wonder if this Rays team and the one from 2008 is going to be it for them. It certainly looks that way. They do not have the money to compete with Boston and New York.
Players are not stupid. Why settle for $5.5 million playing in St. Petersburg when they can make $11.5 million playing in Philadelphia, New York or Chicago.
You can lock up players like Evan Longoria and David Price for only so long. They suddenly come to the realization at age 28, like Sabathia did, that the great promise the early teams may have showed is long gone and they want to win and make more money.
That will be legacy of the Rays going forward. This recent success will pass quickly and the players who signed up for the long-term will get disillusioned and move on to bigger market teams who can pay what they are worth.
Crawford and Pena are just the tip of the Rays’ iceberg.
Tropicana Field is an albatross around the team’s neck, too. Unless ownership can somehow find a way out of that mistake and into an open-air baseball stadium, the fans will never show up in enough numbers to keep the franchise going.
A move to Orlando would make so much sense. A centrally located team that can draw from the eastern, western, northern and southern regions of the state could help ownership build the fanbase that can support the contracts to keep the better players.
But unless and until that happens we have seen the last of the Rays as a contender.
I guess maybe somehow the Rays and their fans can blame that on Meals for missing that call, too.

Berkman, Pettitte Lead Yankees To Win Over Cursed Twins

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES – GAME 2
YANKEES 5, TWINS 2

When Andy Pettitte joined the Houston Astros as a free agent he became good friends with Lance Berkman. When Berkman agreed to waive his no-trade clause to join the New York Yankees on July 31, Berkman quickly renewed his friendship with Pettitte.
On Thursday night the two friends wreaked havoc on the Minnesota Twins and put the defending champions to within one game of their second straight American League Championship Series.
Pettitte (1-0) took care of the pitching. 
He gave up two runs on only five hits and one walk and struck out four batters in seven innings of masterful work. Pettitte also increased his major-league-leading postseason win total to 19 games.
Even better than that, he silenced doubters throughout the media who said he could not be counted upon to pitch effectively with only three tune-up starts after coming off the disabled list with a groin injury.
Berkman took care of the clutch hitting.
With the game tied at one and with one out in the fifth inning, Berkman connected off Twins’ starter Carl Pavano for a long majestic opposite field blast into the Twins’ bullpen in left-center. The home run was the seventh postseason home run for Berkman and his first since 2005.
Unfortunately for Berkman and Pettitte, Twins second baseman Orlando Hudson dialed it up a solo home run of his own with one out in the sixth inning. To say Pettitte was shocked is putting it mildly. Hudson has only 86 career home runs in nine seasons and he hit only six this season.
The blast to left was only Hudson’s second postseason home run. In other words, Albert Pujols has nothing to worry about.
Berkman merely shook off the setback and went to work in the seventh inning. Jorge Posada opened the inning by drawing Pavano’s only walk. It cost Pavano dearly, too.
Berkman quickly fell behind Pavano in the count 1-2. Pavano then threw the most controversial pitch of the evening. Pavano’s two-seam or sinking fastball went whistling toward the inside corner and home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt called it a ball.
Pavano, manager Ron Gardenhire and the rest of the Twins thought they had strike three. But now the count was 2-2. Pavano then tried a change-up but Berkman merely waited for it and smashed it over the head of Denard Span in center-field for a double to score Posada from first with what proved to be the game-winning run.
Gardenhire then went to the mound, ostensibly to talk to Pavano. But his real reason was to induce Wendelstedt to break up the conference on the mound so Gardenhire could light into him for the missed strike call. Wendelstedt, as is his duty when a manager argues balls and strikes, ended Gardenhire’s evening by dismissing him from the game.
A note about the umpiring: To be fair to Wendelstedt, he did not call inside corner strikes for either team throughout the game. The TBS network pitch tracker showed that time after time during the game. Wendelstedt did, however, give Pavano and Pettitte leeway on the outside corner. 
I doubt this fact is of much consolation for the Twins fans who made up the vast majority of the Target Field record crowd of 42,305.
Play then resumed with a bunt single by Brett Gardner to move Berkman to third. Derek Jeter then scored Berkman with a bloop RBI single to right.
That ended the evening for the Yankees’ former malingering right-hander, Pavano (0-1). He pitched six-plus innings and gave up four runs on 10 hits and a walk and he struck out three.
The Yankees changed their usual approach on hitting Pavano by trying to swing at fastballs early in the count rather than let Pavano use his breaking pitches in deeper counts.
The strategy paid off and Pettitte and the Yankees have now defeated Pavano in two straight ALDS games. Pettitte outdueled Pavano in Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS as the Yankees swept the Twins.
Payback is a b—-, huh, Carl?
The Yankees added an insurance run in the ninth when Curtis Granderson blooped a single into center off Twins closer Matt Capps to plate Gardner from third. It was Granderson’s third hit of the night and he is hitting a robust .500 in the series.
The Yankees bullpen, which has been a pillar of strength for the Yankees in the second half of the season, came through again to shut down the Twins in the final two frames.
Kerry Wood struck out two batters while pitching a perfect eighth and Mariano Rivera  . . .  excuse me  . . .  yawn!  . . .  came in and put the Twins to sleep for the second straight evening with a scoreless ninth aided by a double play off the bat of Delmon Young that Rivera started himself.
Rivera notched his second save of the series and he now has major-league-best 41 career postseason saves.
The Yankees have now defeated the Twins in 11 of their last 13 postseason meetings dating back to 2003 and they also have won an astounding 10 postseason games in a row from this sad lot from Minneapolis. The Twins have also never beaten the Yankees in Minnesota, whether it be the Metrodome or the new Target Field.
Pettitte, making his major-league-best 41st career postseason start, extended his majors-topping postseason innings pitched total to 256. In giving up a sacrifice fly to Danny Valencia in the second inning that gave the Twins a 1-0 lead, Pettitte started a streak of 12 batters in a row he retired until Hudson touched him for his home run the sixth.
Their Twins are now in a serious 0-2 hole as the best-of-five series now shifts to the Bronx for Game 3 on Saturday. Of the 19 teams that have gained a 2-0 lead in the ALDS, 15 of them have won the series (79%).
In order to change the luck of the Twins on Thursday, Gardenhire reportedly burned everything he wore in Wednesday’s game  – even his underwear and shoes. I hope he doesn’t burn down Target Field to break this wicked playoff curse the Yankees hold on the Twins.
What can we call it? Hmmm! How about Curse of the Pav-bino?
The Yankees, who now sit in the driver’s seat in this ALDS, will look to put the pedal to metal on Saturday with the keys going to right-hander Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA). Hughes did not face the Twins this season and he has a 1-1 mark with a 5.25 ERA in postseason play. But that work was all as a reliever.
The Twins will look to break the Curse of the Pav-bino behind left-hander Brian Duensing (10-3, 2.62 ERA). Duensing did not become a starter for the Twins until July 23. He was 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 13 starts. He is 0-1 with a 9.64 ERA in the postseason and he was the losing pitcher in Game 1 of the 2009 of the ALDS against the Yankees.
While they are in the Northeast, maybe the Twins can seek out Connecticut Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell to whip up a satanic ritual to rid them of this curse. It could not hurt.
Game-time will be 8:30 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by TBS.

Burnett And Vazquez Torpedo Yankees’ Starting Rotation

With the end of the season it is time to hand out the final report cards for the New York Yankees for 2010. The Yankees reached the halfway point with the best record in baseball but with much promise to even improve in the second half. But some key injuries and some inconsistency with the starting pitchers dragged this team down a few notches. They qualified as a wild card but to defend their 2009 title they will have to dig deep. Here are the grades:

STARTING PITCHERS

CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA)
Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA)
Andy Pettitte (11-3, 3.28 ERA)
A.J. Burnett (10-15, 5.26 ERA)
Javier Vazquez (10-10, 5.32 ERA)

Other starters: Dustin Moseley, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre

At the midway point I proclaimed the Yankees starting pitching the best in baseball. It shows you what I know.
To be fair to me, though, the Yankees’ starting five was the best at the halfway point. They were a combined 48-21 with a 3.86 ERA. They also were averaging just over 6 1/3 innings per start.
Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes had 11 or more wins and they were the first trio to do that since the 1999 Houston Astros starters Shane Reynolds, Jose Lima and Mike Hampton. All three were named to the American League All-Star team although Sabathia was ineligible to pitch because he started on the Sunday before the Tuesday game.
So what happened to the best starting five in baseball?
Well, three key things brought this staff crashing to Earth:
  • On July 18 Andy Pettitte was pitching in the third inning at Yankee Stadium in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays when he felt pain in his left groin. Pettitte left the game and ended up on the disabled list through Sept. 10. Pettitte was arguably pitching the best baseball of his career and the Yankees lost their second-best pitcher.
  • A.J. Burnett always has been an enigma — good one start and awful the next. But even he could not have predicted the dreadful month of August he would have. In his five starts, Burnett was 0-4 with a 7.80 ERA. In addition, Burnett never really rebounded. He was 1-3 with a 5.60 ERA the rest of the way. With Pettitte out, Burnett was expected to step up and help the Yankees overcome it. Instead, he pitched worse than he ever has with the Yankees and he is not expected to start a game in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Javier Vazquez looked like he had put his early season problems behind him. He was 7-7 with a 4.45 ERA at the midpoint after starting the season 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA. But he slumped miserably in August, going 1-2 with a 8.10 ERA through Aug. 21, when he was pulled from the rotation in favor of rookie Ivan Nova. Vazquez made only three more starts the rest of the season and they all were dreadful. As a result, Vazquez, who finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting last season, was left off the playoff roster.
With Pettitte on the shelf and Burnett and Vazquez giving up more runs than a cheap pair of stockings, Sabathia and Hughes were saddled with having to carry the rotation most of the second half.
Sabathia was up to the task. He was 9-4 with a 3.29 ERA and he managed to win 20 games for the first time in his career. His 21-7 record makes him a front-runner for the Cy Young Award. It would be his second.
Hughes, on the other hand, struggled a bit but still won because the Yankees honored him by giving the most run support of any starter in baseball. Hughes was 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA. Hughes seemed to wear down a bit under the weight of an upcoming innings limit, which forced the Yankees to skip his turn on occasion.
Nonetheless, Hughes can consider an 18-8 record as the team’s No. 5 starter in his first full season in the rotation at age 24 a pretty good season no matter what the struggles were down the stretch.
Moseley made seven starts in place of Pettitte at the end of July and throughout August. He was 4-2 with a 5.03 ERA. He was credited with three quality starts. But after being hammered for four runs on five hits and four walks against Oakland on Aug. 30, Moseley only made two more starts the rest of the season.
He was 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA in those starts. So, needless to say, he was not much of a replacement for Pettitte.
The Yankees recalled 23-year-old rookie right-hander Nova from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 23. He made seven starts in late August and September in place of Vazquez and was 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA 
Although Nova showed great promise for future success at the major-league level with his assortment of pitches and his poise, he struggled the second time through lineups and could not limit his pitch counts.
For the first half the starting five received the following grades:
Sabathia A-
Burnett C
Pettitte A+
Vazquez C
Hughes A+
Their second-half grades are as follows:
Sabathia A+
Burnett D
Pettitte I (Incomplete)
Vazquez F
Hughes C
Their 2010 overall grades are as follows:
Sabathia A+
Burnett D+
Pettitte A-
Vazquez D-
Hughes B+
OVERALL STARTING PITCHER GRADE: C+

The overall record of 50-18 by Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes more than makes up for the horrible 20-25 record posted by Burnett and Vazquez. 
Still, the inability of Moseley or Nova to really step up and pitch well late in the season really doomed the Yankees to their September swoon that cost them the best record in baseball and first place in the American League East.
The Yankees are going to have to make some tough decisions on what to do with Burnett and Vazquez next season. Both are under contract and both are owed a lot of money. Trading either or both would be difficult unless the Yankees picked up a portion of the contracts.
It is n
o secret the Yankees covet Cliff Lee. They nearly had him at the trade deadline until the Mariners stabbed the Yankees in the back and made a deal with the Rangers instead. But Lee will be a free agent and his buddy Sabathia likely can convince him to sign if the money is right.
The Yankees also may have a potential young starter in Nova. If he continues to develop, he could be of great help as a starter in 2011.
In the meantime, the Yankees’ hopes for a 28th championship once again ride on just three starters: Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes. The Yankees have Burnett on the roster for the first series but he is not scheduled to start a game.
The Yankees likely will have to use him if the Yankees make the AL Championship Series and the World Series. What they get from him is a big mystery. 
It is troubling to think of what could have been if Burnett and Vazquez had just pitched adequately this season. If the Yankees do not repeat as champions it is obvious who the fans are going to blame.
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