September 2011

Yankees Should Tame Feisty Tigers In Four Games

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES PREVIEW

DETROT TIGERS (95-67) vs. NEW YORK YANKEES (97-65)

YANKEES OFFENSE

The 2011 Yankees lived up to their Bronx Bombers nickname. They hit more bombs than any team in baseball. But, they also led the major leagues in stolen bases. That is a tough combination to beat because it has happened so rarely. That is why the Tigers have to be worried. You shut down the longball and the Yankees steal bases and score runs on base hits. You shut down the running game and sooner or later someone will hit a home run.The Yankees boast two American League MVP candidates in Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. They also have the third-best home run hitter in the league in Mark Teixeira. You add Alex Rodriguez, wounded or not, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada and you have a veteran lineup that is used to making starters work and not chasing pitches out of the strike zone. Then you have table-setters like Granderson, Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner, who can get on base and create havoc on the basepaths with their feet.

TIGERS OFFENSE

The Tigers, on the other hand, are a reflection of their two best hitters: Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. They are not a speed team at all. They play station-to-station baseball and look for the extra-base hit or home run. Cabrera hit .344 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs. Martinez, the DH, hit .330 with 12 home runs and 103 RBIs. They set the tone for the Tigers’ offense. In addition, they have rookie catcher Alex Avila and shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who combined for 40 home runs and 168 RBIs. The Tigers even added former Ray and Twin outfielder Delmon Young to the mix. What speed there is lies with leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, who stole 22 bases. No one else is even in double figures. Manager Jim Leyland plays platoons at the other three spots to match up against opposing pitchers. This is very similar to the offenses of the Minnesota Twins the Yankees have destroyed in recent playoff series.

EDGE: You have to give this to the Yankees because of their combination of power and speed. They did not lead the league in runs scored for nothing. Detroit’s station-to-station philosophy plays right into the Yankees’ hands. Teams that run on them have had more success.

YANKEES STARTERS

The Yankees will open the playoffs with a three-man rotation of CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.00 ERA), Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70 ERA) and Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62 ERA). Sabathia is expected to pitch Game 4 no matter what happens and Nova will get the ball in Game 5. The Yankees are 8-1 in Sabathia’s postseason starts and Sabathia is 5-1 in those starts.  Sabathia is 15-12 with a 4.54 ERA against the Tigers in his career. This season he was 0-1 with a no-decision victory on Opening Day and an ERA of 4.15. Nova will be making his first postseason appearances and starts in this series. He has not lost a decision since he lost to the Los Angels Angels on June 3. Since then he is 12-0 in his 16 starts. He has never started against the Tigers but he did make his major-league debut against them on May 13, 2010 with two innings of scoreless relief. Garcia earned his start because 16 of his 25 starts were quality starts. Garcia also has postseason experience. He won three games with the White Sox in 2005 to help lead them to a championship. Garcia is 18-8 with a 3.88 in his career against the Tigers. This season he was 0-1 in his only start against Detroit. He gave up four runs on 10 hits in seven innings on May 4 at Comerica Park.

TIGERS STARTERS 

The Tigers plan to start Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer, in that order, to open the series. They have not announced a Game 4 starter, but Leyland has said Verlander will not pitch in that game. He will start Game 5, if necessary. Verlander (24-5, 2.70 ERA) is likely going to be a unanimous choice for the A.L. Cy Young Award and also a potential MVP. It was easily his best season. It was his first 20-game season and the first time he recorded a sub-3.00 ERA. He is 4-3 with a 3.97 ERA against the Yankees in his career. This season Verlander was 0-0 in his two starts against the Yankees and in both games the Yankees rallied late to win. Fister (11-13, 2.83 ERA) was a midseason acquisition from Seattle and he paid big dividends. He was 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA in his 10 starts for the Tigers. He was 3-12 with the punchless Mariners. He is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA against the Yankees. He lost his only start against the Yankees this season on July 26 at Yankee Stadium as a member of the Mariners, giving up three runs in seven innings. Sabathia struck out 14 and won the game 4-1. Scherzer (15-9, 4.43 ERA) has very good stuff as his 207 strikeouts attest. But he has been hit hard, too. He has had success against the Yankees. He is 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA. He was 2-0 with a 4.15 ERA this season. He won on April 3 in New York despite giving up six runs. The Tigers took advantage of Phil Hughes pitching with a weak shoulder. Om May 4 at Comerica Park, Scherzer shut out the Yankees over eight innings, fanning nine batters.

EDGE: The Tigers have an edge but it is not as big as you would think. Verlander has not beaten the Yankees this season and he really has struggled at Yankee Stadium. Game 1 is not a lock for the Tigers. Nova has been doubted all season and the Yankees have had success against Fister. The Tigers’ biggest edge may be Game 3 with Scherzer pitching. I will take Sabathia over anyone the Tigers can find to pitch against the Yankees in Game 4.

YANKEES BULLPEN

This was the best bullpen in baseball. They recorded the best ERA in baseball by a margin of a half-run. Think about that. The Yankees are more than just Mariano Rivera and his 602 career saves and his 44 saves and his 1.91 ERA at age 41. The Yankees lost key relievers like Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano and Rafael Soriano to injuries early and found out just how great David Robertson was. Robertson led all major-league relievers in ERA with 1.08 and he struck out 100 batters in on;y 66 2/3 innings. He also made the A.L. All-Star team. Last season’s A.L. saves leader Soriano returned from right elbow inflammation and pitched very well down the stretch. He is content now to pitch the seventh inning. That means the Yankees have reduced the game to six innings. You get to their starters or you lose. The Yankees also have lefty Boone Logan (3.46 ERA) and right-handers Cory Wade (2.04 ERA) and Luis Ayala (2.08 ERA). The Yankees have also placed starters A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes in the bullpen for this series. Hughes was the key setup man to Rivera in the 2009 championship season so he knows how to pitch quality relief.

TIGERS BULLPEN

A.L. saves leader and resident 100% beef hot dog Jose Valverde heads up a pretty decent bullpen. Valverde did not blow a save this season, which is hanging up there like a tempting pinata for the Yankees in this series. The Tigers’ setup man is Joaquin Benoit , who was not as good as he was with the Rays in 2010 but he still had 47 holds.  They also have rookie right-hander Al Alburquerque (6-1, 1.97 ERA). They have a pair of lefties in Daniel Schlereth and Phil Coke. Both have ERAs over 4.00, however. The Tigers also will have underachieving righty Ryan Perry and reserve starters Rick Porcello and Brad Penny to use. This bullpen has some quality in it but it also has a soft underbelly that can be exploited by a team with a good offense like the Yankees.

EDGE: The Yankees clearly have the superior bullpen and it is a huge edge going into this series. The Yankees’ pen shortens the game to six innings and the Tigers merely get it to seven. That is a big difference when you are talking a short series like this. Look for the Yankees to attack pitchers like Perry and Schlereth in this series.

YANKEES BENCH

Due to injuries and manager Joe Girardi resting his payers down the stretch, the Yankee bench has played extensively this season. Infield reserve Eduardo Nunez started for Jeter and Rodriguez when they were hurt this season and hit very well. Nunez can play second, short or third. But he is an error waiting to happen as a fielder. Eric Chavez, 33, meanwhile is a former Gold Glove winner at third and he provides a veteran lefty power hitter off the bench. He also could start if Rodriguez is unable to play because of his thumb or knee injuries. Outfield reserve Andruw Jones is actually the platoon leftfielder against left-handed pitching and he can also DH and play rightfield. He provides power against lefties. Jorge Posada may be at the end of his career at age 40, but he still can hit from the left side, as he will in this series. Backup catcher Jesus Montero will likely not see any action as a catcher and will play a limited role since the Yankees do not want to pinch-hit him and lose Martin to injury. But when he gets his chance, Montero, 21, can be a valuable bat off the bench with his incredible power. He hit four home runs in 61 at-bats in September. The Yankees also chose to keep Chris Dickerson as outfield reserve. Dickerson will likely be a late-inning replacement for Nick Swisher in rightfield. He also provides another left-handed bat off the bench and he can be used as a pinch-runner late in a game.

TIGERS BENCH

The Tigers platoon a lot in the outfield and at the middle infield spots so their bench has been extensively as well. The reserves include backup catcher Omir Santos, veteran outfielder Magglio Ordonez, former Yankee infielder Wilson Betemit and young outfielder Andy Dirks. Manager Jim Leyland is not afraid to use his bench and he is good at putting them in spots in which they succeed. There is not a whole lot of power or speed here. These guys, much like the Tiger starters, just try to get on and wait to be driven in.

EDGE: The Yankees have a much deeper bench. How many teams have two former Gold Glove winners and a former All-Star catcher on the bench? These players have also played a lot this season and are ready to go for the postseason. Where the Tigers bench lacks speed and power, the Yankees are loaded with it on their bench.

INTANGIBLES

The Tigers won the season series 4-3 but these teams last played on May 5 in Detroit. That was an awful long time ago and both teams have improved some since then. The Tigers defeated the Yankees 3-0 in the ALDS in 2006 in which the Tigers went on to lose the World Series to St. Louis. Oddly, it was a soft-tossing left-hander named Kenny Rogers who gave the Yankees fits in Game 3. Garcia is a veteran soft-tossing right-hander scheduled to pitch in Game 3 for the Yankees. Could this be karma for the Tigers? The Yankee roster is full of veterans with lots of postseason experience. The Tigers have some older veterans but they also have a lot of young players, particularly pitchers, who have no postseason experience. That is something that could be in the Yankees’ favor. Jeter is also one of those players who makes plays that can turn a series.  Who can forget “The Flip?” How about in 2009 when he took two outfield relays and cut down two Twins runners who had rounded the base too far? Watch what The Captain does in the series. It only takes one play to turn a series sometimes.

EDGE: The Yankees have a lot going for them in addition to home field. The Tigers will not back down but, ultimately, I do not think the Central Division is an equal or even close to the teams from the East. The Tigers have been hot, but who have they been playing except weak division rivals in September? That tends to make their record and their stats look inflated. The Yankees have a real edge here.

PREDICTION

The Yankees will win this series in four games. The only game I see the Tigers having any edge is possibly Game 3 in Comerica Park with Scherzer facing Garcia. Sabathia has been money in the playoffs and I see him pitching well enough to give the Yankees victories in Game 1 and Game 4 – even if he is gone before the Yankees win it. There is just too much talent on this Yankee team even with a somewhat suspect Rodriguez due to his health.

 

Swish Rights Season With Stellar Second Half

The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.

RIGHTFIELD – NICK SWISHER (23 HRs, 85 RBIs, .260 BA)

On May 25, Nick Swisher was hitting .204 with two home runs and 18 RBIs. The fact that Swisher rebounded enough to get close to the numbers he had produced for the Yankees in 2009 and 2010 was amazing. Swisher began hitting in the late stages of May and never stopped. The power was down some but in his three seasons with the Yankees, Swisher has averaged 27 home runs, 85 RBIs and a .267 batting average. That is pretty good consistency for a solid contributor like Swisher. Swisher also drew 95 walks to put up his best on-base percentage as a Yankee at .374. Swisher’s patient approach helped the Yankeees raise starter’s pitch counts and produced runs. Swisher is also versatile enough to hit anywhere in the Yankee lineup and be productive. This season he seems to have settled in as the No. 6 hitter and the Yankees need him to produce behind Robinson Cano, who teams love to walk at crunch time. Swisher’s only deficiencies are his lack of speed and his lack of range in rightfield. But Swisher does give effort and he has the strongest outfield arm. He committed only one error and he collected nine outfield assists this season. But Swisher suffered a late-season elbow injury which is still nagging him. Entering the playoffs, Swisher’s ability to throw is a question mark. It may not hurt against the slow Tigers but it could be an issue with teams who can run the bases.

When Swisher was not starting, the Yankees used Andruw Jones, Chris Dickerson and even Eduardo Nunez here. Because Jones is largely a platoon leftfielder with Brett Gardner in leftfield, Chris Dickerson will likely be used this postseason as a late-inning defensive replacement for Swisher. Dickerson is not much of a hitter. He hit .260 with a home run and seven RBIs in 50 at-bats this season. But Dickerson is a very smooth outfielder with an excellent arm. The Yankees love his range. Dickerson also can provide speed off the bench as a pinch-runner, much like Greg Golson did in 2009 playoffs.

SECOND HALF GRADE

SWISHER  B

Swisher really raised his game after two months of awful at-bats. To Swisher’s credit his numbers were pretty much what they had been his previous two seasons with the Yankees. Considering that Swisher was obtained from the White Sox for backup infielder Wilson Betemit, this is another trade by general manager Brian Cashman (like the Curtis Granderson deal) that has worked in the Yankees’ favor. Swisher provides power, he produces runs and he gets on base. Swisher will strike out some. He fanned 125 times this season. But the overall package is a solid and consistent one.

OVERALL GRADE

SWISHER  B-

Swisher earned a C for his poor first half numbers. So his B for the second half raises his overall grade to a B-. Swisher, 30, will never reach star status. But he is one of those players that championship teams need. His enthusiasm and effort on the field are superior and the Yankees need him in the middle of the lineup with his power, clutch hitting and his ability to get on base. You can overlook his limited range when you also know he is not going to hurt the team by making a silly error. You add up all the positives with Swisher and you get a pretty solid player. He will also be a key player for the team in the postseason.

 

Granderson Dazzles On Centerstage For Yankees

The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.

CENTERFIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (41 HRS, 119 RBIs, .262 BA, 136 Rs, 25 SBs)

You really have to root for genuine good guys like Curtis Granderson, who dramatically turned his career around last August by adjusting his batting stance and swing with batting coach Kevin Long. The result was an MVP-caliber season and it now makes his trade to the Yankees from the Tigers look very lopsided. Consistency was Granderson’s hallmark, too. He hit .267 with 22 home runs and 54 RBIs in the first 81 games. He hit just below that with 19 home runs and 65 RBIs in the second half. Granderson was second to Jose Bautista of Toronto in home runs, he edged teammate Robinson Cano by one RBI for the American League lead in RBIs and topped Ian Kinsler of Texas by a whopping 15 runs for the major-league lead in runs scored. He also stole 25 bases and he played a much better centerfield than he did in 2010. What is incredible is Granerson’s previous highs were 30 home runs in 2009, 74 RBIs in 2007 and 26 stolen bases in 2007, all with Detroit. But Granderson has put all the elements of his game together at one time and he was the Most Valuable Player of the winningest team in the American League. If MVPs are supposed to lead their teams into the playoffs, he is your MVP in 2011. The only knock on Granderson is the low batting average, which is a product of 169 strikeouts, the third most in the league. Granderson came to the Yankees after hitting .188 against left-handers in 2009. In 2011, Granderson actually hit for a better average against left-handers – .272 as opposed to .258 against right-handers. Also, despite leading the league in RBIs, Granderson hit only .242 with runners on scoring position. That indicates if Granderson would not press in clutch situations he could drive in more runs. That is scary to think about. Granderson’s fielding also improved in 2011. He cut down on his habit of taking odd routes to balls, made only three errors and he had 11 outfield assists, another career high. At age 30, Granderson is finally living up the great promise he showed in Detroit and he has become indispensable to the Yankees.

Granderson made 150 starts in centerfield this season. When he was not there, Brett Gardner was. Gardner is a great luxury for the Yankees because he actually is a second centerfielder in leftfield. He is actually a better fielder than Granderson with his range and he has a better arm. But Gardner is content and has carved his own niche in left. The Yankees are just blessed to have two very fast and athletic centerfielders on the roster.

SECOND HALF GRADE

GRANDERSON  A+

Granderson received an A for his first half and because he improved his RBI total in the second half, he deserves an A+. Granderson has always been one of those guys you root for because he is truly a very good person who does such great work in the community. By reshaping his swing, Granderson has reached another level as a player. The fact that he rose to an MVP-caliber season is just astounding and more credit to him. The Yankees knew he was good when they dealt Austin Jackson and Phil Coke for him. But they had no idea he was this good. In my view, Granderson should win the MVP. But, even of he does not, he had a wonderful season. Yankee fans just hope he can carry it into the playoffs and help lead the Yankees to their 28th world championship.

OVERALL GRADE  A+

You can quibble about the low batting average and the strikeouts, but Granderson is a very good baseball player who had himself a great season. He did it largely from the No. 2 spot in the batting order, which is not easy. Granderson’s swing is built for Yankee Stadium, with its short dimensions in right. However, I do not remember many of Garnderson’s 21 home runs being cheap wall-scrapers. The fact he hit 20 on the road shows he was legitimately hitting 41 and not feasting off Yankee Stadium. You add up the power, the production, his base-running, the improved fielding and you come up with one very special season. Curtis Granderson is simply one very special player and the Yankees are lucky to have him in a season when Alex Rodriguez missed so much time.

 

Gardner’s 2011 Play Left A Lot To Be Desired

The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.

LEFTFIELD – BRETT GARDNER (7 HRs, 36 RBIs, .259 BA, 87 Rs, 49 SBs)

Remember when your mother said to you “No dessert until you eat your spinach?” Well, that is just like Brett Gardner. There are so many positives with Gardner’s game but there also are some very definite negatives. You love the league-leading 49 stolen bases, the 87 runs scored and his Gold Glove fielding in leftfield. However, there also is that .259 batting average, the 93 strikeouts and those popped up bunt attempts. Gardner is certainly a mixed bag. In the first half, Gardner hit .267 with four home runs and 18 RBIs so it is funny how his second half mirrored his first. Considering Gardner is a .264 career hitter at age 28 you have to pretty much think what you see is what you get. He likely will never hit .300 and learn to drive the ball in the outfield gaps. The strikeouts are the biggest problem. If you have great speed you can’t strike out 100 times a season. But Gardner did improve as base-stealer this season. He became a real pest on the bases and he drew attention to himself and away from the hitters that followed him. His defense is leftfield was exceptional. Gardner covers more ground and saves more hits than any leftfielder in baseball. Just try to bring up Carl Crawford to the Red Sox Nation. If Gardner does not win a Gold Glove it will be a travesty.

Give credit to manager Joe Girardi to spot Gardner’s most glaring weakness, though. He hit .233 against left-handers this season. So Girardi decided to use Andruw Jones in leftfield in games the Yankees faced a left-hander. That likely will continue through the playoffs. Jones, 34, is no longer the graceful 10-time Gold Glove-winning centerfielder he was with the Braves. He also never really was a high-average hitter. Jones is just a power hitter. His first half was dreadful and there were some Yankee fans calling for his release. At the All-Star break he was was hitting .195 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. But Jones rescued his season with some help from his mother, who noticed Jones’ stance at the plate was off. Jones corrected it and hit .291 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs in the second half. Mom knows best, indeed. Jones’ defense is sadly not what it was. His range is limited these days. But he only made one error this season and he will catch what he can reach. Jones’ biggest value is that he mashes left-handers. He hit .286 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs. He hit only .188 against right-handers. That makes him a nice platoon twin with Gardner heading into the playoffs.

SECOND HALF GRADES

GARDNER  C+

JONES  B

I gave Gardner a C+ for his first half. So it stands to reason his second half grade will be the same. It may a bit harsh to give the league’s best base-stealer and a Gold Glove outfielder a grade that low. But Gardner has some very glaring holes in his game. His strikeouts and his inability to hit lefties really make him a marginal platoon player. It is a shame too because if Gardner could have developed into a .280 or better hitter, he could be even more of a pest to opposing pitchers. But for now, the platoon with Jones seems to work best for the Yankees. I will give Jones a lot of credit for rescuing his season and becoming a productive hitter in the second half. Age and some additional weight have made him a shadow of what he was with the Braves. But his World Series and playoff experience make him very valuable at this time of year.

OVERALL GRADES

GARDNER  C+

JONES  C

I will give Gardner credit for staying healthy this season. His wrist and thumb problems seem to have abated. But Gardner was a big disappointment, particularly in September. The experiment of having him lead off against right-handers was a bust as well. Gardner will strictly bat ninth now. Because the Detroit Tigers have no lefty starters, we will see more of Gardner than we will of Jones. The Yankees just have to hope Gardner finds his batting eye because as the old adage goes: You can’t steal first base. Gardner needs to get on base to make the Yankees go. When he doesn’t the team looks stagnant and it has to rely solely on its power. Jones will be of great use as platoon leftfielder against right-handers as well as right-handed pinch-hitter off the bench in the playoffs. Jones provides power and he can still field a bit in left or right.

 

Jeter Did Not Come Up Short With Hot Second Half

The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.

SHORTSTOP – DEREK JETER (6 HRs, 61 RBIs, .297 BA, 84 Rs, 16 SBs)

To most people, Derek Jeter was a washed up shortstop at the midpoint of 2011. He was coming off a 2010 season in which he hit a career-low .270 and he was hitting .260 after 81 games in 2011. On top of that, he was on the 15-day disabled list with a calf injury. At age 37, Jeter seemed to be declining right before our eyes. But what a difference a great second half makes. Jeter raised his season average to .297 and he hit four home runs and drove in 41 runs. He failed to score 100 runs for only the third time in his career. But he did contribute 16 stolen bases, which is not bad for a player his age. The turnaround was largely connected to his rehab in Tampa, FL, where he reworked his swing back to his old mechanics rather than the so-called “no-stride” makeover batting coach Kevin Long suggested. It was quickly apparent with Jeter’s 5-for-5 day in which he collected his 3,000th hit was the re-emergence of the Jeter that Yankee fans were used to seeing. It is true that Jeter likely won’t approach the 24 home runs, 102 RBIs and .349 average he recorded in 1998 when he was 24. But Yankee fans can certainly accept a .297 season from a 37-year-old shortstop who bats leadoff for the best offense in the American League. Jeter likely will not win his sixth Gold Glove because of all the abuse sabermetricians heaped upon last season when he earned his fifth. Jeter committed 12 eroors in the 121 games he started. That was up from the career-low six he was charged with in 2010. Most of the errors came on careless throws to first base. But Jeter remains one of the most sure-handed shortstops in baseball despite his diminished range at the position.

When Jeter was on the disabled list, Eduardo Nunez, 24,  played in his place and he hit .347 during Jeter’s absence. Scouts who saw Nunez in the minors believed his bat was major-league caliber. Nunez also provided the second-best stolen base threat on the team behind Brett Gardner. Nunez stole 22 bases in 28 attempts despite the fact he started only 85 games. In only 309 at-bats, Nunez hit five home runs, drove in 30 runs and, only due to a last-season slide, he hit a mere .265. Most baseball experts believe if he played full-time, Nunez could hit about .285 with 12-15 home runs and 60 RBIs and steal 40 bases. That is good enough to start for most major-league teams. Not the Yankees with Jeter. Nunez’s downside is his glove, especially in just the 39 starts he made at shortstop. Nunez was charged with 17 errors in just over two-thirds fewer chances than Jeter. There is no doubt Nunez has superior range to Jeter. But Nunez is an error machine in cleats. If he wants to be a starting major-league shortstop he is going to have to work harder on his fielding.

Ramiro Pena also made two starts at short and he uncharacteristically made two errors. Pena is considered an exceptional infielder, particularly at short. But his bat is a big zero. He hit only .100 in 40 at-bats, which is why he lost his backup infield spot to Nunez in spring training. Pena is not on the postseason roster.

SECOND HALF GRADES

JETER  A-

NUNEZ  C

Jeter received a C+ for his first half so you have to reward him with an A for his turnaround in the second half. At .297, Jeter missed hitting .300 or better for only the fifth tim in his career. In four of those five seasons, Jeter has hit .291 or better. He is still a career .313 hitter and he is the only Yankee player to have reached the 3,000-hit plateau. So are there still those who believe Jeter should just retire now? Funny how those folks stopped talking about Jeter in July. Jeter is still the driver of the Yankee offense from the leadoff spot and he is key player as the playoffs begin. Jeter is a career .309 hitter in the postseason. In the Yankees’ 2009 championship season he hit .344 in the postseason. You will not see Nunez at shortstop in the postseason unless Jeter is injured. That is a good thing because Nunez scares Yankee fans with his erratic glove. He is more valuable coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.

OVERALL GRADES

JETER  B

NUNEZ  C+

There those who follow the Yankees that believed Nunez should have replaced Jeter after he hit so well during Jeter’s absence. If you ask those folks now they will either say nothing or admit they were wrong. Jeter has earned his position as the team’s captain, shortstop and leadoff hitter with a lot of hard work. So at 37 he is not what he was at age 24. Who is? But he is still a solid hitter and a sure-handed fielder witha flair for the dramatic in the postseason. Nunez’s time will come someday but it will not come this October. That time is reserved for The Captain.

 

Yanks Getting Third Degree Over A-Rod’s Injuries

The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.

THIRD BASE – ALEX RODRIGUEZ (16 HRs, 62 RBIs, .276 BA)

Of all the injuries the Yankees suffered through in 2011, the injuries that sidelined Alex Rodriguez probably hurt the team the most. Losing a hitter who had hit 30 or more home runs and driven in 100 or more runs in 13 straight seasons doesn’t help an offense. But Rodriguez was largely out most all of the second half and enters the playoffs as the team’s biggest question mark. Rodriguez had 16 home runs, 52 RBIs and a .304 average at the season’s midpoint despite missing time with a hip injury. Little did the Yankees know that Rodriguez would miss so much time with a left thumb injury and torn meniscus in his right knee that required surgery to repair. So Rodriguez hit just one home run and drove in 10 runs in the second half. That does not bode well for Rodriguez and the Yankees heading into the postseason. Rodoriguez was scratched from the final game of the season due stiffness in his right knee. But he plans to play in the postseason to help the Yankees win their 28th championship. Rodriguez’s knee also hurt his range and fielding at third this season. He committed six errors in 87 starts there after he committed seven errors in 122 games in 2010. The Yankees will just have to hope that Rodriguez can contribute with both the bat and glove this postseason.

The Yankees largely plugged the hole at third early in the season with Eduardo Nunez. That was because Eric Chavez suffered a broken foot in early May and he missed 2 1/2 months of the season. Nunez, 24, actually distinguished himself pretty well at the position. He started 33 games there and he hit very well in place of A-Rod. Certainly he did not match the 36 year-old veteran’s power. But he did hit for a very good average and he was able to steal some bases and drive in some key runs. Nunez, however, has a great deal to improve on with his glove. He committed six errors in two-thirds fewer chances than Rodriguez at third. Most of those were due to sloppy fielding and his throws to first were an adventure even for Mark Teixeira.

When Chavez, 33, returned in mid-July he was used more at third base because Nunez hit left-handed and Nunez hit right-handed and the Yankees faced more right-handed pitching while Rodriguez recovered from knee surgery. Unfortunately, Chavez never quite hit as well as he did in spring training and through early May when he was injured. Chavez did not hit for any real power and his batting average ended up at .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs. But Chavez is a good veteran hitter who does provide the Yankees with a lefty power threat off the bench. Chavez also plays Gold Glove-quality defense. After all, he won six consecutive Gold Gloves with Oakland. In 33 starts at third, Chavez did not make a single error. That makes him very valuable this time of year.

The Yankees also started Ramiro Pena and top minor-league third base prospect Brandon Laird in September when the rosters expanded. Neither did much with bat but they both fielded the position well. But since neither player will be on the postseason roster they will not be factors until next spring.

SECOND HALF GRADES

RODRIGUEZ  I (Incomplete)

NUNEZ  C+

CHAVEZ  C

Yankee fans will just have face facts that Rodriguez is a big question mark heading into the postseason and I would imagine even manager Joe Girardi is not sure what he is going to get from his third baseman. But one thing is known. Pitchers will have to pitch him just as carefully as ever. That means he won’t see many fastballs unless there are in on his hands. He mostly will see breaking pitches low and away. But Rodriguez must provide something to the offense and not just kill rallies with double plays, popups and strikeouts. It is a shame that Rodriguez had a season plagued by injuries. But no team is going to feel sorry for him. We will see what we get.

OVERALL GRADES

RODRIGUEZ  I

NUNEZ  C+

CHAVEZ  I

Both Rodriguez and Chavez missed too much of the season for overall grades. Nunez was forced to play more here than anyone would have predicted, but he acquitted himself pretty well with a very good bat and a clanker for a glove. Do not expect to see Nunez here much during the postseason. Rodriguez will start every game he is healthy enough to play in and Chavez would be the first call off the bench as a defensive replacement. How much A-Rod will actually contribute is a mystery. But that leaves doubt in the pitchers’ minds too, so it is not all that a negative. There have been postseasons in which Rodriguez has frankly stunk. But there are also have been postseasons in which he has shined. My best guess is that he should provide some clutch hits but don’t expect much in the way of power because his knee is still barking.

 

Is There A Second? Cano Rules His Position In 2011

The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.

SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (28 HRs, 118 RBIs, .302 BA)

Robinson Cano’s first-half totals were 14 HRs, 54 RBIs and a .292 batting average. His second-half numbers indicate the power was consistent and he improved in his production and raised his batting average. To hit 15 home runs and drive in 64 runs in the final 81 games is not bad at all. But this is nothing new for Cano. He has always hit much better in the final three months of the season. He actually raised his game to a level that has put him the discussion for American League MVP. The Yankees counted on him even more because of the loss of Alex Rodriguez for most of the season, which placed Cano in the cleanup spot during the time A-Rod missed. Cano was simply the most dangerous hitter in the Yankees’ lineup and managers continually trotted out left-handers to get him out. The only problem was Cano hit left-handers at a .314 clip as opposed to .296 against right-handers. Cano also hit .318 with runners in scoring position. Cano’s defense slipped a bit this season. He committed only three errors in his Gold Glove 2010 season. In 2011 he was charged with 10 errors and most were concentration errors. But Cano remains the second baseman with the best range and the best arm. The fact he makes the most difficult plays look easy is what hurts him come time to vote on the Gold Glove. But Cano deserves his second gold statue. Once again, Cano also showed durability by starting 150 games at second, the fifth season in a row he has started 150 or more games.

Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena started the other 12 games. Nunez started nine and Pena started three. Neither committed an error at the position. But while Nunez carried the better bat, Pena still shows the best glove at this position and is much smoother on the turning the double play. However, Cano is credited with being best second baseman in baseball at turning two because of his quick release and laser-like flips to first. So when Cano is not playing his glove is missed just as much as his bat. Of course, Cano only missed five games all season and none of them due to an injury.

SECOND HALF GRADES

CANO  A

OTHERS (Nunez and Pena)  I (Incomplete)

Cano received an A- for his first half, largely due to his middling .292 batting average. We think Cano should have been hitting .300. Well, in the second half he raised his average above .300 while staying consistent in his power numbers and driving in more runs. That earns him a solid A. Cano would routinely get A+ grades annually of he would be more patient at the plate. He walked 38 times this season, somewhat less than his career-high of 57 in 2010, when he hit .317. Cano still will get himself out by hitting pitches out of the strike zone rather than waiting for a better pitch to drive. But he is the best hitting and fielding first baseman in baseball and he is the best pure hitter the Yankees have. At age 28, the sky is the limit for Cano’s career now.

OVERALL GRADE

CANO  A

He just misses an A+ because Cano should be winning batting titles with his classic swing. I bet he surprised quite a few baseball experts by winning the Home Run Contest at the All-Star Game. But Cano’s swing is so smooth that he can hit for both average and power. The Yankees also realize that Cano could hit higher than fifth in the lineup. He should be hitting third. But Cano is not complaining. If Cano does not win the MVP this season he is not far away from winning it in seasons to come. And here is something to chew on: Cano likely will become the best second baseman the Yankees have ever had. He is just that good.

 

Tex, First And Foremost, Produced Runs In 2011

The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.

FIRST BASE – MARK TEIXEIRA (39 HRs, 111 RBIs, .248 BA)

Mark Teixeira has followed in the footsteps of Jason Giambi. Like Giambi before him, Teixeira was noted as an excellent hitter to all fields who also provided a consistent 30 home runs and 100 RBIs a season. But with the lure of the short dimensions in right field of Yankee Stadium, Teixeira is strictly a pull hitter now and his average has sunk as a result. In the first half, Teixeira did not get off to his traditional slow start and he put up 25 home runs, 65 RBIs in the first half. But the cost of the production was his mediocre .244 average. It did not get better in the second half. He hit 14 home runs, drove in 46 runs and his average came up only four points. For a career .281 hitter, Teixeira has posted averages of .256 and .248 the past two seasons. That is why the Yankees may have to move him out of the No. 3 spot in the batting order soon. Of course, Teixeira still brings Gold Glove quality defense to his position. He is simply the best fielding first baseman in baseball with his superior range and his ability to scoop bad throws out of the dirt. Teixeira had a .997 fielding percentage, committing only four errors. He has not committed more than five errors in any season he has played first base. He was durable too because he started 144 games at first this season.

The Yankees began the season hoping to have Eric Chavez as Teixeira’s primary backup at first. However, Chavez – no stranger to injury – broke a foot in early May and missed 2 1/2 months. So the Yankees turned Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher as the primary backups. Posada started 11 games and Swisher started three. Neither can match Teixeira’s stellar glove but Swisher, at least, provided a bat close to Teixeira’s. Posada surprisingly did not embarrass himself here as some would have thought. Posada came up through the Yankee system as a second baseman and his glove at first was not awful. But both Swisher and Posada lack true range here. The Yankees started Chavez and September call-up Brandon Laird twice. They were adequate.

SECOND HALF GRADES

TEIXEIRA  C

OTHERS (Posada, Swisher, Chavez, Laird)  I (Incomplete)

Teixeira received a B- for his first half. At the time, I praised his good production but believed he could raise his average. His production dipped instead and he did not really raise his average much in the second half. That makes it hard to give Tex anything above a C. Teixeira fell prey to too many change-ups in the dirt. He still swings over them and he needs to really work on trying to recognize the pitch better and lay off it. But Teixeira really shines as a fielder and he makes so many plays that saves hits headed to right-field and errors on infield throws. You notice how good he is only when he is not playing there.

OVERALL GRADE

TEIXEIRA  B-

The fact that Teixeira is the only active major-league player with an active streak of hitting 30 or more home runs and driving in more than 100 runs is a testament to his durability and his ability to produce. Teixeira has failed to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs only in his rookie season in 2003. Teammate Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols of the Cardinals had their longer streaks ended this season. So Teixeira is productive despite his sagging batting average. His defense also rates him a B grade that was close to a C because he is one of the few defenders that can win games with his glove.

 

Martin’s Defense, Power Made Him Good Catch

The regular season has come to a close and any postseason that does not include the Boston Red Flops is a positive. The Yankees enter the playoffs with the best record in the American League (97-65) and with home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series. It is time for the final season report cards on the players that brought them to this point.

CATCHER – RUSSELL MARTIN (18 HRs, 65 RBIs, .237 BA)

At the midpoint of the season, Martin was hitting .222 with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs. So he raised his average 15 points, hit eight home runs and drove in 31 runs in the second half. Martin’s offensive production was a somewhat disappointing considering he is a career .267 hitter. But back and toe injuries in the first half and a thumb injuries on both hands in the second half short-circuited his season at the plate. But the Yankees have to be pleased with his power and his 65 RBIs at the bottom of lineup. Martin’s biggest contribution though was his Gold Glove defense behind the plate. Martin called a good game, blocked pitches in the dirt and controlled the running game with his arm. He entered the season with a .990 fielding percentage and he matched that this season. He also had a career mark of nailing 40% of the base-runners attempting to steal on him. He threw out just below 30% this season, a dip probably having to do with the thumb injury and some pitchers who were slow to the plate. Overall, though Martin was an excellent investment for a one-year, $4 million contract.

Backup catcher Francisco Cervelli started the season on the disabled list with a broken left foot he sustained in the exhibition season in Florida. He hit .231 with one home run and 13 RBIs in the first half. He also was guilty of some pretty awful throwing errors, which is not good for a backup catcher. Cervelli improved greatly in the second half. He raised his average to .266, hit three home runs and drove in nine runs until a September home-plate collision with Nick Markakis of the Orioles left him with a severe concussion that clouds the rest of his season. Though Cervelli is working out he is not expected to play in the first round of the playoffs and likely will miss the rest of the season. He had a .980 fielding percentage and nabbed 20% of base-runners attempting to steal.

The Yankees entered 2011 with real strength at catcher. Behind Martin and Cervelli was former starter Jorge Posada, who could catch in an emergency. (That only happened once, however.) The Yankees also had a trio of great minor-league catching prospects in Jesus Montero, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez. Montero and Romine were at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Double-A Trenton, respectively. Both were recalled. Montero came up when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 and Romine was summoned to replace Cervelli a week later.

Montero did not catch much in September. He mostly was used as a right-handed hitting designated hitter. But that was more than OK with Yankee fans. In just 61 at-bats, Montero hit four home runs, drove in 12 runs and hit a robust .328. At age 21, Montero is drawing comparisons to hitters like Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera and Mike Piazza. His right-center power stroke seems ideal for Yankee Stadium and he could be the most significant power hitter the Yankees have produced in their minor-league system since Mickey Mantle some 50 years ago. His defense behind the plate is still a work in progress. Montero’s size at 6-foot-3 makes it hard for him to block pitches and come out of crouch to throw out runners. The Yankees may see him more valuable as a DH and a backup catcher next season.

Romine, however, is a more polished receiver behind the plate. Manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, who both know a bit about catching, believe Romine’s defense is major-league quality. In his few starts he threw out 33% of the base-runners attempting to steal on him. At age 22, Romine is still working as a hitter. He hit only .158 but he only received 19 at-bats. Scouts believe Romine will get better as a hitter. He won’t hit for Montero’s power but he will be a good line-drive hitter.

Catcher was the Yankees’ deepest position beginning the season and with Cervelli’s late-season injury, it is good thing the Yankees did have the depth here. The question is will Romine and Montero make the postseason roster? Monetro is more likely to stick because Martin will catch all the postseason games. However, if Montero is used as a DH, the Yankees will have to use Posada or lose the DH if Martin is injured. Tough choice.

SECOND HALF GRADES

MARTIN  C+

CERVELLI  I (Incomplete)

MONTERO  I 

ROMINE  I 

I gave Martin a B for his first half for his strong April and the promise of great improvement in the second half. It never really materialized for him. Martin, a former hockey goalie in his native Canada, is tough as they come. However, the wear and tear of catching makes it hard to be a consistent hitter. The Yankees have to be happy with his 16 home runs and 65 RBIs hitting at the bottom of the order and there is no doubting that Martin is an excellent defensive catcher with a good arm. Any season of enduring the wildness of A.J. Burnett deserves some honor. Martin was an excellent signing by general manager Brian Cashman.

OVERALL GRADE

MARTIN  B-

OTHERS (Cervelli, Montero, Romine)  I

The fact that Posada was only needed to catch part of one game shows the depth the Yankees have at this position. Martin started 118 games and, despite the nagging injuries, he gave the Yankees superior play behind the plate. It will be interesting to see if the Yankees make a bid to re-sign Martin in the offseason. My guess is they will make an offer but his price is going to go up considerably.

 

 

Garcia, Montero Send Red Sox Further Into Abyss

GAME 157

YANKEES 9, RED SOX 1

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

                                                                                                                                           - Charles Dickens from “Tale of Two Cities”

If any tidbit of prose could describe the end of this pre-autumn battle between two proud franchises this Dickens line would surely be appropo.

While the Yankees have clinched the American League East and they are getting prepared for the playoffs the Red Sox are praying they still can reach the playoffs as they seemingly implode like a proud skyscraper that is now obsolete. These are two cities and two teams headed in diametrically different directions.

Freddy Garcia pitched six scoreless innings in his effort to win a postseason starting slot, Jesus Montero hit a homer and drove in four runs to stake a claim for a postseason roster spot and Derek Jeter added a home and three RBIs to silence those early-season critics that thought his career was over as New York humiliated Boston on Saturday in front of national TV audience at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees jumped all over Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester (15-9) with one out in the second inning.

Robinson Cano started the onslaught innocently enough with a single to left. Nick Swisher then coaxed a walk. Andruw Jones reached when his bouncer to shortstop Marco Scutaro could not be turned into an out. Scutaro’s throw to second reached Dustin Pedroia after Swisher hit the bag.

Montero then showed the Red Sox what can happen when you actually hold onto your prospects by slashing a sharp single between third and short into left to score Cano. Russell Martin, who stated on Thursday that he hated the Red Sox and would like to oust them from the playoffs, followed with s sinking liner to left that clanked off  the glove of free-agent flop Carl Crawford that scored Swisher and Jones.

Jeter capped the six-run explosion with a typical Jeter opposite-field home run to right-center over the auxiliary scoreboard and into the bleachers. It was only his sixth home run of the season but it was probably just as big as his 3,000th hit home run off David Price of the Rays.

Much like a English muffin on a nippy winter morning, Lester was toasted.

The Yankees added two more runs in the third inning and chased Lester to the showers – all coming after two were out.

Swisher looped a single to right and Jones lashed a lined single to left. Montero, 21, then further built upon his near-legend status in the Bronx with a long blast to left-center that bounced off the wall for a double and scored both Swisher and Jones.

Now Lester was burnt toast and manager Terry Francona removed him from the heat of the game.

With an 8-0 lead, Garcia (12-8) was free to toy with the overaggressive Red Sox hitters by giving them a little bit of this and a little bit of that at slow and even slower speeds. Garcia scattered six hits, walked one and struck three as the 34-year-old right-hander won at least 12 games for the ninth time in his 13 major-league seasons.

With Bartolo Colon and A.J. Burnett struggling and Phil Hughes battling back issues, Garcia seemed to all but lock up a spot in the Yankees’ postseason rotation with his 102-pitch effort on Saturday.

Montero, meanwhile, added to his day with his fourth home run in just 52 at-bats, a solo shot to the opposite field in right off Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa to lead of the sixth inning. Montero raised his batting average to .346 and in his last two games, Montero is 6-for-7 (.857) with a home run and six RBIs.

With backup catcher Francisco Cervelli still recovering from concussion symptoms, Montero has an opportunity to make the postseason roster as the backup to Martin and he could draw some starts as a right-handed designated hitter.

The Red Sox instead are looking for something or someone to stop their calamitous tailspin that has seen them record a 5-17 mark in September. The combination of their loss and victories by the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels leave the Red Sox just 1 1/2 games ahead of the Rays and 2 1/2 games in front of the Angels in the wild-card standings with five games left to play.

The Yankees improved their record to 96-61 and they need just one victory and a loss by the Texas Rangers or Detroit Tigers to clinch home-field advantage throughout the American League playoffs.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Brian Cashman is generally praised for not trading Jesus Montero, don’t forget that Cashman included Montero in a proposed deal to the Mariners for Cliff Lee last July. It was only because Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik also had asked for Ivan Nova and Eduardo Nunez that nixed the deal. So Yankee fans actually have the greed of Zduriencik to thank for the fact the Yankees have held onto Montero and let him blossom into what appears to be sure superstar status. Think of Montero this way: He could the best power-hitting prospect the Yankees have brought up from their minor-league system since Mickey Mantle in 1951. That is 60 years!
  • Garcia’s good outing came at the perfect time because he was 0-1 with a 10.95 ERA in his last three starts. Garcia is 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA this season, which should earn him strong consideration for a starting spot for the Yankees in the postseason. With CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova already assured spots, Garcia becomes very important to the Yankees this postseason.
  • Jeter’s home run was his first since Sept 4 at Yankee Stadium against Toronto. He is hitting .304 this month and his season average is at .297. So he has a good chance to reach the .300 mark before the season ends. Jeter was hitting .260 on June 13 when he was placed on the disabled list with strained calf muscle.

BOMBER BANTER

Hughes threw a 35-pitch bullpen session on Saturday and reported no pain in his back. Hughes, who missed his last start due to back spasms, is in line to make a start on the final day of the regular season on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, FL. Because of the timing of the injury, Hughes likely will be relegated to the bullpen when the Yankees open their postseason schedule.  . . .  Cervelli exercised for a second consecutive day on Saturday but the Yankees do not expect him to be available for the American League Division Series. Cervelli has been sidelined since Sept. 8 with concussion symptoms after a home-plate collision with Orioles underachieving outfielder Nick Markakis.  . . .  The Yankees paid tribute on Saturday to the 50-year anniversary of Roger Maris’ 61st home run, which broke Babe Ruth’s 1927 single-season record of 60. Members of the Maris family were on hand for the ceremony before the game.

ON DECK

Because of the ninth rainout of the season on Friday, the Yankees will play the Red Sox in a day-night doubleheader on Sunday.

The Yankees will start the opener with Burnett (10-11, 5.28 ERA). Burnett faltered in the fourth and fifth innings of his last start against the Minnesota Twins on Monday. He gave up four runs in his four-plus innings, although he did strike out seven batters. He is 5-4 with 5.07 ERA against the Red Sox in his career.

The Red Sox will counter with ancient knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (7-7, 5.08 ERA). Wakefield gave up two runs in five innings in a loss to the Rays last Sunday. He is 8-13 with a 5.08 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

In the nightcap, the Yankees will call upon Rookie of the Year candidate Nova (16-4, 3.62 ERA). Nova is coming off 7 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball against the Rays on Tuesday to win his 12th straight decision. Nova is 0-2 with a 7.15 ERA against the Red Sox.

The Red Sox will counter with overpaid and underwhelming right-hander John Lackey (12-12, 6.49 ERA). Lackey was tagged for eight runs on 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings against the Orioles on Monday. Lackey is 8-9 with a 4.69 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

Game-time for the opener will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.

The second game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and the game will be telecast nationally by MLB Network and locally by YES.

 

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