October 2011

Wilson, Darvish Top Yankees’ Winter Shopping List

With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.

PART 1 – Starting Pitching

PRIORITY NO. 3 – Finding help with free agents or trades

Looking at the New York Yankees’ starting rotation you have the possible loss of CC Sabathia, the return of injured right-hander Phil Hughes, the return of severely underperforming and overpaid right-hander A.J. Burnett, the sophomore season for rookie surprise Ivan Nova and the likely release of free agents Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

Even if Sabathia somehow decides to re-sign with the Yankees, they will still likely need another starter to add behind the ace left-hander and Hughes, Burnett and Nova. So that begs the question: Will general manager Brian Cashman be looking to spend big bucks to add another starter or two to the Yankees for the 2012 season?

That seems likely given that the Yankees were so hellbent on signing left-hander Cliff Lee last winter. But Lee spurned a better contract offer to sign for less money to pitch with the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite the fact Lee thought he was joining a super rotation of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, the Phillies got no father than the Yankees did in the playoffs and Oswalt was allowed to become a free agent.

This season the Yankees obviously will be focused on getting Sabathia to remain in pinstripes. Sabathia has two days to decide to stay with the Yankees for the four years and $92 million left on his contract or opt out and look for a more lucrative deal. Most baseball insiders believe Sabathia, never being accused of being foolish, will opt out to seek a longer term on his contract and more money.

The Yankees, unlike their attitude when Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in 2008, are prepared to offer Sabathia a very lucrative six-year, $160 million contract modeled after the contract Lee signed with the Phillies. But Sabathia will have other suitors, including the Texas Rangers to increase the bidding price.

If the Yankees succeed in bringing Sabathia back into the fold, they will then turn their attention to acquiring a pitcher who they can slot in as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

TARGET NO. 1 – C.J. WILSON (16-7, 2.94 ERA)

Wilson is a 31-year-old left-hander who was the ace of the American League-champion Rangers. But unlike most 31-year-old starters, Wilson has only two seasons of throwing more than 200 innings behind him because he was a reliever in his previous five major-league seasons, all with the Rangers.

If the Yankees were to keep Sabathia and land Wilson it would a tremendous dual victory for the organization. They would have retained their ace and added a second left-hander to the rotation. In addition, it would be a double blow to the Rangers, who are not exactly swimming in starting pitchers who could pitch on the level of Sabathia and Wilson. Strengthening the Yankees while weakening the Rangers is a definite plus to a front office that is taken a great dislike in the Rangers’ front office over the past two years.

A rotation of Sabathia, Wilson, Hughes, Burnett and Nova does not sound all that bad when you add up their record from last season. That five (understanding that Hughes only pitched 74 2/3 innings) was a combined 67-35 with a 3.81 ERA.

Wilson will command a nice princely sum on the open market because he clearly is the best free-agent pitcher available this winter. In the past three season, the Yankees have not bid on pitchers like Halladay and John Lackey, preferring to either solve their problems from within or signing cheaper free agents like Colon and Garcia.

There is no doubt that Colon and Garcia helped the Yankees during the regular season. They were a liability at crunch time, however.

Colon was 6-4 with a 3.20 ERA and Garcia was 7-6 with a 3.13 ERA in the first half of the season. But in the second half, both pitchers struggled at times. Colon was 2-6 with a 4.96 ERA and Garcia was 5-2 with a 4.45 ERA. Colon pitched so badly he was not even placed on the active roster for the playoffs. Garcia pitched and lost Game 3 to the Tigers.

Neither Colon at age 38 or Garcia at age 35 figure to be back next season.

The Yankees also have a host of young pitching prospects like Manny Banuelos (20), Dellin Betances (23), David Phelps (25), D.J. Mitchell (24) and even Hector Noesi (24), who pitched out of the bullpen for the Yankees. Signing Wilson would give the Yankees an opportunity to bring those prospects along slowly. Banuelos and Betances are easily the most talented of the group and they could use a season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to fine-tune their electric stuff.

Of course, some of them can be used in trades if Cashman felt a need to make a deal for a bench player or a veteran pitcher.

TARGET NO. 2 – YU DARVISH (18-6, 1.44 ERA for the Nippon Ham Fighters)

Darvish is a 25-year-old right-hander who stands 6-foot-5 and weights 187 pounds. He is the Randy Johnson of Japan with 276 strikeouts in 232 innings this season.

Even more impressive is that he is 88-33 in his last six seasons with his highest ERA during that period of 2.89 in 2006 when he was just 19.

Darvish has requested that his team owner post his contract in order to make himself available as free agent in the United States. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters owner Hiroji Okoso indicated his readiness to respect Yu Darvish’s decision earlier this month even though the Japanese baseball season has not concluded.

Darvish’s posting will make the posting of Daisuke Matsuzaka in the winter of 2007 look like a flea-market sale. Darvish is a much more gifted pitcher who challenges hitters with his mid-90s fastball and he has some dazzling breaking stuff to go with it. Darvish has also succeeded on the grand stage, being named as the MVP of Japan’s victory in the last World Baseball Classic.

The Yankees, who have been burned in the past with the signings of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, are nevertheless intrigued by Darvish. They have had a bevy of scouts in Japan clocking every fastball and monitoring the break on his curve. They see him as a potential ace in the major leagues.

But, if the Yankees are committed to re-signing Sabathia and they decide to make a long-term offer to Wilson, Darvish would be even out of reach of the Yankees deep pockets. The posting fee itself could be double the $100 million the Red Sox paid for Matsuzaka. Then the team that wins the posting must sign Darvish to a lucrative contract which might reach $150 million.

So it looks like Darvish would only come into the Yankees’ sights if they fail to keep Sabathia.

The Yankees would then have to pile their cash to sign Wilson and then offer a rich a posting fee to obtain the rights to sign Darvish. They could only afford that if Sabathia does not come back.

Darvish is Plan B if Sabathia leaves. If Sabathis stays, the Yankees likely will still look to sign Wilson and they will let Darvish go to another team with deep pockets like the Red Sox or Rangers.

TARGET NO. 3 – ROY OSWALT (9-10, 3.69 ERA)

Oswalt was injured in 2011 and he started only 23 games for the Phillies. He wasn’t bad as his ERA indicates.

But he also is 34 years old with 2,154 innings pitched in his major-league career. The Phillies chose to not keep him and he will be probably be the second-most sought after pitcher behind Wilson.

Oswalt is consummate pro with the ability to win at the major-league level with less stellar stuff then what he had in early days with Houston like 2005, when he was 20-12 with a 2.94 ERA and 184 strikeouts. Last season batters hit .280 off of him and he was forced to pitch out of a lot of jams.

Back issues forced him to miss all of July and he even considered retiring after this season. But he did throw four quality starts in his last seven appearances. But when it comes to signing Oswalt as a free agent, he is going to have to have doctors clear him to pitch in 2012 before he ever gets a contract offer.

The Yankees’ interest at this point of Oswalt’s career is unlikely. The Yankees would have to basically strike out on keeping Sabathia and signing either Wilson or Darvish before they would even consider making that move. Oswalt has pitched only in the National League and the Yankees have to be leery of guys like him and Javier Vazquez, who post low ERAs in the NL only to pitch with plus 5.00 ERAs in the American League.

Oswalt is the longest of longshots on the Yankees radar this winter. He has too much mileage, there are injury concerns and you have to consider he has not pitched in the AL.


With the Yankees, King Felix has been like Jonah’s whale. They try to reel him in but he slips through the nets every time.

Dealing with the Mariners in the past has not been pleasant. The Yankees attempted to deal for Lee when he was pitching for the Mariners in 2010. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik induced Cashman to include Jesus Montero and Ivan Nova in a potential deal for Lee.

The Rangers, on the other hand, were offering a package including power-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak.

Zduriencik then got greedy and asked the Yankees to sweeten the pot by including minor-league shortstop Eduardo Nunez to the package. Cashman said no and Zduriencik went running back to the Rangers to accept the Smoak package. The fact that Smoak bombed badly for the M’s in 2011 gives Yankee fans a lot of pleasure.

The Yankees, in the long run, were better off hanging onto Montero, Nova and Nunez and all three have bright futures ahead of them in pinstripes.

Any deal involving Hernandez likely will start with Zduriencik requesting Montero, Nunez and either Betances or Banuelos or both. This would the cost of doing business with a team that is desperate to fill the seats with a creditable team building for the future. But the Yankees would be crazy to be locked into this madness unless they were real desperate to replace Sabathia and they had lost both Wilson and Darvish in free agency.

This would be their Plan C and it would have to make sense to Cashman to give up so much talent. But Hernandez is not even 25 yet. So if you are going to deal for an ace it might as well be a young one with talent like the King.

But I do not see this happening. The M’s are building a nice rotation of young pitchers and Hernandez is a big part of that. However, their offense is just dreadful and King Felix could bring a package of young hitters the Mariners could build around. Montero would be a special prize here.

But the odds of it happening are in the 500-1 range. Cashman knows Zduriencik practices legal extortion and Cashman may be unwilling to pay up.

NEXT: PART 2 – Relief Pitching

PRIORITY NO. 1 – Finding a second left-hander or two

‘Head Case’ A.J., Hurt Hughes Eye 2012 Comebacks

With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.

PART 1 – Starting Pitching

PRIORITY NO. 2 – Fixing Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett

It is hard to see how a team can make the playoffs when their No. 2 and No. 3 starters are either injured or underperforming. That is exactly what happened to the Yankees in 2011 with Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett.

Burnett is the pitcher Yankee fans have come to love to hate. The fact is the 34-year-old right-hander has given them plenty of reason.

After a pretty good 2009 season in which Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA and he pitched the dramatic Game 2 that helped beat the Phillis for the Yankees’ 27th word championship, Burnett has pretty much been a 50-50 proposition.

Of course, the Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman should not have been shocked by this. Burnett was largely a .500 pitcher his whole career before he was 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008.

The Yankees signed Burnett (along with CC Sabathia) basically because Burnett dominated the Yankees and Red Sox in that 2008 season. Since then, the Yankees have not had to face him and Burnett has not really pitched well at all against the Red Sox.

Yankee fans were rightfully upset when Burnett recorded a 10-15 record with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. The Yankees hired pitching coach Larry Rothschild largely because of his suggested fixes for the erratic right-hander. Rothschild even followed through on that advice by actually tinkering with Burnett’s hand-positioning, limiting his turn to the plate and giving him a more consistent release point.

The result: Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA.

Now what?

Yankee fans have an easy solution for Cashman: Get rid of Burnett.

However, that is not so easy. Burnett signed a five-year deal with the Yankees and he has two years left on it. The amount of money he is being paid is the big problem. Other teams will not be willing to pick up the contract unless the Yankees pay most if not all of it. The question, too, is what would the Yankees get in return for a pitcher with such an awful record?

So there is the real issue. Burnett is being paid so much money that it is impossible to just release him, it is difficult to trade him for any value in return and he figures to really stink it up again in pinstripes in 2012.

If there were ever an albatross, Burnett is the poster boy.

My suggestion is that the Yankees need to explore finding Burnett a sports psychologist. The reason is I believe that Burnett’s problems are not physical. He is still capable of using the same stuff he has now as a pitcher to dominate any lineup in baseball. But his mental approach and confidence are lacking.

Yankee fans can see it. The inning starts with an innocent infield base hit. The baserunner then steals a base and the next batter rolls a dribbler just off Robinson Cano’s glove into right and a run scores. That baserunner steals also and Burnett walks the next batter. Then the next batter homers and Burnett unravels like the stitching of a cheap Sears suit.

That is because he is easily rattled and he takes every hit and run he gives up to heart. It bothers him to the point of distraction. Then he goes into full meltdown mode.

So if the Yankees are indeed stuck with Burnett as a starter they need to try to “fix” him. Sports psychologists have been around for years and they have had some success in helping athletes overcome mental issues. They may not help someone with the yips like Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch but they have helped other athletes with their mental approach. I believe Burnett could benefit from trying it. What could he possibly lose?

Without some kind of outside help, Burnett is doomed to another disappointing season in 2012.

Rothschild may be able to tinker with this or that in his delivery. He may even get him through a stretch where Burnett is 4-0 with a 2.51 ERA. But the end result will pretty much be the same: a record of around .500 and a plus-5 ERA. At that point the Yankees might have to look at eating that final year of his contract. But you never know.

Burnett may just stink up Yankee Stadium and ruin the Yankees’ postseason hopes for two more years. It is just like Kevin Brown all over over again.

Hughes, coming off a season in which he was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA, was looked upon to be the No. 2 or No. 3 starter behind Sabathia. However, Hughes showed a noticeable drop in velocity in  spring training and he was hit hard and gave up a lot of home runs.

Still, the Yankees were hopeful that Hughes would regain his velocity once the season the started. They had no reason to doubt it because Hughes was not complaining of any arm problems at that time.

But when Hughes opened the season 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA, they knew something was wrong – even if Hughes did not even know what was wrong.

Hughes was placed on the 15-day day disabled list and an early evaluation of Hughes showed all he needed was some time to rest the shoulder. Perhaps the Yankees finally realized that after Hughes had opened the 2010 season with a 10-2 record and floundered to an 8-6 record with an ERA approaching 5.00 that the problem may have gone back farther than they had thought.

Hughes spent two months on the disabled list with what was eventually diagnosed as a weak right shoulder. No surgery was scheduled and Hughes spent that time exercising to strengthen his shoulder and getting ready to return.

The 25-year-old right-hander did return on July 8, but the results were not great. In his 11 starts after returning to action, Hughes was 5-3 with a 4.55. Hughes did fashion a four-start stretch in early August in which he was 3-1 a 2.10 ERA.

However, in his next two starts he was hammered for 12 runs in 8 1/3 innings. Back problems down the stretch limited him to bullpen duty late in the season and manager Joe Girardi elected to keep Hughes in the bullpen during the postseason.

The Yankees insist Hughes is being counted upon as a starter for the 2012 season. But a look at Hughes’ work in the bullpen shows that in his two relief stints in September he was 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 2 2/3 innings and his velocity reached 94 mph. Hughes was also integral in the Yankees’ 2009 championship season by being the setup man for Mariano Rivera and he even had a lower ERA and higher strikeout ratio than Rivera that season.

The evidence may be mounting that at age 25, Hughes actually may be the best candidate the Yankees have to replace Rivera when the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer decides to retire. But because of the presence of Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain, Hughes has to remain a starter for now.

So the Yankees need to make sure Hughes and his right shoulder are sound if they want him to be able to make 33 starts and pitch 200 innings in 2012.

Hughes is capable of rebounding to his early 2010 form. He proved that in his “hot” stretch in August. But the Yankees also to be realistic that if Hughes breaks down again, they are going to have to shift him to the bullpen at some point to extend his career and maximize his value as a pitcher.

It is ironic that Hughes and Chamberlain are the two prize pitching prospects the Yankees decided to keep and develop themselves and they both have had arm issues despite the fact that the Yankees have monitored their workload closely.

For Hughes the issue is clear, though. He has to be able to maintain his 92-mile-per-hour velocity as a starter and hit his spots in order to be effective. He has an excellent curve and he is developing a decent cutter. To progress Hughes must use those pitches to keep teams off his fastball. Hughes gave up nine home runs in 2011 but that was in only 74 2/3 innings.

Hughes will always be susceptible to the long ball as a starter but he can hold them to minimum by progressing as pitcher and keeping the ball away from the short dimensions in right at Yankee Stadium.

Whether Sabathia stays with the Yankees or not, Hughes is being counted upon to be a part of the the starting rotation in 2012. The Yankees have invested a lot of time in developing Hughes. Now it is Hughes’ chance to seize the opportunity and become the very good starting pitcher scouts projected him to be when he was 20.

Hughes will gladly accept that challenge.

NEXT: PRIORITY NO. 3 – Finding help with free agents or trades


2012 Would Look Bleaker If CC Leaves Yankees

With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.

PART 1 – Starting Pitching

PRIORITY NO. 1 – Keeping CC Sabathia 

There are some Yankee fans who would like to see the big fellow opt out of his seven-year $161 million contract. Those that do cite the fact that he has not pitched well in the playoffs in the past two seasons and he was 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA in his last nine starts in 2011. Many blame a noticeable weight gain late in the season.

However, true ace pitchers do not grow on trees in plentiful supply and Sabathia, 31, is 59-23 with a 3.18 ERA in his three seasons as the Yankees’ unquestioned No. 1 starter.

If fans feel the Yankees’ starting pitching is weak heading into the 2012 season it does not make sense to allow the team’s best pitcher to walk away without attempting to sign him to a more lucrative deal. General manager Brian Cashman can renegotiate with Sabathia until three days after the World Series. At that point, Sabathia must declare whether he is opting out of the contract to become a free agent.

There are already teams such as the Texas Rangers who are poised to make an offer to the 6-foot-7, 290-pound left-hander. Because Sabathia is a California native, he also would stand to receive some competitive offers from some well bankrolled West Coast teams. Once the process is opened to other teams and the bidding begins, anything can happen. The result could be the loss of Sabathia.

The last time Sabathia talked with reporters about the subject, he said he had not even thought about what he will do and that he would discuss the options with his family. But he also said that he happy pitching in New York and his family has settled in nicely in a huge home in Alpine, N.J., just across the George Washington Bridge. He also has won a World Series with the Yankees and he has made playoff appearances the past two seasons.

Sabathia also might want to talk with Alex Rodriguez about his choice to opt out of his contract four years ago. A-Rod frustrated the Yankees by forfeiting $23 million in money the Rangers still owed him. The Yankees also took a hard line approach with the veteran third baseman and they declined to negotiate with him after he became a free agent.

Without the Yankees in the bidding to drive up his price, Rodriguez was forced to swallow his pride, sideline his pain-in-the-wallet agent in Scott Boras and come to the Yankees himself to renegotiate a deal. It was a nice sum of money but the Yankees made it clear they were tearing out $23 million from the deal because of A-Rod’s insistence on opting out. A-Rod agreed and he is now signed through 2017.

But, Sabathia is different. As an ace pitcher, and a lefty at that, Sabathia is in much greater demand than A-Rod was because there were so many cash-strapped clubs that could not afford him. Teams will break the bank to pony up a mega-contract for an ace lefty like Sabathia. That is why Cashman must strike quickly before the clock runs out.

Sabathia has four years and $92 million remaining on his current contract. The Yankees could extend the contract to up to six years with $25 million per year to match Cliff Lee’s deal with the Phillies. That will add two additional years and $58 million to the deal. It would be hard for many teams to top that offer. But the Rangers, who seem to derive great pleasure in sticking it to the Yankees, will make an honest effort to do just that.

Keeping Sabathia in the fold will allow the Yankees to retain their ace as they try to build a reliable group of four other starters behind him. Last season the Yankees had to rely on veteran free-agents like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia while A.J. Burnett struggled and Phil Hughes tried to solve a mysterious loss of velocity on his fastball. Rookie Ivan Nova surprised the Yankees by being much better than they ever could have imagined (16-4, 3.70 ERA) at age 24. Heading onto the 2012 season with Nova as the team’s ace might be a bit of scary thought despite his success in 2011.

The bottom line is they can’t afford to loss Sabathia for any reason. If Sabathia is signed, Cashman can go to work at looking at possible trades for pitchers like Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, signing free agents such as C.J. Wilson of the Rangers (16-7, 2.94 ERA) and acquiring the rights to 25-year-old right-handed sensation Yu Darvish from Japan. But the anchor of any fortified staff must include Sabathia.

Cashman is well aware of that. He also is aware the clock is ticking faster and faster.

NEXT: PRIORITY NO. 2 – Fixing Burnett and Hughes


Nova Should Shine Brightly On Game 5 Stage


I don’t pretend to know everything about baseball but when it comes down to a crucial Game 5, I would much rather have a pitcher going who has not lost a game since June 3.

That is what the New York Yankees having going for them in their showdown with the Detroit Tigers at Yankees Stadium on Thursday night.

Ivan Nova, 24, was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA this season and he also won Game 1 of this series 9-3 with 6 1/3 innings of solid relief of CC Sabathia. His last loss came against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, CA on June 3. His last loss at Yankee Stadium came on May 12 to the Kansas City Royals.

Another thing in Nova’s favor is that he comes into the game without showing any sign of nerves. Nova also showed the Yankees something last season in his first major-league start last August.

In a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Nova surrendered a home run to Jose Bautista in the first inning. When Bautista came up for his second at-bat, Nova decked him with a fastball up and in. Bautista took exception and Nova challenged him to come out to the mound to do something about it.

The Yankees knew then they had a pitcher who was relaxed on the big stage and who also had a competitive nature.

Nova was very disappointed when the Yankees decided to send him to the minors when Phil Hughes returned from the disabled list in July. Nova, after all, was 8-4 with a 4.12 ERA. But the Yankees rotation was full of productive veterans like Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett. Manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild just told him to go down to Triple-A, work his slider and force the Yankees to keep him on the roster when he returned.

Nova did all that and then some.

He returned to the Yankees on July 30 and won the second game of a doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium and he did not lose in any of his last 10 starts. He was 8-0 with a 3.30 ERA.

The numbers merely reflected what Girardi and Rothschild could see: Nova was a far better pitcher then he was before. The biggest difference was his slider. Instead of just spinning up to the plate it was dropping sharply. Hitters were getting fooled and Nova finally had a pitch that could keep hitters off his 94-mile-per-hour fastball.

Here is a couple more facts that might sober Tiger fans. Nova, according to Girardi, did not have his best stuff on Saturday when he shut out the Tigers for 6 1/3 innings. (Luis Ayala allowed two of Nova’s runners to score after Nova was removed.) Nova has had an uncanny knack of being able to adjust when he does not have a his best stuff. That is very unusual for a rookie.

In addition, Nova over the span of his brief career had never surrendered a lead he has been given as a starter. How many pitchers can make that claim?

The Tigers, meanwhile, are touting 27-year-old Doug Fister, Nova’s mound opponent.

Fister was 3-12 with a 3.33 ERA with the Seattle Mariners when he was acquired at the trade deadline by the Tigers. In the Motor City he has racked up an impressive 8-1 record with a 1.97 ERA, easily one of the best trades made this season.

However, before Fister went on that 8-1 streak, his last start was against the Yankees on July 26 in Yankee Stadium and he lost that game. His next appearance in the Bronx was on Saturday in relief of Justin Verlander in Game 1. He lost that game also.

The most telling part of that start on Saturday was Fister’s meltdown the third time through the batting order.

The first nine batters Fister faced were 2-for-9 (.222) with four strikeouts. The next nine batters were 3-for-9 (.333) and scored a run. Fister then faced only six more batters and four of them reached and the Yankees scored two more runs. He was removed from the game, Al Alburquerque came in to pitch to Robinson Cano with the bases loaded and we all know what happened after that.

Another point: Much has been made of the fact that the Yankees have not hit well in the series. I am not understanding what series those pundits are watching. The Yankees have outscored the Tigers 26-14 in the series. They are hitting .272 as a team. The Tigers are hitting .188.

The Tigers won two games in this series because Verlander and Scherzer pitched well and the Tigers held on to hold off late Yankee rallies. They will need a similar effort from Fister tonight. However, even if Fister does pitch better than he did on Saturday, the Tigers are going to have to wake up their bats against Nova.

I am not sure that is going to happen.

Another point lost on Tuesday night amid the parade of seven hits the Yankees collected in the eighth inning against the Tigers were that two of them came from Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod was hitless in his first 12 at-bats with three walks and a sacrifice fly to deep center on Tuesday just before he put up those two hits.

If the Yankees were hitting well and scoring runs without Rodriguez contributing much, how will they do if he finds his power stroke tonight?

If Fister thinks he can feast off the bottom of the Yankees’ batting order to get outs, he better think again. No. 9 hitter Brett Gardner is 5-for-13 (.385) with five RBIs. In contrast, Tiger MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera is hitting .250 with a home run and three RBIs. However, all of those hits and RBIs came in Game 2. He has been held hitless in the other three contests.

The Yankee crowd also will play a big part, too. There will likely be a record crowd on hand tonight and their noise and energy will very much impact the game. Yankees fans are so smart they know when not to interfere with a ball in play as they did in Game 1 on Robinson Cano’s double. They also can impact an umpire and how a game is called.

There is a reason the Yankees fought through a 162-game schedule and it was to get home-field advantage. This is it.

The Bronx will be rocking and loud tonight and I love the Yankees’ chances to advance to the American League Championship Series. They seem to have the Tiger by the tail.


A.J. Saves Yanks With Some ‘Grand’ Intervention



When the Detroit Tigers traded Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees in 2009 they never could have envisioned how badly the principal in that trade would come back to the Motor City to haunt them.

With the Tigers needing only one victory to advance to the ALCS in front of sellout crowd of 43,527 at Comerica Park on Tuesday night, Granderson made two spectacular highlight-reel catches and drove in a key run early to back the solid pitching of A.J. Burnett as the Yankees staved off elimination with a decisive thrashing of the Tigers.

For Burnett (1-0), the night was sweet redemption from past postseason failures and the travails of two very bad regular seasons. Burnett was not even scheduled to start in this series before rain forced a suspension of Game 1. Coming off a season in which he was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA, Yankee fans had there hearts in their throats in the opening frame as Burnett, almost true to expected form, walked the bases loaded with two outs and Don Kelly heading to the dish.

After Burnett fell behind 1-0, Granderson’s grandiose evening in the city where he started his career began. Kelly laced a sharp line-drive that was heading right over Granderson’s head in centerfield. Granderson first took a step in and then retreated, spun his head around, extended his glove as high as he could and corralled the ball in the tip of the webbing of his glove to save three runs from scoring.

From that moment on Burnett was a different pitcher. Other than giving up a solo home run to Victor Martinez to lead off the fourth, Burnett was able to command the strike zone with his fastball and unleash his deadly curveball to keep the Tigers off balance.

Burnett gave up only four hits and, despite walking four batters, he struck out three in 5 2/3 innings. It was Burnett’s first postseason victory for the Yankees since his scintillating shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series. The road from an anathema to a postseason savior has been a very long one for the 34-year-old right-hander.

Granderson’s catch also seemed to spark the offense, which was oddly dormant for the last two innings on Monday and the first two innings against Tigers starter Rick Porcello (0-1).

Pocello opened the third by hitting designated hitter Jorge Posada with an 0-1 pitch. Russell Martin followed with the Yankees’ first hit.

One out later, Derek Jeter laced a double over the head of Austin Jackson (who the Tigers acquired from the Yankees in the Granderson deal) off the base of the centerfield wall that scored Posada easily. But Martin had to slide to the extreme outside of the plate and reach back with his left hand to avoid the relay throw from Jhonny Peralta and the swipe tag of catcher Alex Avila.

After Martinez’s home run that sliced the lead to 2-1, the Yankees added to their margin in the fourth off Porcello.

Martin opened the frame with a another single. Instead of laying down a sacrifice bunt to move Martin, Gardner fooled the Tigers and sliced an opposite field single to left.

Jeter then botched a sacrifice bunt by hitting the ball right back to Porcello, who turned and forced Martin at third.

But Granderson bailed out Jeter and the Yankees by lacing a double off the wall in centerfield to score Gardner and advance Jeter to third. After Robinson Cano was walked intentionally to load the bases, Alex Rodriguez drove in his third run of the series without the benefit of a hit with a sacrifice fly to deep center.

Energized by a 4-1 lead, Burnett was able to keep the Tigers off the board and he was removed in the sixth inning after he gave up a two-out single to Kelly.

Rafael Soriano came in to relieve Burnett with Peralta strolling to the plate.

Peralta turned on Soriano’s first offering and lofted a high fly ball into the gap in left-center. That is when Granderson came back to take another giant bite out of the hand of the team that once fed him.

Granderson raced into left-center and laid out his body in a full dive and caught the ball again in the tip of the webbing in a play that easily outshone the multi-run-saving catch he made in the first inning. Tiger players and Tiger fans watched stunned as the centerfielder they once cheered and loved had come back to put a nice leather-laced dagger in their collective hearts.

While Soriano, Phil Hughes and Boone Logan pitched no-hit ball the rest of the way, the Yankees’ offense unleashed a torrent of hits on the Tigers’ bullpen to ensure that any thoughts of a Tiger comeback was futile.

The Yankees ripped former teammate Phil Coke (who was also part of the Granderson trade), poor mistreated Al Alburquerque, Daniel Schlereth and Ryan Perry for six runs on seven hits as they sent 11 batters to the plate in a 35-minute eighth inning.

The Tigers did really get generous when Alburquerque balked in a run and Schlereth uncorked a wild pitch to allow another run to score.

Cano capped off the inning with a two-run single that pushed the margin to 10-1, marking the most runs the Yankees have scored in an ALDS game.

By that time, most of the Tiger faithful had abandoned their playoff seats and headed home, which is where they will have to watch the fate of their team in Game 5 on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.

With Granderson’s support in the field and with his bat, the night truly belonged to Burnett, however.

Manager Joe Girardi said it best: “I was proud of what he did. In a must-win situation for us, he pitched one of his best games of the year.”


Umpire Davis Did Cost Yankees In Game Three


If the Detroit Tigers do wrap up their ALDS best-of-five with the New York Yankees tonight and advance to the ALCS and win the World Series, they should cut a share of their victory money to umpire Gerry Davis.

Now I am not saying that Davis deliberately called Justin Verlander’s pitches strikes and CC Sabathia’s pitches balls because he was biased towards the Tigers.

I actually looked at the pitching chart provided by Brooks Baseball. It showed that Davis was not calling strikes on the left side the plate but he was giving some extra to the right side of the plate.

Now, stay with me now. I am going to try to explain this as clearly as possible.

Verlander is right-handed and he is pitching to a predominately left-handed hitting lineup in the Yankees. Davis’ generous right side of the plate benefitted Verlander greatly in being able to get called strike three on Nick Swisher in the fourth inning and Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner in the fifth. Not to mention the hitters on the Yankees knowing Davis’ skewed strike zone being forced to swing at pitches well off the plate.

Sabathia used the right side of the strike zone that Davis was calling to retire Alex Avila twice. Why was Avila significant? He was the only true left-handed hitter in Jim Leyland’s lineup.

Davis, however, was not so generous to the left side. Sabathia as left-handed pitcher was throwing to a predominantly right-hand hitting lineup. In order to stay away from the power strokes of Delmon Young, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Magglio Ordonez and Jhonny Peralta, where is he likely to throw most his pitches?

Right, or in this case left. Sabathia would have to keep his pitches to the outer half on the left to right-handed hitters. That was the part of the strike zone Davis was not calling. That is why he tied a playoff high with six walks in 5 1/3 innings. That is why one of the best control pitchers in baseball looked like Daisuke Matzusaka on Monday night.

That is what increased his pitch count. That is why Sabathia had to come farther and farther over the plate to get pitches called strikes. That is why the Tigers began to tee off on him. They did not have to lunge wildly out of the strike zone to the left-hand hitters’ batters box. Nope, Sabathia had to groove them over the plate and they just sat back and waited for the cookies to come.

Verlander, meanwhile, was just loving that ball two inches outside that was getting strike calls all night. The Yankee lefties needed a bat the size of Sabathia to reach them but to Davis they were strikes and, by God, Verlander got them consistently all night from the fair-minded, impartial umpire.

Strike zones are part of the game. No doubt, pitchers are aware that individual umpires have a particular strike zone. If Sabthia were a rookie he could maybe say he did not know. So maybe he could have adjusted and thrown more inside early and then worked away.

But I think Sabathia was staying with the game plan and strategy the Yankees and their scouts laid out. That called for pitching them away. It cost him and the Yankees dearly. It also cost a national audience a fairer picture of the true picture of Sabathia and a more interesting duel against Verlander.

How do you explain to your kid that the TBS broadcast strike zone that showed Sabathia was throwing a strike was a ball? Or that a Verlander curve that was caught three inches outside the TBS pitch tracker was a strike? Hell, I couldn’t.

Sometimes fair is fair and sometimes it isn’t. But any way you look at it, Davis cost the Yankees a game. Fly him into Detroit for the World Series celebration in the clubhouse. Verlander can pour champagne over his head. Davis even can have a laugh when the bubbly misses him by inches to the right.


Valverde Shows His Wiener By Buzzing Jeter

There is no player in Major League Baseball that I despise more than Jose Valverde.

If you have not caught his caught his act, it is a lot like watching a very hammy and awful lounge singer in pink sequins. With the every out he prances around the mound in as if somebody in the Tigers locker room slathered his jock strap with itching powder.

He is in, more than a few words, a overweight slob and a hot dog without an ounce of genuine professionalism. You want an example?

How about this quote: “(Justin) Verlander has it [Monday]. Next day, have the celebration in Detroit – 100 percent. The Yankees have a good team, but I think that’s it for them.”

Now some in the Detroit media are passing it off as if Valverde were joking in order to tamp down any potential harm may come if the prediction does not come true. But the fact is Valverde has been baiting opposing teams and hitters for years with his tired act on the mound.

Closers with class walk off the mound and take congratulations from their teammates. They don’t contort themselves and gyrate like they never have a retired a major-league hitter in their life.

But “Valveeta” (I will call him from now on because his act all cheese and them some) took it to a whole new level on Monday night. Not content with the fact that he was a few pitches close to being pulled from the game in favor of left-hander Phil Coke, Valveeta had to go way over the line in professionalism.

In the ninth, after retiring Nick Swisher, our rotund frankfurter walked Jorge Posada. Then he allowed pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez to steal second easily. The next batter, Russell Martin, came within a few choice feet of real estate in right-field of putting the Yankees ahead by a run against this supposedly unshakeable closer.

Then the man French’s could use in an ad campaign, continued to walk the tightrope (which is tough to do when your off-season training regimen consists of lifting Budweisers by the caseload to your gullet), walked No. 9 hitter Brett Gardner on four straight pitches.

Manager Jim Leyland had Coke throwing hard and fast in the bullpen because he had seen this same thing before when Valveeta pitched the ninth on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

Valveeta then got ahead of Derek Jeter with two quick strikes. As most closers would do in this situation, you would want to waste a pitch outside and maybe get Jeter to chase. That is what most closers would not do. Not Valveeta.

He decides that he needs to intimidate Jeter and he buzzes him with a pitch that was not only up and in, but was sailing directly for his noggin.

Now in baseball, there is an unwritten rule that there is nothing wrong with throwing inside. Heck, when Martin was hit with a pitch by Verlander in the seventh, I had absolutely no issue with it.

You also have a right, if you wish, to attempt to throw at someone. That is all part of the game.

But there is also an unwritten rule that you do not aim for someone’s head, particularly when it is someone like Jeter.

If it was A-Rod or Barry Bonds, I could maybe see the reasoning. It still would be a bush league tactic. But, at least I would understand the motivation of this degenerate a–hole.

However, Jeter is the symbol in baseball of a genuine professional. He plays the game right and he has never done anything in his entire career to show up another player or brought anything but class to the game.

But Senor Valveeta thinks it is the only way he can win and, after all, that is the bottom line. It is not how you play the game. It is just that you got to win, right?


You better be careful where you tread, Valveeta. Karma can be a female dog. A “caliente” female dog.

I am not saying that the Yankees might retaliate on Tuesday night, I am saying they will retaliate on Tuesday. It is only a question of when and to whom.

Knowing the Tigers and how Leyland thinks, he would probably have his starter Rick Porcello plunk a Yankees hitter in the first inning to see if he can get the umpires to issue a warning early. But umpires are usually loathe to issue a warning, especually in a playoff game, before a second incident occurs.

The Yankees thus have one shot at this and they better make it a good one. I am not talking CC Sabathia’s polite fastball to David Ortiz’s hindquarters either. I am talking an A.J. Burnett riding fastball, inside and head high, to Miguel Cabrera. He probably will be so tanked up on Jose Cuervo he would not feel it anyway.

It is just too bad that Valveeta does not play in the National League where pitchers bat. Of course, he knows that closers don’t bat so he hides behind that fact like a little boy scrambling behind a mother’s skirt.

He is gutless, classless and revolting.

Other than that, I have no issue the hot dog.

Do not be surprised if this all wakes up the Yankees and brings them back into the series. Mr. Valvetta may regret the can of worms he opened. Maybe he thought he was opening another can of beer!


Gardner’s 2-Out, 2-Run Single Foils Fister’s Plan


When pitchers get into jams they have to think about how they are going to get out of them. Doug Fister of the Tigers was no different on Saturday as he pitched the sixth inning.

With the Yankees leading 2-1, Mark Teixeira had opened the frame with opposite-field double off the left-field wall. Fister’s job at that point was to retire Nick Swisher without allowing Teixiera to move up to third base.

Fister struck out Swisher looking on a two-seam fastball that hit the outside corner. One out. For Fister it was mission accomplished.

Pitching coach Jeff Jones then came to the mound to talk to Fister. With first base open, it would not be a bad idea to walk Posada and go after Russell Martin, who just so happened to lead the Yankees by hitting into 19 double plays this season. But Fister could try to induce Posada to hit a pitch out of the strike zone so he did not need to walk him intentionally.

Posada worked the count on Fister to 3-2. Fister then delivered a change-up to the outside corner and in the dirt. Posada hardly twitched and took first base.

“OK,” Fister must have said to himself, “I have Martin up and all I need is him to roll over on a two-seam fastball and I am out of this mess.”

Martin took the first two-seam fastball for a ball. But he did exactly what Fister wanted with the second two-seamer. He hit over it and it bounced to shortstop Jhonny Peralta. There was only one problem: Martin hit it so badly that it rolled slowly to Peralta and his only play was to throw to first to retire Martin.

Meanwhile, Teixeira reached third and Posada moved to second. But, Fister still feels it is OK.

“There are two outs and no runs have scored,” Fister thinks. “All I need to do is get the No. 9 hitter (Brett Gardner)”

Fister knows that Gardner is not a power hitter. He knows that Gardner has not hit well for Yankees of late. He also knows Gardner has struck 93 times this season, the fifth most on the Yankees.

Fister decides to go after Gardner aggressively, knowing if he walks him he brings up Derek Jeter with the bases loaded.

The 28-year-old right-hander uncoils and throws a four-seam fastball right at the top of the strike zone that home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo calls a strike. Fister then opts for a two-seamer away just in case Gardner swings. If Gardner swings it likely will be an infield grounder to third and he will be thrown out.

But Gardner holds the bat and watches the pitch fall right into catcher Alex Avila’s glove for called strike two.

Now Fister has not allowed a run, two are on but two are out and Gardner is in a big 0-2 hole. “This is great. Just one pitch and I am out of this and I will keep us in the game,” Fister thinks.

He gets the sign from Avila for a curveball. If it runs too high, it is just ball one. If it drops too low, same thing. If  Gardner does not swing and it drops over the plate, its strike three and the inning is over.

However, a funny thing happened to all of Fister’s plans and all of his thinking and calculations about escaping this inning unscathed.

He hung the curveball.

It gets worse, too.

Gardner recognized the pitch and swung. Ball met bat and ball rolled through the Yankee Stadium infield grass past Fister and to the right of second baseman Ryan Raburn and rolled slowly to centerfielder Austin Jackson. But by the time Jackson reached the ball and threw it back in, Teixeira touched home and Posada came trotting in after him.

The Yankees had increased their lead to 4-1.

Fister stayed in the game and gave up a single to Jeter than moved Gardner to third. Curtis Granderson coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Fister was taken out of the game and replaced by Al Alburquerque with Robinson Cano coming up.

We all know how that worked out. Cano swings and the Yankees put up four more runs and go on to win the game 9-3.

But Gardner’s hit on a hanging 0-2 curve with two out and two on of Fister was the key play of Game 1.


Cano’s Slam, 6 RBIs Declaws Tigers In Game 1




When managers and coaches get together with their pitchers to discuss a game plan to how to attack the hitters on the New York Yankees they all say “Do not let Robinson Cano beat you.”

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, pitching coach Jeff Jones and the Tiger pitching staff got a close-up view on why they say that about Cano on Saturday night.

Cano absolutely crushed two doubles as well as a majestic grand slam homer and drove in a franchise-tying record of six RBIs in a postseason game to back the strong “relief” pitching of Ivan Nova as the Yankees took the fight out the Tigers for a Game 1 victory in their American League Division Series.

Nova (1-0), meanwhile, picked up for CC Sabathia in third inning and only allowed two hits and three walks before faltering in the ninth inning. The rookie 24-year-old right-hander came into the game having won 12 consecutive decisions and had not lost a game since June 3.

The Yankees and Tigers played to a 1-1 tie on Friday before the game was suspended after an hour and 17 minute rain delay.  So Game 1 resumed in the bottom of the second inning at Yankee Stadium with nary a drop of precipitation but a brisk was blowing in from right and the temperature dipped into the mid-50s.

However, the weather did not deter 50,940 fans from showing up to watch the completion of Game 1, the largest crowd to ever see a game at Yankee Stadium, old or new.

It was Cano and the Yankees who struck first off the Tigers’ right-hander Doug Fister, who in a sense was coming in relief of likely American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.

With none on and two out in the fifth inning, Curtis Granderson singled to right field off Fister. Cano followed with a deep line-drive to left-center that either hit off the top of the wall, caromed off a fan and fell back onto the field for a home run or a double that hit the top of the wall and just spun back into play to score Granderson.

Crew chief Gerry Davis immediately took his umpires into the replay room off the third-base dugout and came out shortly signaling Cano had indeed hit a double. Although the Yankees had taken a 2-1 lead, Fister and the Tigers felt they were lucky to have just allowed a run in that situation.

However, luck turned into unmitigated disaster for Fister in the sixth inning.

Mark Teixeira greeted Fister with a first-pitch, opposite field double to left. One out later, Fister appeared content to pitch around Posada by walking him on a 3-2 pitch well out of the strike zone. Russell Martin then dribbled a slow grounder to Jhonny Peralta at short and Peralta’s only play was to first to retire Martin.

Fister then went after Brett Gardner to end the inning.

He immediately jumped ahead on the count 0-2. Fister then opted for a curve to finish Gardner off. But, instead, Fister hung the pitch and Gardner squirted a roller to the right of second baseman Ryan Raburn and on into centerfield to score Teixeira and Posada, giving the Yankees a 4-1 lead.

That proved to the key at-bat of the game because Derek Jeter followed with a single to right-center to advance Gardner to third. Jeter later stole second and Fister ended up losing Granderson by walking him to load the bases.

Leyland opted to make a move to the bullpen, where he had left-hander Phil Coke and right-hander Al Alburquerque warming. Most managers in this situation would bring in the lefty to face the left-hand hitting Cano. But Leyland must have made a wrong turn at Alburqueque because he did the opposite.

On Alburquerque’s second offering, Cano uncoiled his familiar picture-perfect swing and connected solidly and decisively. Despite a brisk breeze blowing in from right, Cano’s drive cut through the wind to land in the second deck of the right-field bleachers. Suddenly, the Yankees’ slight 4-1 lead had turned into a decisive 8-1 margin.

Alburquerque had the entered the game coming off a season in which he was 6-1 with a 1.97 ERA. he had allowed only three inherited runners to score all season and he had not allowed a home run in the major leagues. Cano took care of all of that with just one beautiful swing.

But the big loser in this Alburquerque mess was Fister (0-1).

Despite pitching well early and escaping trouble, he was charged with six runs on seven hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings. He came into the game with an 8-1 record and 1.79 ERA since the Tigers acquired him from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline. He also had not allowed more than a run in his last 55 innings during the regular season. The Yankees ended string that with six runs in the sixth.

The Yankees added a run in the eighth off lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth. And as with all the runs the Yankees scored in this game, it came with two outs.

Jeter stroked a single and that same guy Cano laced a double over the head of Jackson in center for a double that scored Jeter easily. That gave Cano his sixth RBI of the night to tie him with Bobby Richardson, Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui for the franchise record for RBIs in a postseason game.

Nova, meanwhile, was able to escape some trouble of his own with a little help from his defense.

After retiring the first seven batters he faced, Nova walked Alex Avila on a 3-2 pitch. Raburn followed with an opposite-field single to right. Peralta then laced a line-drive single that fell just in front of Granderson in center. Avila got a slow read on the ball and, as he headed for home, Jeter took the relay throw from Gramderson and fired home to Martin. Martin caught the ball in the right-hand hitters’ batters box just as Avila lunged into him.

Home-plate umpire Tony Randazzo called Avila out and the Yankees kept a big run for the Tigers off the board.

To open the sixth, Nova walked the only Tiger hitter with speed in Austin Jackson. Leyland figured it was time to send Jackson to second to get something started for the Tigers with then down 2-1. Jackson broke for second on a 1-2 pitch to Magglio Ordonez and Ordonez hit the ball right to Cano, who was covering second waiting for a throw to nab Jackson. Cano merely scooped the grounder, stepped on second, avoided Jackson’s slide and flipped to first to double up Ordonez.

Nick Swisher then laid out to catch a liner to right off the bat of Delmon Young to end the inning.

However, Nova was unable to escape the ninth.

With one out, Young lined a ball of Nova’s backside for an infield single. Miguel Cabrera coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch and Victor Martinez singled sharply to right to load the bases.

Manager Joe Girardi, hoping to avoid using Mariano Rivera, selected right-hander Luis Ayala instead. Ayala was coming off a rough outing against the Rays on Thursday in which Boone Logan and he had combined to give up six runs to the Rays in the eighth inning with the Yankees holding a 7-0 lead. That led to the Rays’ eventual 8-7 victory in 12 innings to allow the Rays to make the playoffs.

For Yankee fans it was almost deja vu all over again.

Ayala induced Avila to hit into a fielder’s choice that allowed a run to score. But he compounded the problem by giving up a single to left by Raburn that scored another run and Peralta followed with a bloop single to center reloaded the bases. Girardi mercifully pulled the plug on Ayala and Rivera was forced to come in as Ayala was showered with a chorus of Bronx jeers – well-earned, too.

Rivera came in to face former Yankee infielder Wilson Betemit. But if any Tiger fans had gone to the kitchen for a bag a chips, they would have missed Rivera blowing three pitches past Betemit for the final out to give the Yankees an important 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series with Verlander unable to pitch again until Game 3.

It is funny how in a regular season in which the Yankees were plagued by 22 rain delays and nine postponements that forced so many doubleheaders and lost off days and yet the rain that fell on Friday actually worked so greatly to the Yankees’ benefit on Saturday.

Rain, rain, don’t go away.