Results tagged ‘ A-Rod ’
When it comes to the New York Yankees it seems the team is always thrown into a negative light every time something awful surfaces about Alex Rodriguez.
The latest flap about Rodriguez concerns a report from the Miami New Times that Rodriguez’s name – along with five other major-league players – was found among documents obtained from an anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis. Those six players were accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs from the clinic run by Anthony Bosch.
Not to be outdone by a small potatoes newspaper, Sports Illustrated managed to uncover additional documents that linked Rodriguez to 19 drugs and supplements, including several banned substances.
Major League Baseball met with the editors of the Miami New Times on Monday to gain access to the documents they uncovered in their investigation.
Rodriguez, for his part, has vehemently denied the allegations through a spokesman and claims he never was treated or advised by Bosch.
But probably the most telling comment from Rodriguez was published in the New York Daily News saying that Rodriguez is fearful that his own team and Major League Baseball are conspiring to end his baseball career, sources said.
If, in fact, this is a statement coming from Rodriguez it shows a lot about how he thinks of himself as a victim and never in terms of someone who is potentially hurting a franchise and a very popular brand like the Yankees.
A-Rod has failed to complete a full healthy season with the Yankees since his 2007 MVP season when he hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and batted .314. During spring training 2009, he admitted – after a SI report surfaced – that he took PEDs while he was a member of the Texas Rangers through the 2003 season.
He very pointedly said that he taken not PEDs since 2003.
Because the rules regarding steroids had not been implemented prior to the 2004 season, Major League Baseball was prohibited from imposing a suspension on Rodriguez since they had no positive drug test from him past that point.
In the meantime, Rodriguez has been plagued by a series of injuries (a right hip that required surgery, a knee, a finger, a hand) that kept him on the disabled list over the past four seasons.
After another disastrous postseason in which Rodriguez hit .120 with 12 strikeouts in 25 at-bats and that forced manager Joe Girardi to pinch-hit for him on a few occasions, it was revealed he was suffering from a congenital left hip problem that would require surgery and shelve him for at least half of the 2013 season.
Because the Yankees are on the hook to pay A-Rod $114,000,000 through the 2017 season, the Yankees are very much concerned about their investment in a player who is 37 years old, is declining markedly in production, is mostly unavailable to play and perhaps again could have been dabbling with PEDs.
But the odds of Yankees deliberately smearing Rodriguez’s name or possibly being complicit in a scheme to get him out of baseball seems implausible.
If anything the Yankees have bent over backwards to support their controversial third baseman. They have never publicly commented about his past transgressions or embarrassed him in anyway.
Rodriguez has a way of doing that just fine on his own:
(1) His stupid comments belittling Derek Jeter during a magazine interview.
(2) Being caught walking the streets of Toronto with a woman who was not his wife and who turned out to be an exotic dancer.
(3) His divorce and his subsequent dalliances with Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and a former WWE wrestler and model.
It is extremely doubtful that Major League Baseball or the Yankees would risk the discovery of fraudulent documents in order to keep Rodriguez from ever playing baseball again.
In addition, teammates such as Mariano Rivera and Mark Teixeira have recently issued statements of support of Rodriguez. If the Yankees were “against” A-Rod wouldn’t they issue edicts to the players not to comment at all?
If it turns out that Rodriguez did use PEDs again with the help of his Bosch fellow than I would be very offended if I was accused of being part of a conspiracy against him. So I would think the Yankees would have every right to look at Rodriguez’s contract in an effort to void it.
The Yankees were unable to do so when they looked at Jason Giambi’s contract in 2004. I doubt seriously they would have much luck now with A-Rod’s.
MLB rules call for a first-time suspension of 50 games if A-Rod is judged to be guilty of what he is accused. He would not be paid, which would cost him about $8 million but the Yankees would still be obligated to honor his contract.
The Yankees could release him and just eat the contract, however, the Yankees would not receive any relief regarding their overall payroll or the luxury tax.
About the only way the Yankees could get out of the deal would be for A-Rod to retire, which would then forfeit the remainder of his contract and what he is owed. But that is about as likely as fans at Fenway Park giving Rodriguez a standing ovation.
So the Yankees are forced to live under a hanging cloud throughout the 2013 season. Rodriguez is rehabbing from his January hip surgery and is hoping to return sometime after the All-Star break.
There is a possibility that Rodriguez may not be quite ready to resume baseball activities then and he could miss the entire season.
In the meantime, MLB will continue to investigate Rodriguez and the other players named in the published reports. They could suspend Rodriguez at any time over the next several months.
However, Rodriguez’s suspension would not take effect until he is pronounced fit to play. That means the 50-game suspension could be imposed to start at the beginning of the 2014 season if A-Rod is out for the 2013 season.
That means the Yankees would have lost A-Rod for a total of 212 games. They would have to pay him for 162 of them despite the fact they were getting nothing from him. In addition, a suspension would leave the team with yet another stain on it – a stain Rodriguez would leave on it as long as he wears the pinstripes.
The Yankees could possibly look to unload their rapidly aging former superstar but that route would mean not getting a comparable value in return because A-Rod’s value is about half of what it was in 2007.
There also would have to be a stipulation in the deal that the Yankees would be obligated to continue to pay some portion if not most of his salary. After all, the Yankees had to do that to unload A.J. Burnett last spring.
I hate to be bearer of such depressing news but the Yankees made a terrible mistake in signing Rodriguez to that 10-year contract five years ago after his agent Scott Boras goaded Rodriguez into opting out of his contract and cost the Yankees about $9 million the Texas Rangers were paying him.
Instead, Rodriguez came to the Yankees with is tail between his legs begging the Yankees to sign him without Boras around. The Yankees have received very little from Rodriguez since then and the next five seasons are not looking much brighter.
The fact is Alex Rodriguez and his bloated contract is an albatross that will be hanging around the Yankees’ necks for many years to come.
Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
THIRD BASE – KEVIN YOUKILIS (19 HRs, 60 RBIs, .235 BA)
With Alex Rodriguez headed for surgery to his left hip this month the Yankees were forced to take a plunge into the free-agent market for a replacement and they chose 33-year-old Kevin Youkilis.
The former Red Sox nemesis has had his own issues with injuries throughout his career but the Yankees needed someone who could play the position and provide some offense until Rodriguez is ready to to return to action, which won’t come until at least June.
Youkilis enters 2013 free of the swirling rumors of his commitment to the game former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thrust upon him last season. After he was traded to the Chicago White Sox he did pick up his production, hitting .236 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs, largely batting second.
After undergoing sports hernia surgery that ended his 2011 season, Youkilis suffered through the early part of 2012 with a groin injury that landed him on the disabled list. When Will Middlebrooks produced good numbers in his absence, the Red Sox decided to send him packing to make room for the rookie.
Youkilis has never played in more than 147 games in any of his seven full major-league seasons, which was in first full season with the Red Sox in 2007. His best season with the Bosox was in 2008, when he hit 29 home runs and drove in 115 runs.
But Youkilis’ all-out style of play has also left him susceptible to nagging injuries, which have lessened his power and production numbers. In addition, Youkilis’ unusual batting style, which worked well for him when he was younger (He hit a career-high .312 in 2008), has left him less effective the last two seasons in which he has hit .258 and .235.
It will be the job of hitting coach Kevin Long to get Youkilis back on track at the plate with is timing and to get Youkilis driving the ball as he did so well at Fenway Park. As a right-hand hitter, the Yankees will not be looking for big-time power from Youkilis. But they would like him to get back to hitting closer to his lifetime .283 average and driving in runs.
There is a good possibility that Youkilis might slide into the No. 3 or No. 5 spots in the batting order to separate left-handers Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. That means the Yankees will be counting on Youkilis to provide solid production in the heart of the batting order.
A lot will depend if Youkilis is 100 percent healthy when he reports to camp in Tampa, FL, and he can remain healthy. He will have to because the Yankees’ options behind him are quite limited and much less productive.
As a fielder, Youkilis is considered an excellent first baseman. He won a Gold Glove for his work there in 2007. However, he is not as accomplished as a third baseman. Of course, he is actually still considered above average at the position.
There is no doubt that injuries have had an effect on his fielding at third the past two seasons. He made nine errors in 2011 and he committed the same total in 2012. So the slip in his fielding percentage at third had to be due in large part to the sports hernia and groin injuries.
His career fielding percentage at first is .997 but at third it is .966. But the Yankees feel if he is healthy, he can play the position more than adequately. Fielding, after all, was not a strength of A-Rod’s game either.
Of course, it is hard to know what the strength of Rodriguez’s game is really. Last season was another one of those seasons that he has failed to provide the production the Yankees needed and his season ended with a late injury which may or may not have contributed to his poor postseason.
After playing in just 99 games in 2011, largely due to a right knee injury, Rodriguez played in 122 games in 2012. He missed more than a month of the season and returned in early September after being struck in the left hand with a pitch from Seattle Mariners ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.
But when he was healthy, Rodriguez did not produce much in the way of power or runs batted in. He finished the season hitting .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs. Batting in the middle of the most productive lineup in baseball in 2012, A-Rod hit .200 with the bases loaded and .230 with runners in scoring position.
But the most telling statistic is this: Rodriguez hit a home run every 25.7 at-bats in 2012. In his career, he has hit a home run every 14.9 at-bats. To say the 37-year-old three-time Most Valuable Player is suffering through a serious erosion of his skills is putting it mildly. It even lead to his being pinch-hit for at a critical point in the 2012 American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
So even when Rodriguez returns the question is how much can the Yankees count on him? Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since 2007.
What looked to a be a lock that he would eventually break Barry Bonds’ dubious all-time home run record of 762 looks to a longshot now. But the real problem is the Yankees are on the hook for paying Rodriguez, in sickness and unproductive health, through the 2017 season.
So unless A-Rod gets tired of being booed, looking like a fool striking out against mediocre pitchers and he decides to retire, the Yankees have a 6-foot-3, 225-pound albatross around their necks. General manager Brian Cashman has been ordered to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and it will be hard to see how they can remain competitive as long as they are paying big bucks to an unproductive has-been.
But we will see how it all plays out when Rodriguez does make it back to the field in 2013.
Likely, he will not play much third base.
Though Rodriguez two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers in 2002 and 2003, he has never been considered a very good fielder at third base. His career fielding percentage at the position is .964 and it was .957 in 2012. He committed eight errors in 81 games at the position last year.
The previous injury to his right hip pretty much has robbed him of some of the lateral quickness and smoothness he needs to field at the hot corner.
So upon Rodriguez’s return it is more likely he will assume the designated hitter role for most of the rest of the season in order to keep his surgically repaired left hip from acting up again.
The Yankees do not have much in the way of options at third base behind Youkilis.
They were hoping that they could convince Eric Chavez, 35, to come back for a third season. But the free agent elected to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Though Chavez was unable to physically handle playing third base on a daily basis, he did contribute mightily to the Yankees at third and first base and as a DH and pinch-hitter. He hit .281 with 16 home runs and 37 RBIs in 2012. He also played 64 games at third base and flashed some of the form that led to him winning six consecutive Gold Gloves at the position from 2001 through 2006 with the Oakland Athletics.
He and his left-hand bat will be missed in 2013.
Instead the Yankees will have to look to Jayson Nix, 30, as the primary backup in 2013.
Nix entered the 2012 season as a minor-league player invited to spring training by the Yankees. After hitting over .300 in the spring Nix was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he was recalled on May 3 when the Yankees decided that Eduardo Nunez was ill-suited to be a utility infielder.
Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats as largely a backup to Rodriguez at third base and Derek Jeter at shortstop.
Nix was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Nov. 30, 2011 to make room on the 40-man roster for All-Star reliever Mariano Rivera, who was signed to a one-year contract. But Nix agreed to accept an assignment to Triple A in order to remain with the team. He will be invited to spring training and he has an excellent chance of retaining his backup infielder role.
Though Nix will not knock down any fences, he will play solidly in the field and give a good effort at the plate. That is what the Yankees hope he can do.
Nunez, 25, started the season as the team’s infield backup but his careless errors in the field cost him the job. Manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees’ front office agreed to send Nunez back to Triple A to play shortstop exclusively.
However, Nunez spent most of his time in the minors sidelined with a right-hand injury. There are no questions about Nunez’s bat. He is a career .272 hitter with the capability of stealing 40 bases in a full season.
But Jeter, 38, is still the shortstop and Nunez is a butcher in the field, hence the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” He was on a pace to commit 42 errors if he had played every day in 2012.
The Yankees look at Nunez as a potential right-hand DH in 2013 at this point. Nunez is not a home run hitter but he could possibly hit 10 home runs and drive in 60 runs if he got 425 or so at-bats. The Yankees also missed his speed last season.
Nunez stole 22 bases in 112 games in 2011 and he actually led the Yankees for most of the 2011 season with 11 until A-Rod and Ichiro Suzuki passed him in September. Nunez along with left-fielder Brett Gardner and Suzuki would give the Yankees a speed game they were lacking in 2012.
But the Yankees likely will not use Nunez at third base and there is a good possibility that Nunez could be traded to a team needing a shortstop before the season starts. They will listen to offers anyway.
Behind Nix the Yankees do not have a lot of major-league-ready options at the position.
David Adams, 25, and Corban Joseph, 24, are on the 40-man roster but both are primarily second basemen.
Adams hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs at Double-A Trenton in 2012 while Joseph hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton.
Adams, a third-round draft selection out of the University of Virginia in 2008, has been held back by a severe ankle injury. Joseph is a fourth round pick in 2008 out of Franklin High School in Franklin, TN.
Joseph would seem to have more upside because of his power and the fact that he bats left-handed. The Yankees could use a left-handed hitting infield backup. But Joseph is not considered as a shortstop. The same for Adams.
Both were elevated to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule V draft in 2013 and both will get opportunities to play in spring training. But Nix and Nunez have a huge upper hand on them because neither of the youngsters have played a significant amount of time at third base. In addition, neither player is among the Yankees’ Top 20 prospects.
The only third baseman among the Top 20 prospects is the Yankees’ first selection in the 2011 draft Dante Bichette Jr., son of the former Colorado Rockies slugger of the same name.
Bichette, 20, opened eyes last spring when he was placed on the traveling squad for an exhibition game against the Houston Astros and he hit a pair of solo home runs in his two at-bats in the only game in which he played. However, his 2012 season was a major disappointment because he hit only three home runs, drove in 46 runs and batted .248 at Class-A Charleston (SC).
But because he was the Most Valuable Player of the Gulf Coast League in 2011 and he has adapted better than expected at third base, the Yankees have high hopes for the Maitland, FL, native. However, he appears to be more than two years away from being ready for the major leagues.
Third base appears to be a big issue for the Yankees entering 2013.
Rodriguez is sidelined once again and his replacement Youkilis has had issues with injuries of his own. There appears to be an adequate backup in Nix but the Yankees have limited options behind him. The jury on Bichette is out for now but the Yankees remain optimistic he can follow in his father’s footsteps.
This is definitely not the Yankees’ strongest position entering the season and there will be a lot of people crossing their fingers Youkilis stays healthy and Rodriguez come back strong. It seems an awful lot to ask for at this point.
PART 3: THE STARTING LINEUP
The New York Yankees enter the 2013 season with more uncertainty in their starting lineup than they have in the past two decades.
A combination of committed contracts to aging veterans, expired contracts to some helpful contributors, injuries and underperformance have left the Yankees in a real bind to fix their problems knowing they have an edict by the boss Hal Steinbrenner to trim payroll to $189 million by 2014.
The most significant issue is the impending January left hip surgery for third baseman Alex Rodriguez which will shelve him for at least half the season. Because Rodriguez has not played a full healthy season of baseball since 2007 it should not be considered that big a deal.
However, it points up the problem with offering lengthy and lucrative contracts to players past the age of 30. Players break down at a rapid rate after that and that is particularly true of players who have dabbled in the use of performance enhancing drugs as A-Rod has.
The plain fact of the matter is that Rodriguez IS NOT nor WILL HE EVER BE AGAIN the impact player he was in 2007 when he hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs for the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Yankees are committed to paying him through the 2017 season.
If you want to look up the definition of the euphemism “albatross around the neck” A-Rod’s picture would be displayed prominently.
Seemingly healthy to begin the 2012 season, Rodriguez neither produced with power or run production. Every day manager Joe Girardi cautioned the media that A-Rod always produced home runs in bunches and it would be any day now. But that day never arrived.
He was struck in the left hand by a pitch from Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners on July 24 and the injury sidelined him until the first week of September. At season’s end, Rodriguez had 18 home runs and 57 RBIs and batted .272. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Clutch when he was healthy either.
With runners in scoring position he hit a miserable .230 and with the bases loaded he hit .200.
Unfortunately, the Yankees may be saddled with A-Rod for the remainder of his contract because his skills have eroded so fast no team would be willing to take him and his bloated contract now that he is 37.
So all the Yankees can do is look to find a replacement for him for 2013 because there is no guarantee he will be able to come back in July.
Last year’s insurance policy, Eric Chavez, who hit 16 home runs and drove in 37 runs in 278 at-bats, has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Eduardo Nunez fielded to so poorly at third base he was demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Yankees have vowed to keep him primarily at shortstop.
So the Yankees have signed free-agent Kevin Youkilis.
Youkilis, 33, has had some injury issues of his own. He does not have a season in which he has played more than 147 games. He had not played but one season in which he passed 136 games in four seasons. His all-out style was popular in Boston but it also led to some significant injuries and a decline in production.
After a 2011 season in which he hit only .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs, Youkilis ran afoul of then Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox. He ended up hitting a career-low .235 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs.
But the Yankees hope he can help fill the void at third while Rodriguez is out and fall into a right-handed designated hitter and corner infield backup role when Rodriguez returns. Though it may seem odd that the heart and soul of the Red Sox would be wearing pinstripes, Johnny Damon had no trouble adapting to life in the Yankee Universe. Neither did Wade Boggs or Roger Clemens. “Youk” would seem to be in the same mold.
There is an issue at shortstop as well.
Though Derek Jeter vows his broken ankle will be healed and he will be ready to go by Opening Day of 2013, he also is 38 years old. So the Yankees will want their captain and emotional leader to be cautious in spring training.
Jeter’s injury in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers pretty much sounded the death knell for a team that was already reeling in the midst of an horrific team batting slump.
Jeter was one of the few who actually contributed positively to the offense in 2012.
He led the major leagues in hits with 219 and he ended up hitting .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. Though this is the not the Jeter who hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs in 1999, the Yankees are happy to have this more mature Jeter, who has learned how to adapt to his age and still produce positively to the team.
He simply was the team Most Valuable Player last season and the Yankees seem to have stopped talking nonsense like moving him to center-field or resting him two days a week. He will rest some but he will play a lot in 2013 because the Yankees need him at the top of the lineup.
The Yankees’ best player is also one who poses the most uncertainty heading into 2013. Robinson Cano, 30, is simply the best second baseman in baseball both with his glove and his bat. He also hit a career-high 33 home runs in 2013 while batting over .300 (.308) for the seventh time in his eight major-league seasons.
However, Cano hardly could call 2012 his “breakout” season because he drove in a paltry 94 runs hitting in the heart of baseball’s top run-scoring team. The reason: He hit poorly most of the season with runners in scoring position. Also, in a huge reversal in a trend, Cano hit just .239 against left-handers.
That will have to change in 2013 because he figures to continue to see a steady diet of them.
There is a big incentive for Cano to improve. His contract for 2013 was renewed by the Yankees but he can become a free agent after this season. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll, Cano’s impending free agency presents a huge challenge. Will general manager Brian Cashman have the financial backing to present a package that can keep Cano in pinstripes for the rest of his career?
That is huge question only the Steinbrenner family can answer. But one thing is certain: The Yankees would certainly regress in 2014 without their best player.
Speaking of regression, Mark Teixeira has found out just how fast a career can regress when you follow former Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi’s pull-happy approach at Yankee Stadium.
Teixeira, however, changed his tune about it in 2012. Instead of trying to change back as he did at the start of the 2012 season, he decided to keep the “pull” approach figuring the Yankees pay him to hit home runs and drive in runs. So he hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 runs in a season that was cut to just 123 games due to a calf injury he suffered in August.
He hit just .251 but that is coming off seasons in which he hit .256 (2010) and .248 (2011). So Yankee fans are just going to have to accept lower batting averages and big production out of Teixeira. He more than makes up for it with his glove.
He and Cano both won Gold Gloves in 2012 and they form the best right side of an infield in baseball history from a fielding and production standpoint. Can you name a better pair?
The Yankees will have one huge hole filled in their lineup in left-field with the return of Brett Gardner and having to fill two more at catcher and in right-field.
Gardner’s loss last season proved to be more problematic in hindsight than it was at the time. With Gardner, 29, sidelined and Nunez in the minors the Yankees lost their two best base-stealers for most of the 2012 season. That made the Yankees much more of a station-to-station team and brought to the forefront their reliance on the home run to win games.
It also goes beyond saying that Gardner’s Gold-Glove quality in defense in left was missed, too. The Yankees need Gardner to come back healthy, get on base consistently and be disruptive to the team’s opponents on the bases.
For the past two seasons, the Yankees have reaped the benefit of having a stalwart defensive catcher in Russell Martin, who actually deterred teams who like to run the bases with reckless abandon. Though Martin struggled most of the season hitting under the “Mendoza Line” until he got hot in September, his power will be missed also.
But Martin has signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Yankees are looking for a new catcher in 2013.
At the moment, the Yankees list Francisco Cervelli as the heir apparent. Cervelli, 26, was the primary backup for three seasons from 2009 through 2011 until the Yankees acquired San Francisco Giants catcher Chris Stewart in a trade just as spring training drew to a close.
Because Stewart, 30, was out of options, the Yankees elected to keep Stewart as the backup catcher in 2012 and shipped Cervelli to Scranton.
Cervelli hit .246 with two home and 39 RBIs in 99 games at Scranton in 2012. His defense is fine but his throwing can be erratic at times.
Stewart surprisingly hit .241 with a home run and 13 RBIs in 55 games with the Yankees. His defense and throwing are superior to Cervelli but his offense is severely lacking.
The Yankees did sign former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to a minor-league contract. Wilson was non-tendered a contract by the Blue Jays after he hit .211 with three home runs and 13 RBIs with the Angels in 2012. Wilson is excellent defensively but is a career .208 hitter in the majors. So it is hard to see how he will figure in as anything but a potential backup and insurance in case the Yankees need to trade a catcher or sustain an injury.
The Yankees do have very high hopes for 24-year-old rookie Austin Romine. They believe his defensive skills make him a major-league ready receiver but his bat and his chronic back issues have been delaying his progess. He missed most all of the 2012 season with a back injury.
He has been cleared to come to spring training and he has a shot at supplanting either Cervelli or Stewart if he can show some improved skills with the bat. But realistically, the team may take a more cautious approach with Romine and he could head back to Scranton to convince the front office his back issues are over.
This area seems ripe for a deal to obtain a free agent. Cashman did have former Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in mind. Pierzynski, 35, would fit in with the Yankees because he hits left-handed and he has some power. He hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBis in 2012.
But Pierzynski elected to sign a contract with the Texas Rangers. So unless the Yankees elect to make a trade they will be choosing between the four catchers they have now.
The biggest hole in the Yankees lineup and perhaps the biggest blow to the bleacher bums in right-field will be the loss of fan favorite Nick Swisher.
Swisher might not have been a superstar but his consistency was his calling card. What you saw was what you got.
Swisher, 32, has played four seasons in pinstripes and did not deviate from between 24 through 29 home runs and between 82 and 93 RBIs. There are not many outfielders who can claim that and the Yankees would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the level, except perhaps the oft-injured star Josh Hamilton.
The Yankees did have an opportunity to sign the former Texas Rangers’ star if they wanted. But they have some restriction to them doing so.
If the Yankees were to sign Hamilton, Cano’s departure would be a foregone conclusion unless there was a major dump of salary after the 2013 season. Hamilton signed with the Angels and the Yankees played it safe.
The Yankees instead decided to bring back Ichiro Suzuki, who came over in a trade in June and sparked the Yankees down the stretch. At age 39, Suzuki is no longer the player he was when he was the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001 but he showed a renewed vigor in the Bronx in 2012, hitting over .300 after the deal.
He ended the season hitting. 283 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs and he stole 29 bases.
It is obvious if the Yankees want to return to a slash and dash attack Girardi favors, Suzuki would be the correct choice.
Center-field is an interesting situation for the Yankees.
The team renewed Curtis Granderson’s contract for 2012 but there are all kinds of rumors swirling around about him.
The Yankees first floated the idea they could move Gardner from left to center and put Granderson in left next season. They also sent Granderson to an eye specialist to check his vision because of his habit of losing balls in flight to the outfield and his penchant for swinging at pitches that bounced in front of home plate.
Granderson struck out a team record 195 times last season. The Yankees can live with the strikeouts for his 43 home runs and 106 RBIs, which were both team highs in 2012. But his .232 average is 30 points below his career average of .262 and he hit just .218 against left-handers last season. Granderson is also in the final year of his contract.
The Yankees also seemed intent on keeping outfielder and left-handed DH Raul Ibanez.
Ibanez, 40, was forced to play more than he was expected in the outfield because of Gardner’s injury. But Ibanez came through with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs while hitting .24o in 384 at-bats. But Ibanez’s biggest impact was the clutch home runs he hit down the stretch against the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox to get the Yankees into the playoffs.
He carried that into the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
His clutch hitting was not lost on the front office and they wanted him back badly in 2013. But Ibanez dealt a blow to the Yankees by electing to sign with his old Mariners team so the Yankees now have a huge hole at the DH spot.
The Yankees made it clear that right-hand DH Andruw Jones would not retained for the 2012 season and Jones shopped himself to a team in Japan. The Yankees likely will use a veteran free agent to fill the role until A-Rod returns in July. Rodriguez figures to DH a lot when he returns and Youkilis can fill the role when A-Rod does play third.
Nunez figures to have an opportunity to win the right-hand DH role until A-Rod returns. The left side of the equation might come down to an offer to Jim Thome or a similar veteran.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, most of their best minor-league hitting prospects are a few years away of making an impact at the major-league level.
The top prospect in the organization, catcher Gary Sanchez, is only 20. But he may be worth the wait because he hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 2012. Sanchez is being touted as “Jesus Montero with defense.” However, his glovework slipped a notch last season.
But the Yankees still believe he is their future behind the plate.
Outfielder Mason Wiiliams, 21, had a torn labrum ended his season his August. However, Williams was able to flash some five-tool talent by hitting a combined .298 with a 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and stole 20 bases at Charleston and Tampa.
Some are comparing him to another Williams named Bernie. He has a good bat and he is developing power as he progresses through the system. The Yankees absolutely love his high ceiling for improvement. The lefty swinger looks like a future center-fielder for the Yankees.
Somewhat lost in all the talk about Sanchez and Williams is 21-year-old outfielder Tyler Austin, who hit an organization-best .354 in 2011 and hit .322 in four minor-league stops in 2012. He hit 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs while stealing 23 bases.
Austin played his first two minor-league seasons at the corner infield spots but was moved to right-field last season and the Yankees see him as the real deal as a right-hand hitter.
The Yankees also have a trio of promising outfielders in power-hitting Zoilo Almonte, 23, who hit 21 bombs at Double-A Trenton, and slash-and-dash hitters in 2009 No. 1 draft pick Slade Heathcott, 22, and Ramon Flores, 20.
Third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., 20, the team’s first selection in the 2011 draft, hit only three home runs at Charleston in 2012 but the Yankees believe he will develop into the kind of power hitter his father was. Called up to appear in an exhibition game against the Astros last March, Bichette hit a pair of solo home runs in only two exhibition at-bats. His star is definitely on the rise.
The Yankees also have a trio in promising infielders in Angelo Gumbs, 20; Jose Pirela, 23; and Austin Aune, 19. However, only Pirela has advanced as far as Double A and Gumbs and Aune may eventually be moved to the outfield. For now Gumbs and Pirela are second basemen and Aune is power-hitting shortstop.
To ride a horse is to ride the sky.
– Author Unknown
GAME 5 – AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
YANKEES 3, ORIOLES 1
The New York Yankees entered the postseason with one unquestioned ace. The Baltimore Orioles entered the postseason saying that their best pitcher was the pitcher scheduled to pitch that day. Unfortunately for the Orioles, not having that one horse you can ride throughout the postseason proved to be the difference in this series.
CC Sabathia pitched his first career postseason complete game and he struck out a personal postseason best nine batters on Friday to lead New York to an ALDS-clinching victory in Game 5 over upstart Baltimore in front of a raucous paid crowd of 47,081 at Yankee Stadium.
With the victory, the American League East-champion Yankees will advance to the American League Championship Series and host the American League Central-champion Detroit Tigers on Saturday.
Sabathia (2-0) gave up one run on four hits and two walks and threw 78 of his 121 pitches for strikes to run his ALDS record with the Yankees to 5-0 and he remains undefeated in his last eight postseason starts. In addition, he ran his career record against the Orioles, including his two postseason victories in the series, to 18-4.
The game unfolded as yet another pitchers’ duel between Sabathia and Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel (0-1), who also squared off in Game 1 of the series.
Both pitchers retired the first nine batters they faced until Nate McLouth slapped an opposite-field single to left off Sabathia to open the fourth inning.
Hammel, however, extended his perfect streak through four innings until Mark Teixeira opened the fifth with a single over the Orioles’ overshift into right-field. Manager Joe Girardi then decided to make the Orioles pay for not bothering to hold Teixeira on first base, as they have done through the entire series.
Teixeira stole second after swiping only two bases in the regular season and not stealing any in his career in postseason play. Teixeira then scored the first run of the game on a single up the middle by Game 3 hero Raul Ibanez.
Yankee fans got a bit of a pre-Halloween scare with two out in the sixth when McLouth hit a ball down the right-field line that was ruled a foul ball. The Orioles protested the call but the umpires upheld the original call of foul after a brief video review indicated the ball clearly traveled in front of the foul pole as it landed in the second deck. Sabathia then struck out McLouth to end the inning.
Hammel ran into more problems in the sixth when he issued a one-out walk to Derek Jeter and Jeter scored a line-drive double off the 385-foot marker in right-center by Ichiro Suzuki.
Two batters later, Hammel was removed from the game by Orioles manager Buck Showalter after yielding two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out six batters in 5 2/3 innings.
The Yankees padded their lead in the seventh inning when Curtis Granderson, who entered Game 5 of the series 1-for-16 with nine strikeouts, blasted a solo home run down the line in right into the second deck off Orioles left-hander Troy Patton.
Staked to a 3-0 lead, Sabathia began the eighth inning having pitched a dominant one-hitter and he issued a lone walk to Matt Wieters in the fifth inning.
But Yankee fans had to bite their nails when Sabathia gave up a leadoff single to Wieters and a walk to Manny Machado. After Sabathia fanned Mark Reynolds, Lew Ford slapped a single into left to score Wieters and break up Sabathia’s shutout.
Sabathia then induced Robert Andino to hit a weak comebacker to Sabathia’s right of the mound. However, Sabathia threw to second too late to get a sliding Ford in what was scored a single.
With the crowd nervous for the first time all afternoon, Sabathia wriggled out of the inning by striking out McLouth and getting J.J. Hardy on a slow hopper to Jeter at short.
With his ace having thrown 29 pitches in the eighth and 111 pitches overall, Girardi – who bravely elected to bench Alex Rodriguez for this game in favor of Eric Chavez – opted to have Sabathia finish out the contest.
Girardi was determined to ride his big horse to the end.
It took Sabathia only 11 pitches to get Adam Jones on a routine fly to center, Chris Davis on a swinging strikeout and Wieters on a comebacker to himself. Sabathia trotted three strides towards first base and easily flipped the ball to Teixeira to put the final nail in the coffin to the Orioles’ improbable playoff run.
Over the course of the season, the Yankees defeated the Orioles in 12 of 23 games and outscored them by four runs. In this series, they were 3-2 and outscored the Birds 16-10.
By virtue of having the best record in the American League, the Yankees will have home-field advantage in the best-of-seven ALCS. It will be the team’s 15th appearance in the championship series and their first since the 2010 season.
- Though the Yankees blew a chance to begin the ALCS with Sabathia on the mound when they lost Thursday, the ace left-hander bailed them out with a truly dominant outing. In his two games in the series, Sabathia was 2-0 with a 1.53 ERA. He gave up just three runs on 12 hits and two walks and struck out 16 in 17 2/3 innings. In what definitely was a pitchers’ series, Sabathia was clearly the Most Valuable Player.
- Ibanez came through with another crucial hit in the series to drive in the game’s first run. Though he only received nine at-bats in the series, Ibanez had four hits, including a game-tying and game-winning homer, and three RBIs. In benching, Rodriguez, who was 2-for-16 with nine strikeouts, Ibanez was placed in the No. 5 spot in the order and he came through again.
- Granderson probably deserved to be benched as much as A-Rod, but he was 2-for-3 with a home run in the game. After a regular season in which Granderson led the team in home runs and RBIs, he was conspicuous in his struggles through the first four games of the series. Now he has something positive going for him leading up the ALCS.
I could mention the awful hitting of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Rodriguez and Granderson. But you can say the same about Jones, Wieters, Reynolds and Hardy of the Orioles. This was a pitchers’ series and both teams staffs held the other team down for long stretches. The difference was the Orioles did not have anyone who could match the brilliance of Sabathia.
It is not often that a three-time A.L. MVP and the highest-priced player on the payroll is benched for the deciding game of a postseason series, but Girardi informed Rodriguez via text message at about 1 p.m. EDT that he would not be starting Game 5. A-Rod replied, “I will be ready of you need me.” Rodriguez had been pinch-hit for in Game 3 and Game 4 of the series. He did not play in Game 5. Chavez played third batted and batted ninth. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. . . . Reliever Joba Chamberlain was unavailable for Friday’s game due to a swollen and bruised right elbow he sustained when he was struck by a piece of a shattered bat in the 12th inning of Thursday’s game. His status for the ALCS is unclear and he is listed as day-to-day.
After the Yankees were bounced out the 2011 ALDS in five games by the Tigers last season, the Yankees will be looking a measure of revenge in 2012. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series will be Saturday.
The Yankees will start left-hander Andy Pettitte (0-1, 3.86), who gave up three runs in seven innings of a tough-luck 3-2 loss to the Orioles in Game 2 on Monday. In 23 career starts against the Tigers, Pettitte is 10-9 with a 3.66 ERA. But he is 4-1 with a 1.85 ERA in his seven starts at Yankee Stadium this season.
The Tigers will counter with right-hander Doug Fister (0-0, 2.57 ERA). Fister gave up two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out seven in seven innings in Game 2 in a no-decision against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday. Fister is 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA lifetime against the Yankees. Although Fister won the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS against the Yankees last season, he was 1-1 with a 6.52 ERA against them in the series.
Game-time will be 8 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS.
“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”
- Pythagoras, Greek philosopher
ALDS GAME 3: KEY MOMENT
In the pivotal game of the Yankees-Orioles division series, manager Joe Girardi made one the boldest and ballsiest calls in major-league postseason history.
With his big power-hitter Alex Rodriguez 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game and 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series, Girardi elected to sit the most dangerous home run hitter of this generation and replace him with a 40-year-old left-handed hitter to face the American League’s best closer this season in right-hander Jim Johnson.
The Yankees were down 2-1 and they were two outs away from being left down in the playoff series 2-1 to the upstart Orioles.
But Girardi was resolute in his decision. He told Rodriguez to sit and Ibanez to grab a bat.
Think of the blowback if Ibanez had failed. The New York scribes would have had a foot race to the clubhouse for reaction from A-Rod. Headlines would have blared “Joe Loses Cool By Subbing Raul” or “Joe Panics; Yanks Fall.”
That, of course, is the nature of the New York media. They are with you until you fail and then you are left out to dry. Billy Martin, Yogi Berra Dick Howser were folded spindled and mutilated by the headline hungry denizens in the Bronx Zoo.
But after Johnson had retired Ichiro Suzuki, the crowd on the one hand stunned and, on the other hand, hopeful with fingers and toes crossed routed on Ibnez as he lumbered to the plate.
“Raul had to come through,” Girardi said. “Raul had some kind of day for us today, and you have to make decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. But I just had a gut feeling.”
Ibanez had his share of travails this season, too.
In spring training, Ibanez hit in the first three weeks of spring training as if he just picked up a bat at age 40 and was giving the major leagues a try. It was if he could not hit a ball off a tee he was so bad. But Girardi told the press that Ibanez was a professional hitter his entire career and that he had faith he would turn it around soon.
Sure enough, Ibanez starting roping line drives all over the place at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, and the wolves (the writers) were forced to stop baying at the moon.
Ibanez then became an integral part of the Yankees success this season. Forced into playing more outfield than he had expected in the absence of starting left-fielder Brett Gardner, Ibanez hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and batted .240 in 340 at-bats this season for the Yankees.
Of course, Ibanez also fell into a severe slump in late August that bled into September. Once again, Girardi kept faith with his veteran outfielder/designated hitter. And again Ibanez rewarded the skipper.
Beginning with a Sept. 22 game against Oakland in which Ibanez entered the game as pinch-hitter in the fifth inning and he ended up hitting two game-tying homers, he went on a full-fledged tear in the final two weeks of the season. Ibanez went 15-for-37 (.405) with five home runs and nine RBIs down the stretch.
He also punctuated his hot streak with a game-tying two-run pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth and a game-winning RBI single in the 12th in a must-win 4-3 victory the Red Sox on Oct. 2.
But those heroics on Sept. 22 and Oct. 2 were but a dress rehearsal for what he was being asked to do on Wednesday. It is one thing to pinch-hit for Casey McGehee (as he did on Sept. 22) or Eduardo Nunez (as he did on Oct. 2). It is quite another to pinch-hit for A-Rod.
That is pressure.
But Ibanez was able to cast it aside enough to concentrate on what he wanted to do: Get a Johnson sinker up enough so that he could launch it into the seats. Johnson provided it on the very first pitch and Ibanez took care of it.
The subdued but hopeful crowd of 50,497 seemed to rise as one while the baseball traveled on a low, line-drive trajectory towards the straightaway right-field. It rose well over the head of Oriole defensive replacement Endy Chavez and some five rows into the bleachers.
On the top step of the dugout cheering loudly was A-Rod.
“Maybe 10 years ago, I’d react a much different way. But I’m at a place in my career right now where team means everything,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there was anybody in the ballpark more excited for Raul than me.”
That home run, harkening Yankee fans back to the days of Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson and Aaron Boone, allowed the Yankees to stave off what would have been a saddening blow to their playoff hopes. But Ibanez wasn’t having it.
The game remained tied until Ibanez’s next at-bat leading off the bottom of the 12th. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had opted to leave in left-hander Brian Matusz to face him.
Again, Ibanez was looking for a pitch up to drive. Matusz threw a chest high fastball but it was in the middle of the plate. Ibanez was ready and the sound so familiar to the fans rang out all over Yankee Stadium.
Ibanez, knew, Matusz knew and the fans there and those watching at home knew where it was going.
In one mere stretch of just two swings in two at-bats, Ibanez – should the Yankees advance to their 28th world championship – will be remembered in Yankee lore for what he did this evening.
While they are at it, they should also remember the guts it took for Girardi to push the correct button. Managers seem to get little of the credit and most of the blame in baseball.
This is not one of those instances. Girardi played his roster like a maestro and the music hit a real high note in the Bronx.
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
THIRD BASE – ALEX RODRIGUEZ (18 HRs, 57 RBIs, .272 BA)
It’s always something.
With Alex Rodriguez it always seems some injury comes up that interrupts his season and rolls him down a highway that is a few exits past his MVP seasons. This pattern has been going since his monster season in 2007 when he played in 158 games and hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and hit .314.
For the past five seasons Rodriguez’s totals have been gradually slipping. The home run totals dropping from 35 to 30 to 30 to 16 and 18 this season. The RBI totals sinking from 103 to 100 to 125 to 62 and now just 57. The batting averages dipping from .302 to .286 to.270 to .276 to .272 this season.
This is not your father’s Alex Rodriguez. The once most-feared hitter in baseball has turned into Scott Brosius before our very eyes and it is pretty to safe to say that age 37 that the vintage A-Rod is not coming back.
After suffering through seasons cut short by a serious hip injury to his injury-plagued 2011 campaign shortened to 99 games because of knee and thumb injuries, this season was supposed to be a big comeback season for Rodriguez.
But after languishing through a terrible first half in which he hit just 13 home runs, drove in a mere 36 runs and hit .266, Rodriguez was struck on the left hand by pitch thrown by Felix Hernandez of the Mariners in Seattle on July 24. A broken bone in the hand shelved him until Sept. 3.
So from the midpoint of the season, Rodriguesz contributed five home runs and 21 RBIs.
A look inside the numbers shows just how far A-Rod’s star has fallen:
- With the bases empty he hit .300.
- With runners in scoring position he hit .230.
- With the bases loaded he hit .200.
His 18 home runs are just two more than he hit in 99 games last season and yet he still hits in the middle of the order as if he was the A-Rod of 2007.
The fact the Yankees are on the hook to pay this large albatross through the 2017 season is quite troubling. When that contract was signed, the Yankees were envisioning Rodriguez becoming the all-time home run champion in pinstripes.
But with Rodriguez stuck on 647 career homers and seemingly unable to hit 20 in a season, he will be lucky to reach 700, much less make to 763 to pass Barry Bonds.
The qustion is how long will the Yankees to allow Rodriguez to underperform for the money his is making and how much he is hurting the Yankees in every game with his strikeouts, weak popups and routine fly balls? Can they afford to keep him? Or are they paying so much for him that they can’t get rid of him?
All I know is what I see and I just see a very sad shell of a player who might be succumbing to aftereffects of performance enhancing drugs. So I do not feel sorry for him. But I do feel sorry for the Yankees being roped into this deal that will hamper their ability to pare salary ahead of the 2014 season.
Rodriguez is also turning into a liability in the field, too.
He made eight errors this season, which sounds OK until you find out he started only 81 games at the position. That total also does not account for the balls that got past him because his surgically repaired hip has robbed him of his lateral quickness. It also does not account for the slow dribblers he was unable to charge fast enough to get the runner at first.
His cannon arm is still there but it can be erratic.
Nope, any way you slice it, A-Rod is just not A-Rod anymore. The sooner Yankee fans realize that the sooner they can stop praying for that game-winning homer in the playoffs. If the Yankees are lucky he will single in a big run with a runner in scoring position.
So don’t get your hopes up for a great postseason for A-Rod. It might turn out like all the ones he produced before his epic postseason in 2009, which brought title No. 27 back to the Bronx. The 28th will have to come some other way.
MIDSEASON GRADE: D
SECOND-HALF GRADE: I
OVERALL GRADE: D
BACKUP - ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)
I have already discussed Chavez in my post about Mark Teixeira.
Because of Rodriguez’s injury, Chavez was the primary backup at third base and he started 50 games there. If Chavez were a younger player and capable of playing every day, he would have either replaced Rodriguez outright or, at the very least, be the lefty part of a platoon at the position.
Of course, that is if A-Rod was not A-Rod and he was not getting paid big bucks.
Chavez was the better fielder here and you can make a case that he was a more productive hitter. He hit 16 home runs in 278 at-bats. A-Rod hit 18 in 463.
If it were me, I might even consider moving Rodriguez the DH spot and starting Chavez at third against right-handers in the playoffs. It just makes good sense.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
SECOND HALF GRADE: B+
OVERALL GRADE: B
The Yankees also played Jayson Nix, Casey McGehee and Eduardo Nunez at third base this season. With Nix out of the early part of the playoffs with an injury, Chavez will be the primary backup and Nunez will not play here unless it is an emergency.
McGehee will not make the postseason roster.
In the minor leagues the Yankees have a slick-fielding third baseman in Brandon Laird. But Laird, 25, had a mediocre season with the bat at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting just .254 with 15 home runs and 77 RBIs.
With Rodriguez blocking his path to the majors, Laird has to hope he can find an opportunity with another organization. He has some value as a potential corner infield backup because he play first base also.
The Yankees do have a potential star in last year’s first draft pick Dante Bichette Jr., who spent the season at Class-A Charleston.
Bichette, 20, has a long way to go after hitting .248 with three home runs and 46 RBIs. This was after a season in which he was the MVP of the Gulf Coast League in 2011. But he is still young and the Yankees love his bloodlines to former Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette.
He looks to be a keeper for now.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C-
It is rare when you are talking about a three-time MVP being worse than the player who backs him up. But that is what we are dealing with in Rodriguez. Out of loyalty, his past track record and to keep the peace, manager Joe Girardi has refused to take A-Rod out of the middle of the order.
Fine. I understand that. But one would hope if A-Rod falls flat on his face this October that he will have the courage to do it next season.
There is only so much you can take. Seeing him swing through fastballs he used to crush and pop up pitches he used to hit hard over the fence is just frustrating to watch game after game.
Opposing scouts, managers and pitchers already see what Girardi has refused to admit. Maybe it is because of what happened to Joe Torre after he batted Rodriguez seventh in the 2007 playoffs against the Detroit Tigers. Torre lost his job.
Perhaps Girardi sees a similar fate for him if he does it and the team loses a playoff series. Just don’t be surprised if Rodriguez hits .125 and leaves a lot of runners on base this postseason.
YANKEES 5, RAYS 3
So much of life seems to move in circles and Ivan Nova’s path to Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays certainly came full circle.
Nova reached the All-Star break 10-3 with a 3.92 ERA coming off a brilliant rookie season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA. But then came a surprisingly rapid decline in which he was 1-4 with a 7.28 ERA in his last eight starts and he ended up on the 15-day disabled list on Aug. 22 with inflammation of his right rotator cuff.
Nova, coming off the DL to make his first start in three weeks, was simply brilliant in pitching six-plus innings in front of a national television audience on FOX Sports as New York reclaimed sole possession of first place in the American League East with a clutch victory over Tampa Bay.
Nova (12-7) gave up two runs on just four hits and two walks and he struck out eight batters in an 85-pitch effort that drew a standing ovation from most of the paid crowd of 46,856 at Yankee Stadium as he left in the seventh inning.
The victory for the Yankees, coupled with the 5-2 loss of the Baltimore Orioles to the Oakland Athletics later on Saturday, allowed the Yankees to reclaim a one-game lead over the Orioles in the standings while the Rays dropped to four games back in third place.
The Yankees were able to get to Rays starter James Shields in the second inning.
Raul Ibanez opened the frame by drawing a walk and, one out later, Curtis Granderson timed a change-up and drove it deep into the bleachers in right-field for his 39th home run of the season.
Three pitches later, Eduardo Nunez smacked a high cutter into the stands in left-field to make it 3-0. Nunez, playing his third consecutive game for a hobbling Derek Jeter at shortstop, also had his season come full circle after being sent down to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 11 and being recalled on Sept. 1. For Nunez it was his first home run of the season.
The Yankees added a run off Shields (14-9) in the fifth inning with two out. Ichiro Suzuki, batting leadoff for the Yankees for only the second time since he was acquired for the Mariners on May 23, singled to left and stole second base. Jeter then drove in Suzuki with hot smash up the middle.
The Rays were finally able to get to Nova in the bottom of the sixth inning when Evan Longoria was able to launch a two-out solo home run into right-center.
Nova, returning with a very strict pitch count, left in the seventh after giving up a leadoff single to Jeff Keppinger.
Manager Joe Girardi elected to bring in Boone Logan. Logan retired pinch-hitter Ben Francisco on botched bunt attempt in which Logan was able to throw out Keppinger at second. However, Ryan Roberts stroked a double down the left-field line to advance Francisco to third.
Joba Chamberlain replaced Logan and promptly retired pinch-hitter Sam Fuld on a hard-hit ball that Chamberlain snagged on a high bounce and threw out Fuld to save two runs. Nonetheless, Chamberlain was tagged for a two-out, two-run single by pinch-hitter Luke Scott to cut the Yankees’ lead to a single run.
Chamberlain was able to escape further damage by striking out Desmond Jennings on an 0-2 curveball.
David Robertson pitched a perfect eighth and the Yankees added an insurance run in their half of the inning on a one-out double by Robinson Cano off lefty reliever Jake McGee and Alex Rodriguez followed with RBI single up the middle.
Rafael Soriano came on in the ninth and he pitched around a Francisco single and walk to Carlos Pena to strike out pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson swinging for his 39th save in 42 opportunities this season.
With the victory the Yankees ran their season record to 82-63. The Rays are 78-67 and are finding their hopes of winning the division looking very bleak.
- Though Nova refused to blame his weak second-half performance on his shoulder injury, it was obvious that something was definitely wrong with him. But 23 days of rest brought back Nova’s velocity and command of the strike zone. The Rays also might have had something to do with it. Nova is 5-1 with a 3.04 ERA in his eight career starts against the Rays.
- Granderson is getting his home-run stroke back after a long slide at the plate. Gramderson has hit five home runs in his past six games. He is 7-for-22 (.318) with five home runs and 11 RBIs in that six-game span. After being benched for a few games against left-handers, it appears Granderson is starting to get hot again.
- Rodriguez was 2-for-4 with a big RBI in the eighth inning. Since coming off the disabled list, Rodriguez is 14-for-47 (.298) with three home runs and nine RBIs. Only five of his 14 hits have been for extra bases but A-Rod appears to concentrating on making contact and hitting the ball where it is pitched rather then swinging for the fences.
- The bullpen was a little leaky on Saturday. Chamberlain had been pitching much sharper of late but he was victimized by Scott’s single that allowed two inherited runners to score. Though Soriano and Roberston have had good seasons in the wake of the loss of future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, the rest of the bullpen has been a bit more inconsistent in the second half. They need to get better with the playoffs looming.
- Eric Chavez was 0-for-3 in the game and he suddenly has fallen into a prolonged slump. Since Aug. 19, Chavez is 10-for-51 (.196) with no home runs and two RBIs. His season average has dropped from .305 t0 .283 in that span.
Girardi said using Suzuki in the leadoff spot had to do with Suzuki’s success against Shields and was not something that will be happen frequently. Suzuki entered the game 14-for-46 (.307) against Shields. The move paid dividends because Suzuki was 1-for-3 off Shields with a stolen base and a run scored. . . . If his rehab continues without any setbacks, outfielder Brett Gardner could be activated from the disabled list next week. Gardner has only played in nine games this season and his return was delayed by surgery on his right elbow in July. Gardner is not able to swing a bat but he could be used as a pinch-runner and a defensive replacement in the outfield.
The Yankees can win the series against the Rays with a victory in the rubber game on Sunday.
In their final regular-season meeting with Rays the Yankees will send Hiroki Kuroda (13-10, 3.17 ERA) to the mound. Kuroda gave up three runs in 6 1/3 innings in a no-decision the Yankees lost to the Red Sox on Tuesday. Kuroda is 1-1 with a 6.17 ERA against the Rays.
The Rays will counter with rookie left-hander Matt Moore (10-10, 3.68 ERA). Moore gave up two runs in four innings in his last start against the Orioles. He is 2-1 with a 3.44 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS and locally by the YES Network.
The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
THIRD BASE – ALEX RODRIGUEZ (13 HR, 36 RBIs, .266 BA)
During the 2007 season, Alex Rodriguez was the most feared hitter in baseball. That was a season in which he hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and batted a robust .314.
Those days are gone and there is no better testimony to that fact than A-Rod’s statistics at the halfway point of the 2012 season. He is on pace to hit 26 home runs and drive in 72 runs!
The theory on getting Rodriguez back to his old form was that he needed to stay healthy because he played in only 99 games last season due to a knee injury that required surgery and a late-season thumb injury that rendered him virtually useless with the bat in the playoffs.
Well, so far this season, Rodriguez, 36, has been healthy. He has been sidelined with no major ailments through the first 81 games.
In addition, manager Joe Girardi said he wanted to give Rodriguez a lot of “half days” off by utilizing him at designated hitter and giving him some full days off during the course of the season to keep him rested and fresh. Well, Rodriguez has started 56 games at third base and he has appeared in 78 games total.
So why does Rodriguez have only 13 home runs and 36 RBIs at the midpoint?
The answer just may be that Rodriguez has reached a point in his career that he is declining faster than the Yankees would have hoped when they offered him his second 10-year-contract that puts him on the Yankees’ payroll through 2017. That deal was signed when Rodriguez appeared to be destined to pass Barry Bonds for the all-time lead in home runs at 762.
Rodriguez has 642 but that 120 home run difference is looking like it might be out of reach for this rapidly fading superstar.
Why is this happening? Is it just age? Is it the fact that Rodriguez does not have the help of streoids? Did the steroids lead to that debilitating hip injury he suffered in 2009? Has the pitching in baseball just gotten that much better?
Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, all Yankee fans know is that Rodriguez has been unable to deliver clutch home runs or doubles as he routinely did. His typical 35 home runs and 120 RBI production is just gone.
Rodriguez is hitting .293 with the bases empty this season. Eight of his 13 home runs are solo shots.
But you put runners on base and Rodriguez is hitting like weak-hitting middle infielder Yuniesky Betancourt. He is hitting .227 with runners in scoring position and .182 with the bases loaded.
Pitchers are challenging him with fastballs up in the strike zone like never before and Rodriguez is missing them.
Though A-Rod has always been a power hitter, the highest strikeout total in his career is 139, which he posted in both 2005 and 2006. He currently has 74 strikeouts and that would translate into a career-high 148 strikeouts this season.
Clearly, something is very, very wrong with the veteran slugger. The question is will he ever get back to what he was or will he continue to regress?
In the field, Rodriguez has committed five errors in his 56 starts at third, which is just a notch below his career .964 fielding percentage. But he also has been slow to react to slow rollers and there have been a number of times those balls were scored hits but a younger Rodriguez might have been able to make a play on them.
Teams bunt on Rodriguez a lot because they do not think he is able to make the play anymore. So you will continue to see speedsters placing bunts down the third-base line.
His lateral range is also limited by that hip injury and his 6-foot-5 frame.
When you add this all up, it is easy to see the Yankees might have a very large albatross around their necks for the next five seasons. A-Rod wants to remain a Yankee the rest of his career and the Yankees are on the hook to pay him for another five seasons.
It does not appear that any amount of rest is going to make this situation any better. Alex is just Alex now. It looks as if the Yankees are just going to have to accept it.
Girardi continues to cover for his player by saying he is not worried and that A-Rod always seems to hit his home runs in bunches. OK! Well, we are still waiting for the first bunch.
Perhaps the Yankees would be better off if they dropped Rodriguez in the batting order behind Nick Swisher. That might make his failures less noticeable. But, other than that, there is not much the Yankees can do to awaken his slumbering bat.
MIDSEASON GRADE: D
BACKUP – ERC CHAVEZ (6 HRs, 16 RBIs, .270 BA)
The Yankees are very lucky to have a six-time Gold Glove winner like Chavez to play at third base when Rodriguez is the DH or resting. Chavez has made 19 starts at third base and he has committed two errors there.
But that does not tell the entire story.
Chavez, 34, provides an additional left-hand bat when the Yankees are facing a right-handed pitcher and he provides solid at-bats. Six home runs and 16 RBIs is pretty good production for a backup corner infielder.
He is a smart hitter who can hit with authority to the opposite field. He can stand to improve his .179 average with runners in scoring position but there are a lot of Yankees who can say the same thing.
Though Chavez is not as adept in the field at first base, he does not embarrass himself there either. So he gives Girardi a lot of flexibility to rest Mark Teixeira on occasion. Chavez is also very useful as a left-hand pinch-hitter of the bench.
Earlier in the season, Eduardo Nunez played third against some left-handed pitchers. But he was such a butcher in the field that he was shipped back the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to play primarily as a shortstop.
The Yankees, instead, employ Jayson Nix in that role. But Nix has only made one start here and that was in Game 81. He is hitting .228 with two home runs and six RBIs this season. Nix is more valuable as a middle infield reserve, though he also can play in the outfield.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
The Yankees have a genuine third base prospect in Dante Bichette Jr., who they selected with their first pick in the 2011 draft. Bichette, 19, is expected to develop into a big-time power hitter as he matures. However, he has only one home run and 28 RBIs and is batting .252 with Single-A Charleston (SC) in the Carolina League.
Brandon Laird, 24, is considered a major-league-ready third baseman defensively and he does have some power. But Laird is hitting just .236 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs at Scranton.
There is not much third base talent within the Yankees’ minor-league system. But with A-Rod halfway through his 10-year-deal it does not seem to be much of a concern now.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C-
I am not optimistic that Rodriguez will suddenly find his power stroke and will start launching A-Bombs all over Yankee Stadium in the second half.
Rodriguez currently is hitting a home run every 22.3 at-bats. In 2010, Rodriguez hit a home run every 17.4 at-bats. In his career, he has homered in every 14.7 at-bats.
Clearly, there is a major decline here and Rodriguez can’t be expected to erase the march of time. He is aging rapidly and it is coming a lot quicker than anyone thought it would.
Rodriguez is also sometimes his own worst enemy because he does tinker with his swing and mechanics so much that he sometimes looks like he is thinking at the plate instead of just reacting. As a result pitchers do not seem to fear him as much anymore.
When Girardi finally admits this is the A-Rod he is going to get for the next five years, maybe he can move him down in the order. But, for now, do not expect much out of Rodriguez in 2012. He will only break your heart.
YANKEES 6, MARINERS 2
A few weeks ago it looked like Phil Hughes was headed to the bullpen after he started the season 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA. On Saturday, Hughes looked like he actually belonged in the rotation all along and there is no doubt he is going to stay there for a long time.
Hughes pitched 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball and he got two RBIs apiece from Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix as New York defeated Seattle at Yankee Stadium for their fifth victory in their last six games.
Hughes (3-4) carried a shutout into the seventh inning until Mike Carp belted a two-out solo home run to center-field. Hughes left with two out in the eighth having given up six hits and one walk and struck out four batters for his second straight victory.
Hughes also continued a trend the rotation started at the beginning of the six-game homestand on Tuesday. The starters since Tuesday are 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA.
Former Yankee Hector Noesi (2-4) gave up five runs on six hits and struck out four over seven innings to take the loss. But he actually pitched much better than his line indicates. He was undone by pair of two-out doubles in the second inning and a pair of home runs.
With Mark Teixiera on second with a double and two outs, Ibanez looped an opposite-field double into the left-field corner to score Teixeira. Russell Martin, who was one for his last 16 at-bats, followed with a double off the wall at the 408-foot mark in center-field to score Ibanez.
Nix then completed the four-run explosion with an opposite-field fly ball into right that landed in the first row of the bleachers for Nix’s first home run with the Yankees.
On Friday, Nix learned that when Eric Chavez was activated from the seven-day disabled list it would be Eduardo Nunez sent to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and not him. Manager Joe Girardi then decided to start Nix at shortstop on Saturday in order to give Derek Jeter a rest from the field by utilizing him as the designated hitter.
Ibanez continued his hot hitting in the fourth inning when he slammed a high and outside 3-2 fastball into the monuments in center-field for his seventh home run of the season.
Ibanez hit a three-run home run off Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on Friday that led the Yankees to a victory by the same 6-2 score. Since May 5, Ibanez is 9-for-22 (.409) with four home runs and nine RBIs.
Boone Logan pitched the final 1 1/3 innings and he picked up his second major league save – his first since he was pitching for the Chicago White Sox as a rookie in 2006. Logan, however, did give up a run in the ninth inning when Carp followed a one-out single by Kyle Seager with a hit that originally was ruled a home run to right. but the umpires used television replays to reverse the call to a double that scored Seager.
Logan struck out the next two batters to preserve the victory for Hughes and the Yankees.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 19-14. The Mariners dipped to 15-20.
- Hughes has managed to remake himself as a starter. He has basically junked his cutter and he is using his change-up more sparingly, which means he using his fastball and curve more. The results in his last two starts show it is working. Hughes has given up four runs on 12 hits and two walks and he has struck out 11 in 14 1/3 innings over his last two starts. That is an ERA of 2.51 and a WHIP of 0.98.
- Ibanez could not be any hotter if he poured gasoline over himself and lit a match. From primarily the seventh spot in the batting order Ibanez is hitting .282 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs. He also is making life miserable for good right-handers like James Shields and Hernandez, who are looking for a soft spot in the Yankees’ batting order and they are not finding it in Ibanez.
- Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to 10 games with an opposite-field RBI single off reliever Tom Wilhelmsen in the eighth inning to give the Yankees a 6-1 lead. Cano is hitting .429 over that span.
- Curtis Granderson had a bad day at the office. He was 0-for-4 with two weak infield rollers to first and two strikeouts. Though Granderson is hitting .264 with 11 home runs and 20 RBIs, he also has struck out a team-leading 37 times in 129 at-bats. That is a pace just over one out of every four at-bats.
- Cano had an uncharacteristically bad moment in the field in the third inning. With one out and Justin Smoak on first, Munenori Kawasaki lofted a fly ball in shallow right. Cano tracked the ball and then stopped at the last moment, allowing the ball to drop a few feet behind him. Right-fielder Nick Swisher, however, bailed Cano out with a quick throw to second that beat Smoak to the bag for a rare 9-4 fielder’s choice putout.
- Alex Rodriguez also had a bad day at the plate. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. It snapped his five-game hitting streak and lowered his season average to .287. A-Rod came into the contest hitting .406 in his previous nine games.
On Saturday, the Yankees honored legendary catcher Yogi Berra on his 87th birthday with a ceremony before the game. Berra was presented with a cake and former Yankee left-hander Ron Guidry drove Berra in a cart around the stadium so he could be saluted by the 43,954 people in attendance. . . . Though it was not much of a secret, Girardi announced on Saturday that rookie David Phelps would return to the bullpen as a long reliever. Phelps was 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his two starts. But he did not make it out of the fifth inning in either appearance. . . . The Yankees announced on Saturday they they have claimed left-handed reliever Justin Thomas off waivers from the Boston Red Sox. Thomas has posted a 7.71 ERA in 4 2/3 innings with the Red Sox. He was designated for assignment on Thursday. The Yankees will send Thomas, 28, to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Because of the significance of Sunday’s game, this regular blog feature will be expanded into a complete report which will follow shortly.
YANKEES 6, MARINERS 2
From the dawn of time this maxim has always held true: No matter how powerful the king, it is the strength of the opposing foot soldier who can dethrone him. On Friday night, that story played out in front of a paid crowd of 37,886 at Yankee Stadium.
Raul Ibanez, a loyal foot soldier if there ever was one, blasted a first-pitch fastball from “King Felix” Hernandez and drove the ball deep into the seats in right-center for a three-run home run in the sixth inning that gave New York a come-from-behind 6-2 victory over Seattle.
Ibanez’s mighty blow for the “Kingdom in the Bronx” supported a good outing from 37-year-old right-hander Hiroki Kuroda as the Yankees have now won five of their last six games.
Kuroda (3-4) gave up a leadoff solo home run to Dustin Ackley in the first inning and another solo home run to former Yankee mega-prospect Jesus Montero in the top of the sixth that gave the Mariners a 2-1 lead. Otherwise, Kuroda pitched brilliantly with runners on base.
He gave up only the two runs on six hits and three walks and he struck out two over seven innings.
The Yankees, however, wore down Hernandez gradually.
Hernandez (3-2) entered the game with a 3-0 record at the new Yankee Stadium and on a steak of 18 consecutive starts in which he had not allowed a first-inning run – the longest current streak in the majors. But the Yankees took care of that streak when Curtis Granderson stroked a one-out single, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Robinson Cano, who was 4-for-4 on the night.
After Montero untied it in the top of the sixth, the Yankees got busy wearing down Hernandez bottom of the frame.
Alex Rodriguez drew a leadoff walk and Cano followed with another single to right. After two were out in the inning, Ibanez stepped to the plate and he was looking for first-pitch fastball from Hernandez.
He got it and drove the pitch deep into the bleachers in right-center to give the Yankees their first lead of the game, which held up with the help of the bullpen.
Clay Rapada, Cory Wade, Boone Logan and David Robertson combined to pitch the final two innings and they retired the Mariners on just one infield single and struck out two.
Pinch-hitter Andrew Jones gave the Yankees their final margin with a two-run home run off Mariners reliever Steve Delabar in the bottom of the eighth.
Hernandez was charged with four runs on 11 hits and two walks and he struck out seven over 6 2/3 innings.
With the victory, the Yankees improved to 18-14. The Mariners fell to 15-19.
- Though he did give up a pair of solo homers, Kuroda did an excellent job keeping the Mariners from scoring with runners in scoring position. The key at-bat of the game came with two out and the bases loaded with Mariners in the fifth inning and fellow Kuroda countryman Ichiro Suzuki at the plate. Kuroda was able to induce Suzuki to hit a grounder to Rodriguez at third and Rodriguez stepped on third to end the inning without the Mariners scoring a run.
- Cano is blazing hot now with his 4-for-4 night. He has a nine-game hitting streak and is 16-for-36 (.444) in that span with two home runs and eight RBIs. Cano has raised his batting average from .255 at the start of the streak to .308.
- Ibanez followed up his two-homer, three-RBI game against James Shields and the Rays on Tuesday with this huge three-run home run against Hernandez on Friday. Ibanez is hitting .268 with six home runs and 19 RBIs on the season.
- Though he is not hitting much for power, Rodriguez is getting on base with regularity lately. He was 2-for-3 with a walk in the game and he is now hitting .361 in his last 10 games. A-Rod has raised his season average to .297 although he has only five home runs and 14 RBIs.
- I hate to keep beating a dead horse but the only player who played in Friday’s game and got an at-bat but did not get a hit was Russell Martin. The veteran catcher was 0-for-4 and his batting average has now dipped to .179. After going 3-for-4 with a home run on Saturday against Kansas City, Martin is 1-for-16 (.063).
- A combination of a bad decision by third-base coach Rob Thomson and some hesitation before rounding third base by Rodriguez cost the Yankees a run in the fourth inning. Rodriguez was on first and Cano was on second when Mark Teixeira looped a single to shallow left. Thomson chose to send Rodriguez. Rodriguez slowed up just before reaching third thinking Thomson would hold him. But he then tried to speed up when he saw Thomson waving him in. Rodriguez was cut down easily by left-fielder Mike Carp’s throw to Montero at the plate.
- Nick Swisher did single to lead off the eighth but his previous three at-bats were horrible. In the second, Swisher flew out to left with a runner at first and no outs. In the fourth, he bounced out to Hernandez with two on and one out. In the sixth, he struck out looking with Rodriguez on third and Teixeira at first and one out. Ibanez, however, did bail him out with his home run after the strikeout.
The Yankees, as expected, activated Eric Chavez on Friday when he was deemed recovered from his concussion by Major League Baseball. However, in a surprise move, the Yankees elected to send Eduardo Nunez to Triple-A Sranton/Wilkes-Barre and kept utilityman Jayson Nix on the roster. Nunez was batting .294 with no home runs, five RBIs and six stolen bases in 51 at-bats as a backup infielder. But the reason Nunez is being sent down had to do with his fielding. Nunez has committed a team-leading four errors this season, including two errors while playing at third base that led to two unearned runs scored off CC Sabathia by the Rays on Thursday. Nunez was replaced in the field in the sixth inning by Nix. Last season, Nunez led the Yankees in errors with 20 despite playing only half the innings the regulars played. Manager Joe Girardi said the Yankees might have hurt Nunez by asking him to play too many positions. Girardi said Nunez will play most of the time at shortstop at Scranton and he occasionally will play second base. The biggest loss for the Yankees is the speed Nunez provides. With Brett Gardner out another two to four weeks with a strained right elbow, Granderson is the only true base-stealer the Yankees have in the lineup.
The Yankees will continue their three-game series with the Mariners on Saturday.
The Yankees will start 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes (2-4, 6.67 ERA), who is coming off his best two starts of the season. On Sunday, Hughes held the Royals to three runs on six hits over 6 2/3 innings. He is 3-2 with a 3.21 ERA in his career against the Mariners.
The Yankees also will see another old friend in a Mariners’ uniform on Saturday in right-hander Hector Noesi (2-3, 6.30 ERA). Noesi, along with Montero, were traded to the Yankees this winter in return for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos, who both are currently on the disabled list with arm problems. Noesi is coming off a one-run, four-hit outing of seven innings in a victory over the Twins.
Game-time will be 4:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.