AMID all the curiosity and nostalgia about the sudden unretirement of Andy Pettitte, there rested one question that is absolutely fundamental to understanding the 2012 American League Eastern Division race.
I heard people ask Pettitte about how it happened, when it happened, why he wanted it to happen, how his arm was, how his legs were, how his head was. I heard questions about when Brian Cashman called him and how often and how much he was offered and how much he eventually signed for and why it took him so long and when he’ll be ready.
What I did not hear was a question about why – in the wake of trading the best hitting prospect they’ve produced since Robinson Cano for a starting pitcher, and in the wake of signing a free agent starting pitcher, and with a training camp full of young starting pitcher prospects – why did the Yankees feel they needed Pettitte?
Even at the point when Cashman traded Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda (and then incongruously compared Montero to Miguel Cabrera), the Yankees had a surfeit of starting pitchers. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes were all back (and Bartolo Colon could’ve been). Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Hector Noesi were awaiting opportunities. And then Pineda was added. And then Kuroda. And then Pettitte.
I understand no team divides its 162 starts evenly among five men and if you go through a year with only two rotational changes it’s been a blessing from above. But to add so much is to suggest not that you’re worried about injury or attrition, but about the quality of what you already have. I don’t think the Yankees trust Nova, I think they feel Hughes’ moment is passed, I presume they have no faith that the moment will arrive for Banuelos and Betances. And after his flaccid spring, I’m sure they’re wondering if the Pineda thing was a disaster too.
Jesus Montero probably can’t catch a lick and the Yankees didn’t have first base open for him to move to. But a player like him, with that kind of high ball opposite field power, is far more scarce than a Michael Pineda at his best, let alone a Michael Pineda who didn’t gain velocity in the off-season, only weight. The Yankees seem deliberately intent on ignoring the reality that they are aging dangerously on offense. I realize that part of the solution to that is to free up the DH spot that Montero would’ve filled, by a rotation of the wheezing Alex Rodriguez, the unpredictable Nick Swisher, the aging Derek Jeter, and the calcified Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez. But it would seem those guys, and the offense, would’ve benefited a lot more from taking days off and letting the kid get 600 plate appearances and 30 homers.
And while my theory of Cashman getting as much pitching protection as he can speaks well to his preparedness for the ever-growing chance of injury or unreliability among his hurlers, there is no similar cushion being built for the line-up. This is a dreadful bench, from Francisco Cervelli (no power), to Eduardo Nunez (no glove), to Jones (no future). And there’s nobody in the farm system to fill the deficiencies before Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams arise during the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. There was a guy but they traded him for a starting pitcher so good that they had to talk a 39-year old out of retirement to replace him. Lord help the Yankees if Curtis Granderson hits like he did last September, or if Rodriguez (“he’s in great shape; oh yeah, he was in great shape last year before he broke”) or Teixeira or Russell Martin get hurt. Or Cano. No Cano and they might not be even a factor in the pennant race.
That’s why I’m picking TAMPA BAY in this division, and handily. This is still a popgun offense, although I giggle every time I read somebody rip them for bringing back Carlos Pena to replace folk hero Casey Kotchman. Casey Kotchman had 560 plate appearances last year in Tampa and drove in 48 runs. A first baseman almost has to try to achieve a statistic that pathetic. In any event, Andrew Friedman has upgraded the offense from anemic to serene, improving by small measure at first, at DH, and at short (where Jeff Keppinger is bound to supplant the .193/.223 boys, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac). Desmond Jennings is clearly blossoming into a star, and if B.J. Upton can hit merely .275, he will finally become one as well.
And the Rays have the best pitching staff in baseball. Even if Matt Moore is hyped and James Shields returns to earth and David Price keeps underachieving, they can pull Wade Davis back from the bullpen, and bring up Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and half a dozen other guys from Durham. If the magic spell that made Kyle Farnsworth a top closer suddenly snaps, they have Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta and Jake McGee and J.P. Howell to give it a try. The Rays probably have not just the best staff, 1-through-14 in baseball; they may have the best staff, 1-through-28. Who knows: if everything doesn’t go wrong maybe they dangle some of those prospects at mid-season and get some hitting?
The problem in BOSTON last year was pitchers drinking before the games were over. The problem in Boston this year could be fans drinking before they begin. Outside of Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury there isn’t a player on that 25-man roster about whom there is not one huge question. How soon will Kevin Youkilis’ crazy grip finally irreparably damage his hand? Can Carl Crawford actually face a pennant race? Is Buchholz healthy? Or Lester? Or Beckett?
Most importantly, to paraphrase long-ago skipper Joe M. Morgan, “who is running this nine?” New manager Bobby Valentine, showing my earlier criticisms of him may have been extreme and unfair, wanted Jose Iglesias at shortstop and hard-hitting, rapidly-improving Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate (Lavarnway being the only Red Sox player who didn’t panic down the stretch last year). He was overruled – and he certainly wasn’t overruled by newbie GM Ben Cherington. Years ago Terry Francona, John Farrell, and Theo Epstein came to the realization that Daniel Bard didn’t have the emotional chops to be a starting pitcher, and was best served firing gas out of the pen. They’re all gone, Bard was shoved into the rotation, is flailing just as the former bosses knew he would, and now presumably staggers back to the bullpen as broken goods behind the physically sketchy Andrew Bailey (Mark Melancon might close for them yet).
It’s a mess. It’s a mess that could almost accidentally come together in triumph and bolt into the pennant race, but – and heaven help me I’m agreeing with Curt Schilling – it looks like it is going bad quicker than he and I expected it to. Ah well, maybe they can hire Francona back at some point and he can sift through the ashes and rebuild The Olde Towne Team with an eye towards 2014.
The question in TORONTO is: could it be going good quicker than anybody expects it to? Seven spots in the Jays’ lineup don’t particularly startle you, until you reach the conclusion that the guys occupying them could all, realistically, hit 20 homers apiece this year. This does not include Jose Bautista, or the first full year of The Brett Lawrie, who might become Canada’s first true homegrown baseball hero since The Larry Walker. The Blue Jays might be good for 250 home runs – Adam Lind could easily jump from one of the “other seven” to All-Star status – and the only defensive liability of the bunch, catcher J.P. Arencibia, could soon be supplanted by uber-prospect Travis D’Arnaud.
The Jays will hit and field. Their bullpen – fresh-armed Sergio Santos, protected by the underappreciated Coco Cordero, joining the incumbent Casey Janssen – with Darren Oliver actually finding a team he hasn’t previously played for – is newly solid. The questions are all among the starters. Only Ricky Romero has a resume, but during Toronto’s remarkable spring in dreary Dunedin (I know, I know, spring training stats, but they are 22-4 as I write this), Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow, and even Deck McGuire and Kyle Drabek have looked sharp. Dustin McGowan is, in a tradition as old as time itself, hurt again – but perhaps only for a few weeks. If there’s one thing John Farrell knows it’s how to translate pitching potential into success. Just slight success out of the rotation and the Jays could vault into contention.
As to BALTIMORE they seem to be planning to use Wilson Betemit and Nick Johnson as part-time Designated Hitters. End Communication.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST FORECAST:
Faint heart never won fair predicting contests. I’m convinced about the winner, and taking a flier on the runners-up. It’s possible one of the Wild Cards comes out of this division but I’m not convinced any more. The Yankees and the Red Sox are not locks, and they are so not locks that I will assume New York will finally suffer the kind of position-player calamity that accelerates its decrepitude. TAMPA BAY is your champion, TORONTO second, NEW YORK third (close), BOSTON fourth, and BALTIMORE should’ve been relegated already.
NEXT TIME…I don’t know, I haven’t written it yet.
They could – and did – give the trophies to other guys, but let’s face it, if you’re a fan of the Phillies, or the ’09 Yankees, or the ’10 Giants, you know that the World Series MVP last year was Damaso Marte, and the NLCS MVP this year was Javier Lopez.
AB HR RBI AVG SLGAt Home Vs LHP 82 5 13 .305 .524On Road Vs LHP 84 3 10 .238 .393Overall Vs RHP 352 24 77 .401 .716
As 5 PM Eastern nears here in the Bronx, ex-Yankees Bernie Williams and Tom Flash Gordon are here. Bernabe is to throw out the ceremonial first pitch (by itself something of a thaw in his slightly chilly relationship with the club since they dropped him – hes yet to go to an Old Timers Day). I suspect Flash showed up to come in for Burnett in the 2nd. This fourth game has all the feelings of the end of another up cycle for New York, a night reminiscent of the end of the 2003 World Series or the ALCS the next year or – for the elderly – more like the end of the 81 Series or some of the grim regular season finales later in that decade. The Yanks surefire stopper, Andy Pettitte, was vanquished (and before the top of the first inning last night) and having learned the lesson of the Pinstripes Latent Vampirism, Ron Washington played the six-run top of the ninth like he was down by a dozen. And three hours to game time and there isnt a Yankee on the field. It is as quiet as the cliche here – too quiet.
Ford Pettitte Pennock
Seasons 16* 15 20*
Wins 236 229 241
Losses 106 135 162
Percentage .690 .629 .598
ERA 2.75 3.91 3.60
K 1956 2150 1227
W 1086 921 916
20 Win Yrs 2 2 2
World Series 10-8 5-4 5-0
I’m fascinated by the World Series marks. Pennock made his bones in the post-season, and Ford, from his rookie year of 1950 onwards, became legendary in them. And here’s Pettitte with as many World Series wins as Pennock, and the same post-season percentage as Ford.
This monstrosity at the left is included because my friends Charley and Rick were victims of one of the standard media nightmares of the spring. In the bottom of the sixth, the White Sox sent number 83 out to play shortstop. And, of course, as can be the case from the first game of the exhibition season through the last, t
here was no number 83 on the White Sox roster. Managers, especially in split-squad situations and/or road trips, supplement even the usual mass of 40-man roster guys and non-roster invitees with as many as dozen extra minor leaguers on a one-game basis, whose identities are usually written down on the shirt cuff of the visiting Media Relations guy. Anyone in the press box is thus left as helpless as in high school, when whoever kept your scorecard had to exchange rosters with whoever kept theirs (I once had a hockey game in which the rival team wore several years’ worth of uniforms and thus had multiple players wearing the same numbers – they had at least three guys wearing number “5” and tried to fix this by stitching in a little “A” or “B” atop the number).
Two things popped into my Big Empty Head in route: anybody remember George Steinbrenners last great personnel gasp? His insistence that the Yankees trade Andy Pettitte because he just wasnt tough enough in the critical games? This, as I recall, was in. 1999 and the deal was supposed to send him to…the Phillies. The other thought: what became of the four teams that really did blow 3-1 leads in the Series? The 1985 Cards fell below .500 in 1986 but made it back to the Series in 87 and it was five years until manager Whitey Herzog left the job. The 68 Cards never recovered but skipper Red Schoendienst lasted until 1976. But the 1958 Braves would stagger into another crisis – a tie for what wouldve been a third straight pennant in 1959. But after a disturbing playoff loss to the Dodgers, manager Fred Haney was fired, Milwaukee never again seriously contended, and within seven years the franchise was moving to Atlanta. The 1925 Senators werent competitive again until 1933 and player-manager Bucky Harris was out by 28.
once again, how happy would they have been if you had told the Phillies before
the World Series started, that after four games, all this would have been true:
Sabathia would be winless against them in two starts?
Utley would have hit three homers against Sabathia?
Philly sluggers would have produced two-homer games and seven blasts total?
Blanton would have produced a five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance?
Lee would have pitched a complete game?
Phillies would have rallied off the Yankee bullpen in the eighth?
Howard would have stolen a base and then scored the tying run thanks to his
Teixeira would have held to 1-for-14, Melky Cabrera 2-for-13, Robinson Cano
2-for-14, and Alex Rodriguez, 2-for-15?
Girardi would have had to bench one outfielder and might have to replace
another one due to injury?
are the little things that usually put a team ahead three games to one, not
behind by that margin. While Johnny Damon has rightly been lionized (and would be the Series MVP to this point), there are two totally under-reported secrets to the
Yankees’ success. Consider the last outs Sabathia got last night: Jimmy Rollins
lined a one-bouncer directly to Alex Rodriguez, and Shane Victorino flied right
to Nick Swisher. Throughout the Series, particularly last night, the Yanks’
major league scouting – coordinated by Gene Michael – has positioned its
fielders nearly perfectly, exploiting pitch selection and a thorough knowledge
of where each Philadelphia hitter is likely to hit a given pitch. I’ve always
thought somebody could get a PHD calculating just how little Yankee fielders
had to travel to get balls hit by the Braves in the 1999 Series, when Michael’s
charts were at their maximum value.
other hidden headline: Damaso Marte, a pitcher who before the Series would have
been ranked somewhere behind the Phillie Phanatic in likely impact on the
outcome. All he has done thus far is strike out Utley and get Howard on a fly
while the first game was still close, punch out Howard and Werth and get Ibanez
on a liner in the third game, and retire Howard on another fly last night. He
has been flawless after a 9.45 ERA and just five holds during the regular
But by no
means are the Phillies dead. One of the realities of those “Advantage Phillies” stats listed above is that they either won’t last, or that if they do, they are likely to suddenly start producing dramatic results for Philadelphia, and possibly in sufficient supply to produce three straight wins. And Joe Girardi has opened the door for that slim hope with the decision to go with A.J. Burnett on short
Rather than risk Chad
Gaudin, with Burnett available on extra rest in Game Six, and Andy Pettitte on
the same (or Sabathia) for Game Seven, he will pitch Burnett with a line-up
behind him that could lack not just a DH, but also perhaps Cabrera and Jorge
Posada. As it lays out now, Burnett, Pettitte and Sabathia will all go on short
rest in pursuit of one win. Or it won’t be Pettitte in Game Six – it’ll be Gaudin anyway.
The Phillies’ three-run rally in the second hinged on the high-quality bunt by Cole Hamels (and the Yankees’ inability to handle it – but ultimately that might have been incidental: a bad bunt is fielded easily by either Andy Pettitte or Jorge Posada).
So the scenario has almost completely played out: Joe Girardi’s misuse of his bullpen, and the forces of nature, have combined to push Game Six of the ALCS to Sunday. It is a game that likely will determine whether or not Girardi is still Yankee manager on the 15th of next June.
Game One, Wednesday, New York: Burnett
Game Two, Thursday, New York: Gaudin? Chamberlain?
Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Sabathia*
Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Pettitte*
Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Burnett
Game Six, Wednesday, New York: Game Two Starter or Sabathia*
Game Seven, Thursday, New York: Sabathia* or Pettitte*
Game One, Wednesday, Anaheim: Lackey
Game Two, Thursday, Anaheim: Saunders*
Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Weaver
Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Kazmir* or Lackey
Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Lackey or Kazmir*
Game Six, Wednesday, Anaheim: Saunders*
Game Seven, Thursday, Anaheim: Weaver
Game One, Wednesday, Anaheim: Lackey
Game Two, Thursday, Anaheim: Kazmir*
Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Saunders*
Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Weaver
Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Lackey
Game Six, Wednesday, Anaheim: Kazmir*
Game Seven, Thursday, Anaheim: Saunders*
1 HR, 8 RBI, .178 BA, .290 OBP, .290 SLG. (107 At Bats)
5 HR, 25 RBI, .235 BA, .305 OBP, .417 SLG. (115 At Bats)