Results tagged ‘ Yankees-Twins ’

Surprise: Twins, Rays To Advance

It’s the kind of story line that can overshadow the reality of a playoff series in any sport: A superstar with an amazing season and an amazing story of overcoming the nightmare of drug addiction, facing the team that originally drafted him, with the prospect of eventually getting to a World Series against the team that gave him a second chance (and then traded him away anyway). 

It’s almost as if it’s just Josh Hamilton versus the Tampa Bay Rays.
Actually, it is almost as if it’s just Josh Hamilton versus the Tampa Bay Rays. Ian Kinsler and Michael Young had ordinary seasons, the bottom third of the line-up is a mixture of Mitch Moreland, Julio Borbon, Jeff Francoeur, David Murphy, Bengie Molina, and Matt Treanor, and the starters – Cliff Lee included – had long dead spots, and despite Nolan Ryan’s pronouncements about longer outings from them, the Rangers actually got the shortest efforts from their starters of any A.L. team. 
But, you say, what about those two hitters behind Hamilton? Boomstick Cruz is the real thing, but human history divides evenly into those times when he’s out with a hamstring pull, and those times when he’s about to sustain a hamstring pull. And Vladimir Guerrero found the fountain of youth, but only in the first half. His second half was a very pedestrian .278/.322/.426 and he has deteriorated on the basepaths to such a degree that a foot race between him and Molina would probably continue into November.
By contrast the Rays have largely been underachieving all year long. One of Joe Maddon’s lineups against Texas might feature three sub-.200 hitters. But Tampa is a disciplined, designed ballclub at the plate and in the field, their pitching is deep and even writing off Jeff Niemann, startling, and the irony of ironies is that the key to the series might not be Tampa castoff Hamilton but Texas throwaway and Rays set-up man Joaquin Benoit.
I like the Rays, and quickly, unless Texas somehow batters David Price tomorrow – and Price is 9-and-2 at home this year (and a tidy 17-and-5 there lifetime).
Meantime, trust me, I have front row seats at Yankee Stadium, there’s nothing I’d like more than to watch World Series games from them. I’m not even sure I’m going to get to see two playoff games there this weekend. I haven’t liked the chances of this Yankee team since spring training and while I commend and am heartened by their accomplishments despite glaring holes and what has become one of the most parochial and even jingoistic eras in New York media history, I think they’re not going to reach the ALCS.
The key here is the fact that the Yankees should face lefthanded starters in three of the five games (possibly, if Ron Gardenhire wants to gamble, in three of the first four). Lefthanders turn Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher to their weaker sides (and in Yankee Stadium force them to aim at the tougher fences in left), hurt Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and, unexpectedly, Alex Rodriguez: 6-35-.217-.441 and make Brett Gardner into a .252 hitter. The trade-off is that they enable Marcus Thames at DH and actually make Derek Jeter look like his old self (6-24-.321-.481 – correct: Jeter hit .246 against righties this year, with a slugging percentage of .317 and an on-base of .315).
You’re not overwhelmed by Minnesota southpaws Francisco Liriano and Brian Duensing? How about the prospect of Brian Fuentes coming out of the bullpen, right before or right after Jon Rauch, with Matt Capps warming up for the 9th.
We have not even discussed Yankee pitching. There is a reason CC Sabathia should be the Cy Young winner. Without Felix Hernandez, the Mariners wouldn’t have been much worse. The Rays without David Price might not be post-season favorites, but Jeremy Hellickson could have stepped in. Right now, Sabathia is the only Yankee starter who is not attached to a question mark the size of, well, Sabathia. On the other hand, I wouldn’t worry too much about Mariano Rivera’s September slump, although the Yankee set-up men are hardly what they were a year ago and I’ll believe Boone Logan in the clutch when I see him whiff Jim Thome twice.
The Twins did not prosper down the stretch (none of the AL playoff teams did) and would have loved just the thought of Justin Morneau returning later on. But since the Yankees saw them last in the playoffs, the rest of the infield has been upgraded, Jim Thome has been added at DH, and Delmon Young has gone from a dubious platoon guy to a 112 RBI man. Young struggled over the last two months, then seemed to come alive in the last ten (3-7-.293). The Twins’ lineup is also staggered to minimize repeating same-side bats, which could completely befuddle the pitching-change challenged duo of Joe Girardi and coach Dave Eiland.
Frankly, if Minnesota somehow beats Sabathia in the opener, with an ailing and/or rusty Pettitte and an erratic Hughes behind him, the Twins could sweep. I doubt that. I like them in four or five.

The Ball Hit Utley

The “single” that extended the Phillies’ ninth inning in Denver tonight and moved their lead run from second to third actually hit Chase Utley, in the knee, while he was still in the batter’s box. The replay showed the ball’s direction clearly altered as it hit Utley’s uniform. Foul ball. Never mind the dubious call at first base, as Street might have thrown Utley out. He should’ve been sent back to the plate.

For all we know Utley would’ve followed it with a two-run homer. But a playoff game was in part decided by negligent umpiring for the second time in three nights, and that’s bad enough. Yet this is not solely the fault of Jerry Meals (nor, at Yankee Stadium on Friday, Phil Cuzzi). Far be it for anybody to encourage gratuitous call-questioning, but where was Rockies’ catcher Yorvit Torrealba on that play? Where in turn was Jim Tracy? I can understand Huston Street be a little focused on fielding the ball, but where was Garrett Atkins? 
Just like Friday in New York: I was sitting behind home plate. I didn’t see Joe Mauer put up a huge beef on the blown foul ball call in left field. Nor third base coach Scott Ullger. I doubt anybody in the crowd was aware the Twins had a question, let alone an open-and-shut case. 
Sometimes the squeaky wheel cliche is not only true, but also the essence of accuracy.

Outfield Defense – Again!

OK, I might have to completely revise my assessment of the Yankees. In the Bronx last night, in one of the ten best baseball games I’ve ever attended, the New York club tied it on Rodriguez’s homer, benefitted from a horrible call in rightfield, staved off bases loaded and none out on Robertson’s pitching, and got the winning run on Teixeira’s parabola off the top of the left field wall.

But they won it because Nick Swisher proved me a liar with a beautifully executed play on an inattentive Carlos Gomez in the fourth inning, and because of how A.J. Burnett pitched in the litmus test for his post-season reliability. As Delmon Young busted it for home on Matt Tolbert’s single, Gomez over-ran second, Swisher threw a dart behind him, and he was retired before Young could cross the plate with what would have been the game’s first run. Burnett walked five and hit two – but wriggled out by giving up only three hits and stranding eight of the runners. My 11-year old nephew, attending the first post-game season of his life, stated with confidence after Burnett got one of his six strikeouts, “that was some slider!”
So the Yankee outfield defense already exceeded expectations in terms of plays back to the infield or the plate, and Burnett probably did the same. Meanwhile the Twins’ chances are not only bad enough, but what is wrong with Joe Nathan?
Saturday I would expect the Cardinals to avoid elimination (and perhaps as my pal Joe Magrane suggests, rally to beat the Dodgers behind the second starts of Carpenter and Wainwright) and the Rockies and Phillies continue to move to their inevitable fifth game back in Philadelphia.
BABE RUTH FILM UPDATE
I’ll go into this in a future post but it appears the Hall of Fame agrees with me, that film is from the A’s-Yankees doubleheader of September 9, 1928, with more than 85,000 in attendance (and probably filmed more for that reason, than for the presence of Ruth).
Some additional notes: I got it wrong, the Yankees began to wear numbers not in 1931 but 1929, thus 1928 is also the latest the film could be. And MLB Productions got it wrong, that is 
not Lou Gehrig following Ruth to the plate, but the lankier, righthanded hitting Bob Meusel. And even the Hal was wrong. Photo ID whiz Tom Shieber was also inspired to look at a panoramic photo that has always been marked “1928 World Series” that, like the Ruth film, showed no holiday or Series ceremonial bunting hanging anywhere in the ballpark. As of now they have re-marked it to date to the A’s-Yanks doubleheader – Shieber also notes that the socks of the visiting players in their picture don’t look like those worn by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928, but like the A’s.
Socks. And you think I’m nuts.
The Times may be doing more on this little bit of historical sleuthing. In the interim, everybody wanted to correct an impression that MLB Productions was “stumped” by the film – it was more that they were looking to open up the archaeology dig to fans.

AND FINALLY:
Yes, it’s true. Bill O’Reilly and I in the same place at the same time, in the Yankee suites restaurant, and then three rows and seven seats apart. No one was injured, and everybody had a good time.
And to everybody who’s asked about my Dad – thank you, and he thanks you. Got in several hours with him before the Mental Vacation in the Bronx, and several late tonight. They keep throwing him spitballs and curves and he fouls them off as adroitly as Richie Ashburn in his prime. His main issues have all but been resolved, it’s now just a sequence of complications. But he keeps fouling them away and hanging in there. 

Outfield Defense!

Carlos Ruiz’s sinking liner meets Brad Hawpe’s ole’ play and the Phillies extend a 1-0 lead over the Rockies in the fifth. An inning later, Carlos Gonzalez plays pin ball with his own body, and Ryan Howard’s screamer to left – and then Utley sticks Dexter Fowler against the centerfield fence like a butterfly stuck in a collection. I know the wind was in the 40’s – my home in New York was creaking the Pequod going after Moby-Dick. 

But in the post-season, the two biggest changes are: A) the evaporation of mediocre pitching, and B) if your outfield defense is mediocre, it will be writ large against the sky before the 27th out is completed.
Looking ahead: if you watch Cole Hamels pitch against the Rockies today will you, like me, be unable to get out of your head his new commercial, and that almost munchkin-like question to the fan who comes to the mound: “Who are yoooooo?”
One other note: I commend Joe Girardi for trying something to make A.J. Burnett into a winner Friday night, even if it is the silliness that is the personal catcher. It may or may not work, but it shows the kind of imagination and flexibility that are usually the only traits a skipper can bring that might really impact the outcome of a game.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,945 other followers