CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.
Yankees holding the Trophy Polishing Moment at their midtown suite display (about a 45-second walk from my office) Friday afternoon and I couldn’t resist. But what do you find really interesting about this photo?
These have been bouncing around my head all off-season; some are tempests in teapots, some a little more substantial – I just havent heard many of them asked…DID the Yankees actually upgrade? Acknowledging that a healthy Nick Johnson, freed of all defensive worries, could win a batting championship (or at least the On Base crown), is a trade-off of Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera for Curtis Granderson, Johnson, Randy Winn and Brett Gardner really a win? Has Cabreras clutch late-inning hitting been forgotten, or merely written off as a statistical fluke?…ON the other end of the Granderson trade, do the Tigers know Phil Coke wasnt that great against lefties during the first half of last year, and basically stopped getting them out at all after September 1 and in the post-season?…HAS Roy Halladay ever been tested in a pennant race? Does it matter? I seem to recall several clubs drooling over the various Javier Vazquezes who pitched in obscurity in Montreal and Arizona and even Chicago…DID the Angels look at Joel Pinieros last months worth of work in 2009? Did they break out his fly-ball to ground-ball ratio? Did they note that a sinkerball pitcher who cant get the ball down will probably end up in mopup relief?…WHY hasnt anybody else written that if Milton Bradley doesnt sink the Mariners, theyll be the first?…lastly IF you are the Nats and you have as exciting a prospect as Ian Desmond and you havent unloaded Cristian Guzman, why do you go ahead and sign Adam Kennedy?
At their current trajectory, the Yankees are going to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Here in the Bronx, A.J. Burnett – to my thinking the most important player on the roster – has again succumbed to the yips, and, for the fourth time in his last nine starts, surrendered six or more runs – twice in twelve days to the less-than-daunting Orioles. As on Monday, Burnett, staked to a 1-0 lead, wobbled in the second, giving up a blast to Nolan Reimold and then walking Matt Wieters with one out. There followed three successive singles – the last two of them dink hits by Aubrey and Andino – and then the almost predictable kaboom: a crushed and crushing grand slam by Brian Roberts.
Burnett’s ability to handle misfortune – or even ordinary adversity – seems to be declining. And as was speculated here in the press box by Pete Caldera of The Bergen Record, on what can the Yankees depend if they were to lose a Sabathia playoff opener 1-0 and had to hand the ball to Burnett in an essential second game? More daunting still, until today Burnett had made 14 starts at Yankee Stadium and only once given up more than three.
What would the Giants look like in the post-season without Tim Lincecum? What about the Yankees if the A.J. Burnett they get is last month’s, not Monday night’s?
The very first entry in this blog was about the spring training work of a young relief pitcher, so impressive that it inspired home plate ump Tim Tschida to come over to the pitcher’s bench and say it was the most remarkable thing he’d seen all spring. Daniel Bard had not only struck out the Tampa Bay side, but he had cleared 100 MPH four times, and, according to Tschida he had put one in each corner of the strike zone.
After getting handcuffed by Hideki Matsuis second inning sac fly here at Yankee Stadium for an error that ultimately did no damage to the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki got a mock roar of anticipation and excitement from the crowd as he lined up to catch Francisco Cervellis fly just two batters later.
Ichiro – of the underpublicized sense of humor and the giddy giggle whenever Ken Griffey tickles him, promptly pulled a Justin Upton. As he squeezed Cervellis fly to end the inning, he fake-tossed it towards the stands, giving the fans something to really roar about.
Leading off the top of the third, the one-named wonder was called out on by umpire Jerry Meals on a check swing – held his bat level in that limbo pose for a second, begging for the ball call. When it didnt come, he unfroze the pose and finished the swing.
The advent of the Mets’ annual visit to Dodger Stadium always reminds me of one of the greatest baseball stories nobody tells.
The McCarver Theorem was just validated again here at Yankee Stadium (go to a game, you’ll always see something, or a combination of things, you’ve never seen before), when Brian Buscher of the Twins hit into a sacrifice fly double play.