Saturday, October 31, 2009
Much has been made of Game 3 being a critical juncture, and there's no question this is a big game for both teams. The Yankees need to take at least one game in Philadelphia to force the series back to New York, and Charlie Manuel appears to be enhancing their chances of doing just that with the announcement that Joe Blanton will start Game 4, a game in which he will almost certainly oppose CC Sabathia.
As for tonight, the Yankees also appear to have the starting pitching advantage, as Hamels' struggles to regain his dominating 2008 form have extended into the playoffs (not to mention the Yankees generally torch lefthanders not named Cliff Lee), while Andy Pettitte has pitched as well as one could have hoped for while also becoming the all-time postseason victory leader. A closer look reveals Hamels may not be entirely at fault for some of the results, but he's clearly been less effective than he was a year ago.
The primary question on the Yankees' side of the equation is who will get the start in right field, as Girardi's benching of Nick Swisher for Jerry Hairston in Game 2 wound up yielding a key base hit. Still, Swisher has less chance of breaking out of his funk sitting on the bench, though I imagine there will be a fair number of pinch-hitting opportunities in the National League park. A bench of Swisher, Hideki Matsui and Eric Hinske is about as powerful as it gets (64 total home runs in 2009), so maybe another Hairston start isn't the worst thing in the world.
Update, 5:14pm: Swisher gets the nod tonight and will bat seventh. Joe Girardi also officially announced the worst-kept secret in baseball.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Charlie Manuel is doing his best to channel his inner Joe Girardi. The Phillies' heralded manager may have cost his team the game last night keeping Pedro in to start the 7th. The decision was puzzling considering the pitcher’s age (38), pitch count after the 6th (99), and the fact that the Yankees had started to put together some solid at-bats after looking fairly stymied in the early going, highlighted by Mark Teixeira's and Hideki Matsui's solo home runs.
Of course, Pedro’s final stat line of three earned runs through 6-plus innings doesn't tell the entire story. The tenor of the game may have have been different if Manuel had pulled Martinez after the 6th. Instead of facing Mariano Rivera with a 2-run lead, the Phillies might have only trailed by a run, and suddenly the three base runners Rivera allowed would have silenced the stadium. Instead, Manuel kept his pitcher in too long, and Pedro rewarded him by failing to get a single batter out and coughing up another run via Chan Ho Park. Red Sox fans know all too well that Pedro loses steam after 100 pitches. Manuel undoubtedly knows this too, but apparently decided to ignore it.
In the process, Manuel may have also made Girardi look smarter than he is, and I’m not sure how I feel about that (I don’t want to encourage the micro-manager). Prior to the game, Girardi made the questionable decision to keep the slumping Nick Swisher out of the lineup and use the ineffective Jerry Hairston (career OPS+: 85!).
Through the first six innings Hairston looked lost at the plate. He struck out twice, preferring to argue with the umpire rather than adjusting his approach in the face of an expanded strike zone. In the 7th inning, however, Hairston knocked a single against Pedro, making Girardi look prescient. Ever the tinkerer, clueless-Joe pinch ran for Hairston with Brett Gardner, who should have started the game to begin with.
The Angels threw Gardner out twice after he came in as a pinch runner in the ALCS. Last night he scored the third run, which was an important insurance run. It’s doubtful any of this happens if Manuel went to his bullpen earlier.
While Manuel’s choices in Game 2 were wrong, they may have been somewhat defensible. This one isn’t. If I were in a position to sabotage the Phillies in the World Series I would advise them to bat a leadoff hitter with a .296 OBP and to start Joe Blanton in Game 4.
Blanton’s numbers against the Yankees are terrible. His career ERA against the Yankees is over 8 and both Tex and A-Rod have hit him hard. This smells like Joe Saunders all over again. Numbers aren’t the only reason this is the wrong move. It also increases the Yankees' options. The right move is to start Cliff Lee against CC Sabathia in Game 4. That matchup favors the Phillies, and forces the Yankees to make tough decisions with their rotation the rest of the Series.
Now, starting CC on short rest against Blanton is a gimmie. CC no longer has to be brilliant. He only needs to be better than Blanton. (By the way, is there a less intimidating name in sports than Joe Blanton? I didn’t think so either.)
The move also takes pressure off Andy Pettitte. I’ve been arguing to anyone who will listen that Pettitte versus Cole Hamels in Game 3 is the Yankees' best chance to take a game in Philadelphia. Now, Game 4 looms large as a 2nd opportunity to win one on the road. The Phillies won’t have a pitching advantage until Game 5, when Lee pitches again.
Pitching Blanton also allows Girardi to consider using Chad Gaudin and sacrificing Game 5 against Cliff Lee. Assuming the Yankees were to win the next two games, which is a real possibility considering the pitching matchups, starting Gaudin would give A.J. Burnett and Pettitte normal rest if the Series comes home to the Bronx. If A.J. can’t put the Phillies away in Game 6, we'd see Sabathia starting Game 7 on short rest, with a fully rested Pettitte available in relief if things get out of hand.
None of this is possible if Lee pitches Game 4. It’s a dumb decision that gives the advantage to the Yankees for the next two games. Joe Girardi has his faults as a manager, but right now he looks smart next to Charlie Manuel.
(On a final note: Is there a more annoying player in this series than Jimmy Rollins? He made an error in Game 1 that cost Lee the shutout and has done nothing offensively. Despite this, he will NOT SHUT UP. Should career 97 OPS+ guys be superstars? I say no.)
It's already been established that the new Stadium, regardless of how uproarious the crowd may or may not get, will never be able to echo the cacophonous euphoria of the old house, given its construction. From a recessed upper deck as opposed to one that loomed ominously over the field, to the fact that many areas of the stadium feature vast open air spaces where once there were concrete walls, there is no way the sound can possibly carry the same way it once did.
That being said, I was at both Games 1 and 2, and I thought the crowd was about as fired up as one would hope for at Yankee Stadium for the World Series. There were plenty of "Let's go Yan-kees!" chants emanating throughout the place leading up to the first pitch in Game 1 and throughout the game, and the crowd was definitely pumped up every time Sabathia got to two strikes.
That the tenor of the crowd deflated somewhat after it became apparent that the Yankees simply weren't going to get anything off Cliff Lee should not reflect poorly on the fanbase. I tend to be on one of the loudest people at the Stadium anytime I attend a Yankee game, standing up the instant our starter gets two strikes while screaming "two strikes!" at the top of my lungs to signal to everyone else in my lame section that they should be standing and cheering, but even I had a hard time maintaining enthusiasm as the Yankees were being completely stifled on offense.
Still, those remaining at the Stadium in the ninth of Game 1 got pumped back up when Jeter and Damon led off the inning with consecutive base hits for the first time all game. But at that point it was pretty clear the Yankees were not going to make up a six-run deficit. If it were 2-0 heading into the bottom of the 9th it would have been a different story. Not even if the biggest Yankee homer could have been expecting a six-run comeback that inning after Lee pitched the game of his life.
I thought the crowd was even better in Game 2 -- obviously winning helps, but from the moment the Yankees finally plated a run in the 4th off Tex's home run, the passion and zeal seemed to return to the Stadium, and the place was rocking through the remainder of the evening. By the 6th and 7th innings, there were even chants of "A-J! A-J! A-J!" -- similar to the "C-C! C-C! C-C!" chants that sprung up at Game 1 of the ALCS -- something that I never heard even one time at the Stadium all year.
Was the Stadium as loud as the old Stadium at either game? Probably not, but in addition to the way in which the new house was built, the organization hasn't exactly aided the situation by likely pricing many of the "louder" fans out of the game. It also doesn't help that Philadelphia is the closest Major League city to New York, so you had to expect a decent amount of Phillie fans to show up.
Actually, if I had one major gripe about the last two games, it would be the season ticket holders who are selling their tickets to Phillies fans. I couldn't believe how many opposing team fans were in my section the last two nights. Additionally, while I like the vantage point from my seats, for whatever reason section 331 has been one of the quietest in the upper deck all year, and sometimes I feel as though I have to singlehandedly cheerlead for the entire section.
My own complaints aside, I was, on the whole, satisfied with the fans' energy and enthusiasm. It seems like every Yankee fan has different expectations of what they feel like the crowd at Yankee Stadium "should" be doing, but it just doesn't work that way. Additionally, a big part of the problem is that the fans watching at home are only seeing the rich non-hardcore fans who can afford the insanely priced Legends tickets behind home plate and down the baselines, and unfortunately their apparent lack of interest on a pitch-by-pitch basis appears to be reflecting poorly on those of us upstairs in the peon seats.
Even in the World Series you're not going to have 45,000 die-hard scream-their-faces-off-until-their-vocal-chords-are-shredded-beyond-repair fans in the seats, unless the team decided to enact a policy of only selling playoff tickets to their most passionate and rabid fans instead of the ones with the deepest pockets. And seeing as how that will never happen, I think people need to let go of this "old Stadium insanity" mentality and embrace what's going on at the new home going forward. While it may never match the intensity of the old place, I think time -- along with a few World Series championships -- should help swell the pride of the fans attending games at the new Stadium that much more.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Burnett's best start as a Yankee leads New York to 3-1 Game 2 win over Phillies and knots World Series at 1-1
Burnett (9 Ks, 2BB, 4H) and Phillie starter Pedro Martinez (6 IP, 6H, 3ER, 2BB, 8K) locked horns in what wound up being a bit of a surprising pitcher's duel. I was amazed to see the Yankees flail at a wide variety of significantly off-speed pitches in the early going (the Yankee Stadium gun had Pedro's curve and change-up in the low 70s), and to Pedro's credit, he kept the Yankees bats off balance for the most part, registering an impressive eight strikeouts over his six innings.
After Burnett let a run in during the top of the 2nd inning on a Matt Stairs single past Alex Rodriguez that appeared fieldable -- at least from my vantage point in Section 331 -- it started to feel like Game 1 all over again, with the Phillies taking an early lead and their starter cruising.
Thankfully Mark Teixeira finally gave the Bronx faithful something to cheer about in the World Series, blasting a solo home run in the bottom of the 4th to knot the game at 1. From that poijnt on the tenor of the Stadium completely changed for the remainder of the game, from one of apprehension to one of supreme confidence. Hideki Matsui added a huge solo home run two innings later, and the Yankees would add a third run on a big Jorge Posada pinch-hit RBI single.
Burnett would continue to toss up zeroes, and looked stronger than he did all game in nearly striking out the side in the top of the 7th. All told it was Burnett's strongest outing in pinstripes by far, especially given the desire to not fall behind 0-2 heading into Philadelphia.
The Yankees looked poised to add more runs in the bottom of the 7th, with Derek Jeter at the plate, runners on 1st and 2nd and no out. Unfortunately what ensued will likely get glossed over by the media since the Yankees won, but I was utterly and absolutely apoplectic to the point of being ready to fire Joe Girardi on the spot were I the owner of the Yankees. Jeter -- the Yankees' best hitter in the postseason not named A-Rod -- squared to bunt.
That's right. Derek Jeter, who posted one of the finest offensive seasons of his Hall-of-Fame career and who has continued to hit in huge spots throughout the 2009 postseason while the majority of the lineup has languished, squared to bunt. It was bad enough that he did it once, but then he tried to do it again, and missed on called strike 2.
After Burnett made it through the seventh unscathed, Girardi finally decided to not get cute and went straight to his biggest weapon, Mariano Rivera, for a two-inning save. While you can't expect Mo to do this every game in the World Series, and Girardi's going to have to figure out exactly who he can trust in his bullpen, this was the right move for this game, as the Yankees absolutely could not afford to lose after taking the lead. Mo closed the 8th and 9th out without incident -- although it did require nearly 40 pitches -- evening the series up for the Yankees.
Not to be lost in this recap is the dominance of the Philly bullpen, which was viewed as something of a weakness coming into this series. Once Pedro was finally lifted in the 7th, the Philadelphia bullpen pitched three innings of two-hit, no-run ball, including four strikeouts -- three of which were recorded by Ryan Madson as he struck out the side in the bottom of the 8th.
It's also worth nothing that Alex Rodriguez is 0-8 in two World Series games with six strikeouts. As ant regular reader knows, I'm one of the biggest A-Rod supporters there is, so I don't read anything into this, but it would be great for the team if Alex can get his swing back on track. In any event, A-Rod is the least of my worries in an offense that has mustered four runs over two games. Girardi's simultaneous Hairston and Molina start didn't end up backfiring quite as disastrously as I'd thought (Hairston picked up a hit and Molina a walk), although the offense on the whole still looks to be scuffling.
The series now moves to Philadelphia, and the Yankees will send Andy Pettitte to the mound against Cole Hamels in Game 3. As Alex Rodriguez said in the postgame, it's now a five-game series. The Yankees only need to win one of the three games to send the series back to the Bronx, but hopefully they'll do at least one better. Regardless of what happens in the next few days, the Yankees gave their fans a new lease on life, at least for tonight, and hopefully the good feeling continues as the series moves on.
River Ave. Blues | Was Watching | RLYW
The Yankees have been employing a high-risk strategy in the playoffs. They’ve been leveraging CC Sabathia, assuming that he’s the best pitcher in each series they’ve played. Take his stellar performance out of the equation, and the Yankees are a more pedestrian 4-2 so far in October -- a number that recedes further still when all those extra innings games (read as, ties) are considered.
Last night the Phillies blew up that strategy. For at least one game Cliff Lee was the best pitcher still playing baseball. This complicates the Yankees' plans. Girardi has stated he intends to bring CC out on short rest in game 4. Charlie Manuel has said he’ll counter each Sabathia start with Lee. Now we know why. Even though Cliff Lee has never before started on short rest in the Bigs, we can expect he’ll rise to the occasion.
The Yankees need to employ a new strategy to beat the Phillies. Rather than assume they can continue riding CC’s brilliance they need to leverage the relative weakness of the rest of the Phillies’ rotation. Manuel’s announcement that Lee will match CC in starts, even on short rest, is the same as confessing that the Phillies don’t have a fourth starter.
Games 2 and 3 are now the Yankees best chance to take control in the Series. Lose even one of them and we face Lee, and potentially a 3-1 hole.
Tonight the Phillies face a first test of their own. Pitching Pedro Martinez in game 2 at Yankee Stadium is a fantastic idea, in 1999 (Who’s Your Daddy? Clap-Clap...Clap-Clap-Clap). Despite his troubles, A.J. Burnett should still be favored. The Yankees need to get into the Phillies bullpen, and early.
The Yankees' best chance to regain home field advantage is game 3. Andy Pettitte has been excellent this postseason. There’s been something terribly wrong with Cole Hamels this year. The Yankees need to capitalize on the depth of their top 3 starters before a potentially tired Sabathia faces off against Lee for the 2nd time.
The risks accelerate for the Yankees after game 4. Matching Sabathia against Lee is the right move. It’s better to try to neutralize him than concede a game starting Chad Gaudin (Joba cannot start, even a single game -- he’ll get lit up like the Brooklyn Bridge on the Fourth of July). The question is whether or not they also pitch A.J. and Pettitte on short rest as well.
A.J. Burnett last pitched on three days' rest when he was a Blue Jay in 2008. It’s easy to imagine the erratic Burnett hitting three and walking seven if he pitches tired, but his record in these situations is unexpectedly solid: 4-0 with a 2.33 ERA. The risk of starting A.J. on three days’ rest seems about the same as starting him on normal rest. If we’re lucky, he’ll plunk Jimmy Rollins.
Andy Pettitte hasn’t pitched on short rest since 2006. That’s all the analysis I need. When I began imagining this piece I was equally scared about pitching Burnett and Pettitte on three days' rest. But I’m comfortable assuming that Burnett can handle it; not so Pettitte. His career record is solid with a 3.93 ERA, similar to his regular season performance. Except Andy Pettitte is 37, completely ran out of gas in the 2nd half of last season, and had shoulder problems this season. Game 6 is always important if it gets played. Girardi should at least give thought to the serviceable Gaudin, especially if the Yankees are ahead.
The strategy isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. Pitching A.J. on short rest in game 5 may force Manuel’s hand again, except he has fewer options than Girardi. Pitch Joe Blanton, or Pedro. If the Yankees get to Pedro early tonight, they may not see him again in the Series. If Manuel starts the aging right hander on only three days' rest it may blow up in his face.
Starting Gaudin in place of Pettitte in game 6 may draw Cole Hamels to the mound on short rest as well. Hamels has been erratic this postseason and, like Lee, has never pitched on short rest in the major leagues. Rather than risk injury to Pettitte the Yankees may want to bank that the Phillies will pitch to a lower standard against Gaudin.
That would setup either CC on short rest or Pettitte on full-rest if the Series goes to 7 games. CC is approaching 260 innings this season, roughly the level when he lost steam last year. If he can’t get the job done quickly the Yankees could turn to a fully rested Andy Pettitte.
It appears Joe Girardi may be managing the Yankees out of Game 2 before a pitch has even been thrown
I don't necessarily disagree in theory with giving a guy like Swisher a break, considering how horrendous he's looked at the plate, but I'm not certain Game 2 of the World Series is the time to do it, especially down 1-0. According to LoHud, Girardi "liked Hairston’s history of success against Pedro. He has eight hits in 24 ABs and a .907 OPS."
This has Enrique Wilson written all over it, and I don't like it one bit. Additionally, everyone assumed the Jose Molina experiment was finally over, given Burnett's miserable 1st inning in Game 5 of the ALCS. It's bad enough the Yankees' eight other batters in the lineup are hitting like Jose Molina; now we get to have a full Molina nine.
I sure hope I'm wrong on this and Girardi's questionable tactical moves actually pay off, but a 7/8/9 of Melky, Jerry Hairston and Jose Molina tonight with the team about to head to a National League park for three games and the Yankee offense sucking like its late October/early November 2001 does not exactly inspire a world of confidence.
Maybe Hairston and Molina prove me wrong and end up being cogs in a key rally tonight, or maybe the big Yankee bats that are supposed to be responsible for producing runs actually do some real damage and the starting of Hairston and Molina in this game ends up going overlooked. Girardi is most certainly hoping for the latter outcome, but these still seem like needless risks that shouldn't even be taken in the first place, especially with a weaker Pedro Martinez on the mound and an offense (that should include Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher) ready to break out.
I'm reluctant to call tonight a must-win, although trailing 0-2 going into Philly won't exactly be an ideal situation. Unfortunately Philadelphia taking Game 1 tipped the odds of winning the series significantly in their favor. Prior to last night the Yankees were 60/40 favorites, and now that's been reversed. However, I'm not going to push the panic button, because I do still feel the Yankees are a better team.
I think it's also easy for Yankee fans to occasionally lose perspective, myself included. It seems like anytime the Yankee bats scuffle or they take a tough loss, it was the Yankees' fault, and not, say, the pitcher actually executing and doing a great job.
Additionally, if the Yankees wind up winning the next three and Philly the following two to force a Game 7, we'd all be up in arms because the Yankees couldn't close the Phillies out when they had a chance. Maybe it's a good thing for the Yankees to have to finally play with a little bit of urgency this postseason -- not that I want to see the team pressing, but the offense has been pretty nonexistent throughout the playoffs despite enjoying mostly comfortable positions in their previous series.
Mike Scioscia and the Angels didn't exactly sound the alarm after going down 0-2, although they were heading to their home park, so that may have played into it somewhat. Still, it's important to remember that the Yankees haven't had to play with their backs against the wall yet this postseason, and have also been stellar at digging their way out of trouble all year. Not that I want this to happen, but I think this Yankee team could back from 0-3 if it had to, provided the bats actually wake up.
In any event, if the team wants to at least give the appearance of staying competitive in this series, they really do need to take tonight's Game 2 against Pedro, who is arguably the weakest Phillies' starting pitcher they'll face in the World Series; otherwise the media and even some of the saner members of the fanbase will start burying them before they even board the bus to Philadelphia.
On the other side of the ball, CC Sabathia pitched well (7IP, 4H, 2ER, 3BB, 6K), although labored through a good portion of his seven innings. The Phillies looked like they might break things open right away against Sabathia in the top of the 1st, but CC was able to wriggle out of trouble. The only two runs Sabathia yielded were two solo home runs by Chase Utley. It's very hard to quibble with two runs yielded over seven full, and probably even harder to quibble with those two runs coming off the bat of the best second baseman in Major League Baseball. Even if Sabathia had been near-perfect the Yankees may not have won this game given the way Cliff Lee was dealing.
As it was, if the Yankees had any hope of mounting a late-inning comeback, those plans were dashed as the bullpen punted the game away, giving up four runs over the last two frames. Phil Hughes continued to struggle, walking the only two batters he faced to start the 8th inning, while David Robertson allowed two of his inherited runners to score. Credit goes to Damaso Marte, who continued to be quietly effective, retiring the only two men he faced.
With a 4-0 deficit coming into the top of the 9th, Girardi apparently agreed with the majority of the crowd that the game was over, going to beleaguered reliever Brian Bruney. Bruney promptly rewarded Joe by giving up three hits and two runs, one of which was scored after Phil Coke relieved Bruney and lucked into a bad baserunning play by Shane Victorino to get out of the inning.
With the exception of Derek Jeter, who went 3-4, the Yankees' offensive woes continued. Even Alex Rodriguez finally cooled off, as the heart of the order combined to go 1-12 with seven strikeouts. Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher continued to look terrible at the plate, and are batting .211 and .114 on the postseason, respectively. Additionally, Mark Teixeria is batting .186.
The game marked the Yankees' first loss at home and the first time the team has been down in the 2009 postseason. For what it's worth, the last time the Yankees lost Game 1 of the World Series at home was 1996. The last team to lose the first game of the World Series at home and go on to win the championship was the 2002 Angels.
While it's tough to lose the first game of any series, especially at home, there's still plenty of baseball left, and as great as Cliff Lee was, the Phillies are not going to see another performance like this from any of their starters. Even if Lee comes back to pitch Game 4 and a potential Game 7, it seems highly unlikely he could be this good again, unless the Yankee bats decide to continue their World Series 2001 (.183/.240/.288) and 2003 (.261/.338/.406) reunion tours and painfully go simultaneously lifeless at the worst possible time.
River Ave. Blues | RLYW Complaint Thread | Was Watching
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tonight (assuming they play) marks the first World Series game at Yankee Stadium since Josh Beckett utterly schooled the Yankees in the decisive Game 6 on October 25, 2003. It will also somehow mark the first World Series game I've ever attended (and I'll be at Game 2, as well), which seems mind-boggling given that I've been to well over 100 Yankee games in my life, including 10 regular season games this year and three thus far this postseason (in which they have gone 3-0).
Getting back to 2003 just for a moment, though I had graduated the previous May, I remember watching this game in the common room of my college fraternity, as we apparently took a trip back to Lehigh that weekend. I'm sure I was upset at the time, but I honestly don't recall being too bent out of shape, as my attendance at the Aaron Boone game and subsequent euphoria at the Yankees knocking the Sox off more or less felt like a World Series victory to me.
This time things are a bit different. While I've been a huge Yankee fan my entire life, my passion for the team has grown even more intense during the last several years -- something I didn't think possible -- largely due to the advent of the elite Yankee blogs, most of which weren't even in existence the last time the Yankees were in the World Series and have enabled countless fans like myself to supplement their experience with fantastic commentary on a daily basis, even throughout the offseason.
Additionally, as a 28-year-old adult, not having experienced the joy of a championship since I was a teenager -- not to mention that last World Series victory in 2000 came during an era in baseball when it seemed like the Yankees might never lose again -- may also have something to do with it.
The Yankees send lefty CC Sabathia (3-0, 1.19 ERA, 20Ks) to the hill against lefty Cliff Lee (2-0, 0.74 ERA, 20Ks), both of whom have been outstanding thus far in the postseason. It's hard to envision either hurler faltering, so I'd expect this game to come down to the bullpens.
I imagine Philly will be running out its standard lineup, with Raul Ibanez at DH and Ben Franciso starts in LF. You can be certain that the Yankees' lineup tonight will look like this:
Feel free to use this post as a pre-game, game or post-game thread. And, most importantly, LET'S GO YAN-KEES!
Lost amid the excitement of the YES Network’s pregame coverage of Game 6 of the ALCS was a segment looking into the offensive struggles of a Yankee who was a major contributor during the regular season but whose bat had gone cold in the playoffs. That Yankee: Nick Swisher. I know what you’re thinking. I thought it too -- Nick Swisher?!
I’ve taken the liberty of pasting below the entire everyday Yankees lineup, along with their regular season slash stats and postseason slash stats. I’ve also put the list in order of the player the Yankees most needed to contribute this postseason through to the player that could die and the team would pretty much be fine (sorry Melky, nothing personal):
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The logic behind this order is that A-Rod and Tex are the best all-around hitters on the team. If those two get hot at the same time the Yankees are unbeatable, all other things being equal. The table setters come next because if they’re hot the Yankees get more production from the big bats. After that things are a bit fungible, except for the last two positions, which firmly belong to Swisher and Melky. That’s not only my opinion. It’s also Joe Girardi’s. This is where he bats those two in the lineup.
With the logic of this order behind us, a few things immediately stand out. First, I owe Melky an apology, may he live a long, healthy life. Second, A-Rod: Holy crap! Third, Nick Swisher is, hands down, performing the worst of any offensive Yankee so far in the postseason. Fourth, at least three Yankees whose offensive contributions have been consistently more important than Swisher’s are also performing badly. Teixeira heads that list.
It’s unfortunate that the Yankees have to continue to roll out a player performing as badly through two postseason series as Swisher, but if the media is going to turn a critical eye to any of the Bronx Bombers, it would have to be Tex. Thankfully his bat has had some life in it the past couple of games -- quite a bit, actually -- but that only means he was producing as badly as Swisher through the first seven games of the playoffs, and Tex is much more critical to the team’s success. He is also the third-highest paid player in the sport, and potentially the face of the Yankees’ future. This is just the beginning for him.
If there was ever any logic behind vilifying A-Rod in postseasons past (there wasn’t), then this year those who feel compelled to crown "True Yankees" should be turning their scrutiny toward the expensive Teixeira, right? Right?
Wrong. Choosing to attack Nick Swisher and suggest that Girardi was only keeping him in the lineup because he had even less faith in Jerry Hairston (I’m talking to you, Michael Kay) only serves, at best, to waste airtime and at worst to potentially undermine the confidence of two Yankees before the biggest game of the season thus far. Given that no one other than a Yankees player or owner has more to gain from the Yankees continued success than the YES booth makes it crazy that they’d dedicate time to this. That the piece picked the wrong target only adds insult to injury.
It makes no sense to attack Nick Swisher. All he did was give the Yankees 29 homers and a high OBP for less than $6 million. It would make even less sense to focus the piece on Teixeira, its rightful target, because he was also the AL leader in HRs and RBI and a Gold Glove candidate at 1B.
The Yankees can’t simultaneously be a $200 million juggernaut with overpriced All-Stars at every position as well as the sole responsibility of a single underperforming player when the postseason comes around. YES, the Daily News, the Post and the rest of them shouldn’t waste ink or airtime in a successful postseason picking apart any single player, especially not when so many players are performing below expectations. If they insist on destroying one of their own, the least they can do is pick the right guy.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The final opponent standing in the Yankees' way are the Philadelphia Phillies, who were arguably the best team in the National League in 2009, making this the first World Series in some time in which the presumptive best teams in their respective leagues are squaring off. Much has been made of the Phillies' American League-style offense, and it's not an exaggeration -- I got to see what the Phillies are capable of firsthand back at the Stadium on Friday, May 22 -- and in taking the three-game set that weekend, Philadelphia wound up becoming one of only two teams with a winning record against the Yankees at home in 2009. The other team? Why, the mighty Washington Nationals, natch.
Of course, that was five months ago, and both teams have changed considerably since then, with the Yankees going 78-40 the rest of the way, dominating the American League while making relatively few major roster tweaks; and the Phillies posting a slightly less impressive 69-51 record against inferior competition and adding 2008 AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee.
The Yankees had the best home record in baseball in 2009, going 57-24, while the Phillies went 45-36 at Citizens Bank Ballpark. Both teams have gone 7-2 so far in the postseason. Given the teams' proximity to each other, there will also be a fair number of opposing teams' fans in the seats at each game, although whatever presence the opposition's fanbase may have won't be a match for the home team's fans. It's also worth noting that the Yankees have yet to lose at home in the playoffs, winning all 5 games that have been played at Yankee Stadium in October, and also haven't suffered a loss at their new digs since the last home game of the season against the Royals nearly a month ago.
Here are some selected Yankees and Phillies team stats from the 2009 regular season, with league ranking:
New York Yankees
Runs: 915 (1st, 5.6/game)
HR: 244 (1st)
BA: .283 (2nd)
OBP: .362 (1st)
SLG: .478 (1st)
wOBA: .366 (1st)
Overall ERA: 4.26 (T-3rd); Starters: 4.48 (5th); Bullpen: 3.91 (5th)
ERA+: 104 (6th)
K/9: 7.82 (1st)
WHIP: 1.35 (T-2nd)
Runs: 820 (1st, 5.1/game)
HR: 224 (1st)
BA: .258 (9th)
OBP: .334 (8th)
SLG: .447 (1st)
wOBA: .340 (T-1st)
Overall ERA: 4.16 (6th); Starters: 4.29 (7th); Bullpen: 3.91 (9th)
ERA+: 103 (8th)
K/9: 7.13 (10th)
WHIP: 1.35 (6th)
And even though nine games apiece is a small sample size, we may as well take a look at what these two teams have done to get where they are today, so here are their 2009 postseason numbers:
New York Yankees
Runs: 48 (5.3/game)
Overall ERA: 2.46; Starters: 2.55; Bullpen: 2.28
Runs: 55 (6.1/game)
Overall ERA: 3.04; Starters: 3.11; Bullpen: 3.24
These are clearly two very evenly matched offensive teams, which is a feather in Philly's cap considering that they have an automatic out in the nine hole every three innings or so. It's a bit scary to think of what they could accomplish with a DH. The Yankees and the Phillies were the top two home run-hitting teams in their respective leagues, and given the friendly confines of both home ballparks, we could see a hefty number of longballs in the World Series. However, the Yankees' pitching staff has been astounding at keeping the ball in the park in the playoffs, yielding only three home runs to the opposition and a shocking zero at home.
Here is my position-by-position rundown, and I'm including 2009 postseason lines below the regular season slash lines this time to provide some additional context.
Phillies: Carlos Ruiz
.255/.355/.425; wOBA .337
Yankees: Jorge Posada
.285/.363/.522; wOBA .378
Jeff Mathis alert -- Carlos Ruiz is the type of scrubby player who for whatever reason seems to kill the Yankees . He had a great series against the Yanks in May, so they should be more than prepared for Ruiz this time around. Jorge Posada is still miles better than Ruiz, even if he has made a number of bizarre boneheaded moves this postseason. Additionally, one hopes that Girardi is finally ready to dispose of the Jose Molina experiment after the four-run first inning debacle in Game 5, especially since the Yankees will be DH-less on the road. Cabrera/Molina/pitcher in the 7/8/9 slots is nauseatingly awful.
Phillies: Ryan Howard
.279/.360/.571; wOBA .393
Yankees: Mark Teixeira
.292/.383/.565; wOBA .402
This match-up is even closer than Tex v. Kendry Morales. Everyone knows Ryan Howard is a beast, and is probably the most David Ortizian-type of hitter the Yankees will face this postseason. Tex seemed to be breaking out of his slow playoff start during the last few games of the ALCS, and has seemingly saved a ton of runs on the defensive side of the ball. The overall numbers give Big Tex a slight edge, but Howard is right there with him, and has been far more dangerous thus far in the playoffs.
Phillies: Chase Utley
.282/.397/.508; wOBA .402
Yankees: Robinson Cano
.320/.352/.520; wOBA .370
Chase Utley destroys Robbie Cano, and it's not even particularly close. Cano had a fine year, but he's just not in Utley's league. Still, second basemen like Chase Utley don't come around too often, and Cano's not exactly a slouch, either. Would love to see Robbie pick up the BA and SLG if possible, although he seems to be getting on base at a semi-reasonable clip.
Phillies: Jimmy Rollins
.250/.296/.423; wOBA .316
Yankees: Derek Jeter
.334/.406/.465; wOBA .390
Jimmy Rollins has to be one of the more overrated players in baseball. Allowing a .296 OBP to leadoff for an entire season should be a firable offense. Derek Jeter posted one of the best seasons of his hall-of-fame career and is one of two Yankees OPSing over 1.000 for the postseason.
Phillies: Pedro Feliz
.266/.308/.386; wOBA .302
Yankees: Alex Rodriguez
.286/.402/.532; wOBA .405
Yikes, this has to be the biggest mismatch on the field. Of course, now that I say that watch Feliz pull a Jeff Mathis. Kidding aside, A-Rod obviously crushes Feliz in every conceivable way possible. Additionally, Rodriguez -- who looks as locked in as I've ever seen him -- has effectively slain his postseason demons, probably should have been co-MVP of the ALCS, and may be the most feared hitter on either team right now.
Phillies: Raul Ibanez
.272/.347/.552; wOBA .379
Yankees: Johnny Damon
.282/.365/.489; wOBA .376
Ibanez started 2009 on an absolute tear and looked poised to post absurd full-season numbers. After an injury and steroid accusation, he cooled down from his torrid pace although still had a fantastic season, proving to be a great free-agent signing for the defending champion Phillies. Johnny Damon had a great year until cooling off in September and subsequently looking really bad in the ALDS before picking his game up slightly in the ALCS. He did pick up the biggest hit of Game 6, but that sub-.300 OBP is rough, and he'll need to improve on that if the Yankees are going to continue to win games.
Phillies: Shane Victorino
.292/.358/.445; wOBA .354
Yankees: Melky Cabrera
.274/.336/.416; wOBA .331
Melky, for all my dumping on him, has actually put together one of the better postseason lines in the Yankee lineup. Unfortunately for Melk, Shane Victorino not only smoked him in the regular season, but is hitting out of his mind in the playoffs.
Phillies: Jayson Werth
.268/.373/.506; wOBA .382
Yankees: Nick Swisher
.249/.371/.498; wOBA .375
After two series previews in which there was much hemming and hawing over my decision to give the right field nod to Nick Swisher, along comes a player who is not only better than Swish, but has also been as good in the playoffs as Swisher has been bad. Jayson Werth is one of four Phillies OPSing over 1.000 for the playoffs, and he'll continue to be one of the tougher outs in that lineup.
Phillies: Ben Francisco, Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs
.278/.317/.526; wOBA .341, .247/.296/.383; wOBA .296, .194/.357/.379; wOBA .327
.000/.000/.000, .000/.000/.000, .000/.500/.000
Yankees: Hideki Matsui
.274/.367/.509; wOBA .378
This is probably a silly match-up to look at given that the Phillies have no comparable players, and I have no idea who Charlie Manuel will slot in as DH, but it seems like it would be one of these three. Regardless of who the Phils go with as their extra hitter, it's safe to say that Matsui is a more productive batter. My only concern with Godzilla is that he looked really uncomfortable in a number of his plate appearances in Anaheim, and didn't appear to be much better in Game 6 back in the Bronx, but hopefully these few days off will cure whatever ails him.
So our tally on the offense is Yankees: 4, Phillies: 4, Tie: 1
So again, we are obviously looking at two very evenly matched offensive ballclubs. While the Angels had arguably the 2nd- or 3rd-best offense in the American League, it doesn't quite match the thunder of Philadelphia's lineup, and extending the no-home-runs-surrendered-at-home streak is going to take yeoman's work on the part of the Yankee pitching staff. Of course, the 2009 Yankees aren't exactly offensive slouches themselves.
As you can see from the team stats I compiled much earlier in this post, the similarities between the Yankees and the Phillies extend to the pitching side of the equation as well. That being said, Philadelphia's rotation strikes me as a tad thin -- while Cliff Lee has been remarkable since being acquired from the Indians, Cole Hamels has apparently lost much of his dominant 2008 form which has incredibly led to the news that Pedro Martinez is starting Game 2 at Yankee Stadium, and 4th starter Joe Blanton is a perennial Yankee punching bag.
Of course, the Yankees only have three real starters themselves, but outside of A.J. Burnett's terrible 1st inning in Game 5 of the ALCS, they have received a quality start in every other postseason outing. ALCS MVP CC Sabathia in particular has been everything the Yankees could have hoped for after making him the richest pitcher in Major League Baseball last winter.
I'm admittedly not terribly familiar with Philly's pen, although I've heard it referred to as one of the Phillies' few weaknesses, and given closer Brad Lidge's on and off struggles (how did he manage to put up a 7.21 ERA while collecting 31 saves over 58.2 innings? That seems impossibly bad), I'd imagine the Yankees should be able to tag Philly relievers for runs the way they've been beating bullpens up all year.
Obviously the Yankee pen hasn't been quite as lockdown as was hoped prior to the postseason, with Phil Hughes' and Joba Chamberlain's struggles -- although perhaps Joba turned a corner after getting two big outs in the 7th inning of Game 6 -- but it's still been pretty excellent, authoring a 2.28 ERA and continuing to get legendary performances out of the ageless Mariano Rivera (0.84 ERA in 10.2 IP), whose six-out save in Game 6 was his all-time postseason-leading 37th.
Game 1: CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA, 133 ERA+) v. Cliff Lee (7-4, 3.39, 126 ERA+)
Game 1's matchup of former Cy Young winners and Cleveland Indians teammates should be a treat for fans of a good old fashioned pitcher's duel. Sabathia has been absurdly good in the postseason as has Lee. The Yankees also haven't had much success against Lee since the switch went off two years ago and he seemingly magically became one of the best pitchers in baseball. Still, the Yankees should be able to get to Lee for at least a couple runs, and with the way Sabathia has been chucking the ball, that could be enough. As I said in Game 1 of the ALCS, this may very well be decided by the respective bullpens, and if so, I like the Yankees' chances of taking it down.
Game 2: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04 ERA, 110 ERA+) v. Pedro Martinez (5-1, 3.63 ERA, 118 ERA+)
Unless Charlie Manuel knows something the rest of us don't, starting Pedro Martinez in Game 2 seems like a horrendous idea on his part, similar to Mike Scioscia going to Joe Saunders in both Games 2 and 6 in the ALCS. Scioscia coaxed a gem from Saunders in Game 2, but the magic pixie dust finally ran out by the end of the series, essentially dooming the Angels. As great as Pedro has been during his career, he is obviously nowhere near the Pedro of old, and it's not like the Yankees really had that much trouble handling him even when he was great. Pedro may have pitched respectably down the stretch, but he also got to face some light-hitting National League lineups, and the potent Yankee offense will not be as forgiving. I could see this one getting out of hand quickly, unless Burnett decides to crap the bed again.
Game 3: Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA, 107 ERA+) v. Cole Hamels (10-11, 4.32 ERA, 99 ERA+)
Hard to believe that last year's golden boy Cole Hamels was a below-average pitcher in 2009, but the numbers don't lie. Hamels pitched reasonably well in his one start against the Yankees in May 24, tossing 6 innings of two-run ball on eight hits while striking out five. Pettitte was OK against the Phils the day prior, hurling 7 innings of 4-run ball on 5 hits with five Ks of his own. Andy's been excellent in all three starts in the 2009 postseason, highlighted by the decisive Game 6 victory on Sunday that made him the winningest postseason pitcher of all time. Not to diminish what Hamels is capable of, but I think this matchup also favors the Yankees.
The Yankees haven't yet revealed their plans for Game 4, although it seems all but certain that Sabathia would pitch on short rest again. Additionally, you have to figure CC is champing at the bit to get some hacks in at Citizens Bank. If the Yankees decide to skip Chad Gaudin, which, given that he hasn't started in a month and the fact that this is the World Series and you want to give yourself the best possible chance to win with your best guys on the mound, they should almost certainly opt to do, the team will be running out A.J. Burnett on short rest for Game 5 if necessary, Pettitte on short rest for Game 6 and Sabathia on short rest once again for Game 7.
It appears the Phillies would counter with either Blanton (12-8, 4.05, 106 ERA+) or J.A. Happ (12-4, 2.93, 146 ERA+) in Game 4, while trotting out Lee on regular rest for Game 5. Starting Happ over Blanton would appear to be a no-brainer for the Phillies, especially since Happ fared well in his only career outing against the Yankees, throwing 6 innings of 2-run ball, although Happ didn't fare so well in his only start of the postseason while Blanton did, so it may not be as cut and dry as it appears.
So, for the last time in the 2009 season, what does all of this analysis tell us? On paper, the Yankees and Phillies are extremely evenly matched on offense, with the Phils hitting even better than the Yankees have through nine postseason games. The Yankees may lose some of their firepower having to play two and potentially three games in a National League ballpark, but hopefully the big bats will make having to bat a pitcher in the nine hole irrelevant. While I believe the numbers give the home team something like a small 52-48 edge, the Yankees having home field should work to their advantage, given the way the team has played at home all year and through October.
The Yankees also look to have the edge in both starting and relief pitching. As we've seen thus far in the postseason, the old "good pitching beats good hitting" maxim has held true throughout the Yankees' run to the crown, and if the Yankees continue to get great pitching performances, they should be able to beat the Phillies and beat them relatively quickly.
I'm a perfect 2-2 in predicting specific Yankee playoff outcomes in the 2009 postseason (not to mention I texted my brother right before the start of the bottom of the 4th in Game 6 to tell him that the Yankees would be tagging Saunders for exactly three runs that inning), so needless to say I feel pretty good about my prognosticating skills. I won't be so bold as to predict a sweep, as I expect the Phils' offense to power them to at least one win, but the Yankees are clearly the best team in baseball, with the best lineup and pitching staff the franchise has fielded in quite some time, and should be favored as such to win their 27th World Championship.
World Series prediction: Yankees, 4-2.
Other playoff previews
RAB: Phillies Starters | RAB: Phillies Infield | RLYW | FanGraphs | Bronx Banter | Pinstriped Bible Part 1 | Pinstriped Bible Part 2 | RAB: The Bullpen | RAB: The Outfield
Monday, October 26, 2009
Setting aside the Steinbrenner family’s gargantuan annual expectations for the Yankees, one thing is certain: 2009 has been a fantastic success for the team on the field, no matter when the Yankees’ season comes to its eventual end. The team put up its best record since 2002, has advanced deeper into the playoffs than at any time since Alex Rodriguez moved to New York, has already begun generating a return on its expensive off-season shopping spree, and, for anyone living in the City, has anecdotally breathed new life into the fan base.
Yankee haters -- yeah, those guys, and there are plenty in New York, even if they can’t get heard right now -- will try to marginalize the team’s success, as they always do. They tend to focus on one number: $200 million, also know as the number of dollars the team plays its players. The argument, embraced by Yankee fans and detractors alike, is best captured by the tagline on Nomaas: “If we had $200 million to burn, the Yankees would never lose a game.”
This season there is a better number to focus on: 15.8. That’s the difference between the combined 2009 WARP and the combined 2008 WARP for Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui, otherwise known as half the team. For those who don’t know, Baseball Prospectus defines WARP as the number of wins a player’s combined offensive and defensive performance contributed above what that team would expect to get from a replacement-level player, or what Yankee fans call a Cody Ransom.
In an alternate universe in which Xavier Nady’s elbow still falls off, but Cano, Melky, Swisher, Jorge and Hideki perform to their 2008 levels, the Yankees only win 87 games. The team would have added CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, gotten the same 2009 performances from Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez (both of which were completely unexpected) and won two games LESS than it did in 2008. In this alternate universe the Yankees play a one-game playoff against Texas for the Wild Card, and George Steinbrenner’s head explodes all over Brian Cashman.
There are two more numbers that are also worth looking at: 10.1 and $12.8 million. These are the combined improvement in WARP from 2008 to 2009 and the combined dollars paid to Cano, Melky and Swisher. If we exclude Jorge and Hideki, both of whom performed well ahead of their expectations but are also two of the most expensive players in baseball at their positions, the Yankees still benefited in 2009 from outsized performances from the bottom of the order for great value, at least as far as the Yankees are concerned. A hypothetical 93-win Yankee team with a combined OBP of .313 from its 7, 8 and 9 hitters—which is what we would have gotten had Cano, Melky and Swisher not turned it around in 2009—looks vulnerable, and opens the ALDS on the road, IN Anaheim.
Should the Yankees go on to win the World Series in 2009, amid the praise and Yankee fan jubilation, there will no doubt be detractors who will bemoan baseball’s lack of a salary cap, and the Yankees’ bloated payroll. The argument will be that for $200 million the Yankees bought the championship (even though it was something they failed to do in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, other years the Yankees also had the highest payroll in the game and little to show for it). This argument is flat-out wrong.
The success of the 2009 Yankees, win it all or lose it all, was unexpected, and rested as much on the performance of the team’s least paid, most overlooked players, as it did on its superstars. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system for predicting player performance, for example, shows that Robinson Cano performed above the 90th percentile of his expected performance, while Nick Swisher reached his 90th percentile projection. Never mind that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada also performed above their PECOTA-predicted levels.
Yankee fans should take pride in a successful 2009 season even if the team doesn’t win another game. The 2009 Yankees didn’t just make it to the World Series. They actually put forward an unexpected performance that took resurgent seasons from established superstars A-Rod and Derek Jeter, difficult transitions to the pressure of the Bronx for newcomers CC, Tex and A.J., and outsized, unpredicted successes from Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Melky Cabrera (to say nothing of Jorge and Hideki) to produce.
Money doesn’t buy that kind of success, and it didn’t buy it for us in the past. That is why I was screaming as loud as anyone in the top of the 7th in Game 5 at Anaheim as the Yankees plated six highly unexpected runs to take the lead, and cringing as much as anyone as the bullpen unraveled and gave it all back in the bottom of that same inning. By all accounts the 2009 season has already been a magical one. But will anyone stop to appreciate it if the Yankees don’t bring home number 27?
This is the first post from new Yankeeist writer Mike Jaggers-Radolf.
Yankees secure first World Series berth since 2003; beat Angels 5-2 in Game 6 while taking ALCS 4 games to 2
The Angels drew first blood against Pettitte -- who was phenomenal, and whose final line was 6.1 IP, 7H, 1ER, 1BB and 6K -- in the 3rd inning on a Bobby Abreu RBI single.
Fortunately the Yankees -- like so many other instances in the 2009 postseason -- came roaring back shortly thereafter, tagging Angels' starter Joe Saunders for three runs on a huge Johnny Damon bases loaded singles and an Alex Rodriguez bases loaded walk in the bottom of the 4th. The Yankees looked poised to break the game open even further until Mike Scioscia summoned Darren Oliver who subsequently continued his mastery of the Yankees (save Mark Teixeria's bases-clearing double in Game 5) by eliciting a Jorge Posada double play and pitching 2 2/3 innings of shutout baseball.
Pettitte held the line, turning in a vintage Andy Pettitte performance that ultimately secured Andy his 16th -- and all-time MLB record -- postseason victory. Joba Chamberlain came on with one out in the 7th inning and retired both batters he faced, giving way to Mariano Rivera for a six-out save in the 8th inning.
The Angels made things interesting, plating a run off Rivera in the top of the 8th to cut the deficit to one, but the Yankees took advantage of two more Angels' errors in the bottom half of the 8th to plate two huge insurance runs, which would ultimately prove to be more than enough as Mariano finished Los Angeles off without incident in the top of the 9th inning.
The offensive stars of the game for the Yankees included Derek Jeter, who didn't collect a hit but drew three walks; Johnny Damon, whose 2-run single with the bases loaded in the 4th turned the tenor of the game in the Yankee's favor; Mark Teixeria, who continued to battle his way out of his playoff slump with a 2-4 night and one RBI; and Alex Rodriguez, who continued his torrid October with a perfect night, reaching base in all five at-bats on two hits and three walks, bringing his nine-game postseason slash stat line to .438/.548/.969/1.516.
Offensive goats included Jorge Posada, who had several chances to knock in some key insurance runs but wound up going 0-5; and Hideku Matsui, who continued to look lost at the plate and turned in another 0-4 evening. Even the much-maligned Nick Swisher finally picked up a base hit in the game-turning 4th inning and scored a run.
So the Yankees now advance to the World Series for the first time since 2003, and the first time since the top Yankee blogs became a daily staple of my life. The Yankees meet the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series for the first time since 1950 (the Yankees swept that series 4-0), in a set that starts Wednesday night. By most accounts, these were the two best teams in baseball this year, and so it seems fitting that they should meet each other in the World Series.
River Ave. Blues | Bronx Banter | Was Watching | RLYW | No Maas
Sunday, October 25, 2009
It initially sounded as though Jered Weaver might toe the rubber for the Angels in Game 6, a development which pleased me no end, as the Yankees have mostly been able to handle Weaver, especially in their home ballpark. However, it appears that Mike Scioscia is also sticking with his original starter, Joe Saunders, which is probably the right move here, especially when you look at Saunders' last two outings against the Yankees, the latter of which came in this very ALCS:
September 21, 2009: 8.1 IP, 7H, 2R, 0BB, 3K
October 17, 2009: 7 IP, 6H, 2R, 1BB, 5K
Of course, Saunders is likely due for some market correction, and if the Yankees can actually get to Saunders early for once, they may end up seeing Weaver enter the game anyway.
The Yankees counter with Andy Pettitte, who would become the winningest postseason pitcher of all time if he can nail down a victory. It goes without saying that this is a big game for both teams, and arguably even moreso for the Yankees, who definitely do not want to have to play a Game 7 on Monday, which would require the use of CC Sabathia and subsequently make the big man available for only two starts in the World Series.
If the Yankees win the ALCS in seven games, A.J. Burnett would then start Game 1 of the World Series, followed by Pettitte in Game 2 on Thursday and Sabathia in Game 3 on Saturday. If the Yankees stayed with the three-man rotation, each starter would have to pitch on short rest throughout the World Series, with Burnett in the pivotal Game 1, 4 and 7 slots.
So it behooves the Yankees to wrap this thing up tonight, which they're definitely going to do, especially since I called the sweep of the Twins and had the Yankees in 6 in my ALCS preview. As wonderful as it would have been to take the ALCS in 5 games, as many have noted, every Yankee fan prior to the series' start would have gladly taken a 3-2 edge over the Angels going into Game 6 at Yankee Stadium, and now it's time for the Yankees to finish the job.