Winter Meetings and roster shifting

I am ashamed it’s taken me almost 3 weeks to publish, but I do have completely legitimate reasons that really none of you care about (geography, health, holidays, stress, source issues, writer’s block, etc.). So I apologize for my procrastination, and here we go because there’s a lot to cover.

Okay, Winter Meetings in sunny San Diego are underway and providing interesting fodder for rumors and then confirmation of a few of them. This unfortunately includes David Robertson departing the pinstripes for… well, pinstripes. Robertson is on his way to play for the pinstriped men of the Second City, known to the world as the Chicago White Sox. The Sox deal locks him in for 4 years and $46 million, which leaves the Yankees with a bonus draft pick because Robertson declined the option last month and then opted to sign elsewhere. We wish Robertson and his family well on his new endeavors, except (of course) when the Yankees play them towards the end of next season.

In his stead, the Yankees are left looking to their current bullpen like Betances, Warren, Whitley, and Phelps leap to mind, but as we all know, the Spring will certainly shake things up in that (and every other) area. But I know they are looking to reinforce the pen, as they did with the signing of Andrew Miller, a free agent most recently with the Orioles and Red Sox. The left-handed reliever threw 103 strikeouts in 62.1 innings over 73 games just last year and is very comfortable in the set-up role, but (on par with many recent signees) he is willing to fill whatever role they ask of him. Another reason Spring is crucial is to play around with the bullpen and see where all the pieces fall into a comfortable rhythm.

In another recent move, the Yankees, the Tigers, and the Diamondbacks negotiated a 3-team trade deal. The Yankees sent Shane Greene to the Tigers, the Tigers sent a pitcher and minor leaguer to the Diamondbacks, and the Diamondbacks sent shortstop Didi Gregorius to the Yankees. In other words, everyone was wondering who was going to fill that monster hole in the middle infield, and this is the answer — Didi Gregorius. Well, it will probably be split between him and Brendan Ryan.

Also if you’re keeping track of anything in the Baby Bomber world, the Yankees denied arbitration with outfielder Slade Heathcott and pitchers Jose Campos and David Huff; all three elected free agency.

And because no Yankee post seems to be complete without news from a recently retired Captain, here’s the update…

There are postseason awards given by MLB Network affectionately called “GIBBYS“, short for “Greatness in Baseball Yearly” Awards. Basically, it’s a collection of moments in the season that fans, viewers, and network people vote for the best of those moments in specially decided categories. Jeter’s final Yankee Stadium game was the winner in two categories — what became known as the “2 Good to Be True” highlight became the Moment of the Year and the Walk-Off of the Year. If you can’t remember that moment (and apparently were in hibernation somewhere in September), this link is to jog your memory.

And Jeter hosted his annual Turn 2 Foundation Holiday Express for local kids, gifting them with packs filled by his “Jeter’s Leaders” a few weeks ago, hanging out with Santa, and then treating them to an early release of the upcoming kids’ movie Annie, a redone, updated version to be released nationwide on Christmas Day. I know it’s always a highlight and a treat for the kids of New York.

Well, with Winter Meetings still in progress, I can imagine there is a handful of other announcements to be made in the near future before everyone hunkers down for the holidays.

Go Yankees!

Game 158: BAL vs. NYY — Eliminated from October baseball

It’s official. With today’s loss against the visiting Orioles, the AL East Division Champions, the Yankees are officially eliminated from the Wild Card race, which means there is no chance at October baseball. As if the looming clouds and progressively darkening skies over the Bronx weren’t enough of a sign of such things to come for the pinstriped players today.

Before I recap, be aware that the Yankees’ game tomorrow evening (and its national broadcast) is currently under threat of being delayed because of the storm system that is making its way into the Tri-State area as I write this post. (Hence the looming clouds and darkening skies.) So if you’ll be watching Jeter’s last game in the Bronx, just know you may have to stay up rather late. They won’t call a make-up game because we’re down to wire, and there are no extra days to make anything up. There will be a game tomorrow night, with MLB HQ itself monitoring the skies. Perhaps there is a slight advantage to those weather watchers as the HQ is just a few miles south of Yankee Stadium in Midtown Manhattan.

And of course, there was a matinée game today in the Bronx, though there was some chatter online regarding an afternoon midweek game so late in the season. The consensus seemed to be to honor the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), which begins at sundown tonight. (A “Happy New Year” to my Jewish readers!)

Actually, the Yankees jumped out first offensively, getting successive runs in the first 3 innings. With 2 outs in the 1st, Chase Headley singled and then scored on Mark Teixeira’s double. In the 2nd, Stephen Drew led off with a solo home run. And then in the 3rd, with 2 outs, Headley got his own solo home run. The Yankees led 3-0 going into the 4th inning. And that’s where the trouble started.

Shane Greene got the start for today’s game, and despite the final line score, he actually did a really good job for the majority of his outing. He threw 73 pitches over his 3.2 innings, giving up 7 hits, 3 walks, and 6 runs, striking out 5 Baltimore batters. A good portion of those allowed stats happened in his 4th inning. It wasn’t pretty. He loaded the bases with 1 out before a double scored 2 of those runners. He got another out (a strikeout). Then Greene crumbled: a single that scored 2 runs, a triple that scored 1 more, and another single to score the 6th run of the inning for the Orioles.

David Huff was brought on in relief as Greene wasn’t coming back from this. He got the final out of the inning on the 11th batter the Orioles sent up in that inning alone. Huff stayed on through the 5th and into the 6th inning before Chase Whitley was brought on for the final out of the 6th inning.

Whitley’s 7th inning continued keeping the Orioles at just those 6 runs, but he ran into troubles of his own coming out for the 8th inning when he gave up 2 back-t0-back singles to lead off the inning. The Yankees opted for David Phelps to work his way out of this jam, but even Phelps struggled to keep the Orioles from doing damage. With 1 out, he loaded the bases with an intentional walk, allowed 1 runner to score on a sacrifice fly and then 2 more on back-to-back RBI singles. Damage done. 9-3 Orioles going into the bottom of the 8th.

So the Yankees did what they always do when they’re deep in a hole — they try their hardest to claw their way out of said hole as much as possible. Because if they’re going down, they’re going down swinging with everything they got. And since the Yankees love their history, they opted to repeat something that worked so well in the 1st inning of the game — down two outs, Headley singled and then scored on Teixeira’s hit, though this time he decided to shake things up and hit a home run (that bounced off the yellow foul pole, an automatic home run).

This made the score 9-5. And despite Claiborne’s great 11-pitch 9th inning, the Yankees were too deep in the hole due to that regrettable 4th inning mess. It wasn’t going to happen today. And their magic number of 1 to make it to postseason dwindled to zero. Eliminated for the second consecutive year from October baseball (the first time since the 1992-1993 seasons). Of course, if history is bent on repeating itself, that means we’re in for a 20 year march of a new dynasty and 5 World Series Championships. I’m okay with that.

Four games left — one in New York and three in Boston. And then it’s a long winter of staring out the window until Spring Training, to paraphrase Rogers Hornsby. People keep talking about what it will be like without Derek Jeter on the Yankees. My response? A lot like watching the Yankees without someone wearing a #2 jersey on the field and at shortstop. I like Jeter’s response to similar questions (and I’m paraphrasing here): baseball and the Yankees existed long before he started playing (or was even born) and they’ll continue long after he hangs up his cleats. It’s how it has to be, I suppose, but it’s also how it should be. Baseball is a sport of champions (and championship teams), and Jeter (and thus the Yankees) are just one of many.

And I guess that gives me hope for what is potentially around the corner. I mean, who knows what new kid will be shocking everyone with his work ethic and determination and stellar athletic ability? Maybe that kid is on a roster in one of the 30 clubs or maybe he’s not even born yet. But that’s the fun of the game… you just never know…

As always…

Go Yankees!

Game 154: TOR vs. NYY — Troubled pitching

When the pitching stats on your pitchers reads “6-6-6”, you know it’s not going to be a good game. (6 runs, 6 walks, 6 strikeouts total) And it certainly wasn’t. And the added injury issues aren’t helping morale during this last-minute push for October.

Chris Capuano took the start for this afternoon’s game. Throwing 85 pitches over his 5.2 innings, Capuano gave up 5 (of the Blue Jays’ 10 total) hits, 4 runs, and 4 walks, and struck out just 2 batters. Other than the 1st inning RBI double, Capuano was doing just fine, sailing along smoothly and getting through innings pretty quickly and efficiently, something you can tell by the fairly low pitch count into the 6th inning. But it was that 6th inning that kind of blew all his hard work out of the water, something the Yankees couldn’t really recover from. A lead off walk, a single, and another walk loaded the bases for the Blue Jays. A ground-rule double easily scored 2 runs, and a sacrifice fly scored a 3rd run for just that inning.

Chase Whitley came on to get the Yankees out of that troubled inning, but after giving up a lead-off solo home run in the 7th, he was replaced by Esmil Rogers, who fared quite a bit better than his last outing and closed the door on the advancing Blue Jays in the 7th.

Up until the 6th inning, the Yankees actually stood a chance. In the 3rd inning, with 2 outs, Jeter singled, advanced on a wild pitch, and then scored on a Brian McCann single. And in the 4th and 2 outs (again), Headley singled, moved to 2nd on Ichiro’s single, and then scored on Francisco Cervelli’s single.

But as the Bronx were singing “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, the score stood at 5-2 Blue Jays.

So it was David Huff to keep the status quo in the 8th, with a quick 12 pitches, by the way. And they turned the ball over to David Phelps to close out the 9th for the Yankees, who gave up an RBI single to push the Blue Jays up 6-2 going into that 11th hour half-inning that is the bottom of the 9th.

With 1 out, Gardner singled and ended up at 2nd on defensive indifference. Then Derek Jeter doubled and scored Gardner; leave it to Jeter to keep hope alive in the Bronx. But it just wasn’t going to happen. Two outs later, the Yankees lost to Toronto 6-3.

Bummer.

Now the injury report: Jacoby Ellsbury is on day-to-day with his strained right hamstring after last night’s game. Mark Teixeira came out of this afternoon’s game in the 5th inning with right wrist soreness (the same one that’s been bugging him for awhile); he wants to just play through the pain, getting his originally scheduled cortisone shot and just making that final push for October. And the doctors are weighing their options on Carlos Beltran and the bone spur in his elbow; the doctors are leaning toward shutting him down for the season and just operating now, but Beltran (like his teammate Teixeira) wants to just push through to postseason.

Also, there has been a lot of discussion about Jeter’s milestones, especially during these last few regular season games. Yes, I’m watching them happen, but I don’t want to take the time to comment on every single one. If I did, this year would have turned my blog into a Derek Jeter blog instead of just the Yankees. However, because he is a crucial part of both this season and the Yankees, I am saving all these important stats and milestones up for a single blog post to commemorate where he ended his career. For example, he got hit numbers 3,456 and 3,457, but as there are still 8 games left to play, I’m waiting until we get a final number of hits to see how close to number 5 on the hit list he gets (Tris Speaker has 3,515 total hits).

Go Yankees!

Game 129: NYY vs. KC — Making-up a big win

Two months ago, the Yankees visited Kansas City for a 4-game wraparound series, but their final game was rained out because some monsoon decided to dump a Noah-sized flood upon the Heartland. That evening, the Royals were also going to honor the retiring Derek Jeter, so fans were forced to wait until the Royals and Yankees could coincide schedules to make it up. Tonight was such a night. But instead of the torrential rain, it was sweltering, oppressive heat. Seriously, the heat index today in Kansas City was 105, with an occasional (read: none) breeze.

And yet, fans packed into Kauffman Stadium to cheer on their hometown team, jeer the visiting Yankees (still bitter over the George Brett pine tar incident of 1983), and snapping infinite cell phone (and iPad) pictures of Jeter in his final visit to the stadium. Before tonight’s game, the Royals presented Jeter with a $10,000 check to Turn 2 to help continue the work he began nearly 2 decades ago, helping kids pursue healthy lifestyles, learn leadership skills, and even providing college scholarships.

At 6:10 pm CST, it’s 95 degrees (again, heat index or the “feels like temperature” is well over 100), and it’s time to play ball. Michael Pineda started for the Yankees and pitched one solid, quality game. Pineda went 6.1 innings, threw 96 pitches, gave up 5 hits and 1 run, and struck out 5 batters. That lone run was the result of a solo home run in the 3rd inning. It would be the only run the Royals would score all night.

David Huff took over for Pineda in the 7th, getting those last 2 outs, before finishing the rest of the game in what was a solid, quality outing for him as well. Honestly, I think it’s the best outing I’ve seen from Huff all year, and it couldn’t have come at a better time or on a better night.

Now, while the Royals seemed to have some offensive struggles, the Yankees didn’t seem to share in their troubles, a reversal of fortunes, you might say (one I’m glad the Yankees are finally on the other side of). And I went into this game a little shy of making such an assumption because the Royals sent up one of their best pitchers, someone I know can shut down the Yankees pretty well on most days. I’m just glad it wasn’t “most days”.

In the 3rd inning, Ichiro got thing started with a single and ended up on 2nd in the same play due to a throwing error. He ended up at 3rd on Ellsbury’s ground out, and then scored on Jeter’s ground out. The game was tied going into the 4th inning, but Stephen Drew added to the score with a solo shot into the right field corner seats. And they sat there at 2-1 Yankees for the middle part of the game.

The Royals’ starter began to tire in the 7th, his fatigue was something the Yankees batters just pounced on with such energy. Martin Prado shot a solo home run in the seats in left center field to lead off that inning. Headley and Ichiro both singled, but Wheeler’s ground out left just him and Ichiro on 1st and 2nd respectively. However, Jacoby Ellsbury’s single drove in Ichiro easily, and Wheeler ended up at 3rd. It should be noted there is still just 1 out as the 6th batter (Jeter) comes up to the plate. Jeter singled home Wheeler; Jeter and Ellsbury on the corners. Then Brian McCann hit a sacrifice fly, and the outfielder threw the ball in to make the play at home; it was initially ruled an out against Ellsbury, challenged rightfully so by Girardi, and then overturned to award the Yankees the run scored.

And if you’re playing along at home, the score at the 7th inning stretch was 6-1 Yankees.

But that really wasn’t enough for the Yankees. I mean, if you’re going to take down the guys in first place in their division, you’ve going to make a point while doing it. In the 9th inning, Wheeler singled, and then Ellsbury’s line drive home run into the right field seats (nearly the same place as Drew’s homer earlier in the game) scored both runners. It was 8-1 Yankees, and there it stayed.

The Yankees win their 5th game in a row — consider it a streak. And they’re off to Detroit, back on the regular schedule. And we’re coming down to the wire. I look at the calendar, and September is literally a week away. The teams will swell to 40 players, the tension will rise to an intensity of passion and persistence (and panic in some cases), and the talking heads will start predicting the outcomes of the regular season (as if they ever stopped).  I guess, what I mean to say is that it’s crunch time for all the teams, and there’s still too much time to make any definite conclusions. It’s baseball, so really anything is possible. (At least at this moment.)

And that’s what I’m clinging to in this last week of August (this oh so very hot, cannot wait until Fall, last week of August) — the concept of possibilities that feeds my hope. I haven’t given up on October baseball for the Yankees. There’s still far too many pieces in play, too many what-ifs, too many possibilities to make any conclusions other than hope. And if you’re conclusion is hope, why not cling to it for as long as you can? I’m still believing for Yankees’ October baseball because… why not?

Go Yankees!

Game 128: CHW vs. NYY — The unearned sweep & the 10th inning

The First City just swept through the Second City in the weekend series at Yankee Stadium. The White Sox haven’t really had a great year as it is, but they have a few things going for them. Their team captain Konerko is retiring after this year, and prior to the game, it was Yankees’ team captain to present the former 1st baseman with a 1st base bag signed by the Yankees in honor of one retiring captain to another. Their best hitter (and current 1st baseman) Abreu is still pretty menacing and pretty much driving the Chicago offense. And their ace Sale is pretty stellar.

And had the Yankees not cracked Sale today, it would have been a decent win for the White Sox in what was essentially a pitching duel. Well, let’s be honest, the crack in Sale’s armor today wasn’t Sale but the defense behind him. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

For the Yankees, they sent up Chris Capuano, who easily pitched one of the better games since becoming a Yankee and still was unable to earn his first Yankee win. Over 6 innings, Capuano threw 97 pitches, giving up 6 hits and 3 runs (on 2 home runs), striking out 5 Chicago batters. I imagine it was rather disheartening to have the lead-off batter in the 1st inning hit a 2nd pitch solo home run into the left field seats; and it interrupted the Bleacher Creatures’ Roll Call. In Capuano’s last inning, with a runner on base with a single and 2 outs, a batter smacks a long 2-run home run to put the White Sox up 3-0 as Capuano exits the game in the middle of the 6th inning.

And that’s when the White Sox got sloppy. Prado ended up at 2nd on a fielding error (the outfielder dropped the ball instead of catching what should have been an easy fly ball out) and then scored on Mark Teixeira’s double. Beltran and Cervelli each walked to load the bases, with 2 outs on the board. Zelous Wheeler is hit by a pitch and it literally walks in Teixeira. And then just for good measure, Ichiro Suzuki singled home Beltran and Cervelli. And it was suddenly 4-3 Yankees, with Capuano on the hook for the win, and White Sox Sale not earning a single of those 4 runs the Yankees scored that inning.

Rogers and Hill split the 7th inning, and Adam Warren pitched a flawless 10-pitch 8th to keep the score firmly in the Yankees’ favor. But on the 1st pitch of David Robertson’s 9th inning, the batter smacked a solo home run to tie up the game and blow the save for Robertson. It was his only flaw of the inning, quickly getting those other 3 outs to end the inning and turn the game back to the Yankees.

But they couldn’t come up with offense in the bottom of the 9th and sent the game into extra innings. David Huff, despite giving up 2 hits, still managed to come out clean in the 10th inning, and the entirety of Yankee Stadium held its breath, hoping for someone (anyone, really) to make something happen. However, it looked bleak, as the first two batters quickly struck out. Beltran snapped the dark clouds with a double, and the White Sox opted to intentionally walk Headley (which I think everyone sees as quite a compliment to the Yankees’ 3rd baseman). And Brian McCann comes into the game as a pinch hitter for Cervelli, working up to a 3-2 count with 2 outs and 2 runners on base; the 7th pitch of the at-bat, an 86 mph change-up, looks good to McCann, and he smacks it right down the right field line and into the seats by the foul pole for a 3-run walk-off home run.

Final score: 7 – 4 Yankees

Honestly, the only runs the Yankees actually earned was that 10th inning McCann gem, which is why it’s a weird way to win. Don’t get me wrong because I’ll take a win however it comes. And it certainly feels like the White Sox gave this game up with their sloppy 6th inning, so it’s not like I feel bad for them. I guess it’s the term “unearned” that gets to me. Wins are accomplishments, and I don’t like awards or recognitions or wins that are “unearned”, like how they give participation trophies at schools or the whole concept of “no competition so that no one’s feelings get hurt”. It’s all tied up in the same place for me. Competition is good, winning is good, and even losing (or failing) is good. If you can’t lose, then you never really win. And if you can’t ever win, you’ll never know what it means succeed or accomplish or even dream.

So, while I’ll take the win because the Yankees certainly need every win possible at this point in the season, it feels just slightly hollow to me. However, it’s not that bad because I know that they know how to compete and win properly (and even lose properly). And they’re off to play the make-up game in Kansas City tomorrow night, where for some strange reason the Royals are beating up on the AL Central. Hopefully, the Yankees can turn their 4-game win streak and this sweep into a win tomorrow and on into their road trip this week.

Go Yankees!

Game 124: HOU vs. NYY — Bookends don’t win ball games, runs scored do

Michael Pineda is back in pinstripes, pitching in the Bronx for the first time since the “incident” and his injury and long DL stint in months. Tonight, he faced the Astros, threw 89 pitches into the 7th inning, allowed 4 hits and 2 runs, and struck out 3 batters. He was floating along just fine, even with an allowed RBI double in the 4th. But he walked the first batter in the 7th and was relieved by David Huff.

That runner would go on to score under Huff, who seemed to struggle himself in that inning, allowing a single and getting the first out of the inning before turning over the mound to Esmil Rogers. Rogers promptly loaded the base (meaning each of the three pitchers from the inning had a runner on base). Another single scored Pineda’s runner, keeping the bases loaded, and then yet another single scored both Huff and Rogers’ runners. One more single scored yet another runner. And suddenly, the Astros had 5 runs scored before the end of the 7th inning.

Rogers would settle down in the 8th inning, and Whitley threw a flawless 13-pitch 9th inning. But the damage was done. It was far too late for the Yankees, which is a shame because Pineda started as well as Whitley finished the game. But bookends don’t win ball games; runs scored wins ball games. And the Yankees were short on that front too. Stephen Drew got a 2-out solo home run in the 4th inning (his 1st as a Yankee, by the way), and Ichiro Suzuki scored on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single in the 5th inning. But the score would stay 5-2 Astros.

It just wasn’t pretty, especially that mess of a 7th inning. But let’s talk about Brett Gardner who definitely put up some pretty defense (specifically in the bookends) — a sliding grab in the 1st inning and a dive over the left field wall into the crowd in the 9th inning. Gardner continues to prove his “Heart & Hustle” nomination at every game, as plays like these are so commonplace for the outfielder. Gardner is a great example of the continued legacy of the Yankees — a great player with passion and drive and character and excellence. And the Yankees already locked up his contract for the next few years; #11 isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so we’ll continue to see some amazing defensive plays out there in left field for some time now.

Go Yankees!

Game 117: CLE vs. NYY — Going softly into the afternoon

Well, the Yankees certainly seemed to be on a run shortage this weekend. After being shut out yesterday, they almost were again today against the Indians. Hiroki Kuroda took the start in today’s rubber match, throwing 97 pitches in just 4.2 innings, allowing 5 hits, 3 runs, and 4 walks, and striking out 3 batters. An RBI single in the 1st gave the Indians an early lead, and a sacrifice fly in the 3rd added another. But the one that really stung was the bases-loaded walked-in run in the 5th that forced the Yankees to turn to their bullpen early. Kuroda just didn’t have the stuff today.

David Huff came on to finish the 5th inning, getting out of the bases-loaded jam Kuroda left him. Huff pitched through the 6th and into the 7th, where he found himself in his own bit of trouble. With 2 outs and runners on the corners (and Huff responsible for them being there), Kelley allowed a single that added yet another run to score for the Indians. But Kelley finished the inning. In his MLB debut, Bryan Mitchell grabbed the last 2 innings and kept Cleveland from adding any further runs to their total.

In the very last possible spot, the bottom of the 9th inning and 2 outs, Jacoby Ellsbury hits a solo home run into the right field seats to at least put one run on the board for the Yankees. No other runs would score, and the Yankees would lose this game 4-1 and the series 2-1 to the Indians.

The Yankees are on their way to visit division rivals Baltimore for the first part of this week before heading down to Florida for a weekend series at the Trop. It’s getting to be that time of year now when division rivals become more predominant in the schedule, something that can either be very good or very bad for the statistics side of things. So, we have about 6 weeks to see how things will land for October. My fingers are still crossed. Are yours?

Go Yankees!