With only seventeen days left remaining in the regular season, the only thing on everyone’s mind is the battle to reach the postseason. The most interesting race in baseball has been taking place in the AL East.
Reports Of The Death Of The Yankees Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Last year at this time, the Red Sox and were in the midst of a stunning collapse that defied all mathematical possibility and left Red Sox Nation devastated. Red Sox Nation has no such worries this year as the Red Sox are just playing out the string after an awful season. With their team eliminated already, Red Sox fans needed to find a reason to be interested in baseball at this time of year and found it when their hated rivals frittered away a ten game lead in the AL East. Just last week, Yankee jokes were the reason for Red Sox fans to get out of bed in the morning. Predictions of a Yankee collapse to rival the collapse the Red Sox experienced last year were the rage on Twitter last Monday and talk of where that collapse would fit in history raged. Not so fast Yankee haters, they aren’t done yet.
After an awful month of baseball that saw the Yankees fail to win back to back games since August 14th and 15th against the Texas Rangers, the Yankees responded by winning four of six games this past week against AL East division rivals Red Sox and Rays including four of their last five games. The Yankees have a one game lead in the AL East over the Orioles while the Rays have been bounced back to what looks like only a wildcard shot, now trailing the Yankees by five games. Just as important as the success the Yankees had this week were the return of Ivan Nova off the DL and the reemergence of Eduardo Nunez.
Ivan Nova played a huge role in the success of the Yankees in 2011 and his future looked very bright. Nova struggled to put together consistency this season, despite a notable increase in the velocity of his fastball. When Nova hit the 15-day DL after another poor outing on August 21st with an inflamed rotator cuff, there were serious concerns as to whether or not Nova would return in 2012 and if he did, would he be in condition to help them in their playoff push. Both of these questions were answered with a resounding yes this past Saturday. Working on low pitch count limitation, Nova was outstanding, striking out eight batters while allowing two runs on four hits. Nova’s command was outstanding, something that is unexpected when a pitcher hasn’t been out in nearly a month. More importantly, Nova was able to finish off batters when he got ahead in the count, something that he somehow wasn’t managing to do this season consistently. Nova’s increased velocity looked like it was paying dividends as the Rays waved time after time at his fastball. Perhaps Nova was pressing too hard earlier this season to be crafty and his layoff gave him time to think about his approach. Nova attacked the Rays with his fastball in the zone, challenging them to catch up to it while throwing 53 strikes in 85 pitches. The return of the Ivan Nova that everyone witnessed on Saturday will play a big role in the Yankee pursuit of the AL East.
One of the most ridiculous clichés you will ever read or hear is that “management always knows better than fans” when it comes to players on a team. This is nonsense. In any profession or sector of business, there are people who are simply not qualified to do what they do or who simply don’t do what they are supposed to do very well. Time and time again, Yankee GM Brian Cashman and Yankee manager Joe Girardi have displayed an unwillingness to allow young players to develop and a general impatience with them. Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, and Melky Cabrera are among the most recent young players that this management team decided was not in the Yankee future at a young age. When Eduardo Nunez was sent to the minor leagues earlier this season, it was just another in a long line of mistakes that this particular management team has displayed with young players, and many Yankee fans were frustrated. Nunez played a huge role for the Yankees in 2011. Nunez was asked to fill in for the injured Derek Jeter in 2011 and then when Jeter returned Nunez was asked almost immediately to fill in at third base for Alex Rodriguez. Nunez made errors, as any player being asked to play multiple positions will be prone to do, but displayed great speed on the base paths and the ability to make contact at the plate consistently. After three errors early in April, Yankee management once again displayed an ill-advised knee jerk response and sent Nunez to the minors, where he was injured soon thereafter. Returning to the Yankees on September 1st, Nunez went 1-3 with an RBI in a one win over the Orioles. This return was “rewarded” with a pinch running appearance on September 3rd, another pinch running appearance on September 8th, one at-bat on September 9th, and another pinch running appearance on September 11th. Girardi could find consistent at bats for such mediocre players as Pearce, Jones, Ibanez, Ichiro, and Nix but not for Nunez?
On Thursday night against the Red Sox, Girardi finally wrote the name Nunez on his lineup card due to the injury Derek Jeter sustained the previous night while running out a ground ball that will prevent him from playing the field until he is healed. Nunez went 2-4 with a double. On Friday night against the Rays Nunez went 1-3. On Saturday evening Nunez homered and went 1-3 again. On Sunday Nunez went 0-3, but stole 3 bases and scored 2 runs. It took an injury to Derek Jeter to get Nunez into the lineup but now that he’s there, it would be hard to imagine Girardi not realizing that a speedy contact hitter such as Nunez is exactly what his team needs. In addition to his plate appearances, Nunez made some absolute highlight reel plays at SS this weekend. Did Nunez commit one error? Yes, but when looking at the value a player brings to a team, you have to look at the big picture and not just focus on the negatives. Nunez brings an element to the Yankees that they clearly need. Girardi and Cashman dropped the ball on Nunez earlier this year and anyone who doesn’t think he could have helped this team that has been plagued by station to station limitations is kidding themselves.
Next up for the Yankees is the return of Andy Pettitte, who will pitch on Tuesday night against Toronto. Petitte was feared lost for the season, but has completed his rehab and has been pronounced fit to return from the broken ankle he suffered in late June on a comeback line drive. Pettitte will be able to make three starts, and three starts should be enough to have Pettitte ready for playoff action. It has been a long wait for Pettitte’s return but everything seems to be falling into place for the Yankees right now and sometimes bad times make the return of good times more appreciated.
The Yankees still have to deal with the loss of Mark Texeira for what could be the remainder of the regular season as well as C.C. Sabathia’s disappointing outings but the Yankees appear to have weathered the toughest part of the storm and can see some blue sky on the horizon. With three home games against Toronto this week before three more at home with the A’s, the Yankees have a great opportunity to hold their slim AL East lead.
The Orioles continued their winning ways at home, sweeping the Rays in dramatic fashion. The Orioles then lost of two of three to the A’s and now head to Seattle to face the Mariners, who haven’t played badly as of late. The Orioles will also have to face King Felix on Wednesday night in Seattle, before heading to Boston for a three game series this weekend. Boston may have a poor record and be going through hard times, but they showed up to play the hated rival Yankees hard and will likely play with a purpose against the Orioles, who knocked the Red Sox out of the postseason on the last night of the regular season last year. One of the most iconic scenes of the 2011 MLB regular season was of the Orioles celebrating that meaningless victory over the Red Sox as if they had won the World Series and the Red Sox would love to return the favor this weekend.
The Orioles have displayed a great determination and the ability to play sound, fundamental baseball but the Orioles face a tougher schedule than the Yankees do the rest of the way home. It’s been a great battle whose ending will be fun to witness.
If The Playoffs Began Today
In the NL:
The Braves would host the Cardinals in a one-game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five playoff against the Nationals.
The Giants would host the first two games of a best-of-five playoff against the Reds.
In the AL:
The A’s would host the Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Rangers.
The White Sox would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Yankees.
Some notes on the playoff races:
I(and virtually everyone else) have just assumed that at some point that the Tigers would put away the White Sox and win the AL Central. The Tigers horrible loss yesterday knocked them back to two games behind the White Sox again, and made today’s game between the two teams the most important regular season game of this year to date. The last of a scheduled four game set between the two teams was rained out last week, forcing the game to be made up today. This will be the last meeting between the two teams in the regular season and even though the Tigers have an easier schedule remaining than the White Sox do, a win by the White Sox would give them a three game lead over the Tigers with only 16 games remaining for each of the two teams. Game time is 2:10 EDT and the matchup is Fister vs. Quintana. I believe the winner of this game today will win the Central.
The Phillies managed to close within three games of the 2nd wildcard slot this past week before a disappointing series with the Astros that has knocked them out of serious playoff contention, again.
There will be no collapse this year by the Braves, who won’t catch the Nationals but who are seven games clear of the Cardinals for the first wildcard slot. The Braves have played very well, winning seven of their last ten games, and look like a very dangerous team.
The race for the second wildcard slot in the NL is a perfect example of why MLB’s decision to expand the playoffs is total insanity. The Cards(3-7 in their last 10 games)and the Dodgers(3-7 in their last ten)just concluded a series in Los Angeles and appear to be the favorites to land the last spot in the NL, at seven games and five games over .500 respectively. Teams who are barely over .500 have no business in the playoffs of a sport that plays 162 regular season games, plenty of time to determine who the best teams are. It will be a disgrace that one of these teams will make the playoffs and will be even more of a disgrace if they advance into the next round and deny a team who played far above them all season long a spot in the best-of-five.
The race for the second wildcard in the AL appears to be between the loser of the battle between the Orioles and Yankees in the AL East and the Angels. The A’s now have a better record than both the Yankees and Orioles and remain only three games behind the Rangers in the battle for the West. It’s hard to see the A’s missing the playoffs and if they run down Texas than the same applies to Texas as far as looking home for the first wildcard slot. The Yankees lead the Angels by 3 ½ games and the Orioles lead the Angels by 2 ½ games.