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Yankees creeping closer to second Wild Card Spot

Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and the Yankees have a big task this September--get into the second Wild Card spot.

Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and the Yankees have a big task this September–get into the second Wild Card spot.

All right, let’s play a quick game. Raise your hand if on May 1st you thought this team was going to be in a position to take the second Wild Card spot in September with a lineup that didn’t have Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson or Mark Teixeira. Be honest, because from Twitter from May-July there were some pessimistic tweets about them.

It is September 1st. The Yankees are 3.5 games back for the second Wild Card spot entering play today and they have 27 games remaining. The Tampa Bay Rays have been fading recently, going 3-7 in their last ten games, playing the first Wild Card spot team the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees in their last 10 games are 7-3.  The team the Yankees need to keep below them in the Wild Card, the Baltimore Orioles are 4-6 in their last 10 games. Yes, the Yankees have been playing with the cards that have been dealt to them but it’s easier now, considering the Yankees have some power in the lineup.

Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter have returned. The Yankees have traded for Alfonso Soriano. They claimed Mark Reynolds off waivers. The world (and the season) no longer falls on Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki‘s shoulders. They are now a small (but important) part of a large puzzle. The rotation has been getting quality work from Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte. Hiroki Kuroda is expected to turn it around after a dismal August, which could be because of fatigue. The bullpen has been flawless this year (well, majority of the bullpen). The Yankees pieces are all clicking together at the right time and if they keep playing the way they are playing, they have a legitimate chance to knock Tampa Bay out of the second spot and claim it for themselves.

Two weeks ago, the Yankees chances seemed slim. They had to hop over three teams to even get behind the Rays. Going into September…the Yankees hope to pass the Rays and get into postseason contention and prove all the naysayers wrong. This team could be good enough to get into the playoffs, but how far could they possibly go?

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Starting Pitching Needs to Step Up

The New York Yankees have completely turned their offense around during the month of August behind Alfonso Soriano, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano.

The Yankees are third in the AL in homers in August (29), fifth in wOBA (.330) and sixth in OPS (.751)  The Yankees have averaged nearly 4.5 runs per game in Soriano’s 30 games as a Yankees and he trails only Miguel Cabrera in home runs after the all-star break.

Rodriguez (.284/.369/.473/.842 with a 133 wRC+) and Granderson (.291/.412/.456/.868 with a 140 wRC+) have both been terrific since they returned from the DL. Assuming that this continues, the Yankees should have plenty of offense for them to make a run at the second wild car in September. The question will be whether the starting pitching can be good enough.

There have been some good signs and some bad signs out of the starting pitchers lately. Andy Pettitte turning it around and Ivan Nova maintaining his performance have been good ones.

Over his last three starts, Pettitte has allowed just two runs on 15 hits over 19.2 innings. The first of those three starts was the biggest, as Pettitte delivered a huge performance in the opening game of the series in Boston. He allowed three unearned runs over 6.2 innings and gave up six hits, one walk and struck out five. He was given a huge first inning lead to work with, but big leads can evaporate quickly at Fenway Park.

Pettitte’s last two outing came against the Blue Jays and he allowed only one run over 13 innings. Toronto is not a great team but the starts were still very encouraging. When the stakes get raised Pettitte raises his game, which is why I have a lot of confidence in him pitching big games down the stretch in September. You know he is going to battle and not be afraid of any moment. Pettitte’s ERA is now down to a respectable 4.05 for the season.

Nova has not been as dominant in his last three starts, but he has still battled and managed to have good results. That is big for a pitcher who has had the physical tools, but lacked knowledge in just how to pitch. Nova has allowed 27 hits to only 11 strikeouts over those last three starts, but the most amount of runs that he allowed was four over 6.1 innings on August 20th against Toronto. In his previous start, he allowed three runs over 7.1 innings against the Angels and came up with a big performance in a game the Yankees had to have Sunday in Tampa.

The problems in the Yankees rotation are CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes. Hiroki Kuroda has struggled as well over his last two outings, but I will chalk that up to just a blip on the radar for him.

Sabathia has shown signs of improvement but has still been unable to put it all back together. His fastball velocity has improved lately, as he has averaged 93.24 MPH on his fastball in August, including averaging 93.88 MPH and 94.07 MPH over his last two starts. However, as Sabathia has added velocity his control has vanished. He has allowed an abysmal 4.70 walks per nine innings in August.

Sabathia has thrown quality starts in three out of his last four outings, but he still has not been the dominant Sabathia we have come to know over the last few years. He had an egregious performance in the rubber match of the Boston series but got bailed out by his offense.

Then, on Saturday, Sabathia blew a 2-0 lead when he imploded in the sixth inning. He was absolutely dominant over the first five innings with his fastball humming at over 94 MPH and his slider breaking as sharply as it had all season. It all fell apart when Sam Fuld hit a bloop single to lead off the sixth inning and Sabathia could not find the plate out of the stretch. That game is the type of game that the Yankees will need Sabathia to finish down the stretch of the season if they want to make the playoffs.

There seems to be little hope for Hughes to be an effective pitcher at all this season. Hughes has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season with an ERA of 4.91, which ranks 80th out of 85 qualified starting pitchers.

With only 30 games remaining in the season the Yankees cannot afford to give any games away, which is essentially what they have been doing by running Hughes out there every five days.

Unfortunately, the options that the Yankees have to replace Hughes are not very appealing. David Huff and Adam Warren are the only in-house options with David Phelps, Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno all injured.

Huff has thrown 8.1 innings of shutout baseball over his last two relief appearances against Toronto and has only allowed one hit. However, Huff’s 5.25 ERA and 4.74 FIP in almost 300 career innings inspires little confidence. Warren has been o.k. this season, but I still do not believe that he has the stuff to be a good MLB starting pitcher. At the very least the Yankees need to skip Hughes’ start this weekend in Baltimore.

The Yankees are currently five games behind Oakland in the chase for the second wild card. They will have to play close to flawless baseball in September to catch them and they cannot do it without great starting pitching. They have not gotten that consistently since the beginning of the season and it needs to reappear right now for the Yankees to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs.

Five Yankees Questions For the Second Half

We will find out a lot about the Yankees very quickly as they begin the second half of the season tonight in Boston.

They currently sit six games back of Boston in the AL East and three back in the AL wild card race. The first 10 games for the Yankees after the All-Star break have the potential to be a disaster. They play three at the first place Red Sox, four in Arlington against a very talented Texas team and three at home against red hot Tampa Bay.

If I were Brian Cashman I would have desperately been working the phones trying to get an impact bat over the All-Star break because if he waits until after this 10 game stretch it might be too late.

Here are five things to watch over the Yankees second half of the season:

1. What happens at the trade deadline?

The Yankees have recently been linked to Chase Headley and Asrdubal Cabrera and both would be huge gets for the Yankees. Unfortunately, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote that Padres have little interest in dealing Headley despite his down year.

Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain will be continued to be shopped by the Yankees, and it will be interesting to see what happens with them. I do believe that Hughes will be moved because the starting pitching market is very thin, and the Yankees can sell teams on his home/road splits this year. Although, Joel Sherman of the New York Post, wrote that the Yankees would be o.k. with keeping Hughes and offering him a qualifying offer this winter.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that the time for Cashman to try to strike is right now with this brutal 10 game stretch upcoming. I would be looking for players who are under team control for a few years. I would not be giving up big prospects for rentals this year, since I believe that the Yankees are more than one bat away from being championship contenders this season.

2. Will Ivan Nova’s progression continue?

Nova’s development will probably be the number one thing I will be watching for over the second half. He has looked terrific over his last two starts, as he has 17 strikeouts to only three walks. Nova has always had the talent and if he can finally put it together it will be huge for the future for the Yankees, who have had a tough time developing their own starting pitchers.

What is fascinating about Nova is how he has completely transformed himself as a pitcher from his solid rookie season in which he went 16-4. He only averaged 92.6 MPH and he only was not a strikeout pitcher (5.33 K/9) in that rookie season. He had success because he was able to keep the ball on the ground with his sinker (52.7 GB%), but most thought that he would not have long term success unless he was able to get more strikeouts.

Nova added a slider to his repertoire in 2012 to try to remedy this issue. He threw it 14% of the time and he raised his K/9 to 8.08, but he also allowed a lot of hard contact (16.6% HR/FB%) because he missed location to often with his fastball and that new slider. Also, Nova’s GB% went down to 45.2%.

This year, Nova has mostly scrapped the slider, as he has only thrown it 3.4% of the time compared to 33.5% for his curve ball. Over his last two starts, Nova has thrown 66 curves, 43 of them have been for strikes and 17 of them have induced whiffs. When you combine that dominant curve with a fastball that has been in the 94-97 MPH range, you have a pitcher that has the potential for greatness. His  GB% is back up to 51.4% this year, so hitters are really having a hard time getting good contact on his hard sinker.

3. How much will Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez contribute?

The first question with them is how much will they play? Rodriguez hit a home run for Triple-A Scranton last night and appears set to rejoin the Yankees in Texas on Monday. We should find out more about Jeter’s status today. If Jeter and Rodriguez can stay on the field it will be pretty much impossible for them to not be upgrades, as Yankee shortstops have a slash line of .214/.271/.268/.539 with a 46 wRC+ and Yankee third basemen have a slash line of .218/.281/.293/.574 with a 57 wRC+. They should also add some much needed excitement and buzz to the team as well.

4. What is the plan for Michael Pineda?

At Triple-A Scranton last night, Pineda threw 4.2 scoreless innings and struck out eight. He was dominant in the first three innings before throwing a lot of pitches over the fourth and fifth innings. Right now, with Nova pitching well and Hughes still in New York, the Yankees do not have room for Pineda in their rotation. If there is an injury, or Hughes is traded, than Pineda can slide right in. The Yankees should try to get Pineda to New York as quickly as possible to get more information on what they can expect out of him next year.

If the Yankees continue with their $189 million plan they will need cheap starting pitchers, and Pineda can be one of them. It would be good for him to get as much experience as he can this year and it will be very interesting to see what he looks like if he does come up to the big league club.

5. Can CC Sabathia turn it around?

Sabathia had an uncharacteristically average first half, as he was only 9-8 with a 4.07 ERA. His average fastball velocity has only been 90.6 MPH, although it has been better later in the season. Sabathia has not fully adjusted to pitching with his loss of velocity yet and when he has missed location with his fastball he has gotten hit hard. Sabathia has also had a bit of hard luck this season, as his 3.53 xFIP is very solid. His slider and changeup are still great pitches, and Sabathia has still been an innings eating machine, which is still an under appreciated aspect of his game. I still believe that he is capable of pitching like the Sabathia of old and hopefully we see that in the second half of the season.

 

 

 

Off Day News and Notes

Yankees are off today but there has been some interesting news today:

- Alex Rodriguez is closer to playing rehab games, but Brian Cashman refuted a NY Post report that Rodriguez would start on July 1st.

“He has not been cleared by our doctors to play in rehab games yet,” Cashman told Wally Matthews of  ESPNNewYork.com. “He’s getting closer, there’s no doubt about it, but we don’t have a date for him to start playing games yet,” Cashman said. “It could be July 1. It could also be July 5, or maybe June 25.”

- Rodrgiuez also got his twitter account verified today, so he is officially on Twitter. You can follow him at @AROD. Pretty interesting timing for him

- Mark Teixeira’s wrist does not appear to be getting any better, as Teixeira is still experiencing soreness. Surgery might seem like a good bet at this point.

“He’s still sore, even after the shot,” Cashman told Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger. “So our doctors are obviously working through it, trying to analyze the situation. It’s clearly not a good situation.”

- McCullough also tweeted that Cashman told him that the Yankees haven’t decided what to do with Ivan Nova yet, but said “I don’t view Nova as a threat right now to Hughes.”

Injury Update: Cervelli, Nova, Youkilis

Despite having a 6-4 win, the Yankees had multiple injury issues. Let’s address them one by one as if it’s one big sandwich.

– Let’s start with Francisco Cervelli. Cervelli was hit in the knuckles by a pitch from Ivan Nova in the first inning. Cervelli was taken for x-rays and the results weren’t good. Cervelli has a broken hand that requires surgery, and he’s expected to be sidelined for a minimum of 6 weeks. Having surgery means that the fracture wasn’t a clean fracture and the doctors would have to open him up to see how bad the damage in his hand is. The surgery is scheduled for tomorrow. A huge blow for the Yankees and bad luck for Cervelli who was playing so well for the first couple of weeks.

– Let’s continue onto Ivan Nova. Two innings later, Ivan Nova was pulled out of the game by Joe Girardi and fans initially thought that he pulled a hamstring. It was revealed that he had pain in his elbow and was sent for an MRI. The results of the MRI weren’t back by the time the Yankees finished the game, so we’d have to wait until tomorrow to see the results.

– And Finally, we shall end it with Kevin Youkilis. Kevin Youkilis has been out of the lineup for almost a week (tomorrow makes seven days) and the Yankees were attempting to avoid the DL with him. However, if his back isn’t well by tomorrow then the Yankees could possibly place him on the 15-day DL. Now, he wouldn’t have to spend an extra fifteen days sidelined. The Yankees could retroactive his DL from the day he stopped playing.

The Yankees have been the walking wounded since the season began…and now they’re going to have to walk wounded some more.

Behind the music: The 2013 Yankees walk-up songs

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When the baseball season starts, fans usually go to the ball park in order to take in nine innings of glorious baseball. As much as I enjoy going to the ball park to hear the crack of the bat, the fans cheering loudly and the food, I usually love going to the ball park in order to listen to the walk-up music of the Yankees. Music is one of my biggest passions, and to me the Yankees have done more than play great baseball over the years; they’ve also introduced me to new music and have filled up my iTunes with songs that I listen to on a consistent basis. Since Opening Day for the Yankees is tomorrow, I went on the Yankees website, found the list to some of the Yankees walk-up songs and took a listen to them, introducing myself to the different types of music that our players listen to.

1. Brennan BoeschBrennan Boesch didn’t waste any time in choosing his songs for the 2013 season as he went and chose two songs for his walk-up music. The first song was “Sail” by Awolnation. When I first took  a listen to the song, I found it intimidating in a good way. It’s not as intimidating as Evan Longoria‘s walk-up song (which is arguably one of the best walk-up songs in the Major Leagues), but it makes you think that something big is coming. The second song that Boesch chose was “We’ll Be Fine” by Drake. This is one of those songs that has you nodding your head while Boesch comes to the plate. Boesch hasn’t played a real game for the Yankees yet, but if I must applaud him on one thing, it’s his good taste in music.

2. Brett GardnerI have to admit that before I started watching Gardner play baseball, I did not listen to country music; at all. But in 2011, Gardner had “Dirt Road Anthem” by Jason Aldean as one of his walk-up songs and ever since then, half my iTunes is consumed with country music. This year, Gardner went with “Hell On Wheels” by Brantely Gilbert which is another great country song. Now, let’s hope that Gardner’s 2013 season is as dynamite as his walk-up song choice.

3. Chris StewartChris Stewart is close to having one of the best walk-up songs on the Yankees if he only played the first twenty seconds of the song over the P.A. Stewart’s song choice is “Forsaken” by Skillet and if there’s one thing I must say, is that the guitar riffs were amazing. I wouldn’t normally listen to music like this, but after today now I would. Now, all he has to do is play on a consistent basis so I could heart this song over and over at the ball park. I wouldn’t mind paying money for that.

4. Curtis GrandersonWe all remember the famous video where Curtis Granderson was picking his at-bat music and then almost cried when he chose “Friday.” Well, maybe all those hours of going through his laptop did the Grandy Man some good. His walk-up song (when he comes back) is none other than “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See (Instrumental)” by Busta Rhymes. Not too fond of the lyrics, but I do love the beat, so a smart move by Granderson in just using the instrumental.

5. David RobertsonWe all know that David Robertson is an Alabama boy. He was born in Tuscaloosa and he is constantly helping his hometown with High Socks For Hope. So it doesn’t surprise me that his walk-up song is the awesome “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s actually a good thing I know about this now because I made a deadly mistake in asking my Twitter followers last season what D-Rob’s walk-up song was. Let’s just say they weren’t too happy with me during the game when they found out I seriously didn’t know. Well, I know now and it’s an awesome song. I’m looking forward to the 8th inning where I could sit back and listen to the tune that introduces us to the Yankees favorite set-up man.

6. Derek JeterThe Captain won’t be there on Opening Day for us to hear his walk-up music but he made sure that he chose a song. I’m not too fond of rap music but, “Otis” by Jay-Z and Kanye West was a decent choice by Jeter. It would be nice to hear it at Yankee Stadium when The Captain returns, but in the meantime I guess the closest we can hear this song is on Youtube (and on iTunes if you have it already).

7. Hiroki KurodaHiroki Kuroda has some great taste in music! Kuroda’s walk-up music is “The Whip” by Locksley and when I heard it for the first time, I heard some influence of ‘The Beatles’ in the chorus of the song. It’s nice that Kuroda was able to take us back to the good music–without actually taking us all the way back to the 1960′s.

8. Ivan NovaAh, is there nothing better than listening to some awesome Spanish music at Yankee Stadium? That’s what Ivan Nova introduced to the fans when he made his walk-up choice “Marta La Reina” by Antony Santos. This is one of those songs where you can’t help but get up from your seat and start dancing. According to the Yankees website, I don’t think it’s available for purchase but they have the song on Youtube where you can hear it over and over and over. It’s actually a great song to hear on a Sunday morning (with your headphones on).

9. Mariano RiveraMariano Rivera’s song choice is as fitting as his role on the Yankees. When the Yankees have a lead and they go to the 9th inning, Mariano Rivera comes in the game and puts it to bed, dubbing him “The Sandman.” Rivera’s song choice is the best song choice by far on the Yankees with “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. The guitar riffs in the song are simply amazing and when Yankees fans hear it, they can’t help but get excited, knowing that the greatest closer of all time is coming in to make the opposing team’s offense go to sleep. Yankees fans better soak in all of “Enter Sandman” that they can this season, since Rivera plans on retiring at the end of the season. I know I’ll soak up every moment.

10. Mark TeixeiraIf there’s anyone that we can count on to take us back to when rap music was at it’s best, it’s Mark Teixeira. His song choice “It’s Tricky” by Run D.M.C  is a great way to pay a homage to rap at it’s finest. Of course, we expect nothing less of Teixeira since he has been famously known of using classics from the Twisted Sisters in the past. But Teixeira didn’t stop there. His second song choice was “This Town” by O.A.R. which is one of my favorite songs. Teixeira hit a home run with his song choices and I can’t wait until he gets back on the field so we can hear it blaring from the P.A speakers.

11. Phil HughesPhil Hughes’s walk-up song is pretty vague. There’s no artist next to his song choice “Tomorrowland” so I did a search on Youtube and it sounds more like Hughes is ready for summer in a club than ready to play baseball. If this is his song, I’m not too fond of the techno-beat, but I can see it getting fans excited.

12. Robinson CanoRobinson Cano simply outdid everyone when it came to choosing songs. He didn’t choose two songs, he went the extra mile and chose three! His first song was “El Que No Aguante La Presion” by Secreto El Biberon which is a great song choice. It reminds me of summer like Hughes’s song choice, but Cano’s song reminds me more of running through fire hydrants that have water coming out of them than the club. Cano’s second song choice was “Me Kitee” by Black Point. Again, it reminded me of  summer. Cano’s last song was “Te Prendo” by Chimbala. As far as Spanish songs go, all three of Cano’s song choices hit it out of the ball park. Simply great. If his goal was to get Yankees fans on their feet while he comes to bat, he succeeded.

13. Vernon WellsI’m not a fan of rap music, but if you choose a song with Dr. Dre and Eminem, then you are in my good graces for the entire season. And that’s exactly what Vernon Wells did by choosing “Forgot About Dre” by Dr. Dre & Eminem. The beat is fantastic and this was when rap was still at it is greatest. It’s great that someone chose a throwback song, and now I will await his arrival to the plate just to hear this awesome song.

The Yankees choosing their own walk-up music is a way for them to connect to their fans. It shows fans what kind of music their idols like and in their own way, they introduce you to music you may have never heard of before. The Yankees are always winners in the fans eyes, but they’ve become more than. They’re role models with impeccable taste in music. So the next time you go to the ball park, open your ears when your favorite Yankee goes to the plate. You just might have a new favorite song that you’ll want as soon as you get home.

Opening Day is coming, so how’s the team shaping up?

Brett Gardner could be a valuable player in the Yankees lineup...

Brett Gardner could be a valuable player in the Yankees lineup…

In a little less than three weeks, the Yankees will begin their home-opener against the Boston Red Sox with CC Sabathia on the mound. However, this year’s Opening Day lineup might be a little different than what we’re used to due to all of the injuries the Yankees were plagued with during the 2013 season. The Yankees are missing Curtis Granderson (broken forearm), Mark Teixeira (strained forearm) and Alex Rodriguez (hip surgery) in their offense which is sure to look like the ‘Robinson Cano Show’ for the first month and a half. But with still some time to go, just how are the Yankees shaping up as they prepare for the season?

Lineup:

The Yankees lineup has many question marks after losing so many players to free agency and injuries. The bats of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez will be with different ball clubs, while we will most likely have to wait for Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson to return to their post in early to mid-May. However, the lineup hasn’t looked as puzzling as it did when Spring Training started. The Yankees proved that they can manufacture runs by using a key element that they possess: speed. Players like Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Eduardo Nunez are capable of getting on base, going station to station on their own before a key teammate has to drive them in with an RBI. Speed will play an important part this season since the Yankees have lost over 100 home runs than in season’s past. But just because the Yankees are relying on speed, it doesn’t mean we should start calling them the ‘Bronx Bunters’. They will still find a way to hit home runs with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira making their way back into the starting lineup.

Starting Pitching:

Throughout the course of Spring Training, the starting pitching has been one early glimpse of how our starters will perform during the 2013 season. It looks as if they left off from last season. Hiroki Kuroda looks to be in mid-season form, David Phelps has a 0.63 ERA 14 Spring appearances  Ivan Nova has an ERA of 1. Andy Pettitte has still proven that his pitches are effective although he’s the oldest starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. And as expected, there is no concern over CC Sabathia, whatsoever. The starting pitching looks to be one of the Yankees strong points like it was in season’s past. Let’s hope that the pitching can carry the Yanks this season.

Bullpen:

...while Mariano Rivera could be a dynamic piece to the Yankees bullpen

…while Mariano Rivera could be a dynamic piece to the Yankees bullpen

The Yankees bullpen was another one of their key pieces that helped define the Yankees last season. With pitchers such as David Robertson, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada and Joba Chamberlain, it seemed like an easy task to get the ball to the 9th inning before handing it off to the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. Last season’s bullpen dynamic was different since there was no Mariano in the bullpen due to an ACL injury, giving the Yankees a glimpse of what it would look like if Mariano Rivera wasn’t there. With Rafael Soriano, the Yankees were able to still close games with a dominant force but this year there is no Rafael Soriano. Mariano Rivera plans to retire after the 2013 season, which gives Yankees fans one last look of the greatest closer before he hangs up his cleats and says goodbye to the game. The bullpen is expected to be a strong part of the Yankees once again, and from Spring observations, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shawn Kelley and David Phelps get spots in the bullpen. With both of their arms this spring, the Yankees bullpen could become an iron gate to prevent runs from scoring.

There’s only 17 days until Opening Day so from now until Spring Training is over, it would be a good time to start watching the games to see who has a legitimate shot of making the team. And from what I’ve seen all Spring so far, there are quite a few who have a chance to go north.

Spring Training Notes 2/14/13: Nova, Pineda, Phelps, Youkilis

Ivan Nova

Day three of Spring Training has come to a close, meaning it’s time for another Spring Training report. Yesterday was all about Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Today, our Spring Training notes travel further back in the rotation (and briefly at third base). Today, we take you into the competition for the fifth starter spot between Ivan Nova and David Phelps, who had a great rookie season with the Yankees last year.

We should start by discussing the battle for the 5th spot between Nova and Phelps.

Nova vs. Phelps: Who gets the fifth spot?

Ivan Nova doesn’t know what went wrong last season after he posted  7.05 ERA after the All-Star Break. He does know that the fifth starter spot is his to lose to David Phelps.

“I was in competition when I had the season I had last year. Last year was a competition. This year’s going to be a competition. For me, next year’s going to be a competition. Like I told one of the guys, CC’s got 100-something million. With that contract, I can sit down and it won’t be a competition, but for me every year is a competition. I’m confident at the same time that I’m going to be there. I cannot sit here and let things happen. I’ve got to go and fight for it.” Nova told the media earlier today. One other person agreed with Nova’s words, Joe Girardi.

“He has to go out there and prove himself. That’s the bottom line.” Girardi said. “Because of what he went through the second half of the season, he has to earn a job. You’d like to think that every starter would go out and earn a job, but we know that’s not realistic. I don’t think we’re going to look at CC’s numbers real heavily, or (Hiroki) Kuroda’s.”

Coming into camp, it seemed that David Phelps had the disadvantage due to the fact that he was in a bullpen role last season? So does that mean Joe Girardi will judge Phelps on whether he’s a bullpen piece or not?

“We’re going to look at (Phelps) as a starter going into camp because that’s what we project him as in the future. And we’ll make adjustments if we have to.”

So for those of you who plan on watching almost every Spring Training game (or if you have MLB.TV where you would technically only miss three games), then this is the year for you to watch who gets the fifth rotation spot.

Michael Pineda loses weight and could be ready by June

Michael Pineda went to Spring Training camp in better shape than he did last season, weighing in at 260 and ready to work towards returning to the Yankees in June. Brian Cashman answered questions about Pineda but mostly gave a prognosis on where Pineda was at this point.

“Mike’s doing well so far.” Cashman said. “He’s completing his first week on a full mound, he’s had no setbacks, he’s worked very hard and it’s a very serious surgery he’s coming back from. No guarantees but so far we’re optimistic.”

If all goes well, Pineda could be back with the Yankees before the All-Star Break.

Youkilis comes to camp

Kevin Youkilis came to Yankees camp for a few minutes earlier today, but he did get his work in while at the minor league complex with some of the other players. Youkilis seemed excited to see teammate Juan Cedeno, who he knew since they were both in the Red Sox organization at one point. Youkilis got to Tampa at 6:30 this morning and went to work out at the minor league complex. Eduardo Nunez was also spotted in the Yankees clubhouse. Probably getting his work in.

A big reminder, tomorrow is the voluntary report date for the Yankees position players but we should expect more of them coming in the coming days. To Girardi’s knowledge, none of them have visa or transportation issues. Also, someone might want to call Robinson Cano. Remember in 2010 when he showed up a day late to camp because he had the dates mixed up? Yeah…

2012 Yankees: Keep Em’ or Dump Em’?

It had been a long, trying season for the Yankees where so much has happened. Yankees have lost Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, at a point lost Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, suffered through hitting slumps by Russell Martin, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson and a surprisingly good regular season by Nick Swisher. But the Yankees didn’t realize that the season doesn’t end after 162 games and fell flat against the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS and will now spend their offseason trying to piece it all together. The Yankees have to make decisions before the 2013 offseason, but if you were the GM of the Yankees who would you keep and who would you dump? Infield

How should the 2012 postseason roster look?

Right around the corner is the most exciting time of the year for any team—the postseason. While there are teams that have clinched their spot in the postseason, there are teams like the Yankees that are so close to clinching that they could taste it. However, they still have to battle to stay in 1st place in the American League East. While it is almost certain that the Yankees will be in another postseason, the Yankees have other things on their minds as in after they clinch a spot. What will they be doing? They will be preparing their 2012 ALDS roster (if they are in first place by the end of the season). After observing the Yankees for a while, I decided to compile a list of who would make the 25-man roster for the ALDS series against what looks to be the Detroit Tigers. (Statistics are as of the morning of September 28, 2012).

Infield

Derek Jeter (2012 Season: .318 AVG, 15 HR, 57 RBI): Of course, you cannot be in the postseason without the Captain Derek Jeter. Jeter has had a phenomenal year and will end the year with an average over .300. The last time Jeter finished with an average over .300 was in 2009. How did that end out for the Yankees? Jeter had silenced the critics and had done his thing, but can he continue into the postseason and lead the Yankees to another championship?

Robinson Cano (2012 Season: .300 AVG, 30 HR, 82 RBI): Robinson Cano is one of the best second baseman in the game and he knows how to hit. While Cano has been up and down this year, he has been consistent defensively and can help Yankees pitching by preserving runs and getting double plays with a flick of a wrist. He makes that pivot to first base better than any second baseman than I have seen. Cano was one of the very few Yankees who had a hot bat during last year’s ALDS (along with Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner respectively), so it would be nice to see Cano get on a tear.

Mark Teixeira (2012 Season: .255 AVG, 23 HR, 81 RBI): Comparing Teixeira’s numbers from 2011 and from this year, this year has not been Teixeira’s best. But can you blame the guy? He has been sidelined with a Grade 1 strained calf. While he will make the roster for the play-offs, I doubt he will be 100 percent healthy. Teixeira also is one of the few culprits that seem to mysteriously lose his hitting talents in the play-offs. He needs to have a hot and consistent bat in the play-offs or else it could be an early exit for the Yankees—again.

Alex Rodriguez (2012 Season: .276 AVG, 18 HR, 56 RBI): Now, if the stats were for another player say maybe Eduardo Nunez, Chris Dickerson or Brett Gardner that would be a hell of a year. Unfortunately, it is for the guy that the Yankees gave a lucrative contract that last for another 5 years and did not hit the way that the Yankees were expecting. A-Rod is going to make the roster…but all season he has looked terribly lost at the plate. He is also another culprit that has not hit in the postseason in recent years (no, I am not counting 2009). A-Rod needs to get his act together and very quickly or else…you know. A first round exit for the Yankees.

Russell Martin (2012 Season: .209 AVG, 19 HR, 49 RBI): So this hasn’t been Russell Martin’s best year offensively (the 19 HR’s make the .209 AVG look less hideous) but the reason he makes the postseason roster is because of his defense. He also has been heating up at the plate as of late which means he could be on a tear any day now. He also was the only one that did not look lost during the ugly 6-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday night, cranking 2 hits off Morrow. Martin could add to the offense, which could be something that the Yankees need.

Morning Bits: Ivan Nova pitching himself out of the playoffs, Gardner on the playoff roster? & more…

Sticking with the old mug for good luck

Good morning all.  Yankees lost yesterday which is going to make the rest of these games a lot more interesting.   Yankee game tonight is scheduled for 7:07PM EST.  On the mound will be Kuroda vs. Jenkins.   Baltimore will be up against Boston and Texas will be up against Angels.

Enjoy the weekend.  Let’s get to some links….

Andrew Marchand of ESPN NY looks at which would be best for the Bombers the 1 or 2 seed.

Bryan Hoch of MLB.com has some tidbits such as A-Rod is cleared to DH, Tex is feeling better after testing his calf strain, and some might find this interesting the Yanks are pondering adding Gardner to the playoff roster.

Hoch also has the updated path to the post season.

Hal Bodley writes that the Yankees best move was bringing Andy Pettitte back.

Mark Feinsand of The Daily News writes that Ivan Nova is pitching himself out of the playoffs.

Week 19 Yankees Player of the Week

The Yankees started to play some better baseball this week. They went 4-2 in an extremely important week of games. They started it off on Sunday with a blow out win to salvage a huge split in Baltimore. They then managed to take two out of three in Boston against a team there was no excuses for loosing a series against. CC Sabathia continued to struggle against Tampa, but Ivan Nova pitched a huge game to even the series going into today. The Yankees struggled hitting with RISP in Boston, but it seems like their offense has gotten better. Eduardo Nunez has provided a big spark, which he could have before if he was actually used. Curtis Granderson has gone on a home run tear. Alex Rodriguez is really getting into a nice grove and Derek Jeter continues to fight through his injury to produce. The nominees for Week 19 Yankees Player of the Week are Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova.

The Case For Granderson:  Granderson was .318, with 5 HR’s and 11 RBI on the week. He sparked the Yankees to the blow out win on Sunday with a HR and 5 RBI coming off the bench. His 2 HR’s were the key to Wednesday’s win in Boston.

The Case For Jeter: Jeter’s hurt ankle has not stopped him this week. He hit .333 with 1 HR and 7 RBI. His consistency this year continues to be amazing.

The Case For Hughes. Hughes dominated Boston on Thursday by pitching 7.1 shut out innings. He allowed only 5 hits on 7 strikeouts. The Yankees only scored two runs for him so it was imperative that Hughes cam through. He has pitched some big games lately.

The Case For Nova: In a very surprising development Nova looked as good yesterday as he has all season. He pitched 6 innings, allowed 2 runs on 4 hits and struck out 8. He pitched even better than those numbers would suggest. He looked dominating at times and left very few pitches in the middle of the plate as he had before.

Curtis Granderson is the Week 19 Yankees Player of the Week. If he can keep this play up it will be big for the Yankees. There were a lot of good candidates this week so vote for your pick in the poll and discuss in the comments.

Who should be on the Yankees 2013 roster?

Some of the Yankees that most likely will make the 2013 roster are Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. But who are the others?

Looking ahead is not a bad thing. The Yankees looked ahead when it came to releasing the 2013 schedule, so why not look ahead to see who could be on the field when you go to a game in 2013. Here is how I picture the Yankees having their alignment of players in 2013.

Let us start in the outfield, shall we? In left field, we have none other than the Yankees speedster Brett Gardner (2012:  .321 AVG, 0 HR, 3 RBI). Now keep in mind that Gardner has only played in nine games and was shut down for the duration of the season due to elbow surgery. Gardner is a catalyst for the Yankees and plays the game Joe Girardi hates to play–small ball. He gets on base, he steals, he bunts and he is one of the best defensive players in baseball. Gardner is arbitration eligible so do not expect there to be much of a fight since Gardner has not played most of the year.

In center field, we have another speedster but he is known for his power bat, Curtis Granderson (2012: .233 AVG, 37 HR, 89 RBI). 2013 is Granderson’s free agent year and after the Kevin Long tutorial in 2010; Granderson has become a home run hitter. Now, Granderson does not hit for singles or doubles (note the .233 average) but he is a power bat, which is something the Yankees could use in the heart of the lineup. What happens after 2013, we do not know but—at least the Yanks could see Granderson’s bat in the lineup in 2013.

In right field, you may be a bit surprised by my choice but I believe Nick Swisher (2012: .258 AVG, 20 HR, 78 RBI) will be in Yankees pinstripes in 2013. Now, why do I think Swisher will be a Yankee? Because along with Swisher’s good bat in the lineup, he has a charming and bubbly personality that would be sorely missed if he ever left the team. The Yankees were a serious bunch before Swisher came along and now the team seems livelier. Swisher has left an imprint on the team—but if Swisher signs with the Yanks, he cannot expect a $100 Million contract. We are still recovering from 3 of those.

In the infield, we have of course the third baseman Alex Rodriguez (2012: .276 AVG, 17 HR, 50 RBI). A-Rod this season is not A-Rod but he has come back a hot hitter since getting off the DL. In addition, A-Rod is stuck with the Yankees until his contract expires in 2018 (Yikes).

At shortstop, we have the Captain Derek Jeter (2012: .323 AVG, 15 HR, 53 RBI) who becomes a free agent in 2014. There is not much to explain about Jeter except for the fact he is having his best year average wise since 2009.

At second base, there is the young Robinson Cano (2012: .299 AVG, 30 HR, 77 RBI) who is by far the Yankees best player. He plays second base so smoothly and has a great pop to his bat. For a person who does not think he has home run power—he is mistaken. He is a home run hitter. That is all.

Finally, to round out the infield, we have Mark Teixeira (2012: .255 AVG, 23 HR, 81 RBI). Teixeira is stuck with us until 2017 and even if the Yankees wanted to trade Teixeira (they do not), they cannot because of Teixeira’s no trade clause. We might as well make the best of it so Tex…we are going to need lots of game winning and World Series winning HR’s until then.

What the rotation should look like in the 2012 playoffs

Of course CC would get a spot in the playoff rotation but the question is–who comes next?

The Yankees are expected to be one of the contenders during this year’s 2012 play-offs, and although so far it looks like the Yankees might lose first place to the Rays, I still predict that the Yankees will win the American League East by at least 3-4 games. With that being said, I do not feel like it is a bad idea to think about the starting rotation for the 2012 play-offs. For the Yankees, CC Sabathia goes first–but if the Yankees were to go all the way to the World Series (hypothetically), how would you shape up the rotation? After observing the Yankees starting rotation for quite some time, here is how I would compose the 2012 play-off rotation if the Yankees were to go all the way to the World Series.

American League Division Series

CC Sabathia
Hiroki Kuroda
Phil Hughes

Reason: It is obvious that our ace, CC Sabathia would go first since he is the one that holds us into games and always gives us a chance to score and after CC, to me it seemed that this rotation makes sense. When the Yankees first signed Hiroki Kuroda, I thought it was going to be another signing gone wrong (like the signing of Carl Pavano & A.J Burnett), but Kuroda proved me wrong as well as Yankees fans when he came out of the dugout throwing gem after gem. Unfortunately, the Yankees seem to not score when Kuroda is on the mound, thus why his win/loss record is not spectacular. Kuroda however, proves that he is a liable part to the rotation and has earned the #2 spot with his 2.96 ERA and 1.120 WHIP so far this season. Now, we move onto Phil Hughes. I know, you’re asking why did I chose a guy whose 12-11 with a 4.15 ERA & a 1.269 WHIP as the third starter. It’s because when Hughes is right, his stuff is ‘Philthy’ (pun intended). Hughes proved it in his last outing when he only gave up two runs. Sure, his Achilles heel is giving up the long ball but all pitchers give up home runs.  When Hughes is also right, he is able to keep the Yankees in the game. That is what makes Hughes so valuable (and he pitches better than what his outings says).

American League Championship Series / World Series

CC Sabathia
Hiroki Kuroda
Andy Pettitte
Phil Hughes

Reason: The ALCS and the World Series rotation are a little different due to one name–Andy Pettitte. The only reason I did not list Andy Pettitte in the rotation for the ALDS was because he is still recovering from that foot injury and of course, if I were the manager I would want to give Pettitte’s foot just a little more time to heal. Pettitte is competitive and has the most postseason wins on the Yankees. He is also a great addition to the rotation and gives it depth. Sure, he’s only gotten a couple of starts since returning in May, but if he could get 2-3 more starts before he’s plugged back into the rotation then he should be just fine.

What about David Phelps? 

David Phelps has played a big part in the rotation with the injuries to CC Sabathia and now Ivan Nova, but I would not put Phelps in the rotation in case one of the pitchers in the rotation has an off night and the Yanks are in dire need of a long man. You cannot ask Derek Lowe to go out there since he might be needed later in the game and you definitely cannot ask David Robertson or Rafael Soriano to come in earlier than expected. Phelps belongs on the play-off roster and he belongs in the bullpen to help the Yankees out. If you need more convincing that he belongs on the playoff roster, he has a 2.69 ERA and a 1.147 WHIP.

What about Ivan Nova?

At the rate he is pitching, Ivan Nova would not get a playoff spot in the rotation. Yes, he is 11-7 but he has an ERA of almost five and a WHIP of 1.456. He also is right there with Phil Hughes in giving up a lot of HR’s. It also seems for the last 2 months or so, Ivan Nova looks lost on the mound. Maybe I might change my mind when he comes off the DL and if he pitches like ‘Super Nova’ but until then, there is no way that he’s getting a spot on the playoff roster.

What about Freddy Garcia?

Freddy Garcia has been a surprise for the Yankees since coming back into the rotation. On the season, he’s 7-5 with a 4.96 ERA. Trust me, the ERA of five is nothing to be happy about but it is a big improvement from when his ERA was over 12 in the beginning of the year. Garcia would be another pitcher that would go into the bullpen for the playoffs in case the starters do not perform up to par. When you think about it, Garcia has not been bad at all and he’s actually earning some trust back from Yankees fans. Remember earlier in the season when we wanted him gone and we wished for A.J Burnett to return? Well slowly, we all forgot A.J Burnett’s name and continued chanting ‘Sweaty Freddy’. Garcia could play a huge role in the playoffs like Phelps and right now, he might get a spot in the bullpen but all that could change now that we are in the final month of the regular season.

There is still a lot of baseball to be played and anything could happen, but if the season ended today, is this the top starting rotation that you would attempt to take above and beyond?

 

 

 

Yankees Off Day Notes: Nova, Gardner, Rays

Not a lot happened in Yankees Universe today but there are some worthy notes before the Yankees series in Cleveland.

– The Yankees put Ivan Nova on the 15 day disabled list after Nova’s MRI revealed he had rotator cuff inflammation. The good news is that Nova won’t need surgery and all he will need is rest. He won’t pick up a ball for 5 days.

– Brett Gardner’s Staten Island Yankees jersey number was retired today which means no other SI Yanks player can ever wear the #6 again. The first 2,500 fans at the stadium received a Gardner jersey for the final time and the night will end with fireworks.

– If you are watching baseball tonight, I suggest you watch the Oakland A’s and the Tampa Bay Rays. But please, root for the A’s. Rooting for the Rays means a 3 game lead cut to 2.5 games.

What Can the Yankees Do With Ivan Nova?

I and everybody else in the Yankees blogosphere have written plenty this season about Ivan Nova’s struggles.  Everybody knows the reasons at this point. He can’t locate any of his pitches consistently, he is not getting back to trying to get ground balls as opposed to strikeouts, and his attitude at times has been in question. Nova has been by far the worst Yankees starter this season and has been consistently miserable besides in the month of June. Nova now owns a 4.92 ERA and continues to lead MLB in extra-base hits allowed after yesterdays latest disaster in Chicago. The question at this point is what can the Yankees do? With the division lead down to four games they need to be more proactive.

Mercifully, CC Sabathia is scheduled to return on Friday, which should help bring better consistency back to the rotation. What might seem obvious to everybody is to insert David Phelps into the rotation for Nova. Phelps has been great this year in any role the Yankees have asked him to play, as he has a 2.69 ERA. However, the problem with inserting Phelps into the rotation is that Nova is unlikely to help you in the bullpen, and the Yankees really need help there as well. With Joba Chamberlian’s struggles the Yankees have nobody in their pen they can really count on outside of David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. Boone Logan has a 7.43 ERA for almost two months now, Cody Eppley has 5.40 ERA in August, and Derek Lowe probably came back down to earth in his last outing. The bullpen has had two major implosions over the last two weeks to cost the Yankees wins.                                                                                      

Sabathia coming back on Friday combined with tomorrow’s off day gives the Yankees a chance to skip Nova’s turn and let Phelps make another start. They could even skip him twice with an off day next week if they felt he needed more tutoring. They could then return Phelps to the bullpen for the stretch run where he will be needed, especially for the postseason. A playoff rotation of Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes is very solid. Phelps would be of much better use in the bullpen, as he could get high leverage outs later in games or come on early in the game if a starting pitcher struggles. But for now it makes sense for Phelps to stay in the rotation for another turn or two while they try to fix Nova.

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