A day to celebrate for half of the "Core Four"

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012, 11:51 AM [General]

    Redemption, thy name is Pettitte.

    As you’re likely aware, today is the one-year anniversary of Mariano Rivera recording career save No. 602. On Sept. 19, 2011 – a game I was lucky enough to be at as a ticketholder – the Yankees beat the Twins 6-4 to give Mo the record; two days later, they swept a doubleheader against the Rays to clinch the AL East, and Mo only recorded one more save that September.

    Flash forward 366 days, and while Mo won’t be on the mound, his fellow hurler from the Core Four will, and he is tasked with a massive undertaking.

    It has been exactly 12 weeks since Andy Pettitte walked off the mound at Yankee Stadium with a fractured ankle, courtesy of a Casey Kotchman line drive in the top of the fifth inning of the Bombers’ 5-4 win over Cleveland.

    The Yankees won that game, and when they went to sleep that night they had a five game lead over Baltimore in the AL East.

    Now, 84 days and some ebb and flow later, it’s up to Pettitte to give the Yankees a chance to win this afternoon – because if they don’t, they’ll go into tonight’s doubleheader finale in a place they haven’t been since June 10: second place.

    Baltimore’s marathon 18-inning win over Seattle, which ended shortly before 4 a.m. ET Wednesday morning, pulled the Orioles into a virtual first-place tie with the Bombers; New York has two games in hand, which will be evened out as they play three vs. Baltimore’s one in the next 36 hours, and even a slip-up this afternoon would drop them out of first place for at least a few hours.

    For the 40-year-old lefty, the return comes about 18 hours later than originally scheduled thanks to Mother Nature, but manager Joe Girardi wasn’t worried about the extra layoff causing any jitters or hiccups today.

    “For some guys, young guys, it’s probably more difficult (to wait) than it would be for a seasoned veteran, but that’s not Andy’s personality; since he got hurt, he couldn’t wait to get back out there,” Girardi said in his pre-game press conference Wednesday. “I’m sure it was a little difficult, but I don’t worry about the way he’ll handle it today.”

    As the proverb goes, good things come to those who wait…and since it’s been 12 weeks already, what’s another day, right?

    Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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    The ills of overexposure?

    Friday, September 7, 2012, 12:52 PM [General]

    Throughout the summer, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman repeatedly said that while he wasn’t actively looking to make a trade to replace Brett Gardner, he didn’t want to “overexpose” Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones, who shared the majority of duties in left field until the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki on July 23.

    Right now, Yankees fans seem to be finding out exactly why Cashman expressed those thoughts…and when combined with the slump the entire team has gone into, the wonder of whether or not Jones and Ibanez played “too much” this season is only magnified.

    To wit: In the first half, Ibanez hit .240/.755-11-36 in 221 at-bats over 70 games, while Jones was .244/.862-11-22 in 127 at-bats over 49 games – and if you told manager Joe Girardi that the two guys who were supposed to be his “DH platoon” would hit 22 homers and drive in 58 runs in 350 first-half at-bats, he surely would’ve been ecstatic.

    But in the second half, the tale of the two former All-Star outfielders has been a rocky one. In 116 AB over 41 games through Thursday, Ibanez is hitting just .207/.663-4-17, and has regressed as time has passed; he hit just .196 in August, hasn’t hit a home run since August 5, and is 1-for-14 in September so far while in the midst of a 3-for-41 (.073) slump over the last three calendar weeks.

    Jones, meanwhile, is just 12-for-85 (.141) in the second half with two homers and nine RBIs; he hasn’t homered since August 16, and since that dinger is 4-for-31 (.129) with just three walks and a hit by pitch to add to his OBP.

    True, the Yankees have yet to really play with their optimal lineup this season; they got just a handful of games out of their “starting seven” (Teixeira/Cano/Jeter/A-Rod/Swisher/Granderson/Gardner) before Brett Gardner got hurt, and since acquiring Ichiro to “replace” him, the Yankees have been missing at least one of Swisher, Rodriguez, or Teixeira every day since – so that septet still hasn’t played together since April 18.

    But with everyone healthy once Teixeira returns (possibly this weekend) and rosters expanded to 40, perhaps the “old men” can get a bit of a breather and refresh for the final stretch run.

    The Orioles will throw three lefties this weekend, meaning Ibanez (and Eric Chavez, who himself is just 8-for-43 or .186 over the last three weeks since his torrid string of six straight multi-hit games ended) will likely spend most of the rest of their stay in Camden Yards on the bench. Jones might too, depending on how he feels after being plunked in the leg by Randy Wolf Thursday night.

    Perhaps the rest will do them good, because with the entire team struggling, it might once again be up to the “bench” – the aforementioned trio included – to get hot and be the Yankees’ September saviors.

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    Baby Bombers Playoff Blog: Sept. 6

    Friday, September 7, 2012, 10:41 AM [General]

    Playoff Game 2 is in the books in both the International and Eastern Leagues, and while Trenton heads home on the heels of a series-tying win, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s postseason is one loss away from being over.

    SCRANTON: The SWB Yankees were pushed to the brink of elimination in Pawtucket Thursday night, as the PawSox’ 3-2 win gives them a 2-0 lead as their best-of-five series heads back to Rochester.

    For the second straight night, SWB got out to an early lead, plating two runs in the second on an RBI groundout by Austin Romine and a double by Melky Mesa. Pawtucket cut the deficit in half thanks to a fifth-inning RBI double by Bryce Brentz, then took the lead in the seventh thanks to a defensive miscue; after a single by Brentz scored Nate Spears to tie the game, PawSox shortstop Jonathan Hee followed with his own single to right field – but in an attempt to nail Brentz trying for third, SWB right fielder Cole Garner threw the ball away, allowing Brentz to score the go-ahead (and eventual winning) run.

    SWB would get two men on in the ninth for the second straight night, but Jose de la Torre got shortstop Ramiro Pena to fly out to end the game, notching his second save in two nights.

    On the mound, Ramon Ortiz (0-1) took the loss despite a quality start that saw him give up three runs (but only one earned) in 6.1 IP. IL All-Star Juan Cedeno struck out the only batter he faced, and Preston Claiborne struck out two in 1.1 IP to close it out. Offensively, six of SWB’s seven hits came from the triad of Garner, Pena, and first baseman Luke Murton, who each had two apiece, and the seventh was Mesa’s RBI double.

    The series now shifts back to SWB’s temporary home in Rochester, where the Yankees must win three straight to advance to the Governor’s Cup Finals. Game 3 is set for Friday night at 7:05 p.m., with lefty Mike O’Connor (3-6, 3.73) on the mound for the Yanks while the son of one of the most infamous Red Sox ever, Billy Buckner (8-6, 3.91), tires to push Pawtucket to their first playoff series sweep ever.

    TRENTON: The Thunder broke open a nail-biter in the ninth inning, plating three runs in the final frame to score a 4-1 win over Reading and tie their Eastern League Division Series at one game apiece.

    It was Reading who struck first on Thursday night, scoring a first-inning run off David Aardsma, who started the game for Trenton as the next step in his current MLB rehab assignment. But that was all the R-Phils would get, as scheduled starter Shaeffer Hall allowed just one hit and two walks in 5.2 shutout innings, and the quarter of Graham Stoneburner, Lee Hyde, Branden Pinder (W, 1-0), and Ryan Pope (S, 1) allowed just two baserunners in the final 2.1 innings to close out the win.

    Offensively, Trenton scratched out just five hits, and after allowing a leadoff double to center fielder Adonis Garcia, Phillies starter Trevor May retired the next 12 batters in a row before Addison Maruszak’s solo homer to lead off the fifth tied the game at 1-1. Both teams then traded zeroes until the ninth, when a strategic move by the Phils backfired and gave Trenton the win.

    David Adams grounded out to open the final frame, but after Zoilo Almonte walked, Maruszak followed with a single to put runners on first and second with one out. A wild pitch moved them up a base, and after JR Murphy struck out, Phillies pitcher Colby Shreve intentionally walked Kevin Mahoney to set the stage for some potential fireworks – and that’s exactly what DH Rob Segedin provided, lacing a triple to right that cleared the bases and gave Trenton the 4-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

    With the tally tied at one, the series now moves to Trenton for Games 3-5, with Game 3 set for 7:05 p.m. on Friday night. Right-hander Mikey O’Brien (5-7, 4.20) will be on the hill for the Thunder, while the R-Phils are expected to counter with righty Ethan Martin (5-0, 3.18).

    Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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    Baby Bombers 2012 Playoff Blog: Sept. 5

    Wednesday, September 5, 2012, 10:34 PM [General]

    Both the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees and Double-A Trenton Thunder began their quests for Minor League championships on Wednesday night, but both sets of Baby Bombers find themselves in an 0-1 hole after their playoff openers.

    SCRANTON: Starter John Maine was roughed up, allowing five runs on seven hits in just 4.2 innings, as the SWB Yankees fell to the Pawtucket Red Sox 7-4 in Rhode Island.

    SWB actually held a 4-0 lead heading into the bottom of the third, thanks to a first-inning RBI double by Cole Garner and third inning homers by third baseman Kevin Russo (solo shot) and first baseman Luke Murton (two-run shot). However, the PawSox began chipping away in that frame, as left fielder J.C. Linares hit a two-run homer and first baseman Andy LaRoche added a solo shot to pull the home team within 4-3.

    LaRoche then victimized Maine again in the fifth, smacking a two-run double to left that chased Maine and gave the PawSox a 5-4 lead they wouldn't relinquish. The long ball then later gave Pawtucket their final two runs, as right fielder Bryce Brentz smashed a two-run shot in the eighth off Kelvin Perez to close the scoring.

    On the mound, Chase Whitley followed Maine and allowed two hits and a walk while striking out three in 2.1 strong innings, and Perez finished out by allowing those two runs and two hits in the eighth. Offensively, Scranton scratched out nine hits, with second baseman Corban Joseph going 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored (on Murton's homer) and shortstop Ramiro Pena also going 2-for-4.

    The series resumes in Pawtucket on Thursday night, with Game 2 of the best-of-five series set for 7:05 p.m. Righty Ramon Ortiz (13-6, 3.45) will go for the Yanks, while the PawSox will counter with southpaw Chris Hernandez (1-4, 3.59).

    TRENTON: The Thunder opened their postseason by dropping a 4-2 decision in Reading to the Phillies, with Eastern League regular-season wins leader Brett Marshall taking the loss.

    Trenton struck first, getting a two-run homer from outfielder Ramon Flores - who just joined the Thunder from Class-A Tampa on Monday - to take a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning. However, the R-Phils tied it up in the bottom of the fifth behind a solo homer from DH Jake Fox and left fielder Jiwan James, then took the lead in the seventh thanks to back-to-back solo shots from catcher Tommy Joseph and right fielder Leandro Castro.

    On the mound, Marshall (0-1) allowed four runs on six hits over his seven innings, with Mark Montgomery striking out two in a scoreless eighth. Offensively, outfielder Adonis Garcia was 2-for-4 and scored on Flores' home run, but outside of those two, the rest of the lineup was held to four hits by Reading hurlers Austin Hyatt, Tyler Knigge (W, 1-0), and Austin Friend (S, 1). Trenton had two men on in both the eighth and ninth against Knigge and Friend, but were unable to capitalize.

    Game 2 will be held in Reading on Thursday night, with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m. The Thunder will send lefty Shaeffer Hall (9-10, 3.67) to the bump to try to tie the series, while the R-Phils are expected to start righty Trevor May (10-13, 4.87).

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    2012 MiLB Playoff Primer

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012, 2:20 PM [General]

    In finishing up text for August’s edition of Minor League Monthly, it dawned on us that the end of the regular season is rapidly approaching for all of the Yankees’ Minor League affiliates. We will be providing some coverage of the Baby Bombers’ post-season exploits this fall, and with just about two weeks to go in the MiLB regular season, here’s a primer on what you might have to look forward to:

    TRIPLE-A: The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees are 75-56 and lead the IL North Division by five games over Pawtucket with 13 games to go. Their “magic number” is 9, and their season ends with a four-game set at Pawtucket over Labor Day Weekend.

    If they advance to the IL Playoffs – which would be a huge accomplishment given that they haven’t played a true home game all year – they will encounter a format rather similar to MLB’s. Three division winners and one Wild Card reach the postseason, with all three series (including the Governor’s Cup finals) contested in a best-of-five format; in addition, the IL champion will play the winner of the Pacific Coast League in the Triple-A National Championship Game on Sept. 18 in Durham, NC.

    DOUBLE-A: The Trenton Thunder are 73-55 and lead the EL Eastern Division by five games over New Britain and six over Reading with 14 to go. Their season also ends on Labor Day.

    In the EL, the top two teams in each division (for a total of four) make the postseason, with the divisional round pitting each division winner vs. their runner-up and the ELCS then pitting the two winners. All three series are best-of-five, with the division champions hosting Games 3-5 in the first round, and because the Eastern Division has home-field advantage in the EL Championship Series in even-numbered years, Trenton would host Games 3-5 of that series if they advance.

    CLASS-A ADVANCED: The Tampa Yankees are 31-23 in the second half and lead the FSL North Division by 1.5 games over Lakeland and 2 over Dunedin with 13 games to go; they will finish on September 2, and have six games with Dunedin and four with Lakeland in their final 13.

    In the FSL, the season is split into two halves, with the winners from each division in each half advancing to the playoffs; should the same team win both halves (which, in the FSL North, would be first-half champ Dunedin), then the team with the next best overall record would qualify as their first-round opponent. The first round is a best-of-three “Division Series,” with the winners advancing to the best-of-five FSL Championship Series.  Should Tampa reach the post-season, they would host Game 1 against Dunedin, and because the North Division has home field advantage for the 2012 FSLCS, they would host Games 3-5 of the finals.

    CLASS-A: The Charleston RiverDogs are currently 23-33 in the SAL second half, 12.5 games behind Southern Division leader Rome with 13 to play. The SAL playoffs are contested under a similar format as the FSL, and as Charleston finished third in the South in the first half, it is all but certain that their year will be over when the regular season concludes on Labor Day.

    SHORT-SEASON CLASS-A: The Staten Island Yankees are 19-40 and in last place in the NYPL McNamara Division, 20.5 games behind leader Hudson Valley. They have already been eliminated from playoff contention, and will conclude their season on September 5. For those curious, the NYPL Playoffs feature the same structure as the IL, only their three series are contested in a best-of-three format.

    ROOKIE BALL: Entering Tuesday, the GCL Yankees were 32-23 and in third place in the GCL North Division, two games behind the co-leading Tigers and Pirates (in both the division and the wild card standings) with five to play. They lost Tuesday to the GCL Phillies, but as they play both the Pirates and Tigers twice each in the final four games of the season, they could make up ground.

    In the GCL, the three division winners and one wild card reach the postseason. The first round is a one-game playoff, with the two winners meeting in a best-of-three series for the GCL Championship. The higher-seeded team hosts the one-game playoff and Games 1 and 3 (if necessary) of the GCLCS.

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    Boone Logan and a case of the birthdays

    Monday, August 13, 2012, 1:19 PM [General]

    Apologies for the Berenstain Bears-esque title, but if you believe in trends, then The Yankees have a 66.7 percent chance of winning tonight’s series opener against the Rangers.

    That’s because August 13 is Boone Logan’s birthday, and as the left-hander turns 28 today, he brings the knowledge that the Bombers are 6-3 this season in games on the birthdays of current members of the 40-man roster. Technically, they’re  7-3, as the Yankees beat Detroit on Derek Lowe’s birthday of June 1, but as he wasn’t part of the team then, we’ll leave him out of the discussion.

    Looking back, those nine Yankees who have celebrated in-season birthdays this year have put on performances ranging from pretty good to one that was utterly forgettable.

    Among position players, Mark Teixeira (2-for-5 with a double and a run scored in a win over Baltimore on April 11) and Derek Jeter (2-for-5 in a June 26 win over Cleveland) lead the way, but Raul Ibanez did have an RBI in the Yanks’ June 2 loss at Detroit, and despite going 0-for-4, Andruw Jones was in the lineup for the team’s win in Texas on April 23.

    That leaves five pitchers with summer birthdays, and while only two of them have pitched in their birthday hat, the other three have seen wins either on their big day or in their closest start to it.

    The two who have pitched are both relievers, and they’ve had opposite appearances; David Robertson struck out two Orioles in a scoreless inning during the Yankees’ April 9 win, but poor Cory Wade threw just three pitches – giving up a walk-off home run and taking a loss – in the team’s May 28 loss in Anaheim to the Angels.

    As for the starters, you have only one who is currently active, that being Phil Hughes – who watched the Yankees beat Cleveland on June 24, then pitched a six-hit shutout over eight innings to help the team beat the Indians again two days later…on Jeter’s birthday.

    Andy Pettitte, meanwhile, missed pitching on his birthday by 24 hours, but got a pair of wins; the Yankees beat Washington on July 15, and the next day, Pettitte gave up just two runs over seven innings in the Yanks’ extra-inning victory over the Nats.

    And finally, we come to CC Sabathia, who has had the worst luck of the bunch. His birthday, July 21, saw the Yankees lose their third straight in Oakland, and despite pitching seven strong innings the next day (with several family members in attendance), he took a no decision as the A’s completed a four-game sweep.

    That brings us back to Mr. Logan, who may or may not see action in back of David Phelps (and possibly Derek Lowe) tonight against Texas. If he doesn’t, he at least has a win in his most recent game, as the lefty pitched two-thirds of an inning in Saturday’s win in Toronto.

    Can the Yankees rebound from a tough loss Sunday to give Boone a birthday W?

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    Ibanez was the right choice

    Friday, August 10, 2012, 3:46 PM [General]

    During Thursday’s game in Detroit, shortly after Raul Ibanez’ RBI triple gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead, Daily News beat writer Mark Feinsand Tweeted the following:

    “Remember when Yankees fans wanted Brian Cashman to sign Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui over Raul Ibanez?”

    A salient question at the time of its asking, of course, but one made even more prophetic given the fact that Damon was officially released by the Indians roughly an hour later.

    Yes, later in that game Ibanez “misplayed” Andy Dirks’ disputed double that gave the Tigers the lead and led to Joe Griardi’s tirade and subsequent ejection…and yes, he’s had a few miscues in the outfield this year that have led to many bemoaning the 40-year-old’s presence out there.

    But look back at Mr. Feinsand’s Tweet and ask yourself this – where might the Yankees be if they had signed one of the two former Yankees mentioned instead of Ibanez?

    Through Thursday’s game – the Yankees’ 111th of the year – Ibanez had played 92 games, and with most of his 287 at-bats coming out of the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup, he was hitting .244/.307/.467 with 15 homers and 50 RBI.

    For a guy who was signed late in the off-season to a “bargain” contract and meant to be the lefty half of a DH platoon/part-time outfielder, that’s a heck of a line, no?

    Sure, the season-ending injury to Brett Gardner has pressed Ibanez (and Andruw Jones) into more outfield duty than seemingly anyone wanted, but his hot hitting helped carry the team early and he had more than held his own in the outfield most of the time.

    Unfortunately, you can’t say the same about Matsui or Damon, both of whom are younger than Ibanez, by the way.

    Both were signed after the season began in April – Matsui by the Rays, Damon by Cleveland – but as of Damon’s release on Thursday, neither is still with those teams.

    Godzilla hit just .147-2-7 in 95 AB (and multiple rough nights in the outfield) with Tampa before being let go in late July, while Johnny put up a decidedly un-Damonic .222-4-19 line in 207 AB with Cleveland before he was designated for assignment last week. Damon was at least better defensively, sure, but his “speed advantage” manifested itself in just four steals – one more than Ibanez has.

    And, for the record, that’s a .199 total average (60-for-302) with six homers and 26 RBI combined for Damon and Matsui, who totaled 11 more plate appearances than Ibanez currently has.

    Bottom line? Sure, he may have his faults, but based on pretty much any current performance indicators you can base the decision on, Cashman made the right choice in picking Ibanez over the two revered ex-World Champions.

    Was it sexy? No, maybe not…but for the Yankees, it’s been the healthiest relationship it possibly could be.

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    A tough week for veteran stars

    Thursday, August 2, 2012, 1:59 PM [General]

    Derek Lowe, Bobby Abreu, and Hideki Matsui were integral parts of championship teams and key players in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry over the last decade.

    As of Thursday, though, they’re just another handful of veterans who have found their way to baseball’s equivalent of the scrap heap this season, and now serve as a reminder that for most of the Majors, the youth movement is in full effect.

    Lowe, who is 39, was designated for assignment by Cleveland late Wednesday night after another abysmal outing on Tuesday. He started out the season 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA in his first nine starts, but has struggled so badly since then that the Indians – who are 50-54, third in the AL Central and six games out of a Wild Card – felt that eating the remainder of his $5 million salary was worth finding out if they had better in-house options.

    Matsui, 38, clearly isn’t the player he was three (or even two) years ago, but after a .251-12-72 season in Oakland in 2011, the best he could do was a Minor League deal with Tampa Bay in late April. He got one, but after struggling in Triple-A, Matsui hit just .147 for the Rays before being designated for assignment last week and eventually outright released on Wednesday night.

    Designation for assignment was the same fate Abreu has faced twice this year, the second coming earlier this week when the Dodgers sent him packing after acquiring Shane Victorino at the trade deadline. Sure, a slow start to the season and the was the Angels’ reason for cutting Abreu in April, but he hit fairly well for the cross-town Dodgers (.251-2-17, 30 BB, 5 SB in 209 PA) – but much like it was with Trout and Trumbo in Anaheim, the emergence/elevation/acquisition of a younger, “better” player meant that even with a $9 million salary, Abreu simply was no longer needed.

    That has to be a tough phrase to hear for guys like that. Heck, it’s a tough phrase for fans who grew up or came of age (such as a man in his mid-30s like myself) watching the three of them win Home Run Derbies, become World Series MVPs, and, in Lowe’s case, win the game that made his team the first to ever come back from an 0-3 playoff deficit.

    But the end of the line comes sometime, and this year may be it for one or all of those guys…if not more.

    Beyond that trio, you have Vladimir Guerrero (37), Miguel Tejada (38), and Manny Ramirez (40), all of whom (like Matsui) found in-season Minor League deals as their only options, but then were released at their request after their teams refused to promote them from Triple-A.

    And then there’s 38-year-old Johnny Damon who, while employed, is in a precarious position, as he has hit just .222-4-19 in 64 games with Cleveland and could be another late-season “youth movement” casualty if they fall further out of contention.

    I guess if there’s one positive in that landscape, it’s this: if 2012 is the end of the line for any or all of these guys, then the Hall of Fame rookie class of 2018 is already shaping up to be a great one.

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    Five surprises from the 2012 season so far

    Monday, July 30, 2012, 12:39 PM [General]

    With today being July 30, the MLB season has reached or is approaching a handful of milestones.

    Over the weekend, every team played game number 100, and with the trade deadline tomorrow, we’re roughly at the “two-thirds” pole in terms of the calendar and the number of games played.

    Many figured the Yankees and Rangers would be at the top of the AL, the Nats were favored to have a breakout season, and a handful of teams that started slow (like Detroit and the Angels) have found their way back towards the top.

    But did anyone see any of the five stories below coming?

    No. 1: The Reds are the best team in baseball

    Through Sunday, they were 61-40, which is tied for MLB’s best record, and had won 10 in a row…all without perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto. That all starts with pitching, as the five men in the rotation on Opening Day have made all 101 starts through Sunday, and Aroldis Chapman has 21 saves in 24 chances, a 1.45 ERA, and a K/9 ratio above 17.

    But, give credit to the hitters, especially as they’re without their best; Todd Frazier (.277-11-35) has been excellent as a fill-in for Scott Rolen and now Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce are having their usual solid seasons, and the three-man outfield quasi-platoon of Chris Heisey, Ryan Ludwick, and Drew Stubbs has 32 homers and 100 RBI in roughly 800 at-bats.

    No. 2: The Pirates are 24 wins away from their first winning season since 1992

    Who would’ve guessed that trading for the much-maligned A.J. Burnett would have been one of the spring’s best moves? The resurgent former pie-master is 12-3 with a 3.52 ERA through Sunday, and has anchored a Pirates rotation that has gotten quality campaigns from James McDonald and Kevin Correia and just added Wandy Rodriguez.

    On the hitting side, Andrew McCutchen deserves every MVP vote he gets, and adding Starling Marte into a lineup that includes legit bangers in Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez, a soaring Neil Walker, and two guys in Casey McGehee and Rod Barajas who can be power sources, and this lineup looks scary all of a sudden.

    No. 3: The entire AL East is at or above .500

    Yeah, everyone said it was the toughest division in baseball, but almost into August, every team is right there, and Boston is in last place despite a 51-51 mark. No other division has more than three teams at or above even.

    No. 4: Oakland is a playoff team

    “If the playoffs started today,” then the Angels would be at O.co Coliseum for the wild card play-in. The pitchers have done what they needed to do to win, and between a guy they shockingly outbid everyone for (the .305-14-54 Yoenis Cespedes), a breakout star no one expected (the .270-22-50 Josh Reddick) and a surging call-up (Brandon Moss, he of the 11 homers in 116 at-bats), the middle of their order has become a strong one.

    No. 5: The fall of the Phillies

    It’s been a rough year for the City of Brotherly Love, as a team that has won five straight NL East titles is in the basement, 12 ½ games out of even the second wild card and injuries this season have proven why Howard, Utley, Lee, and Halladay make so much money.

    The big pieces in both their rotation and the lineup are safe, but that said, don’t be surprised if the next 24 hours are the last ones in Philly for role guys like Juan Pierre and Ty Wigginton…or even “name” free agents to be Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino. After all, now’s the time to see if Domonic Brown and/or Tug Hulett can hack it, and Tyler Cloyd (13-1, 1.98 at Double-A and Triple-A) has certainly earned a few September starts, right?

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    Ichiro and the No. 51 debate

    Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 1:21 PM [General]

    Ichiro in pinstripes…even an overnight after it became a reality, it’s a statement that still probably makes many Yankees fans giddy.

    When we got word of the trade last night, the YESNetwork.com team was abuzz, with text messages flowing and a conference call on how to properly address the situation – which, as you likely have seen by now, included great analyses of the deal by both Jack Curry and Joe Auriemma, photos and videos of Ichiro’s first day as a Bomber, and a piece by Jon Lane on Brian Cashman’s stealth success.

    We are, of course, all baseball enthusiasts (to put it lightly), so after a few ideas were thrown out and a handful of “man, Cashman did it again!” sentiments were exchanged, one of us asked the million dollar question: What number is Ichiro going to wear?

    Even in Yankees lore, it was a valid question. After all, Ichiro has been synonymous with No. 51, the jersey he has worn since coming to Seattle in 2001…but in the Bronx, that number is synonymous with another former batting champion outfielder.

    One can’t help but remember the fans’ furor in 2008 when LaTroy Hawkins came to the Yankees and was issued No. 21, which had been out of circulation since Paul O’Neill retired. Hawkins didn’t understand the vitriol at first, but switched his number as soon as he was fully aware of why fans found No. 21 sacred.

    That said, while O’Neill and Bernie Williams are both in the same pantheon of beloved Yankees of the “’90s Dynasty” era…well, with all due respect to Mr. Hawkins and his great credentials, there’s a big difference between LaTroy and Ichiro.

    Mr. Suzuki is, as Joe Auriemma posited in his piece, one of the few people on the planet who can get away with going by one name. Only six active Major Leaguers have more MLB hits than Ichiro, and if you add the 1,278 he amassed in Japan, he has a career total of 3,812 – a number that only Ty Cobb and Pete Rose have surpassed in MLB history.

    He is the MLB record holder for hits in a single season, has 17 All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves between the U.S. and Japan, and was both the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in the same season – the season he became the first Japanese position player to break into the Majors.

    Ichiro is, in a few words, a surefire Hall of Famer (and possibly a first-ballot one)…which, to be fair, isn’t necessarily something you can say about Bernie.

    Sure, when it comes to love, numbers don’t always matter, and like No. 21, No. 51 has been out of circulation since Bernie last stepped off the field for the last time in October 2006.

    It remains that way, as Ichiro wore No. 31 in his debut for the Bombers, so all we can do is wonder what the reaction might have been if he took his spot in right field donning No. 51 on Monday night.

    What do you think? Would you have been upset had Ichiro worn No. 51? Click on the poll link below to voice your opinion.

    As a Yankees fan, would you have had objection if was Ichiro was issued No. 51?

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    The Phelps-Garcia debate

    Friday, July 20, 2012, 1:46 PM [General]

    Earlier Friday, my colleague Jon Lane wrote a feature piece wondering whether or not Freddy Garcia is (or should be) looking over his shoulder after a rough performance against Oakland was backed up by a strong one from David Phelps.

    In my mind, the answer is yes…but not just because of performance.

    Let me ask one simple question: who has a better shot at being a Yankee next year – Garcia or Phelps?

    Chances are, you answered Phelps, right? So then, at this point, given that thinking, might it not make more sense to give Phelps an extended look until Andy Pettitte returns?

    Numbers play a big part, of course. But, as Jon mentions in his piece, the stats say that Garcia is 2-3 with a 7.18 ERA as a starter this season, but went 2-0 with a 1.56 ERA in 10 appearances after being “banished” to a relief role.

    Meanwhile, Phelps is 0-1, 2.08 in his three starts, and if you wanted to include his stellar 5.1 IP in back of Phil Hughes against the Angels back in April (which was almost, to be fair, like a start), that ERA drops below 1.50.

    The one bug-a-boo may be pitch count, as Phelps hasn’t gotten out of the fifth innings in any of his three starts – but to be fair, in eight starts, Garcia has started the sixth inning in just four of them and finished it only once, so numerically, he hasn’t given much more distance.

    As Jon also mentioned, Joe Girardi said Thursday that he doesn’t envision Phelps as just a long reliever, but sees him more in the role Cory Wade excelled at earlier this season.

    And there’s your other reason, because both Garcia and Phelps have somewhat filled that role this year, and to be fair, The Chief has been better at it.

    It may not be an easy decision, sure; Girardi also said after Pettitte’s injury that Garcia had earned the right to start again. But at some point, the skipper has to do what’s best for the team.

    While not as electric as Phil Hughes, Garcia can be the kind of guy for the Yankees in 2012 that Hughes ostensibly was in 2009 – a quality part of the bridge to the end who can also help you out by throwing multiple innings in a pinch. And, in moving him to that role and putting Phelps into the rotation, you can continue the rookie’s development as a starter while also giving the brass a roughly six-week look at someone who, given the franchise’s contract statuses and luxury-tax avoidance desires going forward, could be one of their starting five in 2013.

    At the very least, he’d have a highly-competent long reliever behind him if he fails, right?

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    Eights wild in the Bronx

    Wednesday, July 18, 2012, 11:23 AM [General]

    The Yankees have won eight of their last 10, and are looking for their eighth sweep of the season on Wednesday against Toronto. Eights are clearly wild today (on 7/18, no less), so here are eight random facts about the Yankees and/or today’s game you may find interesting:

    -With Omar Vizquel in the lineup for Toronto, that means that the top three active hits leaders are all playing in the same game. Between them, Derek Jeter (3,205), Alex Rodriguez (2,863) and Vizquel (2,856) have nearly 9,000 total hits.

    -If A-Rod records three hits today, he will tie Harold Baines for 41st on the all-time list. Next up after that? Babe Ruth and his 2,873 knocks.

    -Should Russell Martin go deep today, he would become the eighth Yankee to reach 10 home runs this season, leaving Derek Jeter (7) and Eric Chavez (8) as the only Bombers with 100 or more plate appearances to still be in single digits.

    -Andruw Jones (who is in the lineup in left field against the lefty Ricky Romero) and Raul Ibanez – who were supposed to be the “DH platoon” for the most part this season – are hitting a combined .241 with 24 homers, 65 RBI, and an OPS in the .800 range. Not bad for a $3.1 million total investment.

    -Continuing with Jones and Ibanez: As our own Jack Curry Tweeted, Yankees left fielders are hitting .346 with 10 HR and 23 RBI in the last 22 games. Those are best numbers at that spot for any MLB team.

    -Completing the trilogy, the Yankees lead the Majors with 22 homers and 75 RBI from the No. 7 spot in the lineup, which is where Jones and/or Ibanez often hit. Today’s No. 7 hitter, for reference, is shortstop Jayson Nix.

    -A win today would be Hiroki Kuroda’s ninth. He has reached that total in three of his four previous seasons, but the earliest he’s ever gotten there is August 19.

    -Robinson Cano is riding a 20-game hitting streak (the longest active streak in MLB), during which he’s hitting .405. If he gets a hit today and moves to 21, that will make it the Yankees’ longest streak since Derek Jeter hit in 25 straight in 2006 – a mark that happens to be the sixth-longest streak in franchise history.

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