Oct 12

Thoughts On A-Rod, Washington Nationals And Playoffs

This has been a compelling postseason and it is getting more intriguing with each day. At the start of the season I projected the Giants and Yankees to meet in the World Series, and that’s still in play.

The Yankees’ showing makes them hard to figure out, but one thing is for certain, and that’s things will never be the same for Alex Rodriguez and how he’ll respond to being benched for this afternoon’s game is anybody’s guess what it will do to that clubhouse over the next five years.

Rodriguez played the good soldier when Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for him and ended up homering – twice. He was the same last night when Eric Chavez batted for him. Both had to be blows to his fragile confidence and pride, but being benched is another animal.

Joe Girardi’s actions have stripped Rodriguez of his emotional armor in a far worse way than Joe Torre dropping in the batting order several years ago. Back then, Rodriguez was still a dominating player, but one going through a slump. Torre also had cache in managing four World Series champions.

However, Rodriguez, through the aging process, injuries and it has been suggested the residual effect of his admitted steroid use, is simply not the same player anymore. Whether is year is an aberration remains to be seen, but remember he’s 38 and what player gets better and more productive as he gets older. Other than, of course, one of baseball’s greatest cheaters, Barry Bonds?

And, the beauty of all this is the Yankees have him for five more years, in which they’ll pay him in excess of $100 million. It’s hindsight now, but they should have let him walk when they had the chance. Odds are there were no teams that would have given him Yankee money, but late owner George Steinbrenner ended up bidding against himself. With an increased luxury tax coming, the Yankees will be forced to reduce payroll and they might have a completely different look, and maybe one no so dominant.

If Rodriguez is indeed on the decline as it appears, having him get all that money for not producing will undoubtedly cause a strain among the players. How can it not?

However, Rodriguez was greedy and wanted every last time and the Yankees were smug and arrogant in their free-spending ways. They both got what they deserve.

Another impression about the postseason is the arrogance of the Washington Nationals. I like Davey Johnson, always have, but their GM Mike Rizzo is annoying. I couldn’t agree more with my colleague Joe DeCaro’s post this morning on Rizzo’s decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg. It was beyond arrogance for Rizzo to suggest the Nationals would be back many times to the postseason.

I covered the Orioles for ten years and I remember what Cal Ripken once told me. He appeared the 1983 World Series, and afterward said he thought he’d get back every year. Ripken didn’t play in another postseason game until 1996, a mere 13 years later. There is no guarantees in sports. The Nationals might never get here again during Strasburg’s career, regardless of how good it evolves. Then again, Strasburg has already had an arm injury. What if he has another and his career is cut short?

Above all, I have to wonder about the feelings among Strasburg’s teammates toward management. The pitcher is on record saying he wanted to pitch, so they can’t hold that against him. But, management is sending a bad message to the players. What if they never get here again? How will they feel about Rizzo’s decision?

Meanwhile, the Giants are an interesting story. As they were two years ago, they are pitching reliant. They got by Cincinnati without Tim Lincecum in the rotation, but they won’t be able to get away with that in the NLCS. Lincecum pitched brilliantly in relief, looking like his old self. This is a very good team that is flying under the radar.

Also in that position are the St. Louis Cardinals – they know what to do in October – and Detroit Tigers. The Cardinals could have the chance to defend their title without Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols, something few thought would be possible. The Tigers, meanwhile, have the game’s premier pitcher in Justin Verlander and one-two punch in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

Cardinals vs. Tigers in a rematch? That wouldn’t be bad, either.

 

Nov 16

Men on Base …. Backman leading off

Just a few things:

* Single-A Brooklyn named Wally Backman as manager today. In a release by the team, Backman said: “I am thrilled and grateful to be coming back to the Mets organization. The greatest days of my professional career were spent here in New York, and I have always felt a special connection to the city.”

BACKMAN: Once a Mets' sparkplug.

BACKMAN: Once a Mets' sparkplug.


I like the idea of Backman returning to the organization and getting another chance after he was unceremoniously dumped by Arizona. Backman provides an energy and a link to when the Mets were a great team. Guys like Backman, who relied on guile and grit as players, often make good managers.

To see him grow within the organization would be a positive, and welcomed, change from how things have been done in the past.

* Reportedly, Eric Wedge is candidate for the Mets bench coach job. Sure beats Razor Shines. Yeah, I know there will be rumblings about Jerry Manuel looking over his shoulder. If Manuel is any kind of manager, if this happens he’ll pick Wedge for all the knowledge he can. You can’t have too many brains on the bench. Just look at Joe Girardi’s and Joe Torre’s supporting staffs.
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Nov 03

About Last Night: We have a Series.

There’s a chance I could get my wish and this thing will go seven games. Those that know me understand that the only rooting interest I have is for a playoff round go seven games.

UTLEY: Two more bombs last night.

UTLEY: Two more bombs last night.


Last night was about the resiliency of the Phillies which was something the Mets have seen the last three seasons. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, a play here or there the other way and the Phillies could have won already as they held leads in the games they lost.

The Yankees got to Cliff Lee for five runs, but it took them until the eighth to do it. We could see him again in Game 7 as a reliever, as that is his throw day. Lee has thrown well north of 200 innings this season and maybe they are catching up to him. The Phillies won because he pitched deep into the game to keep the Yankees out of their bullpen.

Last night, we also saw Chase Utley, who I’ve said several times throughout the season that he’s one of the top position players in the game. If I were starting a team, Albert Pujols would be my first choice and Utley probably my second. Maybe A-Rod.

I’m looking forward to Game 6, which is often the most intense of the playoff games because of the sense of urgency. The key tomorrow night will be Andy Pettitte, who has pitched well this postseason, but not well over his career on three days rest.

Joe Girardi gambled by going with a three-man rotation. It could still work out for the Yankees, but Burnett was hammered and Pettitte has a losing record on three days.

Oct 29

Phillies take early control ….

When you’re only playing seven games at best, every game is important, with tonight’s Game 2 falling into the critical category for the Yankees. I don’t see them climbing out of two-game hole.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel tabbed Pedro Martinez over Cole Hamels for tonight, citing the former’s big-game presence and experience in New York and the later’s numbers pitching in Philly. In a duel of aces, Cliff Lee out-dealt CC Sabathia, and with the support of two Chase Utley homers, the Phillies gained early control of the series.

LEE: Accepts congratulations after whipping Yankees.

LEE: Accepts congratulations after whipping Yankees.


The victory put the Phillies, win or lose tonight, in position of not having to return to New York if they run the table at home. That’s doable.

Lee was magnificent last night while Sabathia was good enough to win, but also a bit rusty. Sabathia had his rest. Now, Yankees manager Joe Girardi must decide whether to pitch him in Game 5 on normal rest or Game 4 on short rest. Sabathia pitched well on short rest before, but how long before he’s gassed?

Meanwhile, the Phillies, who have a fourth starter, have the luxury of using Lee any manner they desire, and if they go short it would be for Game 7. Regarding starting pitching, the Phillies are deeper.

The Yankees’ vulnerability in the bullpen surfaced last night to the tune of four runs. Phil Hughes is not the answer. When given the opportunity, the Phillies went for the throat last night. The game could have been an even greater blowout had they taken advantage of several early chances against Sabathia.

The Yankees are dangerous when down, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get to Martinez tonight. However, it also wouldn’t be a shock for Philadelphia to rough up AJ Burnett.

Yes, the Yankees can still win, but it means doing so on the road. They’ve won at Minnesota and Anaheim so far in the playoffs, but the Phillies are a clearly better team.

Oct 20

TALKIN’ BASEBALL: We have a series in the AL.

There is nothing quite like the drama that is playoff baseball, where seasons fade and stay alive with a swing of the bat. There is an ebb and flow of emotions in baseball unlike any other sport and we saw them all last night when the complexion of both series changed on the game’s final play.

The Dodgers, one pitch away from tying their series at Philadelphia, are now in life support and face elimination tomorrow night. The Angels, who stared at the end of their season at the beginning of last night’s game, have fresh life.

SABATHIA: Going on three days rest.

SABATHIA: Going on three days rest.

Last night Jimmy Rollins sent the Dodgers closer to winter, and hours earlier the Angels turned the ALCS from a blowout to a series that could be for the ages. After gift-wrapping two victories to the Yankees, the Angels are alive and in position where they could knot that ALCS at two games apiece tonight after Jeff Mathis’ two-out double in extra innings Monday.

The Yankees could regain control and send Los Angeles to the brink of elimination with CC Sabathia on the mound or the Angels can get us back to square one behind Scott Kazmir.

“This is the type of series we expected it to be,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

KAZMIR: Pitching to keep Angels alive.

KAZMIR: Pitching to keep Angels alive.


Sabathia, who will be going on three days rest, is 6-7 with a 4.42 ERA in 15 career starts against the Angels. The Yankees are going with a three-man rotation in the ALCS meaning if there is a Game 7 in New York, Sabathia will get the ball.

Kazmir, who represents one of the worst trades made by the Mets, is in position to be a postseason hero for the Angels. Kazmir, who gave up five runs in six innings against Boston in the ALDS, was acquired from Tampa, Aug. 28, and went 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts for Los Angeles. He is 6-5 with a 2.66 ERA in 14 career starts against the Yankees.

Regardless of what happens tonight, Game 5 is Thursday at Anaheim.