Oct 16

How About Those Yankees?

As Mets’ fans, I suspect many of you are taking great delight into what is going on with the Yankees. Down 2-0 in games to the Tigers, the Yankees resume the ALCS today in Detroit against Justin Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in the sport.

As players, I know the Yankees expect to win as every quote attributed to them is the season isn’t a success unless they win the World Series. That’s the only attitude to have, and you can’t begrudge them for thinking that way. Wish the Mets’ front office felt the same.

There is no sense of entitlement with the players as they admit there are no guarantees. What is annoying is the sense of entitlement among Yankees fans, who consider it their birthright to see their team play deep into October. There’s a whole generation of Yankees fans who know nothing but their team in the playoffs.

Talk radio can be such a wasteland, and much of the gibberish is benching Alex Rodriguez and I heard the idea of sitting Robinson Cano floated this morning because of their lack of hitting. The Yankees are going through a similar slump the Mets endured in the second half with their offense, especially at home. In June, you can point to July and think you’ll pick it up. In October, there’s a sense of urgency because there is no next month. There’s not a player on that team who isn’t feeling pressure, regardless of what they might say.

Not recognizing the pressure is denial, but you must know no player would ever make that admission because it admits defeat and the opposition can feed off that mood.

Joe Girardi already tinkered with Rodriguez’s fragile ego and you have to wonder if it will hinder him for the remaining five years of his contract, for which he will make $114 million, or more precisely, $14 million more than the entire Mets’ 2012 payroll.

Girardi’s gamble pinch-hitting Raul Ibanez for Rodriguez paid off against the Orioles, but he has to let things slide for the remainder of the playoffs. Rodriguez, Cano and Nick Swisher got the Yankees to this spot and Girardi has to ride them the rest of the way.

It is highly likely Yankee Stadium won’t see another game until next April, so it was amusing the final 2012 image of it was huge blocks of empty seats. Fans were able to snatch up tickets on-line for a fraction of the absurd face value of the tickets. But, many chose to stay away.

The Yankees misjudged the economy when they opened the new Stadium with absurd ticket prices. The Yankees, like the Mets, went on the high side and the public balked. Postseason tickets are always more expensive and who could blame the fans for staying away? It never happened in the old place.

There other factors to consider beside the price of tickets to explain the poor attendance showing at Yankee Stadium, such as parking. It is higher for the playoffs, and paying close to $50 to park is obscene. With the price of concessions factored in, you could easily go into your pockets for another $100  on top of the tickets.

Fighting the traffic becomes less an option when you can enjoy the game in the comfort of your own home. And Sunday, you could have watched both the Yankees and Giants on the tube. Why put up with the hassle when you can put your feet up and relax with a beer that doesn’t cost $10?

 

Oct 14

Can Yankees Recover Without Jeter?

Regardless of your stance on the Yankees, there had to be a twinge of sadness seeing Derek Jeter helped off the field with a fractured ankle. Say what you will about Jeter, but the man always plays hard and carries himself with dignity on the field.

He’s milquetoast in an interview, but always Tabasco between the lines. To do what he did this season at his age, at the plate and on defense, was remarkable. You have to admire the way he plays the game. He never gives an inch.

Andy Pettitte was right in that you knew something was wrong the way Jeter tried to flip the ball to Robinson Cano despite his obvious pain and stayed on the ground. Funny, the first thing I thought of when I saw it was how Santanio Holmes threw the ball in the air when he was injured. The difference is in football the opposing team can recover and take it in for a touchdown.

Here, Jeter had the presence of mind to try to continue the play while Holmes, well, he is what he is. Jeter will go into the Hall of Fame when he’s done; Holmes will disappear and won’t be missed.

Can the Yankees win without him? Sure they can, but it will be extremely difficult. While others around him falter, Jeter keeps on going, hit after hit, play after play.

The Yankees looked dead in the water last night until Raul Ibanez’s game-tying homer in the ninth. While he’s been a stunning playoff story, trying to win without Jeter makes the odds more difficult.

The Yankees can still win because their starting pitching has been superb and the bullpen has been solid, enough to compensate for the lack of offense. The Yankees aren’t getting anything from Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher. Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson have also underperformed, and for that matter, so has Cano.

All that marquee talent and they can’t score. It’s like how the Mets’ offense was in the second half, only this time the whole country is watching instead of a handful at Citi Field.

I don’t like their chances because of how they’ve been hitting, Jeter’s injury and that the Tigers are pretty good and can smell it after last night. Many teams can be devastated after blowing a four-run lead in the ninth, but the Tigers regrouped.

One thing working in the Yankees’ favor is Detroit’s porous bullen. The Yankees, when clicking, can win a slugfest.

However, I don’t see it any more for them.

 

 

Oct 13

Can’t Turn Off Television When Cardinals Are Playing; Great Storylines In Final Four

Their streak is now six for victories in elimination games, tying a major league record. Both the Cardinals and Giants have been studies in resiliency during these playoffs, and wouldn’t you know it, they’ve done it with pitching, timely hitting and an emphasis on team.

That’s a formula that always works.

Both are fundamentally sound and are compelling examples of how the Mets should model themselves. Both have stars and a healthy payroll, but both have home grown talent and haven’t broken the bank to reach their levels of excellence. The NLCS should be a dandy and I’m betting seven games.

Not surprisingly, they are the last two World Series champions.

The Giants, who don’t have a great offense but the best pitching in the game, and the Cardinals, who simply know how to survive when it counts, are better stories than the Tigers or Yankees.

When I don’t have a dog in the fight, I root for close games and great story lines. Each team faced elimination and won on the road. The Giants’ main story is whether one of their aces, Tim Lincecum, can regain his form after being sent to the bullpen. The story enveloping around the Cardinals is their ability to defend their title after losing their manager, Tony La Russa, and franchise bat in Albert Pujols.

I wonder what Pujols is thinking these days as he counts his millions.

He probably has some demons and regrets, but they are miniscule compared to what’s haunting Alex Rodriguez. Frankly, I’m bored with the soap opera and all that swirls around the Yankees. They bid against themselves to give him over a quarter of a billion dollars, and he, who conceivably could be breaking down after steroid use, is but a shell of his former self. Don’t forget being torn down by age and injury. I don’t give a damn where he bats in the order.

The Yankees’ pitching has been superb, but their hitting has disappeared and it is annoying listening to their fans clogging up talk radio with their sense of entitlement and nipping at Joe Girardi. Then again, I guess I don’t have to tell you about annoying Yankee fans.

Considering their age and injuries this season, Girardi has done a great job getting the most from his team. He’s pressed all the right buttons so far.

The Tigers, meanwhile, have arguably the game’s best pitcher in Justin Verlander. Him against Chris Carpenter or Matt Cain could be a legendary match-up. Pitching duels in the World Series are always thrilling and intense. I was too young to enjoy Koufax-Ford, but I got to see Lolich-Gibson, Seaver-Palmer and Gooden-Clemens. The Smoltz-Morris duel in Game 7 of the 1991 Series might be one of the greatest games ever played.

The one-two hitting punch of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder isn’t Mantle-and-Maris, but it is the best in the majors. But, it isn’t enough to sustain me this October. Regardless of who comes out of the National League, I’ll go with them.

 

 

 

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.

 

Oct 11

What Should Mets Learn From Playoff Teams?

So far, this has been a compelling playoffs with the possibility of all four series going to a deciding fifth game. Major League Baseball is thrilled, and hopefully this trend will continue in the League Championship Series and World Series.

That’s what baseball should be about.

Hopefully, the Mets are taking notes. Four of the teams in the playoffs – Oakland, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Washington – have payrolls less than the $100 million the Mets shelled out this year for the joy of finishing 14 games below .500.

Here’s what the playoff teams have that the Mets lack:

1) Pitching: Both starting and bullpen are vital to winning. Always has been, always will be. That’s why I get frustrated when I hear complaints about the Mets’ lack of power. Home runs are the great eraser and the Yankees proved that last night. But, they were in position to win because of pitching. Three games against the Orioles and their starters reached the eighth inning each time. Unheard of. All of the teams have solid pitching and a good bullpen. As I wrote earlier today, Baltimore’s Darren O’Day is making $1.35 million this year, so it can be done inexpensively. However, that requires an aggressive front office and superior scouting, two areas where the Mets need improvement.

2) Strong minor league base: It would be foolish to say each of these teams were built solely on their farm system. Detroit and the Yankees all acquired significant talent from the outside, but there is core home grown talent from all. Just look at Matt Wieters, Joey Votto, Matt Cain and Bryce Harper. I would have mentioned Stephen Strasburg, but the Nationals pulled him from the playoffs. It could bite them in the butt, and what if the Nationals never get back here? It is possible. That is why it was encouraging this summer when several times the Mets fielded a full home grown-lineup and why I am opposed conceptually to trading Ike Davis. The Mets have a home product who hit 32 homers this year. Those don’t come along often, and rarely for the Mets. Davis is a start, along with Jon Niese, Matt Harvey and Ruben Tejada, not to mention David Wright. Bolstering the farm system and improving the scouting are essential for long-term growth. Free-agent signings should be to complement what’s already there.

3) Strong catching: Wieters is clearly the catcher with the most upside in the group. Regardless of how Russell Martin has played in October, the idea of pursuing him is outlandish and it was a ridiculous idea in the first place. Obviously, a slow news day. Martin is too old and too expensive for a rebuilding team, and let’s not kid ourselves, that defines the Mets. I was initially optimistic about Josh Thole, but those feelings have waned. He’s not hit for average or power and his defense has regressed. And, let’s not blame R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball for it. Catching is an issue, but I don’t believe it is as high on the Mets’ priority list as adding outfielders and relievers.

4) Timely hitting: It doesn’t get more timely than what Raul Ibanez did last night. The Mets were clutch in the first half, but their hitting with runners in scoring position disappeared in the second half. It all fell on Wright after the All-Star break and he couldn’t handle the strain. Each of these teams has an offensive core, hitters that concern an opposing manager. After Wright, and at times Davis, who is frightening in the Mets’ lineup. Scott Hairston had a good season coming off the bench, as Ibanez did, but after hitting 20 homers for the first time he might be too expensive to bring back.

5) Home field advantage: So far, it hasn’t helped San Francisco and Cincinnati, but nonetheless each of the teams in the postseason had a winning record at home. The Mets can’t ever be a serious contender until they learn to use Citi Field as an advantage. I understand the Catch-22, that part of that advantage is having people in the stands. The Mets need to improve the first four before this will take root. When Citi Field opened the Mets were vocal in saying they would build around pitching and defense, so naturally the first thing they did was sign Jason Bay. That’s the final lesson I hope the Mets learn …

6) Have a plan: Where are the Mets headed? If they don’t bring back Wright and Dickey, then it is back to square one. The team is operating as if they have no money and that’s a discouraging sign. GM Sandy Alderson said the team had the resources to add at the trade deadline, but waited until the team had fallen out of contention before deciding it was too late. On one hand, the Mets are singing the praises of their young pitching, but on the other it is exploring trading Davis, and could not bring back Wright or Dickey. What gives?