The first five innings of Game One and the first three innings of Game Two provided too many flashbacks to the putrid way the Yankees played over the final two months of the season. They looked listless, uninterested, and generally helpless against the opponent’s starting pitcher. Thankfully, the Yankees made the most of the later innings in both games, giving us ten good frames that accounted for two wins in two nights at Target Field. With two memorable playoff games in the books, it’s time for some random postseason thoughts…
It took a little over two months, but Lance Berkman finally made a major impact as a Yankee. I was exceedingly impressed by his gargantuan home run in Game Two, which easily cascaded over the left-center field wall at cavernous Target Field. Frankly, I haven’t seen that kind of opposite field power from a left-handed Yankee batter since the halcyon days of Reggie Jackson in 1981. As if that left-field blast wasn’t sufficient, Berkman then burned Denard Span with a deep drive to center field, resulting in a run-scoring double that broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning. Berkman’s bat effectively carried the Yankee offense, which managed to score five runs against a hittable Carl Pavano and a parade of Twins relievers.
In some ways, Berkman is a lame duck DH for the Yankees. As a free agent, there is almost no chance that he will return to New York in 2011. The Yankees would like to make room for the younger and less expensive Jesus Montero, who can split DH and catching duties with Jorge Posada. Furthermore, ever since Berkman joined the Yankees, rumors have swirled that he would like to go back to the Astros. Houston’s impressive finish to the regular season has likely only reinforced Berkman’s thinking. If the Astros can find someone to take on Carlos Lee’s contract, they can create an opening at first base for Berkman to make his return.
Whether or not he is merely making a cameo in New York, I hope Berkman has a big postseason. If he helps the Yankees return to the World Series, the trade that sent Mark Melancon to Houston will be more than justified. Berkman has been a tremendously productive power hitter for most of his career, perhaps not a Hall of Famer but the kind of player who ranks only a rung below Cooperstown. He has slugged over .600 two times, drawn more than 100 walks three times, and driven in more than 120 runs four times. Yet, he hasn’t received full credit, mostly because he has been stuck on a number of also-ran Astros teams, with the exception of Houston’s 2002 and 2005 clubs. If it takes a little postseason glory with the Yankees for a standout hitter like “Big Puma” to receive his due, then so be it…
I’m just going to come out and say it: I love the way that Curtis Granderson plays! Even before his late-season tinkering sessions with Kevin Long, Granderson has always impressed me. He runs hard from the moment he hits the ball, a trait that helped him reach third base with that game-changing triple in Game One. He is a smart base runner, in an era when base running has become a lost art, even amongst star players. He also plays a fundamentally sound center field, whether it’s squaring up on catches so as to put himself into good throwing position, or showing a willingness and ability to hit the cutoff man.
Off the field, Granderson is one of the most thoughtful and well-spoken of all the Yankees. He is unfailingly polite, even when faced with difficult questions during his early season struggles. If there was one player on the Yankees who could serve as a model of proper behavior, Granderson might just be the best choice.
None of this comes as a surprise to central New Yorkers who remember Granderson’s act with the Oneonta Tigers in 2002. He displayed all of those good qualities, both on and off the field, while posting a .912 OPS in a pitcher’s league and a pitcher’s ballpark. And now that he’s hitting the ball the way he did with Detroit a couple of years ago, the Yankees are not fretting as much about the departures of Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera…
All in all, the Yankees’ high command did creditable work in assembling the postseason roster, but I do have a couple of quibbles. Is there really a need for three long men in the bullpen, which is what the Yankees currently have in A.J. Burnett, Sergio Mitre, and Dustin Moseley? If the Yankees have to use all three during the Division Series, then that’s an indication that things might not end well. Why prepare for a worst-case scenario–the implosion of your starting rotation–that will likely result in a playoff series loss? It might have made more sense to carry an extra position player, perhaps someone like the speedy and versatile Eduardo Nunez.
Additionally, there’s the issue of Austin “Big Ears” Kearns on the postseason roster. Brett Gardner’s presence in the opening game lineup against Francisco Liriano indicates that Kearns won’t be receiving any outfield starts against left-handed pitching. At one point, Kearns seemed like the choice as Nick Swisher’s defensive caddy, but that role has been usurped by Greg Golson, who is faster and has a stronger throwing arm than Kearns. So at this point, Kearns looks like window dressing that might not play at all in the Division Series.
Still, these are minor points compared to the mistakes that Tampa Bay made in assembling its postseason roster. I was baffled by the decision to put Rocco Baldelli on the active roster; he hasn’t hit well in limited playing time and seemed like a poor choice to bat in the No. 6 hole in Game One. The Rays then took Baldelli off the roster after the first game, citing the chronic fatigue problems that have curtailed his career.
I also don’t understand the Rays’ thinking in leaving impressive rookie right-hander Jeremy Hellickson off their postseason roster. Hellickson looked like a world beater in the two games he pitched against the Yankees, and pitched almost as effectively in his eight other appearances. Hellickson’s ability to miss bats (33 strikeouts in 36 innings) might have come in handy against a Texas team featuring the strong right-handed bats of Michael Young, Vladimir Guerrero, Nelson Cruz, and Ian Kinsler.
[Photo Credit: NJ.com]
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.