Warning: You might never leave the house and yes, you might go blind.
Warning: You might never leave the house and yes, you might go blind.
Well, I did not see that coming.
I can’t say I’ve seen an athlete do that too often, so not that he’ll be going hungry or anything, but I have a lot of respect for his decision. Well, in a sense. Anyone who takes millions of dollars less than they could make in New York, to live in Philadelphia, is not someone I feel I understand very well. Really? (“…Her?”). They’ve got one hell of a rotation there now, and I suppose that was part of the appeal for him. Maybe the guy just really loves cheese steak? Ah well, to each their own.
Particularly if Andy Pettitte doesn’t come back (… COME BACK ANDY! How does $25 million sound?!), next year’s Yankee pitching staff is looking a little Mitrish. As much as many of us thought a seven-year deal would likely be a drag on the team by the fifth or sixth year, it sure would’ve looked pretty in 2011. Now Brian Cashman is going to have to scramble faster than he scrambled down the side of that Connecticut office building in an elf costume. But hey, as Jon DeRosa put it last night, “On the bright side, we are now primed for 2015. Do not mess with us in 2015.”
Feel free to panic, rationalize, or remain in denial, as you prefer, below.
Three weeks ago the idea of the Yankees coming out of the soft part of their schedule and running right into the two-time defending National League champion Phillies was downright frightening, but as luck would have it, the Yankees might be catching the Phillies at exactly the right time. Though they’ve split four of them, the Phillies haven’t won a series since mid May and are 6-14 in their last 20 games having fallen to third place in the NL East behind the Mets (the Mets!).
Shockingly, the Phillies big problem has been scoring runs. Over an 11 game span from May 22 to June 2, they scored just 14 runs while going 2-9 over that span. Since then they’ve perked up a bit, but only a bit. Take out their one ten-run outburst against the Marlins a week ago and the Phillies have scored just three runs per game in eight of their last nine contests while going 3-5 in those games.
How did the team that led the NL in runs in each of the last four seasons suddenly lost the ability to score? Start with a calf injury that has limited 2007 MVP and leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins to 12 games. Chase Utley missed two games with the flu in mid-May, has hit just .175/.295/.263 in 95 plate appearances since, and hasn’t homered since May 20. Ryan Howard, always a slow starter (.260/.342/.525 career in the first half vs. .303/.407/.633 in the second half) is sticking to that pattern with a .286/.342/.461 line thus far. That’s the core of the Phillies’ offense right there, and the team’s inability to replace Rollins with even a replacement level bat (per VORP, Wilson Valdez and Juan Castro have combined to cost the Phillies a half a win relative to replacement level already this season) has made his absence hurt even more than it should.
But that’s not all. Raul Ibañez, who was a stud last year before a groin injury interrupted his flow, is looking every one of his 38 years this year, putting up his worst performance since he became a full-timer a decade ago, hitting .247/.335/.394. There’s so much slumping going on in the Phillies’ lineup that it seems to have become contagious. Jayson Werth, who should be one of the top free agents to hit the market this winter, was hitting .327/.403/.641 on May 25, but has hit just .137/.241/.235 in 58 PAs since.
I bet Roy Halladay thought he had left his complete-game losses behind him in Toronto, but he suffered a complete game loss on May 18 to the Pirates of all teams, losing 2-1, and in his last start, he allowed just one run in eight innings but took another loss as the Phillies failed to score against Josh Johnson and lost 2-0 (though I suppose that latter was fair play as Johnson was the losing pitcher in Halladay’s perfect game despite not allowing an earned run in that start).
Halladay has a 1.96 ERA on the season and has complied this line in his last three starts: 24 IP, 16 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 2 BB, 26 K. He faces CC Sabathia tonight, who according to Yahoo! Sports, “is 6-3 this season, but four of those wins have come against the Orioles, who began play Monday with by far the worst record in baseball (17-46). Sabathia’s ERA in his other nine starts this season is 4.69.” Indeed, Sabathia has been sharp in his last two starts, but both came against the O’s, and in the two before that he gave up 11 runs (ten earned) in just 11 innings in losses to the Mets and the lowly Indians.
Facing a slumping Phillies team that typically relies on big lefty bats Howard and Utley could help CC continue his recent success, but even if he pitches well, one will still have to wonder if it was CC or his slumping opposition that was the key factor. Either way, he’ll have his work cut out for him facing Halladay.
The next two pitching matchups are far more favorable to the Yankees. On Wednesday, A.J. Burnett takes on Kyle Kendrick, who is filling in for injured lefty J.A. Happ, and on Thursday the seniors tour comes to town as 47-year-old Jamie Moyer takes on the red-hot Andy Pettitte, who, at 38, is still nine years Moyer’s junior.
Alex Rodriguez remains out of the lineup tonight due to his hip flexor tendonitis, but said the swelling has gone down and that he could start at third base tomorrow. Rodriguez was supposed to DH tonight and is available to pinch-hit. Ramiro Peña bats ninth and plays third base and with the DH spot opened back up, Jorge Posada, who was originally in the lineup at catcher, will DH and hit sixth behind Nick Swisher with Robinson Cano cleaning up. The bottom three in the lineup are Brett Gardner (LF), Francisco Cervelli (C), and Peña.
In other injury news, Sergio Mitre, who hadn’t pitched since the first day of the Toronto series, was placed on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique injury that occurred during batting practice on Sunday (the Yankees play six games in NL parks next week, though I can’t imagine Mitre would have gotten an at-bat or been expected to deliver had he had one). He is being replaced by lousy lefty Boone Logan. If the Yankees retroactively date Mitre’s DL stay, he would be eligible to be activated on Saturday, though I’m sure he wouldn’t be ready to return that quickly.
The Yankees and Phillies have more in common than just winning their respective league pennants. Both boast their league’s best offense (the first time the two top offenses have reached the World Series since the Red Sox and Cardinals met in 2004). Both are likely to try to get three starts out of a left-handed ace who won the Cy Young with the Cleveland Indians and has been dominant in three postseason starts this month. Both will have a lineup that includes three lefties when an opposing lefty is on the mound (both have two left-handers in their rotation). Both have seen their elite set-up men struggle in the playoffs to this point. Both play good defense and steal bases efficiently with speed not only at the top of the lineup, but from some of their big power guys as well. Both are home-run hitting teams that play in homer-friendly ball parks. Both have been led by a superstar cleanup hitter who has been white hot in this postseason. Both won the Eastern division and beat the Wild Card and Western Division champion to reach the World Series. Both have lost just two games all postseason. Both already have one championship this decade and are looking to tie the Red Sox with the most in the decade with another win.
The Yankees return to the World Series after a five-year break (which, amazingly, is their third longest pennant drought since the acquisition of Babe Ruth) as the favorites, but that seems disrespectful to the defending World Champions. The Phillies are the first team to win back-to-back pennants since the 2000 and 2001 Yankees, and the first championship team to defend their title in the World Series since that ’01 Yankee squad. When the Yankees last went to the World Series in 2003, many were of the mind that their knock-down, drag-out ALCS against the Red Sox was the real championship and that the ensuing World Series, which saw a battered Yankee team stumble to a six-game defeat, was an afterthought. That is not at all the case this year. While the ALCS was tightly contested six-game series against a hated rival, the Yankees were clearly a better team than the Angels going in. They are likely still a better team than the Phillies on paper, but the margin has closed to such a degree that the difference between the two teams is almost negligible.
Derek Jeter (.334/.406/.465, 18 HR, 30 SB @ 86%)
Jimmy Rollins (.250/.296/.423, 21 HR, 31 SB @ 79%)
Providing a nice set of bookends for the 2009 season, Jeter and Rollins began the year sharing the shortstop job for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and will now conclude it as opposing shortstops in the Fall Classic. Back in March, I thought Rollins was the obvious choice to start over Jeter in the WBC as the two had been comparable at the plate in 2008, and Rollins was clearly superior in the field. Then the regular season started and Rollins fell into an awful slump that lasted three months (.205/.250/.319 though July 1), while Jeter rebounded from what had been one of his worst offensive seasons in 2008 to have a near-MVP-quality season. What’s more, Jeter, working with new first base and infield coach Mick Kelleher, had perhaps his finest defensive season, while Rollins brought his struggles out to the field. As a result, Jeter trumped the 2007 NL MVP in every phase of the game in 2009.
Rollins made a nice comeback over the last three months, hitting .288/.334/.510 with 20 steals in 23 tries after July 1, but he’s looked more like the first-half Rollins thus far this postseason, hitting .244/.279/.317 with no walks or steals to Jeter’s .297/.435/.595.
Johnny Damon (.282/.365/.489, 24 HR, 12 SB @ 100%)
Shane Victorino (.292/.358/.445, 13 3B, 25 SB @ 76%)
Damon’s road numbers (.284/.349/.446) look a lot like Victorino’s overall line this year, while switch-hitter Victorino get’s a nice spike against lefties (.314/.385/.459). If this Series goes seven games, Damon will get four games at friendly Yankee Stadium (.279/.382/.533, 17 HR), while Victorino could make four starts against lefty pitching. Damon shook off his Division Series slump with a .300/.323/.533 line against the Angels in the ALCS, but Victorio, is a career .299/.370/.577 hitter in 26 postseason games and has been red-hot this October, hitting .361/.439/.722 with a trio of homers. Folding in the larger regular season sample, I’m going to call this one even.
Mark Teixeira (.292/.383/.565, 39 HR, 122 RBI)
Chase Utley (.282/.397/.508, 31 HR, 93 RBI, 23 SB @ 100%)
Add those 23 stolen bases in 23 attempts to Utley’s total bases and his slugging jumps to .548. And, yes, Teixeira can switch-hit with similar results from both sides, but lefty-hitting Utley hit .288/.417/.545 against lefty pitching this season. Teixeira has been slumping this postseason, but he does have three big hits (the bloop before Alex Rodriguez’s game-tying blast in Game Two of the ALDS, the game-winning home run in that contest, and his bases-loaded double in Game Five against the Angels), and was 4 for his last 9 in the ALCS, which means a big World Series breakout could be around the corner. Utley, meanwhile, has just one extra-base hit this postseason. Tex has the edge here, but it’s small enough to be meaningless in a short series.
Alex Rodriguez (.286/.402/.532, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 14 SB @ 88%)
Ryan Howard (.279/.360/.571, 45 HR, 141 RBI, 8 SB @ 89%)
These are the mashers. Both men have had their share of postseason struggles in the past, but both have put those concerns to bed this postseason. Howard has hit .355/.462/.742 with a hit and an RBI in every game until the clincher against the Dodgers. Rodriguez has hit .438/.548/.969 with five home runs and has had a hit in every game and an RBI in all but one. In nine games, Rodriguez has 12 RBIs to Howard’s 14 (the record for a single postseason in 19 held by David Ortiz ’05, Scott Spiezio ’02, and Sandy Alomar Jr. ’97, while the homer record is 8 by Carlos Beltran in ’04).
Howard, who has hit 45 or more home runs in each of the last four seasons, has more pure power, if that’s possible, but Rodriguez is the better overall hitter and player (though Howard is underrated in the field and on the bases because of his bulk). Most significantly, Howard is the one starter on either team who is really defanged by lefty pitching. He hit just .207/.298/.356 against southpaws this year with a strikeout roughly every three plate appearances. That tips the balance in this matchup decidedly in the Yankees’ favor.
One of the happy side-effects of the Yankees’ general dominance over major league baseball since 1921 is that they have a postseason history with nearly every other team in the game. In the American League, only the White Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays have never faced the Yankees in the playoffs, and in the senior circuit, only the Rockies, Astros, Brewers, and Expos/Nationals have never faced the Yankees in the World Series (the ‘Spos/Nats have never been to the World Series, period), and the Brewers faced the Yankees in the 1981 Division Series.
Of the 24 teams the Yankees have faced in the postseason, they’ve faced 22 of them since their lone meeting with the Phillies in the 1950 World Series (the exception being the Cubs, who they last faced in the 1938 Serious). To give you a sense of just how long it’s been since the Yankees swept Philadelphia’s Whiz Kids, the 1950 World Series was the last Fall Classic to feature two all-white teams.
That fact is not as trivial as it might sound. The Yankees’ struggles in the late 1960s and early 1970s had several sources, including the institution of the amateur draft and the corporate ownership of CBS, but their failure to properly exploit the African American talent pool was undeniably a contributing factor. When they finally emerged from that slumber, it was with black stars such as Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss, Roy White, Oscar Gamble, and Gamble’s replacement, Reggie Jackson.
Similarly, the Phillies’ surprising pennant in 1950 fed the organization’s resistance to integration. The 1950 Whiz Kids got their name not only because they won the pennant, but because they were the youngest team in the National League on both sides of the ball. In fact, the 1950 Phillies were the youngest pennant winners ever. The Phillies’ oldest regular was first baseman Eddie Waitkus (the player whose shooting the previous year inspired The Natural). Just one of the six men to make more than ten starts for them was over the age of 26, and future Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts were both just 23.
Assuming that young squad would only get better with age, the Phillies didn’t even begin scouting black players until 1954, when Roy Hamey took over as general manager following four seasons in which the Phillies finished between third and fifth place. The Phillies didn’t field their first black player until 1957, didn’t have an African-American starter until 1961, and didn’t have an African-American star until the arrival of Richie Allen in 1964.
That was awful timing for Allen, who despite one of the best rookie campaigns in major league history, fell victim to the Phillies infamous Phlop, in which they blew a 6.5-game lead over the final dozen games of the season thanks to a ten-game losing streak (during which Allen hit .415/.442/.634). Allen’s ensuing battles with the Philadelphia faithful as well as the organization’s brutal treatment of Jackie Robinson back in 1947 were key factors in Curt Flood’s decision to refuse to report to the Phillies after being traded from the Cardinals, ironically for Dick Allen, after the 1969 season. The Phillies wouldn’t return to the postseason until 1976 (again ironically with Dick Allen back in the fold as their first baseman), and despite the Philadelphia fans’ affection for center fielder Gary Maddox and a late-career cameo by Hall of Famer Joe Morgan on the superannuated 1983 pennant winners, the Phillies didn’t have a black superstar who was embraced by the city until the arrivals of Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard in the new millennium.
The Yankees weren’t the first team to wear pinstripes, but they have worn them at home longer than any other team, doing so continuously since 1915. The team that comes the closest is the Phillies, who introduced the ancestor of their current home uniform in 1950, the same year their Whiz Kids met the Yankees in the World Series, and maintained their home pinstripes throughout their 1970-1991 redesign. The Phils’ current home duds differ in a number of ways from the flannels worn by the Whiz Kids (including blue buttons on the caps, blue stars dotting the i’s in “Phillies,” numbers on the left sleeve, names on the back, a new number font, and a purer shade of red), but the gist is the same. Their non-pinstriped alternates, a variation on their home duds from 1946 to 1949, are handsome and would represent a significant upgrade on their current road unis, but their home pinstripes are classics.
I picked the Phillies to repeat as National League champions this year because of their devastating lineup, the presence of Cole Hamels, and the weakness of their competition in the NL. Despite slow starts from Hamels and Rollins, the Phillies enter this weekend’s series against the Yankees in first place in the NL East, in large part thanks to the strength of their offense and the weakness of their competition.
The Phillies have scored 5.74 runs per game this season, tops in the majors and comfortably ahead of the second-place Yankees (5.66 R/G). They’ve done that despite the fact that Rollins was hitting just .195/.231/.268 with one stolen base on May 11. Since then, Rollins has hit .341/396/.500 and stolen four bases, and the Phillies have gone 7-3 while scoring an even six runs per game.
With Rollins having returned to form, the top two-thirds of the Phillies lineup is indeed devastating. Behind Rollins lurks Chase Utley (.295/.432/.597), Raul Ibañez (free from pitcher-friendly Safeco, he’s leading the majors in homers, total bases and slugging, and the NL in RBIs and OPS), and Ryan Howard. Behind them is my preseason breakout pick Jayson Werth, who is living up to my expectations by hitting .272/.371/.500 and leading the team with eight stolen bases in nine attempts (including a recent successful steal of home). Only then do you get to switch-hitter Shane Victorino.
Yes the bottom third is weak, it is a National League lineup after all, but playing in an American League park, as the Phils will be doing this weekend in the Bronx, they can slot in ace lefty pinch-hitter Matt Stairs (.304/.515/.609) as the designated hitter behind Victorino.
No NL team can rival that firepower, which is why the league has to be thankful that the Phillies’ pitching has been so bad in the early going. Only four teams, the Yankees among them, have allowed more runs per game than the Phillies this year, and no team has a worse starters’ ERA than the Phillies 6.31. Forty-six-year-old Jamie Moyer has had just two quality starts in eight tries; last year’s deadline pickup, Joe Blanton, has just three in eight tries and has allowed ten runs in 13 innings over his last two starts; and fifth-starter Chan Ho Park just got booted from the rotation altogether.
Fortunately for the Phils, Cole Hamels is emerging from his early season struggles. After starting the season nursing an inflamed pitching elbow, which pushed back his first start, Hamels was rocked in his first two outings (12 runs in 9 2/3 innings), then took a comebacker off his pitching shoulder in his third, and rolled over his ankle trying to field a ball in his fourth. He had to leave both of those latter games following those injuries, but over his last five starts, including those two, he has posted a 2.70 ERA and struck out 33 men in 26 2/3 innings, and he’s lasted at least six full innings in each of his last three.
With Hamels and Rollins rounding into form, it’s no surprise that the Phillies are on a hot streak. They’re 6-1 on their current road trip, which has fare more to do with how they’re playing than where. It’s not outlandish to treat this weekend’s series between the Yankees and the defending World Champions as a potential World Series preview, but it’s enough for me that they’re two of the best and hottest teams in baseball.
The Yankees will send CC Sabathia to the mound to take on fellow lefty Hamels in a rematch of Game One of last year’s NDLS on Sunday. Tomorrow they’ll face another lefty in 26-year-old J.A. Happ, Park’s replacement in the rotation. Tonight, they’ll face the pitcher who has been keeping the Phils afloat through Hamels struggles, Brett Myers.
Myers hasn’t been pitching like a proper ace, he isn’t one, but he’s been consistently solid for the Phils, turning in a quality start in five of his last six outings. His last two have been his best, as he’s allowed just three runs in his last 13 innings and struck out eight Nationals in seven innings his last time out. Myers one bugaboo has been his major league leading 12 home runs allowed. That’s a bad weakness to have coming into the Bronx as the Yankees lead the majors in home runs (the Phillies lead the NL), and the new Yankee Stadium has been host to more home runs than any other park this year.
The Yankees counter with A.J. Burnett, who will look to push the Yankees’ winning streak into double digits. Burnett held the Twins to two runs in 6 2/3 innings his last time out while striking out seven, but he also walked six men. The Yankees have won just two of Burnett’s last four starts over which he’s posted a 4.61 ERA and walked 4.28 per nine innings. Those are his four starts since giving up eight runs in Fenway. Burnett is giving the Yankees length, but he’s thus far looked like little more than the league-average innings eater he was when not facing the Yankees last year, which means it will be up to the Yankee offense to take advantage of Myers’ gopheritis tonight.
In other news, Brian Bruney’s elbow is hurting. He was unavailable last night and is unavailable again today. Given the hit the bullpen took last night after Joba Chamberlain’s first inning exit, the team has decided to activate Chien-Ming Wang to reinforce the pen. Jonathan Albaladejo, who gave up four runs in 2 1/3 innings last night, has been optioned to Scranton to make room for Wang.