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Forget the Angst (For a Minute), Time to Give Thanks

 

It is chilly in New York this morning, the first day of October and this much we know: The Yankees are in the playoffs. Again. It’s gotten to the point where it is hard to separate the crisp fall air with the Yankees and the playoffs.

So, let’s appreciate this moment. There will be plenty of time to sweat and fret about the division title this evening. Sure, a playoff game–likely against the A’s–is not preferable. But the Yanks could win the division and lose to Verlander and the Tigers in the first round. They could win the wildcard game and advance to the Whirled Serious. Who knows? Plus, it feels as if every game for the past month as been a one-game playoff anyway.

Still, we couldn’t do anything but dream “what if” unless they made the playoffs. And they have, once again.

For that, we give thanks.

 

Return of the Boom Bap Means Just That

It was only the bottom of the fourth inning and the Yankees were feeling good about themselves. Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira helped the team out to a 5-1 lead. Hisanori Takahashi, the long man in the Angels bullpen–a junkballing nibbler–walked Russell Martin to start the inning and then Brett Gardner fouled off a bunch of pitches before hitting a single to center field. Derek Jeter took the first three pitches, all balls. Then he snuck a look over at someone in the Yankee dugout.

I figured the look, the hint of a smile, meant he was going to swing, 3-0 if he got a meatball. Sure enough Takahashi laid one right down the middle. Jeter took a huge swing and almost came out of his shoes. It was a swing to make Reggie proud. The ball was fouled back. Jeter fouled off the next pitch too. Then he smacked one over the fence in right field for a three-run homer.

Ivan Nova gave two back in the fifth and another run in the sixth. Could have been more trouble in the sixth but Rodriguez made a nice play to end the inning.

But because this is Sunday Night Baseball things are not meant to be brief or easy. So Rafael Soriano walked the lead-off hitter in the seventh and that man came around to score on a base hit by Albert Pujols. Soriano recorded two outs but left the game with the bases loaded, the Yanks lead cut to 8-5. Fortunately, our nerves were settled when David Robertson got Mark Trumbo to fly out to right field on a 2-2 pitch.

(My mind was calculating: does this set up Mariano vs. Albert?)

A walk and stolen base by Robbie Cano and then a two-out single by Nick Swisher put the Yanks back up by four. Better still, Jason Isringhausen came in and gave up an absolute bomb to Raul Ibanez.

Fuggin thing reached the upper deck in right field.

All Tori Hunter could say was: “Wow.”

Mariano vs. Albert would have to wait. Tonight, it was Logan vs. Albert and Logan struck him out, go figure that.

Final Score: Yanks 11, Angels 5.

A nice way to start the week.

Goose Eggs

Phil Hughes pitched well. Jeremy Helickson pitched better–changed speeds beautifully and had control–to the tune of 3 hits over 8.2 innings. Nice way to celebrate his 25 birthday.

Rays 3, Yanks 0.

The Yankees hit the ball hard again but without any luck–right at fielders. Then bupkis the few times they had runners on base. Bum luck and it’s just one of those things, man. It won’t last.

Raul Ibanez made an error that led to a run, Hughes and Boone Logan gave up solo dingers. And that was that.

So, a lost weekend in Tampa to start the year. Drag.

At least the Knicks won an exciting game against the Bulls at the Garden. Forty-three for Melo, including two huge three pointers, one at the end of regulation, another near the end of overtime.

Yo, where’s the holiday candy at?

Let’s Play Two … On Sunday

Weather situations like this would invariably lead Mike Bonner, the Yankees’ game production guru, to roll out his interminable loop of rain-related songs that included “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” to “Riders on the Storm,” “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” Who’ll Stop The Rain,” “Fool in the Rain” and any other rock/pop tune that had a hint of precipitation in the title.

As of 6 p.m., despite the radar showing “a big green blob out there coming this way,” as Joe Girardi told reporters at the start of his pregame media session, the Yankees and Red Sox had still planned on trying to play Friday night’s game. At 7:05, the game was officially postponed. Friday’s game will be played as the second game of a doubleheader on Sunday. The game will start at 6:30.

Kudos to the umpires for making the decision early and not delaying until after the West Coast games begin. The Yankees have already been through this twice this season — once with the Red Sox and once with the Orioles, where they had home games start after 10:30.

Freddy Garcia, the scheduled starter, will get the ball tomorrow afternoon in what could be his last audition for a Division Series start.

Should be a fun couple of days, if they can get the games in.

Magic Number Shmagic Number

Freddy Garcia

Freddy Garcia suffered his first loss since July 15th. (Photo Credit / Darren Calabrese - Canadian Press)

Author’s Note / Excuse: Apologies for the delayed post. If you need further proof that the NFL, not Major League Baseball, is the National Pastime, try getting online between 1 and 4 p.m. on a Sunday to access photos from a baseball game to include in a recap. The requisite sites were performing at speeds not seen since 1997.

Threads in this space, elsewhere in the Blogosphere, the Twitterverse, Facebook — basically anywhere you search for Yankees information — have featured criticism of Joe Girardi for managing passively over the past week and a half. That judgment was typically reserved for his bullpen maneuvering, specifically in the one-run losses in Baltimore, Anaheim and Seattle, and then again in the series opener at Rogers Centre Friday night. Not as prevalent in those threads was that the “A” lineup, while physically present on the field, was doing little to help the winning cause.

Then on Sunday, with the Yankees’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot at five, the starting lineup looked more like one you’d see in mid-March than mid-September. Girardi has stated publicly that he’s been looking for places to give the regulars some rest. The counter, “Win the games, win the division, secure the playoff spot and then rest people.” And so it was that the only regulars in the starting lineup were Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, A-Rod and J Martin.

The result was a feeble, fundamentally unsound 3-0 defeat that left the Yankees 4-6 on this season-long 10-game, four-city road trip. Brandon Morrow dominated the Yankees, striking out seven and walking only one. The Yankees had five hits, only two of which left the infield. Like in the early going Saturday, they ran themselves out of potential scoring opportunities. In the first inning, with Eduardo Nuñez Nuñez on second and Robinson Canó on first, Canó was thrown out on the tail end of a double steal. Later, in the top of the sixth, Nuñez, who Michael Kay and John Flaherty lauded on the YES telecast during his first at-bat, once again incited fans’ ire by inexplicably trying to turn a single into a double. Nuñez hit a clean single to rightfield. Nuñez tried to catch Jose Bautista napping, but it didn’t work. Bautista fired behind the runner to first base, where Edwin Encarnación fired to second to catch Nuñez by a mile. Inning over, potential rally over. Nuñez’s one-out double in the ninth inning marked the only other time in the game the Yankees had a runner in scoring position.

Meanwhile, Freddy Garcia surrendered three runs on five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings, and he made a throwing error that contributed to one of the three runs. In short, Garcia did little to pitch himself into consideration for either five-man rotation over the final two weeks of the regular season, or the playoff rotation.

Other things we learned …

* The Ghost of Raul Valdes, who pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, may have shown that he could be the Yankees’ LOOGY over the next two weeks and into the postseason.

* The Yankees’ bullpen, in the last two games, pitched 9 1/3 innings of shutout ball. The group allowed just two hits and walked four — three by Scott Proctor — in that span.

* The Rays are white-hot. They beat up the Red Sox again and are surging toward a September comeback to rival the 2007 Colorado Rockies. The Yankees have a six-game edge over the Rays in the loss column, which may seem cushy with only 10 games left, but this week’s series at Yankee Stadium cannot be taken lightly. Depending on Monday’s result against the Minnesota Twins, sweeping the Rays would clinch that coveted playoff spot for the Yankees, leaving next weekend’s series against the Red Sox open for clinching the division.

This week features the games the regulars get paid the big money to play. Let’s see how the manager and the team respond.

Magic kit

 

Take It Like A Man

CC Sabathia, Francisco Cervelli, Joe Girardi

CC Sabathia heads to the dugout after giving up a 2-0 lead in the seventh. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

If a game happens and no one stays awake to watch it, did it actually happen? The answer, of course, is yes.

The start of Thursday’s game was delayed 3 hours and 27 minutes due to thunderstorms that ripped through the New York metropolitan area. The lone West Coast game in San Francisco started and finished before the Red Sox-Yankees series finale.

And if you thought a first-inning home run by Curtis Granderson, one that gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead, would be the start of a big night against Josh Beckett, you’d have thought wrong. Beckett, who entered the evening 2-0 against the Yankees this season, with 19 Ks and holding the Yankees to a .128 batting average against him through 14 innings, settled in and only allowed five more base runners (2 H, 2 HBP, 1 BB), and no one advanced beyond second base.

CC Sabathia, on the other hand, was an ace in his own right, but only through six innings. The turning point was a dumb-luck triple by Jed Lowrie to right field in the top of the seventh inning. The ball was scooting along the ground down the right field line, and Nick Swisher anticipated playing the carom. Instead, the ball stayed close to the ground and skidded, finding its way onto the metal below the padding of the wall and hydroplaned past Swisher and into the corner. Swisher fell down in the process. This mishap, all of which took about two seconds to develop, allowed David Ortiz, who led of the inning with a seemingly harmless single, to score.

At that point, you could sense the Red Sox’ attitude morph into a collective “We’ve got ‘em now.” And they did. When the carnage of the inning was completed, 11 men were sent to the plate, eight got hits, and seven scored. Ortiz alone had two hits, scored a run, and drove in two. Ballgame over. The outs were louder than some of the hits. The singles by Jason Varitek, Jacoby Ellsbury, and the bases-loaded single by Adrian Gonzalez that eventually sent Sabathia to the showers were seeing-eye singles. Bleeders. But they were better than anything the Yankees could muster against Beckett.

The good tidings the Yankees brought home following a 6-3 West Coast trip have officially been erased. A one-game lead is now a two-game deficit. The Yankees are 0-6 against the Red Sox at home this season, and 1-8 against them overall. A quarter of the Red Sox’ wins and a third of the Yankees’ losses have come against each other.

We could say, “This is setting up for the typical second-half surge against the Red Sox,” but doing so could be a mistake. This Yankees team has not hit well with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox have. (Thursday’s split was 7-for-15 for the Red Sox, 0-for-5 for the Yankees). The Yankees’ bullpen is in shambles, with the recent news of Joba Chamberlain’s season ending and the high likelihood of his requiring Tommy John surgery. The starting lineup only carries one hitter with a batting average above .275.

To paraphrase former NFL coach Dennis Green from one of the all-time greatest post-game press conferences, the Red Sox are who we thought they would be. What are the Yankees?

Just Joshing Us


CC Sabathia vs. Josh Beckett was billed to be a pitcher’s duel. In terms of score, it was a pitcher’s duel. But it wasn’t a “classic duel” in the way Clemens-Pedro May 28, 2000 was, where two strikeout masters overpowered hitters from the outset. Sabathia bent, but didn’t break, while Beckett was as dominant as he perhaps has ever been.

Sabathia had his B game, maybe his C game. His final line was an alphanumeric dream: 5 2/3 IP, 9 H, R, ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 118 pitches, 69 strikes. But as he’s done so often in his two Yankee seasons, Sabathia demonstrated an ability to make big pitches to get outs at crucial times. He allowed 13 baserunners but only one crossed home plate.

Beckett, on the other hand looked like the 20-year-old who led the Florida Marlins to a 2003 title, yielding just two hits and striking out 10. Beckett effectively mixed a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, and his wicked curveball to keep the Yankees off balance, and off the scoresheet. He tossed eight shutout innings and retired the last 14 batters he faced. Jonathan Papelbon came on and retired the side in order in the 9th.

Given Beckett’s mastery and the Red Sox leaving 16 men on base, the Yankees were fortunate to lose by only a 4-0 margin.

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Season Effective Disorder

Three weeks into Yankees Spring Training, and we’ve learned this: New York is a Basketball town. Alex has written about this, and I remember Sweeny Murti talking about covering the Yankees while the Knicks made their run to the 1994 Finals. It’s true. The Knicks are the sleeping giant, and now with Carmelo Anthony, they will own the back pages unless something either major or catastrophic happens in Yankeeland.

This is actually a good thing, because Spring Training for the Yankees is basically a time suck. While it’s great to see baseball — hell, grass — after being battered with snow and sub-freezing temperatures for the better part of the last two months, doesn’t seem as cool when the biggest questions year after year are who the 5th man in the rotation will be, and who the 24th and 25th man on the roster will be.

Obvious storylines have been played up like they’re original concepts. For example:

* Derek Jeter reported to spring training and in his press conference intent to prove that last year was an anomaly and that the man who is above statistics is actually going to try to enjoy the moment when he reaches 3,000 hits this summer. In a year or two, he might need a position change.

Snore.

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Love is in the Air

On my way to the grocery store yesterday I stopped and tilted my nose in the air like I was a dog. It was warm in the sun and I thought I smelled it–the distinct odor of spring, which can only mean one thing: “Baseball.” It is the smell of soil, carried through the breeze. Eh, I think I might have been straining.

This morning, however, there it was again. Sure, this is a false spring we’ve got on our hands this week in New York (it is supposed to reach 50 degrees today), but I’ll take it.

Couple of Yankee notes fuh ya:

Brain Cashman has some tough love for Joba Chamberlain and Keith Olbermann is even tougher on Derek Jeter.

Update: Oh, and some cool news in the Yankee blogosphere–the Yankeeist and Yankee U have merged to form The Yankee Analysts. Be sure to drop by and check ‘em out. I’m sure they’ll be doing some fine work this season.

[Picture by Richard Diebenkorn]

Head Shrink in Charge

Ben Shpigel profiles the Yankees’ new pitching coach Larry Rothschild today in the Times:

At every stop Rothschild, 56, has burnished his reputation as one of baseball’s premier pitching instructors, renowned for his meticulous preparation, troubleshooting abilities and communication skills. Along the way, those assets have allowed him to connect with volatile personalities like Carlos Zambrano and Kevin Brown; free spirits like Jose Rijo and Al Leiter; and, yes, even “idiots” like Charlton, who called Rothschild “as good as it gets.”

“He learns how to get into guys’ heads but have them trust him,” [Norm] Charlton said in a telephone interview. “The reason he’s able to do that is because he’s right 99 percent of the time. What he says works.”

[Photo Credit: Tim Souers]

Go South, Young Fan

Here’s some Yankeeness for you fiends out there:

Over at River Avenue Blues, Joe P links to a Wallace Mathews piece on Kevin Long.

And at IATMS, here’s a note via Buster Olney that C.C. Sabathia has lost 30 lbs.

Joba Chamberlain, on the other hand, has reportedly put on some weight. Check out this great Yankee weigh-in by Steve Goldman. And while you are there, dig the Aceves Challenge by Jay Jaffe.

[Picture by Bags]

Robbie v. Dusty

According to Rob Neyer

Catch as Catch Can

Pitchers and catchers don’t officially report for a few days still, but Russell Martin and Jesus Montero are already working out in Florida. Here’s John Harper, writing in the Daily News about the kid Montero:

Baseball America editor Jim Callis, who ranks minor-league prospects based on seeing them himself and talking to more scouts and minor-league evaluators than just about anyone, says he would have a hard time dealing Montero.

“To me he’s the best all-around hitter in the minor leagues,” Callis said recently. “He might be another Mike Piazza, the way he hits for average and power. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t have a great career as a hitter.”

…But can Montero catch? Callis says the answer might be a matter of how much a team is willing to sacrifice defense for offense at the position.

“It’s not like he’s a total butcher back there,” Callis said. “He has a strong arm, but his transfer when he throws is slow, and he’s not the best receiver in the world. He’s not real athletic, but he has worked hard to become more flexible behind the plate.

“Overall he’s a little below average defensively, and I’m not sold that in five years Montero will be a catcher.

Yeah, the Yanks have issues with their starting rotation but there is plenty to be excited about and it starts with the Jesus.

The Regular Season Vault

Has the regular season lost all significance to us as fans?

In the 2010 stretch drive, we watched the Yankees rest their players for the looming Postseason tournament. While there were voices on both sides of the debate, all parties had to agree their was a heirarchy of achievement in which the World Series placed at the top. This reduced the substance of the argument for those of us gunning for the division crown to purely nominal terms.

And the Yankees don’t even hang a little felt pennant unless they win the Series.

But we marginalize the regular season at our own peril. Sooner or later, and possibly even this year, it’s all we’ll have. In those years, I don’t intend to stop being a fan, so I think it’s a good idea to try to realign priorities in order to make that fandom possible. After all, what value is the regular season if losing out on the World Series invalidates everything that preceded it?

Baseball viewed through the prism of the postseason ignores the fact the foundations of championships extend all the way back into April, and even into surrounding seasons. It’s an iceberg viewed from an airplane – most of the mass is underwater.

But no more! We have exhumed the “Lost Classics” of regular seasons past. Games that deserve our attention. Games that defined players and teams, that set-up championships, that were epic poems in and of themselves. Without these games, there are no Hall of Fame inductions, no retired numbers, and no parades. And after all, isn’t baseball a summer game?

THE BIRTH OF COOL (AND CONFIDENT) – July 4th, 1995

Our first extract from the vault of “Lost Classics” hails from the pre-natal days of the most recent dynasty. It was Independence Day, 1995 and the Yankees were visiting Chicago. We need not describe their opponent any further, because way back in 1995, there was no interleague play. Both teams, division leaders at the time of the 1994 strike, were struggling since the return to play and found themselves on the frowny side of .500.

The Yankees had problems in the rotation (I guess as almost every team does almost every year) and were searching for answers.  Even back in 1995, Jack Curry had the goods:

Without Jimmy Key for at least the rest of the season and probably without Melido Perez and Scott Kamieniecki until the second half of the season, the Yankees have desperately searched for starters. They have talked on the phone about trades and searched on the farm for the right prospect.

Rookie Mariano Rivera had debuted earlier in the season and spilled his first cup of coffee with the Yankees right down the front of his brand new uniform. He got the ball four times and was awful three times. In 15 innings, he allowed 18 runs, and even more striking, walked as many men as he struck out – eight. He got battered back to Columbus dragging a 10.20 ERA behind him. But in Columbus, something clicked.

Rivera had not allowed a run in his last 20 2/3 innings in the minors, so when the right-hander returned on Monday for his second stint of the season with the Yankees, he carried a scoreless streak with him. … In his last start, Rivera won a five-inning no-hitter for Columbus against Rochester. … With a microscopic 1.17 earned run average in five starts at Columbus and a 1-2 record and 10.20 e.r.a. with the Yankees before today, Rivera had a goal: to prove he could win in the majors.

Rivera earned another shot in the bigs. He faced the Chicago White Sox who were an above average offensive team – they could hit for average and scored the fifth most runs in the American League. It wasn’t a powerhouse, but it wasn’t a bad representation of the division-winning White Sox lineups from 1993 and 1994. And they couldn’t sniff Mo’s stuff.

He struck out 11 batters, and nine of those were swinging whiffs. When they put the bat on it, they could only manage weak contact as the Sox grounded 12 outs to the infield while getting only four balls to the outfielders. Dave Martinez (later corroborated by John Kruk on Baseball Tonight) offers Curry a likely explanation: “The scouting report we had said that he throws about 85 or 86,” White Sox outfielder Dave Martinez said. “He was throwing a lot harder than that.”

Frank Thomas got him for two singles and a fly out, but in those days, that was not a bad line versus the Big Hurt at his most bone-crushingest. None of the rest of the team had any chance, though the veterans were annoyingly patient and worked all four walks (Kruk twice, Dave Martinez and Ozzie Guillen). Robin Ventura made two loud outs (around a swinging strike out), so I guess he was able to square it up a little bit, too.

Not only was Mariano dominant, he was only in one mini-jam the whole game. It was the type of jam that you’d expect from a rookie, but one that seems totally uncharacteristic given what we know of the pitcher today. After Paul O’Neill staked him a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth with a solo jack, Mariano committed the cardinal sin of walking the lead off man Dave Martinez in front of Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura. He got Thomas to fly out, but then balked Martinez over to second – that’s one of three balks in his 16-year career.

With the runner in scoring position (the only one he would allow all game), he bore down and struck out Ventura to culminate an eight-pitch at bat. He lost John Kruk on a full count, but rebounded to strike out Warren Newsome to end the threat.

Already cruising, after the fourth he found a higher gear. He allowed only one more single and one more walk, and struck out six to wrap up his night. He left after 129 pitches and eight superb innings and his final line tallied 11 strikeouts, four walks, two hits, and zero runs. The Yankees iced the game with a couple of sac flies and a Bernie Williams triple. John Wetteland wobbled in the 9th and gave up a run but never had to face the tying run as the Yanks won 4-1. I assume there was much rejoicing.

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Tattooz Youse (Buster Got Back)

Direct from the SI Vault twitter feed, check out my man!

Much Ado…

Good stuff from Joel Sherman today in the Post. First, from his column:

Look, next month is 22 years at The Post for me, so I like a juicy rogue general manager story as much as the next tabloid nut. I just wish the facts — not appearances — corroborated the story du jour that goes like this: Cashman has gone off the pinstriped reservation because he wants to get himself fired or to end up as a small-market GM to prove he can win big without a huge payroll.

Cashman insisted to me he does not want out. His friends insisted to me that he does not want out. A few weeks back, this guy rappelled down the side of a building for his kids. So if the conspiracy theories are now to be believed, that same guy now is willing to pull his kids from school in Connecticut — and his wife away from her beloved twin sister — all in the name of having, what, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ payroll?

And from this exclusive with Baby Boss Hal Steinbrenner:

As for the Soriano matter, Steinbrenner said he listened to Cashman, but decided to authorize the signing because he felt the club needed an “impact” move this offseason. However, he blessed Cashman’s behavior at the press conference.

“I value his opinion and his advice,” Steinbrenner said. “That does not mean I am always going to go with that advice and all of my VPs know that I might go a different way. There are no hard feelings between Cash and I. There never was. Reasonable men can differ in opinions.

“I keep reading about dissension and discord. We are a well-functioning company. The bosses have a decision to make. Sometimes people don’t agree with those decisions. So I told him, ‘You are always honest with the media, be honest now. Tell them what you have to tell them.’ I was already onto the next decision. I told him, ‘You and I are fine. Answer in any way you want.’ We are not always going to be on the same page. It is my job to think what is best for the family, partners and company.”

Crawford, Werth, Fit for Pinstripes?

CARL CRAWFORD JAYSON WERTH
Age: 29 Age: 31
Position: LF Position: RF
Height: 6-2 Height: 6-5
Weight: 215 Weight: 220
Bats/Throws: L/L Bats/Throws: R/R
MLB Service: 1,235 games MLB Service: 775 games
BA/OBP/SLG: .296/.337/.444 BA/OBP/SLG: .272/.367/.481

The Yankees were in  Arkansas yesterday visiting Cliff Lee, but that doesn’t mean they’re blind to other free agents who could help the ball club. As recently as a week ago, it was reported in numerous outlets that the Yankees were not planning to pursue corner outfielders Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth.

Enter the latest developments: we know that per Jon Heyman at SI.com, that the Yankees have called Crawford, who is reportedly the Angels’ top target. Torii Hunter has already begun stumping for the speedy left fielder. “We need Carl Crawford,” Hunter told the LA Times. “Put it like that.” In that same article, Hunter predicted the finalists in the Crawford Sweepstakes would be the Angels and Red Sox.

To date, the Yankees have not contacted Scott Boras regarding Werth. That’s not to say they aren’t interested, however, according to Frank Russo at NYBD.

“It would be foolish to count the Yankees out on a bat after their stealth singing of Mark Teixeira two years ago,” Russo writes.

Discussions regarding all three players should heat up during the GM Meetings next Wednesday and Thursday in Orlando. If no progress is made by then, there is always the Winter Meetings, which start December 6.

With all that in mind, if the Yankees end up demonstrating interest in both Crawford and Werth, and ultimately land one of them, which one should it be? Who is the better fit for the pinstripes? I e-mailed some members of our network of trusted bloggers and newspaper scribes to get their thoughts. With the exception of Jay Jaffe, whose commentary was excerpted from a recent post at Pinstriped Bible, their e-mail responses are listed below.

Sincere thanks to the respondents for participating.

Anthony McCarron — NY Daily News:

Crawford might be a better player, but Werth would be a better fit only because the Yanks can probably get him on a shorter contract. If the speculation is right and Crawford will get $100 million, that’s just too much money and probably too long a contract for a guy whose best skill, speed, likely will be regressing in the twilight years of the deal. He’s not worth $100 million to a team that already has a dynamite speed guy in (Brett) Gardner.

As for Werth, if the Yanks got him on Jason Bay’s deal or even a little more (4 years, $66 million, with a $14 million option for 2014), I think he’d be a good buy. But only if the Yanks are convinced he’d be happy in New York.

Jonah Keri, uber-writer:

Crawford is the better player – better D, better stealing/running, younger and more likely to age well over the next 5+ years.

Fit isn’t all that important when one player is clearly better than another.

Jay Jaffe, in the aforementioned post at the Pinstriped Bible, warns of luxury tax implications steeper than paying $200 or 10 percent of your assets:

While it might seem natural to link the Yankees to just about any player with a big sticker price — it’s what those players’ agents lie awake every summer night dreaming of, not to mention an obvious talking point for any pundit — they’re simply not fits for the combination of the Yankees’ current needs and budget. And while the Yankees spend far more than any other team on payroll, they most certainly do have a budget. …

… Hal Steinbrenner’s stated desire is to keep the Yankee payroll at “the same level” as recent years. Loosely translated, that means an opening day payroll somewhere just north of $200 million. The Yankees have been above that mark four times in the past six years. They’ve been above $205 million in three of those years, including 2010 ($206.3 million). But they’ve never been above $210 million, topping out at $209.1 million in 2008. Similarly, while they’ve shown a willingness to add payroll in-season via trades, their year-end payrolls — which tally the incentive bonuses, buyouts and other benefits they actually paid over the course of the season, as well as the base salaries — have never topped $225 million. We don’t have those figures for 2010 yet; the commissioner’s office generally releases those figures right around Christmas time, but from 2007 through 2009 they ranged from $218 to $222 million, again a very narrow band.

Accounting for the salaries coming off the books and the raises due the remaining players via contract clauses and arbitration, my calculations quickly took the Yankees to $159 million committed to 19 roster spots, which would appear to leave not much more than $50 million available to re-sign Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and whomever they go after on the free agent market — not only Cliff Lee, their number one target, but also any significant bench players to fill the slots vacated by Marcus Thames and Austin Kearns, to say nothing of the sizable hole in the bullpen left by Kerry Wood’s departure. Considering that Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte made nearly $50 million alone in 2010, it’s apparent that the Yankees can’t simply pile another $20-25 million on without heading for a $230 million opening day payroll and a $250 million year-end tally. Remember too that for every extra $1 million the Yankees add to the pile above a certain threshold — $170 million in 2010, $178 million in 2011 — they pay a 40 percent luxury tax.

Another vote for “neither,” from Ben Kabak of River Ave. Blues:

Don’t see it from a money or marginal win upgrade perspective. Depends on returns, but I highly doubt either end up in pinstripes.

The ever astute and cerebral Larry Koestler, of Yankeeist, throws a bone to the Werewolf:

If the Yankees were to look into acquiring one of the two, they’d likely have to move one of their current outfielders first. Each of Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher — the latter two of whom put up career years, while the former didn’t quite meet some lofty pre-season expectations — have been mentioned in various circles as potential trade bait, but given that each is (relatively) affordable and produced at a 3.0-plus fWAR level in 2010, it’s difficult to make a serious case that any of them should be traded.

On the surface Crawford might seem like the more appealing option, given that he’s two years younger than Werth, fast and a great fielder, but if it were up to me I think I’d probably pursue Werth, who theoretically should command a slightly lesser deal in both years and overall dollars and is going to provide more bang for your buck.

Crawford had a career year in 2010, posting a .378 wOBA along with an eye-popping 6.9 fWAR for a season worth $27.4 million according to Fangraphs. However, Werth wasn’t exactly a slouch himself, with a .397 wOBA (good for 5th-best in the National League) and 5.0 fWAR, worth $20 million.

For 2011 Bill James has Crawford projected for a fairly significant regression, with a triple slash of .300/.350/.453, and a .357 wOBA. Those are solid if unspectacular numbers, and probably not worth the $20M/year Crawford is likely looking for.

Bill James has Werth projected to a .275/.375/.493 and .380 wOBA line in 2011. No Yankee outfielder put up a wOBA that high in 2010, and the highest wOBA the trio is projected to produce per James is Nick Swisher’s .362.

Crawford’s clearly superior to Werth (and almost everyone in baseball) defensively, but given the various shortcomings of the assorted advanced defensive metrics we have at our disposal, I’m not sure how wide the gulf truly is. Anecdotally I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard anyone say Werth was a particularly lousy defender, so I wouldn’t get too caught up on defense.

So while I’m sure there’s a case to be made for locking Crawford up long-term, my preference for a hitter boasting patience and power — two of the rare baseball skills that can improve with age, unlike speed — makes Werth the easy choice.

My former colleague, MLB.com’s Jon Lane:

I love both players, but based on statistics, my “eye test” and overall feel, Carl Crawford is both the better player and fit for the Yankees.

Werth obviously has the edge in power numbers, has blossomed into a star the past two years and would fit nicely in the middle of anyone’s batting order, but that’s where it ends. Crawford is two years younger and gives you a good bat with speed that bolsters his offensive numbers, and the better range in the outfield. Crawford is a four-time MLB leader in steals and triples. The Yankees aren’t getting younger and there still tends to be such an over-reliance on power, which could explain their frequent undoing with runners in scoring position. As much as I like Brett Gardner, Crawford’s gotten it done in all categories in a longer time frame and will continue to get it done.

Another thing to factor in is if the Yankees will actually bite the bullet and move Derek Jeter down in the order. Crawford hitting in the No. 2 spot would go a long way in solving that problem.

As far as Crawford’s defense, he’s been in the top three in putouts from left field every season since 2005. Ditto his range factor since 2003. In the same category he leads all active players and is sixth all-time (Source: Baseball-Reference.com).

I’d take an outfield of Crawford, Granderson/Gardner and Gardner/Swisher/Crawford any day. Both players can play multiple positions, but like Joe Girardi I’m more comfortable moving Gardner around the outfield on given days.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s 2 for Crawford, 1 for Werth, and two for “none of the above.”

What’s your take?

Gloom and Doom

For you skeptics out there, last night’s loss is proof that this is not a magical year, that this Yankee team will get bounced from the playoffs in early October. We’re always looking for signs and the Yanks have not played well over the past month. This morning, the papers took notice.

In the Post, George King begins his recap:

Joe Girardi and CC Sabathia better be correct. Because if they are wrong, the Yankees’ October experience is going to be a short one.

The manager and ace both said the max-effort pitching duel between David Price and Sabathia less than two weeks ago in St. Petersburg, Fla., didn’t bankrupt the Yankees ace’s tank.

In the News, Mark Feinsand writes, “The standings still show the Yankees in sole possession of first place in the American League East, so why does it feel like they lost the division Thursday night?”

Nobody was happy in the comments section here at Banter last night, either. So? What does it all mean? Can this team turn it on and go back to the Whirled Serious? Or is this 2006 and a first round bump?

I don’t think the Yanks will repeat but also would be surprised if they don’t at least make it to the ALCS.

Let’s Play One and a Half (and Win Two!)

The Yankees limped into this series, but it hasn’t mattered much; if the Twins didn’t have bad luck against the Yankees, they wouldn’t have no luck at all. Minnesota lost two one-run games in the space of an evening – the second half of last night’s suspended Scoreless Wonder, which ended up a 1-0 Yanks win thanks to Derek Jeter’s solo home run (and lead-preserving nifty defensive play), and then tonight’s 3-2 duel, which saw Andy Pettitte prevail over Francisco Liriano. Mariano Rivera saved both games, and if he didn’t quite radiate moonbeams and rose petals and ride off the field on a pegasus like he normally does, it was at least a step in the right direction.

I figured on the bullpen being a minefield today (as just getting through nine innings has proved plenty tough enough for those guys recently), but David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Mo staggered through to the end of the first game unscathed, and Andy Pettitte gave everyone a break tonight by throwing 72 of his 94 pitches for strikes — “attack-tastic,” as my friend put it — powering through eight relatively smooth innings with a little help from his good friend the DP grounder. Safe to say he’s showing no ill effects from his recent elbow issue (…well, safe to say, but I’m knocking on wood anyway, just in case). He hit a few speed bumps: in the first inning, when my guy Denard Span doubled, stole third, and was delivered to home plate by Joe Mauer; and in the seventh, with Delmon Young’s RBI double. Beyond that, though Pettitte allowed eight hits, he walked no one, struck out four, and was generally able to keep his anguished, muttered self-criticism on the mound to a minimum. When he induced Joe Mauer to hit into the Twins’ third DP of the night and end the eighth inning, his fist pump was downright Joba-esque.

With the Yankees still staging their community theater adaptation of Waiting For Godot, starring Mark Teixeira’s offense (“We are all born mad. Some remain so”), they patched together a few runs from the bottom of the lineup. In the fourth Francisco Cervelli went all speed-demon on the Twins, beat out a potential double play throw, and scored from first on Kevin “Strong Island” Russo’s double; Russo himself scored in the seventh inning when Brett Gardner tripled. (“Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!”).

Each team had two runs and eight hits when Nick Swisher came to the plate in the top of the ninth to face Jon Rauch and his neck tattoos. The third pitch of the at-bat was a ripe fastball, and we can only hope its violent death was quick and painless, as Swisher absolutely creamed it. It soared over the right field wall and gave them a 3-2 lead that they held onto, thanks to a much more Mariano-like Rivera appearance than we saw in the first game. Take a deep breath, the Yankees won another series.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver