Results tagged ‘ AL East ’
Not to be flippant about it, but the Yankees saved their worst for last. Their season ended with a thud Thursday as Detroit completed a four-game sweep of the American League Championship Series with a convincing 8-1 victory. It marked the second consecutive season that the Tigers eliminated the Yankees from the postseason, becoming the first team to do that since the New York Giants in the World Series of 1921 and 1922. A year later, the Yankees won the first of their 27 championships, so maybe this will be a good omen.
Nothing feels good to the Yankees now. Getting swept in a postseason series is something the franchise is not used to. It had not happened to the Yankees since the 1980 ALCS when they lost in three games to the Royals back when the series was still a best-of-5. The Yankees had played 36 postseason series without getting swept before Thursday.
It is not at all that difficult to analyze what went wrong for the Yankees. They simply did not hit. They scored in only three of the 39 innings of the series and only six runs total. They never had the lead for a single inning in the series, something that happened to them only once before, in the 1963 World Series when they were swept by the Dodgers.
Actually, the Yankees’ offense was pretty scarce throughout the postseason, but they were picked up by their pitching staff. The remarkable work of the rotation also ended Thursday as CC Sabathia, who got the Yanks into the ALCS with a complete-game triumph over the Orioles in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, came apart.
But what the Yankees needed more than a big game from CC Thursday was a big game from the lineup. Nick Swisher came up with his first run-scoring hit with a runner in scoring position in this postseason with a double in the sixth inning, but that was it as the team that set a franchise record with 245 home runs this year continued to falter in the postseason. A team that averaged 1.5 home runs per game during the regular season had only seven home runs in nine postseason games.
Raul Ibanez supplied most of the muscle with three dramatic home runs, but the Yankees got no homers from their usual sluggers – Swisher, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. It was not just a power outage, either. The Yankees’ team batting average was .157 in the ALCS and .188 overall in the postseason.
Ibanez’s heroics pinch hitting for Rodriguez in Game 4 of the ALDS unfortunately created a media circus around A-Rod, who had been rendered helpless against right-handed pitching in postseason play (0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts) and was benched in the final game of the ALDS and the last two games of the ALCS. Rodriguez has taken the blunt of the blame for the Yanks’ ouster, which is unfair.
He was part of the problem but by no means all of it. Eric Chavez, who replaced Rodriguez at third base, was hitless in 16 at-bats and made two costly errors in the ALCS. Curtis Granderson, who hit 43 home runs during the regular season, homered in Game 5 of the ALDS but was 0-for-11 in the ALCS. He had only two hits other than the home runs in 30 postseason at-bats and struck out 16 times. Swisher hit .167 with 10 strikeouts.
Then there was the strange case of Cano, who endured one of the cruelest postseasons for a New York player that brought to mind the struggles of Yankees right fielder Dave Winfield (1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series) and Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges (0-for-21 in the 1952 World Series).
Cano entered the postseason as the hottest hitter in baseball with a streak of nine multi-hit games in which he went 24-for-39, a .615 tear. The All-Star second baseman managed only three hits in 40 postseason at-bats (.075), including 1-for-18 (.056) against Detroit pitching. Cano went 29 at-bats without a hit over one stretch, the longest postseason drought in club history, which covers a lot of ground. This was the Yankees’ 51st postseason covering 73 series.
As it turned out, 2012 was a season in which the Yankees peaked too soon. They were running away with the AL East by mid-July with a double-digit lead and then had to fight and claw to finish in first place at season’s end. The same Baltimore team that hounded them in the regular season pushed them to the full five games of the ALDS. A talented Detroit staff headed by the game’s most talent pitcher, Justin Verlander, kept the Yankees’ bat silenced.
Now silence is all there is left of the Yankees’ season.
The Yankees got their first look the past three nights at the team that won the American League pennant the past two years and they had to conclude that the road to the 2012 World Series will go through Texas.
This was the only trip to Texas this year for the Yankees, who won’t face the Rangers until a four-game series at Yankee Stadium in mid-August. By then, Lord knows how far Texas will be leading the AL West. With Wednesday night’s 7-3 victory over the Yankees, the Rangers kept their five-game lead in the division and extended their spread to 8 ½ games over the last-place Angels, who had been expected to be the main threats against Texas out west.
The Yankees got good starts from CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in splitting the first two games at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington, but Phil Hughes couldn’t survive the third inning in the finale and put his club in an early hole in a game in which the Rangers were using five relievers to get through the game.
David Phelps, who has been mentioned as a possible starter down the road, has his first rough outing by allowing three runs and five hits, two of which were long home runs by Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland. Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley, Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano handled the Rangers quite well, but the offense could not overcome the early deficit.
It is far too early to go overboard about the standings, but the Yankees fell out of a first-place tie in the AL East that is no between the Blue Jays, which is no surprise, and the Orioles, which is. Except for Raul Ibanez, who drove in two runs with his third home run and a sacrifice fly, and Derek Jeter, who ran his hitting streak to 15 games with two more hits and is batting .420, the Yankees’ bats were mostly mute and 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
It doesn’t get easier for the Yankees, who will come home to face the Detroit team that ousted them from the playoffs last year. However, the Tigers have lost five of their past six games and find themselves in a dogfight in the AL Central with the Indians and White Sox.
If the Yankees sent any kind of message to the Angels in taking two of three games at Yankee Stadium this week, it was this: if you guys want to get to postseason play, you better win your division.
The Yankees increased their lead over the Los Angeles Anaheims to eight games in the wild-card race. The Angels are much closer to first place in the American League West where they trail the Rangers by two games. The Yanks are one game behind the Red Sox in the AL East.
The Angels made the mistake of giving the Yankees an extra out in the seventh inning because of an error by second baseman Maicer Izturis, who bobbled a ground ball by Mark Teixeira that should have been the third out. Instead, it loaded the bases for the Yankees, who gleefully watched Robinson Cano clear them with a grand slam against Scott Downs.
Cano was on fire in the series. Thursday was his second straight three-hit game. Wednesday night, he was a single shy of hitting for the cycle. Cano had 7-for-12 (.583) with a double, a triple, two home runs and six RBI in the series. The All-Star second baseman is back over .300 at .303 with 20 home runs and 81 RBI. He also made one of his patented charging plays with a crossover throw to nail Torii Hunter at first base to end the Angels fifth.
Cano’s salami made a winner of Rafael Soriano, who has been nearly perfect since coming off the disabled list. He finally gave up a hit Thursday in his sixth inning since returning from a right elbow injury. The other two Yankees’ runs were courtesy of Curtis Granderson, who homered for the fourth time in three games and raised his season total to 32 to tie Teixeira for the club lead.
The grand slam by Cano made the score 6-2, but that was not the final. Another “blip,” as Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been calling the recent relief work of the struggling Mariano Rivera, turned it into a one-run game. Russell Branyan came off the bench with two on in the ninth and clubbed a fat cutter from Mo deep into the right field stands for a home run, his eight in 47 career at-bats at the Stadium, which got the Angels to 6-5. Rivera settled down after that and got the final two outs for his 30th save. This is the 14th consecutive season that Mo has saved at least 30 games, tying the major-league mark of Trevor Hoffman, the only closer with more career saves. Rivera now trails Hoffman, who retired this year, by 11.
Normally, you might say it would be a lock for Rivera to overtake Hoffman as the all-time saves leader but not the way he has pitched this week. He suffered a blown save Sunday night at Boston and gave up a game-winning home run to former teammate Bobby Abreu Tuesday night. Over his past three appearances, Rivera has allowed four runs, all earned, and four hits, including two home runs, with no strikeouts while his ERA has swelled from 1.70 to 2.40.
“I’ll get concerned if it happens for a month,” Girardi said after the game.
Rivera has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt that he can right himself, but at 41 he may finally be showing signs of age. Even the other night, Girardi said that when he caught Rivera in the 1990s his cut fastball ranged from 94 to 98 mph and that now it is more like 90 to 93. Four to five miles is a big difference. One thing I have noticed is that hitters seem to be more aggressive against Rivera, who is always around the plate. For years, he took advantage of the fact that opposing hitters whose teams were trailing in the ninth would usually take a strike. Mo has spent his whole career getting ahead 0-1 on opposing hitters. Now, more and more hitters are taking the approach Branyan did Thursday.
Nevertheless, it was a positive game for the Yankees, who got another good start from the remarkable comeback man Bartolo Colon, who pitched six innings and gave up two runs and five hits with two walks and five strikeouts. Derek Jeter reached base four times with three singles and a walk. Since coming off the DL July 4, the Captain is batting .312 with eight doubles, one triple, two home runs and 21 RBI in 31 games and 125 at-bats.
It was a good day for the Yankees, and they have had a lot of them. They are playing .800 ball in the daytime with a 32-8 record.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi had said before Wednesday night’s game that Ivan Nova was not pitching for his spot in the rotation. “He has been one of our best five guys,” Girardi said. “The last three months, especially, he has been really, really good for us.”
So there you have it. Nova is one of the five best starters, so he is going nowhere but to his next start. Girardi is going with a six-man rotation these days but will return to a five-man shortly, so one of the pitchers will be the odd man out, but it won’t be Nova.
After being basically guaranteed a spot in the Yankees’ crowded rotation, Nova went out and pitched another beauty. A home run by Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos was the only smear on Nova’s record until the seventh inning when he gave up two singles and two walks without retiring a batter.
Rafael Soriano did a nice job cleaning up Nova’s mess and leaving him in position for a winning decision, which has been a regular occurrence for the righthander who has not lost since June 3. Nova is riding a personal seven-game winning streak during which he has pitched to a 3.10 ERA in 52 1/3 innings and pushed his season mark to 11-4 with a 3.85 ERA that is sure to attract some attention to voters for the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award in the American League.
Nova did not strike out a batter in the 9-3 victory over the Angels but essentially gave Yankees outfielders the night off. Of the 18 outs Nova registered, 16 came in the infield. The busiest fielder was Mark Teixeira, who had 12 putouts and one assist at first base. Nova had two putouts and two assists himself.
The Yankees beat a pitcher making his major league debut for the first time in seven starts since 2004 in treating Angels rookie Garrett Richards harshly. Curtis Granderson connected off him twice for home runs. Robinson Cano got three-quarters of the cycle, falling a single short. His 19th home run of the season, off Joel Pineiro, also scored Granderson, who had walked and has now touched the plate 104 times this season.
It all combined for the Yankees to end a three-game losing streak and push the Angels back to seven games back in the wild-card race with a shot at picking up ground in the AL East against the Red Sox.
The Yankees-Blue Jays series that ended Wednesday at Yankee Stadium offered a duel between the leading home run hitters in the American League. When Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista hit a long home run to left field in his first at-bat Monday night, he seemed to be throwing down a gauntlet to Curtis Granderson.
The Yankees center fielder picked it up and threw it right back at Bautista. Granderson did not add to his home run total of 16 – three behind Bautista – but he clearly had the better series of the two.
Granderson was on base 10 times and scored six runs in the three games as the Yankees ended the 4-2 homestand on a high note by taking two of three from the Blue Jays, which was more important than taking two of three from the Mets because Toronto is in the same division as the Yanks and play for the same prize, an AL East title or at the least a playoff berth.
When the series began, Granderson was all deferential to Bautista saying that he did not belong in the same sentence because he was not really a power hitter, certainly not one to match the guy who swatted 54 home runs in 2010.
“I’m always trying to drive the ball, but I never go up there looking for a home run” Granderson said. “Whenever I have done that, from high school to now, it has never been a successful thing for me.”
Since the middle of last August when he revamped his swing, Granderson has hit 30 home runs, more than any other player in the major leagues other than Bautista, who has 37 over that span. This week’s showdown was won by Bautista in terms of home runs only, one to zero, but in the other areas of the game, Granderson won hands down.
This is not to say that Bautista is a one-dimensional player. He not only leads the league in home runs but also runs, total bases, walks, slugging and on-base percentage and is batting .342. His home run was only one of two hits he had in 10 at-bats in the series. Bautista walked twice, was hit by a pitch and scored two runs.
Now look at Granderson’s series: 6-for-11 (.545) with three doubles, two RBI, six runs, three walks, one hit by pitch and one stolen base. He was in the middle of the come-from-behind victory Tuesday night, the most exciting game of the season, with four hits and banged out two more doubles in Wednesday’s 7-3 victory to raise his batting average to .280.
In the three games, Granderson pretty much fulfilled the scouting report he delivered on himself at the start of the series: “A little bit of everything, you know, gets hits, can drive the baseball, can potentially hit the ball out of the ballpark.”
Take notice that he put the home run hitting last. He has hit as many as 30 home runs in a season (2009) and last year, his first with the Yankees, Granderson hit 24. He is on a pace to hit 55 this year, but don’t talk to him about paces.
“I remember when I got traded here from Detroit, people were saying I might hit 40 home runs playing half a season at Yankee Stadium since I had 30 playing half a season at Comerica Park.” Granderson said. “I didn’t take that seriously. When I hit a home run at Fenway Park in my first game with the Yankees, a friend of mine said, ‘All right; you’re on pace for 162.’ People throw numbers out that I’ve never come close to.”
Just the same, Granderson keeps throwing out big numbers.
The Yankees went deep into the well Wednesday for a couple of former players to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, which had the potential to be the last home game of the season for the Bombers since they trailed Texas 3-1 in the best-of-7 series.
None other than Aaron Boone and Bucky Dent, who hit two of the most dramatic home runs for the Yankees, were called on for the duty. Boone’s 11th-inning home run off Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS at the Stadium won the pennant for the Yankees.
Dent’s three-run home run in the seventh inning of the 1978 playoff game at Fenway Park against the Red Sox’ Mike Torrez gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in a game they won, 5-4, to clinch the AL East title. It was not a post-season home run since divisional playoff games are considered part of the regular season.
Derek Jeter liked to talk about how “the ghosts” would come out late in post-season games at the old Stadium. The Yankees can’t be sure if the ghosts have made their way across 161st Street, so they relied on living examples of the durable past.
The only Yankees team to have rebounded from a 3-1 deficit in games to win a best-of-7 series was in the 1958 World Series against the Milwaukee Braves. The Yankees’ catcher was Yogi Berra, who was also at the Stadium Wednesday. That was only the second time in history that a club had done that in the World Series and the first since the Pittsburgh Pirates came back against the Washington Senators in 1925.
Counting the World Series and the Championship Series, the feat has been accomplished 11 times. The list includes the 2004 ALCS when the Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees, the only time that has ever happened, but Yankees fans don’t want to think about that.
The only other time the Yankees trailed 3-1 was in the 1942 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1, who won the fifth game to take the Series. Yankees fans didn’t want to think about that, either.
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said that there was a brief team meeting after Tuesday night’s loss at which only manager Joe Girardi spoke. “Whatever happened there, I will never tell you,” Mo said, adhering to the code of the clubhouse.
“We are down 3-1, but we still haven’t lost yet,” Rivera added. “So with that in mind, we just have to play one game at a time. So the message is that we just play hard today and forget about tomorrow. Let’s focus on what we have to do today. And it we do that, I think the team that we have is enough to win today. We haven’t finished yet.”
Ivan Nova has no beef this time.
Back on Sept. 3, the rookie righthander was not pleased about coming out of a game against the Blue Jays with two outs in the fifth inning, one out shy of what is required for a starting pitcher to qualify for a winning decision. Nova found himself in the same boat Tuesday night, but this time he was responsible for a huge leak and left manager Joe Girardi no choice but to take him out in a similar spot again.
Girardi’s hook of Nova two starts ago may have seemed swift, but not this time. Nova entered the fifth the beneficiary of a 6-0 lead as the Yankees knocked Rays starter Matt Garza out of the game in the top half. TV cameras showed Girardi pacing in the dugout as Tampa Bay worked itself back into the game that inning, starting with Carlos Pena’s 27th home run and continuing with a double, three singles and a walk.
At one point, it appeared that bench coach Tony Pena was pleading Nova’s case to Girardi, who waited one more batter, but when Matt Joyce singled to cut the deficit to 6-4 the Yankees skipper had no recourse. The move did not pay off, however, as lefthander Boone Logan surrendered a three-run home run to Willie Aybar that wiped out all of the Yankees’ advantage and put the Rays ahead, 7-6. It was the first time in 25 appearances since June 21 that Logan was scored on.
This was a whole different game from Monday night, a 1-0, 11-inning Rays victory that featured an eight-inning, scoreless duel between American League Cy Young Award candidates CC Sabathia and David Price. The second game of this three-game set between AL East contenders turned into a bullpen game.
Still playing without Brett Gardner (sore right wrist) and Nick Swisher (bruised left knee), the Yankees’ offense came alive. Robinson Cano reached base in each of his first four plate appearances, including his 27th home run and a double that tied the score at 7 in the sixth. Alex Rodriguez drove in two runs with a single and his 23rd home run (career No. 606). Curtis Granderson whacked a pair of doubles.
That seemed enough support for Nova, who allowed one hit and one walk in the first four innings and seemed to be pitching himself into consideration for possibly breaking into the post-season rotation. But that was before he had to be rescued by his manager.
This is not the way the Yankees wanted to open another of those playoff previews that everybody is talking about. Of course, if the Yanks and Rays face each other in the post-season it would have to be in the American League Championship Series because Division Series opponents cannot come from the same division. That makes you wonder why they call the first round of the playoffs Division Series if, well, never mind.
Managers Joe Girardi of the Yankee and Joe Maddon of the Rays can talk all they want to about the importance of finishing first in the AL East to earn home-field advance through the ALCS, but the fact remains that what is most important is for your team to get into the post-season, and both of these teams pretty much have that locked.
Girardi was without two-thirds of his regular outfield Monday night at Tropicana Field because left fielder Brett Gardner and right fielder Nick Swisher had to be shelved. Gardner had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test on his aching right wrist that revealed no structural damage but recurring inflammation from an injury he sustained June 27 at Los Angeles when struck by a pitch from the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. Gardner received a cortisone injection and could be unavailable for the series except possibly as a pinch runner, which may not be a good idea, either, because he often slides into bases hands first.
Swisher has been bothered by a sore left knee on and off for the past three weeks, mostly on the last few days, which is likely responsible for a 3-for-25 (.120) slide, albeit with a game-winning home run along the way. He will go the MRI route Tuesday and is also doubtful for the series except as a pinch hitter. Against Rays lefthander David Price, Girardi went with right-handed hitting Austin Kearns in left field and Greg Golson in right.
The manager also had to adjust his lineup and decided to move Robinson Cano into the 2-hole where Swisher has thrived much of the year. The best thing about Robbie hitting second is what it may mean to Derek Jeter, who led off the game with a single. Unfortunately, Cano then grounded into a double play.
The Yankees would be wise not to put such a premium on finishing first. The injuries are piling up, so the premium should be on getting healthy.
Enough of this playoff preview stuff already. That seems to be the theme a lot of writers and broadcasters are taking to describing the Yankees-Rangers series this weekend at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Except that it really isn’t.
Yes, if the season ended today the Yankees and Rangers would oppose each other in the American League Division Series. Yes, there is a good chance the Yankees will win the AL East and the Rangers the AL West. There are still four weeks left in the season. A lot can happen. The Yankees may have to settle for a wild-card berth, which would mean an ALDS date with the Twins instead.
Yet even if the Yankees and the Rangers are destined to meet in the playoffs, this series is no preview. A big to begin with is that Texas is currently without its best player, center fielder Josh Hamilton, who probably won’t play in this series while still recovering from a strained left ribcage. Hamilton just happens to be the leading candidate for the AL Most Valuable Player Award.
The Yankees’ rotation is another clue that this is no playoff preview. Does anyone believe for a minute that Javier Vazquez, Friday night’s starter, or Dustin Moseley, the projected starter for Sunday, would be in the rotation for a playoff series? Heck, the way he is going lately, Saturday night’s scheduled starter, A.J. Burnett, may be considered iffy as a post-season starter as well.
Yankees regular catcher Jorge Posada, who has been cleared to play after tests for concussion symptoms were negative, was available as a pinch hitter only and probably just in an emergency situation. Andy Pettitte, one of baseball’s top post-season pitchers, was to report to Texas Saturday after an encouraging start at Double A Trenton Thursday night. The lefthander will need to make one more minor-league start or simulated game before returning for major-league action not before Sunday, Sept. 19, at Baltimore.
It cannot be much of a playoff preview if that many significant players who could be major factors a month from now are missing, so let’s tone down the rhetoric.
As the Yankees went into a four-game series against the hated Red Sox Friday night, I couldn’t help thinking about what Boston did in the 2004 post-season. Down 3-0 in the American League Championship Series, they followed their manager’s mantra of winning the next night’s game. Don’t think about anything else, Terry Francona told his players, but that night’s game.
The Red Sox did this, of course, for eight straight games, knocking off the Yankees and then sweeping the Cardinals in the World Series for their first championship since Babe Ruth was in their rotation. That always stayed with me about Francona, who is probably the best manager never to win a Manager of the Year Award. The stakes aren’t so high in this series, but dire consequences could set in if the Yankees push Boston around.
“We’re at a point of the season where every game is meaningful,” Francona said. “We have to embrace the challenge rather than whine about it.”
Boston is pretty beat up. The Red Sox have been without 2008 Most Valuable Player Dustin Pedroia for a month and just lost first baseman Kevin Youkilis, the team’s spine, for the rest of the season. The Sox came to Yankee Stadium in third place trailing the Yankees by six games. After Friday night’s 6-3 victory, Boston is five games behind the Yankees. Francona is back to one game after the next.
The Sox lineup had some unfamiliar faces, none more so than left fielder Ryan Kalish. The recent callup has been tearing it up, batting .471 entering the game. WCBS radio’s Suzyn Waldman made him the subject of her pre-game interview and went on at length about him over dinner with Lee Mazzilli, John Sterling and me. She mentioned that Kalish grew up in Red Bank, N.J., and had left six passes for friends and relatives. He said he was too embarrassed to ask for more.
Kalish struck out in his first two at-bats, but he gave his people in the sellout crowd of 49,555, the largest gate at the Stadium this year, a moment to remember with his first major-league home run, a two-run shot in the sixth off Javier Vazquez, who had a rough outing and lost for the first time in six starts since June 30.
Vazquez, who was skipped over in the rotation twice earlier in the season to avoid pitching against the Red Sox, gave up a first-inning home run to David Ortiz, which was trumped by Mark Teixeira’s two-run blow in the bottom of the first. It marked the fourth straight game in which the Yankees had a two-run homer in the opening frame, but they have lost three of those games.
A player who scored ahead of the homer hitter in each of those games was Derek Jeter, whose first-inning single tied him with the Babe on the career hit list with 2,873. Unlike Jeter, not all of Ruth’s hits were with the Yankees. Jeter had the most impressive at-bat of the game, with two out and nobody on in the ninth. He outdueled Red Sox closer Jonathan Paplebon for 12 pitches, including six straight fouls on two-strike pitches, before drawing a walk. It went for naught.
The Red Sox are playing for relevance, trying to get back into the AL East mix with the Yankees and Rays. The Yanks maintained their half-game lead in the division over Tampa, which lost at Toronto. Vazquez and his catcher helped the Red Sox in the second inning when Boston scored three unearned runs to regain the lead. One out after a leadoff double to Adrian Beltre, Cervelli dropped a popup by Mike Lowell, who sauntered up the line and was lucky the ball fell far enough away from Cervelli to get to first base safely.
Vazquez was on the verge of working out of trouble as he struck out Kalish, who swung at a ball around his ears for strike three. Vazquez then did the unthinkable, walking 9-hole hitter Jed Lowrie to load the bases. Jacoby Ellsbury walked as well, forcing in a run, before Marco Scutaro doubled in two more runs.
Okay, so it wasn’t like giving up that grand slam to Johnny Damon in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, but it was a chance to put the Red Sox away wasted.