Sunday, August 28, 2022

Not Looking Better at Closing Time...


Photo Credit: Godofredo A Vasquez, AP

Bullpen woes continue in struggles to “shut the door”…

I hate to lose. I know, the Yankees are playing much better and they do not seem to be in the free fall that we experienced earlier this month. It is hard to sweep teams, particularly on the road. Sure, the Oakland A’s are among the worst teams in Major League Baseball, but they are still a Major League team last time I checked. If the Yankees win today (Clarke Schmidt Day!), they will have won three of four games in Oakland which is perfectly acceptable. Lose…and leave with a split…is grounds for disappointment.

While it was frustrating to see Ron Marinaccio serve up a game-tying two-run homer to Stephen Vogt in the tenth inning or DJ LeMahieu’s inability to complete a double-play that led to the A’s walk-off 3-2 win last night, it is hard to win any game when you only get one hit. So, the blame for the loss falls on the entire team, not just Marinaccio or LeMahieu. 

I am hoping the Yankees win today to take good feelings to Anaheim. It is easy to dismiss the Los Angeles Angels as another bottom feeder, but they have won two consecutive games against AL East rival, the Toronto Blue Jays. I am sure Angels interim manager Phil Nevin would like nothing better than to beat the Yankees after losing his third base coaching gig with the team last offseason.

Phil Nevin / Photo Credit: Ashley Landis, AP

It is a concern that the Yankees continue their tendency to nearly get no-hit in games, but you must believe that Giancarlo Stanton will help as he rounds back into form after his long layoff. The bigger concern is the bullpen. As great as Ron Marinaccio has been this year, asking him to close is a mistake. Easy to say in retrospect, but closing is a different animal. Being a great reliever does not always equate to being a great closer. It takes a different mindset and attitude. Not an environment for success for a rookie. Thanks to the injuries, it feels like there is no closer and everyone in the pen is a closer by committee. Wandy Peralta may have been successful the other night, but I still do not like him closing games. Yet, when Clay Holmes and now Aroldis Chapman, among others, are on the Injured List, the bullpen is a volatile situation to navigate.  Holmes is expected to be activated for the Angels series tomorrow. Chapman’s unexpected placement on the IL opened a spot on the active roster that is expected to go Holmes, leaving the Yankees a man short this weekend.

The big question with Holmes is who will he be? Will he return to the dominance he showed earlier this year, or will he continue to struggle? Hopefully, the rest has allowed him to restore full health for a successful return. The Yankees need him if they expect to go deep into October.

As for Chapman, I cannot say that I have ever heard of a tattoo infection as the reason for a trip to the IL. Chapman’s time with the Yankees is short. There is no question he is gone when his contract ends after the season. It is not outside the realm of possibility the Yankees choose to part ways with Chapman in September. If he has any setbacks while on the IL, he really has no value. There will not be enough time for him to restore the team’s confidence in him. He was already on the outside looking in when Boone was scouring the pen to see who could close. I liked Chapman when he was at his best and it is a little sad that his final season ends on a pathetic note. 

I had been hoping the team would get a ‘pick-me-up’ with Zack Britton. Unfortunately, his latest setback, a glute-related injury, caused an end to his rehab appearance yesterday and casts doubt if he will be able to return to the Yankees next month.  Hopefully the injury is not too bad, and Britton can resume throwing again soon. Thankful the injury was not arm-related but this late in the season, any injury can be lethal to Britton’s hope for return. 

GM Brian Cashman, expected to be retained by Hal Steinbrenner, needs to figure this out. Not too many available options in late August. I had thought Luke Bard, currently on the active roster yet to make an appearance, would be ‘the Yankee who never was’ but Chapman’s placement on the IL breathes life into an extended stay. Bard needs to make the most of his opportunity…if, of course, he gets one.   

Oh well, better luck to the Yankees today. I would love to see a great outing for Clarke Schmidt, and it would be nice if the Yankees mix in a few hits and runs to support him. The total of seven games with two or less hits must stop. The Yankees are better than this and they need to start playing like it.  

Jordan Montgomery is still, well, Jordan Montgomery. Although he pitched like he was superhuman after the trade to St Louis Cardinals, his latest outing was a reminder of who he is. Granted, he was playing against the Atlanta Braves, but he gave up five runs and was trailing 5-4 when he was pulled after walking the leadoff batter in the sixth inning. Unlike his time with the Yankees, the Cardinals gave Monty some run support with two game-winning runs in the bottom of the ninth to make it a no-decision for the former Yank. 

McKenzie Dirr & Jordan Montgomery / Photo Credit: Montgomery via Instagram

Meanwhile, Domingo German, the beneficiary of Montgomery’s trade, pitched 7 2/3 innings of scoreless three-hit ball. He was not facing one of the best teams in MLB, however, the roles were the opposite last week when Monty was pitching against worse competition than German and was receiving high accolades. Fans have pined for Montgomery, so it is only fair that we recognize German’s excellent performance. I may not be German’s biggest fan but give credit where credit is due. 

As for Montgomery, my final word. My disappointment was more about the trade than with Montgomery himself. I recognize he is, at best, a mid to end of the rotation starter. I liked him, and felt he was generally consistent.  In a vacuum, I have no problem with a Monty for Harrison Bader trade even if Master Bader’s debut for the Yankees is delayed by plantar fasciitis. My beef was a net gain of zero starters at the deadline when the team needed one to two. Adding Montas was neutralized by subtracting Montgomery. Long-term I think Montas will be the better pitcher despite the early St Louis success for Gumby. Easy to say when Montas is an upper rotation guy. The point is the Yankees will be fine without Montgomery. My only wish would have been to wait until the offseason to move him. 

If Bader shows up and delivers the highlight reel plays he routinely posted in St Louis, all will be forgotten about Jordan Montgomery. Like they always do, the Yankees move on and so do we. One guy departs, another guy steps up. Seems that has always been the formula in any sport. 

Rest for Nasty Nestor Cortes Jr. It felt like a gut punch when I heard that Cortes was being placed on the Injured List, but clearly the silver lining is needed rest for one of the Yankees’ best starters. Cortes has the highest innings pitch count in his Major League career. With 131 innings pitched this season, he has exceeded last year’s total by thirty-eight innings. Nestor only pitched 7 2/3 innings in 2020 for the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees need Nestor in October so, injury aside, rest is hugely beneficial.

I was never upset about the Yankees’ decision to send Clarke Schmidt to Triple-A to stretch him out. The decision has proved fortuitous with Nestor’s placement on the IL. Schmidt gets the ‘next man up’ baton. He was waited for opportunity, and it is here. Schmidt is not only pitching for October, but he is also openly auditioning for a role in the rotation in 2023. Someone needs to replace Jameson Taillon if Taillon leaves through free agency, and Schmidt has put himself in position to be that man. 

Clarke Schmidt / Photo Credit: Bebeto Matthews, AP

Nevertheless, back to Nestor. I hope the stay on the IL is of minimum duration and that he returns healthy and rested. I was going to include happy, but Nestor is always happy every day, so that’s a given. 

End of the road for Aaron Boone? If the Yankees stumble in the playoffs and exit faster than a Joey Gallo strikeout, it will be interesting to see if the Yankees choose to retain Boone. After last season, so many fans called for Boone’s head. When the team got off to a hot start, their screams were muted but they have regained intensity with the team’s less than stellar play since the All-Star break.  Former Yankees beat writer and now Red Sox beat writer Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe places Boone on his list of possible openings after the season. Per Pete Abe: “Could Aaron Boone win 100-plus games in the regular season and get fired? If the Yankees lose in the Division series, maybe Hal Steinbrenner decides clean house. The Yankees haven’t won a pennant since 2009, their longest drought since 1982-95. They went through 10 managers during that period and that’s only counting Billy Martin once.”

Aaron Boone / Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan, USA TODAY Sports

Honestly, I think Boone is safe for another year regardless of what happens. Hal Steinbrenner is not his father, who once fired an excellent manager despite 103 regular season wins (Dick Howser, who won the AL East in 1980 but lost the ALCS to the Kansas City Royals).  I simply cannot see Hal pulling the trigger on Boone whether we want it to happen or not. It has already been reported the Yankees will retain GM Brian Cashman (although no new deal has yet been signed). Love him or hate him, I think the breakdowns this year are more on Cashman than Boone. 

Last offseason, Buck Showalter loomed as a strong possibility if the Yankees had decided to make a change. He is obviously no longer available as he flourishes in Flushing Meadow. I struggle to come up with names of potential (available) managers who are ‘head and shoulders’ above and better than Boone.  I have no desire for the return of intensity with Joe Girardi. His act wore thin in Philadelphia, and the Phillies have prospered since losing Girardi. I love Don Mattingly and it seems he will be on the chopping block floor after the season. However, he has his flaws as a manager and bottom-line, I do not want to see Mattingly fail in New York. He was a great Yankee, and I want his legacy to always stand tall. 

I am prepared for Boone’s return in 2023. I get frustrated with his decisions at times like everyone, but he is a smart, personable guy. My only ask of Boone is continued improvement and growth as a manager. A World Series championship this season would provide Boone a cushion for many more years in the Bronx.

As always, Go Yankees!

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Note to Yankees: Score More Runs...


Gerrit Cole / Photo Credit: Noah K Murray, AP

Team continues its offensive malaise as AL East Lead shrinks…

No question the first half of the 2022 season was more enjoyable than the second half. Since the All-Star Break, the Yankees are 9-19. The sluggish play quickly eliminated any comparison of the Yankees to the 1998 Yankees or the 2001 Seattle Mariners. Once armed with the best record in MLB, the Yankees (73-48) are now behind the three National League teams, Los Angeles Dodgers (83-36); New York Mets (78-44); and Atlanta Braves (75-47); and in the American League, the Houston Astros (77-45). In the rear-view mirror, the Toronto Blue Jays are larger than they may appear. The Jays (65-54) have closed within seven games and are only six games behind in the loss column. The Tampa Bays (64-55) are only one game behind the Jays. Heck, even the Baltimore Orioles (62-58) are just ten and a half games back. Things have certainly tightened and the AL East Championship, which once seemed firmly in the grasp of the Yankees, is now opening for the taking. 

Logically, I keep trying to tell myself the Yankees will stop the losing and will start winning games again. Guys like Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino, Zack Britton and hopefully a better version of Clay Holmes will soon be back. Yet, for pessimism’s sake, the team has not shown they can win for the past two months so there is nothing that leads me to believe anything will change. If the slide continues, it will be one of the most colossal collapses I have experienced in any sport in my lifetime. The tale of two seasons, part 1998 Yankees (114-48) and part 1990 Yankees (67-95). 

The trade deadline was a huge swing and miss by GM Brian Cashman. He had a chance to make a good team better and did not. I like Andrew Benintendi and he is certainly more valuable than Joey Gallo, but not surprisingly he has taken some time to warm up playing in Pinstripes. I think he will be fine by the end of the regular season, and it was a good trade. Maybe not well enough to ensure that he gets a new contract for an encore performance in 2023 but he serves a present purpose and if the Yankees expect to do well in October, they need Benny moving runners, getting on base, and providing elite defense. Nevertheless, regardless of what he does, Benny is not an impact player. He is a nice accessory. 

Andrew Benintendi / Photo Credit: Barry Chin, Boston Globe

Sadly, the trade results elsewhere are less favorable. While I remain of the opinion that Frankie Montas will be better Jordan Montgomery on a long-term basis, there has been a huge contrast in their respective performances thus far, with the scale weighted very heavily in Monty’s favor. My preference would have been to retain Monty for the starting rotation, forcing Montas to pick a different number, but sadly the Yankees’ Front Office did not phone a friend for advice. Monty’s loss still gnaws at me. It left such a huge negative feeling on August 2nd and has not dissipated. Maybe if/when Harrison Bader shows up and starts making sterling plays in center, the negative feelings will erode. For now, it still hurts, and I cannot help but think it factors into the team’s current slide.

I doubt Montgomery would have pitched as well for the Yankees in his last three starts but for the St Louis Cardinals, he is 3-0 with 0.54 ERA. He has given up just one run and has struck out 17 batters in 16 2/3 innings. It seems like he may have been able to be a stopper for these losing streaks at the very least. But of course, as Aaron Boone reminded us yesterday, “If we don’t score, it’s tough to win.” Cashman’s idea of making a trade for October at the sacrifice of today, in retrospect, feels a little arrogant, over-confident, premature, and foolish.

When the Yankees fell behind the Tampa Bay Rays 7-4 in the tenth inning on Thursday night, I did not think the Yankees had a chance. They had shown no signs of life in recent days and scoring a single run had become so arduous. So, when the Yankees loaded the bases in the bottom of the tenth, I certainly was not expecting Josh Donaldson to hit a grand salami to send the Yankee Stadium faithful home with smiles on their faces (a rare feat these days). Glad he did. He has been one of the most maligned players since the departure of Joey Gallo even if his glove has not failed him. Yet, any hope the home run would spark the team or mark an offensive resurgence by Chapman was quickly vanquished by the Toronto Blue Jays who have taken the first three games of a four-game set to start a new losing streak. Wins are so hard to come by the wins are starting to feel like aberrations. The Isiah Kiner-Falefa game, the Donaldson grand slam. There have been no ‘we’re better than you’ type of games, the kind of games where the Yankees bludgeon the opponents by ten runs or more. 

Cashman should have identified how much Stanton’s bat protected Aaron Judge, prior to the deadline, and sought to find a player who could have provided the necessary insurance for Stanton’s health to keep teams from avoiding Judge in the lineup. If we truly believed this was a special team at the deadline, the Yankees should have done what it took to secure Luis Castillo instead of Frankie Montas. The cost would have been high, but it is the old adage, ‘you get what you pay for’.  Maybe Brian Cashman recognized that the first half success was a fa├žade and was unwilling to part with the necessary resources to bring the better players to New York. Who knows, but time is running out to give Cashman the benefit of the doubt. Yet, if Hal Steinbrenner were to cut Cashman loose, another team would make him their general manager within ten minutes. I think Cashman is the GM for as long as he wants it so while I think he should be fired if the season ends in failure, the truth is he will not be axed. Something must change but regrettably, as long as Hal Steinbrenner owns the team, nothing will. Making money is more important than winning (although you would think more of the latter would help the former). I do not miss George Steinbrenner, but I do miss his passion and intensity for winning.

George Steinbrenner / Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Yankees can change this. The power is within their control. Start winning now. An extended winning streak (I always love those of the ten-win variety) would go a long way toward reinforcing the AL East lead. We know the players can do it; we have seen it. Oswaldo Cabrera has been a breath of fresh air for the Yankees. He makes me remember what it was like with the Baby Bombers of 2017 when the youthful enthusiasm was so refreshing. For as good as he has been, Oswald Peraza is better which makes me wonder when/if Peraza will get his chance. The Atlanta Braves have certainly not been shy about reaching into their farm system this season for reinforcements and they have a better record than the Yankees to show for it.

A win today would help everyone, but it will not be easy. Nasty Nestor Cortes Jr (9-4, 2.74 ERA) will be on the mound today and he will be opposed by the extremely talented Alek Manoah (12-6, 2.71 ERA. With Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom looming on Monday and Tuesday, the road remains wrought with extreme challenges. Win today, and then let’s worry about Monday tomorrow. One win at a time, that is all it takes to start a new winning streak despite the dire odds. 

Paul O’Neill Day at Yankee Stadium. Paul “The Warrior” O’Neill will be immortalized today in Monument Park when his number 21 is retired. O’Neill becomes the 23rd Yankees player or manager to have his number retired. He spent nine of his seventeen MLB seasons with the Yankees and left a lasting mark on the hearts of Yankees fans. 

Paul O'Neill / Photo Credit: Getty Images

Personally, I have never been a big fan of retiring numbers. I know, that is probably sacrilegious to some Yankee fans. It seems weird to me that nearly 25% of the available numbers from 0-99 will never be worn again and the percentage will continue to grow for future lifetimes. I am not trying to begrudge O’Neill, he has earned and deserves his day, so I am not critical of removing his number from circulation, just the overall practice of why we do it to begin with. For Babe Ruth, his number was simply his order in the batting lineup. There are better ways to honor and recognize the legends than to put their numbers on moth balls. Honestly, if I were Ruth or Lou Gehrig, I would love to see young players wearing my number in the game today to remember those who once wore the number. Kind of the way everyone wears #42 on Jackie Robinson Day and remembers one of the game’s all-time greats. Every time I see #35, now worn by Clay Holmes, I still think of Hall of Famer Mike Mussina. 

That is just my opinion. No one is bigger than the game. Aside from that, congratulations, Paul, and enjoy your day at Yankee Stadium!

Dellin Betances calls it a career. I was first sad to see the news that the Los Angeles Dodgers had released Betances from his minor league contract this week, but further saddened when I saw the news that Betances was retiring.  Only 34 years old, injuries derailed the gentle giant who was once one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball. I am sorry that he was never able to get that one HUGE free agent contract that would have set him and his family up for their lifetime. His late start (26 when he became a regular part of the Yankees bullpen), the years of arbitration that held his salaries down, and then his final walk year (2019), he was hurt and pitched in only one game for the Yankees. What should have been a huge free agent contract had he been healthy, was a one-year $10.5 million “prove it” contract with the New York Mets. He was able to exercise a player option that gave him a second year with the Mets for $6.8 million.  Injuries prevented Betances from making any impact with the Mets, and he signed a $2.5 million minor league contract with the Dodgers this year. Unfortunately, 19 minor league appearances with a 10.26 ERA signaled the end of the road for Betances.

I am sure financially, he will be alright, but it is a travesty that he was never rewarded for being truly elite at his craft for his dominant run with the Yankees from 2014 to 2018.  He retires with 633 strikeouts in 394 1/3 innings (374 games). His career ERA is 2.53.  I never thought Manny Banuelos would outlast both Andrew Brackman and Betances.  I wish Dellin the best in his post-playing career. I hope he is a future participant at Old Timer’s Day even if it will be a while before he is an “old-timer”. Dellin, job well done. Thank you for your contributions for the Yankees. You made a difference.

Dellin Betances / Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg, NY Post

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, August 13, 2022

To Close or Not to Close...


Clay Holmes / Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin, NY Post

Bullpen blows another close game…

Yankees lose again. A ten-inning walk-off, 3-2, by the Boston Red Sox. It is never fun to write after a Yankees loss, especially a game they controlled…until the end. Clay Holmes has lost my trust as the closer and it is frustrating. I wanted him to have the job earlier in the season when Aroldis Chapman began misfiring. He started the season so dominant, and it looked like Pitching Coach Matt Blake was a true pitching whisperer. Yet, now, no lead is safe when Holmes comes into a game. Maybe you feel secure with a five-run lead…maybe.

There was a point I was done with Chapman as the team’s closer. He is a free agent at year’s end and the Yankees are highly unlikely to pursue him in the free agent market.  I was ready to move on, and Holmes looked like the next best man for the job. The problem replacing Holmes is no real solution for the job. Even though Chapman has looked better of late, there is no guarantee he will not revert to the sweaty, control-challenged mess he was earlier this season. Wandy Peralta is not a closer and I have no desire to see him try to close games. He did well to replace Holmes last night after the Red Sox had tied the game with two crucial outs, including a strikeout, but Peralta is much better suited for setup. Lou Trivino is a closing option, but of course, he was on the mound last night when Tommy Pham hit the game-winning single in the bottom of the tenth inning for the Red Sox. 

For Holmes, it was his fifth blown save of the season. In his last five appearances, totaling four innings, he has allowed seven runs and has walked four hitters while striking out only three.  This is not the same guy who earned the All-Star nod earlier this year.  I think we are starting to see why Pittsburgh fans were frustrated with Holmes. I hope, for his sake and ours, he figures this out, finds his control, and becomes the dominant reliever he had been. October is drawing closer so soon he will be running out of time to recapture his dominance.

Lou Trivino had ten saves for the Oakland A’s this season and twenty-two saves last year. However, he has surrendered forty-nine hits and seventeen walks in thirty-six and one-third innings in 2022. He gave up five home runs in twice the innings pitched last season and has already matched that number this year. While Holmes’ ERA has risen from 0.47 to 2.36, Trivino’s ERA is an unsightly 5.70.

Manager Aaron Boone needs to figure this out. If the Yankees continue to blow winnable games, it does not bode well for an extended run in October. 

Honestly, I would give Chapman a few trial runs as the closer to see if he can recapture what he once had. If he implodes, then other options should be considered. It kind of sucks the Yankees demoted one of their best relievers, Ron Marinaccio, simply because he had options. I understand the reasons. If the Yankees had not demoted Marinaccio, someone would have been DFA’d. The most obvious candidate is reliever Albert Abreu who has already been DFA’d by two teams, Texas and Kansas City, this season. If it was simply a question of, who would I prefer, Marinaccio or Abreu, there is no question the pride of Tom’s River would still be on the active roster.  I want Abreu to succeed but I also want the twenty-six BEST players in the organization on the MLB active roster and that is not the case right now. 

Team chemistry should not be underestimated. Whether it is football, basketball, or baseball, I have always believed team chemistry plays a significant role in team success. The trade deadline was eleven days ago, and I am still in disbelief the Yankees dumped Jordan Montgomery in the deadline’s final minutes for an outfielder we “might” see in September or October.  Monty was close to guys in the clubhouse and loved being a Yankee, the only organization he had every known. He was good friends with Jameson Taillon, and his world revolved around New York City. Right or wrong, GM Brian Cashman sent Monty packing, a move that left an entire fanbase shaking their collective heads. Even the players in the locker room were confused. The team’s 1-8 record since the trade deadline sums up the impact of this year’s moves and I am convinced the Montgomery trade has played a role in the latest tailspin.   

Yadier Molina & Jordan Montgomery / Photo Credit: Christian Gooden, St Louis Post-Dispatch

I liked Jordan Montgomery. I never thought he was a dominant pitcher, but he kept the team in games and was consistent. Exactly the type of guy you want in the middle to back end of the rotation. It keeps getting said that he would not have pitched in October and the move was made about October. Injuries certainly could play a part in whether Monty would have been an October starter, but I know that I would rather have him on my team than not. Maybe we will feel differently when Harrison Bader is healthy and patrolling center field with his newfound short hair.  Deadline deals are supposed to energize teams, but the Montgomery trade was a royal deflator. 

As for Montgomery, he is thriving for St Louis. After holding the Yankees scoreless last week, he pitched six scoreless innings last night against the Milwaukee Brewers to help power the Cards to a 3-1 victory. He is the first Cardinals pitcher since 1966 to win his first two starts without allowing a run.  For the good moves Cashman has made, this was a bad one and time will tell if it is worse.

46 home runs, 100 RBIs, .305/.400/.688, .450 wOBA, 7.6 fWARIs that good? With all seriousness, Aaron Judge is having a truly unbelievable season. Unlike the Yankees as a whole, Judge has continued his brilliant year and is the consensus AL MVP leader. I hope, I pray the Yankees re-sign him in the offseason. To lose Judge after such a dominant season would be upsetting. He should be a Yankee for life, and he should be the next Captain.  Owner Hal Steinbrenner must be as aggressive pursuing Judge in free agency as he was a few years ago with Gerrit Cole. Conversely, if I was a rich owner of another team, I would be loading up trucks overflowing with cash for Judge.  I wish Judge and the Yankees could have come together on an extension before free agency. It sets us up for potential disappointment. If he re-signs with the Yankees, it will be a heavy relief aside from exhilaration. If he does not, sorry, I do not want to think about that…

Aaron "MVP" Judge / Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin, NY Post

Hal, please PAY THE MAN.

Despite pleas from fans, Isiah Kiner-Falefa is the 2022 New York Yankees shortstop. For better or for worse. It is apparent the Yankees made their bed with IKF and have no plans to promote shortstop prospect Oswald Peraza or utilityman Oswaldo Cabrera. I find it hard to believe the Yankees have chosen not to promote Peraza because it would start his service time clock, but they obviously have their reasons for believing Peraza is not ready for the Major Leagues. Whether I think he should be promoted or not is irrelevant. The Yankees know better than we do.  Outwardly, it might not make sense, but I will give the team the benefit of doubt on this one. As for 2023, regardless of what happens this season, IKF should be in a utility role at best, not the team’s starting shortstop. He is one and done in the position once held by the great Derek Jeter.

On a side note, the ugly social media posts directed at IKF’s family are disgusting and unacceptable. While I may not be enthralled with his play on the field, IKF is a human with feelings and a good guy. He is trying his best to help the Yankees win. I do not wish ill will on any player, regardless of the jersey he wears. Separate the man from the player and keep it on the field, fans. We can do better. We must do better.

Here’s hoping for a quick recovery by Matt Carpenter who fractured his foot in Seattle. I hope a possible September return proves to be the realistic outcome. Carp has been such a terrific inspiration in 2022 and I hope there is more to his Cinderella story in October.

Matt Carpenter & Aaron Boone / Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Lastly, I was shocked to hear about the suspension of Fernando Tatis, Jr by Major League Baseball for using a banned substance. Tatis, Jr, one of the game’s young greats, had yet to play in 2022 due to an off-season motorcycle accident, and the 80-game suspension ensures that his 2023 appearance will be delayed.  Tatis is claiming he inadvertently took the performance-enhancing substance (Clostebol) while taking medication to treat ringworm but has dropped his appeal and has begun to serve the suspension without pay.

For as negatively as the trade deadline ended for the Yankees with the trade of Jordan Montgomery, the San Diego Padres were widely hailed as the Deadline champions for their acquisitions of Juan Soto, Josh Hader, and Brandon Drury. Yet, they were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in a subsequent series, and the Dodgers have simply decided never to lose again.  The Dodgers have won eleven consecutive games and lead the Padres by sixteen games in the NL West.  So, if it was not bad enough for the Padres, they lose one of their great young players for their Wild Card pursuit.

Tatis will miss the first 33 games of the 2023 season although the number could be reduced by the number of games the Padres play in the 2022 postseason. Mike Clevinger summed up the team’s feelings with his post-game comments last night, “You hope he grows up and learns from this and learns that it’s about more than just him right now.” True, I hope Tatis learns from this, and he can be the player he was meant to be. A sad day for baseball.

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Yankees Playing Well Enough to Lose...

Aaron Judge / Photo Credit: David Carson, St Louis Post-Dispatch

Yankees loss third consecutive game…

Remember when the Yankees were seemingly winning every day, drawing comparisons to the 1998 Yankees and the 2001 Seattle Mariners? Times have changed. Look, I get the Yankees have managed to hold on to a double-digit lead in the AL East since they became a .500 club. Well, that is being generous. They have been less than a .500 club since they lost to the Houston Astros, 2-1, on June 30th. Since that game, the Yankees are 14-17. Yet, the second-place Toronto Blue Jays, perhaps the biggest threat in the AL East, remain 10 ½ games behind. The Yankees no longer have the best record in baseball and the Astros are within a half-game of leaping over the Yankees for best record in the American League.

The Yankees controlled last night’s game in St Louis until Clay Holmes, brought into the game in the eighth inning to face the heart of the Cardinals order, blew the save which allowed the Cardinals to squeak by the Yankees, 4-3. 

Clay Holmes / Photo Credit: AP

I am concerned. Everyone seems to be looking ahead to October as if it is a given right. I have no doubt the Yankees will make the playoffs, but this team, if they cannot shake the current inconsistent play, does not have the chance going against the AL’s best when the post-season competition begins. I want to win the World Series this year. The window is open, and we do not know the future. We are not even sure if Aaron Judge will be a Yankee next season. I think and hope he will be, but until he signs the dotted line, there are no guarantees. The Dodgers hit a bumpy path earlier this summer, but now they have won six consecutive games and nine of their last ten to grab the best record in MLB (73-33). To assert their dominance, they crushed their division rival last night, the San Diego Padres, 8-1, despite San Diego’s anointment as the Trading Deadline Champions for their acquisitions of baseball’s best closer and a 23-year-old mega-superstar outfielder. Things are going so well for the Dodgers; new Dodger Joey Gallo has had a hit in both games he has played for them. The Yankees (70-37) need to go on one of those type of runs to right the ship.

I get that the weight of the Pinstripes can be heavy. Too often, new players struggle until the breakout game arrives…if it arrives. Andrew Benintendi had a .320 batting average when he was acquired from the Kansas City Royals and has seen it drop to .305. He did not get his first extra-base hit until last night.  Meanwhile, new Astro Trey Mancini three home runs and seven RBIs in four games for Houston. Even former Yankee Brandon Drury made a huge first impression with his new club, the Padres, by hitting a grand slam in his first game.  Matt Carpenter has been great, but I wish the other newcomers could assert their presence sooner than later. 

I am not sure what to think about closer Clay Holmes. He no longer has that sense of invincibility. It seems like when he has an off night, he is awful like last night. He shows us why Pirates fans laughed at the Yankees when they acquired him last year. He can do better; we have seen it. He needs to find it again and become the dominant reliever he was earlier in the season.  I never thought I would want to see a return of Aroldis Chapman to closing duties, but those thoughts are starting to seep into my mind. Chapman has looked better lately. Not sure I fully trust him yet, but with each Holmes implosion, Chapman crosses your mind. Zack Britton cannot get back soon enough. We know with certainty that Wandy Peralta is not built for closing duties.  Lou Trivino was Oakland’s closer this year, but he did not exactly inspire confidence in the role. The Yankees will continue struggle until the bullpen can figure things out. The reliance for comeback wins, which worked in the season’s first half, is not a sustainable strategy.   

I was happy to see Giancarlo Stanton win MVP for this year’s All-Star Game in his hometown of Los Angeles but given that we have not seen him play since then makes you question why he went to the All-Star Game. In retrospect, it feels selfish. I know the Yankees are overly conservative with injuries and there has not been much discussion about Stanton, but there is no question, his absence is contributing to the team’s current lackluster play. Maybe the injury unexpectedly worsened which was probably the case but still, he should have just taken the time off to recover from the season’s bumps and bruises rather than play in the meaningless All-Star Game. He is too valuable to the team.

I wish I knew the answer to the team’s current malaise. Manager Aaron Boone must find a way to inspire the team to more wins than losses. They need a “slumpbuster”. The term always reminds me of when former Chicago Cub/Arizona Diamondback first baseman Mark Grace went on Jim Rome’s show in 2003 and proclaimed, “A slumpbuster is when you have to take one for the team. It’s finding the biggest, nastiest, fattest broad, and you put the wood to her to come out of your slump. Also known as ‘jumping on a grenade for the team’”. Not sure who needs to take one for the team. The most obvious choices, Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge are married, so maybe the burden of responsibility falls on the lofty shoulders of bachelor Giancarlo Stanton. I mean, you must leave no stone unturned. End the slump and get back to your winning ways, Yankees. 

The Trade Deadline. I was pleased when the Yankees acquired left fielder Andrew Benintendi (even if he has yet to find his stroke as a Yankee). It may have been better to get Ian Happ of the Chicago Cubs, but the Cubs ended up keeping their outfielder. Benintendi is going to need to hit, but if he does, he will be an improvement over Joey Gallo. I am sad about Gallo. I really liked the guy, and felt he was a great teammate and clubhouse factor. His performance at the plate was abysmal and there is no question he needed a change of scenery. New York is not for everybody. Now, I just need Benintendi to start hitting like that pest he was in Yankee Stadium as a Red Sock. 

Andrew Benintendi / Photo Credit: Mike Stobe, Getty Images

Gallo, with the start of a heavy beard upon his arrival in Los Angeles this week, gets a fresh start with the Dodgers. I thought Gallo would do better in a less-pressurized environment, but then again, the pressure of a Los Angeles crowd is not as intense as a New York crowd. Maybe the Southern California lifestyle will help Gallo relax and hit bombs. I thought the Yankees did well to recoup a decent prospect in pitcher Clayton Beeter, who immediately became the tenth best Yankees prospect according to After dealing away pitching prospects at the deadline, the Yankees needed a solid arm in return.  Beeter may be headed for a future in the bullpen but for those who demanded the immediate release of Gallo over the past few weeks, this is the reason you do not simply cut a guy who still has some value.  Sucks that we will have to face Glen Otto, Ezequiel Duran, Trevor Hauver, and Josh Smith in Texas, but “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Hopefully the trade works out well for both the Yankees and Dodgers.

Joey Gallo

It was disappointing to miss out on Cincinnati Reds starter Luis Castillo who went to Seattle. I thought Castillo would be a perfect fit for the Yankees. The Mariners paid a high price. There was no way the Yankees were going to part with Anthony Volpe, nor should they. Oh well, life sucks and you move on. The Yankees did well to pivot to Frankie Montas of the Oakland A’s.  I already watch James Kaprielian perform for the A’s and now we must watch Ken Waldichuk. Liked both of those guys as prospects. BUT, getting Montas was needed. No complaints with doing what it took to bring him to the Bronx. I look forward to his Yankees debut on Sunday against the Cardinals.  With the Yankees’ interest in Montas rumored for so long, it felt like it would never happen. Would have preferred Castillo but I will certainly not complain about Montas. I am glad he is in the Yankees rotation.

The Yankees acquired a reliever from the Chicago Cubs. After much speculation about whether another reunion with Cubs reliever David Robertson was in the cards, the Yankees grabbed promising reliever Scott Effross, complete with his funky underhanded delivery. D-Rob ended up with another reunion, returning to the Joe Girardi-less, Rob Thomson-managed Philadelphia Phillies. I kind of hoped for a D-Rob reunion, but I get the controversy about his role in denying playoff shares to certain members of the team a few years ago. Effross was a nice addition for a team that needed bullpen help after losing Michael King for the season.

But the trade that caught most of us by surprise was the stunning trade of LHP Jordan Montgomery to the St Louis Cardinals. I understand the need to get a quality center fielder, but Harrison Bader is on the Injured List with plantar fasciitis and will not be able to help until September at the earliest.

Matt Carpenter & Harrison Bader / Photo Credit: Ron Schwane, Getty Images

Montgomery never seemed to get run support, but he was always a consistent performer in the rotation, so his loss neutralizes the addition of Montas somewhat. Montas is the better pitcher, no doubt, but the staff is weaker without Monty. Especially since the top pitching prospects in the organization (Ken Waldichuk and Hayden Wesneski were traded away in deadline deals). I am not a fan of Domingo German. I could not care less that there are no proven facts. Character matters and he fails the test for me. The only sunlight for me is stretching out Clarke Schmidt in Triple A for future Major League starts.  Schmidt over German. The sooner the better. After Schmidt, the rotation insurance becomes cloudier.  The opener strategy would probably reinsert its ugly head. 

I am not sure that I understand the Montgomery trade. If it is about October and the belief that Montgomery would not be part of the playoff roster and the need for a superior center fielder was greater, I get it. But we need to win the division first. For me, it is a little hard to think about October since there is a milestone that must be reached before we can get there. There are reports the Yankees had tried to acquire Pablo Lopez of the Miam Marlins. I doubt Cashman made the Montgomery deal thinking he had Lopez in hand. Cash has been doing this too long to take anything for granted. Still, the trade was puzzling to the less informed like me. I am sure Cashman has his plan and he is sticking to it. He is better at this than you or I.  I look forward to Bader’s first appearance in Pinstripes and hope the New York native can show us why the Cardinals fans loved him so dearly.  I like the idea of keeping Aaron Judge in right and Aaron Hicks out of centerfield so no qualms about a quality centerfielder if he can get healthy enough to play effectively. 

As for Monty, I am sorry it ended. I appreciated his time as a Yankee. He never had any of those overly dominant games like Hiroki Kuroda could occasionally provide but for the most part, he was consistent and consistency counts. I think he will do well in St Louis, and he should prosper.  Time will tell if it was the right move. As for today’s game, Monty’s first post-Yankee start, I hope the Yankees can finally score runs when Montgomery is on the mound. I wish Monty much success…just not today.

Jordan Montgomery / Photo Credit: Getty Images

Meet Me in St Louis. I would love to be in St Louis for this weekend’s series against the Cardinals. St Louis, from a Major League baseball standpoint, has huge significance for me even though I’ve been a Yankee fan since I was a kid. I grew up in the Midwest…in Iowa, not far from the Field of Dreams. Years ago, I lived in Dallas and one of the afternoon Sports Radio hosts always said if you lived in a state with no Major League team, you were a free agent and could choose your favorite team anywhere. I am not sure why I never became a Cardinals fan. Reading books about Lou Gehrig as a little kid and worshiping Jim “Catfish” Hunter led me to the Yankees.  Once a Yankee fan, Thurman Munson quickly became my favorite player and I have been forever hooked. 

As a kid growing up in Iowa, there were three MLB teams that had a heavy influence in my area of southeastern Iowa. The Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs, and the Minnesota Twins. During my teenage years, there were times that the only baseball games on the radio I could get were Twins games (during Rod Carew’s heyday). My stepfather was a die-hard Cardinals fan which probably accounts for why I could not embrace the Cardinals. Still, my first Major League Baseball game was in the old Busch Stadium in St Louis. My stepfather took me on a road trip to see the game (St Louis was about three hours from my home).

May 29, 1974. Los Angeles Dodgers versus the St Louis Cardinals at the old Busch Stadium. Just a baseball game to me at the time. Looking back, it was a game that featured future Yankee great Tommy John pitching for the Dodgers against the legendary Bob Gibson. Holy crap! What that matchup would mean to me today if I had only known. Joe Torre was the Cardinals’ first baseman that day. As a kid with a weak bladder, I had to make a pit stop at the bathroom when I heard the radio call of Ron Cey’s home run for the Dodgers, the only home run of the game and I did not get to witness it “live”.

On the way back to my seat and my stepfather, I saw a few people crowded around an older gentleman and decided to check it out. Much to my surprise, it was Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial. I was able to shake his hand and get his autograph. He was such a genuinely nice man to meet, at least from my perception as a young child. I can only equate meeting Don Mattingly as a celebrity who was “down to earth” and incredibly personable as Musial was that day. I am not sure I fully understood and appreciated the magnitude of meeting Stan “The Man” at the time, but I am forever grateful I had the opportunity to meet him.

Stan "The Man" Musial / Photo Credit: AP

The Dodgers won the game, 5-2. I see so many people who say you can only love one team, but I have always had an “NL Team” despite my love for the Yankees. Rest assured; Yankees are above all. Always and forever. The Cardinals were my first favorite NL Team through my childhood experiences and despite my stepfather’s affection for them. Later, living in the Bay Area, I changed to the San Francisco Giants, but when Joe Torre took over as the Dodgers manager and brought Don Mattingly with him, I switched my allegiance to the Dodgers, and they remain my NL team and most likely will through the duration of my life. I live in the greater Los Angeles area, so I feel pretty locked in with the Dodgers at this point. Well, at least when they are not playing the Yankees.

Back to the 1974 Cardinals-Dodgers game, it is funny with so many legendary names on the field, the one player that stood out to me, and someone who I loved during his Cardinals career, was the Mad Hungarian, Al Hrabosky. In his prime, I do not think I have ever been as fired up to see a reliever than Hrabosky after his antics on the mound. Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer ever. Undisputed fact. But the adrenaline and energy that Hrabosky could invoke when he was on the mound was far greater than anything I have ever experienced in life. 

Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky

In May 1974, I was not a Yankee fan yet. At the time, I was an Oakland A’s fan due to my love of Catfish Hunter. The end of the year would bring change. Catfish signed with the Yankees on December 31, 1974. I had affection for the Yankees through the books I had read about Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth so when Catfish signed his Yankees contract, I went with him. My stepfather hated the Yankees so that was probably added motivation. In all due respect, my stepfather was a good man. He treated my mom right, and it was a sad day when we lost him a few years ago. But as a kid, he was replacing a man that I worshiped (my dad) who had died much too young a few years earlier so the deck was stacked against him.

Kind of a roundabout way to explain the meaning watching the Yankees play in St Louis. I think if circumstances had played out differently, it is very possible that I would be a St Louis Cardinals fan today. No offense to Cardinal fans, but I prefer the Yankees path I took. 

As always, Go Yankees!