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!