Saturday, August 28, 2021

Lucky 13...


Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu, AP

Yankees continue to roll since the corn field debacle…

The title of the post is, admittedly, misleading. The Yankees aren’t just lucky…they are damn good! Last night’s win gave the team thirteen consecutive victories, the best run since September 1-12, 1961. The 1961 Yankees, powered by Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, won 109 games, and of course won the World Series. The 2021 Yankees won’t reach 100 wins, but the World Series certainly remains on the table. After the uneven play earlier in the season and the COVID-19 attack on multiple players, I am very proud of the team’s accomplishments since the trading deadline. The balance provided by Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo have been great, but this has been a team effort. I love the ‘refuse to lose’ mentality.

Unfortunately, the Yankees have been unable to make up much ground on the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays, winners of five in a row, are in Baltimore so they’ll win a couple more games before any potential losses. The O’s have not been able to figure out the Rays, falling short in 16 out 17 games this season. Trailing the Rays by four games in the AL East, the Yankees currently hold the top Wild Card slot, three games up on the second Wild Card, occupied by the Boston Red Sox. The Oakland A’s, once the top Wild Card team, continue their fall and are 3.5 games behind Boston. I hold up hope the Yankees can catch the Rays. They end the regular season with three games at Yankee Stadium against Tampa on October 1st through 3rd. The Rays and Red Sox will play 7 games against each other in the next two weeks.

After the 1961 team’s 13-gamer, they went 9-8 to finish the season. Obviously, it didn’t prevent the team from reaching its goal, but I am hoping for better regular season results for the 2021 team once the streak ends.  Finishing with 95-96 wins, given the team’s earlier struggles, would be huge. 

Now, the Yankees are tied with the Houston Astros for the second-best record in the American League at 76-52, one game ahead the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox.  No one could have predicted this in early July.

Congratulations to Gerrit Cole for becoming the fastest Yankee to reach 200 strikeouts in a season. He reached the milestone in 148 innings, breaking Michael Pineda’s previous team record accomplished in 168 1/3 innings (2016).  I like Cole’s response after the game, “It’s not a goal. It’s just my job.” Yeah, Gerrit, just keep doing your job. Life is good. 

Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu, AP

For as much heat as he takes from the Yankee fan base, it’s great to see Giancarlo Stanton on his best run since his 2017 MVP campaign with the Miami Marlins. He has homered in four consecutive games and has been valuable for the current 13-game winning streak. I’ve enjoyed seeing him play in the field again even if I had some initial skepticism. The Yankees are better when they can get Luke Voit’s bat into the lineup as the designated hitter. I remember the 2017 season when it did seem like Stanton was homering every day. It’s nice to see him wearing a better uniform doing it today. 

Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu, AP

I am cautiously optimistic for Monday’s return of Corey Kluber. I am hopeful that he stays healthy and does not suffer any setbacks. It will take him a few starts to raise his level of effectiveness so I am sure Andrew Heaney will have to pick up Kluber a few times before we see any potential Klubot dominance.  Maybe Kluber picks up where he left off, but I suspect there will be some rust to shake. He has potentially five starts to get ready for the October fun. Kluber has shown us he is not done, and hopefully the best is yet to come. Let’s get that man a World Series ring!

Photo Credit: Ken Blaze, USA TODAY Sports

It was good news to hear that Luis Severino has resumed pitching after getting a second medical opinion from noted orthopedic surgeon Neal ElAttrache. I always worry whenever a pitcher visits Dr. ElAttrache but thankfully the trip was positive and productive. It doesn’t seem like there is enough time for Sevy to get ready, but he only needs to ramp up for a bullpen role. After nearly two years away, he is not going to be starting games any time soon but could be a valuable weapon out of the pen if he is able to make it back. I am hopeful we’ll see him in October in some capacity beyond being a bench observer. 

Nice Major League debut for former Yankees prospect Glen Otto. Sent to Texas in the Joey Gallo trade, Otto made his debut in the Show by pitching five shutout innings, allowing only two hits while striking out seven. The Rangers didn’t back up his performance as the Houston Astros prevailed, 5-4, but it was through no fault of Otto.  It’s always a little bittersweet to see former Yankee prospects excel elsewhere, but I certainly want Otto to do well (unless he is pitching against the Yankees, of course). 

Today is Nasty Nestor Day as the Yankees go for Win number fourteen. Sweet Lou Piniella. 

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The (Less Rocky) Road to the World Series...


Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer, AP

Yankees gaining momentum toward goal…

It’s great to be a Yankee fan. No stress. Just casual winning every day with monster bats and stellar pitching. Life is good.

As The Greedy Pinstripes’ Daniel Burch (@GreedyStripes) continues to say, nearly every day from the start of the season, these are just more highlights for the World Series DVD. I may have laughed at first, but it is looking more and more like the odds are in Daniel’s favor and he might truly have the last laugh. A fervent believer despite the many earlier challenges, credit goes to him for never taking off the rose-colored glasses.

The August success for the Yankees does not typify the bumpy roads we’ve travelled to get here but I am feeling so much better about the state of the Yankees than I did last month. I find it hard to believe that I was wondering early last month if the Yankees should be buyers or sellers at the trading deadline. I guess I had become too accustomed of being disappointed about moves not made at the trading deadline (case in point, 2019) that I could not have imagined the brilliant job GM Brian Cashman was about to do this past July. Everyone acquired has contributed in some way.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

It’s goes without question the biggest acquisition is first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He’s the consummate pro who is brilliant on the field, both offensively and defensively, and a leader in the clubhouse. He brought such a winning attitude to the team. Not saying the Yankees don’t have other guys of the same mindset, but Rizzo has been the glue to pull it all together. The presence of his left-handed bat, along with Joey Gallo, finally provided the balance in the lineup that all of us Twitter GM’s have endlessly been calling for.  This is just another plug that I hope the Yankees re-sign Rizzo in the off-season. He’s another great in a long line of great first sackers.  @Yankees, make it happen!

To briefly digress, I do believe there is room on this team for Luke Voit. His homer and four RBIs last night are a testament to the production of a healthy Louis Linwood Voit III with regular playing time, and he should play. Historically, I’ve been against playing Giancarlo Stanton in the field (health concerns), but Voit changes the equation. Stanton should play left (or right on the days Judge is given a breather) and let Voit be the team’s DH. Nothing against Voit but I prefer to see Anthony Rizzo and his glove at first base. There’s risk of injury for Stanton, but he seems to be in the right place this year and I am hopeful he stays in good health.

Back to the trading deadline acquisitions, I like Joey Gallo on this team. I know there are those who are frustrated by strikeouts, but his ability to get on base and his outfield defense are so strong. He always says the right things in interviews and he is clearly a team-first guy. He has also melded into the cohesiveness of the clubhouse. I feel the home runs will come more regularly in time. I remember it taking at least a year before Jason Giambi truly settled in as a Yankee. It is not easy. There are very high expectations when you put on the Pinstripes. Some guys, like Rizzo, can come in and produce from the start. For other guys, there is a bit of a ramp up. I don’t blame him. I want to give him the necessary time because I know how good Gallo can be, and I will continue to support him. The Yankees open the 2022 season in Texas against the Rangers, and I am sure it will be a terrific moment for Gallo given how much he loved his time there. I am sure he will be very motivated to perform well in front of his many friends. I know, that doesn’t mean anything for this year. For now, I will just enjoy Gallo’s name written into the lineup every day and know that his next titan home run might only be an at-bat away. He can be one of the guys who deliver their signature Yankee moment in October.

Photo Credit: AP

Even the pitching acquisitions have been strong. It goes back to the Mike Tauchman trade when the Yankees acquired Wandy Peralta (angering the fan base). I can’t imagine the bullpen without Peralta through the ebbs and flows of the unit’s success. Meanwhile, Tauchman struggled in San Francisco and is currently a Sacramento River Cat after being designated for assignment and clearing waivers. Adding Clay Holmes and Joely Rodriguez have proven to be solid moves. I was down on Andrew Heaney for his first two starts, like many fans were, but I have held out hope and optimism Matt Blake and Eric Cressey saw something in him they thought they could fix. His last start against the Boston Red Sox, a win, was an example of the pitcher he can be. The guy was once a very highly rated prospect. He is older and has never reached his potential, but it doesn’t mean he can’t. Granted, they are not the same type of pitchers, but I always think of Randy Johnson as a pitcher who took awhile to figure it out, but when he did, he was one of the best. That’s not to say I think Heaney will be bumping Gerrit Cole off the ace’s perch but I do believe, if Blake and Cressey are successful, he can be a valuable member of the rotation. There is nothing wrong with a consistent and effective #3 starter. 

So, the acquisitions have helped the Yankees seemingly turn their season around. Before, I didn’t feel like the team had the right drive or passion. That’s an unfair comment on my part because I am not in the clubhouse every day. But the team has bonded and they are winning and having fun while they are doing it. Yes, winning is fun and that’s part of it, but you don’t win by accident. I am proud of the Yankees for erasing Boston’s 10 ½ game lead from early July, finally catching and passing them this past week with a sweep of the Red Sox in New York. If you had asked me on July 6th if I thought the Yankees could catch Boston, I probably would have said no. But here we are with nearly a month and a half left in the season and Boston is in the rearview mirror. Not only that, the Yankees are only four games behind the division leading Tampa Bay Rays which is certainly well within reach. As the Yankees continue to get their players back from the injured list, they will continue to get better and better.

There was a time when I thought just getting the second Wild Card spot was huge. Now, the AL East division title is a possibility if the Yankees continue to play this well.  Someone posted on Twitter that the Yankees are never hot in August. Generally speaking, that seems to be true. I didn’t look up the stats but in past years, it has seemed like the Yankees have always run into a rough patch during this month. But just because it happened in the past, doesn’t mean it has to happen in the future or now. This is a resilient team that has proven they can change and adapt. I am sure other American League teams are fearful of the Yankees right now. They should be.

Hats off to the in-house “acquisitions” too. Nestor Cortes Jr is clearly the leader of the guys who have stepped up as part of the ‘Next Man Up’ brigade. I remember nearly losing him to the Baltimore Orioles a few seasons ago, actually losing him to the Seattle Mariners last year (November 2019 trade for international bonus pool money), and then getting him back on a minor league contract last December. After his less than successful season as a Mariner, I know I didn’t have high expectations for him, but he has delivered far greater…consistently…than I could have ever imagined. He, along with the magic of young Luis Gil, are the reasons the Yankees have maintained solid starting pitching despite the injury and COVID losses in the rotation.  Nasty Nestor deserves so much of the credit for the Yankees’ recent success.

Luis Gil will come back to Earth but what a breath of fresh air he has been. I love seeing his early success even if it is not sustainable. He is a guy that can get better and better, and even if he is not pitching shutouts every game, he can put the team in position to win every time which is very powerful.

Andrew Velazquez has been another great story. The Bronx native enjoying success in his hometown. When the Yankees signed him in January, I didn’t think much of the move. It seemed like just more fodder for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. But the 27-year-old utility man and one time Diamondback-Ray-Indian (Guardians?) has fully taken advantage of Gleyber Torres’ time away. I am happy to see his success. I don’t know what his long-term future will be. When Gleyber comes back, decisions will have to be made to open room. Never a great Tyler Wade fan, I’d prefer Velazquez but there are those who can make the legitimate argument for why Wade should be the choice to stay. I hope Velazquez can continue to make this a very difficult and complicated decision for the Yankees’ front office. For now, I will enjoy his play and the smile on his face when he comes up with a key hit or makes a challenging fielding play. 

Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg, NY Post

Here is an image certain to bring a smile to the face of any Yankee fan:

As always, Go Yankees! 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Field of Bad Dreams...


Photo Credit: Zach Boyden-Holmes, The Register, USA Today Sports Network

Finding new ways to lose…

The Yankees seemingly find new ways to break my heart every day. The curse of our decision to follow the greatest franchise in the history of sports, at least this season. This has been a tough year for any Yankee fan, for sure. The Field of Dreams game featuring the Yankees against the Chicago White Sox was fun to watch in terms of the setting and the presence of Kevin Costner, plus the tie-ins to the movie even if you have never actually seen the movie. Growing up in Iowa but away for many years, I found the corn fields near by the newly built stadium and movie set to be soothing and comforting. I guess you must be an Iowan to understand the beauty of the flat rural, agricultural views because there are no mountain or ocean views, the things Californians appreciate (well, unless you live in the Central Valley). 

Photo Credit: Reese Strickland, USA Today Sports

But back to the game, it was tough to watch. Trailing for most of the game, the Yankees erased a three-run deficit in the top of the ninth inning to take a one-run lead off one of the better closers in the game (Liam Hendricks). It was such a feel-good moment and gave life to the thought the Yankees might win the game. But sadly, no, Zack Britton entered the game and promptly handed it to the Sox with a walk and a misplaced pitch that Tim Anderson was able to easily drive out of the park for the dramatic game-winning two-run home run. 

Using Britton in that situation was, in my opinion, another poor decision by Aaron Boone. Britton hasn’t been right this season (“pitching like shit” in his own words) and the White Sox might be the best team in the American League right now. Take a chance with trying to close a game with Britton if you are playing the Royals, but not the White Sox. Perhaps Jonathan Loaisiga would have given up the game-winning HR too, but that’s a better risk to take than simply gift wrapping a win for the White Sox. Not a big fan of Chad Green in the ninth so that’s why I am on board with Loaisiga as the best option until Aroldis Chapman returns.   

It will be a tall order for the Yankees to win this series with the White Sox as the remaining two games shift to Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago. I hopeful of at least a split between these two games which unfortunately gives the series to Chicago. Winning both games would be huge, but I am not expecting it, unless Aaron Boone can miraculously start making better decisions…and if the ice-cold Joey Gallo could rediscover his home run stroke. Yeah, you too, Luke Voit.

I am thankful both Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery are on track to return to the Yankees next week. It was good to see Gerrit Cole at the Field of Dreams game for his brief interview on TV. When the guys go on the COVID-19 list, there is such eerie silence for how they are doing. Having Cole and Gumby back in the rotation will be great. Aaron Boone indicated we’ll see Luis Gil again for one of the games during Tuesday’s double-header against the other and smelly Sox. But as exciting as the rotation additions will be, it is concerning to hear that Luis Severino has suffered another setback. I had been hopeful to have Sevy back at least as part of the bullpen for the duration of the season. However, he didn’t “feel right” before his last scheduled rehab start on Friday, skipped the game, and headed back to New York for further evaluation. Not good. Another significant setback would seem to spell the end of any hopes of seeing Sevy pitch in 2021. Nearly two years since we last saw the former Yankees ace pitch in pinstripes.

Speaking of COVID-19, it was good to see the return of Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who had been placed on the COVID list during the Marlins’ series against the Yankees. Mattingly missed 12 games despite being fully vaccinated. Donnie Baseball told the Associated Press, “Getting the positive wasn’t necessarily a shocker because of the way I felt that day. I’ve been taking my temperature every day for two years and never had a fever. And all of sudden I had a fever and got a little headache; this doesn’t feel good. Honestly, you test, you’re positive and they kick you out the backdoor and you don’t see anybody for 10 days. It’s definitely an experience you don’t want anyone to go through.” I remain very concerned for the man who now holds Mattingly’s spot as Yankees first baseman, Anthony Rizzo. Given his status as unvaccinated, it is worrisome.  I lost a friend last year, younger than me with no health issues. The coronavirus doesn’t discriminate…it doesn’t care who you are. Keeping Rizzo in my prayers for a speedy and full recovery. Mattingly is further quoted in the Miami Herald, saying “Seeing so many people have so much trouble, you don’t want to be flippant about this thing and just think, ‘Oh it’s not a big deal’, because there’s lots of people that have had trouble and obviously lost their lives and things like that. But I was glad I was vaccinated from the standpoint of I had a couple of days of mild symptoms, and I felt good. And I didn’t pass it on to like my kid or my wife. Tried to do the right thing, but definitely glad I was vaccinated.”

Photo Credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald

Speaking of the Marlins, I am glad to see they have given former Yankee outfielder Dustin Fowler another chance. Fowler, who will forever be remembered suffering the devastating knee injury during his Yankee debt at Guaranteed Rate Field a few years ago, was released by the Pirates organization last week. Fowler, now 26, is with Miami on a minor league deal, and will try to resurrect a once promising future in the game with the Marlins’ Triple A affiliate in Jacksonville, Florida. Best of luck to the former Yank.

I know he hasn’t played very well for several years but I was still a little surprised to see the Boston Red Sox designate utility man Marwin Gonzalez for assignment. His removal opens the way for the Red Sox to add former Yankee Twitter favorite Kyle Schwarber to the active roster. Despite never playing first base in the Major Leagues, Schwarber becomes Boston’s starting first baseman, a position that has seen dreadful production year-to-date for them. I had a brief thought the Yankees should try to sign Gonzalez if he is released by the Red Sox, but it passed quickly.

I also saw the Milwaukee Brewers have placed Travis Shaw on outright waivers. Despite his disappointing production (.191 batting average, .279 OBP, .337 SLG, and 68 wRC+, good for -0.3 WAR in 56 games), perhaps a change of scenery would help the 31-year-old left-handed hitter. When Gio Urshela comes back, he’ll need to help cover shortstop during the absence of Gleyber Torres so the Yankees could use better options than Rougned Odor to play third. Shaw, historically, has played better in the American League with his stints in Boston and Toronto than the National League. Since the cost to sign Shaw would only be the prorated league minimum, I could see the Yankees taking a flyer. 

Here’s hoping the Yankees can stay healthy for the duration of the year. Looking forward to the return of those temporarily away, and hopeful everyone on the field later today stays on the active roster for the hopeful path into October. 

As always, Go Yankees!

Saturday, August 7, 2021

The Rocky Road to the World Series...


Photo Credit: Lynn Sladky, AP

Challenges, old and new, persist in push for October…

Although the Yankees, with their power infusion at the trading deadline, made up significant ground this past week, it seems like nothing goes their way. I guess this just provides more highlights for the World Series DVD that Daniel Burch (@GreedyStripes) is currently producing (allegedly). 

As we know, the great Gerrit Cole (well, not so great in recent outings) and Jordan Montgomery are on the COVID-19 List and today, it was announced that closer Aroldis Chapman (also not so great this year) has been placed on the 10-day injured list with left elbow inflammation. It remains to be seen if Zack Britton, Chad Green or Jonathan Loaisiga becomes the interim closer or if the Yankees go the closing by committee approach.  Either way, it is yet another challenge that requires others to step up. Nick Nelson, called up to replace Chappy, needs to perform better at the Major League level than he has this year.

Speaking of stepping up, the same applies to Kyle Higashioka who becomes the starting catcher in place of the COVID-stricken Gary Sanchez. The less we must see Rob Brantly play, the better.  I don’t know why I was bummed to see the Yankees trade minor leaguer Kellin Deglan to the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s not like he was a strong option for call-up. However, he was always around Spring Training and seems like such a great organizational guy (even if he is not Major League material as a player). He is a native Canadian (British Columbia), although he is currently assigned to Toronto’s nearby Triple A affiliate in Buffalo, New York.  It would be cool if he gets a chance to play in Toronto. This is probably where I wish we had seen better growth and progression by catching prospects Anthony Ziegler and Josh Breaux (particularly the older Breaux who was recently promoted to Double-A Somerset after four years in the organization). I guess we’ll just have to bide our time until top catching prospect Austin Wells is ready. 

The past week, just from a true baseball perspective without all the figurative curveballs that have been thrown at the Yankees, has been fun. The team is winning again (as they have the past month), and the wins are magnified by the sudden downward spiral of the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees, once 9 games behind Boston, now sit 5.5 games out of first place (entering play today) and only 3 games behind the Red Sox.  They are only 1.5 games behind the Oakland A’s for the second Wild Card spot. At this point, there is a very real possibility the Yankees could claim the top Wild Card spot and remain contenders for the division should Tampa derail for whatever reason.  Life certainly looks better today than it did just a week or two ago.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

I have to say I really like the throwback jerseys the Yankees will wear in the upcoming Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa.

Photo Credit: Yankees

Born and raised in Iowa, I love to see the Yankees play baseball in my home state even if I must watch on TV, thousands of miles away in sunny Southern California.  I am excited for the game (Thursday, August 12th at 7:00 EDT) and what it will mean for Dyersville and the state. 

When the Yankees acquired Los Angeles Angels LHP Andrew Heaney at the trading deadline, I figured the Yankees must have seen something in the pitcher they could fix. So, it comes as no surprise to hear that Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake has been working with Heaney to tweak his mechanics. I am hopeful this is not another Sonny Gray situation. Hopefully Heaney responds to the changes in a positive and constructive way and does better than his Yankees debut when the lowly Baltimore Orioles crushed four home runs off him. 

If the Yankees had somehow managed to pull of a trade for a top starter like Jose Berrios at the trading deadline, GM Brian Cashman would look brilliant right now. He looks good for Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo (and maybe Clay Holmes), but a top starter with the unforeseen COVID-19 diagnoses for key starters would have been invaluable.

Is it too early to call for the Yankees to extend Andrew Rizzo? Setting aside what he can do with a baseball bat, I love the defense he brings to first base. He is a natural leader and just one of those guys who seems to make everyone around him better. I am glad Joey Gallo will be back next year despite his slow start and I really hope we see both Gallo and Rizzo together next Spring when the Yankees report to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.  Many Yankee fans want an elite shortstop (like Corey Seager or Trevor Story) this upcoming off-season to move Gleyber Torres back to second base, which, in turn, would push D.J. LeMahieu to first base, but I really like having Rizzo on this team. He brings so many great intangibles and has meshed incredibly well with team chemistry. The Yankees will figure it out. There are ways to bring in an elite shortstop and re-sign Rizzo.  I am hoping Rizzo is enjoying the Yankees as much as we have enjoyed him. 

Photo Credit: Fox Sports

It’s nice to see Luis Severino pitching again but I have to say I am cautiously pessimistic. Rarely do you see a pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery have immediate success. It generally takes the next season after his return to see the successful results. So, it’s hard to count on Sevy as a key factor the September push to the playoffs. Same with Corey Kluber. He’s not coming off surgery, but the long layoff can’t be good and the potential for continued trouble for him remains high.  I am hopeful Gerrit Cole can shake off COVID and return with renewed fire, aided by the forced rest.  Same with Gumby.  We need both.

I am anxious to see Luis Gil’s next start. There’s no doubt he’ll fall back to Earth and there will be games the control issues are a problem, but if he can provide serviceable back of the rotation support, it would be huge for this team.  One of these years, I’d like no need for ‘next man up’ yet it is fun and exciting to see guys get their Major League opportunities and make the most of it. 

Lastly, my apologies to dinosaur Brett Gardner for being skeptical he’d come up big in Friday night’s game. His walk-off 11th inning single in the 3-2 win was/is much appreciated.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

As always, Go Yankees!