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!

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