Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:36 pm

3 to Watch: The Yankees' chance edition

NEW YORK -- The Phillies haven't won since they clinched the National League East.

The Tigers have lost three of five since they clinched the American League Central.

And Thursday, the Yankees played a Triple-A lineup, committed four errors and lost 15-8 to the Rays, the day after clinching the AL East.

What happens next will be more interesting.

What happens next is Yankees-Red Sox, giving the Yankees a chance to push their biggest rivals a few steps further towards what would be an embarrassing collapse.

Could the Yankees possibly sleepwalk through three more days, at the risk of giving the Red Sox life?

Johnny Damon says no.

As the Rays designated hitter, Damon is an interested party. But as an ex-Red Sox and ex-Yankee, he understands the dynamics of the rivalry, too. And he fully believes that whether the Yankees say it publicly or not, they want the Red Sox out of the playoffs.

"Yeah, because it's definitely not a good story if the Red Sox beat them in the playoffs," Damon said. "If the Rays beat them, it may not be acceptable, but it's more palatable.

"And they've matched up well against us. We haven't really done anything to show them otherwise."

The Yankees have been in an unusual spot all week, in a sense having control over who wins the AL wild card and who doesn't. For three games against the Rays, they could pretend that they were solely focused on winning the division themselves.

Now that they're in, they'll claim that they're solely focused on setting themselves up for the playoffs. Yes, catcher Russell Martin said Thursday, "I hate the Red Sox," but everywhere else in the Yankee clubhouse they were insisting they don't care who else gets in.

We'll see.

We'll see what lineups manager Joe Girardi runs out there the next three days, and then for three games at Tampa Bay. We'll see what intensity the Yankees play with.

Girardi is absolutely right that his main objective should be to get his team ready. He's right not to start ace CC Sabathia, since Sabathia wouldn't line up well for Game 1 if he starts again during the regular season.

"Our responsibility is to our club," Girardi said Thursday. "That's the bottom line. I have to make sure our guys are healthy, rested and ready to go [for the first playoff game] next Friday."

Hard to blame him for that.

The Phillies did the same thing on the final weekend of last season against the Braves, who were still fighting for a wild-card spot. On the final day of the season, in a game the Braves had to win, Cole Hamels started but pitched just two innings.

The Phils will likely take the same approach next week in Atlanta. The Rangers may do the same in Anaheim, if they clinch the AL West before their series against the Angels begins Monday.

The difference for the Yankees is that each of their final six games could influence the wild-card race.

The difference is that the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, with a chance to help knock them out.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Braves, as colleague Scott Miller pointed out, have been collapsing almost as badly as the Red Sox have. They got a break Thursday, when the Cardinals collapsed in the ninth inning against the Mets, but they know that the Cards have a seeming schedule advantage with their final six games against the Cubs and Astros. The Braves will figure they need to win, beginning with Braves at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. The Nats just swept the Phillies, and have won nine of their last 11. And this is a Strasburg game.

2. Yes, it's true, the Red Sox were worried enough about their pitching that they contacted the Mets at one point to try to make a late trade for Chris Capuano. It's true, after starting Jon Lester Friday, the Sox are stuck with no better choices than Tim Wakefield and John Lackey the rest of the weekend. Lackey has a 10.70 ERA in September. Wakefield is at 4.95, heading into a likely meeting with equally bad A.J. Burnett in Red Sox at Yankees, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Yankee Stadium.

3. There are other games that matter more, with the Angels at home against the A's, the Cardinals at home against the Cubs, the Rangers trying to clinch at home against the Mariners and the Diamondbacks trying to clinch at home against the Giants. But Justin Verlander is going for his 25th win, so 3 to Watch has no choice but to close with Orioles at Tigers, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. No pitcher has won 25 since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 A's, and Welch was the first since Steve Stone won 25 for the 1980 Orioles. The last Tiger to win 25: Denny McLain, when he won 31 in 1968. Verlander, who at this point has to be the American League MVP, is 20-2 with a 1.75 ERA over his last 22 starts, holding opponents to a .188 batting average and a .529 OPS. The last guy with an OPS that low and enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title was Alfredo Griffin, in 1990.

Posted on: September 22, 2011 5:51 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 6:48 pm

Yanks' Martin: 'I hate the Red Sox'

NEW YORK -- Now that the Yankees have won the American League East, do they care who joins them in the playoffs?

Most of them won't say. Russell Martin just did.

"Anything to get the Red Sox out would be awesome," Martin told reporters Thursday afternoon.

And why is that?

"Because I hate the Red Sox," Martin said.

This could become more than just rhetoric, because the Red Sox come to Yankee Stadium for a three-game series starting Friday night. With both the Angels and Rays beginning play Thursday just 2 1/2 games behind Boston in the AL wild-card race, the Yankees could hurt the Red Sox's chances if they can beat them this weekend.

Not surprisingly, the Yankees rested five of their regulars in Thursday night's game against the Rays. Manager Joe Girardi said he plans to rest regulars in the six games that remain, but he also said the Yankees intend to keep playing hard. He said he'll play 6-7 regulars in each game.

"As you will see, I'm not taking my foot off the gas, and I don't expect our guys to, either," Girardi said. "I'm just not going to play guys 12 days in a row."

The Yankees have played every day this week, with a doubleheader Wednesday. They don't have another off day until Thursday, with the playoffs beginning the next day.

Girardi said that CC Sabathia, who wasn't able to get his 20th win Wednesday, almost certainly won't make another regular-season start. Sabathia's day to pitch would be Monday, and that would leave him off schedule to start Game 1 of the playoffs. So Sabathia will probably throw a short simulated game instead.
Category: MLB
Posted on: September 21, 2011 11:31 pm

For the Yankees, one more great moment

Everywhere else, it seems, there are nervous moments.

For the Yankees, there are only great moments.

Maybe it won't be that way next month. Maybe the Yankee faults will show up, the rotation will be as fragile as it looks, and there will be disappointment in the Bronx.

For now, there are only nights like Wednesday.

Storybook nights.

The Yankees turned a foregone conclusion into something dramatic, but in the best possible way. They took a simple division-clinching game with a week to go in the season and turned it into theater.

And they found a way to give Jorge Posada his moment.


Posada has been the discarded Yankee all year, the disrespected Yankee. First they wouldn't let him catch, then they wouldn't even let him hit.

His biggest role was to celebrate with his friends, first for Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit and then for Mariano Rivera's 600th and record-setting 602nd save.

Then, suddenly and stunningly, the Yankees let Posada send them into the playoffs.

They sent him to the plate as a pinch hitter, with the bases loaded and the score tied in the eighth inning Wednesday night, and they watched him deliver the tie-breaking hit, sending them to a division-clinching 4-2 win over the Rays.

Of course.

Why not?

While the Red Sox struggle to hold off the Rays and now the Angels for the American League wild card, the Yankees have already won their 17th American League East title. For Posada, it's his 12th AL East crown he has been a part of, even if he has only been a small part of this one.

He was their starting catcher in the playoffs last year, but they told him in spring training that they didn't even want him to touch the equipment. He actually played second base this year before he caught.

He had the ugly night against the Red Sox, when he asked out of the lineup after manager Joe Girardi decided to bat him ninth. He had another tough night against the Red Sox, when Girardi let him know that he wasn't going to play much.

In 21 games this month, since rookie Jesus Montero was promoted to the big leagues, Posada has started just three of the 21 games the Yankees played. And yet, in the eighth inning Wednesday, Girardi chose Posada to pinch hit for Montero.

As CC Sabathia said Wednesday night on the YES network, plenty of people (and yes, I was one of them) said the Yankees wouldn't win the division because their rotation wasn't good enough.

So far, because of Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon and rookie Ivan Nova, it has been.

Will it be good enough next month?

Plenty of people will say it won't be. Maybe this time, plenty of people will be right.

But in this year where the Yankees have been able to summon great moments seemingly at will, maybe there will be more.

Posted on: September 20, 2011 7:10 pm

Why Rays control their own destiny

NEW YORK -- The Rays began play Tuesday two games behind the Red Sox in the American League wild-card race, with no head-to-head games remaining with Boston.

Yet the Rays still controlled their own destiny. Here's why:

By winning all 10 of their remaining games, the Rays would finish with a 95-67 record. Since seven of those games are against the Yankees, that would mean the Yankees would also have 67 losses.

The Red Sox already have 66 losses, and the Red Sox and Yankees have three games remaining. Since either the Yankees or Red Sox will lose at least two of those games, one of the two would finish with at least 68 losses, while the Rays would have 67.

So there you have it. All the Rays have to do is win . . . every game.
Category: MLB
Tags: Rays, Red Sox, Yankees
Posted on: September 18, 2011 8:56 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2011 10:21 pm

3 to Watch: The doubleheader edition

BOSTON -- The Yankees don't have enough pitching. The Red Sox don't have enough pitching.

The low-budget Rays? They have enough pitching.

Crazy, isn't it?

If the Yankees or Red Sox had Matt Moore, you can be sure he'd be starting a game this week, with both teams faced with doubleheaders and cramped schedules.

The Rays have Matt Moore, the top pitching prospect who has scouts buzzing almost Strasburg-style. And while manager Joe Maddon talks about possibly starting him sometime in these final 10 days of the season, he's not yet listed among the Rays' probables.

While the Red Sox go into a doubleheader Monday with Kyle Weiland and John Lackey as their scheduled starters, and while the Yankees hope that Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia aren't running out of gas (or, in Colon's case, stem cells), the Rays have the most solid rotation this side of Philadelphia.

Yes, part of it was drafting high all those years when they were bad (the same way the Yankees got Derek Jeter). David Price was the first player picked in 2007, and Jeff Niemann was the fourth player picked three years earlier.

But the Rays took Wade Davis in the third round, got rookie of the year candidate Jeremy Hellickson in the fourth round and found Moore, the latest phenom, in the eighth round.

Maybe they just make better decisions, or do a better job developing pitchers.

They do it so well that they could afford to trade Matt Garza last winter, and could deal Niemann or Davis -- or even Shields -- this winter. Shields would be the toughest to let go (far tougher than Garza), but he would also bring by far the most back to a team that needs offense and has little money to pay for it.

First, though, the great rotation has brought the Rays back into the wild-card race, and gives them a chance of winning it.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. When the Red Sox were rained out on May 17 against the Orioles and rescheduled it as part of a doubleheader this week, they probably figured it would be simply an annoyance as they prepared for the playoffs. Instead, it's a major headache for a Red Sox team struggling desperately to hold onto a wild-card ticket to the playoffs. And this doubleheader, Orioles at Red Sox, Monday afternoon (1:05 ET) and night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park, doesn't help. The worst part: The Red Sox are stuck starting rookie Kyle Weiland, who has yet to win and has made it past the fourth inning in just one of his four big-league starts. In the other game, they'll go with John Lackey, has the worst ERA of any regular big-league starter.

2. The Giants have won eight in a row, to put off elimination and put a little heat on the first-place Diamondbacks. The Giants are still five games out, but they go to Phoenix this weekend for three games with the D-Backs, so the race isn't over yet. But the Giants, who can't afford to lose, face Clayton Kershaw in Giants at Dodgers, Tuesday night (10:10 ET) at Dodger Stadium. In five starts against the Giants this year, Kershaw is 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA. He'll be going for his 20th win, so he'll be even more motivated. But his opponent, Tim Lincecum, will be pitching to keep the Giants' season alive.

3. While the Red Sox go with Weiland and Lackey in their doubleheader, the Rays will start Shields and Hellickson in Rays at Yankees, Wednesday afternoon (1:05) and night (7:05) at Yankee Stadium. Shields leads the majors with 11 complete games, which makes him perfect for a doubleheader. Wednesday should be interesting for the Yankees, too, if not nearly as crucial. Ace CC Sabathia, who is just 3-3 with a 4.56 ERA in his last eight starts, goes against Shields, while inconsistent Phil Hughes faces Hellickson.

Posted on: September 18, 2011 6:01 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2011 9:59 pm

Rays win 6 of 7 from Red Sox...but was it enough?

BOSTON -- As Rays manager Joe Maddon said more than once this weekend, three out of four ain't bad.

"I think Meat Loaf intended the song to say that," Maddon quipped.

Three out of four ain't bad. Six out of seven, which is what the Rays did to the Red Sox the last two weekends (outscoring them 46-22) is even better.

But is it enough?

That depends, strangely enough, on the Yankees.

After Sunday's 8-5 Rays win, Tampa Bay trails Boston by just two games in the American League wild-card race. Each team has 10 games remaining.

And that's where the first-place Yankees come in.

Seven of the Rays' remaining 10 games are against New York beginning with a four-game series that starts Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. Three of the Red Sox's remaining 10 games are against the Yankees, in a Yankee Stadium series that begins Friday night.

The Yankees, who lost 3-0 Sunday in Toronto, haven't yet clinched anything. Their magic number to eliminate the Rays from the division race stands at five, while the magic number against the Red Sox is seven.

How hard do the Yankees go after the games this week? How many players do they rest once they've clinched the division?

Do they have any interest in influencing which team wins the wild card, by resting more players vs. the Rays than they do vs. the Red Sox, or vice versa?

We'll see, won't we?

Should be an interesting week.

Category: MLB
Tags: Rays, Red Sox, Yankees
Posted on: September 14, 2011 3:42 pm

Interleague inequities continue in 2012

Interleague play in 2012 will give us plenty of Tigers-Pirates Marlins-Red Sox and Yankees-Braves.

But it won't bring the Braves to Kansas City.

The Royals have ex-Braves as general manager (Dayton Moore), manager (Ned Yost), and players (including Jeff Francoeur). The Braves have a club president (John Schuerholz) who first made his name as the Royals GM, and checks the schedule every year looking for a trip back to Kansas City.

In 15 years of interleague play, the Braves have never been there.

Make that 16, because they're not going there in 2012, either. But they will play home-and-home series with the Yankees.

Baseball announced its 2012 schedule Wednesday morning, and there will soon be complaints all around about bad road trips, or too many home games early, or not enough home games late.

But the biggest problems, as always, come from the interleague schedule.

It's not fair. It makes little sense. And it doesn't come close to serving one of its main, originally announced purposes, because it doesn't bring every team to every city.

No Braves in Kansas City, for the 16th straight year. No Padres in Toronto, for the 16th straight year. No Rangers in St. Louis, for the 16th straight year. No Twins in Atlanta, for the 16th straight year.

Through 2011, there were nine interleague matchups that had never happened. Not one of those nine is on the 2012 schedule.

But the Tigers and Pirates will play six times, as will the Marlins and Red Sox.

It's fine that interleague play gives us games between natural rivals, which remain popular. But for people outside the two-team markets, interleague play was sold as a way to see every team from the other league, at least once every six years.

Now it's 16 years and counting for nine matchups that still haven't happened.

And it's another year of teams in the same division playing unequal interleague schedules.

The Braves play 12 of their 18 interleague games against the best three teams in the American League East (Yankees, Red Sox, Rays). The rival Phillies don't play the Yankees at all, so they play just six of 15 games against the AL East Big 3.

Yes, that's right. The Braves and Phillies don't even play the same number of interleague games. With 14 teams in the AL and 16 in the NL -- no realignment yet -- the only way to make it work is for 12 of the 16 NL teams to play five interleague series, while the other four play six.

I understand, the schedule is ridiculously complicated, mostly because there are 14 teams in one league and 16 in the other. I realize that baseball allows its television partners (ESPN, Fox) to dictate some interleague matchups.

I'll even admit that the 2012 schedule seems a little more logical, with (for the most part) East meeting East, Central meeting Central and West meeting West.

But couldn't they bring the Braves to Kansas City? Just once?
Posted on: September 14, 2011 1:01 am
Edited on: September 14, 2011 1:22 am

Rivera gets his 600th save

For 15 years he's been doing this.

Ending games. Making it look much, much easier than it is.

For 15 years. Through 600 saves.

Before Tuesday, only Trevor Hoffman had saved 600 games in the major leagues. Now Mariano Rivera has joined him, by getting the final three outs in the Yankees' 3-2 win over the Mariners in Seattle.

And with one more save, his 601st, Rivera will tie Hoffman atop baseball's all-time list. With two more, he'll stand alone.

As if he doesn't already.

His 600th save was familiar, but at the same time it was different. Familiar, in that Rivera relied on his trademark cutter for two strikeouts. But different, because after Ichiro Suzuki reached base on a single, Russell Martin threw him out trying to steal to end the game.

No matter, and no real drama. As usual.

According to STATS, Inc., Rivera has a 1.92 ERA in his 672 career save opportunities. Rivera also has a record 42 postseason saves, in 47 chances.

It's not as if the 41-year-old Rivera is done, either. His 600th career save was his 41st in 46 chances this year, his 12th straight since his last blown save on Aug. 7.

Rivera got his first career save on May 17, 2006, at the old Yankee Stadium against the Angels. He was John Wetteland's setup man then, and he had just five saves that season. He took over as the Yankee closer in 2007, and he hasn't given the job up yet.

He hasn't given many leads up, either.

And now he has 600 saves.
Category: MLB
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