Detroit Tigers (88-74) at New York Yankees (95-67)
How the-opposite-of-fitting that in a year dominated by Cinderella stories—Chicago leading the AL Central for most the year; Oakland’s improbable comeback in the West; Baltimore’s first playoff appearance since before Monica Lewinsky was famous—it’s the Yankees and Tigers left in the ALCS. Both teams were expected to repeat as division winners, and both actually had somewhat disappointing regular seasons: Detroit trailed the White Sox for most of the year, and New York didn’t clinch until the last day of the season. The ALCS is also nothing new to either team, with both teams having taken turns losing to Texas the last two years. And if it weren’t for last night’s game in Washington, we’d be talking about the Tigers and Yankees as the biggest dream-killers of all: Justin Verlander stopped what looked like yet another improbable Oakland comeback in its tracks, and New York topped Baltimore with repeated late-inning heroics. In the regular season matchups between these two teams, the Yankees took six of ten from Detroit.
Detroit didn’t hit much in its series against Oakland: The Tigers scored only 17 runs in five games, and six of those runs came on non-RBI plays. Nobody on the team had an especially good series offensively—Omar Infante was the only regular to hit over .300, and he had only one extra-base hit. A lot of the problem can likely be attributed to great pitching by the A’s, but Detroit needs to get more production out of its big hitters, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Though Fielder did homer in Game 4, neither of those guys did enough to carry the offense, which is the only way the Tigers offense can get carried. Perhaps most troubling: Cabrera and Fielder only walked once apiece in five games. Again, this is likely the result of facing a staff with great control—Oakland pitching walked only seven batters in the series—but Cabrera and Fielder need to at least get on base if they’re not driving in runs.
Continue reading »
We’re a full weekend into the baseball season, and NPI still hasn’t previewed the most important league! Don’t fret, though, John S is here to break it all down for you, and to make sure you don’t get fooled by Baltimore’s 3-0 start.
1. Oakland Athletics
2. Texas Rangers
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4. Seattle Mariners
So you’re on the A’s bandwagon? Yeah, and I’m not even going to pretend like I got on it particularly early. I was really just looking for someone to pick over the Rangers.
Why do you feel the need to mess with Texas? Well, I was early on the Rangers bandwagon, picking them to win the West at the beginning of 2010, so it’s not like I’m anti-Texas. This year, though, the defending AL champs are both overrated and underrated. They are underrated because people have inevitably focused on the loss of Cliff Lee this off-season; but while losing Lee is obviously big, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the Rangers were in first before trading for Lee last season, and that they likely would have won the division even without his acquisition (Lee was actually pretty mediocre for Texas in the regular season). Continue reading »
New York Yankees (95-67) at Texas Rangers (90-72)
Fresh off the franchise’s first playoff series win, the Rangers take on the Yankees, who once again swept the Twins in the first round. Oddly, the Yankees’ sweep of the Twins may have been a closer—or at least more exciting—series than the Rangers-Rays five-gamer. The Yankees came from behind in each of the first two games (with Mariano Rivera of course saving both) before finishing the Twins off at home. The Rangers and Rays, meanwhile, played only one close game in five—a Game 3 win for the Rays. Two great starts from Cliff Lee and another from C.J. Wilson (combined for 2 ER in 22.1 IP) were enough to put the Rangers in their first ever ALCS. Continue reading »
A fist pump does not a setup man make
A year ago, Tim and I finished up a Symposium on whether Joba Chamberlain belonged in the Yankee bullpen (what Tim thought) or in the starting rotation (what I thought). Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it looks like Tim was right. Chamberlain struggled mightily down the stretch last season—in August and September he was 2-4 with a 7.51 ERA—and he has been in the bullpen since Opening Day 2010. Not only that, but he’s been pretty good in that role. Through his first 17 appearances his ERA was 2.16—over two and a half runs lower than his ERA last season. Since then he’s had three bad appearances that have swollen his numbers, but overall Joba has held opponents scoreless in 19 of 25 appearances in 2010.
Having Said That, I’m still not sure I lost the argument. For one, Tim’s central point—that the 2009 Yankees needed Joba more in the bullpen than they did in the rotation—didn’t really pan out. To quote Tim: “Please note that the entirety of the Joba Debate has been framed under the assumption that Hughes and Wang will be, at the least, serviceable sub-5.00 ERA starters. If Hughes doesn’t ultimately cut it or Wang doesn’t make the expected comeback, the debate is largely moot.” Of course, Wang didn’t make the expected comeback, Hughes didn’t “cut it” as a starter, and Joba didn’t move to the bullpen… and 2009 still worked out pretty well for the Yankees. Continue reading »
Jorge Posada returned to the Yankee lineup Wednesday night after over two weeks on the DL. If you don’t actively follow the Yankees, though, you may not have even realized he was gone. Posada is not the kind of marquee player whose injury would be national news.
Even though the last few weeks haven’t been the best for the Yankees, it’s not really like the Yankees have missed Posada so much—Francisco Cervelli’s surprising performance (he’s put up a .383 OBP and a stunning 1.442 OPS with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, albeit in an extremely small sample) has made Posada’s absence more palatable. Even before Posada’s injury, there was talk that he should become the team’s full-time DH to make room for Cervelli.
This isn’t really new. Being underappreciated seems to be Posada’s destiny. The most anonymous of the Core Four has flown under the radar throughout his career.
If you live in the New York area, have ever watched the YES Network, or picked up Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago, then you’re already familiar with the term “The Core Four.” This is how we insufferable Yankee fans refer to the quartet of teammates—Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada—that have been with the team since the beginning of the Yankee Dynasty in 1996. All four players made their MLB debut with the Yankees in 1995 and would go on to play major roles in the Yankee championships of the late ’90s, 2000, and then again last season. When critics point out (fairly) that the Yankees can sign free agents and assemble a roster of All-Stars seemingly at will thanks to their bottomless pockets, fans point to the Core Four as the four examples of homegrown talent that the Yankees didn’t have to “buy.” Earlier this season Jeter, Rivera, and Posada became the first trio of teammates in any major professional sport to play together for 16 consecutive seasons—a pretty remarkable fact in the era of free agency, even for the Yankees. Pettitte would have joined them, if not for a three-year stint with the Houston Astros from 2004-2006 that Yankee fans conveniently ignore in their memory. Continue reading »
In Part I, John S and Tim exhaustively and inconclusively dissected the Yankees and Phillies’ respective lineups. In the much-anticipated (and admittedly more concise) Part II, it’s time for the pitching staff and predictions–detailed predictions.
LEE V. SABATHIA
TIM: Everyone knows Mets fans are devastated about this series. But what about Indians fans having to watch this?
And do you expect CC to ever give up TWO runs in a playoff game?
JOHN: It’s probably especially rough for Indians fans given the trajectory of each of their careers. Both Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia were always guys who had tons of potential who couldn’t stay consistent. Then each of them put it together for a Cy Young year….and was promptly traded to a playoff team.
My confidence in CC at this point is reaching a point I’ve never reached with a starter. This is odd, given that as late as July I was wondering if he was worth the money. I’m kind of hoping for a rainout betwen Games 3 and 4, so Sabathia can pitch 3 times this series (although I guess they’d just ditch the off-day if that happened). I cannot conceive of losing a game he starts in the playoffs, despite his shaky history against Philly in the postseason. I’m adamantly for going with a 3-man rotation, something I’d always thought was a bad idea when other teams considered it.
Phillies fans, however, probably have similar confidence in Cliff Lee. I’m a little worried about Lee, despite his bad numbers vs. NYY in his career. Those are mostly from pre-2008, so it was really a different pitcher. But I know you think he’s a pretty weak ace, right?
TIM: I never said he was a “weak” ace. I did need to see some validation this year from him, and I have. The thing about Cliff Lee is that nothing he does looks very impressive. He doesn’t blow anything by anyone, he doesn’t make hitters look silly very often, and his stuff doesn’t jump off the TV screen. He’s just a very good pitcher…that I think is going to have one bad start in this series. I think he and Sabathia each have one good and one bad start, but Sabathia will be better in both (assuming they match up twice). Continue reading »
Minnesota Twins (87-76) at
New York Yankees (103-59)
(RIDICULOUSLY BIASED) OVERVIEW
The Yankees are the best team in the AL, but they’re taking on the Twins, who just completed one of the most incredible comebacks to win a division (down three with four to play). Fortunately for them, that makes them hot. Unfortunately for them, that makes them spent. I can definitely foresee an’03 Yankees World Series type situation, where the Twins feel as if they’ve already won their crown just by getting this far. Plus, the division race has left their rotation a little out of whack, forcing them to use rookie pitcher Brian Duensing in Game 1.
As I insisted repeatedly earlier this week, the Yankees have the best lineup in baseball. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are the best three-four hitters in the league, but the lineup is also deep with seven guys who have over 20 home runs. A lot of that, of course, is due to the new Yankee Stadium, but a lot of it is also great production from guys like Nick Swisher, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano.
The Twins, on the other hand, have Joe Mauer, the best hitter in the league in 2009, but not much beyond that. Justin Morneau is hurt. Their second best hitter now is Jason Kubel who, though he did have an impressive season in ’09, is not going to strike fear into a lot of pitchers’ hearts. And the fact the Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert and Jose Morales are all getting significant numbers of at-bats is not all that intimidating. Continue reading »