April 11, 2008

Yankees 6 Royals 1: Back on Track

Filed under: Game Recaps — johnbutchko @ 4:55 pm

The Yankees saved a little face with a 6-1 win last night at Kansas City. The win gives the reeling Bronx Bombers at least a bit of momentum heading to Fenway Park this weekend. New York avoided a sweep at the hands of one of baseball’s best early surprises primarily due to the work of a reliable lefty.

Andy Pettitte was excellent for the Yanks. He gave up 1 run on 5 hits in 6.2 innings to pick up his first win of the year. The Yankees faced a pair of losing streaks over the past week. The first was ended by a dominant Chien-Ming Wang start. Pettitte delivered to finish off the second. In this long season, the Yankees have at least a pair of veteran starters on whom they can depend in tough times. Pettitte’s stable presence and ability to eat innings made it easier for this team to pass on Johan Santana. The team can now work on developing Phil Hughes. For this team to go far in October, Hughes will probably need to develop into an ace over the course of the season, but the stability which Andy provides takes a lot of pressure off the second year righty in the short term.

The bats finally seemed to come alive for this team. Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada all hit homers. Morgan Ensberg had a pair of hits while starting in place of Jason Giambi. One thing that has been good about Joe Girardi has been his willingness to shake up the lineup to find the right mix. In addition to Ensberg, Bobby Abreu was out of the lineup, Posada DHed, and Hideki Matsui played right. Giambi has been struggling and is an awful defender. Girardi should see if he can ride Ensberg at first. Morgan got the start last night mainly because Kansas City starter John Bale was a lefty, but Ensberg might help to jumpstart the offense. Although Posada’s homer was clearly a good thing, it probably will encourage Girardi to play him more at DH instead of just sending him to the DL to rest up and get healthy. That could become an issue. Jorge needs rest at this point and to get healthy for the next five months. In any event, it is nice to see the team finally start to shake off the rust heading to Boston.

The Yanks now head to Fenway for a weekend series. Chien-Ming Wang will get his first road start of 2008 against Clay Buchholz. Wang needs to show he can come through in a big start at Boston, where he struggled last season. The last thing anybody wants to hear is how the great Buccholz dominated the Yankees so the bats had best show up as well. The Sox have started just as poorly as the Yanks. There seems to be some sort of hangover from their March trip to Japan. This is a chance for New York to get some breathing against its biggest obstacle to reclaiming the AL East and perhaps send the Sox into the early tailspin the Bronx Bombers experienced last season.


Royals 4 Yankees 0: Girardi’s Blunder

Filed under: Game Recaps — johnbutchko @ 4:35 pm

The Yankees took a 4-0 beating at the hands of the Royals on Wednesday night in Kansas City. With the win, the fast-starting Royals clinched a win in the early series between the clubs this year. Even though there was a persistent rain, the game got played to completion. The Bronx Bombers learned that their new manager does not have a career as a meteorologist to fall back upon.

Ian Kennedy was scheduled to start the game. Brian Bruney did instead. Joe Girardi took a gamble that rain would at least delay the game. He lost that gamble and had Bruney, Billy Traber, and Kyle Farnsworth throw the first 5 innings. Unsurprisingly, Farnsworth gave up a pair of runs to put the team behind. The idiocy of Girardi’s move defies description. There is no way to predict how weather will impact a game. Although there was a chance the game could have been delayed or rained out, the possibility was just as likely that the game would be shortened by rain. Had that been the case, the manager was willing to let the worst pitchers on his roster decide it. Girardi compounded his insane tactics by putting Kennedy in for the last 3 innings in relief, thereby wasting his starter. Kennedy gave up a pair of runs in his first inning of work before pitching a pair of shutout frames. Starters feel comfortable because they are secure in knowing when they will pitch. Girardi threw Ian under a bus by making it guesswork. Kennedy could not get into a comfort zone. The team thinks he is a better pitcher than his three predecessors, but Girardi thought it was best to have him pitch 3 innings and the inferior relievers 5. Had Joe Torre made a move this stupid, people would be calling for his head. Back in 2006, Girardi helped to ruin Josh Johnson’s early career by reinserting the youngster after a long rain delay. The highly-regarded pitcher has not been the same since that night and has gone under the knife for major surgery, which many believe was a result. Joe was clearly was trying to cover himself in case such an event occurred. Trying to cover one’s rear end is not a recipe for success managing in New York. It might be early in the year, but it would be tough to blame anybody to start questioning whether Joe Girardi is ready for such a high-profile job after this stunt. Even if Kennedy had started and the rain had come, the bullpen would have had a long night. There at least would have been a chance for Ian to go deep into the game. Girardi’s move eliminated that chance and put the game into the bullpen’s hands no matter what happened. Not at least giving the best players on the roster a chance is a sure recipe for disaster.

In the end, the offense did absolutely nothing against Zack Greinke. When a team scores no runs, the pitching does not matter much. Perhaps the bats did not come fired up since their manager’s decision lulled them to sleep by making them think a rainout was imminent. Regardless, this game was disturbing for the signal it sent. It looked like the driver was asleep at the wheel. Bizarre moves are not always a source of “outside the box” genius. Sometimes they are just stupid.

April 9, 2008

Royals 5 Yankees 2: Ugly from All Angles

Filed under: Game Recaps — johnbutchko @ 2:20 pm

The Yankees took a 5-2 beating yesterday in Kansas City at the hands of the Royals. Phil Hughes got rocked for 3 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in just 3+ innings. Brian Bannister was filthy on the other side, giving up just 2 runs in 5 innings. Aside from the 2nd inning, New York did not score and scattered only 5 hits. There is not much more to this game. Kansas City’s bullpen was excellent, while Ross Ohlendorf gave up a pair of runs for the Yanks. The Royals pitched well, while the Yankees did not.

Jorge Posada left the game early. Enough is enough. The Yankees need to stop playing it half way with him. If he has to exit games and can only catch once every few days, it is time to put him on the DL. He clearly needs time to heal. It is better for him to miss a few weeks in April than to have this thing linger and affect his play the rest of the year.

Ian Kennedy pitches tonight for New York against Zack Greinke.

Weekend Split

Filed under: Game Recaps — johnbutchko @ 2:12 pm

The Yankees and Rays split a four game weekend series at Yankee Stadium. Tampa Bay took contests on Friday and Saturday, while the Bronx Bombers salvaged the final two affairs on Sunday and Monday. Several developments emerged from the weekend.

Giambi’s injury: Jason Giambi left Saturday’s game with a groin injury. It kept him out of the lineup on Sunday and Monday. Joe Girardi seems insistent on making Jason the regular first baseman, which would be pure folly. Jason is an awful defender at the position. Although neither is a natural fit at first, Wilson Betemit and Morgan Ensberg are both superior defenders with experience playing a corner infield position. On a team with this much offensive firepower, Girardi should focus on infield defense, especially with pitchers like Andy Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang, Ian Kennedy, and Mike Mussina in the rotation. All of these guys depend on their defense. Giambi’s body is also breaking down. He has been injury-prone since 2003.
His aging frame cannot take the physical demands of playing the field on a consistent basis. He is still a viable offensive threat so he should see limited action at first, a few games at DH, and use off the bench as the game’s preeminent lefty pinch hitter. To maximize his offensive effect, Girardi needs to keep the slugger healthy. That will not happen with 150 games at first.

Kennedy’s struggle: Ian Kennedy had a rough Friday night, giving up 6 runs in 2.1 innings. He walked 4 hitters. Strangely enough, this shows why Ian will be a valuable member of the 2008 rotation. His control will improve as the season moves along. It has typically been pinpoint in the past. When he misses, he misses the strike zone completely. He seldom leaves pitches over the middle of the plate to smash, meaning he needs to be as wild as he was on Friday, when less than half of his pitches were strikes, to have a truly awful outing. Teams cannot beat him into dust since he seldom leaves them pitches to hammer. Kennedy will not walk the ballpark like that again.

Molina’s value: The Yankees finally have an adequate backup catcher. Jose Molina had a .308 batting average at the end of the Rays series. He started three games as Jorge Posada battled a shoulder ailment. With the team off to an iffy start, the Yanks might feel pressed to rush Jorge back before he was completely healthy if Kelly Stinnett or Wil Nieves was Jorge’s backup to make up for the offensive black hole. Molina has been a steady presence both defensively and with the bat. He is obviously nowhere near the impact player Jorge is, but he is at least not a waste of space, which is more than many teams can say about their backup backstop. Posada can now recover at his own pace.

Matsui’s surge: Hideki Matsui did his best to put concerns over his knee to rest in the first week of the 2008 season. The lefty ended the Tampa series hitting .375 with 6 RBI’s. Although he hit eighth on Opening Night, Joe Girardi had him up at fifth protecting Alex Rodriguez by the Rays finale. Girardi has enough dynamic weapons that he should be this flexible with his batting orders, sending the hot hands closer to the top. The Yanks have six viable middle of the order hitters. Getting the hot ones into run producing situations.

April 4, 2008

Yankees 3 Blue Jays 2: Hughes Dominates

Filed under: Game Recaps — johnbutchko @ 1:29 pm

The Yankees won the rubber match of their series against Toronto last night, posting a 3-2 victory. Even though the team was outscored in the series, New York is 2-1 as a result of a pair of 3-2 wins.

Phil Hughes delivered big time in his first start of the season. The righty sophomore gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 1 walk in 6 innings. Hughes threw only 87 pitches. He toyed with Toronto hitters while registering 4 strikeouts. This kind of dominant performance has to give the team a lot of hope early in the year. After entering last season with a ton of hype and pressure, Hughes might have more on him this year as the Yankees were hesitant to trade him for Johan Santana. Given his fantastic finish to 2007 after he finally got healthy in September and his reunion with old mentor, Dave Eiland, the Yanks need Phil to deliver big things this year. Though Chien-Ming Wang is statistically one of the game’s top pitchers, this team lacks a true shutdown starter, the kind of guy Joe Girardi can feel confident throwing against Josh Beckett in a big game. Hughes is the one guy in the rotation with the talent to potentially be that guy. If he can make the leap, Chien-Ming Wang instantly becomes an elite number 2, and Andy Pettitte becomes an elite number 3 starter. This team has enough offense to stay in contention until the end of the regular season, but Hughes will be a huge key to October success.

Brian Bruney got out the only two hitters he faced. Bruney entered camp in better shape this year and seemed to have a major attitude adjustment. Whenever a team changes a manager or coach, there seem to be a few players who view it as a fresh start. These players for whatever reason do not put in optimal effort under the former boss but have something click when they realize problems with the second guy probably will buy a ticket out of town. Brian will be one of the keys to the bullpen depth this season. Despite the nice line in the box score and the encouraging spring, this was a troubling outing. Bruney has always had the pure stuff. His issue has been control. Only 5 of his 10 pitches went for strikes last night. It is too early to write him off, but it sure would have been nice to see some tangible sign of improvement.

The Yankees broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the 8th. After a Melky Cabrera single and a pair of bunts, Bobby Abreu dropped a game-winning hit in front of Vernon Wells. Abreu ended the series 5 for 10. A lot of the team’s slow start in 2007 is traceable to a monumental slump Bobby had in April and May. He is one of the most productive third hitters in the game, considering his eye and his RBI numbers. Him getting off to a fast start in a contract year is an encouraging sign he will not be plagued by the same issues in 2008.

Joe Girardi has finished his first successful series with the Yankees. Now the improved Tampa Bay Rays come to town for a four game series. If the first series is any indication, the Yankees are going to have their hands full with the AL East this season. Only Baltimore appears to be a pushover. Any series wins are a major success.

April 3, 2008

Blue Jays 5 Yankees 2: Toronto Bags a Moose

Filed under: Game Recaps — johnbutchko @ 11:36 am

The Blue Jays ended the Yankees’ quest for a perfect season last night at Yankee Stadium with a 5-2 win. Toronto dominated the contest behind A.J. Burnett, who dominated for 6+ innings aside from an Alex Rodriguez homer. Burnett has as much talent as anybody in the game. There is no shame in him shutting down an offense. The effort of New York’s starting pitcher is a significantly bigger concern.

Mike Mussina was roughed up for 4 runs on 8 hits over just 5.2 innings. Normally one could simply write this off as one bad start early in the year, but Moose showed some disconcerting red flags. Mike lost a lot of velocity on his fastball last season, consistently topping out in the mid 80’s. After taking a vacation in late August and early September, he started hitting the upper 80’s and even touched 90 on occasion. Not so coincidently, his results were much better late in the year. It seemed at that point as if a hamstring injury sustained early in 2007 had lingered until he had adequate time to rest it. Considering this, an offseason of rest appeared to be just what the doctor ordered to make Mussina a viable starter in 2008.

In this game he came out and threw in the mid 80’s once again. Mike is going to get killed in the AL East if his velocity does not increase. He is not going to be able to consistently miss bats. One might claim that most of Toronto’s hits were soft bloops, but the Jays were able to put enough wood on those balls because Mike had nothing on his fastball. Perhaps he will start throwing harder once the cold relents, but many assumed that would happen last year, and it did not occur until September. In a division with hitting like this, Mussina will need pinpoint control to be successful throwing so softly. Considering how much youth is in the rotation, this team is going to have big problems if Moose is not a veteran anchor.

Some losses are bigger than others because they display a glaring weakness. The Yankees might have experienced one of those in the second game of the season. Mike Mussina’s performances in the near future bear watching. His stuff is going to need to significantly improve, or this team will have a problem.

April 2, 2008

Yankees 3 Blue Jays 2: Successful Start to the Girardi Era

Filed under: Game Recaps — johnbutchko @ 12:35 pm

The Yankees are perfect in the Joe Girardi Era after a 3-2 win last night against Toronto at Yankee Stadium. The victory put the Yankees into first place, a position where they hope to stay for the duration of the season. The 1972 Dolphins cannot sip champagne just yet. The Yankees are perfect for the time being.

Chien-Ming Wang delivered a masterful start in his 2008 debut. The righty pitched 7 innings and allowed 2 runs on 6 hits while throwing an economical 92 pitches. The sinker was working as Wang recorded 13 of his 21 outs on the ground. That sinker will only become more effective as the weather gets warmer, and he gets a better feel for it. It was encouraging to see Wang come out so strong considering concerns of a hangover after his 2007 postseason meltdown. A team depending on such young pitching needs Chien-Ming to eat innings like this every fifth day. The team could not have asked for a better start.

Alex Rodriguez picked up right where he left off in 2007. The reigning MVP was 2 for 3 with an RBI double. While he may not ever again match the astronomical stats he put up last season, we have probably seen the last of A-Rod’s mental game bringing him down. The man has become comfortable with the pressure of New York, and the fans have embraced him. Unless he does something incredibly stupid off the field, he should receive nothing but warm receptions in his home park from this point.

Melky Cabrera hit a solo homer after a 10 pitch at bat in the 6th inning to tie the game. This could be the start of a breakout year for the centerfielder. A number of observers have looked solely at his raw numbers from last year and determined Melky is a borderline starter. People are quick to forget he is only 23 years old and likely to improve. They also fail to capture the full scope of his 2007 season. The numbers were skewed as Cabrera was awful as a part-time player early in the season. He tried to do too much to make an impact in limited at bats and ended up developing a nasty habit of flailing at lousy pitches. Once an injury to Jason Giambi made Melky a regular, he was able to relax and thrive. While he may never be an All-Star caliber player, Cabrera should put to bed any questions about whether he is a quality starter in 2008.

Joba Chamberlain did not have a perfect 8th inning preserving a 1 run lead as he walked a hitter. He did enough, though, registering a pair of strikeouts to end the inning. This game showed why his best role for the time being is as a reliever and why his future is probably best in the rotation. The Yankees have six quality starters including Joba. By using the other five in the rotation and Joba in the rotation, the team can avoid using Kyle Farnsworth to protect late leads, which will certainly result in more wins. In the future, the attributes Chamberlain displayed show why the Yanks will at least need to try him out as a starter. The fastball last night was not in the high 90’s. It was around 94. He was able to succeed depending on a less than optimal heater and secondary stuff. The best starters find ways to win without their best stuff. Joba has such an array of quality pitches that his C game is better than the A game of most pitchers. As the season progresses and the weather heats up, the jaw-dropping fastball will likely return. Until that happens, the Yankees should feel safe about their 8th inning. Mariano Rivera followed Joba and picked up the save.

The Yankees have to feel good about winning a start against one of the game’s best pitchers. Their recent October failures have been in no small part due to the offense’s inability to come through in big spots and their own pitching’s inability to deliver dominant starts. On another note, a fast start is important for this team. The Yankees have gotten into the habit of digging themselves a hole early and having to play catchup the rest of the way. Sooner or later, a team will run out of torrid finishes. This team essentially lost the AL East last season because they were unable to overcome a slow April start. This team treated Joe Torre terribly. There is still no better manager for this team. With that said, Joe Girardi brings different strengths to the table. One of them was his emphasis on conditioning in Spring Training. That could help lead to a big start. The Yankees just took the first step.

March 31, 2008

Blue Jays at Yankees Postponed by Rain: Waiting Another Day

Filed under: Game Recaps — johnbutchko @ 4:58 pm

Today’s opener against the Blue Jays was rained out. The teams will try again tomorrow night at 7:00. The final Home Opener at Yankee Stadium will be only the second to take place at night. After over five months of waiting, the baseball gods played a cruel trick on fans, who now have to wait yet another day to start the 2008 season. This was a letdown to say the least. All we want is baseball. The only good is that now most people will be out of work in time to see the game. Hopefully skies will be clear.

March 30, 2008

a new season begins

Filed under: Special Posts — jeepsunday @ 11:22 pm

Nothing says “SPRING’S HERE!!!!” more than opening day at Yankee Stadium. The weather may suck, but,hell, at least it’s not snowing…..

The New York Yankees will play game #1 tomorrow under the helm of a different Joe….. Girardi will steer the team in a fresh new direction, as he leads one of the youngest Yankee teams EVER, on to the field, on a quest for Championship #27.

We all have alot to look forward to this year – while Joe Torre was an excellent manager, I truly believe that he became predictable and unexciting towards the end of his illustrious stay with the team. The time was right for this change. Girardi brings with him, excitement, to the Bronx. I for one, cannot wait to see how the season plays out: How will The Three Amigos (Kennedy, Hughes & Chamberlain) handle the newfound fame? How will the bullpen hold up? Apparently, Girardi has had an incredible effect on Farnsworth….How will Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina hold up? And….the most important question that has gone unanswered: where the HELL is Carl Pavano, and are we still paying him???

I”m looking forward to tailgating in the Bronx in the AM….the last time I did that was during the Cleveland series in which we were eliminated from further play in ’07. Let’s hope for a win tomorrow, and even more importantly, a Championship to close out the greatest sporting venue in the history of the game…..

March 21, 2008

Joba “RULES” The Bullpen in ’08

Filed under: 2008 Spring Training — jeepsunday @ 2:17 am

Back in early February, we heard the baffling news that Joba Chamberlain would be prepped for Season ’08 as a starting pitcher. Luckily, for Yankee fans, Joba has been redesignated to the bullpen, at least to start the season. We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief, knowing that we have someone to bridge the gap from starter to Mariano….

Joba chamberlain appeared in 19 regular season games last year. The Yankees won 17 of those games. Enough said.

For those keeping track, The New York Yankees LAST Season Opener in The House That Ruth Built is in ten short days =)

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