Open Thread: Bernie

(Photo Credit: The NY Times)

It’s kinda hard to believe that it’s been five years since Bernie Williams last played for the Yankees. Maybe it’s just me finding it hard to believe, as I cling hopelessly to one of the last remaining remnants of my childhood. Anyway, today is not one but two milestones for Bernie.

First, it’s his 43rd birthday, so happy birthday to him. Secondly, it’s the 26th anniversary of the day he signed with the Yankees as an amateur free agent out of Puerto Rico. Think about that, it’s been 26 years since they signed him as a 17-year-old. Insane. At his peak, which is basically 1996-2000, Bernie was a .324/.410/.551 hitter that posted no more than 5.3 fWAR and no less than 4.9 fWAR. Seriously, check out his WAR Graph, that’s some kind of consistency.

Anywho, happy birthday again to Bernie. Here’s the open thread as we wait for the game to begin later tonight. Former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang returns to New York as a member of the Nationals, and will start against the Mets tonight. MLB Network will broadcast a game as well (teams depend on where you live). Talk about whatever you want here, anything goes.

Dante Bichette Jr. named GCL MVP

The Yankees announced this afternoon that 2011 first rounder Dante Bichette Jr. has been named the MVP of the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League. The third baseman hit .342/.446/.505 in 52 GCL games this year, ranking among the league leaders in AVG (second), OBP (second), SLG (eighth), OPS (fourth), hits (first), doubles (first), RBI (first), total bases (second), and walks (third). The GCL Yanks won the league title thanks in part to Bichette’s game-tying homer in the deciding game, part of his 5-for-14, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 1 K postseason showing.

Catcher Isaias Tejeda (.331/.404/.568) and shortstop Jose Rosario (.331/.372/.529) were also named to the postseason All-Star Team. GCL Yanks manager Carlos Mendoza was named the league’s Manager of the Year. That team was quite stacked this season, they led the league in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, runs, hits, doubles, triples, homers, total bases, and stolen bases.

Sabathia named Yankees nominee for Roberto Clemente Award

The Yankees announced this afternoon that CC Sabathia is the team’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Derek Jeter won the award back in 2009, and you can participate in the voting right here.

Yesterday we learned that David Robertson was a finalist for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, so it’s good to see the various Yankees get recognized for their work in the community.

A Yankees fan’s view of the collapse

(Photo Credit: The Nashua Telegraph)

Following a frustrating four-game losing streak (frustrating because they didn’t hit, the one thing they do better than anything else), the Yankees appear to have righted the ship and have won two in a row, the second against the great Felix Hernandez. Aside from various injuries, everything seems to be going pretty well in Yankeeland, but the same can’t be said for their biggest rivals.

The Red Sox, in case you haven’t heard, have lost five games in a row. While that was happening, the Rays won five in a row, so their deficit in the wildcard race dropped from eight games to three in less than a week. Suddenly the upcoming four-game series between these two clubs at Fenway Park this weekend has a whole lotta meaning, even though it was little more than an afterthought a week ago. The Sox have 16 games left, Tampa just 15. There is little in baseball more exciting than a late season comeback, as long as you aren’t the team being comeback’d on.

Boston’s problems are almost entirely pitching related. Their opponents have scored six or more runs eight times in their last ten games, and five or more runs ten times in their last 13 games. Their starting rotation at the moment is Jon Lester, John Lackey, Andrew Miller, Tim Wakefield, and Kyle Weiland, which is pretty awful outside of Lester. Legitimately Triple-A caliber. Josh Beckett will apparently be back from his ankle sprain sometime this week, so that will definitely help. Clay Buchholz may or may not return this season, but if he does, it sounds like he’ll do so as a reliever. Who really knows what’s up with Erik Bedard? Not I. As Yankees fans, you can’t not enjoy watching this unfold. Oh, and the irony. I thought the Yankees were the team with the pitching problems?

Cool Standings says the Rays have just a 13.2% chance to make the postseason, but that’s up from 0.6% just six days ago. The Red Sox went from a 99.4% chance to make to the postseason to 86.7% during that time. They’re still in good shape, but there are definite reasons for the Fenway faithful to be concerned. This is more than a slump, there are very real issues. The Yankees, meanwhile, now have an 88.0% chance to win the AL East and a 99.4% chance to make the postseason. The only thing we have worry about is health and the number two starter in the ALDS. The Yankees aren’t perfect, but they’re the best team in the AL, hands down.

As a Yankees fan, I’m obligated to loathe the Red Sox. It’s very, very easy to root for the Rays at the moment, because we all want to see a Boston collapse. And frankly, Tampa is a pretty fun team to watch. That said, if the Rays are going to pull off this comeback, the Yankees will be involved. They have seven games left with Tampa, including the final three of the season. These aren’t isolated races, the Rays’ pursuit of the Red Sox will impact the Yankees and their ability to keep Boston at bay in the East. Obviously priority number one for New York is getting into the playoffs, they can’t worry about who is trying to catch who. If they rest players down the stretch, it will be to improve their chances in October, not help the Rays.

In all likelihood, the Red Sox will hold off Tampa and make the postseason. They do have seven games left with the Orioles, after all. Tampa had a huge mountain to climb just to get where they are now, and they still have a long way to go. It’s going to be fun to watch over the next two weeks, and come on, what Yankees fan isn’t enjoying this right now?

The Andruw Jones Appreciation Thread

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

As the off-season wound down, the Yankees had only a few needs they could fill on the free agent market. The starting lineup was penciled in, the bullpen was full, and the starting pitching options were exhausted. All they needed to complete the 2011 roster was a reliable fourth outfielder, preferably one who could mash lefties. Throughout the off-season one name stood out as a reasonable option: Andruw Jones. And so in early February the Yankees landed their man on a reasonable one-year contract. That appeared to complete the Yankees’ off-season team building.

Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t get off on the best foot. While Jones homered in his first game as a Yankee, he generally hit poorly in the first half: .195/.278/.356 in 97 PA. Worse, he was taking starts away from Brett Gardner, who was putting together a quality first half (.265/.348/.394 at the break, and .317/.404/.463 in June). That left a sour taste in many Yankees’ fans mouths. What use was a fourth outfielder who 1) doesn’t play defense particularly well, 2) hasn’t hit better than a possible minor league replacement, and 3) is taking at-bats away from a more productive player on both sides of the ball?

At the break something changed. According to Jones, it was a call from his mom that got the wheels turning. It appeared to pay immediate dividends, as Jones hit two home runs in his first game of the second half. Since then he’s been to the plate 99 times and has hit .288/.424/.600. That includes 17 walks, which is only six fewer than Mark Teixeira in 147 fewer PA. He’s also belted seven homers, some of which were absolute monster shots (the one in Minnesota stands out in memory).

Jones got so hot after the break that he’s taken on more than a platoon role lately. With Gardner slumping and Swisher on the shelf, Jones has started eight of 11 games in September. While his production has waned a bit as a result, he’s still providing a level of value with his walks. They have allowed him to maintain a .344 OBP despite a .160 average this month. That’s not a skill that many fourth outfielders possess. He also hasn’t been a liability in the field. He might not be Gardner or even Swisher out there, but he’s not dragging down the team on defense.

And so we take this opportunity to appreciate the contributions Jones has made this season. He has torn through the second half and has been a big part of the reason why the Yankees are in a comfortable position right now. He might have been something of a liability in the first half, but he’s certainly repaid the Yankees lately.