Coming into September, Alex Rodriguez was having a disappointing season, and he was serving time on the disabled list. He returned to the lineup on September 5th and had a month to remember. After .309/.385/.667 with 9 home runs and an AL-leading 26 RBIs, A-Rod earned himself the AL Player of the Month award. A-Rod’s hot September allowed him to reach 30 home runs for the 13th time of the year, and when he returned from the DL, that mark seemed unlikely. Hopefully, he’ll carry the hot hitting into the ALDS and beyond.
Since the three of us started River Ave. Blues and the site and its community began to grow, we’ve tried to add various elements to the site to make it user-friendly. We started with the straight forwarding commenting form and added threaded comments for RAB’s first birthday. We’ve since branched out to Twitter and Facebook and launched RAB Tickets earlier this year.
This weekend, we soft-launched a new feature: optional commenting registration. For over three and a half years, frequent and infrequent RAB commenters have had to put in their information every time they want to comment, and we’ve depended upon the honor system to keep commenting handles in check. Now, you can register for the site and stay logged in. As a bonus, those who register now have the ability to edit their comments for three minutes after posting.
In terms of details, this is an entirely voluntary feature. You don’t have to register, but you can’t edit your comments unless you do. To register, you need a valid e-mail address. It can be an anonymous one, but you must be able to receive e-mails at this address to complete the registration process. We’re not going to use your e-mail address for any reason other than to communicate with you personally if necessary, and we won’t be harvesting or selling e-mail addresses. To register, click here. Once you’ve registered, you can sign in right here or by clicking the link above the “submit comment” button beneath the commenting box. And please register with your own unique commenting handle and not someone else’s.
For the editing process, just follow the prompts on the screen. We’d prefer that people edit their comments for egregious typos and spelling mistakes, but we realize that some people will try to change what they say. That said, three minutes is a lot shorter than you think. As we fine-tune this system, we’ll look to add more features for registered users only. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via email.
Now, enough of that site administration stuff. Unfortunately, because the Padres lost, we don’t have baseball until Wednesday afternoon. We do have the Dolphins and Patriots squaring off on Monday Night Football. So feel free to use this as your open thread tonight, and I leave with you quite possibly the most amazingly terrible or terribly amazing video around:
For the last several weeks, every team in contention has been scouting potential matchups in advance of the postseason. “If you’re advance scouting us here in September, I think we’re holding back all our big plays,” joked Brian Cashman over the weekend. “We’re saving hopefully our best for October, and we’re playing possum in September.” I’m not sure how much a baseball team can hold back, but given how poorly the Yankees played in September, I sure hope they have some tricks up their sleeve.
Anyway, both Keith Law (Yanks, Twins) (Insider req’d) and Frankie Piliere (Yanks, Twins) posted scouting reports of every club that qualified for the postseason today. They both note the same positives for the Yanks; a powerhouse offense that will work pitchers to the bone and a bullpen that excels at missing bats. Of course the rotation question marks behind CC Sabathia are very real, but it’s comforting to be reminded that on any given day Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and even A.J. Burnett is capable of spinning a gem.
As for the Twins, both KLaw and Piliere consider this year’s team to be stronger than last year’s, but they still have the potential to get burned by a pitching staff that relies on pitching to contact. That approach can work with good glovework, but Minnesota is atrocious defensively in the outfield corners and they’ve been known to shoot themselves in the foot at key times despite being a fundamentally sound club. Make sure you give all the reports a read, they’re great overviews of what we’re in store for later this week.
Like every other team in the postseason, the Twins are only going to go as far as their best players take them. Francisco Liriano needs to match the opposing team’s ace pitch-for-pitch, Joe Mauer needs to take advantage of whatever opportunities he’s given, and Jim Thome has to be that second offensive force. It’s imperative that those three do their part, but like everyone else the Twins are also going to need contributions from other players as well.
The Yankees certainly benefited from some unexpected contributions during last season’s title run, whether it be Damaso Marte‘s shutdown relief work or Jerry Hairston spot starting in rightfield, so we know how important complimentary players can be. Here’s a few names that they shouldn’t overlook when preparing for the ALDS, because if they do, chances are they’ll regret it…
The Twins’ lineup certainly features plenty of dangerous lefty bats, but the Yanks are going to be able to counter that somewhat with CC Sabathia in Game One and (more than likely) Andy Pettitte in Game Two. Minnesota hasn’t had too many righthanded power bats beyond the good, but not holy crap good Michael Cuddyer to help balance out their lineup over the years, but now they have that extra power righty in Young.
A former first overall pick who didn’t turn 25 until just three weeks ago, Young finally started to deliver on his immense promise this season, hitting .298/.333/.493 with career bests in wOBA (.352), homers (21), doubles (46), and strikeout rate (14.2%). He’s done a huge chunk of his damage against lefthanded pitchers, posting a .390 wOBA against them in 2010 and .352 for his career. Young will still expand the zone and have poor at-bats on occasion, but he’s growing into some more power and mistake pitches are leaving the yard more often than ever before. Sabathia and Pettitte are going to have to make sure they’re careful with Minnesota’s best righthanded threat.
I’m sure at least some of you snickered when you read Fuentes’ name, because we all remember him being pretty shaky in the closer’s role over the last two seasons or so. Well, Fuentes isn’t a closer now, instead shifted to a role that’s much more suited to his skill set: lefty specialist. Fuentes crushed lefthanded batters this season, holding them to a .128/.222/.149 batting line and just a single extra base hit. Over the last three years, his dinosaur arm delivery limited lefties to a .196/.258/.234 line, and he’s surrendered just two (!!!) extra base hits to same-side batters since 2007 and one homerun since 2006.
Laugh at him for his failures as a closer or for Alex Rodriguez‘s game-tying blast in last year’s ALCS, but the guy is shutdown lefthander that will create some matchup havoc late in games. Marcus Thames, and even … gulp … Austin Kearns are going to have to pull their weight against Fuentes this series.
Danny Valencia & J.J. Hardy
Young isn’t the only righthanded bat worth worrying about, the Twins new left side of the infield improved their team immensely in that area as well. Hardy, acquired from the Brewers in the offseason, brings what amounts to a league average bat from the shortstop position, an upgrade over what Orlando Cabrera gave them last season. The defensive improvement is considerable as well.
Valencia, the second half rookie sensation, looks like Alex Rodriguez compared to the dreck Minnesota has run out at the hot corner over the last few seasons. He brings a .351 wOBA from the right side, and like Young he murders lefthanded pitching (.424 wOBA this year). Compare that to Brendan Harris, who (mostly) started at third last year and was lucky to get his slugging percentage over .351, forget wOBA. Automatic outs like Harris, Nick Punto, and Carlos Gomez are nowhere to be found this year, so Yankee pitchers are going to have to be much more careful once they get past the heart of the order.
It wasn’t the strongest way to end the season. In the final month the Yankees went 13-17, costing them the AL East crown. Some of those losses came as a sacrifice; the Yankees invoked the old cliche about losing the battle to win the war. But even the regulars had their struggles during the month-long tumble. It has left many fans with a bad feeling heading into the playoffs. This team just hasn’t dominated in the same way it did in 2009. Yet neither of those factors — the relative dominance and the stumbling — should matter much in October.
As Mike said earlier, the Yanks have a fresh start on Wednesday. So do the other three playoff teams. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing for the Yanks. It’s good because they can recover from a rough September. It’s bad because the other playoff teams share the same advantage. None of the four teams played particularly well down the stretch. They didn’t stumble in the same manner the Yankees did, but we’d be kidding ourselves to think any team is heading into the playoffs on a hot streak.
The Yankees opened September with a one-game lead in the AL East. They lost four of seven to the Rays that month, which covered the difference. They also lost one more game otherwise and finished one back. That should say something about how the Rays played during the month. If the Yanks played so poorly, shouldn’t the Rays have run away with the division?
In the final month the Rays went 15-15 despite playing 16 of those games against sub-.500 teams. They were a bit worse at the end, too, losing four of seven to Baltimore and Kansas City. It wasn’t as bad as the Yanks losing six of nine to Boston and Toronto, but then again both of those teams finished the season over .500. Tampa Bay’s losses are a bit less excusable.
Of all the AL postseason teams, the Rangers probably finished the strongest. In their final three series they went 6-5 against Oakland, Seattle, and Anaheim. But, again, those aren’t the strongest teams. Oakland was the best among them, as they finished 81-81. If you go back a bit further, though, the results aren’t quite as good. Their final five series all came against AL West teams, and during that span the Rangers went 8-9, losing four of six to Seattle and five of seven to Anaheim. Their seven-game win streak against Toronto, New York, and Detroit was the highlight of the month.
An 18-12 record in September looks good, and was certainly the best among AL postseason teams. Yet even the Twins limped to the finish line. After an 11-1 stretch that essentially eliminated the White Sox from contention, the Twins went 6-10 to finish the season, and lost eight of their last 10 games. Not even the Yankees finished the season that poorly. While it’s true that the Twins started their losing streak once they had the division under wraps, isn’t it also true that the Yankees started playing poorly once they had a playoff spot well at hand?
It’s easy to focus on the Yankees, since they’re the ones we watch for 162 games. But their troubles are not unique. Other teams are in similar positions and find themselves needing to turn around recent poor play. We’ve seen plenty of teams limp into the playoffs and make long runs — we like to cite the 2000 Yankees, but in 2006 both World Series teams, the Cardinals and the Tigers, backed into the playoffs. It appears as though that will be the case, at least in the AL, this year. We have four limping teams meeting up during the next week. At least two of them will shed the crutches and move on.
There’s no denying that the Yankees’ regular season did not end the way we all wanted. They lost Games 161 and 162 to the Red Sox, effectively costing New York their tenth division crown in the last dozen seasons, and they limped to the finish line with an 8-17 record in their last 25 games. The Yanks won just one of their final eight series, and that win came against a team that finished the year 30 games under-.500. They got unfathomably bad starting pitching down the stretch (5.22 ERA since August 1st, 6.05 if you take out CC Sabathia) and became frustratingly prone to stranding runners on base, especially if they were in scoring position. It was an ugly end to a season that started so wonderfully, but here’s the thing: none of it matters now.
All that stuff, all the ugly losses and stranded baserunners and two out rallies by the opposition are gone now. It’s in the past. It’s a new season now, one where the remaining eight teams are all 0-0 with shiny 0.00 ERA’s. Every team is fully capable of beating the other seven in the short series, so it’ll come down to who gets the best bounces, who has players step up in big spots, who gets the favorable call. We can turn the page, forget about everything’s that’s happened in the last few weeks and start anew.
The Yanks come into the postseason with one rather considerable advantage over the rest of the playoff field. It’s not talent or payroll, it’s experience. They’ve all been here before. Everyone from Derek Jeter to Joe Girardi to Ramiro Pena, they’ve all been to the promised land and back. It’s not just the players from the 2009 team either, even the new guys have played in big games. Both Curtis Granderson and Lance Berkman know what it’s like to lose the World Series. As a rookie Boone Logan had to sit and watch while his teammates collected their World Series rings in 2006. Kerry Wood’s suffered the biggest heartbreak of them all, standing five outs away from the Fall Classic before Steve Bartman interfered.
Talent wins out, almost always, but in today’s MLB the top tier clubs are so evenly matched that something intangible like experience can make an impact. It could be the difference between Mariano Rivera retiring the next three batters after a leadoff baserunner while Neftali Feliz allows the run to score. Or J.J. Hardy throwing a booted ball away that Derek Jeter would just eat. That ability to slow everything down and treat it as just another game is something younger clubs can lack, but the Yankees are well-versed in that routine by now.
Am I nervous about the playoffs? Hell yeah I’m nervous about the playoffs, but that’s because I always am, year after year. Not because of what happened in August or September, not because the Yanks don’t have homefield advantage, but because it’s beyond my control. Everyone has a clean slate starting Wednesday, and no teams needs it more than the Yankees. Given the fact that they were here just last season, I suspect they know exactly what to do to prepare themselves.
“You have to play well obviously, but the regular season means nothing,” said Jeter after yesterday’s game. “Absolutely nothing.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Record Last Week: 2-4 (31 RS, 36 RA)
Season Record: 95-67 (859 RS, 693 RA, 98-64 Pythag. record), finished one game back in AL East, won Wild Card
Schedule This Week: ALDS Game One (Wednesday @ Twins), ALDS Game Two (Thursday @ Twins), ALDS Game Three (Saturday vs. Twins)
Top stories from last week:
- The Yankees were still searching for a playoff spot when the week began, but A.J. Burnett melted down in the opener in Toronto. CC Sabathia took matters in his own hands and pitched the Yanks to a postseason spot on Tuesday, but Javy Vazquez got his clock cleaned in the finale.
- After Thursday’s off day, the series in Fenway started out with a rain-induced postponement. The Yanks took the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader behind a shaky Andy Pettitte, but some sloppy defense doomed them in the night cap. Boston won the final game of the season, which in part prevented the Yanks from winning the division.
- Injury Zone: Pettitte was dealing with a stiff lower back, but it wasn’t much of a concern. Thankfully Tuesday’s clincher allowed them to be a little extra careful and push him back.
- The Yanks will face the Twins in the ALDS, and Sabathia will get the ball in Game One.
- The Rangers’ chances to re-sign Cliff Lee got better with their new TV deal, but at least the Yanks won’t have to compete with the Tigers for his services. Pettitte’s involvement in the Roger Clemens trial will not impact his decision to retire (or not) after the season.
- The Yanks signed Japanese lefty Naoya Okamoto to a minor league contract. Slade Heathcott was named the 18th best prospect in the Low-A South Atlantic League.
- The Yankees will pick 31st overall in next year’s draft.
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