ALDS Notes: Posada, Valdes, A-Rod, Dickerson

The Yankees workout at Yankee Stadium was rained out this afternoon, or rather the workouts on the field were cut short. I’m sure they got their work  in under the stands indoors. They have not yet released their ALDS roster, but bits and pieces have trickled out this afternoon. Let’s recap…

  • Joe Girardi said that Jorge Posada, who has had a total of 38 plate appearances over the last 31 days, will be the DH against the Tigers right-handed starters. That’s all four of them. Posada has hit a respectable .269/.348/.466 against righties this year, but I really have a hard time seeing him catching up to the heat Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer will bring. (Mark Hale)
  • Despite rumors that he could earn a postseason job, Raul Valdes will not be on the  roster. There’s really no need for a second lefty because Detroit’s only significant lefty bat is Alex Avila, who has more than held his own against southpaws this season. Valdes will go to Tampa to stay sharp for a potential ALCS role. (David Waldstein)
  • Alex Rodriguez missed last night’s game because of some soreness in his surgically repaired knee, but Girardi said that his third baseman is healthy enough to play tomorrow and remain at third base throughout the postseason. (Chad Jennings)
  • Chris Dickerson will be on the playoff roster, presumably in that fifth outfielder/defensive specialist/pinch-runner role. (Jennings)
  • In case you missed it amidst the craziness last night, Girardi announced that Freddy Garcia will start Game Three behind CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. Sabathia will start a potential Game Four on three days rest, Nova a potential Game Five on normal rest. A.J. Burnett will work out of the  bullpen.

And finally, MLB announced umpire assignments for the four LDS matchups. Gerry Davis will be the crew chief for the Yankees-Tigers  series, and will be joined by Tony Randazzo, Eric Cooper, Dan Iassogna, Ted Barrett, and Bill Welke.

For Cashman, it’s best to be lucky and good

Yankees GM Brian Cashman has never shied away from assessing his own performance. When he produces a failure, he admits it. We saw him do just that during the off-season, when he said that he wasn’t able to answer the team’s needs as well as Boston did. Instead of landing the one sure thing he pieced together a high-risk group of pitchers who weren’t even guaranteed Opening Day roster spots. As it turns out, luck made all the difference.

The old cliche goes, it’s better to be lucky than good. But luck runs out for everyone, and only those who are good have something to fall back on. Fortunately for the Yankees franchise, Brian Cashman is good. That makes his lucky breaks that much better. The 2011 Yankees — AL East Champions and holders of the best record in the American League — benefitted from the good that built the core of the team, and the luck that held it together.

The evidences of Cashman’s luck surround the team. They start with the pitching staff, which got 311 innings and a 3.82 ERA out of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. When they signed minor league deals last off-season they felt like stopgaps. Surely the Yankees would pull off a trade and bring in top-flight reinforcements. Such a trade never materialized, but it didn’t exactly hurt the Yankees’ standing. Even as Garcia and Colon faded a bit down the stretch, the Yankees still persisted.

While Garcia and Colon stand out, other minor Cashman moves paid off enormously. Luis Ayala also signed a minor league deal in the off-season. If it weren’t for Pedro Feliciano’s injury, he might not have even made the Opening Day roster. By season’s end he threw 56 innings to a 2.09 ERA, soaking up innings when Girardi didn’t want to, or couldn’t, go to his top guys. His 20 games finished was second most on the team.

Cory Wade turned into a brilliant signing, not only because of his performance but because of what might have been. The Yankees snapped him up in mid-June, when he opted out of his minor league deal with the Rays. Had the Rays promoted him, the Yankees would never have realized his 2.04 ERA. Wade got them out of numerous jams this season, and made Rafael Soriano‘s absence a little easier to bear. Most importantly, he added a third reliable setup man to the bullpen, which allowed Girardi to better spread the workload.

On the other side of the ball, Cashman was more good than lucky. The first indicator of that: signing Russell Martin. After April he rarely impressed with the bat, but it didn’t take long to realize that Cashman signed him for other reasons. As Baseball Prospectus’s Mike Fast showed, Martin saves plenty of runs with his glovework behind the plate. Cashman also brought in Andruw Jones to fill the fourth outfielder role, after Jones showed signs of life, especially against lefties, in 2010. He even got a little lucky in that department: who thought Eric Chavez would have even 175 PA this year?

Those moves aren’t the only way Cashman is good, of course. It might seem, at times, that he succeeds because of others. There’s the core he inherited from Gene Michael. There’s the enormous Steinbrenner wallet that allowed him to sign CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira in a single off-season. He acquired A-Rod because he had the money to do so, and then re-signed him for the same reason. While those might seem like moves that anyone with a pocket book could have made, it conveniently ignores one point. Not everyone has that pocket book.

That pocket book is not a perpetual blessing. It comes with certain strings attached, the foremost being the mandate to win every year. That mandate requires a balancing act. Sign too many free agents and you have no first round picks to rebuild the farm. Even with the first round picks, you’re on the board after all the blue chippers are long gone. Since taking the reins in 2006, Cashman has walked that line with precision. He’s made mistakes here and there, as any human being would. But for the most part he’s balanced the need for high-priced free agents with the need to bring in young talent.

Then we get to trades, where Cashman has fared very well. Two key players on the 2011 team, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, came over in recent trades. Swisher was a complete heist, wherein Cashman took advantage of his opponents’ weakness. The Granderson acquisition was no man’s definition of a heist, but it was still a useful trade. They had to give up plenty — a top prospect in Austin Jackson and a useful pitcher in Ian Kennedy — to get him. But an outfielder was on the priority list for the 2010 off-season, and Granderson fit the bill.

At the same time, trading isn’t only about the transactions made. It’s also about the ones avoided. A recent report circulated that the Yankees and Twins had worked out a deal for Francisco Liriano this season. The Yankees ended up nixing it, which worked out pretty well for them. That’s just one known example. While every GM will lose on some trades, Cashman has, for the most part, managed to stay away from the big losses that can cripple teams — even teams with $200 million payrolls.

No GM is perfect. Brian Cashman has made his share of blunders. But on the whole he’s done a good job of balancing the Yankees’ need to win now with their need to win in the future. He’s made shrewd trades and acquisitions to build up the core of his team, and has gotten lucky on a few gambles. This is usually the part where the author compares him to his peers, but that doesn’t quite work with Cashman. He plays a different game than other GMs. He can afford to make certain mistakes that others can’t, but he still has to deliver a winner year in and year out. It’s easy to get lost in that jungle. But Cashman delivers. It will be reassuring, when the season ends, to hear that he’ll be back for three more years.

On Tanking

I was still stunned when I woke up this morning. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that last night was the most exciting and intense night of regular season baseball I’ve ever seen, and I can’t imagine forgetting something like that so soon. Joe will hate me for using this word, but it was epic.

One of the many things I’ve seen thrown around this morning is that the Yankees “tanked” that series to keep Boston out of the postseason. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that for a second. “Tanking” implies that they intentionally lost, and that certainly didn’t happen. The regular lineup played in all four games for the most part (save one or two bodies a night), and the bullpen management with a one-run lead on Tuesday was exactly what we’d seen all season. I was actually surprised that the regulars played as much as they did in Tampa.

Now, did the Yankees and Joe Girardi place a great deal of importance on winning these games? Obviously not. That’s why David Robertson and Mariano Rivera were nowhere near the mound last night. That’s why Robinson Cano was lifted for pinch-hitter Jorge Posada in extra innings. Did the Yankees play this way for the sake of losing? No, they played this way for the sake of rest and preparing for the ALDS. By clinching a playoff spot and homefield advantage so early, the Yankees earned the right to do whatever they wanted down the stretch. They took care of what they had to do, and they didn’t owe the Red Sox or the Rays anything.

Essentially, what the Yankees decided to do was not overwork their bullpen or play their regular position players in extra innings twice in the final four games of the season. They had the Triple-A lineup in when they lost to the Sox on Sunday night, and they had them in again last night. Boston and Tampa each had their shot at the Yankees D-team, and both took advantage. There’s nothing crazy about wanting to give your top three relievers (including a 42-year-old closer, remember) two full days off before the ALDS. At some point, the Red Sox have to look at themselves in the mirror. They didn’t blow their nine-game lead because Scott Proctor threw 56 pitches last night, they were a lost cause long before that. Girardi’s responsibility is to his team and no one else.

I can understand how it appeared as though the Yankees were losing on purpose (Proctor sends off that kind of vibe), but I’m sure the Yankees would have absolutely loved to see Cory Wade nail down that save last night so they could get back to New York as soon as possible. They didn’t “tank” so much as they took advantage of the situation they put themselves in. The Rays benefited, sure, but give them some credit for taking advantage. The Red Sox certainly didn’t.

Random thoughts on The Collapse

(Photo via the Yankees)

My three days in Tampa are over. I spent the majority of time here stuck in Tropicana Field, the second worst park I’ve ever been too (sorry, Oakland). Give the current ownership group credit though, they improved the place by livening up the color scheme (remember when the place was one shade of green? yuck), the in-game entertainment (Rays’ dancing grounds crew >>> YMCA), and the concessions, but it’s still a third-rate facility. A team with that much talent and success (three playoff appearances in the last four years!) deserves better.

Anyway, this trip was an absolute blast and I was lucky to be here in person to witness one of the biggest and most memorable regular season games in baseball history. I’m flying home today, so I leave you with some random thoughts and observations from St. Pete …

  • It’s a total afterthought, but the Yankees actually finished the season on a four-game losing streak. There were some tough losses in there too; the 14-inning game with the Red Sox, Matt Joyce’s go-ahead homer off Rafael Soriano (don’t forget the triple play!), and of course last night’s blown seven-run lead. At any other point in the season, those are killer, heart-breaking losses. Not after you’ve clinched though. Like I said, the four-game losing streak is an afterthought.
  • Remember when Red Sox owner John Henry joked about “The MT Curse” after Yankees lost their eighth straight game to Boston to start the 2009 season? He was referring to Mark Teixeira as you know by now, and since then, the Sox have missed the playoffs twice and been swept out of the ALDS in the other year. They haven’t won a postseason game since Game Six of the 2008 ALCS. Look at this box score. Cliff Floyd and Chad Bradford played in that game, that’s how long ago it was.
  • How about this stat: prior to last night, the Red Sox were 76-0 when leading after eight innings this season. Here’s another one: Jon Lester’s two-run, six-inning effort lowered Boston’s starting rotation’s ERA to 7.08 for September. How in the world does that happen? How does a team with a $160M-something payroll have to consider trading for Bruce Chen (!!!) on the last day of the season in case they need him to start a potential Game 163? It’s unthinkable, it really is. I’m curious to see where they go from here and who takes the fall, because you know someone will.
  • How about the Orioles? The Fightin’ Showalters finished the season by winning ten of their final 15 games, and all 15 were played against teams either in the playoffs or fighting for a playoff spot (Rays, Angels, Red Sox, Tigers). That’s some job of playing spoiler right there.
  • I was pretty surprised at how loose the Rays were yesterday afternoon. Three players set up a makeshift flag (out of a towel and a rope stanchion) in right field before batting practice and were hitting golf balls at it from home plate. A couple others were running routes and playing catch with a football. I guess that’s what happens when a team has nothing to lose, they were playing with house money. No one expected them to be in that situation yesterday.
  • Check out Steve Slowinski’s photo recap of last night over at DRays Bay. A picture is worth a thousand words, and there’s about 15,000 words of baseball goodness in there. Also want to say thanks to world famous* Rays bloggers Jason Collette, Tommy Rancel, and Erik Hahmann for being awesome fans and even better people. Always great to see them.

And finally, give it up to the beat writers. I left the Trop at 2:15am this morning, and those guys were just settling in with stories to write and 6:30am flights to catch. There’s eleven of them covering the team full-time (plus several fill-ins throughout the year), and they’re fantastic. We’re lucky to have them. Special thanks goes out to Bryan Hoch, who was stuck sitting next to me in the press box for three days and not only didn’t complain about being next to the dopey blogger, but also treated me like I was one of the guys chasing the team all summer. These fellas deserve their own appreciate thread one of these days, they really do. We’ve got it good in Yankeeland.

* May or may not be exaggerating. You decide.

Rays clinch wildcard on walk-off homer

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Baseball achieved perfection on September 28th, 2011. Just shut down MLB. We’re never going to top this.

One Strike

I mentioned this the other day, but when we sat down a few weeks ago to figure out what series would be a good one to attend, we picked this one because it had the potential to be meaningful. Then the Yankees went and clinched everything within a matter of days, and as far as they’re concerned, this series meant nothing. Just don’t get hurt, that was the goal. I flew down Monday morning expecting three Spring Training games, but holy smokes. This was the most amazing trip ever.

I can’t even put this into words. This one had total laugher written all over it (more on that in a bit), but then the comeback. Oh my goodness that comeback. Boone Logan got it started with his general awfulness, and Luis Ayala continued it by allowing a huge, enormous three-run homer to Evan Longoria to cut the deficit to one in the eighth inning. Then Dan Johnson. My word. I mean, you do realize the Rays were down to their final strike of the season, right? Down a run, two outs, 2-2 count, and Cory Wade left an 83mph changeup right over the plate to his teammate with Tampa’s Triple-A affiliate earlier this year. Solo homer, tie  game. This place was nuts. Completely deafening.

Johnson has a knack for this stuff, you know. He hit a monster pinch-hit homer off Jonathan Papelbon in September 2008, keeping the Rays in first place during their run to the World Series. He hit a walk-off homer against the Sox late last season as well, keeping them within striking distance of the division crown, the division crown they eventually won. There’s a reason Jonah Keri calls Johnson the Great Pumpkin, the guy rises up once a year to do this. Simply amazing.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Just One More Strike

At some point during the bottom of the 12th inning, half the televisions in the press box tuned into the Red Sox-Orioles game. The Sox were still winning at that point, but when I turned my head to look at the screen, all I saw was outfielders running for a ball. The crowd erupted. I have no idea how they knew, but they knew. The Orioles had just tied the game. The cheers were so loud that B.J. Upton had to step out of the batter’s box. Papelbon had Nolan Reimold down to the final strike of Baltimore’s season when he gave up that game-tying  double, the same final strike of the season that Johnson was down to against Wade. Just one more strike. That’s how close each team was to the end of their season. One strike.

A few moment later, Robert Andino – surely Robert effin’ Andino by now – singled to left. Reimold chugged around third. The cheers started about halfway between third and home, and they somehow got even louder when he slide in safely with the winning run. One more strike, that was it. That close to winning the game, and Boston couldn’t get it done.

Not even a minute later (apparently it was eight minutes later according to the announcement here, but I don’t buy it), Longoria hit Scott Proctor’s 56th pitch out of the yard on a line drive to left. Game over, season over. For the Red Sox, anyway. The Rays completed the comeback from seven runs down and nine games back, and are headed to the postseason as the wildcard team. Boston goes home, home to answer questions about a historic September collapse. This place just exploded. I thought the building was loud after Johnson’s  homer, but that was nothing. The fans were just warming up their vocal cords. I can’t believe that just a few days ago, I came down here expecting boring games. This was absolutely  incredible. The very  reason I love this game. No other sport can top this.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Save Some For The ALDS

As you already know, things started very poorly for the Rays right in the very first inning. What should have been a scoreless, 19-pitch inning for David Price turned into a one-run, 29-pitch inning when Ben Zobrist booted what should have been an inning-ending ground ball by Robinson Cano. Completely routine play, Zobrist just straight up botched it. Just like that, the pressure was on Tampa.

The game was decided (or so we thought) after Mark Teixeira hit a grand slam on a 3-2 fastball with two outs in the second, a shot that took the wind right out of the sails of pretty much everyone at Tropicana Field. Price completely missed his spot, but that wasn’t the problem. You know what the problem was? It’s that Price allowed a double to Eduardo Nunez, a single to Brandon Laird, and a walk to Derek Jeter. You’re just asking for trouble when you do that, and Tex was happy  to oblige.

It was 5-0 after the grand  slam, the Yankees tacked on two more runs when Teixeira hit a solo homer in the fourth and Andruw Jones hit a solo homer in the fifth. This was Tex’s fourth multi-homer game of the season, and the 33rd of his career. Just think, he came in with just seven hits in 31 career at-bats against Price (.226).

(J. Meric/Getty Images)

Leftovers

Jeter needed to go 1-for-1 or 2-for-4 to finish the season at exactly .300, but he went 0-for-3 with a walk to finish at .297. Considering where he was earlier this season, just getting up to .297 is a minor miracle.

The Yankees had runners on the corners with no outs in the top of the 12th, but got out of it when Greg Golson got caught too far off third base and Chris Dickerson struck out ahead of Brett Gardner‘s ground out. Pretty amazing how close we were to a very, very different story.

The next pitcher set to come out of the bullpen for Tampa was Jamie Shields, who threw 117 pitches on Monday. Furthermore, Joe Maddon said after the game that Upton had some cramping (I believe in his leg, but don’t hold me to that), and was going to have to come out of the game if there was a 13th inning. They were out of position players,  so they would have lost the DH.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Oh baby. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Special Bonus WPA Graph

Up Next

Hard to believe it, but the regular season is over. The Yankees are off on Thursday in the sense that they don’t have a game to play, but they are holding a workout at Yankee Stadium in the afternoon. The ALDS kicks off on Friday night, when CC Sabathia takes on Justin Verlander and the rest of the Tigers in Game One.