Open Thread: Bring on the Twins

Well played Mauer. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees closed out their season this afternoon just like they started it: with a loss to the Red Sox in Fenway. The Yanks finished the year with a 95-67 record, not to mention a +162 run differential that is the best in baseball. What was their run differential last season, Mike? Well, I’ll tell you. That would be … wait for it … +162. Funny how that worked out.

The playoffs officially start on Wednesday with the Yankees in Minneapolis to take on the Twins, the same Twins they swept in the ALDS last season. This time around they’ll be in Target Field and not the Metrodome, so we don’t have to worry about balls skipping through the infield on the turf or getting lost in the roof, just a little cold weather. Until then, it’s two days to rest, to game plan, to sort out the roster, and to relax. These guys run around from city to city for eight-plus months of the year, a little time with he family is surely welcome.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the evening. The football Giants are at home taking on the undefeated Bears this evening (8:20pm ET, NBC), and that’s pretty much it. Baseball’s over. Always a sad day when the season ends. Oh well, at least there’s baseball playoff in the Yanks’ future. You know what to do with the thread, so enjoy.

Oh, and just because he deserves to be called out, you were wrong Bret. Oh so wrong.

Yankees sign Japanese lefty Naoya Okamoto

Via the great NPB Tracker, the Yankees have signed Japanese southpaw Naoya Okamoto to a minor league contract. The 27-year-old started his career by pitching sparingly for the Yokohama Bay Stars, but spent 2010 in the Mexican League. His overall numbers on the season are underwhelming (17.2 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 11 BB, 12 K, 2 HR), though he did hold lefthanded batters to a cool .000 batting average (yes, super small sample).

The Yanks have a strong presence in Mexico and have enjoyed a ton of success there recently (Al Aceves, Manny Banuelos), so I’m certain they see something here. If nothing else, Okamoto is just another piece of minor league inventory, a depth move, but at best he’s a future option as a lefty specialist. And, you know, if the Yanks manage to acquire Yu Darvish this winter, Okamoto can be his friend (/Michael Kay latent racism’d).

One less competitor for Cliff Lee

Via MLBTR, the Tigers will not pursue Cliff Lee or another high-end starting pitcher this winter. Obviously, one less suitor for Lee is good news for the Yankees.

The Tigers have a ton of money coming off the books after this season, just an absurd amount. My quick math has it at $78.975M before buyouts and arbitration raises, but still, that’s a ton. Of course they also have a lot of holes to fill, so they probably think they’re better off spreading the money around rather than unloading a third of it on one starter. Either way, sucks for them, yay for the Yanks.

Game Thread: Padres @ Giants

We’ve got ourselves a pretty big game this afternoon out in San Francisco. The Braves have a comfortable lead over beat the Phillies, so once that goes final they will have clinched at least a tie of the Wild Card. If the Padres beat the Giants, they’ll force a one-game playoff with SF tomorrow to determine the NL West winner. The loser of that game will play the Braves on Tuesday in a one-game playoff to determine the Wild Card winner. But if the Padres lose today, the Giants win the division and Atlanta the Wild Card. Got it? Good.

San Diego’s bullpen is taxed beyond belief (Heath Bell and Luke Gregerson have pitched in four straight, Mike Adams in five), but they’re all available today. The game is on MLB Network at 4pm ET; the brilliant Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow have the call. This one means more than any game the Yankees have played all season, so enjoy. Should be a blast.

Game 162: Season Finale

Job well done, boys. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Six short months ago, the 2010 regular season started in this very same place, Fenway Park. The Yankees dropped that first game because of a bullpen meltdown, something that was so frequent in the first few months of the season. A lot has changed since then – players, roles, the standings – and this afternoon’s season finale is just the way we like it: stress free. The Yanks are in the postseason, so it’s just a final tune-up before the ALDS begins on Wednesday.

That said, if Joe Girardi decides to go for the division crown, they’re going to need some help. A win against the Sox is just half the battle, they also need the Royals to beat Tampa, anything else gives the Rays the AL East. I’d like to see the Yanks win the division just as a pride and bragging rights thing, but at the same time I think they’re probably better off taking the Wild Card and the date with Minnesota. I guess it’s a no lose situation.

Here’s the lineup…

Gardner, CF
Jeter, SS
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, DH
Swisher, RF
Posada, C
Thames, LF
Pena, 2B

And on the bump, it’s Dustin Moseley.

The game starts at 1:35pm ET, and can be seen on YES locally or TBS nationally. Sit back and enjoy folks, it’s the last stress-free game for five months.

Sunday Morning Links

Here’s some Sunday morning links as we wait to see where the Yankees end up in the AL East and continue to recover from last nights Burnett vs. Dice-K “duel” (this was written Saturday night, if it’s truly a duel I’ll be shocked).

Joe LaPointe suggests increasing the number of playoff teams to an NHL’esque 16.  It’s preposterous to think that more than half the teams in baseball belong in the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the number increase from 4 teams in each league at some point.  I was hesitant about the Wild Card, and while I think it has been a success (other than 2004 and 2007), it would be an extremely slippery slope for MLB to expand further.  They are already having issues getting the bottom feeding team to spend money that is literally given to them, if the odds of making the playoffs doubled, teams could point to their spot in the playoffs as “success”.

Jon Paul Morosi argues that the Yankees are better off winning the Wild Card and makes a pretty compelling case.  I’m not one to root to face one team or another unless there is a specific advantage/disadvantage, but in a vacuum I’d rather face the Twins than the Rangers. The flip side I’d rather have the Yankees have home field, but at the end of the day, I don’t really prefer one team to the other, though homefield in a potential ALCS would be huge.  Either way they are in for a battle and can beat either team, or lose to either team.

Billy Crystal was honored on Friday for directing “61*” and an exhibit for the movie opened.  The exhibit will be on display until the end of 2011.  The article is more generous about the movie than I am (it was okay, not great), but a good quick read and certainly would be worth checking out the exhibit if you’re at the Hall of Fame in the next year.

A couple of links about parity and competitiveness in MLB.  Chris Stankovich points out that several small market teams are competing this year, and more importantly points out that several teams convince their fans that they simply cannot compete.  If I were fan of the Royals, I wouldn’t be pissed about the Yankees, I’d instead be pissed that they can’t model their system like the smaller market teams who can have success.  In that same vein, Jon at WFNY (and Indians blog) goes into the breakdown of how impact players on several teams were acquired.  It’s promising (in a way) to see that more impact Sox players have been signed through free agency than Yankees players.  Get to the Indians part and it has to be pretty disappointing to see how they have drafted.  It’s beyond awful.