Joe Girardi’s not-so-big dance

For much of the last six weeks, Joe Girardi and his decisions have unwillingly grabbed the New York media spotlight. The Yankees, after all, had their playoff spot wrapped up in early August, and the sports writers, radio screamers and obsessed fans needed something to dissect as the season whiled away the final few weeks. So Joe Girardi and his moves came under fire.

On the one hand, questioning Girardi’s approach made sense. He didn’t seem to manage with much urgency over the final few weeks and often make lineup decisions and pitching moves that left the Yanks on the wrong side of a lopsided score and left many scratching their heads. But on the other hand, Girardi had a plan, and despite protestations that he truly wanted to win the AL East, he stuck with his plan. He made sure that his bullpen arms weren’t burned out; he rested Nick Swisher and his ailing knee; he gave aching Mark Teixeira time off. The team is well rested heading into its impending ALDS match-up with the Twins, and that is all thanks to Girardi.

Still, the murmuring about Girardi’s future continues to bubble. The Yankees have a policy that they keep in place for everyone: The team does not extend contracts before they run out. Derek Jeter will hit free agency. Mariano Rivera will hit free agency. Joe Girardi will hit free agency.

Girardi’s free agency brings with it intrigue. Joe’s hometown Chicago Cubs also have a managerial vacancy, and as everyone knows, GM Jim Hendry salivates at the thought of a Girardi homecoming for the hapless Cubs. As Buster Olney said last week, “Cubs remain intent on taking a run at Joe Girardi, partly to learn about him, and partly to placate fan base; they want to at least try.”

In today’s Chicago Tribune, Phil Rogers ponders the Cubs’ relationship with Girardi. He believes the Cubs have Girardi atop their list, but no one he has spoken with thinks the Yanks will jettison their skipper or that the skipper will leave New York. He writes:

As the Yankees worked out to face the Twins in their American League Division Series, I polled a dozen people who either work for the Yankees or deal with them on a regular basis.

Asked to rate the chances Girardi will change jobs after the playoffs on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being the least chance, the New York insiders gave replies ranging from a -1 to a 3.5. “The door’s open,” one said, “but just a crack.”

None among those surveyed thinks there is even a 50-50 chance Girardi is sufficiently weary of New York and all that life there entails to pull the plug. That could change if something goes very bad against the Twins, but one person close to the Yankees’ brain trust offered a take that must be the worst fear for anyone who covets Girardi in the Cubs’ dugout. “If he does go somewhere, it won’t be (to Chicago),” he said.

Similarly, in idle chatter on Twitter, I’ve asked Ken Davidoff and Mark Feinsand about Girardi’s future, and they both think he will return as the Yanks’ manager. Fans though are divided. They see a guy too married to match ups and fringe role players. They claim he can hurt the Yankees more often than not despite his .591 winning percentage as the Bombers’ helmer. In New York, even winners can’t win.

So in a few hours, Girardi and his A-lineup behind CC Sabathia will take the field, and while many think this is a big series for Girardi, it isn’t. He has his team as healthy as any can be on October 6 after 162 games, and he’s lined up his rotation so that his ace pitches two of five games and lefties face a lineup vulnerable to southpaws in four of five contests. His bullpen too is rarin’ to go with a Hall of Fame closer and four legitimate set-up man in front. That’s what the manager is supposed to do, and even though the pressure is on Girardi to win because that’s what we do in New York City, this ALDS will not make him or break him. Unless he doesn’t want to be, he’ll return to the Yankees in 2011 and beyond, and that’s as close to a sure thing in baseball as you’ll find.

Ryan Pope headed to Arizona Fall League

Via Josh Norris, righthander Ryan Pope will be the seventh Yankee farmhand headed to the Arizona Fall League this summer. He joins Manny Banuelos, Craig Heyer, George Kontos, Austin Romine, Jose Pirela, and Brandon Laird (who will play the outfield).

Pope is in an interesting spot; he’s eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if not added to the 40-man roster after the season, and he really gave the Yanks something to think about this year. He moved to the bullpen after seven poor starts, then struck out 62 batters against just 14 walks in 57.1 innings. The 2007 third round pick had been an afterthought for most of his career, but the relief version of Pope is intriguing and probably one the Yankees will decide to protect. He is definitely on the fence though.

Hello, Twins. We’ve met before, haven’t we?

In seven hours when Francisco Liriano steps onto the mound to face Derek Jeter, another ALDS between the Yanks and the Twins will begin. These two teams are long-time first-round foes, and the Yankees, who beat the Twins last year en route to their 27th World Series championship, have never lost a playoff series to the Twins. In fact, their triumph over the Minneapolis franchise dates back to the days of the Washington Senators and even inspired a popular Broadway musical.

In recent years, the Yanks have had the Twins’ number. They faced the Twins ten times in 2009 — including the three playoff games — and won every match-up. This year, the Twins took just two of the six regular season games from the Yanks, and one of those was quite the stunner. In fact, under Ron Gardenhire, the Twins are just 16-45 against the Yankees.

This year, the season series with the Twins was a bit odd. The Yankees and Twinkies played each other six times over the span of 13 games in mid-May and then not at all throughout the rest of the season. Even though the two clubs have changed their make-up since then, let’s relive those moments of the 2010 baseball season.

May 14, 2010: Yankees 8, Twins 4 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Joba Chamberlain
LP: Scott Baker
HR: Joe Mauer, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez

Both the Twins and Yankees entered their first match-up of the season at 22-12, but the Yankees drew first blood. The Twins held a 4-3 lead into the 7th, but Scott Baker couldn’t nail down an out as the Yanks hung up a four-spot that inning. A.J. Burnett threw six decent innings, but just 51 of his 100 pitches were strikes. Joba Chamberlain struck out Delmon Young, Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto to nail down the win, and Mariano recorded the save. This one was, by and large, a pretty forgettable memorable game due to A-Rod‘s grand slam after an intentional walk issued to Mark Teixeira. Let’s see Gardenhire pull that mistake again.

May 15, 2010: Yankees 7, Twins 1 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Andy Pettitte
LP: Francisco Liriano
HR: Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada

The next day saw a battle of the lefties as Andy Pettitte and tonight’s Game 1 starter Francisco Liriano squared off in the Bronx. The Yanks jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first on three singles, but Liriano struck out the side as well. He would finish with seven strike outs and no walks, but the Yanks scored three runs on nine hits against the southpaw. The Yanks broke this one wide open when they scored four off of Jesse Crain and Ron Mahay in the 7th. Home runs by Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada accounted for those runs, and Andy Pettitte threw six shutout innings en route to his fifth win of the year.

Mariano allowed a bases-loaded walk and a grand slam in Twins' stunner on May 16. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

May 16, 2010: Twins 6, Yankees 3 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Nick Blackburn
LP: Joba Chamberlain
SV: Jon Rauch
HR: Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel

The Yanks suffered through a lot of “worst loss of the season” games this year, but this one might just take the cake. After a strong outing from Sergio Mitre and up 3-1 in the 8th, the Yanks turned the game over to Joba Chamberlain, and things went south in a hurry. Denard Span singled, and after an Orland Hudson ground-out, Joe Mauer walked. Joba struck out Justin Morneau, but Michael Cuddyer singled to load the bases. Joe Girardi went to Mariano for a four-out save, and Rivera promptly walked Jim Thome to force in a run and allowed a grand slam to Jason Kubel. Never had Yankee Stadium been so quiet.

May 25, 2010: Yankees 1, Twins 0 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: A.J. Burnett
LP: Brian Duensing
SV: Mariano Rivera
HR: Derek Jeter

Just nine days later, these two teams went at it again, this time in brand-new Target Field. Through five innings, the Twins and Yanks were scoreless when rain halted play. The game resumed on Wednesday afternoon, and Derek Jeter, the second batter of the afternoon, hit a rare home run to left-center. That lone run would hold up as David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera finished the win for A.J. Burnett.

Delmon Young gets himself into a rundown during the Yanks' victory. (AP Photo/Andy King)

May 26, 2010: Yankees 3, Twins 2 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Andy Pettitte
LP: Jon Rauch
SV: Mariano Rivera
HR: Nick Swisher

Now, this one was a thriller. Andy Pettitte and Francisco Liriano again faced off against each other, and this time, the pitcher’s duel lived up to its billing. The Twins took an early first-inning lead when Joe Mauer singled home Denard Span, but the Yanks got one back when Kevin Russo doubled in Francisco Cervelli. A Brett Gardner triple gave the Yanks a 2-1 lead, but a Delmon Young double knotted the score at two in the 7th. With two outs in the top of the ninth and with then-closer Jon Rauch on the mound, Nick Swisher launched a home run to right field to give the Yanks a 3-2 lead that Mariano Rivera would not surrender. If Liriano and CC Sabathia — who never faced the Twins this year — are on tonight, expect a thriller like this one.

May 27, 2010: Twins 8, Yankees 2 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Nick Blackburn
LP: Javier Vazquez
HR: Jason Kubel (2)

The final match-up of the season between these two clubs was your typical Javy Vazquez/Chan Ho Park special. Javy gave up five earned runs in 5.2 innings, and Park gave up a pair while recording just one out. By the time Chad Gaudin allowed the Twins’ 8th run to score in the 8th inning, the Yanks had long since lost this one. It was just one of those days as the top of the Yanks’ order went 6 for 16 but scored just two runs.

Baseball America’s Florida State League Top 20 Prospects

Baseball America posted their list of the top 20 prospects in the High-A Florida State League today, and four Yankees made the cut: Dellin Betances at #4, Adam Warren at #13, Melky Mesa at #19, and Andrew Brackman at #20. Matt Moore (Rays), Chris Archer (Cubs), and Jacob Turner (Tigers) were the only players ahead of Betances. Manny Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify.

In the subscriber only scouting reports they noted that Betances’ delivery is improved but there are still some concerns because of a head jerk and a stiff landing. The latter is pretty easy correct and is not uncommon at all. As for his stuff, they call it a “93-95 mph fastball and a power curveball” and a work-in-progress changeup. BA lauded Warren’s deep repertoire, which features “heavy 90-93 mph fastball”, a slow curveball, and a cutter/slider kind of breaking pitch. They also mention that his 6-foot-1, 200 lb. frame is maxed out, and there’s a chance he’ll end up as more of a setup man than a starter.

Mesa was said to have the best set of tools in the league behind Phillie turned Astros turned Blue Jay Anthony Gose. He “showed true four-tool ability” because he has “excellent raw power that already makes its presence felt in games, runs well, covers a lot of ground in center field and owns a strong, accurate arm.” His ability to make consistent contact and handle breaking balls is, as it always was, a concern. Brackman “showed an 89-94 mph fastball and a power curveball … giving him a pair of plus pitches on his best days.” They note that he uses his height to his advantage and that his changeup is improved, but his command can still waver from time to time.

The Double-A Eastern League list comes out on Friday, and the Yankees should be well represented once again. Brackman is again eligible for that list, and you’ve also got Hector Noesi, Austin Romine, and even Brandon Laird. David Adams is a long shot given his injury, and if Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify for the FSL list, he definitely won’t have enough for the EL. For shame.