Tagged: Marcus Thames

Yankees Really Like Blend Of Talent In 2011 Outfield

As training camp opens in Tampa, FL, the New York Yankees are looking to return to their 2009 form. We will take a look at each position and see how they stack up for the 2011 season. Just how good are the Yankees? Let’s find out:
What a difference a year makes. Last season the Yankees basically jettisoned their 2009 championship outfield by trading Melky Cabrera and star prospect Austin Jackson and allowed Johnny Damon and DH Hideki Matsui walk as free agents.
They acquired Curtis Granderson and installed Brett Gardner in leftfield to go with holdover right-fielder Nick Swisher. The results in 2010 were a mixed bag but substantially better than what would have happened if the Yankees stood on a pat hand.
Swisher re-invented himself by adjusting his swing to make more contact. The results were very evident. He raised his average from .249 to .288 and hit 29 home runs and drove in 89 runs. 
For a player Brian Cashman picked off the Chicago White Sox scrap heap for reserve Wilson Betemit, Swisher, 30, has turned into the unsung hero of this team for the past two seasons. His power, his ability to switch-hit and his exuberance in the field make him a valuable cog in the Yankees’ attack.
His fielding may leave a lot to be desired. He is not exactly ballet in motion but he does catch what comes what comes his way and he has a strong arm. He made only four errors last season but, more importantly, he registered 10 outfield assists.
Manager Joe Girardi is likely to have a plenty of opportunities to remove Swisher late in games for a defensive replacement. But more on that later.
The Yankees essentially acquired Granderson for Jackson and left-hander Phil Coke. His first season in the Bronx was not one to write home about. 
Though Granderson is a great individual who won praise for his charitable pursuits, his play in 2010 was not real good overall. He got off to a good start with the bat, slumped and then injured a groin muscle and missed a month.
Upon his return, Granderson continued to struggle and he looked hopeless against left-handers. But hitting coach Kevin Long took him aside and reworked his swing and a new Curtis Granderson emerged.
From Sept. 1 through the end of the season, Granderson hit .263 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. He also began to hit left-handers with his quicker and more powerful stroke. So Granderson’s 2010 totals of 24 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .248 average look pathetic but there is hope his new swing will carry through the 2011 season.
Granderson, 29, also would like to be more aggressive on the bases. He stole only 12 bases in 2010. He has stolen as many as 26 in his career.
Where Granderson struggles the most is on defense. He simply lacks good first-reaction instincts on fly balls. He has the speed to outrun his mistakes but Granderson will misread a ball or two in the outfield.
He made only two errors in the field last season and contributed five outfield assists. But the Yankees would like him to continue to work on his first step and make better reads on fly balls this season.
The Yankees rolled the dice by allowing Gardner to win the left-field spot in 2010 and the Yankees were happy with what they got overall. Gardner established he could get on base often enough to unglue a few pitchers with his blazing speed.
Gardner hit .277 with five home runs and 47 RBis. But, his true value was that he scored 97 runs primarily batting at the bottom of the order and he stole 47 bases. All this despite having been hampered by a recurring wrist injury that required surgery this offseason.
The Yankees hope the wrist surgery will allow Gardner to hit with more authority into the gaps of the outfield. Gardner also needs to work on his bunting. Blessed with such great speed it is a crime that Gardner has been slow in learning to how to bunt effectively.
Gardner, 27, also has a much too much of a safety-first approach on the bases that keeps him planted at first reading pitchers too deep into counts. The Yankees want him going more often and earlier in pitch counts in 2011.
There is no such safety-first mentality in the field. Gardner is, by far, the best defensive outfielder the Yankees have and he is close to Gold Glove status.
Comfortable in left and in center, Gardner made only one error last season and contributed an amazing 12 outfield assists. With Damon out in left Yankee fans forgot that outfielders could actually throw runners out on the bases. That mentality changed with Gardner.
Gardner’s superior defense in left is a plus to what is an excellent fielding team overall.
Last season the Yankees reserve outfielders left a lot to be desired defensively. Though Marcus Thames was signed mostly as a DH, when pressed into service it was a lot like the U.S. Navy. Every fly ball was an adventure.
Austin Kearns was not much better. He actually got struck in the head with a ball in Baltimore late last season.
The 2011 backup outfielders carry a much stronger reputation led by former 10-time Gold Glove winner Andruw Jones. Jones, 33, may not have the jets to play center like he did in his salad days, but he still can play the outfield with skill.
Jones will likely be a backup at the corner outfield spots and likely will be the late-inning replacement for Swisher in right field in games the Yankees are leading. 
Jones can also mash at the plate. He hit 19 home runs and drove in 48 runs in 278 at-bats with the White Sox last season. A right-hand batter, Jones hit eight home runs and drove in 23 runs against right-handers last season.
He can hit right-handers for power but his batting average against right-handers was a meager .219. Perhaps Kevin Long can help there, too.
The Yankees also have two holdovers from last season competing for a roster spot. One is speedster Greg Golson, who hit .261 in only 23 at-bats in 2010 but probably made the highlight reel play of the season in right-field.
It was Golson, 25, who threw out Carl Crawford at third base to end a one-run game against the Tampa Bay Rays last season. 
Golson’s strengths are his speed, his defense and his great right arm. Girardi loves to use him late as a pinch-runner or as defensive replacement.
Colin Curtis played a bit last season but he only hit .186 in 59 at-bats. Curtis is a plus defensive outfielder but he lacks the speed of Golson. At age 26, Curtis also is running out of time to impress the Yankees.
He will need a solid spring to stick. But Golson has a big edge on him.
The Yankees also will get time this spring to look at Justin Maxwell, who was acquired in a trade with the Washington Nationals.
Maxwell stirred up a lot of air in Washington, D.C. last season, literally. He struck out 43 times in 104 at-bats with the Nats. He ended up hitting .144 with three home runs and 12 RBIs. 
He is 27 and, like Curtis, is running out of time to stick with a parent club.
The Yankees also have supersub Kevin Russo in camp. Russo, primarily an infielder throughout his minor-league career, is trying to make the switch to outfield to become a ja
ck-of-all-trades reserve.
Russo hit just .184 last season with the Yankees.
The Yankees also have the what they hope is the second but the better of two outfielders named Melky. Melky Mesa, 24, was the Florida State League Most Valuable Player in 2010 and he was an All-Star with the Tampa Yankees.
But it appears Jones and Golson have the inside track on the two reserve spots this spring, unless there is somebody who steps up this spring.
The Yankees do go into 2010 with a nice balance in their outfield between the power of Granderson and Swisher (53 home runs) and the speed of Granderson and Gardner (59 stolen bases) and the fielding prowess of Gardner and Jones.
It is a nice mix of talent and should be a strength of the 2011 Yankees.

Cashman’s 2011 Moves Need To Be Better Than 2010

ORLANDO, FL – Brian Cashman is truly the New York Yankees’ version of the Teflon Man.
The team’s general manager since 1998, Cashman has outlasted any general manager in the George Steinbrenner era and he is in pretty cozy with the current Hank Steinbrenner regime.
His job is like that of circus performing plate spinner. Trying to keep negotiations going on many fronts at the same time. Sometimes, like in 2009, Cashman gets lucky. After signing CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to improve the pitching staff, Mark Teixeira’s wife suggested to her husband that he contact the Yankees if he really wanted to play for them.
That free agent haul spurred Cashman and the Yankees to their 27th world championship.
But then there are years like 2010. 
Cashman’s first big winter move was the acquisition of outfielder Curtis Granderson in a three-way trade with Detroit and Arizona that cost the Yankees starting pitcher Ian Kennedy, young outfielder Austin Jackson and left-handed reliever Phil Coke.
Granderson, 29, was dreadful out of the gate, got injured, stunk so more and rescued his season late by getting some tips from hitting coach Kevin Long. Granderson hit .249 in 2009, which spurred the Tigers to want to trade him. For the Yankees in 2010, Granderson hit .247.
The Yankees just hope the Granderson they saw in September (He hit .278 with nine home runs and 23 RBIs) is the real Granderson because they are stuck with him contractually for three more years.
In the meantime, Jackson nearly won the American League Rookie of the Year award. He hit .293 with four home runs and 41 RBIs and stole 27 bases as the team’s leadoff hitter. At age 23, Jackson has a very high upside.
Coke, 28, was 7-5 with a 3.76 ERA. But that does not tell the whole story. The Tigers were so pleased with Coke’s work out of the bullpen they are considering making him a starter next season. The Yankees big loss was Coke’s work out of the bullpen in 2009. They missed not having him in 2010.
Kennedy, 25, was 9-10 with an excellent 3.80 ERA with an offensively challenged Arizona Diamondbacks club. True, he might be one of those dreaded “National League pitchers.” But could he have been any worse than Javier Vazquez?
That brings us to Cashman’s other 2010 trade. He shipped Melky Cabrera and young left-hander Michael Dunn to the Atlanta Braves in return for Vazquez and lefty reliever Boone Logan. 
Vazquez was coming off a 15-10 season with the Braves. He finished fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. But Cashman made two big mistakes here.
No. 1: Cashman brought back the pitcher most associated with the disastrous 2004 ALCS series with the Boston Red Sox. Vazquez surrendered the grand slam home run to Johnny Damon and Yankee fans did not let him forget it.
No. 2: Cashman forgot that pitchers’ success in the National League does not translate to the American League. Vazquez was 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA and pitched less than 200 innings for only the second time since 1999. Both of those seasons Vazquez toiled for the Yankees.
To be fair to Cashman, he had no way of knowing that Vazquez would just lose his velocity on his fastball. But that is not unusual for a 34-year-old pitcher. Vazquez will not be back with the Yankees in 2010. For his sake, we hope he ends up on a team with a huge ballpark in the National League.
Cabrera was a disappointment in Atlanta. He hit .255 with four home runs and 42 RBIs. The Braves released him on Oct. 18. Meanwhile, Dunn was 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in 25 appearances with the Braves. Dunn was just packaged in a trade for Dan Uggla of the Florida Marlins. At age 25, he has a bright future as a left-handed reliever.
Cashman was just lucky that Logan did not pitch like he did in Atlanta. Logan was 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 51 games with the Yankees. So basically the Dunn for Logan deal was a wash. Since Cabrera was released and Vazquez has pitched his way out of New York this is a deal that really helped neither club.
To really assess Cashman you have to look at his free-agent signings. Instead of the high-priced talent he sought in 2009, Cashman looked instead for some good picks among the low-hanging fruit.
To replace the eventual departures of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Eric Hinske and Jerry Hariston Jr., Cashman first signed oft-injured former Yankee Nick Johnson as a potential full-time DH.
Bad move.
Johnson didn’t even make it through the first week of spring training unscathed. He wore cleats to batting practice and they got stuck in the artificial surface around the batting cage and he wrenched his back.
Cashman should have seen that as a sign of what was to come. Johnson, 32, played in just 24 games before suffering yet another wrist injury that required surgery and shelved him for another season. Goodbye, Nick — again!
Cashman also signed veteran outfielder Randy Winn to compete with Brett Gardner for the left-field job Damon owned. Winn struggled all through spring training and he ended up being released after 61 at-bats in which he hit .213. 
Instead of a veteran utility infielder like Hairston, Cashman elected to stick with 25-year-old farmhand Ramiro Pena. Pena played good defense and he had some clutch RBIs among his 18 he drove in But he hit only .227.
Hairston hit .244 with 10 home runs and 50 RBis for a good Padres team. Meanwhile, Hinske hit .258 with 11 home runs and 58 RBis with the Braves, helping them to a wild-card spot.
So a fair assessment of Cashman’s 2010 winter moves was very, very poor. Instead of strengthening the Yankees in 2010, he made them weaker. Though he was eventually astute in allowing Damon and Matsui to walk as free agents, none of his off-season moves really made a major impact on the Yankees except for one.
His last addition to the team was to sign free-agent Marcus Thames as reserve outfielder and part-time DH. Though Thames struggled in spring training and he missed a month with a ankle injury, he provided power off the bench against left-handers. Thames hit .288 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs.
Many of his home runs came in a stretch in August where Alex Rodriguez was injured and Thames provided the punch the Yankees needed until Rodriguez returned.
The only salvation to Cashman’s 2010 season besides Thames was his trade deadline moves to acquire reliever Kerry Wood, DH Lance Berkman and outfielder Austin Kearns. Wood was sensational as a setup man for Mariano Rivera.
Berkman, after he recovered from an ankle injury, actually provided clutch hitting down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Kearns, however, was a bust. In 102 at-bats with the Yankees, Kearns struck out 38 times. That means
he struck out just over one out of every three at-bats in pinstripes. He is free-agent this winter and he will not be re-signed by the Yankees.
So how does Cashman keep his job?
He signs Cliff Lee, gets Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera back into the fold and convince Andy Pettitte to pitch one more season. He also will likely add some arms the rotation and bullpen and pick up a few spare parts for the bench.
Cashman has proven that you are only as good as your last move. The good news is most Yankee fans have forgotten the dreadful moves he made last winter. They don’t seem to blame him for the loss in the ALCS to the Rangers.
That is Cashman’s true gift. A real Teflon Man.

Rangers’ Pen Implodes As Yankees Rally To Take Opener


The New York Yankees are a lot like a cockroach. When you step on them you better make sure they are dead.
As the Texas Rangers found out on Friday night, the cockroach may be limping but still may have enough strength to get away from you.
Down 5-1 in the top of the eighth inning with a dominant C.J. Wilson on the mound, the Yankees fashioned a five-run comeback as seven consecutive batters reached base on five different Texas pitchers to snatch Game 1 of the American League Championship Series away from the stunned Rangers.
Since the 1995 postseason, the Yankees have registered 14 victories after trailing after seven innings, which is tops in the majors. They also have outscored the Rangers in their postseason meetings 15-0 after seven innings.
With the victory, the Yankees also dealt a very deep psychological blow to a Ranger bullpen that was second to the Yankees with a 3.61 ERA during the regular season. More importantly, they also managed to take home-field advantage away from the Rangers.
Brett Gardner started the inning and the rally by legging out what looked to be a routine ground ball to Jorge Cantu at first. But Gardner slid in headfirst to beat Wilson to the bag on the relay throw from Cantu.
Derek Jeter followed by lacing a line-drive double down the left-field line to score Gardner. The hit also chased Wilson from the game, despite the fact he had cruised through the first seven innings.
Veteran left-handed reliever Darren Oliver dug the Rangers an even bigger hole by walking both Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira on 3-2 pitches. Manager Ron Washington then went to his bullpen for side-winding right-hander Darren O’Day to pitch to Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez ripped O’Day’s first offering so hard he nearly took Michael Young’s glove into left-field with it and Jeter and Swisher scored to draw the Yankees to within a run.
Washington dipped into his bullpen again for left-hander Clay Rapada to pitch to Robinson Cano, who had homered off Wilson to lead off the seventh inning to put the Yankees on the board. Cano laced Rapada’s first pitch up the middle in to center-field to score Teixeira with the tying run. 
Center-fielder Josh Hamilton bobbled the ball and allowed Rodriguez to take third.
As Washington started to wear out a visible path to the mound at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, a crowd of 50,930 — the fourth largest in Rangers history — mostly sat in stunned silence as left-hander Derek Holland was summoned to pitch to designated hitter Marcus Thames — still with nobody out.
Thames battled to a 2-2 count and muscled a broken-bat line-drive single into left-field to give the Yankees their first lead of the night. The Rangers looked to see if team president Nolan Ryan, who threw out the first pitch before the game, would begin to warm up for his shell-shocked Texans.
Wilson ended up his nightmare evening by being charged with three runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 7-plus innings of work. O’Day (0-1), who oddly was unscored upon in the American League Division Series against the Rays, was charged with the loss.
The real unsung heroes for the Yankees were relievers Joba Chamberlain and Dustin Moseley (1-0). 
Ace left-hander CC Sabathia was uncharacteristically wild in giving up five earned runs on six hits and four walks and three strikeouts in only four innings of work — the shortest outing of his postseason career. 
However, Chamberlain and Moseley came on and combined for three no-hit shutout innings of relief. Moseley struck out four of the seven batters he faced in two innings. The pair laid the groundwork for the Yankees’ comeback by silencing the Rangers’ bats, which had put up three runs in the first inning on a Hamilton home run.
They added two runs in the fourth on a two-out double by Young, which put the Yankee cockroaches down 5-0. They were limping but still breathing.
Kerry Wood made things interesting for the Rangers in the eighth by walking Ian Kinsler on four pitches to start the frame. But Wood forced a cardinal sin from Kinsler and picked him off first base with the potential lead run at home plate. Wood escaped the inning without further incident, which turned the game over to the best closer in postseason history.
Mariano Rivera gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland to begin the ninth. The Rangers, who had rallied to force Rivera to blow two saves this season, felt pretty good about their chances to do it again when Elvis Andrus bunted Moreland to second on a two-strike sacrifice bunt.
However, postseasons to Rivera are different from the regular season. 
Rivera fanned Young and Hamilton bounced out to Rodriguez on one pitch to end the game and give the Yankees their 10th consecutive postseason win over the Rangers, which dates back to 1996.
For Rivera it was his major-league-leading 42nd career postseason save. In 137 2/3 career innings in the postseason, Rivera also has a major-league-best 0.72 ERA and an 8-1 record. 
Rodriguez put it best after the game, telling reporters “I wouldn’t say I’m surprised. You’ve still got to get 27 outs. We had a lot of good at-bats [in the eighth inning].”
Unfortunately for the Rangers, they recorded only 21 outs before the walls of Rangers Ballpark at Arlington came crumbling down.
Perhaps a play in the first inning was the harbinger of what was to come. 
With Sabathia wild and out of the strike zone, he walked Andrus and Young slapped a 3-1 cripple pitch into center for a single to move Andrus to third. Before Sabathia knew it, Hamilton blasted an 0-2 pitch on a line down the right-field for a three-run home run.
It was the first home run of the postseason for the Rangers’ MVP candidate, who hit .111 in the ALDS with the Rays.
After Sabathia retired Vladimir Guerrero on a long drive to center-field that Curtis Granderson caught at the base of the wall, Sabathia loaded the bases. Nelson Cruz singled, Ian Kinsler walked and, one out later, Matt Treanor drew another walk.
With Sabathia on the ropes again, the left-hander uncorked a pitch high in the strike zone that eluded Jorge Posada behind the plate. But the ball ricocheted off the wall and bounced right back to Posada as Cruz broke from third attempting to score.
But Posada flipped to Sabathia and Sabathia managed to tag a sliding Cruz on the left shoulder just before the left foot of Cruz reached the plate to end the inning.
Sabathia now has an ERA of 5.83 in his five postseason starts in which he has had more than six days of rest. 
For Wilson there is nothing left but to ponder what could have been. In his three starts against the Yankees in the regular season, he was 0-1 with a 5.86 ERA and he never got past the sixth inning in any of them.
Tonight he and his teammates in the bullpen let the cockroach and a very important game get away.

The ALCS resumes on Saturday afternoon and the Rangers have very little time to recover from a devastating loss.
They will start right-ha
nder Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72 ERA). In the ALDS against the Rays, Lewis pitched five scoreless innings but he did not get a decision because — stop me if this sounds familiar — the bullpen gave up the lead late to the Rays. Lewis did not face the Yankees this season but he has a 6.89 ERA against them in three career starts.
The Yankees will counter with All-Star right-hander Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA). Hughes is coming off a brilliant series-clinching victory over the Twins in the ALDS. Hughes gave up just four hits over seven scoreless innings. Hughes has not given up an earned run in 15 1/3 career innings at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington.
Game-time will be 4 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by TBS.

Hughes Answers Doubters As Yanks Sweep Twins Again


The baseball pundits’ mantra entering this postseason was: The Yankees have CC Sabathia and a lot of question marks in their starting rotation.
Phil Hughes’ reply on Saturday evening was to pitch seven dominant innings of shutout baseball to eliminate the Minnesota Twins and put an exclamation point after the sentence: The Yankees rotation in this ALDS was 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA!
With the victory the Yankees qualified for the American League Championship Series for the second time in two seasons and it was the first time they have advanced in the AL playoffs as a wild card.
The Yankees also eliminated the Twins from the playoffs for the fourth time in four meetings since 2003 and they have defeated the Twins in nine consecutive postseason games, the longest such stretch of domination in major-league history between two teams.
Hughes (1-0) is participating in his third postseason with the Yankees but had never started a postseason game until Saturday. If he had any nerves he never showed it as he mowed the Twins down in order for the first three innings.
He gave up a leadoff single to Denard Span to start the fourth but Span was erased on a double play off the bat of Orlando Hudson on the next pitch. 
The Twins put two runners on in the fifth on a one-out single by Delmon Young and veteran DH Jim Thome drew a walk. But Hughes struck out Michael Cuddyer and induced rookie third baseman Danny Valencia to pop out to Mark Teixeira to end the threat.
The Twins also mounted a two-out threat in the sixth when Hudson and Joe Mauer stroked singles that both just eluded Cano’s leaps. However, Hughes fanned Jason Kubel to end that frame.
Hughes threw 99 pitches and 67 of them were strikes. He gave up four hits and one walk and struck out six batters with an electric fastball that the Twins’ hitters could not center. 
While Hughes was throwing up zeros, the Yankees were having their way with left-hander Brian Duensing (0-1). 
The Yankees scored single runs in the second and third innings on RBI singles by Jorge Posada and Teixeira to stake Hughes to an early 2-0 lead. Posada’s RBI was the 41st of his career and moved him past Mickey Mantle to ninth on the all-time list.
The Yankees expanded that lead and chased Duensing in the fourth inning when Cano opened the inning with an infield hit and DH Marcus Thames followed with a two-run blast into bleachers in right-center to put the Yankees up 4-0.
But the Yankees tacked on another run that inning when Curtis Granderson drew a one-out walk, which ended Duensing’s night early. Granderson stole second on Twins reliever Mark Guerrier and took third when Mauer’s throw to second trickled into center-field.
It was the first and only error of the series between these two teams, which were also the top two teams in the AL in committing the fewest errors. (The Yankees were first and the Twins were second).
The error came back to take a big bite out of the snakebit Twins, too. Gardner then lofted a fly ball to left-field that scored Granderson with the Yankees’ fifth run.
Duensing was charged for all five runs on seven hits and a walk in 3 1/3 innings. Duensing is 0-2 in two postseason starts. Both losses have come to the Yankees. Duensing lost Game 1 of the 2009 AL Division Series to the Yankees in what also would eventually become a 3-0 sweep.
Nick Swisher made it a half-dozen-run lead in the seventh inning with a leadoff home run off Twins right-hander Scott Baker. 
The Yankees then turned to their bullpen in the eighth inning to close out the game. However, the usually reliable Kerry Wood instead decided to pay homage to much-maligned former Yankees’ setup man Kyle Farnsworth.
Wood gave up a leadoff double off the left-field wall to Valencia. Then, with one out, he gave up a single to Span and Hudson followed with an RBI single to score Valencia and spoil the shutout bid. Wood dug a further hole by walking Mauer to load the bases.
However, the Yankee bullpen, which has been so reliable since the All-Star break, came to Wood’s rescue.
Left-hander Boone Logan threw one pitch to Jason Kubel and retired the lefty slugger on a weak popup to Alex Rodriguez at third. Manager Joe Girardi then summoned right-hander David Robertson to face the right-handed-hitting Young.
On Robertson’s third pitch Young flied out harmlessly to Granderson in center and the Twins lost their last good chance to climb their way back into the game and the series.
Girardi, taking no chances, used All-Star closer Mariano Rivera to polish off the game and the series. Rivera needed only 12 pitches to put away the Twins quietly in order in the ninth.
As Valencia lofted a two-out fly to Gardner in left, a majority of the 50,840 fans at Yankee Stadium — who were on their feet throughout the inning — cheered their defending champions, who are now four victories away from their 41st World Series appearance.
For the Twins, it was the fifth time they have been eliminated in the first round and the fourth time the Yankees were the culprit. The hits by Span and Hudson off Wood in the eighth were their only two hits in the series the Twins had with runners in scoring position. In the series they were 2-for-16 (.125). The Yankees, by contrast, were 9-for-25 (.360).
The Yankees, who refused to celebrate the clinching of a playoff spot or their entry into the ALDS as a wild card in the playoffs, popped the corks of champagne in their clubhouse in their first celebration of the first step on their quest for the 28th world championship.
The Yankees must now await the winner of the Tampa Bay Rays-Texas Rangers series to find out where they will be open the AL Championship Series. The Rangers currently lead the best-of-five series 2-1.
Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday.
The Yankees, in the meantime, will have time to get some rest for their veterans and those players who have been hobbled by nagging injuries. In addition, they can reset their rotation for the best-of-seven ALCS with Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes scheduled to pitch in that order.
I just have one question for the baseball pundits: Are these question marks after Sabathia (Pettitte and Hughes) pitching well enough for you to stop questioning them, please? 

Swisher, Gardner Must Regain First Half Form In  Playoffs

With the end of the season it is time to hand out the final report cards for the New York Yankees for 2010. The Yankees reached the halfway point with the best record in baseball but with much promise to even improve in the second half. But some key injuries and some inconsistency with the starting pitchers dragged this team down a few notches. They qualified as a wild card but to defend their 2009 title they will have to dig deep. Here are the grades:


Brett Gardner (5 HRs, 47 RBIs, .277 Avg., 47 SBs)
Curtis Granderson (24 HRs, 67 RBIs, .247 Avg., 12 SBs)
Nick Swisher (29 HRs, 89 RBIs, .288 Avg.)

The Yankees retooled 2010 outfield was supposed to be a weak spot but it wasn’t.
Despite the Yankees decision to trade Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson and to allow Johnny Damon to leave via free agency, the Yankees’ outfield did pretty well.
Brett Gardner proved he could handle the everyday grind of a season and came through with a respectable average, a very good on-base percentage and he stole 47 bases. In addition, he covered a lot a ground in left-field and led the team in assists.
To be sure, Gardner did not have a perfect season. His average at the midway point of the season was .319 and he had five home runs, 29 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. So his second half, was a bit of a slide.
He hit a miserable .233 after the All-Star break with no home runs and just 18 RBIs. On the surface that looks disastrous. But Gardner held an on-base percentage of .366 in the second half and that is because he was able to draw more walks in fewer at-bats.
Also, one of the reasons Gardner’s average slipped in the second half was because of a recurring left wrist injury he originally suffered last season. He played a lot of games in the second half with the injury and it limited his ability to drive the ball effectively.
He also had problems with the left thumb he broke last season.
But Gardner pressed on and ended up scoring 97 runs primarily batting in the ninth spot this season. He also was pretty much the Yankees only real threat on the bases. His 47 steals was fourth in the American League and he led the league in pitches seen per at-bat.
Gardner would be even more of the threat with a healthy wrist, an ability to bunt consistently and to take even more chances on the bases. But, at age 27, Gardner showed that manager Joe Girardi’s faith in him paid off.
Combine that with only one error committed in the outfield in 134 starts and 12 outfield assists and you have the makings of a potentially great leadoff hitter and left-fielder next season. A little work on the bunting and on the bases should do it.
Gardner earned an A- for his first half based on the unexpected power, the stolen bases and the .319 average. The injury certainly hindered his second half but you have to give him a B- for the .233 average.
His overall grade for the season come in as a solid B. Some progress needs to be made for him to get to the A level. He started that progress in the first half but his second half was short-circuited by that wrist injury. But his OBP shows he is on the right track and could take another step forward in 2011.
Granderson received an I for incomplete for his first half because he missed a month on the disabled list with a groin injury. When he returned, he began to hit well but them fell into a long and protracted slump that dropped his average down to .225 on July 7.
At the midpoint, he had only seven home runs and 22 RBIs and he was striking out a lot. He also was not hitting left-handers well — something he has struggled with his entire career. Finally, in August Granderson asked hitting coach Kevin Long for some help.
Granderson was benched for a few days while Long completely tore down his old swing and gave him a new one. Instead of moving his bat, Granderson kept it still. Instead of keeping his hands low and drawing them up, he held them up and swung from there. Instead of taking his left hand off the bat on his follow through, he kept his hands on the bat.
These tweaks resulted in a resurgent second half in which Granderson hit 17 home runs and 45 RBis, most of them coming after his sessions with Long. Instead of looking like a bust, Granderson is beginning to look like the promising star outfielder he was in his early seasons with the Tigers.
There still are those strikeouts — 116 in 466 at-bats. There also was his batting average, which ended up at about where it was last season (.247). But Granderson enters the playoffs coming off a month in which he hit nine home runs and drove in 25 runs. That ties what Alex Rodriguez delivered in the same time frame.
He also eneded the season with a .234 average against left-handers, which is deceiving because he hit about fifty points higher than that after Long helped him with his swing.
Granderson is still only an above average defender. His great speed masks the fact that he is not very instinctive in judging fly balls. So he can outrun most of his mistakes but he will misjudge a ball or two on occasion. He along with Gardner, give the Yankees the best range the Yankees have had on that side of the outfield in years.
I am giving Granderson a solid C for the season, mostly because of his second half. There are still many things for Granderson to work on. He needs to show he can carry these improvements at the plate into the 2011 season.
He also could be a bit more aggressive on the bases. He stole only 12 bases in only 14 attempts. That might have been a precaution due to the groin injury but the Yankees could use his speed on the bases. Granderson has stolen as many as 26 bases in a season. He also needs to continue to work on his defense in center-field.
With Carl Crawford as potential free agent next season, Granderson also could find himself on another team if the Yankees can find someone who will take his bloated contract with three years left on it. That is why it is important for Granderson to keep working on his game and show well in the playoffs. 
Nick Swisher would like forget last year’s playoffs altogether. 
That’s because he hit .128 with a one home run and two RBIs. But Swisher actually used that poor showing as motivation to improve this off-season. 
He worked hard on hand-eye coordination by taking up boxing. He also worked with Long on “quieting his swing” this season. Swisher’s new stroke and better conditioning and hand-eye coordination all led to a breakout season for Swisher.
In 2009, he hit 29 home runs, drove in 82 runs and batted .249. This season he ended up with 29 home runs, 89 RBIs and e batted .288. The 39-point jump in his batting average does not tell the whole story, however.
At the season’s midpoint, Swisher was hitting .293 with 13 home runs and 47 RBIs. But Swisher’s second half was marred by an injury he suffered fouling a ball off his left knee. Though the injury did not seem serious at the time, it ended up dogging Swisher for nearly a month because the inflammation in the knee would not go away.
Swisher could not push off the injured leg to hit, he could not run without a pronounced limp and it forced him to miss an entire week just when Swisher had pushed his average over .300. In September, Swisher
hit an uncharacteristic .237 with only three home runs and eight RBIs. 
In other words, the injury likely cost Swisher a 30 home run, 100 RBI and a .300 batting average season. Not many outfielders do that in a season and Swisher was on the verge of it until he got injured.
Swisher drew a first-half grade of A- and he certainly deserved it. His second half numbers of 16 home runs and 42 RBIs and .275 average are good enough for a B+. Despite the injury he deserves an A- because of all the work he put in to improve his swing.
Swisher is the Yankees’ worst defensive starting outfielder. But he even has improved there, especially his throwing. He committed four errors this season and he does not have the best range even without a sore left knee.
But he does catch what he gets to and he had 10 outfield assists, which shows the work on his throwing paid off.
It is beginning to look like the famous Paul O’Neill for Roberto Kelly trade which helped the Yankees win four championships in five seasons may have a contender to replace it in the trade Brian Cashman made to obtain Swisher from the White Sox for backup infielder Wilson Betemit.
Swisher has been the unsumg hero of this team for two seasons in a row. Last season he replaced Xavier Nady and saved the Yankees’ seaseon. This season, Swisher came through at the plate when others like Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter didn’t. 
He looks to be something special.
The Yankees played a litany of other outfielders this season when Swisher, Granderson and Gardner were either ailing or needing a rest. 
Austin Kearns, acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Indians started 107 games, but most of those came when he was with Cleveland. He is able to play both left-field and right-field but he is not considered to be a very good outfielder.
In 403 at-bats, Kearns hit 10 home runs, drove in 49 runs and hit .263. However, he hit only .235 with the Yankees in 102 at-bats with two home runs and seven RBIs. Kearns’ biggest contribution to the Yankees so far: strikeouts. He has 38. 
Over 102 at-bats that means Kearns strikes out 37% of the time. Why he made the playoff roster is beyond me. He hit only .250 against left-handers this season, which would be his primary role in the playoffs.
Marcus Thames also started 23 games in the outfield. It was more out of necessity than design because Thames is the worst fielding outfielder the Yankees have on the roster. His ticket to the playoffs is as a right-hand DH and pinch-hitter, a role in which he is exceptional.
The Yankees other outfielder is Greg Golson, who made only six starts during the regular season. But he can play all three outfield spots. He is very good defensively and has an exceptional arm. Just ask Crawford.
Golson also provides late-inning speed off the bench.

The seasons Gardner and Swisher had were very good considering the criticism the Yankees took in letting so many outfielders go this past offseason. Granderson, after looking like a complete bust in July, turned his season around.
The sum of the parts is pretty good. It is a good combination of speed and power. Gardner and Granderson do have exceptional range and Swisher and Gardner throw very well. Considering Johnny Damon roamed left last season, this area really improved.
The concern moving into the playoffs is if Gardner and Swisher can rebound enough from the injuries to contribute to the offense. Girardi rested both considerably when they were hurt and made sure they were capable of playing before reinserting them into the lineup.
Yankee fans just have to hope the patience pays off.
Granderson looks as if he is primed to continue his hot hitting with his rebuilt swing. With his previous postseason experience with the Tigers he could be a real asset to the Yankees.
Though the infield may be the strength of the team, you can hardly call this outfield a liability. It is looking pretty good heading into October.

Thames’ Two-Run Blast Leads Yanks To 8th Straight Win

GAME 136

Isn’t about time for New York Yankee fans to come up with a nickname for Marcus Thames?
Mar-T? The Marcsman? How about River Dog?
After Saturday’s dramatic tie-breaking two-run home run in the seventh inning that propelled the Yankees to a 7-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, you can call him anything you like.
Thames is taking vitamin approach to hitting home runs these days: One a day. And in his last 10 starts he has six of them, which has got Yankee fans thinking “Alex who?” Pressed into a more prominent role in the starting lineup because of the absence of a hobbling A-Rod, Thames is delivering in a A-Rod-like fashion and the Yankees now have won a season-high eight games in a row because of it.
The bullpen, which earlier this season was a mess, took care of the rest. For the second straight day they combined to pitch 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of a struggling starter to hand a victory to the guys in pinstripes.
The struggling starter du jour was Javier Vazquez, whose shaky command of his slider led to a solo home run to Lyle Overbay with one out in the second inning. With two down in the same frame, Vazquez served up another home run to weak-hitting John McDonald, a two-run shot that hit the left-field foul pole and made it 3-0 Jays.
Vazquez has the dubious distinction of being tied with James Shields of the Rays for serving up the most home runs this season at 29. Vazquez has now become the Baskin-Robbins of soft-serve homers. Give him a paper hat and all he would need to do ask the hitters if they would like whipped cream and nuts with it.
The Yankees did manage to come back to tie it up in the third inning off Jays starter Marc Rzepczynski. 
With one out, Francisco Cervelli doubled, Brett Gardner walked (his ninth straight game with at least one walk) and Derek Jeter doubled in Cervelli. After Mark Teixeira walked to load the bases, Robinson Cano singled to center to score Gardner and Jeter to make 3-all.
The Yankees then took the lead in the fourth inning. With one out and Eduardo Nunez at first, Cervelli doubled again. Gardner followed with a soft infield liner that dropped just over Rzepczynski’s glove and McDonald was forced to retire Gardner at first as Nunez scored.
After a walk to Jeter, Rzepczynski uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Cervelli to score from third. 
But Vazquez did not protect the 5-3 lead well enough to suit manager Joe Girardi. With two out in the fifth inning, Vazquez walked Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells followed with a line-drive single to left.
Girardi decided to end Vazquez’s day much to the displeasure of the 34-year-old right-hander, who was one out away from a potential victory. 
It did not lighten Vazquez’s mood much when Dustin Moseley came out of the bullpen and gave up a two-run double to Overbay that tied the game again at 5. Vazquez’s line now read five runs on four hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. 
Fortunately for the Yankees, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera combined to pitch four scoreless innings beginning in the sixth. They gave up only two hits and no walks as the the bullpen has now racked up 8 2/3 innings of shutout baseball against the Blue Jays in two days.
Of course, the victory would not have been possible without Thames, whose first two outs of the day travelled about 750 feet before he stepped to the plate in the seventh inning.
With two out in the frame, Cano banged out his second single of day, this one off reliever Jason Frasor (3-4). Thames, who previously drove Rzepczynski sliders to deep center in the second and deep left in the third, caught up to the first pitch Frasor threw: A slider.
“They threw me sliders all day so I was looking for it,” Thames told reporters after the game.
He deposited his 11th home run of the season into the Blue Jays’ bullpen in left-center and the Yankees were handed a lead they would not give up again.
Wood (2-4), who has only allowed one earned run in the 16 innings he has pitched for the Yankees, was credited with the victory after pitching a perfect eighth inning.
Rivera gave up a scratch single but still pitched a scoreless ninth to record his 29th save in 31 tries.
The better news for the Yankees came many hours later when the Baltimore Orioles battered the Tampa Bay Rays 8-2. By virtue of running their season record to a season-high 36 games over .500, the Yankees have opened up a 2 1/2 game lead on the upstart second-place Rays in the American League East.
The Boston Red Sox, who lost a pair of 3-1 games to the Chicago White Sox in a day-night doubleheader, are a full 10 games back in third place. They are 7 1/2 games out of the wild-card standings.
It may not be quite time to stick a fork in the Red Sox for 2010 but it is certainly time to get the utensil out the the drawer.

  • Thames was signed as a free agent just before the beginning of spring training and made the team as the team’s 25th man. But injuries to DHs Nick Johnson and Lance Berkman and the loss of Rodriguez for three weeks has given Thames more playing time. Known as a power hitter who murders lefties, Thames has hit seven of 11 home runs against right-handers. Before his home run on Saturday, however, Thames was one for his last 14 at-bats.
  • Cano is still swinging at pitches out of the strike zone but still came through with two key hits. His single with bases loaded put the Yankees in front 5-3 in the fourth. His two-out single in the seventh brought Thames up to the plate and he scored on Thames’ game-winning homer.
  • Since Wood has taken over as Girardi’s new 8th-inning man on Sept. 1, he has pitched 3 1/3 dominant innings and surrendered just one hit and a walk while striking out three. His ERA when he was acquired was 6.30. With the Yankees it is 0.56.

  • The rotation other than CC Sabathia may be in tatters but the Yankees keep winning. They have outscored their opponents 57-29 during their winning streak. However, to advance in the postseason the Yankees will need Javier Vazquez, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes to pitch better soon. Vazquez was just too tentative and he kept falling behind hitters all afternoon.
  • Moseley allowing two inherited runners to score was inexcusable. He fell behind Overbay at 1-0 and then gift-wrapped a cutter that sat in the middle of the plate with “hit me” written all over it. Overbay did hit it for a double and it allowed the Jays to tie the game.
  • Despite the fact that Jeter drove in a run with a clutch double in the third inning, he is still struggling at the plate. In his last two at-bats of the day he struck out swinging. His season average is at .266, which is 48 points below his career average.

Vazquez was visibly upset at being taken out of the game in the clubhouse afterward. Asked if he thought Girardi had lost confidence in him, Vazquez replied “You will have to ask him.” But Girardi said he took Vazquez out because he sensed he was struggling with his mechanics and Girardi said Moseley was summoned because “I wanted a fresh arm.” He also said he expects Vazquez to make his next scheduled start at Texas on Friday.  . . .  Andy Pettitte took part in the three-inning simulated game on Saturday prior to the regular game and he threw exactly 50 pitches. Tossing to Rodriguez, Greg Golson and Ramiro Pena with Reggie Jackson acting as the umpire, Pettitte looked sharp in throwing 31 strikes. Pettitte is scheduled to throw another bullpen session on Monday and, after that, the Yankees will have to decide if they want him to do a rehab stint during the minor-league playoffs. Pettitte is hoping for a return to the Yankees within the next 10 days.  . . .  Rodriguez had no setbacks in taking his swings and running during the simulated game. In six at-bats against Pettitte, Rodriguez got two hits, struck out once, grounded out twice and popped up. Rodriguez admits that he is not running at 100 percent but he said it unlikely he will run too hard at first when he returns to action with the Yankees.  . . .  Nick Swisher, who has been nursing a bruised left knee for a few days, was a late scratch from the lineup on Saturday. Swisher wanted to play but he was unable to run without pain. Girardi, who had already decided to give Austin Kearns a day off, penciled in Thames in right-field and moved Lance Berkman into the DH spot. 

The Yankees have already won the three-game series with the Blue Jays and they will aim for a series sweep and an extension of their winning streak to nine games on Sunday.
Phil Hughes (16-6, 4.10 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Despite not having his best stuff, Hughes was able to battle through against the Athletics and he limited the A’s to two runs on four hits and five walks over five innings. He is 2-2 with a 4.35 ERA lifetime against the Blue Jays.
The Jays are counting on left-hander Brett Cecil (11-7, 3.74 ERA), who picked up a loss despite pitching well over 7 2/3, innings against the Rays. Cecil gave up five runs but only two were earned. He gave up only five hits and a walk and struck out four. He is 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will broadcast by the YES Network.

Yankees Blast Blue Jays’ Nest With 5 Homers In Laugher

GAME 126
The loud noise you heard erupting from the Rogers Center in Toronto was not a military exercise or atmospheric anomaly. It was the Yankees re-emerging as the Bronx Bombers unleashing home runs on the Blue Jays.
After a barrage of 17 hits, five home runs and 11 runs, the Yankees had turned the tables on the American League home run leader Jose Bautista and the major league home run-leading Blue Jays.
The Yankee hitters began the evening as if they were kids celebrating a birthday and the pitches of Blue Jays starter Marc Rzepczynski (1-2) were their personal pinatas. Led by Mark Teixeira, who homered to the second deck in left with out in the third inning, the Yankees ended up hitting three home runs in that frame alone to chase Rzepczynski after bashing him for six runs on eight hits and and two walks.
They added two more home runs in the fifth inning off reliever Brian Tallet to make it a laugher at 10-1.
Teixeira led the way with a 4-for-5 night, including his 28th home run of the season and two RBIs, which now gives him 91 on the season. 
Not to be outdone was Jorge Posada, who blasted his third home run in his last four games. He followed Marcus Thames’ two-run home run in the third inning with his 16th homer of the season. He also ended up with a 4-for-5 night and two RBIs.
Curtis Granderson added to the assault with a three-run homer off Tallet in the fifth inning to make it 9-1. Jeter followed two batters later with his 10th of the season and he now has hit at least 10 home runs in each of his 16 seasons in the major leagues.
The beneficiary of all the run support was Dustin Moseley (4-2), who gave up two runs on five hits and four walks over six innings to tame Bautista and the Blue Jays. Though they lead the major leagues with 190 home runs this season, Moseley kept the Blue Jays in the yard after Bautista ripped two blasts on Monday and he showboated by watching them and taking his time running them out.
None of the Yankees needed to provide any theatrics to drive home the point that the Yankees are likely headed to the playoffs while the Blue Jays are doomed to go home empty handed — again.
With the victory the Yankees got back to 30 games over .500 at 78-48 and they maintained their tie with the Tampa Bay Rays for the top spot in the American League East. The M*A*S*H unit that is the Boston Red Sox fell a half-game back to six games out because their game with Seattle was postponed due to rain.
  • On June 30, Teixeira was hitting .231 and Yankee fans were not happy with the production from the their first baseman. But after going 4-for-5, Teixeira raised his average to .262. With 28 home runs and 91 RBIs, he also seems a lock to record his seventh consecutive season of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. 
  • After struggling at the plate since he was activated from the disabled list on June 2, Posada appears to be heating up during the pennant push. He has a modest five-game hitting streak in which he is 8-for-20 (.400) with three home runs and six RBIs. 
  • With Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list, Marcus Thames is turning into a nice contributor as a right-handed batter. Thames was 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs and he also scored two runs. He is also ripping left-handers. He is 27-for-79 (.342) with two home runs and seven RBIs against them this season. He is hitting .313 with five home runs and 19 RBIs overall.
  • Granderson connected for only his second home run against a left-hander this season with his three-run shot off Tallet in the fifth inning. He has 14 home runs and 41 RBIs on the season. Granderson also sparkled in the field with a tremendous throw on a two-out, bases-loaded single by John Buck in the bottom of the sixth. His one-hop throw to Posada cut down Adam Lind trying to score and ended a big threat by the Jays to get back into the game.
  • Despite the 17 hits, two Yankee starters took the collar. Robinson Cano was 0-for-4 with a walk and run scored and Austin Kearns did the same. Kearns’ 11-game hitting streak in which he was 14-for-35 (.400) came to an end.
  • Moseley was either too cautious or he got tired after pitching a one-hitter for the first three innings. He walked the leadoff batters in each of the next three innings and ended up with the bases loaded in the fourth and sixth innings. A grand slam in either inning would have allowed the Jays to get back into the game.
  • Chad Gaudin, fresh off his great back-to-back stints of long relief totaling five innings, struggled mightily in his two innings of mop-up work on Tuesday. He was tagged for three hits and he walked two in giving up three runs in two innings. 
Nick Swisher was forced to leave the game — literally — by manager Joe Girardi after he fouled a pitch off his left knee in the seventh inning. Swisher originally fouled off a 1-2 pitch by Craig Janssen off his knee but stayed in to continue his at-bat. But after fouling a second pitch off his left foot Girardi went out and ordered Swisher to leave the game. Brett Gardner took over the at-bat and struck out looking. Swisher said he hopes to play Wednesday. The Yankees will re-evaluate his knee before the game.  . . .  Javier Vazquez has been moved to the bullpen for now. Because of the encouraging debut of Ivan Nova on Monday, Girardi has decided to give the 23-year-old rookie another start, in place of Vazquez on Sunday. Vazquez is 0-2 with a 8.10 ERA in four starts in August. He will be available in the bullpen starting on Wednesday.
The Yankees will try to win the rubber game of the three-game series with Toronto on Wednesday. The Yankees will try to do it with their All-Star right-hander Phil Hughes.
Hughes (15-5, 3.90 ERA) came off an excellent outing against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday in which he gave up a run on four hits in six innings and fanned six batters. Hughes retired the last 11 Tigers he faced. He is 2-1 with a 3.75 ERA in his career against the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Brett Cecil (10-6, 3.90 ERA). Cecil notched his first career victory against the Red Sox on Friday, limiting Boston to two runs in 6 2/3 innings at Fenway. He struck six and walked three. Cecil is 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA against the Yankees lifetime.
Gametime will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.