Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Loss That Almost Wasn't

What a loss for the Yankees last night. Could you believe that game, fanatics? Talk about a nail-biter. By the time the 6th inning was over, I had convinced myself that a loss would be okay, as it would still keep us in first place in the AL East. But then the boys gave me reason to believe that last night would have been a good night for pie. It was too good to be true.

A. Causi / NY Post
So let's examine the loss. First, Bartolo Colon pitched another not-so-great game. I wouldn't call it a bad game, because he actually pitched pretty well; the fastball was on and he threw a decent slider, although he got tagged twice for homers on that pitch. He did manage to strike out five batters without any walks, but he also gave up five runs in his 6.1 innings (two of which had been left on base until Boone Logan gave up a costly double in relief in the 7th inning).

Watching Colon's past few starts, I'm beginning to wonder if my original fear is beginning to become a reality. As most of you already know, I was not a fan of the Yankees signing Colon during the offseason, and what's happening now is the reason why. Longevity. He is without a doubt a great pitcher, and I have completely conceded to his wizardry on the mound, but, having gone such a long time not pitching in the majors before this season, how long can he stay as fresh as he had been in the first half? Last night's game marked the most innings he's pitched in a season since his Cy Young year in 2005. That was six years ago, people!! It's no wonder that he is slowly winding down. We could point to the difference in his appearances after the calf strain and use the "he hasn't been the same since his injury" excuse, but I suspect something more obvious; Colon is tired. It's time to go back to a 5-man rotation for now, and give the big guy some more rest.

And let's face it, the offense had nothing clicking last night for the first seven innings. Oakland's RHP Brandon McCarthy, completely shut the lineup down with the exception of The Captain.

But that 8th inning, boy was that an exciting inning. The Captain gets his 3rd hit of the night. Curtis Granderson walks on a full count. Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano fly out and line out, respectively, but Nick Swisher slugs a first-pitch, 3-run homer to center. It's a 6-3 game now.

Then in the 9th, Jorge Posada homers and it's a 6-4 game. Russell Martin doubles. Brett Gardner reaches on an error. At this point, everything in me is calling for pie. Then something crazy happened.

Getty Images
Derek Jeter bunted over Martin and Gardner, putting them on 2nd and 3rd. He bunted! Normally I would have no problem with this, especially because there was no one out. But Jeter was 3-for-3 on the night; why bunt now? I can't understand at all why Joe Girardi would opt to give up an out there when, as hot as The Captain has been lately, probably could have driven in at least Martin who was in scoring position. Was I the only one who felt that the inning's momentum just died on that bunt? That out changed the whole dynamic of the Yankees chances to even tie the game, and it's another example of Girardi's tendency to over-manage in big-game situations. 

But it wasn't over yet. Again, Grandy walked on a full count, loading the bases. Tex would pop-out. Cano would walk and score Martin. With the game then at 5-6 with two outs, the hero of the 8th inning, Swisher, would step into the box and drill another deep drive to center. But that time it wouldn't carry, and Coco Crisp would secure the win for the A's. Oh, how I so wanted pie!

Speaking of Tex, what's with all the pop-ups? It just needs to stop along with his poor hitting. I said a few days ago that I might be able to overlook the lack of hitting because he's on target with his power. But last night, going 0-for-5 and leaving men on base in four of his five at-bats, was beyond disappointing to say the least, and that final pop-up magnified the poor judgment of the Jeter bunt by a thousand.

Tonight, CC Sabathia goes for his 18th win against Oakland's Trevor Cahill. CC has been shaky himself as of late; hopefully he'll be back to business as usual.


Corey Sipkin / Daily News
Alex Rodriguez is expected to be back in tonight's lineup. X-rays on the jammed thumb that kept him out of last night's game, came up negative. He commented that putting on a glove gave him the most pain, so I would expect him to be the DH if he does play tonight.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Friday, August 19, 2011

They Love Us in Minnesota

Let's gloat a little, fanatics. The Yankees OWN the Minnesota Twins. It's just a fact. I normally watch Yankee games feeling nothing but antipathy for the opposing team, and for me, the bigger the Yankee beat-down, the happier I feel. But when the Yankees play the Twins I actually feel bad, really. Of course I want my boys to win, but dang, sometimes I say to myself, "Will the Twins ever catch a break?" And will they? It just seems like they have no answer for the Yankees no matter who's on the mound or in the lineup; it's kind of sad, actually. Thank God I'm not a Twins fan.

Take last night's game. The Yankees won, 8-4. Another game where the home run dominance that the Yankees have shown all season was in the forefront. Mark Teixeira started the home run parade with a 2-run shot to left in the 3rd inning, scoring Curtis Granderson and putting the boys up 3-2. Speaking of Teixeira, I'm very disappointed in his .249 batting average, but if he continues to hit the long stroke with men on base, I'm more than willing to overlook it. Next up was Nick Swisher, who crushed another 2-run shot to left, scoring Tex and putting the Yankees up 5-2. Andruw Jones immediately followed with a solo blast to the 3rd level of the left field porch on a 3-1 count; Yankees go up, 6-2. I have to say that it's amazing how much you ignore great players that you're not privileged to see on a regular basis. I've never cared much about anything that I've ever heard about Jones throughout his career as far as his power goes, but I see now what baseball fans have been talking about; this guy can turn on a fastball like nobody's business. Not just the power behind it, but the speed on his swing is incredible. The blast was as Paul O'Neill would say, an absolute bomb!

Beside the homers, Yankees got hits from guys that have been coming up big in big situations. The Tex 2-run homer was made possible on a triple from Granderson. Brett Gardner hit a sac-fly in the 2nd inning that scored Eduardo Nunez, who has certainly earned the right to remain with the team for the rest of the season and the playoffs. In the 9th, a single from Francisco Cervelli scored Jones and Nunez, and pretty much put the game too far ahead for the Twins.

You would think that all this would have been enough to showcase the Yankees dominance over the Twins. But before a run was ever scored, the Baseball Gods, who can be downright cruel when they want to be, played the nastiest joke on Minnesota that could be played. CC Sabathia, who was beyond shaky in the first few innings of last night's game, gave up what was originally deemed a 2-run shot to Justin Morneau in the 1st inning, by the 1st place umpire. Unfortunately for Morneau, Joe Girardi, still reeling from the costly home run call the night before, had a better view of the shot and argued it a foul ball. The umpires reviewed the call and reversed it. Wow!! At that moment all I could do was shake my head, I mean, if this were any other team, reversing that call would have had me jumping out of  my seat. But I genuinely felt sorry for them. They have the absolute worst luck against the Yankees than any team I've ever seen. Really.

And it's becoming evident now how frustrating the bad luck is becoming. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, was ejected from last night's game after emphatically arguing the reversed call. It made no sense for him to argue the way he did; the umpires reviewed it. We can go back to Wednesday's game against the Royals and say that the umpires blew a call there that they reviewed, but this situation was completely different. Wednesday's call was to determine a homer or a double; last night was to determine a homer or a foul ball. It's highly unlikely that umpires will miss a foul ball call on a replay. But getting back to my point, Gardenhire's frustration, I believe, was less about the call, and more about the call coming against the Yankees. He knows that any opportunity given to the Bombers to take a game, they will, and they did last night. I really feel for Gardenhire.

Anyhoo, Alex Rodriguez was back with the team last night. He's not expected to be activated until either Saturday or next Tuesday, but it was a plus to just have him present in the dugout, eating quenepas. If you're curious about those "Spanish limes" that A-Rod tosses back, you can read up on them, here. I love them; got a batch in my fridge right now.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Nova Struggles, But Keeps Win Streak Intact

Getty Images
Last night's start in Kansas City was not what we've seen lately from Ivan Nova. The rookie phenom has been as dominate a pitcher as any in the Yankees rotation for the past few months, well, with the exception of CC Sabathia. He's not quite there, yet. But he had been spectacular in his last few starts until last night when he struggled early on. Yet, he kept the game close enough for his offense to secure his 12th win.

Nova's performance was what I would call "AJ-esque." In the first inning, he struck out his first batter, induced a groundout to Melky Cabrera, who bats second in the Royals lineup, then gave up two singles and a double, putting the Royals up 2-0. How many times have we seen AJ Burnett get two outs with ease, only to implode and give up runs afterward? The Yankees would back up Nova in the 3rd inning, first on a single from Robinson Cano that scored Curtis Granderson who walked on an HBP. Later, a single from Russell Martin would score Cano and Mark Teixeira, who had also been walked by Royals rookie Danny Duffy. The Bombers were up 3-2.

But in the bottom of the 3rd, Nova would give up two more runs on a groundout which scored Alcides Escobar, who hit for a triple on his first at-bat, and then a home run by Cabrera. The Royals would go up 4-2. How many times have we seen Burnett give up a lead immediately following runs scored by the Yankees? Do you get the "AJ-esque" reference now?

Thankfully, the Yankees followed the 3rd with a 5-run outburst in the 4th inning; the big hit coming on a 3-run homer from none other than Cano, who scored Granderson and Teixeira. Before the homer, Derek Jeter scored Brett Gardner with a double to left and Teixeira scored The Captain with a single to right. The Yankees went up 8-3, and it was all Nova would need for the win, as the final score was 9-7. The win marked his 8th straight since early June, and it tied him with Andy Pettitte and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez for the most wins (12) by a rookie in the last 30 years.

Nova was lucky to have kept the Royals as close as he did. The majority of his pitches were fastballs, but too many of them were directly over the plate and high in the zone. In the 1st inning, he seemed determined to rely on his slider, which has been a successful pitch for him during his win streak, but the Royals were all over it so he wisely vacated it. Eventually, his control on the FB clicked, and he was able to pitch through for 5 solid innings.

''A win is a win, no matter the way you get it,'' Nova told the media afterward. Joe Girardi also seemed less concerned about the way Nova won, and more content with the win.

''We won the game. Bottom line is we won the game. He's pitched really well. Great pitchers get hit. It's going to happen.''

I was hoping that Nova would have a more representative outing than he had. The last time he pitched against the Royals in May, they tagged him for 8 runs on 10 hits, including 2 homers. He would only go 3 innings in that outing, making it his worst thus far for the season. Maybe the Royals will be one of those teams that just have his number. The good news is, this is the final series the two teams will meet this season. This is the first year that Nova has faced them, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against them in the future.

Robert Sabo/News
On a more enthusiastic note, Alex Rodriguez continues to move closer toward a return for the next series in Minnesota. In his first game with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, A-Rod went 1-for-3 with a single in a 2-0 loss to the Durham Bulls, the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. A-Rod played 6 innings at 3rd base; a great sign that the knee is doing well. Check out A-Rod's start and post-game press conference, here.

In tomorrow night's finale, Bartolo Colon will get the start against Bruce Chen. Chen is coming off of a 5-1 win against the White Sox last Friday, where he went 6 innings and allowed only one hit and 4 SOs. The last time Chen faced the Yankees was August 12, 2010, a 3-4 loss to Sabathia.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hip, Hip, Jorge!

It's been a rough year for Jorge Posada.

A valued member of the "Core Four," he has taken a lot of hits this year, beginning in the offseason, when GM Brian Cashman told him that he would no longer be the everyday catcher for the Yankees, but would instead be their designated hitter. It was a move that most of us saw coming, taking into account Jorge's age and the injuries that have plagued him for the past few seasons, coupled with the rising star of prospect Jesus Romero and the known defense of newcomer Russell Martin. Being the DH made sense, as Jorge has always been productive as a hitter, but his efforts in April and May were, for lack of a better word, lackluster, as he batted .132 and .219, respectively.

And who could forget "Jorge-Gate;" my term for the craziness that surrounded Jorge's request for a "day off" just an hour before a start on May 14, after learning of his demotion in the lineup during a series against the Red Sox at the stadium. It was an ugly turn of events that left many believing Jorge's run with the Yankees may come to an end this year.

But, Jorge managed to turn things around in June. He batted .382, getting 26 hits in 22 games. It seemed as though he was on his way back to being the hitter he once was, and on the verge of silencing the critics who deemed him "washed up." But it wouldn't last very long, as July saw his production dwindling again. He fared better overall than he had earlier in the season, but in 17 games following the All-Star break, Jorge went homer-less and managed only two RBIs. The lack of hitting was enough to force Joe Girardi to make a difficult, but necessary decision.

And so, it was announced last Sunday, that Jorge would no longer be the everyday DH, but would instead be a bench player. The honor of DH would go to Eric Chavez, who could be platooned to third base on days when starters like Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira need a day off from playing in the field.

"[Girardi] said he's going to put the best lineup on the field," Jorge said. "And he doesn't know when I'm going to DH again, so right now I'm sitting the bench."

The one thing that most of us had to know, was that there was no way Jorge would repeat the mistake he made on May 14 by throwing another "temper tantrum." The criticism he received by haters and fans alike was scathing, and I believe he learned all too fast how quickly even an icon can turn into Public Enemy No. 1. What Jorge needed to do was just be ready to play whenever called upon, and give Girardi a reason to rethink his position. He did that yesterday.

Coming up to the plate in his first at-bat yesterday afternoon against the Rays, Jorge received a standing ovation at the stadium from sympathetic fans who wanted to show him that they appreciated all he's done for the Yankees in his career. Jorge responded with a two-RBI single to right field. He answered a second round of cheers in the fourth inning, with a single to center. For an encore in the fifth, following a solo shot by Curtis Granderson and a double and two walks by Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez, respectively, Jorge smacked a grand slam homer to the right field porch; the tenth of his career. It put the Yankees ahead 7-0 and they would go on to win 9-2. This was an incredible day for a proud man who has to have been in doubt of his worth at this point in his career.

After the big hit, Jorge would wave to the crowd for a rousing curtain call; a definite act of vindication.

"The fans are a big reason that I love playing the game. They deserve a lot of credit,"Jorge said.

It's been rumored that the relationship between Jorge and Girardi has been sketchy since Jorge relieved Girardi of his everyday catching duties back in the late 90's. If there is dissension between the two, you wouldn't know it listening to Girardi's comments after the game.

"[Jorge] is a beloved Yankee and we all love him," Girardi said. "At times it's been a struggle for him but he's never stopped working. For that, I'm extremely proud of him."

As are we. I'll be the first to tell you fanatics, that I was in total agreement with Girardi for benching Jorge, and I still am. It's never easy benching a legend, especially when that legend plays for the Yankees, but what's best for the team must always come first, and I believe Girardi made the right call. I also believe that Jorge, although obviously disappointed, knew in his heart that the demotion was deserved. But today, he gave me, Girardi, and every other person in agreement with his benching, a reason to maybe think twice before relegating him to the dugout. The legend appears to have a lot of game left in him. With a month and a half left to the season, a continuation of today's performance down the stretch, could easily secure Jorge a spot on the postseason roster. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.


Phil Hughes continues to make a bid for a permanent spot in the rotation. He pitched 6 solid innings, striking out six batters, and only allowing two runs on four hits in yesterday's win. The fastball was definitely working for Hughes. It's likely that he may be designated to the bullpen, as Ivan Nova has clearly earned his way back in to the rotation, but Hughes certainly made that an even tougher decision for Girardi to make with today's performance.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Back to Business

It's been a while fanatics. To say that I have been busy would be putting it mildly. So busy in fact, that I've missed numerous games this season. Sacrilege! Yet, while it pains me deeply to admit that, it has all been for a worthy cause: my pursuit of a journalism career in sports. I've been continuing toward my degree and doing some freelance writing for a few online outlets. It's kept me away, but, I'm back to Bomber Boulevard, and have no plans on vacating my post anytime soon.

But enough with the personal stuff, let's talk Yankees. It's been somewhat of an eerie week in Yankeeland, and while I'm not the least bit frazzled or deeply concerned about what's transpired, I would be lying if I said that I hadn't, like I'm sure many of you had, raised my eyebrows at the pitching performances of both Mariano Rivera and CC Sabathia. Again, I'm not deeply concerned, but to watch these two--two of the very best pitchers in all of baseball--give up home runs the way that they have in their last few games, well, let's just say I'm a tad bit thrown.

In last night's 5-1 loss to the Rays, CC gave up five homers, three of which came in the third inning.The good news here, was that all of the home runs were solo shots (dare we imagine what the final score would have been had men been on base?). The bad news, is that CC gave up five home runs. How many times have you seen that happen, fanatics? Never. The five homers were a career-high for CC, and marked his worst outing at the stadium this season.

"They put good swings on balls right down the middle," CC said after the game. "It's baseball. It's a humbling sport."

Humbling for sure. Although this was the second time in his career that CC's given up three homers in an inning, it was his first time doing it in a Yankees uniform. Add to that, going into last night's game, he had only allowed eight homers thus far this season. And, consider the homers to Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman. Two lefties. CC had only given up two homers to lefties all season.

Cause for concern there? Not for Damon.

"I wouldn't make a big deal out of CC's start," Damon noted. "He's still the horse you want out there, and he's probably the Cy Young frontrunner right now, that's how good he is -- especially in the second half."

What I saw last night was a lack of location on CC's fastball. He's one of the best at "painting the corners" with the FB, but he let them fly directly across the plate last night, and Rays' batters took advantage. CC also had trouble locating his changeup, and was unable to get it over for strikes. He still had a representative night, going eight innings with seven strikeouts and no walks, and the ERA remains under 3.00 at 2.93.

And on the six-inning, 7-run debacle in Boston last Saturday? Let's just chalk that up to a loss that we're more than happy to forget.

And now to Mo. To say that the week he's having is any less than shocking would be an absolute lie. His ERA now stands at a whopping 2.40 for goodness sake. Whopping, you say? Yes! We are talking about Mariano Rivera.

He has given up a home run in his last three relief appearances, two of which resulted in blown saves. Unbelievable! The three homers came in games against the Red Sox and Angels, the Yankees biggest rivals, and the two teams that they will probably be in the most contention with for a playoff spot. Once again, Marco Scutaro, who would seem the most unlikeliest hitter to ever tag Mariano with a big-game hit, got him again with an RBI double that tied the score in the ninth of Sunday's game at Fenway. Remember Scutaro's walk-off, three-run homer against Mo in Oakland in 2007? And speaking of the Angels, they continue to be a pest for Mo; his 3.60 ERA against them, is the highest of any other opponent.

Could there possibly be any good news to this? Of course there is. We've seen this before, fanatics. Mo went through a similar stretch of bad game performances last year, and came out of it. The three homers, are the only homers he's given up this season. In 2009,the year they won it all, he'd given up seven. But the best news of all is, he's still Mariano Rivera. For those of you who have come ever so close to hitting the panic button, I would say, relax, breathe and remember who our closer is. He's never been perfect, yet he remains the greatest, ever. The anxiety we fanatics may have felt during his last three appearances, don't hold a candle to the anxiety that still rises in any opposing dugout.

And let's not wallow in our sorrows, people. There has been some good news to report. Alex Rodriguez began in-game rehabilitation yesterday, playing as the DH with the Tampa Yankees against the Blue Jays minor-league affiliate team in Dunedin, FL. And of course, he gave local fans something to remember: a solo shot over the left-center field wall in his first at-bat. He would go 2 for 3 on the night.

"Just to be able to drive the ball out of the park whether it's [Class] A, Double-A, Triple-A," A-Rod said. "The fact that I could drive the ball, hopefully it's a sign of good things to come,"

The surgery on the torn meniscus in his right knee seems to have been a success. Not only will A-Rod play in another start today, he'll be playing the field as well.

"The health of the knee is good now and it's all about ramping it up now."

Originally, Alex was assumed to be heading back with the Yankees this coming Monday against the Royals. Now it seems he'll be back on Thursday when the Yankees play the Twins in Minnesota. Either way, fanatics have to be rejoicing at his return. This may be his first season since 1997 where he won't get to the 30-hr, 100 RBI threshold, but then again, we've seen magic from Alex at times when he's been counted out. He stands at 13 homers and 52 RBIs right now; seventeen homers and 48 RBIs are certainly not an impossible achievement for the 3-time MVP to reach with a month and a half left to play.

Follow Rasheeda Cooper on twitter: @ra_cooper