By Neil Keefe
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It was weird being at Fenway Park this weekend surrounded by a crowd whose main concern was getting to sing “Sweet Caroline” for the final time in 2010 since their team was playing for nothing. It was weird to be at Fenway Park for a Yankees-Red Sox game so late in the season and not have it mean something for both teams. It was actually kind of sad. But do I feel bad? Not at all. And I didn’t feel bad on Monday when I read the Boston papers and every story was about what the Red Sox need to do to contend next season.
Back in May, I started kicking dirt on the Red Sox before Sweeny Murti stepped in during one of our discussions and warned me about eliminating the Red Sox with more than a half the season to play. Eventually the injuries begin to take a toll on the Red Sox, their much heralded pitching staff began to crumble and the “pitching and defense” strategy that Theo Epstein got all of New England to buy into worked out as well as bringing Angelina back for Season 2 of the Jersey Shore.
I was right about the Red Sox all along. Sure, they fought honorably for 162 games and nearly made things too close for comfort in the finals weeks, but if Joe Girardi didn’t start resting his players like Bill Polian well before actually clinching a playoff berth, the Red Sox would have been eliminated a while ago and maybe the Yankees would have home-field advantage in the postseason.
Even if I was just doing some wishful thinking back in May when I turned the AL East into a two-team race, I ended up being right. But I wasn’t right about everything that went on with the 2010 Yankees during the regular season.
Since I like to point out when Joe Girardi is wrong (it happens way too frequently), I thought I would pick out five things that I wrote this season that I couldn’t have been more wrong about. But to redeem myself and not dedicate a whole piece to ripping on my wrong predictions and unnecessary dislike for some Yankees, I also chose five things I wrote this season that I was right about.
Let’s start with when I went wrong and finish with when I was right, so we end things on a high note.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Someone will take the fall as the mop-up man this season, but at least there won’t be several people deserving of that role. On paper, this bullpen has the potential to be the best in baseball, and the best in the Bronx since the last time Yankees went back-to-back and belly-to-belly in October.
No bullpen is perfect and no bullpen is unbeatable. There is usually a Kyle Farnsworth or a Scott Proctor on every club. There will always be a game where a three-run lead turns into a two-run deficit, but as currently constructed it’s hard to pick out who will be this season’s LaTroy Hawkins. For the first time in a while, there might not be one.
OK, give me a break. It was February. Who would have thought that on the last day of the season there would be potentially be four men fighting to be a long reliever for the postseason along with the No. 2 and No. 4 starters on Opening Day vying for the same role?
The bullpen was so bad at the beginning of the season that I started wondering what Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras were up to in hopes of their return. And then it got so bad that I was actually upset that Brian Cashman traded away Phil Coke. OK, so I’m exaggerating a little. It never got that bad where I would have wanted any of those three in pinstripes again, but it was rough at first. Luckily, David Robertson got his act together, Boone Logan figured out how to get major league hitters out, Cashman traded for Kerry Wood and finally released Chan Ho Park.
The bullpen has become strength for the Yankees’ the way I originally thought it would be. It just took some tweaking to get there.
Logan is the Yankees’ Creed Bratton. No one is exactly sure how he has a job or what his job is, but he manages to hang around despite these things. He wasn’t good enough to make the Yankees out of spring training, but suddenly he is a jack-of-all-trades for the Bombers. If he’s a lefty specialist, shouldn’t he just pitch to lefties? Instead, he pitches when the Yankees are leading and when they are trailing. He faces lefties and righties, and he comes in with men on base and also to start innings. There isn’t a situation Joe Girardi doesn’t like for Boone Logan. The only problem is that there isn’t a situation that Logan likes for himself.
Everyone knows I wrote enough negative stuff about Boone Logan this season to last him for his career, but this was actually one of the less negative things I found about him. I figured I would save the real awful stuff in the event of a terrible postseason letdown from lefty. Just kidding. Was I wrong to get on Boone Logan so often early on? Maybe, but he was pretty terrible during his first call-up to the Yankees in 2010.
I apologized to Logan on September 14, and that night against the Rays, he gave up a go-ahead three-run home run to Willy Aybar. So naturally, I revoked my apology. Maybe I’m just supposed to not like Boone Logan and he’s not supposed to want me to like him and that’s that.
Randy Winn isn’t exactly raking, but that’s not what he is here to do. A career starter, Winn has picked up his offense lately with more of a regular spot in the lineup due to injuries. He has played well in the outfield, and despite that one throw that went about four feet on what would have been a play at the plate, Winn has done everything expected of him so far as a Yankee. There hasn’t been anything to really love about Winn, but there is also hasn’t been anything to really not like. Just a solid player doing a sound job while the injury bug makes its way through the clubhouse.
I still don’t remember writing that, but I did. Maybe I was drunk. See, I remember Randy Winn when he was a good player on a bad Tampa Bay team, so I guess it just took extra long for me to get that vision of him out of my head.
Winn seems like a good guy, so it was hard to ever get really down on him. Then he started striking out with RISP at an uncanny rate and misplaying balls in the outfield and it became a lot easier to get down on him. He did win a game for the Yankees on May 3 against the Orioles when he hit a three-run home run in a 4-1 win, so it’s not like he didn’t do anything as a Yankee … just close to nothing.
Winn finished his time with the Yankees hitting .213 with one home run and eight RBIs in 61 at-bats. He ended up playing in 82 games for the Cardinals after being released by the Yankees, but with the Cardinals missing the playoffs, he remains the active leader for most regular season games without a postseason appearance.
Lance Berkman talked about being comfortable in Houston and needing to be scared again in his career to decide if it was time to retire or to keep competing in the majors. Since his trade to the Yankees, it’s obvious he is closer to the retiring option following this season. I was a big fan of the Berkman trade, but after watching awful at-bat after awful at-bat and then seeing him land on the DL, I am not sure how much more I can take once he is activated.
The Yankees are barely committed to Berkman financially and he will be a free agent after this season, however a guy just looking to play out the remainder of his contract isn’t exactly what this team needs clogging up their DH spot on the way to the World Series.
OK, so maybe Lance Berkman wasn’t as bad as he was when he first came to the Yankees, so I was wrong there. But let’s not pretend he has turned his career around like some people thought he would with a playoff race, with this team, in this lineup, with the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium.
Berkman has hit .255 with one home run and nine RBIs since in 37 games with the Yankees. I was a fan of the trade at first, and then I wasn’t, and now I’m just hoping Lance The Dance can be a productive offensive player in the postseason. Because that’s all he is really here for.
Yes, I am still living in 2007 in my mind when it comes to Joba. If you have ever watched a Yankees game with me, you know how much I despise and berate Chamberlain. But deep down, I am hoping and praying that 2007 Joba is still alive and you know, just taking a two-year hiatus from the game.
It’s almost like Joba Chamberlain is my kid (which is weird since he is older than me and he has a kid of his own), since as much as I criticize and hate him, I still believe in him and want him to do well, and there isn’t another player on the Yankees like this year. It probably has to do with the early success he had in his career and the fact that he is a homegrown player.
Maybe I’m stupid and maybe we won’t ever see 2007 Joba for an extended period of time again. I still hope we do and think we will.
I am getting closer and closer to thinking that 2007 Joba is gone forever. There has been nothing to make me think otherwise and the farther we get from his dominant days, the more I forget about just how good he was when he first came up.
I’m not sure if the Yankees did in fact ruin Joba Chamberlain or if he was destined to fall on his face eventually once the league solved him and made adjustments. All I know is that I long for the days of 0-2 sliders and fist pumps. And I’m sure all the Yankees fans that were critical of Joba’s fist pump would take back their hatred for his antics if they could see some fist pumps this October.
It will be interesting to see how Girardi uses the bullpen late in games in the postseason now that Wood has found his pitch like Kenny Powers and now that Robertson has nearly perfected the art of getting out of almost inescapable jams. Girardi still has this odd loyalty to Joba despite his inconsistencies, and he is not scared to use him in situations that make Yankees fans expect the worst.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
I was waiting for the few notes of “Billie Jean” to come across the Fenway PA system when Robinson Cano hit his solo home run on Tuesday, as he swung, made contact and dropped his bat like it was on fire all in one smooth, flawless motion before gliding out of the box. Cano has looked really comfortable batting in the fifth spot and even though his home run was a solo shot, his approach with runners on also looks to have improved. Cano’s approach in RBI situations used to be to swing at the first pitch no matter where it was, but it looks like he is growing out of his bad habits and undisciplined hitting. I feel more confident with him up in big spots and believe that he will be able to hold on to his spot in the order over the course of the season.
Robinson Cano made me look like a smart man with an MVP campaign in 2010. His approach at the plate over the last two seasons has gradually improved to the point where he is one of the most dangerous hitters in all of baseball and not just the free-swinging lackadaisical second baseman that many thought he would continue to be.
In 28 postseason games, Cano has been atrocious. He is hitting .217 and has just two home runs and 14 RBIs in 106 at-bats and both of those home runs came in the 2007 ALDS against the Indians. Last postseason, Cano went 11-for-57 (.193) with six RBIs in 15 games, but the Yankees still won it all despite his lack of production. Given the question marks surrounding the Yankees pitching and the importance of Cano in the lineup this postseason without Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, I’m not sure the Yankees can repeat as champions if Cano has another dreadful postseason.
The Yankees’ plan to get younger this offseason has gone as well as the Red Sox’ run prevention plan. Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui are being penciled into their respective lineups everyday for the Tigers and Angels, while Nick Johnson sits in the dugout and works on grooming his hideous mustache. Johnson was close to being my least favorite Yankee during his first go-around in the Bronx, and so far, the second verse has been the same as the first. Johnson’s absence has turned the No. 2 spot in the order into a revolving door between Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson will join the two-hole platoon once he returns to the lineup. Was signing Nick Johnson in place of Damon or Matsui in the offseason the biggest mistake of the winter? No question. Now instead of watching Nick take called third strikes, we get to watch him watch games from the dugout while Damon and Matsui contribute to their new teams.
It’s kind of fitting that on Monday night on YES they were showing Game 6 of the 2009 World Series. The game in which Matsui went 3-for-4 with a double, home run and six RBIs and was selected as the World Series MVP. I’m just glad Brian Cashman didn’t re-sign him so that he could pursue Nick Johnson. That’s how you upgrade a team!
Nick Johnson lasted all the way until May 7 in his second go-around with the Yankees and hit an impressive .167 in 27 games. He did have a .388 on-base percentage and you can’t forget about Nick’s on-base percentage! There’s a reason why, like Javier Vazquez, Nick Johnson was traded by the Yankees once before. It’s too bad we had to relive it at the expense of Hideki Matsui.
When Sergio Mitre is activated off the disabled list to join the roster and rotation in place of Andy Pettitte, someone must go and it will most definitely be one of these two men. The reason I say most definitely is because it’s not like Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi haven’t made crazier roster decisions in the past (like adding Freddy Guzman to the ALCS roster), so I can’t say that it’s a 100-percent guarantee that it will be Chan or Chad.
I have written a lot of bad things about both pitchers, but hopefully after this weekend I won’t have to write anything more about at least one of them. If it all goes according to plan, one pitcher won’t be a Yankee and the other will start to get to his act together since he will now be the last man on the staff and possibly the last man on the rotation. Then I can save all of my negativity for Boone Logan, “the lefty specialist.”
If it were up to me, the decision would be easy: I would get rid of both Park and Gaudin. Unfortunately, it’s not my call, and all I can do is share my opinion and hope the decision makers agree.
I made the right call here. Chan Ho Park was released and Chad Gaudin survived being released by the Yankees for the second time this season.
Chan Ho Park was given $2 million, a guaranteed roster spot and the seventh inning without really earning any of the three things. Then on Opening Night he blew the game against the Red Sox, blamed it on diarrhea and it was all down hill from there up until the Yankees let him go.
Park landed on his feet with the Pirates on August 4 and got back on track in the “B” league (the NL), which I’m sure Javier Vazquez will do as well next season.
Vazquez had a chance on Friday night to put some reassurance into a fan base that is worried about a starting pitching staff that is missing Andy Pettitte and one that includes A.J. Burnett and journeyman Dustin Moseley. He had a chance to start an important series with a win against the team he will forever be connected to unless he can help win a championship during his second go-around with the Yankees. Seeing the old Vazquez make an appearance on Friday night in the Bronx and knowing that A.J. Burnett will kick off a two-game series in Texas tonight, does anyone still think acquiring Cliff Lee would have been unfair, too much or absurd. Yeah, I didn’t think so.
When Vince Vaughn’s character (Jamie O’Hare) takes the field in the final scene in Rudy, the commentator says, “One of the players going into the game is Jamie O’Hare. O’Hare was heavily recruited throughout the country several years ago. He came to Notre Dame … and it’s safe to say that his career has been a disappointment.”
I can’t think of Javier Vazquez without thinking of that quote.
There is no doubt in my mind that Vazquez will end up in the NL next season and be as successful as he was with the Braves in 2009 (15-10, 2.87). Vazquez went 2-1 with a 2.88 ERA in four interleague starts this season. Case closed.
It actually makes perfect sense as to why A.J. Burnett has the problems he has. It’s because he doesn’t have “great stuff.” Roy Halladay has great stuff. Felix Hernandez has great stuff. CC Sabathia has great stuff. Josh Johnson has great stuff. A.J. Burnett has average stuff.
Yes, A.J. Burnett throws hard and yes, he has a breaking ball that can buckle someone’s knees like a Ronnie one-punch, but that doesn’t make his stuff “great.” Being able to control your stuff and being able to dominate on a consistent basis and grind through a start when you aren’t at your best is what makes someone’s stuff “great.” Leaving the game in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and one out and burning the bullpen in the first game of a three-game series with your team not having an off-day for another 12 days for some reason to me just shouldn’t be classified as having “great stuff.”
Depending on what happens in the postseason, maybe I will dedicate a whole piece to A.J. Burnett’s 2010 season because I think I wrote more words about him than any other Yankee.
Burnett has been the biggest disappointment on the team, considering his important entering the season as the No. 2 starter and his $16.5 million annual salary. He has been as bad as someone can be without being traded, released, sent down or given the Oliver Perez treatment (banished to the bullpen for weeks at a time). The only way the Yankees can punish Burnett for his awful season is by not giving him a postseason start, and for at least the ALDS, the are doing just that.
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