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Keefe To The City: Yankees Rolling On Road Trip

(credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

(credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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The Yankees benefited from the use of replay on Thursday night in Minnesota after being on the wrong end of a replay call on Wednesday in Kansas City.

It’s been nearly two months since the last time Sweeny Murti, “The Voice of Reason” joined me for an email discussion. Since our last discussion, the Yankees have taken over first place (barely) and have been rolling along in August.

With the Yankees preparing for the final six weeks of the season and jockeying for playoff position with the Red Sox the rest of the way, Sweeny and I talked about the state of the Yankees.

Keefe: I was surprised to see the last time we did this was June 23. That was two months ago! How I went that long without talking to “The Voice of the Reason” in the middle of the summer and the middle of a division race is pretty incredible. But I’m sure you didn’t mind not having your cell phone, email and Twitter getting bombarded by crazed messages and questions from me.

The Yankees are in a good place right now, sitting atop the AL East by a 1/2 game with a four-game series against the Twins who have little to play for after a terrible start put them in a hole that they probably won’t be able to climb out of. With a division title seemingly extra important this season (we’ll get to that later), I wish the Yankees were more than a 1/2 game up, but I’ll take it for now.

Let’s start this epic email exchange with what happened on Wednesday night in Kansas City, which included umpires not knowing the ground rules (a remarkable feat), Joe Girardi not protesting the game because of his trust of these incompetent umpires (an unacceptable decision) and the umpires using “no comment” to avoid being questioned about their disastrous call (an embarrassment).

You have been vocal about the entire event on Twitter and how Girardi should have protested the game, but didn’t. I guess there’s no point in beating a dead horse since there’s not much left of this horse to beat, and nothing can be done about the call or the game now, but how could the umpires NOT know the ground rules? And how could Girardi NOT protest the game? I need some closure to these questions, so I can officially move on. I’m hoping you can provide some.

Murti: I’m glad you’re alive and well. I did start to worry about you. But then I realized the Yankees played .700 ball between the June Red Sox series and the August Red Sox series, and well, when you have little to complain about I think you feel as if you don’t need my help. It’s not unlike any other patient who seeks professional help — when things are going well, you feel like you can conquer your world. Even Boone Logan pitched well, so clearly you were in a happy place. Until Wednesday night…

Yes, I knew based on what I was told by the Kansas City media and even a Royals team official that Billy Butler’s “home run” would be overturned by replay. When it was not, I was stunned to learn the reason why: The umpire crew did not know the ground rules. Joe Girardi should have protested and he did not, he knows he made a mistake. The problem is the people who are in charge of going over the ground rules with the manager and coaches before each series are the umpires. They are supposed to know the rules! So, Girardi, who manages three games in that stadium a year, trusted the judgment of people who are instructed to know the rules all the time. I’m guessing he won’t make that mistake again.

Did it cost the Yankees a win? I know there were numerous chances to win the game after that. Balls and strikes, close calls on base paths, leaving men on base, getting picked off — all those things are part of the way the game is played. Making an error is part of the game. Not knowing the rules is not a part of the game.

That it was universally agreed the umpires were wrong and that the Yankees lost by just one run make all the facts line up in the Yankees favor if they had indeed protested. Would it have been upheld? Would the Yankees have been ordered back to Kansas City this coming Monday when both teams were off to pick up the game from that point and continue? Who knows how restitution would have been made, but all the facts lined up perfectly to uphold a protest, which usually never happens.

It’s over. It’s done with. We all move on. Overall, I believe the umpires are judged way too harshly when they miss a call in the blink of an eye which we can see perfectly clearly because its in hi-def slo-mo on our 55-inch TVs. But this had nothing to do with missed calls or use of instant replay. The umpires saw exactly what they were supposed to see. Unfortunately they just didn’t know what they were looking at.

Is that enough closure for you?

Keefe: That’s enough closure for me. I guess I’m more upset over the fact that the Yankees weren’t able to get to Bruce Chen in the first inning when he threw 32 pitches. The same Bruce Chen that gave up 10 runs on 10 hits in four innings to the Red Sox on July 27.

The other big thing to come from the three games in Kansas City was that none of the three Yankees starters (A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova and Bartolo Colon) did anything to help Yankees fans feel better about the rotation after CC Sabathia. I’m still confident in Colon and see him as the Yankees’ No. 2 starter in the postseason, but he hasn’t been the dominant front-end starter we saw prior to his stint on the DL.

You probably think I’m crazy to be thinking six weeks ahead to what the Yankees postseason rotation will look like, but they are going to the postseason and I think it’s important to think about who will get the ball in Games 2 and 3.

On Thursday, I wrote about how I think the Yankees (Girardi and Cashman) view the postseason rotation as of now and came up with odds for the chances of Burnett, Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia getting the Game 3 start in the ALDS. I wrote that Burnett seems to be the favorite since the Yankees WANT him to get the ball and I even wrote crazily after a hit from the objective pipe that part of me (granted a very small part) has some faith in Burnett in a big spot.

What do you think of the odds I came up with and the order of how those four are viewed by the Yankees as of now? Do you agree that Colon is the Game 2 starter? And who would you give the ball to in Game 3?

Murti: The first line of The Godfather is, “I believe in America.” Along those lines, I believe in Bartolo. I know he hasn’t pitched as well in the second half, but I’ve seen enough to be confident in giving him the ball in a playoff game, and yes Game 2 is OK by me.

I think Phil Hughes will show you enough between now and the end of the season that he is my No. 3. Hughes, when healthy, has been a very good pitcher for this team the last few years. And health is the only thing that’s ever seemed to hold him back. Hughes can be a difference maker and a strong No. 3.

I would ideally come back to CC for Game 4, but I can also see Burnett getting the ball here. I’ve taken many hits of the objective pipe. I know that Burnett hasn’t been $82.5 million good, but he hasn’t been as bad as people believe. He may never pitch to the contract, but he’s still the guy who … wait for it … dominated the Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series (a series the Yankees might not win if they go to Philly down 2-0). Fans want to build a statue to Damaso Marte for striking out Ryan Howard a couple times. The man has been collecting millions for zero contribution since, but no one seems to care.

The prospect of a good Burnett performance is really all we have right now. For that, he’s still in the conversation. I need to know a little more about Ivan Nova down the stretch here. Remember, he’s never started a postseason game before. Freddy Garcia … well, I can see him getting some important long relief innings to keep a game from getting too far out of hand. I picture him kind of like latter day El Duque, tricking his way through a few big innings.

But the real question I have for you is this: Do you ever really enjoy the regular season? Or is it just one long tortuous exercise?

Keefe: Of course I love the regular season. I love every day that there is a Yankees game. I guess you could say the entire season from start to finish is a tortuous exercise in pursuit of a championship. But the torture during the regular season doesn’t even come close to what happens in the postseason. We talked during the ALDS and ALCS last year. You should remember this.

There was a long period of time when I felt like I was the only one that still believed in Derek Jeter. I have given him a free pass for life from criticism from me, and for a while everyone was writing about his demise and the absurdness of his new contract. With another hit tonight, No. 2 is up to .291 and hitting lefties better than everyone in the majors except for Dustin Pedroia and Joey Votto. If you don’t think I will be writing an “I told you so” piece in the near future, well I will be.

Jeter went on the disabled list at .260/.324/.324. Since coming back, he’s at .344/.393/.474. You know what that looks like? It looks like 2009 to me.

So what’s happened since Jeter’s return to the lineup in July 4 in Cleveland? Is it as simple as he went down to Tampa and worked on his swing with Gary Denbo and got some time away from Kevin Long? Is it that he’s just staying back on the ball longer? Is it that at 37, a few weeks off served as an extended All-Star break even before the All-Star break? Or did the 3,000th put a lot more pressure on Jeter than he admitted to or that anyone could have known about? Maybe it’s a combination of these things. All I know is that I’m ecstatic about the turnaround and the idea that Derek Jeter is back, and that the national coverage of his decline has once again been delayed.

Murti: Jeter is driving the ball more and he says that’s as simple as staying back on pitches more. It’s not always easy to do, as players fall in and out of bad habits frequently during the course of the year. The hitting coach can get them back on track now and again, and Kevin Long is excellent at that.

Gary Denbo certainly had something to do with Jeter’s recent revival. That’s not a knock at Long. Sometimes a different set of eyes is a good thing. Remember, they are all working towards the same goal. There might not be a person Jeter trusts more in baseball than Denbo, so when he found himself exiled to Tampa because of the calf injury, it became an opportunity to work more on the swing. We saw that in action in the HBO/MLB Productions special on Jeter’s pursuit of 3,000 hits.

Getting away from the everyday game activity, I believe, allowed Jeter to work on the swing without thinking about the pressure to deliver results every single day. When he came back, his body was fresh, and after the 3,000th hit his mind was too.

Jeter’s 2010 season was undone by a brutal 25 game stretch between August and September when he went 16-for-102 (.157). Aside from that, Jeter hit .291 over 561 at-bats. That’s not bad, right?

I don’t know what the next three-plus years will bring with Derek Jeter. Yes, he will still hit his share of ground balls and will not hit for as much power as he did a few years ago, but there will be spurts like this one for sure and his overall numbers look as if they’ll be respectable. He will age some more, and there will be other slumps that make us wonder if the end is coming soon. But for now, Jeter is able to relax and know that a good hitter is still inside him.

Keefe: With Alex Rodriguez coming back, it’s obviously great for the lineup, but not great for the guys needing at-bats that have been getting them regularly with A-Rod out. I’m guessing that A-Rod will need more time off than usual now that he is coming off midseason knee surgery, so there’s a chance for other players to play third and DH.

But for guys like Eduardo Nunez, Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones to stay fresh, they are going to need to find some sort of way to consistently work them in and out of the lineup. How will Girardi juggle Nunez, Chavez, Jones and Posada in the DH role now that A-Rod is returning?

And with Posada … were his heroics last Saturday a sign that he will see increased playing time, or is Girardi going to continue to use him very sparingly as was the plan before the six-RBI game?

Murti: I can’t give you a defined number of at-bats each player will get in what spot, but A-Rod is certain to get a few more DH at-bats than he would otherwise. That will also allow Chavez and Nunez to stay sharp with some at-bats. Nunez can also spell Jeter and Cano from time to time to make sure they don’t get too worn down. It’s a long year and a tough time of year with lots of long stretches, double-headers, and make-up games.

As for Posada, he appeared to get last-minute reprieve from the Governor with his six-RBI game last Saturday. It’s enough to get him some more at-bats the rest of the way, but probably not enough to get him a regular job back, and certainly not enough to get him a contract with the Yankees in 2012. A very good Yankee for a very long time, and he might have some big postseason moments left in his bat, but I hope the Yankees fans will be kind enough to show Posada some love over the final few weeks of this season.

Keefe: The bullpen has been close to perfect since Rafael Soriano came off the DL and took over the seventh-inning role with David Robertson remaining in the eighth inning. I was all for keeping Robertson in the eighth inning, but was told over and over (not from you though) that the Yankees aren’t paying Soriano that much money to not be the setup man. In the end, the Yankees finally went with what’s winning rather than who has the bigger contract.

Prior to the DL stint, I had little faith in Soriano, as did many other Yankees fans. I knew he could be what he was in Tampa Bay and that’s essentially what he has become since getting healthy. So, what has been the biggest difference for Soriano since coming off the DL aside from actually getting people out now and pitching 1-2-3 and scoreless innings? Was it just a matter of him being hurt earlier in the season or trying to prove his big contract?

Murti: The bottom line with Soriano is that he’s just pitching better, and he’s had time to realize his role here doesn’t matter. He’s getting paid a lot of money to get batters out, no matter the inning.

I was of the opinion that Robertson didn’t deserve to lose the eighth-inning role, but I knew that he didn’t have an ego about it. I didn’t think it was worth making Soriano pout a little more when Robertson would quietly go about his business back in the seventh. To everyone’s credit, Girardi stuck with Robertson, and Soriano didn’t make a big deal out of it. He just pitched better.

Keefe: It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t finish off our discussion the way we always do, and that’s by talking about Boone Logan.

Logan has been riding a great stretch and has allowed one earned run in nine innings since July 14. He almost allowed one the other night in Kansas City if not for the amazing diving catch by Mark Teixeira, but Logan certainly earned some good credit for his three-pitch strikeout of Adrian Gonzalez in Boston in the first game of the most recent series at Fenway.

With Manny Banuelos now at Triple-A and the thought of the Yankees bringing him up to be another lefty out of the bullpen down the stretch and in the playoffs (and possibly a left-handed 2007 Joba with a less important role) what would this mean for Logan? I’m all for another lefty in the bullpen and some insurance for Boone Logan since you never know when he will turn into Boone Logan again.

Murti: I could see Banuelos getting a look, but I don’t think he’s a serious candidate to be an oft-used lefty specialist down the stretch. The Yankees will not be willing to put a 20-year-old top prospect through the usage patterns that the typical lefty specialist is handed.

Remember something about Joba 2007: The Yankees were much more desperate for relief help than they are now, and Joba was older and further along in the development curve than Manny is now. They are not about to make any major changes to the plan at this point.

Logan has looked much better than he did earlier in the year. Maybe fixing the tilt of his arm angle helped the break on the slider enough to make a difference against the big boppers he’ll be asked to shut down in the postseason. It worked once against Adrian Gonzalez. I suggest you keep replaying that in your head, Neil. Think positive thoughts and see how that works for you.

I see our time is up. See my receptionist on the way out to schedule your next appointment.

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe