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New York Yankees Clinch Playoff Berth, Set Up Pitching For Postseason

For the 15th time in 16 years, the Yankees are going to the playoffs.

After CC Sabathia delivered 8.1 innings of one-run ball for his league-leading 21st victory Tuesday night, the Yankees immediately put their postseason plans into motion.

The old axiom says you win with pitching and defense, and the Yankees need to do some juggling to line up their most dependable starters for the first round.

Andy Pettitte, who was originally slated to start Wednesday in Toronto, will now take the hill Friday in Boston. As a result, Pettitte will be on five days rest for Game 2 of the ALDS, when he’ll presumably pitch on Thursday, Oct. 7. 

Girardi will have to be more creative to prepare undisputed ace Sabathia for Game 1 on Wednesday, Oct. 6, but has confirmed that the Cy Young candidate will indeed open the series. In fact, that’s all Girardi will reveal about his playoff rotation right now as he cites uncertainty surrounding the opponent and setting for the Yankees in the ALDS.

Despite Girardi’s reticence about officially announcing his intentions, the Yankees are compelled to employ just three starters in the first round. Sabathia is a workhorse and thrived in the playoffs last year on short rest,so the Yankees expect more of the same this time around.

The schedule calls for Sabathia to pitch on three days rest in Game 4, with Pettitte or Phil Hughes (whoever starts Game 2) on a normal turn for a decisive Game 5. 

Hughes has logged a career-high 175.1 innings, meeting his regular season innings limit. Though Hughes’ 4.96 post All-Star break ERA is distressing, he’s thrown back-to-back quality starts to complete his season with a commendable 17 wins.

The left-handed mainstay in the Yankees rotation, Andy Pettitte was on pace to record the best season of his illustrious career before being saddled with a groin pull. It sidelined him two months and since he was activated from the DL, he’s started twice with mixed results. It’d be safe to say he’s built enough equity with the Yankees’ brass to be entrusted with precious playoff starts.

Sabathia, Pettitte, and Hughes are the only worthy candidates while AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez continue to languish through a myriad of struggles. Expect Burnett, however, to be given the ball in the ALCS if the Yankees advance. 

Burnett still has three years left on his massive contract beyond this year, and the Yankees must instill confidence in the shaken right-hander if they plan to get any return on their investment going forward. However, no one can justify Burnett garnering a first round start based on his inconsistent performance and a schedule conducive to skipping him.

Meanwhile, Vazquez was an ill-conceived acquisition and he will most certainly be wearing another uniform next season as his torturous second tenure in pinstripes mercifully comes to its conclusion. Vazquez’s latest disastrous outing in Toronto should cement his exclusion from the playoff roster.

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MLB Draft: Reviewing Pinstripe Picks of Years Past

The NBA draft is always a much anticipated extravaganza, while the NFL’s selections are so heavily scrutinized that they’ve been thrust into prime time.

On the eve of the 2010 MLB draft, baseball has yet to experience similar success with its entry draft and there are plenty of reasons that explain why.

First, there’s a sense of immediacy to the NBA and NFL drafts, respectively. The high picks, in most cases (sans a few quarterbacks), will play right away.

In contrast, only two out of 32 players selected in the first round of last year’s MLB draft are currently on major league rosters. The impending call-up of Stephen Strasburg will make three.

In our culture of instant gratification, people simply don’t want to wait three or four years for players to develop.

Unless your name is Mike Leake, you have a far greater development curve in baseball than the other two major sports. Obscurity is the name of the game in the minors as many fans are unaware of the state of affairs with their major league team’s affiliates or they don’t find those events relevant.

Secondly, the vast sea of players selected in the MLB draft is enormous in comparison. The NBA draft is a terse two rounds and the NFL features a seven-round event. MLB holds a marathon 50-round happening.

Observers are devoid of the necessary attention spans to see it to a conclusion. Further compounding the issue is the fact that most of the players procured are unknowns.

High school baseball’s popularity pales in comparison to that of its basketball and football counterparts; just check the bleachers near you for verification. Exasperating matters, the dearth of interest in amateur baseball continues at the college level, where football and basketball rake in significantly more revenue.

Television exposure launches power conference players in football and basketball into the public consciousness, whereas the major prospects in baseball never enjoy the same publicity except on a smaller scale in the College World Series.

Since we won’t be able to gauge the quality of the Yankees’ 2010 draft for at least four years, we will instead evaluate years where we have enough evidence to comment on the results.

Due to the mammoth amount of players selected, the focus will be the top 10 rounds and we’ll specify if someone of note was uncovered later.


2006 Picks

Ian Kennedy (21st  overall), RHP, USC

Joba Chamberlain (44th), RHP, Nebraska

Zach McAllister (104th), RHP, Valley Central HS, Illinois

Colin Curtis (134th), OF, Arizona State

George Kontos (164th), RHP, Northwestern

Mitchell Hilligoss (194th), SS, Purdue

Tim Norton (224th), RHP, UConn

Dellin Betances (254th), RHP, Grand Street Campus HS, NY

Mark Melancon (284th), RHP, Arizona

Casey Erickson(314th), RHP, Springfield College

Daniel McCutchen (404th), RHP, Oklahoma

David Robertson (524th), RHP, Alabama

Kevin Russo (614th), 2B, Baylor

Charles Smith (1416th), C, Second Baptist School, Texas

Analysis : As comical as people may find this assertion, the Yankees typically are at a disadvantage as far as positioning is concerned in the drafts. Because they are perennial World Series contenders, they often select late in rounds which makes it more difficult to find players. They use their deep pockets, however, to offset this problem when players drop to them due to signability issues.

2006 is a year the Yankees scored with their early picks. Besides Brett Anderson, who went 55th overall to the Diamondbacks, there are very few arguments to make. GM Brian Cashman may regret dealing Kennedy in the long run, but that’s another story.

Chamberlain, although inconsistent at times, has shown flashes of brilliance and the Yankees are grooming him to be the heir to the throne when the immortal Mariano Rivera retires.

McAllister appears ticketed for a major league rotation as soon as next year. So far in Triple-A, McAllister is 5-2 with a 3.90 ERA.

New York could have an opening with Javier Vazquez’s contract expiring after this season.

Robertson and Russo are contributing in The Show with the Yankees right now and were good late finds.

Melancon, although struggling to stick with the big club, has passed challenges on every level in the minors.

Charles Smith is only listed because any team from New York should know to avoid a guy named Charles Smith. Go up strong!

This was a weak draft pool overall so the Yankees did well.

Draft Grade: A


2005 Picks

Carl Henry (17th overall), SS, Putnam City HS, Oklahoma

James Cox (63rd), RHP, Texas-Austin

Brett Gardner (109th), CF, Col. Of Charleston (SC)

Lance Pendleton (139th), RHP, Rice

Zachary Kroenke (169th), LHP, Nebraska

Douglas Fister (199th), RHP, Fresno St.

Garrett Patterson (220th), LHP, Oklahoma

Austin Jackson (259th), CF, Billy Ryan HS, Texas

James Cooper (289th), LF, Loyola Marymount

Kyle Anson (319th), 3B, Texas St.

Analysis : In a year of one of the most talent rich first rounds in the history of the MLB draft, the Yankees missed badly with Carl Henry. Colby Rasmus, Matt Garza, and Jacoby Ellsbury highlight a list of current stars that were on the board when New York opted for Henry.

The second round wasn’t much better when the Yankees selected James Cox over Chase Headley, Kevin Slowey, Yunel Escobar, and a potential future ace in Jeremy Hellickson.

Finally, New York got a player in Brett Gardner in the third round and he was obviously an excellent pick.

They also nabbed Doug Fister, who is having a breakout year with Seattle, in the sixth but were unable to sign him.

Austin Jackson was tabbed in the eighth and was a centerpiece in the Curtis Granderson trade.

 The first two rounds were awful, but the Yankees rebounded to choose three current major leaguers with their next six picks. Although that fact salvages some face, the Yankees turned up zilch in the later rounds.

This draft had far too much talent to justify the Yankees producing so little.

Draft Grade: C-

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Top 10 Breakout Pitchers of 2010

Unveiling a list like this is entertaining, but it can also be controversial. As a result, let’s be clear about who qualifies and what the criteria is.

Casual fans might have some trouble recognizing names on this list. Pitchers you’ll encounter throughout this group may have been standout prospects, but had not yet enjoyed consistent success on the major league level prior to this year. If they are established, then they have catapulted themselves to a higher rung on the ladder.

Without further ado, lift the curtain.

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New York Yankees DH Nick Johnson To Have Surgery: Ill-Concieved Move Leaves Void

Players often fail to live up to their reputations when thrust into the bright New York spotlight.


In this case, the Yankees got exactly what they paid for when they signed designated hitter Nick Johnson.


Ken Rosenthal, FOX Sports senior baseball writer, is reporting that the fragile Johnson will undergo right wrist surgery on Tuesday and won’t return to action until July.


The news should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Johnson throughout his injury-riddled career.


Only once in Johnson’s 10-year career has he ever accumulated 500 at-bats in a single season. He’s played in 100 games just three times and hasn’t done so since 2006.


As I documented in the offseason , the acquisition of Johnson was a poor decision that was destined to go awry. Castoffs Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui signed for slightly more than Johnson and both obtained one-year pacts.


It’s mystifying why Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman was so eager to ink Johnson while slamming the door on two more proven, dependable performers. Cashman clearly wanted to avoid the histrionics of Scott Boras, Damon’s super-agent, but re-signing Matsui would have been far from a massive undertaking.


Although Johnson is about four years younger than Matsui, his health history should have been enough to nullify the age difference. Matsui was an iron man in Japan and carried that distinction through his first three seasons with the Yankees by playing every game.


Matsui, despite being slowed by knee problems in recent years, played 142 games last season and aided the Yankees to the championship while securing the World Series MVP award.


With Matsui and Damon elsewhere and Johnson occupying his familiar spot on the disabled list, the Yankees find themselves employing a revolving door at DH.


Marcus Thames is hitting a robust .414 against lefties, but is reduced to an ordinary .263 against right-handers. He’s ideally suited for a platoon role.


Francisco Cervelli continues to impress each time he’s inserted into the lineup to catch, but there are several drawbacks that prevent the Yankees from utilizing him as an everyday player.


Even though Cervelli is a defensive upgrade from regular Jorge Posada, Posada loves to catch and is reluctant to relinquish his full-time duties behind the dish. Since Posada is a member of the prestigious Core Four and an obvious leader in the clubhouse, it would be wise to keep the prideful veteran content.


Further, if Cervelli becomes the starting catcher and Posada is the DH, then the Yankees will need to carry a third catcher. In the event Cervelli was hurt during a game and the Yankees had to move Posada from DH to catcher, they would lose the DH for the remainder of the game and the pitcher’s spot would be inserted into the lineup with the roster as it’s presently constituted.


Of course, the ideal scenario to fill the DH void would have been promoting blue-chip prospect Jesus Montero from Triple-A, but he is not hitting at the astounding clip he did last year. The 20-year-old phenom needs more time to hone his craft in the minors.


As it stands right now, the Yankees will play Thames against lefties and Cervelli will catch more often than a typical backup would with Posada garnering appearances at DH to keep him fresh. Juan Miranda, if he hits, will have opportunities as well.


Joe Girardi may also opt to use the DH as a rotating resting place for regular position players such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira. Some will need the half-days off more than others.


Johnson, meanwhile, is cemented as an ill-advised addition.

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No Returns: Yankees Stuck with Javier Vazquez, Nick Johnson

If Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman purchased Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez at a department store, he would be frantically searching for his receipt right now. Sorry, no returns.


As the calendar turned to May, Vazquez continued to display the same ineptitude he showed in April as the right-hander was destroyed by a weak-hitting White Sox team Saturday afternoon. Vazquez allowed 11 base runners in three plus innings and five earned runs, including three home runs. His ERA on the season now stands higher than the Empire State Building at 9.78.


Clearly, Vazquez’s second tour of duty in New York is beginning to look like another wretched ordeal. He’s not locating his fastball, he’s hanging off-speed pitches, and his head is a mess.


There are five months left in the season, but the litany of failures Vazquez has previously suffered in the AL along with his visibly fragile temperament all suggest that this experiment is the same lost cause it was the first time around.


I’ll reiterate that my stance on Vazquez is not merely based on his disgraceful tenure in pinstripes. I cited a myriad of factors here over two months ago including his AL nightmares and his incompatibility with the dimensions of Yankee Stadium.

While many supported the move to reacquire him at the time, that bandwagon is looking awfully light now as exemplified by the boos that cascaded down on him upon his premature exit on Saturday in the new cathedral.


According to Michael Kay, Vazquez did a disappearing act for the media prior to Saturday’s game and that is as inexcusable as his performance thus far. If your play is terrible, you need to at least be accountable and if that is too much to ask in May then I don’t see how you can make it through September.  If your skin is thinner than Kate Moss, New York is an impossible place to play.


Vazquez’s next turn in the rotation is slated for Friday in Fenway Park and there has already been discussion over whether he will make that start since the Yankees can skip him due to their off day on Thursday. Although the Red Sox lineup is not as menacing as it once was, putting Vazquez in that chaotic environment would be like throwing him to the wolves.


On the last year of his contract, Vazquez will see his future play out elsewhere. The only question is how soon that will occur. Since Vazquez has a history of success in the NL, he may actually be movable despite his miserable start to 2010 if the Yankees are willing to eat a portion of his $11.5 million salary.


Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Vicente Padilla all resurrected their careers to some extent last year after their respective defections to the NL (Penny continues to thrive in St. Louis this year and Padilla was the Dodgers’ opening day starter before landing on the disabled list).

Granted, the three above were unceremoniously released by their AL clubs, but Vazquez should be better than all of them at this stage of his career and proved as much last season in Atlanta.


Look for NL contenders to inquire about Vazquez prior to the trade deadline. Ironically, if the Mets are still in the mix in July, Vazquez would be a good fit for them in their gargantuan ballpark.


Johnson, meanwhile, was 0-1 in a pinch hitting appearance which dropped his average to an embarrassing .136. Johnson is buoyed by his .378 OBP, but that and his expiring contract are the only redeeming qualities about him at this point.


His predecessors, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, continue to excel in their new locales. Damon, who is on fire, hit a walk-off homer Saturday in Detroit and raised his average to .344, accompanied by a .439 OBP and slugging percentage of .511.

Incidentally, he’s also been lauded for contributing to the rapid development of former Yankee farmhand and the early AL Rookie of the Year favorite, Austin Jackson.


Curtis Granderson, the big name Detroit traded for Jackson among others , strained his groin running the bases Saturday and was immediately placed on the disabled list. Struggling while Jackson, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Coke contribute in Detroit and Arizona, Granderson has yet to find himself as a Yankee.


Lefties still give Granderson fits as he bats .172 against them in 2010 and just .215 with a .303 OBP overall.


In spite of his slow start, he’s a Yankee for the long haul and will be given every opportunity to succeed once he is healthy because, unlike Vazquez and Johnson, the Yankees have simply sacrificed too much for Granderson to allow him to flop.

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Robinson Cano Soars To Stardom for the New York Yankees

Robinson Cano finally gets it, and now he is assaulting opposing pitchers.


The immensely talented second baseman has been beset by immaturity and lackadaisical play at times in the past, but if his torrid start is any indication, those days are over.


Hitting a scalding .407 with eight homers and 17 RBI, Cano leads the AL batting race by a mile, ranks second in the league in home runs, and is tied for fifth in RBI. Although he receives acclaim for his potent bat, often overlooked is his defensive acumen.


Thursday night in Baltimore, Cano made a spectacular play to rob Nolan Reimold in the third inning of a clear base hit up the middle by ranging far to his right to secure the sharp grounder and with his momentum carrying him further away from first base, threw out the struggling outfielder on a fly. The arm strength he displayed on that play, and continues to exhibit on a routine basis, is unrivaled at his position.


You would be hard pressed to find another second baseman in baseball capable of making the same play, especially without at least bouncing the throw. Sadly, the play will be overshadowed by Cano’s exceptional night with the bat (3-4 with two homers, a double, and three runs), but it was the highlight of the night.


As a vocal critic of Cano in the past , I assure you that this is not a puff piece. Cano has had limitations in years gone by, which I have been quick to indicate, that have hindered him from reaching his potential.


He’s always been a free-swinger and that’s never going to be completely reigned in. However, Cano is becoming more disciplined at the plate as is evidenced by the fact that he’s on pace to break his career-high walk total. He’s drawn six free passes in 81 at bats which puts him on pace to draw close to 50 walks over the full season. His previous career-high is 39 in 2007.


With regard to his maturity level, Cano was frequently seen clowning around with his inseparable pal Melky Cabrera in recent years. Since Cabrera was shipped out of town, Cano is more about business. Meanwhile, Cabrera isn’t exactly raking in Atlanta as the Braves have discovered the hard way that he is merely a fourth outfielder.


New responsibility delegated to Cano also has expedited his growth. He is now the unquestioned fifth hitter in the batting order.


The Yankees have attempted to slot Cano into the fifth spot in the lineup before, though he’s never been able to justify sticking there because of his poor situational hitting. Jorge Posada is certainly worthy of protecting Alex Rodriguez but even with Posada’s excellent start, Cano is entrenched in the five hole.


In 2009, Cano hit a feeble .207 with runners in scoring position. Thus far, albeit in a small sample size of 20 at bats, Cano is showing marked improvement batting an even .300. 


Cano cites the work he does with hitting coach Kevin Long in the cages about as much as he says hello. His performance corroborates the time he has committed and it may be a stretch to say he has been as diligent and dedicated previously.


Larry Bowa, Yankees’ third base coach for two seasons under Joe Torre, was vital to Cano’s development because he constantly demanded nothing short of the Dominican’s best. Bowa’s boisterous and fiery personality kept Cano in line so it is no coincidence that the second baseman had by far his worst year in the majors in 2008 (.274, 14 homers, 72 RBI, .305 OBP) the year his mentor defected to Los Angeles with Torre.


Bowa’s absence left a void in Cano’s professional life. Cano lacked guidance, wasn’t necessarily interested in becoming a dominant player, and didn’t put in the effort required to excel.


At 27, Cano is growing up and his newfound work ethic is a testament to that.


Rededicated and entering his prime, there’s reason to believe Cano has arrived as not only an elite player at his position, but as a bonafide MLB star.

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