Sunday, May 3, 2009

The New Yankee Stadium Inspires Awe, But It Still Hosts the Same Game

Instead of taking a left at the bottom of the southbound 4 Train’s 161st Street Station stairwell, I headed to the right. The impenetrable mass of fans clad in Yankees’ paraphernalia was just as dense as it would have been last year, but it was located a block farther north.

The aura outside the recently inaugurated Yankee Stadium was that of power and intimidation. Whereas the old Yankee Stadium was a plain, ordinary building that kept its illustrious history within its walls, the new Yankee Stadium flaunted its organization’s success to pedestrians on the street. Reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum, the structure’s fa├žade was capable of daunting entering fans.

Once inside, the awe continued to develop inevitably—how could one not be inspired by the dangling banners of Yankee legends in the Great Hall? The inside of the ballpark was very similar to that of the recently opened stadiums in Philadelphia and Washington—the entrance hallway was seven stories tall and the field was visible from the rest of the hallways so that fans could watch the game during concession breaks—but, unlike the Phillies and the Nationals, the Yankees have a famous, successful history to transfer to their new home field.

The structure and the inside of the old stadium were nothing special. It was the actual field that inspired awe—fans would be left speechless when they would realize that the outfield in front of their eyes was the same outfield that Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Joe Dimaggio all once roamed. The Yankee organization embellished the entire stadium with banners, photos, and signs to commemorate the legends and history that were made at the old park.

Now, there is nothing legendary about the new field. Jorge Posada’s walk-off single to cap off a two-inning, six-run comeback against the Angels is currently the most exciting event that has occurred on the recently planted grass.

Although the new Yankee Stadium has no history—yet—watching the Yankees play there is just like it always has been. Sure, the majority of field-level seats were vacant, the upper deck was noticeably shorter and farther away from the action, and seats went all the way around the perimeter of the field. However, once Derek Jeter led the team out for the top of the first inning and the first pitch was thrown, I realized that it was just another Yankee game.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

CC Sabathia, Nick Swisher Lead Yanks Past Royals

By the time the Kansas City Royals got on the scoreboard it was too late to make a comeback. CC Sabathia had given the Yankees seven-and-two-thirds innings of shutout baseball and Jose Veras held the shutout until Tony Pena Jr. grounded in the Royals' first and only run of the night.

Once again, the Yankees jumped on the Royals' pitching. Johnny Damon singled, Nick Swisher walked, and Jorge Posada doubled in two first-inning runs for the second straight game. In the third, the Yanks' catcher doubled in another run after Swisher tripled in captain Derek Jeter.

The Yanks did the rest of their scoring in the fifth inning when Swisher crushed a two-run jack over the left field wall.

Starting the season on the bench, Swisher has taken advantage of nearly every at-bat that Joe Girardi has bestowed upon him. In thirteen at-bats, the former Buckeye has seven hits, including two long balls and four other extra-base hits.

While the Yankee offense was putting runs on the board, Sabathia was depositing zeroes across the Royals' scoring line. There were times when Sabathia lost his control and got into trouble, but double-plays, strikeouts, or smart pitching were always there to extricate him.

The newly-acquired ace gave up six hits, hit two batters, and struck out six. Although there were a couple of innings when Sabathia struggled with his control, he finished with a quality strike-to-ball ratio of 73-to-35.

Tonight's performance probably silenced the critics on this site and throughout America that said that Sabathia was a bust and that the Yankees should be worried because of his atrocious outing on Opening Day.

Notes:

The lineup has been the Yankees' consistent stalwart, producing 31 runs through the first five games of the season. Posada, Swisher, and Robinson Cano have led the offensive charge, and everyone other than Hideki Matsui and Cody Ransom has contributed.

Matsui is slumping but, as Michael Kay said tonight, he is the kind of hitter who can really carry the team. Girardi is confident that Matsui will snap out of his cold streak.

Ransom, on the other hand, is a liability at the plate. You can't expect his average of .056 to jump anytime soon. Alex Rodriguez's return could not come any sooner for the Yankees and their fans.

Jeter started five-for-eight but has recorded only one hit in his last fourteen at-bats. It's Jeter. We all know he can hit, so there is no reason to be concerned right now.

I'm liking what I'm seeing from Brett Gardner. He may be struggling at the plate, but his speed distracts opposing pitchers to the extent where they lose their ability to throw strikes. Gardner's speed is something the Yankees have not had in ages, and we have seen early what speed on the bases can do for an offense.

The next step: enhancing Gardner's ability to reach base.

Mark Teixeira was a last-minute scratch. He hurt his left wrist and could not swing a bat from the right side of the plate. Tonight's opposing starter, Horacio Ramirez, was a lefty, so Tex would have hit from the right side. He is not sure how he agitated his wrist or how serious of a problem it is.

Joba Chamberlain will be taking the mound tomorrow against Kansas City ace Gil Meche as the Yankees look to sweep the Royals.

How to Better the NY Yankees' Pitching: Joba in 'Pen, Hughes in Rotation

Joba Chamberlain hasn't even made his first start of the season, but the Yankees are making a big mistake by keeping him in the rotation and out of the bullpen.

The Yankees' pitching rotation is stacked with three guys who could be top starters on many other teams and Andy Pettitte, who can get the job done. Joba is in the fifth slot, but the management's logic does not make sense.

The front office wants Joba to be a starter. He pitched very well in 12 starts last season and threw stuff that shouted, "potential number one starter!" But in a year when pitching was weak, Joba's dominant starts made everyone in New York forget about his incredible career in the bullpen.

In his 30 relief appearances last season, Joba allowed only nine earned runs. Only one earned run was charged to Joba in 2007. The 230-pound flamethrower is so dangerous coming out of the bullpen.

If Joba is sent back to the bullpen, the Yankees can play a six-inning game. They can let their starter go six, Phil Coke/Jose Veras/Brian Bruney go one, and then have the deadly combo of Joba and Mariano Rivera to pitch the eighth and ninth.

The Yankees' offense just needs to get a lead at any point in the game, and once the game hits the seventh inning, the dominant bullpen will be able to shutdown the opponent.

This system might make you think that Joba and Rivera would get overused and tired out, but you have to remember that, with the Yankees' consistent lineup, there will be plenty of games when Joba and Rivera won't be needed. Games like Thursday's 11-2 win against Baltimore will be when the rest of the bullpen gets their work in.

To replace Joba in the rotation, the Yankees have Phil Hughes, who was supposed to be their future ace before his appearance at the big level didn't go so well. It's time to give Hughes another chance. The kid can throw hard, his breaking ball is nasty, and it would be a waste of time and potential development to keep him in the minor leagues.

If Hughes has some bad starts, the Yankees' offense has the talent to pick him up. With the improved bullpen that the Yankees would have, Hughes could even go five strong innings before being replaced.

Think about it. Even a five-inning, three-run outing with the offense and bullpen should produce a win for the club.

Now, think about this. If Joba were to surrender three runs in five innings before being pulled, you'd be a little more hesitant to assert that the Yankees would win the game.

Why? Because Joba would not be in the bullpen.

Yanks Crush Orioles to Avoid Opening Series Sweep

After dropping the first two games of the season because of poor pitching performances, the Yankees got a solid outing from A.J. Burnett and a 'W' as the result.

It was the Orioles who struck first, as Brian Roberts singled in Felix Pie in the third inning. But, the Yankees responded with a three-run fourth, which featured a solo shot by Mark Teixeira and a two-run jack by Nick Swisher.

Burnett gave up another run in the bottom of the fourth, but it was all Bombers after that. The Yanks scored four in the sixth, two in the seventh, and two in the ninth, before Mariano Rivera made his first appearance of 2009 in a non-save situation. Rivera, who is coming off shoulder surgery, was spot on, retiring all three Orioles that he faced.

In the win, Burnett struggled with his control, throwing only 59 of his 98 pitches for strikes. If he was able to locate the plate more consistently, he would have lasted more than the five-and-a-third innings that he pitched. Burnett allowed seven hits and walked one batter, but he fanned six.

The bullpen pitched three-and-two-thirds perfect innings, striking out six Orioles.

In the field, the Yankees were perfect, committing zero errors. The defensive play of the game came in the bottom of the ninth when Ty Wigginton hit a frozen rope towards the hole between Teixeira and Robinson Cano. Moving to his right, Teixeira left the ground and extended his arm to make a beautiful catch, saving the bullpen's perfect performance.

The Yankees had a great day at the plate. Every starter except Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon reached base, and six-of-nine starters recorded base hits. Teixeira broke out of his early two-game slump with two hits in five at-bats, including his fourth-inning home run.

Robinson Cano had a big day and looks completely different from the Robinson Cano that we saw during the bulk of last season. He is more patient at the plate—he even drew a walk—and it is paying off. The second baseman got three hits and scored four runs.

Ramiro Pena, who is supposedly the best fielder in the Yankees' farm system, hit a hard one-hopper past the diving Caesar Izturis to record his first Major League hit.

While almost everyone contributed on the offensive end, the man of the day was Nick Swisher. After pinch-hitting in the first two games, Swisher went three-for-five at the plate and drove in five runs.

With the win, the Yankees can travel to Kansas City on a good note.

Andy Pettitte will take the mound tomorrow in the series opener.

Yanks' First Loss Is Disappointing, but There's Plenty of Baseball Left

If you would ask me to describe the Yankees' Opening Day loss in one word, I would say "disappointing."

CC Sabathia, the pitcher that cost the Yankees' front office $161 million, only retired 13 Orioles while allowing the same number to reach base safely. The former Brewer ace was pulled from the game during the fourth inning before he could even strike out a batter—the first time Sabathia failed to fan at least one opponent in a game since 2005.

Mark Teixeira, who was supposed to strengthen the A-Rod-less Yankee lineup, didn't get any good wood on his way to a hitless day.

The bullpen, which was strong last year and was expected to be reliable this season, surrendered four runs in just under four innings—every Yankee reliever allowed at least one hit.

Notice that I said I would describe the loss as "disappointing." I didn't say that I am concerned, not yet, at least—I only said I am disappointed.

It's always discouraging when a team that was hyped to be close to invincible shows it's just an ordinary team on Opening Day.

So, what? Is it really such a big deal that Sabathia did not live up to the standards that the media set for him? Does it really matter that Tex went 0-for-4? Do you think that Phil Coke is going to let his one mistake lead to a terrible season?

The answer to the previous three questions: Absolutely not.

That's the beauty of baseball. Barring injuries, Sabathia still has 30-plus starts, Tex has hundreds of upcoming at-bats, and the bullpen as a whole will have many more opportunities.

One game doesn't matter. If the problems persist, then the critics, who are claiming that the free agent signings were a waste and that the bullpen is not a stalwart, should be heard.

For now, let baseball's most expensive team play on.

Tomorrow is the second game of the season, and it will feature Chien-Ming Wang against the 34-year-old rookie from Japan, Koji Uehara.

Wang hates pitching versus Baltimore. The Orioles know his stuff very well, and they have been very successful against the 29-year-old Wang, hitting .319 against him. Despite allowing a high opponent's batting average and having an ERA of 5.13 against Baltimore, Wang has been picked up by the Yankees' offense during his tough starts—the Yanks' former ace posts a career 3-1 record against the O's.

Uehara is expected to be a tough opponent. Fortunately, for the Yankees, he is a righty.

Baltimore showed yesterday that its lineup is potent and shouldn't be overlooked by opposing teams. In order to win tomorrow, the Yankees will need to provide Wang with run support.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Yanks' Sabathia Leaves Down 6-1

CC Sabathia left Monday's season opener in the fifth inning after walking in his sixth earned run of the game.

Expected to strengthen the Yankees' pitching rotation, Sabathia got off to an inauspicious start. Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts singled to lead off the first. He then advanced to second on a wild pitch, and Adam Jones walked. Sabathia threw another wild pitch but got out of the inning with a little help from Cody Ransom and Derek Jeter. 

Sabathia was inconsistent and his lack of control led to his early exit--his ball-to-strike ratio was near one-to-one. In the end, Sabathia allowed 13 baserunners on eight hits and five walks without fanning an Oriole. 

Upon his departure, the Yankees trailed 6-1. 

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Yanks Head to Baltimore For Opening Day

It's still in the 50's in New York City and spring has been pretty cruel so far, teasing us with some gorgeous days, but Opening Day is quickly approaching. 

Monday's forecast in Baltimore would make baseball players across the country want to stay inside the clubhouse instead of taking the field. The Weather Channel is predicting a 60 degree day, which sounds nice, but it will be the 90 percent chance of precipitation and thunderstorms that could potentially postpone Opening Day.

Assuming that the game is played, because it will be televised on ESPN, the starting pitchers will be CC Sabathia and Baltimore's top pitcher, Jeremy Guthrie.

The Yanks are excited to see Sabathia take the mound in a Yankee uniform for the first time, but don't be surprised if Joe Girardi does not let the former Brewer pitch deep into the game if the weather is bad. The Yankees are expecting big things from Sabathia, so they won't risk anything under poor weather conditions.

You can also expect Dave Trembley to be careful with Guthrie, who led the Orioles in wins (10) and ERA (3.63) last season. Guthrie has some nasty stuff and could be a tough match for the Yankees' lineup. In three games against the Yankees last season, Guthrie went 1-2. He surrendered one run over six innings in the win and pitched well in one of the losses, but the Yankees clobbered him the third outing.

The way that the Orioles can win is if their strong batting order can get something going against Sabathia. Baltimore's lineup is not as potent as the Yankees', but, led by Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Adam Jones, and Aubrey Huff, the Orioles are definitely dangerous.

Even without Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees' lineup is one of the best in baseball. Other than Cody Ransom and Brett Gardner, who has hit .375 this spring and has won the starting job in center, the entire Yankees' lineup is stocked with potential .300 hitters and could give any pitcher a nightmare.

The Yankees are a pretty safe bet to start the season 1-0 behind Sabathia and one of the best lineups in baseball.