Friday, October 23, 2009

Young Arms Misfiring

Oct. 23, 2009
By Anthony Tripicchio

Phil Hughes is showing his age, or lack thereof.

The 23-year-old right-hander, who excelled in the bullpen throughout the regular season, has been shaky thus far in the postseason.

Thursday night, Hughes had an opportunity to shut the door on the Angels and send the Yankees to the World Series for the first time since 2003.

Entering to protect a 6-5 lead with two out in the bottom of the seventh and the tying run on third, Hughes promptly walked Torii Hunter. Next, against the fabled Vladamir Guerrero, Hughes missed his location on what was intended to be a high fastball and surrendered an RBI single up the middle which knotted the game at six.

When the neophyte’s work was done, the Angels held a 7-6 advantage and a date for Game 6 within their grasp.

If Hughes navigated his way through the seventh with the lead intact, there’s no doubt New York would be headed for Game 1, not Game 6.

With only six outs necessary to eliminate the Angels, it would not have been outlandish to ask the great Mariano Rivera to pitch the final two innings. At the very least, Rivera would have been available at the first sign of trouble in the eighth.

Regardless, Hughes didn’t get it done and Joba Chamberlain wasn’t much better in the eighth.

After a leadoff double, Chamberlain struck out the hot hitting Jeff Mathis. Once Erik Aybar reached on an infield single, Joe Girardi had seen enough and called on Rivera in an unconventional situation to bail out Chamberlain and keep the game close.

Of course, Rivera exited the eighth unscathed and left the Yanks with a chance to rally. Rivera continues to spoil the Yankees with an unfathomable 14 years of dominance and shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.

Mere mortals don’t ascend to greatness as quickly and the Yankees are living that unfortunate circumstance at the worst time.

Without Hughes (0-1, 5.79 ERA, 2.36 WHIP) and Chamberlain (0-0, 3.38 ERA, 2.63 WHIP) providing more than a rickety bridge to Rivera, it’s hard to see the Yankees raising a 27th championship banner in the Bronx.

The bullpen was a tremendous strength in the regular season, but except for Rivera and David Robertson, it’s looked far from impenetrable lately.

Although Robertson has been effective, this is no time to deviate from what’s been a successful formula all year. Keep him in his current role.

Hughes, quite simply, needs to pitch better.

Chamberlain, though, may be unsalvageable in 2009. He’s unsure of himself after a lost season as a starter and his performance through the rest of the playoffs is about as unpredictable as LeBron James’ 2010 intentions.

Steady the wobbly bridge and there should be a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in the near future.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hinske Omission Looms Large

Oct. 20, 2009
By Anthony Tripicchio

While the majority sentiment has focused on over-managing and the alleged Mariano Rivera spitball, it’s an entirely different issue that may have cost the Yankees a nine-inning win last night.

With two on and one out in the top of the eighth and the score tied at four, Melky Cabrera and his slumbering bat feebly approached the plate. Predictably, Cabrera struck out.

The man who should have been hitting in his place, Eric Hinske, was mistakenly left off the Yankees’ ALCS Roster.

Although there are few players in the Yankees’ everyday lineup who you would contemplate pinch hitting for (really just one), Cabrera certainly qualifies as one of them. Through six playoff games, Cabrera is now hitting just .200 with 0 RBIs and nine strikeouts in 25 at bats.

Cabrera is absolutely the Yankees’ best option in center field and should remain in the starting lineup, but the absence of a big bat off the bench is glaring, late in tight games.

Hinske, who homered seven times in only 84 at bats since his arrival to New York, could have provided a power surge necessary to give the Yankees a 3-0 stranglehold on this series.

Assuming Hinske delivered, the Yankees’ bullpen was three outs away from handing a lead to Rivera who would have been on in the ninth inning (sooner if necessary) to seal the Angels’ fate.

Instead, Cabrera meekly struck out swinging and Derek Jeter subsequently ended the inning by grounding out to Kevin Jepsen. Then the late inning histrionics ensued.

The reality is that the Yankees’ obsession with speed has adversely affected the flexibility of the bench. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman opted to go with two burners in Brett Gardner and Freddy Guzman in addition to carrying three catchers on the roster, which led to Hinske’s ouster.

Jerry Hairston’s versatility has been overlooked. Though not the prolific base-stealer that Gardner or Guzman is, Hairston is fast enough to be an efficient pinch runner and his ability in that regard negates the need for Guzman on the roster.

Right now, the Yankees’ bench consists of Hairston, Gardner, Guzman, Jose Molina, and Francisco Cervelli. That’s a weak cast of hitters to say the least.

Hairston is the most accomplished of the bunch, but instills no fear in opposing managers as a potential pinch hitter.

If Cabrera continues to struggle offensively, the Yankees are compelled to grin and bear it due to their own miscalculation.

Meanwhile, Hinske’s Louisville Slugger remains idle in the bat rack.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Braylon Goes to the Big Apple

Oct. 7, 2009
By Anthony Tripicchio

Desperate for an offensive game breaker, the Jets finally landed one.

Braylon Edwards' arrival fills the void that was so readily apparent in the receiving corps. Now, the Jets have a legitimate threat opposite Jerricho Cotchery and someone who can divert attention from TE Dustin Keller.

Opposing safeties won’t be so quick to stack the box against Gang Green either anymore, which should do wonders for the beleaguered running game.

Mike Tannenbaum never shies away from making a big splash and should be commended for the acquisition of Edwards. The fact that he had the cap room to be able to execute a deal of this magnitude in-season without sacrificing any big pieces is testament to his shrewd ways.

LB Jason Trusnick, a valued special teams’ contributor, will be missed but as one of the principle parts required to secure a player of Edwards stature, no one can quibble with his inclusion.

Chansi Stuckey will never be anything more than a slot receiver and proved as much by routinely performing disappearing acts in games this season as a starter.

The draft picks, rumored to be a third and a fifth rounder, are wildcards.

Put it in perspective: the Jets once gave up a second round pick for Justin McCareins. Absolve Tannenbaum of all blame for that blunder as it was former GM Terry Bradway who orchestrated that masterpiece.

Make no mistake, Edwards does come with baggage. The Jets can only hope that he pays the extra fees to check it at the door. Edwards was chastised for speeding last year and recently was involved in an altercation with a member of LeBron James’ entourage at a Cleveland nightclub.

The latest mishap could have ramifications on the Jets if the league decides to impose a suspension upon Edwards. Evidently, Tannenbaum wasn’t overly concerned with that possibility.

In an effort to explain Edwards’ subpar season in 2008 and his nondescript 2009 thus far, look no further than the circumstances around him. Cleveland is one of the league’s laughingstocks and it is easy to recognize how a star could become disenchanted there.

Attribute many of his alarming number of drops last season to concentration lapses. Lapses that Tannenbaum bets will dissipate once Edwards is surrounded by a winning team for the second time in his life.

The only winning team Edwards has ever been a part of was, not coincidently, in his career year of 2007. Certainly, there is reason to believe he will flourish once more in his new digs.

Beyond providing rookie QB Mark Sanchez with another weapon, the deal opens the door for WR David Clowney to take hold of the third receiver spot. Beaten out for the No. 2 receiver spot by Stuckey, Clowney has yet to make a significant impact this year.

Both the pressure and the spotlight are off of the third-year player now as expectations have been adjusted. Clowney’s speed is an asset which has yet to be utilized outside of the preseason and for him to be known as something different than Mr. August, that will have to change.

All in all, the AFC East just got a lot more interesting.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Yanks Projected ALDS Roster

Yanks Projected ALDS Roster
Oct. 5, 2009

While the Yankees will likely procrastinate and avoid making a formal announcement until the last minute, everyone is aware they will opt for the division series format with more days off. This will allow them to use their top three starters and send everyone else to the pen against either the Twins or Tigers.

There really aren't a lot of tough decisions to make with this roster. We've heard whispers the Yankees are contemplating carrying three catchers or Freddy Guzman as another speedster off the bench. Personally, I'd prefer to take Ramiro Pena as another able body for the infield (a guy who can also run by the way). Either way, it's not easy to poke too many holes in this squad.

Pitching wise, the three starters are set. That leaves eight bullpen slots to play with by my count. Rivera, Hughes, Aceves, and Coke are givens. With Joba Chamberlain's impressive perfect inning out of the pen on Sunday afternoon coupled with the allure of him recapturing his previous dominance, he is a lock. If David Robertson is healthy, and all indications are that he is, he has a spot. Gaudin's effectiveness and ability to pitch in long relief earn him a seat. Marte is potentially useful as a second lefty so he's in. Brian Bruney, despite pitching better of late, is the odd man out.

Here's how I see it shaking out: