Monday, July 27, 2015

ARod's 40th Birthday Gift To Baseball Fans Was A Week Of Historic At-Bats And Stats

By Barry Millman

Almost as soon as Alex Rodriguez got busy directing three baseballs out of Target Field like an artillery spotter directing mortar fire, the associated statistics began landing across my computer screen and bombarding my inbox and cell phone with alerts like shrapnel; a flurry of digital calculations befitting of such a feat by anyone, but especially by a future Hall Of Famer who makes history of one sort or another virtually every time his bat connects for a hit.

The first ball traveled over 450 feet, giving him five on the season of such distance -- third most in MLB. The second one gave him his 62nd multi-home run game, tying him with Hank Aaron for 6th all-time in the Live Ball era. The third one gave him his fifth career three-homer game and third as a Yankee, tying him him with Joe DiMaggio for second on the Yankees all-time list and Sammy Sosa and Johnny Mize on MLB's all-time list. 

Alex is rewriting the history books so fast, he's making it almost impossible for serious fans and chroniclers of the game like me to keep up. As luck would have it,  when he hit his trio of dingers against the Twins, I was just putting the finishing touches on a story I'd been working on after he'd hit his 20th home run only a few days earlier. It was based on the following fascinating  tweet by James Smyth, a sports researcher and former minor league play-by-play guy who is a must-follow for stat heads and a genuinely nice guy with a fun blog to read, watch, listen to and explore. Check it out and you'll see what I mean.

Of course, the Twins game blew my story all to heck and back again, and now that Alex is 40  --  Happy birthday Alex! -- and his home run total is up to 23, the story has changed again as he has banged his way to even greater heights and more elite company. Thanks to data James generously shared, though, I can tell you it looks like Alex is now one of only nine players age 40 or older to hit 23 or more home runs in a season, and only Barry Bonds has done it twice. 

With two months still left in the season, you can bet Alex will wreck that stat too -- and somebody else's story along with it, no doubt. 

James was also on the job the night of Alex's historic Twins game with still more tasty morsels for us Yankee tweeps and Alex aficionados to savor that put his amazing power surge into historical perspective:

On Alex's 40th birthday, we're blessed as fans to be witnessing a season of historic proportions by our monster DH,  and we're fortunate that hard-working fans and students of the game like James Smyth add a rich dimension to the experience that makes it more enjoyable for all of us. Thanks again James. 

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The ARod Hall Of Fame Debate Is Over

Alex arrives for spring training.
By Barry Millman

I'm going to start this story by saying this article isn't entirely about Alex Rodriguez. Or me. It's about common sense versus conventional wisdom. And since I've had a crash course tangling with both this season, I thought I'd share a crazy thought  I had watching Alex Rodriguez -- who turns 40 in a few hours -- round the bases three times for his 21st, 22nd and 23rd home runs in a season that  began with almost unanimous skepticism and derision aimed at him from the media, fans and even his own team's front office. 

I've been on a bit of a roll myself this year when it comes to foreseeing and writing about certain issues regarding Alex and the Yankees.  And  like Alex, when I first broached them I was regarded mostly with either amusement or dismissive scorn by a great many fellow fans and baseball-writing colleagues.

Among my crazier early-bird notions: 

that Alex Rodriguez would have the monster season he's having

that the team had the personnel and a path to win their division;

that C.C. Sabathia wasn't likely to improve or help the team by remaining in the rotation

and that Adam Warren's promising new career as a starter would be Joba-Ruled into limbo. 

Each one was by and large discarded like blasphemous nonsense when I wrote them, Yet each one now is part of the general Yankees conversation. 

Carl Jung once said the pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not right and wrong; so I suspect my run of making sense is due for a swing back in the other direction any time now. But while I'm still in the zone, I'm going to take aim for the outfield fence like Alex and swing hard one more time with another prediction sure to annoy the heck out of someone.

I've already written stories documenting how unprecedented Alex's season is -- how unprecedented his whole career has been really -- and how every single swing of his bat now is history-making and how, Love him  or hate him, none of us are likely to ever see a player of his stature play the game again. To watch him chase, match and surpass an ever-dwindling circle of all-time great players who have achieved what he's achieved is an experience every baseball fan should cherish. And this year he's doing it clean under what has got to be  the most rigorous urine-testing regimen and media scrutiny in the game's history; successfully navigating potential PR dungeons and dragons like the milestone bonus and 3K ball flaps with such aplomp and displaying such joie de vivre  that he's actually gone from pariah to sympathetic figure to -- dare I say it -- respected future Hall of Famer in the eyes of many.

Yeah, I said it. I think he's going to go in eventually. But that's not the annoying prediction I promised up top. Everyone who knows me knows my stand on Alex and on PEDs in general. Yes, PEDs are by and large bad for you and rightly restricted and yes, he did them. got caught and was punished -- more harshly than anyone inin the game's  history.

But also, yes, PEDs have always been part of the game from its earliest days and, yes, the commissioner who prosecuted his case with such zeal was formerly responsible for encouraging their use with an equal zeal to the point that he created a special  award for players he knew used them for revitalizing attendance and interest in the game in the wake of the baseball strike. And yes, there are pill-popping speeders, testosterone-tasters, intentional-spikers, admitted spitballers, white supremacist goons who barred certain players from the field (a list that includes players, owners and a commissioner) and cheaters of almost every other ilk already in the Hall.

And yes, times change -- and watching Alex round the bases tonight again and again and again,  I smugly thought about about how often I've outsmarted the conventional wisdom this year and why that was; and how often conventional wisdom got it wrong over the course of the game's history. And as Alex crossed the plate each time, the answer struck me between the eyes like one of his dingers flush off his bat.

Conventional wisdom must be one heck of a stupid sun of a beach, I surmised.  The only quality necessary to outsmart conventional wisdom, in my humble opinion, is to simply set it aside and ignore it for a couple of minutes while considering any particular issue, In my case, struggling to write something graceful and intelligent about baseball after a long day of work followed by another three to four  hours watching ballgames in a sleep-deprived state all year; forgetting popular explanations and notions is the easy part for me. The only times I've ever looked smart, I realized, is is when I'm either too tired or too lazy to recall which way the winds of conventional wisdom blow on any particular issue. 

I'm exhausted out of my mind right now, so I'm guessing what I'm about to write next is going to sound just as ridiculous as anything I've written before that sounded ridiculous at first until it didn't. 

I think Alex's 2015 season will change more than the perception of just his own career. I think it will accelerate a re-examination of an entire era in baseball. And here's why:

Conventional wisdom always needs an alibi to cover itself when it's wrong or to explain the unexplainable, and needing one, its search will lead it first to its own conventional sources for answers. Fortunately, when it does it will find stories written by Joe Posnanski, David Schoenfield, Eric Walker and other respected analysts who have in recent years bravely posited that there may be many, many far more logical reasons for the upsurge in new home run records during the so-called Steroid Era than simply a sudden mass Jonestown-like Kool-Aid binge of roid ingestion across MLB's locker rooms -- and that the fuzzy science and numbers that were used to construct the myth of a steroid superslugger were later swung like a scythe to cut down the reputations of a generation of great hitters needlessly. 

And at the end of that re-examination, I believe Alex, Barry, Roger and some others who were obviously elite all-time great players and considered dead as far as Cooperstown was concerned will be inducted. 

That's it. That's my annoying prediction. It will probably take a few years to reach a critical mass where it becomes a part of the general baseball conversation and conventional wisdom , but I think Alex will be the tipping point of a conversation that is already being raised by serious analysts and writers far smarter and well-rested than me.

Compared to the rogue's gallery of cheaters and scoundrels already in the Hall of Fame, Alex is a choir boy. The sole extant argument against his induction  has been that nobody could say with any certainty if his stats were a product of PEDs or not. 

If his career were to suddenly come to a tragic halt today, this season has already handily shredded that final flimsy argument into confetti. Alex Rodriguez, like all great hitters, has proven he is a force of nature. A natural. It's now a matter of common sense, not opinion. 

To anyone still clinging to the conventional wisdom it isn't, it's time to take off your funny hat, pack your bag and call a cab for a ride to the airport. The convention's over.

Members of the writers' club that decides who gets into the Hall -- a club that has nudged, winked, overlooked and been on the wrong side of history so many times before -- will only imperil their own reputation in history's eyes by submitting a ballot excluding him, and their gesture will ultimately be in vain. 

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.

Friday, July 24, 2015

"Drew: Pride Of The Yankees' Front Office" A Timely One-Year Anniversary Story

By Barry Millman

With the August 1st trading deadline just days away and much of the baseball world's attention focused on divisional races and potential deals that could tip their outcomes one way or another, I thought Yankee fans might feel cheated if someone didn't take a few minutes to commemorate the upcoming one-year anniversary of an important player whose career in pinstripes began at last year's deadline: Stephen Drew.

I also thought, in its own small insignificant way, this blog might help a difficult situation by shining its tiny flashlight on how a short-term bad idea became a longer-term festering one by simply remembering the past -- because those who don't are condemned to repeat it. It's a hard lesson not easily learned by some; including, apparently, some baseball executives.

For better or worse -- and I think anyone who is reading this knows which one -- Drew is in many ways the face of this year's Yankee team's deficiencies. Over the last year,  he has been the team's starting second baseman, and despite being one of the team's worst overall performers in a fill-in stint last year he was brought back for a second one this season and has proven to be nothing more than the same player in a bigger sample size: a solid glove attached to a bat that represents a black hole in the batting order more than eight out of ten times.

More than any other position player in recent memory, he has become a magnifying glass through which the fan base can clearly see how the team's management stubbornly refuses to admit its mistakes when it desperately overreaches to rationalize his presence in the lineup. His dead weight blocks the door not just to a potentially better player but to a better philosophy of roster construction  -- and with the full weight and support of management pressing hard behind him.

As noted above, Drew, Pride Of The Yankees' Front Office  is really a two-part story that takes place over two seasons. The first part is entitled "The Trade: Playoff Race Upgrade" which I present below. I'm still working on Part Two and, quite frankly, it's not a pleasant chore reliving this tale much less writing about. I'd much rather be basking in the sweep of the Orioles and writing about what a great position the team is in for a run at the post-season and how to make the team better at the trade deadline. 

But many far better writers and analysts are doing that already,  and if the team is in fact contemplating any moves at the trade deadline, I think Drew's story is an important one for all to remember -- and since somebody's got to do it, here's Part One.

Happy anniversary, Stephen. 

Drew: Pride Of The Yankees' Front Office

Part One 
The Trade: Playoff Race Upgrade

Once upon a time on a website far, far away in a land called Bristol, Connecticut, a  story announcing a trade was posted by ESPN's Andrew Marchand announcing the  Boston Red Sox had traded their shortstop Stephen Drew to the Yankees for their infielder Kelly Johnson.

Johnson had started at six positions for the Yankees over the course of 77 games; mostly at first and third base subbing for other oft-injured Yankee starters whose names shall not appear here for the sake of brevity and fear of gluten recontamination. At the time of the trade he had joined the ranks of the disabled himself with a pulled groin, but left the Bombers carrying a .219 batting average and had hit six home runs and drove in or scored 43 runs. 

Along with Drew, the story said, Boston had sent along a half million dollars -- which covered about half of the remaining $1 million of Johnson's $3 million salary -- and the Yankees, in return, would inherit all of  Drew's remaining Boston salary; nearly $5 million.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he saw Drew as both a big trade deadline upgrade over Johnson in the lineup who could help the team get to the playoffs in 2014 and, if he performed as the GM expected, be the potential heir to team captain Derek Jeter's shortstop role the following season.

"We believe in Stephen's abilities," he said.

Drew, who had hit .253 for  Boston the prior year on their way to a World Series championship, had turned down their $14.1 million qualifying offer at the end of the 2013 season expecting to be a hot property in the free agent market.

But when nobody came calling with a better offer, he re-signed with them in late May for $10 million and two months later, with the final days of July dwindling, the team found itself buried in the cellar along with Drew's bat, which had hit at a  .176 clip and had drove in or scored a combined 22 runs in 145 plate appearances -- fully justifying, as it turned out, why all those phones never called his.

The Red Sox and their GM, Ben Cherington, were in full-scale selling mode by then and had found takers for Jon Lester, John Lackey, Andrew Miller and outfielder Jonny Gomes.

But not for Drew. Once again, not at all surprisingly, nobody was returning phone messages with his name mentioned in them.

Nobody but Brian Cashman, that is.

"I floated a text Ben Cherington's way," Cashman said. "We worked very quickly off of that."

It's safe to say "quickly" is probably one of the Yankee GM's all-time understatements.

In 227 plate appearances  as a Yankee, Johnson had batted .217 with six HRs and driven in or scored 43 runs that year.

With an offer on Cherington's phone to dump the anemic-hitting Drew and his remaining $5 million salary in exchange for a versatile, disposable $500,000  utilityman with a solid glove  and better offensive production  who could be moved around so better younger players could get reps and develop,  it must be left to historians to determine if Ben's reply texts to Brian broke any official speed records or if injuries to his fingers, hand and wrist resulted from the ensuing exchange of high-fives with his Boston front-office colleagues.

So how did The Trade turn out for the two teams the rest of the way?

Johnson appeared in just eight games for Boston and batted .160 -- 4-for-25 -- driving in one run and scoring one run. One month later, Boston dealt him and Michael Almanzar to the Orioles for shortstop Ivan DeJesus and second baseman Jemille Weeks. Baseball-Reference calculated his player value to the Red Sox during his time with them at -0.1 Wins Above Replacement.

The Yankees got a little more from Drew -- or a lot less, depending how you look at it. He batted .150 -- 21-for 140 -- driving in 15 runs and scoring seven runs.  Baseball-Reference calculated his player value to the Yankees at -0.6 Wins Above Replacement.

When the season ended, the Yankees had missed the playoffs, and Drew and Johnson -- the latter having rebounded somewhat with the O's over his final 19 games to bat .231  -- were free agents once again. 

For Johnson, a low price tag, versatility and combined .215 BA, seven HRs, 27 RBI and 29 runs scored over 265 sporadic at-bats with three AL East teams assured him continued  interest from clubs as an economical bench player. 

For Drew, who had failed to come close to meeting his new general manager's expectations or his price tag,  the future was much murkier.  

His season had been a trifecta of spectacular failures: first, as a cautionary tale by declining what turned out to be an overly generous qualifying offer and sitting out the first two months of the season waiting for his phone to ring;  then, returning to the scene of his greatest triumphs and busting badly; and finally, as a contributing factor to a failed playoff run by a contender. 

Would Drew's phone ever ring again? Did he deserve another shot? Who would dare chance it and why? 

For the answers to these and other questions, stay tuned to this blog for Part Two of Drew: Pride Of The Yankees' Front Office. 

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ryan's An Unlikely Yankees Hero In Win But Eovaldi Just Can't Get Any Respect

By Barry Millman

Brendan Ryan, the poster boy for underprivileged no bat-all-glove infielders everywhere,  became the hero of the first game of the Yankees-Orioles three-game series by lining a go-ahead RBI double in the bottom of the sixth to give the Yankees a 3-2 win and a 4.5-game cushion in the American League East. 

Ryan's unlikely moment in the spotlight was made possible by a two-out single by shortstop Didi Gregorius. Didi's already put up a WAR more than three times better than the Captain's last year and is working hard to improve his splits against lefties so he can be even more of an asset at the plate. Against Wei-Yin Chen, he had some rough-looking swings in this contest. But with at bats running low and the outcome in doubt, he put it together when it counted and did his job by setting the table. Then, when Ryan lined his double down the left field line, Didi scored all the way from first on a close play at the plate with a textbook hook slide. 

The Yankees' other two runs were scored by Alex Rodriguez, who drove in Jacoby Ellsbury on a sacrifice fly in the first; and Chase Headley, who doubled in Brian McCann in the second. But it was the bottom of the order that came through in the clutch in this game to pull it out, and a good thing they did too. Before Ryan doubled home Didi,  the team had gone a combined 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and wound up leaving 10 on base. Losing one after leaving that many would've been heartbreaking.

Lazy bats weren't the only glaring enigma endangering this one. Manager Joe Girardi's all-powerful bullpen binder got into the act and darn near sabotaged the game all by its lonesome.

Despite coming into this game with a 2.93 ERA over his last five starts, Nathan Eovaldi got screwed out of his 10th win after a strong 5 2/3 inning-performance when Joe followed the voices emanating from his beloved book of bullpen bingo telling him it was time to play bullpen bingo and yanked Nate off the mound in the top of the sixth with two outs, a 2-1 lead, a runner on second base and J.J. Hardy coming to the plate -- the worst hitter in the O's lineup by far, with a .157  BA in July over 51 at bats and who had struck out and not had a hit in three previous at bats against Nate.  Joe called upon Justin Wilson to do the honors, and Wilson promptly served up Hardy's first hit of the night, driving in the runner, charging a second run to Nate and stealing the win from him. In the bottom of the inning, Ryan would put the Yankees back on top to stay and Wilson, in a final cruel twist, got the win instead.

Why was he pulled? He'd held the eighth-best offensive lineup in MLB to just four singles, two of which never left the infield. But as much as Eovaldi has been the beneficiary of run support, he's also been a victim of defensive lapses that have extended innings and helped make his already labored pitch counts soar. In his final inning, an infield single that could have ben a crucial out and sloppy block by his catcher that allowed a pitch to slip between his legs and escape to the screen behind him, putting a runner in scoring position and changing the at bat and dynamic of the inning hurt him. Still, he was at 99 pitches when his patsy Hardy was walking to the plate with two outs; he's thrown 100 or more seven times this season; and he'd just thrown a 98 mph four-seamer to the previous batter, so he wasn't gassed. If you want the kid to learn to pitch deeper into games, teaching moment don't come any more made-to-order than that one.

But what he got instead of a lesson or a chance to win it like Ryan did was another pre-programmed message from Joe's binder that said "can't go six" and a ticket for front-row seat to watch the sub-Mendoza Hardy steal his lead from Wilson, along with yet another guaranteed round of media chortling about his 9-2 won-loss record (highest win percentage in MLB) being a bogus product of run support.

But here's the funny thing about that record -- and about Nate. 

The whole run-support red herring surrounding him is largely based on a number inflated by two 14-run games he pitched in. Two games in which he gave up a total of three runs between them. Throw out 24 of those 28 runs and he's still got those two wins on his resume and the run support argument for his winning record loses all its credibility. And suddenly, he looks not at all  like an anomaly and a lot more like the intriguing young fireballer he actually is. It's those two games that are the anomaly. 

With only two losses charged to him all year, and one of those -- like tonight's -- the result of a bullpen not doing their jobs, what can't be disputed is that he's very, very good at not losing. And not losing is half the battle.

The numbers support that -- even if his manager with the binder fetish sometimes doesn't.

The Yankees go after the O's in the second game Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. Nova (1-3, 3.42) vs. Gausman (1-1, 5.00) 

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankefanfore.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

C.C.'s King For A Day As Tex's Gluten-Free Home Run Gun Clinches Mariners Series

Teixeira and Sabathia.
By Barry Millman

If you couldn't tell things were already leaning the Yankees' way after the clutch two-out game-tying hit from freshly reactivated Carlos Beltran or after their worst pitcher C.C. Sabathia battled King Felix to a one-run six-inning standstill and turned this series finale over to the bullpens, you don't know these Yankees. 

Like I've said all season, this team carries its balls in five-gallon buckets and games up late -- so don't leave early.

Enter Mark Teixeira and his gluten-free home run gun in the eighth inning. Add a third straight 98 mph fastball from the Mariners' scuffling former-closer-demoted-to-setup-guy Fernando Rodney and goodbye Mr. Spalding.

Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller slammed the door the rest of the way to seal the 2-1 rubber game win.

I'm still not quite sure what a gluten is, but I'll be disappointed as hell in Tex if ever goes near another one as long as he's a Yankee. He's already surpassed his home run total from last year and he's on track to play in more games than he has since 2011 since starting this new diet. Here's hoping the Rules Committee doesn't decide to add it to the PED list (Performance Enhancing Diet?) at the winter meetings because, whatever it is, it's done astounding things for his game and overall durability.

Side notes: ...The home run was Tex's 23rd of the year and 11th go-ahead big bang in the 8th inning or later of his career. His last one was an 11th-inning walkoff in Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS vs. the Twins. ...Dellin threw 16 pitches and walked two in the 8th but didn't allow a hit and got credited with the win. ...Andrew rang up his 20th consecutive save in as many chances this season. ...Alex Rodriguez singled in the first inning to reach career hit number 3,023, tying Lou Brock for 23rd on MLB's all-time list. Every time he swings his bat he's making history. Yankee fans are blessed to be witnessing it. 

For the rest of the stats, here's the official box score and
the video highlights in case you missed it.

The Yankees are now four games up on the Orioles who, coincidentally, are the next visitors to the Bronx for a three-game series beginning Tuesday.

Pitching matchups: Tuesday, Eovaldi (9-2, 4.50) vs. Chen (4-5, 2.78); Wednesday, Nova (1-3, 3.42) vs. Gausman (1-1, 5.00); Thursday, Tanaka (6-3, 3.65) vs. Jimenez (7-5, 3.29)

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

ARod Has Angry Sex With Green Monster As Pineda, Pen Ice Red Sox Bats In 5-1 Win

By Barry Millman

Alex Rodriguez had angry sex with the Green Monster, Michael Pineda surrendered a single run over 6.2 innings and the bullpen was perfect. Throw in the Red Sox's ace walking off the mound after getting hit hard complaining of a tight elbow, a hapless Boston infield gifting a couple of runs, Jacoby Ellsbury tacking on a welcome back RBI and that was your Yankees' series-opening 5-1 win at Fenway. 

Alex blasted Boston starter Clay Buchholz's changeup clear out of Fenway to Lansdowne Street before Big Mike even set foot on the mound for his 671st unmarketable career home run and 17th of the season  -- the first given up by Buchholz since May 21st, a span of 61 2/3 innings, and the third he's surrendered to Alex in 28 at bats facing him. It was his 26th home run at Fenway -- more than any other opposing hitter now playing in MLB -- and 54th against the Red Sox. According to Home Run Tracker the shot traveled 376 feet and would have left more than half of MLB ballparks.

A tragicomic fourth inning saw the Yankees score three runs when Sox starter Clay Buchholz put two men on base before leaving the game with what was later described by the team as elbow tightness; and reliever Robert Ross could only look on helplessly as both runners went on to score on an infield single and an infield error before contributing a third run of his own with a bases-loaded walk.

The Yankees added a fifth run in the eighth on an RBI single by visiting Boston alumnus Jacoby Ellsbury. 

Pineda's final line was six strikeouts, no walks and one run -- a dinger to Mookie Betts, who put a good swing on a decent pitch -- over 6.2 innings. Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller held Boston hitless the rest of the way.

It was the first run Pineda's given up in two games and only the third in his last three games-- a span of 21.2 innings during which he's struck out 24 and walked just one. 

With Baltimore and the Rays both winning their games, the Yankees victory meant they maintained their division lead of 3 and 4.5 games over them, respectively.  The Blue Jays loss dropped them into a tie with the Rays and Boston's loss dropped them to 6 back.

Tonight's second game of the three-game Fenway series will be nationally televised on Fox with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. and will feature New York's RHP Ivan Nova (1-2, 2.65 ERA) vs Boston's  LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (4-2, 3.69 ERA). 

Ivan's coming off a five-inning appearance in which he gave up three earned runs and didn't receive a single run in support in what was an eventual 8-1 Yankee loss, his second start in a row he's received one run or less of support. Over three starts and 17 innings since returning from TJ surgery, he's only surrendered five runs. 

Fun fact: Ivan's .656 career winning percentage (40-21) is third best among all MLB pitchers with at least 50 starts.

The game will also feature the debut of Rob Refsnyder, the Yankees' homegrown second baseman who's been hitting a blue streak down on the farm and is everyone's hope to replace the anemic-hitting Stephen Drew -- who has never met Mendoza at any time in almost a year of at-bats as a Yankee -- although manager Joe Girardi has said there's no guarantee his stay will last any longer than this series.

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Yankees And Their Fans About To Find Out If They Own The AL East Or Just Renting

By Barry Millman

It's not often life's defining moments present themselves with some warning so you can prepare for them, and rarer still when they land on a weekend so it's more convenient to deal with them.

But that's what the Yankees and especially their fans have staring them in the face beginning tonight. With the Yankees up by three games in the American League East and three games left to play before the All-Star break,  the Yankees have a chance to blow open what has been a tight nip-and-tuck race and end the first half of the season with some serious distance between themselves and the rest of the pack in a series at Fenway Park where they swept the Red Sox two months ago.

Since then, the last-place Sox have righted their ship somewhat and are currently the only team in the division with a winning record over their last 10 games. But they're still a last place team looking up at every other team in the division and every other team in the division has struggled over their last 10 -- and all of them are facing a division-leading team in their final series before the break except the Yankees.

With the team finally back this week to an almost full complement of healthy starting players, it's a harmonic convergence of golden opportunity if ever there was one, and for a Yankee fan of any self-description -- serious, casual, frustrated, hopeful, disillusioned, optimistic, skeptical or anything else in between -- sweet dreams are made of this.  

The stakes on the outcome can't be overstated. 

An absolute worst-case scenario would leave the Yankees plummeting in the wrong direction, hanging by their fingernails to only a share of first-place, heading into a long and foreboding break contemplating the malfunctioning pieces of a misconstructed roster causing such maddening inconsistency that they failed to hit the accelerator in a race that was theirs to lose with nearly every key injured starter restored to active duty and the entire division struggling

An absolute best-case scenario would leave them six games up heading into a happy respite secure in the knowledge they're the odds-on favorite to take the division (as I envisioned back in spring training to the chortles of many) in a formidable position to lock up a post-season appearance for the first time in three years.

Of course, the last place Sox see this series as a chance to vault from worst to within two and a half games of first in the final pre-break weekend, so a classic New York-New England-style chowder -slinging food fight is likely. 

Not surprisingly, all three games will be nationally televised so there's no excuses for missing any part of this defining moment unless you're working this weekend -- in which case, follow along on Twitter for updates if you can. You can bet your Bernie Williams bobblehead every player, manager, owner and fan of all the teams below them in the division standings will.

No excuses for the Yankees or their fans this weekend. If the Yankees are truly a bonafide first-place team, they won't blow this opportunity to at least come away from Fenway with a series win -- and any Yankee fan worthy of the name won't miss it if they can help it. 

It's a must-win series for the team, a must-perform series for some of their players with jobs on the line, a must-see series for their fans and a defining moment for everyone who gives a damn about the Yankees.

If you're a Yankee fan, it doesn't get any better than this.

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sabathia's Skipped Start May Be First Step Toward Pushing Him Out The Door Forever

Sabathia, in an all too familiar pose this year, watches one leave the yard.

By Barry Millman

It's taken them long enough, but the Yankees have finally decided it isn't too impolite after all to ask C.C. Sabathia, their highest-paid, worst-performing player to take a few days off and use the time  to work on his problems in extra bullpen sessions rather than during games. 

By all accounts, including  team beat writer Brendan Kuty's, Sabathia's reaction to the idea he should be treated like any other player whose performance had slipped to the bottom of his peers in MLB was less than noble.

Interestingly, in announcing that Ivan Nova would take Sabathia's normal turn in the rotation against the Rays today, manager Joe Girardi also opened the door a crack to yet another remedy to the Sabathia dilemma should the extra bullpen work prove fruitless by mentioning he thought the pitcher "could be dealing with issues with the right knee that caused him to miss almost all of 2014 and worried the Yankees in spring training."

As I've noted before, there's only three possible doors the Yankees can push C.C. through to get him out of the rotation where he's blocking better pitchers in the system and blowing up leads every week: 

1) Sending him to the bullpen and converting him to a reliever so he doesn't have to face batters more than once or twice  per appearance,  which would improve his chances to become a team asset rather than a liability and rebuild his value -- a tactic that has had proven success elsewhere but would require his cooperation and willingness to admit he has serious problems, an as-yet-unrealized development;

2) Designating him for assignment with an offer to eat the vast majority of his remaining $53 million salary in the hope of getting a useful trade piece or two in return, or 

3) The Gillooly option: Finding some medical excuse connected to his prior surgeries to send him on extended leave via the disabled list and then forcing him to the minors for rehab starts to fix his problems there -- assuming, of course, they're fixable.

Don't look now C.C. but those footsteps you're hearing may finally be headed toward one of those doors.

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.