Wednesday, October 28, 2009

World Series Game 1: The Best Is Yet To Come

It's been a great season for the Yankees to this point. They opened the New Stadium which, despite being met with some outspoken opposition at first, has treated them awfully well.In the first 29 games (without A-Rod) they went 14-15, but has gone 97-46 since then, including the postseaon. It's been almost 7 full months loaded with affirmative answers to questions people had about the team coming in.

There were resurgences of Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter's defense. The smooth transitions for Nick Swisher, A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia. A-Rod's recovery from offseason hip surgery and avoidance of bad press. Brett Gardner's development into a useful Major League player. Johnny Damon's power surge. Mariano Rivera's continued dominance. The sustained health of the team. Some small but important acquisitions during the season. All the walkoffs and pies in the face. The AL East title and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. Wins over Anaheim in Minnesota thus far in the postseason.

As fans of the Pinstripes, we've been treated to pretty much all we could ask for to this point. But we're not done yet. The Yankees will face the best and most complete team they've been this postseason and the series will start with the best possible pitching match-up featuring, coincidentally, the previous two AL Cy Young winners and former teammates on the Cleveland Indians.

After coming to the Phillies at the trade deadline, Cliff Lee went 8-4 with 3 complete games, a 3.39 ERA and struck out 74 batters while walking only 10. He only made three poor starts, but those were pretty awful, accounting for 19 of his 30 earned runs with the Phillies. In his other 9 outings, he was 8-1 with a 1.50 ERA.

You might say I'm cherry picking those numbers, but Lee's been even better than that this postseason. In his three starts (two in the NLDS), he's pitched 24 1/3 innings, given up 14 hits, 2 ER (0.74 ERA), and is sporting a strikeout to walk ratio of 20:3. The only weakness in his game over that time is that he's got most of his outs in air (39) as opposed to on the ground (26) or by strikeout (20). As we know, once balls get up in the air at Yankee Stadium they can find the seats in a hurry.

The pitcher with the second best resume this postseason will be taking the hill for the Yankees. After getting past the Twins with 6 2/3 innings of one run ball, CC Sabathia picked up the ALCS MVP for his work against the Angels. Sabathia was great in Game 1, going 8 innings and allowing one run, but was just as good or better on short rest in Game 4. His only mistake came on a home run to Kendry Morales and he needed only 101 pitches to rip through those 8 frames.

Like Lee, Sabathia has only walked three batters this postseason. Postseason games are notorious for their interminable durations but with these two guys on the mound, this one could be over relatively quickly.

As good as the Yankees have been this year, there is reason to believe that the best is yet to come. Along with most of you, I'm guessing, I feel like the Yankees are going to win this thing. It's not us just being biased homers, people who cover baseball for a living overwhelmingly agree. Those predictions don't mean a thing, but they do reflect who the best team is coming into this series.

We don't like to break him out very often, but we would have been remiss not to go with Frank Sinatra to start the World Series. The last time we called on Ol' Blue Eyes, this is what happened in the next 4 games. Past performances don't guarantee future results, but it doesn't hurt to try.

Let's go Yanks.

Out of the tree of life, I just picked me a plum,
You came along and everything started to hum,
Still it's a real good bet, the best is yet to come.

The best is yet to come, and baby won't it be fine.
You think you've seen the sun, but you ain't seen it shine.

Final Pre-World Series News And Notes

T-Minus five hours and counting, folks.

Predictions for the World Series abound. Keith Law thinks Joe Girardi's moves could make the different and goes with the Yanks in six. Walkoff Walk collected 9 guesses and six went with the Phillies. Here's the data from RAB's poll. The Star-Ledger staff offers some "outlandish" ones.

Matthew Pouliot from Circling the Bases weights in with a full-on preivew. As does David Pinto from Baseball Musings. And Dave Cameron from FanGraphs. And Cliff from Bronx Banter.

Jason and his crew have a position by position breakdown of the two teams.

A graphical comparison of the two offenses using wOBA from Beyond the Boxscore.

Want to know the real reason Jay-Z isn't playing before Game 1 tonight? He was scheduled to perform in Colombus, Ohio.

How can you not enjoy the quality GIF work of LSUFreek?

PeteAbe had some observations on yesterday's media circus.

An Indians fan gives some (angry) Midwestern perspective on the match up between CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee.

Tim Marchman thinks Joe Girardi is too smart for his own good. Moshe Mandel at The Yankee Universe thinks Marchman contradicts himself and laments the fact that picking Joe Girardi has suddenly become the cool thing to do.

Joel Sherman's World Series chat is starting right about... now. Jay Jaffe's at Baseball Prospectus probably just wrapped up.

And finally, Jon Lewin at Subway Squawkers offers some alternative viewing for Mets fans tonight.

New York By A Landslide

This Yankee postseason run has meant good things for this here blogosite, most notably some prominent links being tossed our way and a sizable increase in traffic. Most recently, we were asked to contribute to a New York vs. Philly cultural breakdown for the Sporting News' Sporting Blog.

Along with Dan Levy from the excellent On The DL Podcast, Rob Iracane from the irreverent Walk Off Walk and Meech from the hilarious Phillies blog The Fightins, we discussed the relative merits of the Lobel's Steak Sandwich vs. the Schmitter, Freddy Guzman vs. Andy Tracy, New Yankee Stadium vs. Citizens Bank Park, the MoMA vs. the Mutter, Statue of Liberty vs. Liberty Bell, MTA vs. SEPTA, and Yogi Berra vs. the Phanatic.

Levy and Meech will never admit it, but I think Iracane and I put the smackdown on the boys from Philly. You be the judge.

World Series Roster Update

Yesterday, the Yankees announced their World Series roster. Eric Hinske and blog favorite Brian Bruney have been added at the expense of Freddy Guzman and Francisco Cervelli.

The first swap was obvious. With the need for a pinch hitter in the National League park, Hinske became necessary and Guzman, functioning solely as a pinch runner, was the most expendable part. With Hideki Matsui coming off the bench in Philly as well, Hinkse will be the second best pinch hitting option, but still should see some action.

The absence of Guzman probably means that Brett Gardner won't be getting his first postseason start this series as Girardi will most likely keep him on the bench as a pinch running option. Jerry Hairston Jr. is a viable candidate for that role but is hardly a stolen base threat (only 7 for 11 this year) and therefore not much of a weapon.

Given the elimination of Cervelli, we can almost certainly infer that Jorge Posada will be catching A.J. Burnett in Game 2 (and presumably again if necessary), thus making having a third catcher on the roster superfluous. I was in favor of having Molina catch Burnett at the outset of the postseason, but it seems like the right move to let Posada catch him now. Burnett blew up with Molina behind the dish in Game 5 of the ALCS and worked well with Posada after he entered the game as a pinch hitter.

Bruney pitched in the instructional league down in Tampa during the ALDS but hasn't faced Major League hitting since October 2nd. The only frightening aspect of this move is that Girardi might try to use him for a fraction of an inning when it counts instead of relegating him strictly to mop-up duty. With Chad Gaudin unavailable for Games 1 & 2 after throwing an extended bullpen session yesterday, it seems likely that Bruney would be the last man out of the 'pen.

The Phillies made a move and an announcement of their own. Consummate gentleman and class act Brett Myers has been added to the roster - after recovering from a strained lat muscle - at the expense of utility man and former Yankee Miguel Cairo - a move Joe Torre is certainly frowning upon from afar for a couple of reasons. Charlie Manuel also declared that Pedro Martinez will be starting Game 2 at Yankee Stadium.

Pedro was chosen over Cole Hamels, who had an average season at best and has been shaky in 3 postseason starts (14.2 IP, 6.75 ERA). Pedro has pitched once since September 30th, was brilliant against the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS, allowing two hits and no walks in 7 innings. But that was in Southern California in a pitcher's park against a National League line-up.

It will make for a quite the interesting dynamic. I wouldn't be surprised if Pedro was excellent or if he got bounced in the third inning. One way or another the familiar refrain offered by the Yankee Stadium faithful will be chanted ad nauseum when he's on the mound. Should be good theater either way.

World Series Q&A: The 700 Level

Since the Yankees and Phillies haven't met since May and I don't generally watch
Minor National League baseball, we've decided to bring in a little outsider perspective for the World Series. We turned to Enrico and Matt over at The 700 Level to give us a little insight on their club. Sure they're Phillies fans, but Enrico is a fellow BC guy so they can't be all bad. Our thanks to them for agreeing to participate.

Sadly, there were no photoshop jobs trying to embarrass the competition nor were there any wagers involving cheese cakes, cheese steaks, or a even a milksteak (with a side of raw jelly beans). There was however a question and answer exchange in an effort to know thy enemy. Our answers to their questions are up at The 700 Level. Here are their answers to ours:

Fack Youk: The Phillie bats have been very hot this post-season while the Yankees have gotten by largely on the strength of their pitching. Something's gotta give here. Who has the advantage on this one?

The 700 Level: It's tough to keep the Phillies' bats silent for long. They also have a fairly decent track record against CC and hit Burnett pretty well the one time they faced him this season. At this point, I have no reason to doubt the Phillies' bats.

FY: Ryan Howard has been on fire throughout the NLDS and NLCS. Should the Yankees even pitch to him, and if so, how? Or should they be more concerned about the powers of Chooch-tober?

700: I think you pitch to Ryan Howard very carefully. The thing that is most amazing about his post season thus far has been his plate discipline. He's been able to layoff some of the breaking stuff that he'd typically strike out on in the regular season. Carlos Ruiz is more of a silent killer. He comes out of nowhere when you least expect it. Ryan's the guy you have to be very careful with.

FY: What do you see the Phillies benefiting from more: being able to DH Ibanez and play Ben Francisco in left field at Yankee Stadium or getting Hideki Matsui's bat out of the line up a Citizens Bank Park?

700: The Yankees being forced to send their pitcher to the plate in Philadelphia should help the Phillies a bit more. I mean, have you seen Joe Blanton and Cliff Lee's batting numbers in the playoffs? Francisco did make a ridiculous catch in the NLCS during a late inning replacement of Ibanez that I don't think Raul could have made. So his defense in left will help us, but Raul's bat will be in the line up regardless.

Cole Hamels was dominant in the 2008 post-season, being named MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series. His numbers took a dip this season and he has pitched poorly in his three post-season starts. Which Hamels do you expect to see in the World Series? Do you prefer him or Pedro in Game Two? (editor's note: question exchange was done prior to the announcement that Pedro would start Game Two)

700: Hamels is a head-scratcher. I'd say his ego and temperament is a bit more fragile than Pedro's so I'd like to see Hamels throw at home in Philly. Pedro is one confident guy. He eats this stuff up. I think Hamels will pitch fine in his first outing, keep the Phillies in the game. I could see him being the hero if he goes in game seven though.

FY: What is the state of the bullpen these days? How confident are you in Brad Lidge? If you need an out in a big spot, who are you calling in from the pen?

700: The Phillies pen has kind of morphed back into their typical roles during the playoffs after being kind of a mess for most of the season. Chan Ho Park has stepped in as a 7th inning guy with Madson and Lidge going in the eighth and ninth. That said, I think Madson is Charlie's go to guy for one big out.

FY: Lastly, if you were going to send some chick to run out on the field and hand off a note you authored to your favorite Phillies player, expressing your admiration and your desire to play catch with him, which player would it be?

700: Just like Mac in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," I'd pick Chase Utley. But it'd be after they beat the Yankees in the '09 World Series and it'd say "Thanks for another World Fucking Championship."

FY: That remains to be seen, and as you know, we frown upon vulgarity here. So what's your prediction for the Series?

700: Should be a great series featuring the two best teams in baseball. While the Yankees are stacked and are most definitely the best team the Phillies will face this season, I find it impossible to pick against our Fightin' Phils. This team has amazing character and intangibles. I'll go Phils in six with Chase Utley stepping up big for the first time this postseason and bringing home the hardware.

11 Hours To Go

Good morning, Fackers. Today is the big day. Well, one of at least four big days, anyway.

When was the last time you were this excited in anticipation of a sporting event? If we're talking strictly about baseball, it's obviously the '03 and '04 ALCSes. Being out Boston at the time, it was engulfing. Professors talked about it in class, everyone with a hat of one team or the other had it on, and you overheard conversations about it where ever you went. I couldn't think about much else during the days when games were played - I just wanted it to be game time.

If we're talking about sports other than baseball, Super Bowl XLII was probably the last event that came close, but no one thought the Giants had much of a chance. Big Willie Style, Sampson and I had celebrated the NFC Championship like it was the Super Bowl, going out to the college bars around 80th and Amsterdam, staying out until three in the morning and handing out spontaneous high fives to complete strangers. Needless to say, we all took that Monday off.

It felt like the Giants had just earned the right to lose to the Patriots in Arizona, but that didn't really matter at the time. We were just happy that the season wasn't over and were celebrating the incredible game they won in arctic temperatures in Green Bay. The Yankees are never going to be the underdogs like the Giants were that season, but after the last six years, it still feels like an accomplishment for the Bombers to have made it this far.

Not everyone shares that sentiment, however.

There was someone conspicuously absent from Sunday night's champange celebration. Reggie Jackson was there. Hal and Jennifer Steinbrenner were there. Hank wasn't there because they don't allow smoking in the clubhouse and you know how he gets when he drinks. But there were probably numerous members of the front office partaking the festivities after Gary Matthews, Jr. went down swinging.

Brain Cashman was nowhere to be found. Some had speculated that it had something to do with his meeting with Aroldlis Chapman. It turns out that wasn't the case:
[Cashman] purposely avoided the scene, saying he simply chose to stay away and leave it to others.

"I'll wait to participate if we have an opportunity to win the whole thing," he said.
Yet another reason I like the cut of Cashman's jib. I realize that this would never happen, but it would be incredibly bad ass if a team didn't go for an over-the-top celebration unless they won a championship. Maybe something when they clinched a playoff berth or won the division but not in the LDS, or LCS. Save the bubbly for the ultimate glory.

Players deserve to enjoy their accomplishments and the champagne lubricates those celebrations in more ways than one - it would be awfully awkward were players just jumping around and hugging each other with dry clothes in a well-lit locker room. But at the same time, wheeling out the carts when they swept the Twins seemed a little contrived. By the time the World Series winner is awarded, we'll have already seen 14 other locker rooms protected by tarps then laden with libations.

Celebrating every step of the way is the one thing that really undermines the "championship or bust" mantra that the Yankees swear they have. If they were the one team that really was only satisfied with winning a World Series, then they shouldn't pop the Perignon until they do so. It would make it a whole lot sweeter when it finally came.

Cashman is the only guy who really thinks this way. He's got no choice. He's gone too long as the General Manager of the team with the highest payroll in baseball without winning a World Series to consider anything else a success. Let's hope he gets to taste the Taittinger soon enough.

Fork You?

We're suing these fatties for trademark infringement. One of them thinks "Victorino" is Italian for "victory". Watch and find out who!