2017 Postseason Preview

Okay, here’s the annual blog post to wrap up the recent season and give a brief overview of what to expect in the postseason. And you’ll even get to hear my personal hopes (much more than predictions if I’m being honest) for how 2017 will turn out.

First up, the Wild Card games. Yes, the Yankees are back in the postseason again and will face the Twins tomorrow night. If you remember, the Yankees swept the Twins just 2 weeks ago, outscoring them 18-6 over 3 games. The most consistent starter Luis Severino will start for the Yankees. Severino had 14 wins and 6 losses in 31 games (and 193.1 innings), with an ERA of 2.98 and 230 recorded strikeouts just this season. If Severino and the Yankees’ offense work out like they’ve been known to work this season, the Yankees will be ready to face the Indians.

Okay, so here’s how the American League is set to play their Division Series. Boston, ending up 2 games over the Yankees, will face the Astros for their Division Series games. The Astros missed being the AL team with the most wins by a single game, falling short to the Indians who will face the winners of the Wild Card game.

The National League games will start just a day after the AL games. The Wild Card game will be played between the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, who ended up just a game ahead of the Brewers for that spot. Like with the Twins, the second spot for both Wild Card games went to teams that were exactly 6 games behind the first spot teams (Yankees and Diamondbacks).

The Cubs will play the Nationals in the NL Division Series, neither team coming close to the stellar season of 104 game wins the Dodgers had this season. So the Dodgers will face the winner of the NL Wild Card game.

And you know how the season proceeds from there. The winner of the best-of-5-game series of each set will face each other for the best-of-7 championship series to figure out the winner of each league. And those two winners will face each other in the Fall Classic, also known as the World Series.

Now, I don’t want to make my predictions too far in advance, so I’ll follow last year’s model and do a bit at a time. The AL Wild Card game is tomorrow night, and the NL Wild Card is Wednesday night. So we’ll start there.

  • AL Wild Card — Yankees over Twins
  • NL Wild Card — Diamondbacks over Rockies

Once we have winners from each of those categories, it will be easier (or let’s be honest, usually less humiliating) to predict the next set of games beginning Thursday with the ALDS games and Friday with the NLDS games. Those games are of the 2-2-1 layout, so 2 games played, a travel day, 2 games played (if necessary), a travel day, and 1 game played (if necessary). The team that wins 3 games advances to the next round (the ALCS/NLCS).

What’s your predictions? I try to remove my own bias (which is pretty much that the Yankees should be champions every single year), and be as objective as possible. However, this is my 5th year doing this blog, and honestly, this is the first year since 2012 that I’ve had any kind of hope that the Yankees could actually do something. Unfortunately, it’s all down to a game at a time, starting with tomorrow’s winner-take-all Wild Card Game.

Go Yankees!

As a postscript to this post tonight, I am saddened that I must once again express my sympathies after another tragedy. Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and the families off all those affected by the terrible tragedy in Las Vegas last night.

The Mets’ AAA team plays in Las Vegas, the Vegas 51s, and several known current MLB players around the league grew up playing ball in its suburbs — Bryce Harper (Nationals), Kris Bryant (Cubs), Joey Gallo (Rangers), and the Yankees’ own Chasen Shreve. With three of those players heading into the postseason, I know their hometown isn’t far from their minds and hearts this October, as it won’t be from any of our own.

We will continue to pray for healing, comfort, and peace for all those injured or affected by last night’s events as both the city and the nation recovers from this latest horror.

And may I never have to write another condolence message like this one for as long as I live.

Game 67: NYY vs. OAK — Swept away on Father’s Day

On this Father’s Day 2017, I am reminded of my own father who loved this great game of baseball. He was what you would call a fan of the game. I remember sitting with him and my brothers in a dreary stadium by Lake Erie, and even when our team lost yet another one, my dad never thought of them as a “mistake on the lake”. No, he appreciated the strategy and called it a “thinking man’s game”.

Of course, he did have a favorite team, but he actually just loved the game no matter who was playing. He always told us that when he watched the players, he was reminded they all were once little leaguers with big dreams. Maybe he identified as such because he also once had big dreams of playing ball.

When my dad was growing up in the first part of the 20th century, baseball was the sport to play. Summer afternoons saw neighborhood kids gathered in a local park with tattered gloves and old bats to play a game just for the fun of it. At home or even in local stores, fans gathered around the radio, listening to games from Cleveland or Chicago or New York. This love of baseball resulted in friendships that lasted a lifetime.

My dad’s love of the game connected our family together. On Father’s Day, there is usually a ballgame playing somewhere, and while many of us now root for different teams, it is my dad’s love for the game that gave us this gift of connection over this shared interest in baseball.

And there was, of course, a baseball game today, as the Yankees closed out their road trip with this final game in Oakland against the Athletics. The Yankees were looking at winning one in the “Bright Side of the Bay” (which it clearly wasn’t for the Yankees this weekend). And Luis Cessa got the start this Father’s Day afternoon, throwing 73 pitches in his 4 innings, giving up 5 hits, a walk, and 4 runs, striking out just 4 Oakland batters.

All of Oakland’s runs were scored in the 3rd inning, clearly Cessa’s weakest time today (he gave up 4 of his 5 hits in that inning alone). With 1 out, a single and double put runners in scoring position so that they could on another double to get the A’s on the board. Then another player hit a 2-out 2-run home run to double their score and push them into the lead.

Other than that lone inning, Cessa had a pretty good outing, despite setting himself up for the loss. He handed the game over to Chad Green, whose 5th and 6th innings continued that same pattern of keeping the A’s from doing much. Tyler Clippard’s 7th was nearly flawless, but it would be recently reinstated Aroldis Chapman sailed through his 8th inning with just 8 pitches. (Talk about a comeback!)

Now, the Yankees weren’t exactly shut out or sitting on their laurels through this game. In fact, they struck first when Matt Holliday fired a solo home run to lead off the 2nd inning. Gardner led-off the 3rd with a double and then scored on Aaron Judge’s 1-out single.

Didi Gregorius smacked a long ball to the right field seats, just to the left of the foul pole. The umpires called it a home run, but just to cover their bases, the umpires called for a review themselves to make sure the ball really was a home run. It was, and the Yankees were within a run of the Athletics after their big 3rd inning.

But the A’s starter did a pretty decent job of fending of any potential Yankee rallies into the 7th inning and the bullpen (surprisingly for this team) just breezed through the final 8 outs and shut the Yankees down in order.

Final score: 4-3 Athletics, Athletics sweep series 4-0 (Yankees’ West Coast road trip: 1-6)

Roster moves: The Yankees sent Kyle Higashioka back to AAA Scranton to make room for Aroldis Chapman, who is now back from his rehab assignment and off the disabled list.

The Yankees took a few moments to honor their dads and reflect on what this day means to them, as so many of them are now fathers themselves. Manager Joe Girardi shared his insights. Gary Sanchez was recently featured in a special article, talking about how the birth of his daughter Sarah changed him as a man and as a player. He sees becoming a father as a turning point in his life, a sentiment I believe most fathers would echo.

And so, on this day that honors so many fathers, I am remembering my dad with thankfulness for introducing me to this wonderful game of baseball. I wish I could be sitting with him today cheering on the team, eating peanuts, and keeping the box score. I will always remember how he had a way of using baseball to teach us life lessons when watching a game, that character counts, that integrity and honesty and loyalty are to be valued. By his example, I learned to support the whole team, not just individual players. To find the positive in even a negative situation. That there’s always another day and another game. To always hope. And above all, to never give up.

My dad remembered the one year his team did win the World Series when he was a boy (hint: it was 1948) and almost saw it happen again in his lifetime (about 10 years before he passed away). But even in his later years, he was ever the fan, even wearing a team cap when he watched a game on TV, hopeful that this might be “the year”.

Which brings me to this year. In 2017, there is a very real chance that could be “the year” for the Yankees. (Despite the current outcome of this road trip!) That elusive #28 is a real possibility. But no matter how the season ends, we’ll still remember that there’s always the hope for “the year” — as if we just know it’s an eventuality. And with the Yankees, we know from experience that it really is.

So, thanks, Dad.

Go Yankees!

Tired of politics? #VoteGardy instead!

New Year’s Eve is generally a day of celebration and hope. People gather with family and friends to remember the year with all its ups and downs, reflecting on what was and what might have been, and look forward to a new year filled hopes for what could be. But on December 31, 1972, the baseball world was rocked with the tragic news that one of their own, a man of great talent and even greater character, lost his life in a plane crash while on a mission to bring much needed supplies to earthquake survivors in Nicaragua.

Roberto Enrique Clemente Walker, known to the baseball world as Roberto Clemente, was born in Puerto Rico and drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. While not the first Hispanic to play major league ball, Clemente was the first to rack up so many achievements that eventually secured him a spot in the Hall of Fame. Over his 18 years with the Steel City’s Bucs, the outfielder excelled on the ball field, but even more importantly, he excelled at quietly helping others in need, including charity work at home in Puerto Rico.

After Clemente’s death, the MLB Commissioner’s Award was renamed The Roberto Clemente Award and is given to the player who  “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individual’s contribution to his team”. Each year, every MLB team nominates a player they feel best represents these values. In honor of the winner, a vehicle and cash are donated to the winner’s chosen charity, with additional donations to the Roberto Clemente Sports City in Puerto Rico that provides local children sports opportunities to pursue their dreams.

This year, the New York Yankees have nominated Brett Gardner for the Roberto Clemente Award. Like Clemente, Gardner is a quiet man from humble roots, with strong character, and good values both on and off the field. Like Clemente, Gardner was raised on a farm, the son of a father who taught the value of character, respect, hard work, and persistence. Like Clemente, Gardner was taught to use the gifts God gave him to the best of his ability. Like Clemente, Gardner has stayed loyal to one team and is a positive influence on his teammates. Like Clemente, Gardner is an outfielder with a strong arm and an upbeat and “never quit” attitude, playing hard every game while supporting his teammates. Like Clemente, Gardner’s work ethic has helped him as he struggled to overcome injuries that might have kept less resilient players off the field. And like Clemente, Gardner is a family man with a generous heart and a compassion to reach out to his community and help those in need.

Brett Gardner and his family are actively involved in several community outreach organizations, including visiting children in hospitals and at the Ronald McDonald House (South Carolina and NYC), which is also home to a therapy dog, “Gardy”, donated by the Gardners for the children receiving hospital care. The Gardner family is also involved with the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program providing Christmas gifts to children in need and also assist in helping the Taylor Hooton Foundation’s Advisory Board to educate youth about performance-enhancing drugs. This compassionate and generous spirit exemplifies Roberto Clemente’s mission to help others wherever and whenever possible.

We are proud of the Yankees for choosing Brett Gardner and believe his life choices honor the example and memory of Roberto Clemente.

Vote for Gardy! #VoteGardy

To cast your vote for Brett Gardner, simply post #VoteGardy on  Twitter (@MLB) and Facebook.com/MLB. Deadline for fan voting is coming up soon — October 2 — so cast your vote early and often!

Go Yankees!

Mark Teixeira: a model of talent, teamwork, and character

I clearly remember the first day I set eyes on the new Yankee Stadium in the summer of 2009. Off the train with the crowd moving as one big mass down the stairs. Stepping out of the dingy stairwell into the bright sun. Crossing the street while dodging crazy traffic. Screaming vendors hawking their wares. The kind young man in his wheelchair selling candy. The NYPD strolling through the crowd keeping watch. All this amid the joyful sounds of excited fans arriving at Gate 6. The “wow factor” of the new stadium literally made me stop and just take in the moment of this new era in Yankee baseball.

After my daughter gifted me with a bright green Yankee hat to signify this fresh new season, my first purchase at the gift shop was an “officially licensed collectible pin” depicting a pinstripe jersey honoring #25, Mark Teixeira. He was new to the team, so I thought he was a great addition to the Yankees for his talent. But I also respected how he reflected a fine personal character.

And through his years in pinstripes, Teixeira has continued to reflect character, class, and sportsmanship. All qualities to be admired, not just in a baseball player, but also in life. Despite being plagued with injuries the last few years, “Tex” (as he was affectionately dubbed) continued to play each game 110%, with all that he had to give, and always with a positive attitude. As he stated to the media last week, “I gave you everything I had. It wasn’t always enough, but I tried my best.” Always the team player, always classy, the epitome of the kind of ball player that all Little Leaguers can look up to and aspire to be.

As for actual baseball statistics, Teixeira can be proud of that record as well. He has over 400 career home runs, participated in a Home Run Derby, was a three-time All Star, and awarded five Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, and of course that 2009 World Series ring with the New York Yankees.

Outside baseball, Teixeira continues to give back to the community around the country. As a nod to his ties to Atlanta, first at Georgia Tech and then as player for the Braves, he became a board member and founding investor in an Atlanta non-profit group, the Emerald Corridor Foundation, that restores green spaces in inner-city neighborhoods for families and children to enjoy. In New York, Teixeira serves on the board of Harlem RBI that not only provides an opportunity to learn baseball, but also mentors kids by focusing on “teamwork, respect, diversity, promise, effort, integrity, and fun”. The group also offers opportunity for students to attend the Dream Charter School for further educational opportunities. Harlem RBI recently honored Tex as a positive role model and thanked him for his continued support.

Teixeira is such an integral part of the Yankees for so long that to imagine the team without him would seem like a valued part is missing. It appears now that the “Teixeira Era” is beginning to wind down. So it was with great sadness that I watched Teixeira tearfully announce his retirement at the end of this season in a press conference before Friday’s game. Tears flowed as he began to speak, warning the media that “Teixeiras are criers”, but that he is so grateful the he “got to live out his dream” of playing ball. The room hushed, yet supportive; the reporters gracious and patient, allowing him time to share his gratitude to the fans and to the Yankees. His fine character showed in the way he thanked everyone who was part of his time in baseball, including family, friends, fans, coaches, management, owners, and players all the way back to his days as a Little League player.

Declaring himself a Yankee fan forever, Teixeira said he was honored to wear the pinstripes for so many years, even calling the team “the greatest franchise in sports history”. He also thanked his wife Leigh (“my rock”) and his kids (“my three little cheerleaders”). After thanking his late mom for her support, he honored his dad, who taught him his foundational baseball skills, like how to switch-hit when he only 6 years old. But above all, Teixeira thanked God for the gift of being able to play ball and for always being there with him, in good times and bad.

Since his retirement announcement, the media and fans circulated so many descriptors of Teixeira: all-around player, good character, talented, hard-working, switch-hitter, world champion, team player, funny, kind, generous, family man, and a man of faith. It is this last descriptor that perhaps means the most to Tex. In an interview discussing his active faith, Teixeira firmly stated that God is the top priority in his life, both on and off the field. He credits his athletic ability as a God-given gift that allowed him to play the game he loves for so long.

While the Yankees will not be the same without Mark Teixeira and he will be much missed, I do see some of the same priorities, character, and talents in many of the younger players taking their place on the Yankee roster. So before this post gets too sad, it’s good to remember that the season isn’t over yet! There are still have several games left to see Teixeira play as part of this great New York team. So go to a game or two or fifty-one, and enjoy the season! And when Teixeira takes the field or comes up to bat, be sure to show him your appreciation for all he has done to represent the New York Yankees so well.

Thank you, Mark Teixeira!

Go Yankees!

Midsummer memories

Opening Day, April 5, 2016 (Photo credit: author)

Congratulations to all those who participated in the 2016 MLB All Star Game. And congratulations to the American League for their victory in this midsummer classic that highlights some of the best in baseball. It is wonderful to see these talented players, but also to see how many family-friendly events surround this yearly game that builds a strong fan base and encourages young players, boys and girls, to dream one day of “making the bigs”!

On that note, I have been thinking of all the ways baseball games are about so much more than just sitting in a stadium watching players hit, pitch, field, or run the bases. It is about family and fun and relationships built around a common interest in this great game of baseball. With the first half of the season already in the record books, it seems to be a good time to be reminded why we love to go to the ballpark. To give a nod and a bit of thanks to those who make a day at the stadium a memorable event.

For Yankee fans, the moment we get off the train and Yankee Stadium comes into view, we know it is going to be a memory-making day. From the moment our tickets are scanned at Gate 6, the excitement is palpable as we get that first view of the field from the concourse and are welcomed by the ushers as we settle into our seats. With creative verse or song, the vendors hawk their hot dogs or cotton candy while roaming the aisles. The scoreboard is lit up with baseball trivia, player interviews, and current stats.

The Bleacher Creatures are gathering and preparing for roll call. Seatmates all over the stadium greet each other with smiles in hopes for a Yankee victory. Fans continue to filter into the stands wearing a variety of Yankee shirts and jackets with numbers honoring Mantle, Maris, Berra, Munson, and others. Players on the field begin their pre-game warm-ups. The news crews and photographers roam the field looking for stories and photos. New York’s Finest takes their places to keep an eye on over-exuberant fans.

The National Anthem is sung by a Broadway artist. The ceremonial first pitch is thrown by a former player or celebrity. Inning by inning, faithful fans cheer or laugh or sigh at the plays on the field. It’s as if the fans are playing the game with the team, anticipating every pitch and every play. Yankee fans are involved in the game and seatmates who didn’t know each other at the beginning of the game are conversing and cheering together.

Even the mid-game “Cap Game” and “Subway Races” are cheered by the crowd. The birthday announcements and marriage proposals on the marquee are applauded.  The grounds crew dances their way around the bases. The crowd stands with thundering applause for the military men and women who are honored in the 7th inning as “God Bless America” is sung by another Broadway talent. And then, no matter the score, the true fans stay to end because, as Yogi used to say, “It ain’t over till it’s over!”

Exiting the stadium while Frank Sinatra serenades the fans with his iconic tune “New York, New York”, the stands empty onto the waiting trains. Another great day at the ballpark.

Across the league, this experience is repeated almost daily in different ways in different cities that best reflect their own teams. From mascot races, to running the bases, to trivia contests, to guest vocalists for the National Anthem or “God Bless America”, each team chooses what best reflects the values of their team and sets the tone to build a loyal fan base for baseball. Everyone who organizes or participates in any of these events is to be thanked by us all. You are part of why we love to come to the ballpark and call this game “America’s pastime”.

So, to include how other teams have chosen ways to celebrate the game and include fans, I have included the following videos from the first half of the 2016 season:

Our National Anthem as sung by a variety of gifted musicians including Candace Payne, aka “Chewbacca Mom” (Houston Astros); Hermina Hirsch, Holocaust survivor with the Stoney Creek High School Sign Language Choir (Detroit Tigers); the cast of Jersey Boys, Broadway musical (Washington Nationals); country singer and player’s wife Juliana Zobrist (Chicago Cubs); and the San Diego Children’s Choir Children’s Choir (Padres).

“God Bless America” as sung by Yarrick Conner, USN Petty Officer (several games including the 2016 All-Star Game); the 82nd Airborne Division All-American Chorus (Fort Bragg); and Mackenzie Walker (Houston Astros).

And here is living proof that baseball fans are ageless: we applaud the delightful Kitty Cohen, 103 years old, as she fulfills her baseball dream of running the bases at a Toronto Blue Jays game.

So here’s to a great second half of the 2016 MLB season. Looking forward to continuing the race for October! Play ball!

Go Yankees!

Opening Day Postponed…

So nature rolled the dice and decided that it should dump rain on the Bronx, enough to make the powers-that-be decide to cancel today’s game and push off Opening Day until tomorrow.

Ticket holders can use the same tickets for tomorrow’s make-up game or exchange them for another regular season game (subject to availability). For more information, check out the Yankees official press release, which includes  link to their rainout policy.

But be warned, fans, if you’re coming to the rescheduled game tomorrow: it’s going to be very cold. Very sunny, but very cold.

Welcome to Spring in New York! Where the weather still hasn’t made up its mind as to which season it’s in and keeps you flitting between your winter and summer wardrobes.

Enjoy your Monday!

Go Yankees!

Spring 2016 Wrap-up

Okay, with the season just a sleep away now, the Yankees spent their free day settling back into the City. The very chilly, oddly chilly free day. Tomorrow’s opponent (the Astros) actually cancelled their scheduled workout because it was too cold and windy. (Is it a Texas thing?) And now, forecasts vary but the chances for rain during the game tomorrow are rated as “likely” but “not much” or a slight sprinkling of rain.

I should clarify why this has been a weird issue for the City. On Friday, it was 80-something degrees and sunny, a nice sneak peek of summer. And then Saturday, an overcast and rainy morning brought cooler Spring temperatures back before they plunged into 30-something degrees today. Though it was lovely and sunny, the concrete jungle kicked up the wind to chill you right to the core. And while it may be rather rainy (finger crossed for not so much here), it’s going to be a bit warmer.

And if you know anything about Spring weather, it’s basically April as normal. It’s like nature rolls the dice every morning to decide what kind of weather to toss at us just to see how we handle it.

Anyway, the Yankees’ 25-man roster is officially set: pitchers Johnny Barbato, Dellin Betances, Luis Cessa, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Miller, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, Chasen Shreve, Masahiro Tanaka, and Kirby Yates; catchers Brian McCann and Austin Romine; infielders Dustin Ackley, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Mark Teixeira, and Ronald Torreyes; outfielders Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks; and of course, Alex Rodriguez, the designated hitter.

The Yankees placed infielder Greg Bird, Bryan Mitchell, and Mason Williams on the 15-day disabled list. Though all three are scheduled to be on such a list for much longer; Bird won’t be back until next Spring at the earliest.

Now, looking back over the Spring, here’s some basic wrap-up statistics for you to sleep on tonight. The Yankees finish Spring Training with a losing record — 14 wins, 16 losses, 2 ties, and 1 cancelled game (and yes, I’m still ticked about that one, even though it doesn’t count). This made them middle of the pack in the Grapefruit League. I always take that as a good sign. Generally, teams that do really well in Spring Training fizzle out and don’t make it into the postseason (though yes, there are some exceptions).

Some notable standouts: Starlin Castro without a doubt was this year’s player MVP for Spring Training. He earned a .367 batting average for 18 hits (including 4 doubles and 2 home runs) in 49 at-bats over just 19 games played. He scored 6 runs himself and batted in 11 other runners. He earned one walk and stole one base. Plus, (again with a couple of oddball games) his defense at 2nd was just stellar. All in all, Castro is the much-needed cog the Yankees have needed in that middle infield for a few years now.

MVP veteran player: Brian McCann — .333 batting average, 13 hits (including 4 doubles) in 39 at-bats, 3 RBIs, 2 runs scored, and 2 walks. Plus, we all know how steady and strong he is behind the plate. I don’t expect that to change any time soon.

On the pitching side of things: I got to go with Chasen Shreve for MVP pitcher this Spring. (And because he’s not really a rookie, I’ll throw in the veteran one too because he really outpitched nearly everyone else on the team.) Shreve’s ERA was a ridiculous .031 in his 10 innings pitched (over 10 games), giving up just 1 hit and 1 walk, and striking out 8 total batters all Spring.

And just behind him on the ERA scale would be Kirby Yates (the main reason he’s now on the 25-man roster). Yates clocked in a .077 ERA in his 8 innings pitched (in 10 games). He earned all 3 of his 3 save opportunities, giving up 2 hits and a walk, and striking out a whopping 11 batters.

Now, in the rookie category (or my favorite guys from the “ones to watch” section this Spring): Cesar Puello takes the offensive lead here — .278 batting average, 24 games, 10 hits (4 doubles and a home run) in 36 at-bats, 6 runs scored, 3 RBIs, and 2 stolen based. Plus, he was rather reliable in the outfield.

But my all-time favorite guy to watch from early on this Spring has to be Jorge Mateo. Offensively, Mateo did pretty good — .235 average, 10 games played, 17 at-bats, 4 hits (1 triple and 1 home run), 3 RBIs, 3 runs scored, 2 walks, just 2 strike outs, and a stolen base. And he was a charge to watch at short stop, rushing the ball and firing it to the base with such gusto. He’s going to be someone to keep an eye on as he matures and develops into one of those invaluable players for the Yankees.

And while he wasn’t as prominent offensively, Jonathan Diaz was something to watch on defense. He would jump half his height for a ball if necessary, charging the ball, not letting much get by him. He needs to work on his timing at bat, and some other edges to develop in the farm system. But he’s another one to keep your eye on for a later date.

Like I said, it’s only one more sleep until Opening Day. Happy dreams, Yankees fans! Pray for no rain!

Go Yankees!