ALDS Game 2 – Yankees/Red Sox

In less than an hour, Game 2 of the ALDS between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will take place at Fenway Park.

Game 1 could not have gone much worse than it did for the Yankees. Boston hitters teed-off on JA Happ to the tune of three runs in the first inning, and tacked on two more runs in the third, chasing Happ after two-plus innings of work, and the Yankees down 5-0.

Things got worse when center fielder Aaron Hicks had to leave the game in the top of the 4th inning when he pulled up lame after a base hit. Hicks has dealt with a bad hamstring for the last month and he left the game. He’s day to day.

The Yankees continued to chip away and Aaron Judge came to the plate against Sox closer Craig Kimbrel in the top of the 9th with the score 5-3. Judge lined a laser beam over the wall in right-center field into Boston’s bullpen to narrow the game to a single run deficit. Brett Gardner struck-out on a 2-2 fastball from Kimbrel, followed by Giancarlo Stanton, who watched three pitches go by for strikes without moving his bat. Yankees second-half sensation Luke Voit followed up with a K of his own and that was that.

Masahiro Tanaka starts Game 2 for New York, and they desperately need him to repeat his playoff performances of 2017. If the Red Sox pounce on him early, it will leave manager Aaron Boone no choice but to empty out his bullpen again. That will put a lot of pressure on the Yankees offense. The ability is obviously there for this lineup to score a lot of runs, but Hicks is not at 100 percent and Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez aren’t making much contact. Brett Gardner has had a rough second half of 2018. With the above guys scuffling, Red Sox pitchers can pitch around Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius and Andrew McCutchen.

Bottom line, the Yankees need to win tonight or they might just get swept.

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Swan Song for Sabathia?

When New York Yankees starter CC Sabathia made his debut in April, 2001 with the Cleveland Indians, he was a fresh faced 20 year old with a sizzling fastball and a world of promise in front of him. He made the leap from Double-A Akron, where he finished a successful 2000 season. In his major league debut against the Baltimore Orioles on April 8, three current members of the Baseball Hall of Fame appeared in that game (Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar and Cal Ripken, Jr.). The ageless Bartolo Colon, still pitching today with the Texas Rangers, was a member of the Indians rotation with Sabathia.

The game itself was different, mostly in terms of pitching. In 2001, there were seven 20-game winners. Today, there are a handful of starters who could possibly win twenty games, but will need to win most every start to reach that goal. Curt Schilling led MLB with 256.2 innings pitched in 2001. In 2018, the current leader in innings pitched, Washington’s Max Scherzer is projected to finish with 228. Emphasis isn’t placed on individual win-loss records (rightfully so) today, and bullpens are tailored to be ready for action by the time an opponent’s lineup comes around for the third time.

CC Sabathia is a throwback to days of yore, when starters were still expected to pitch seven or eight innings and hand the ball over to the set-up man or closer to finish off a victory. He pitched 180.1 innings in his rookie season, and remained a durable and consistent starter for over a decade, including a seven year run of 200 or more innings from 2007 through 2013. In those seven seasons, Sabathia pitched a total of 1,610 innings over 230 starts, winning 124 games and averaging exactly seven innings per start. He earned a reputation as a reliable big game pitcher down the stretch for playoff teams in Cleveland, Milwaukee (in 2008), and New York.

However, all those innings began to take it’s toll on CC. His right knee, which is his landing-knee, began to give him pain. In May 2014, renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews determined that Sabathia’s knee injury is a degenerative condition. He would start only eight games that season as he dealt with pain and working with Yankees doctors to determine the best course of treatment for the future. It was decided he will eventually need a full knee replacement after his career is done, but team doctors can manage the bone-on-bone knee with periodic draining of fluid and cortisone shots.

In addition to managing his troublesome knee, CC had to learn to pitch with decreased velocity as the sands of time brought the inevitable. When his fastball averaged 94-95 mph and touched 98, as it did at the pinnacle of his career, he could get away with throwing it 60% of the time. By 2014, with his average four-seam fastball averaging just over 90 mph, he began to struggle. He had primarily been a three-pitch pitcher his entire career, with his fastball and slider, mixing in a change-up here and there. CC began to realize he would need to adjust his style of pitching if he wanted to have continued success. He began working with retired legendary Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, who was Sabathia’s teammate for four seasons in New York. Alfred Santasiere III wrote a nice piece on CC in the spring of 2017, some of which goes into detail about him learning the cutter from Pettitte.

Armed with his new cutter and new approach to attacking hitters , along with a bulky, but sturdy knee-brace that he wears when he’s pitching, Sabathia began to regain consistency and success. CC began using the cutter in earnest to open 2016, and his results stabilized. He finished the 2016 season with nine wins and a 3.91 ERA, and gave up fewer hits than innings pitched for the first time since 2012. CC won 14 games in 2017, lowering his ERA even further to 3.69.

On December 26, 2017, the Yankees re-signed Sabathia to a one-year contract for 2018. In May, he said he would retire if the Yankees win the World Series this year, but seemed to back off the statement shortly afterward. In late July, Yankees beat writer Brendan Kuty (NJ.com) reported that Sabathia wants to finish this year and pitch again in 2019, then retire.

CC has pitched well in 2018 with a well-managed workload, currently boasting a 7-4 record with a 3.30 ERA. Six innings has been mostly the limit to ease the strain on his balky knee and keep him fresh for the stretch drive. After a dominant outing against the Rangers on August 12, where Sabathia allowed no runs and just one hit over six innings, the Yankees announced he would be put on the disabled list with knee inflammation. He only missed one start, thanks to a pair of scheduled off-days built into the team’s schedule. CC returned from the DL Friday night against the Orioles in Baltimore and went six innings, giving up just a pair of runs and notching eight strikeouts.

When Sabathia signed his one year deal in late December, he made sure having his wife, Amber, and their four children with them at home and on the road would be part of the deal.

The story above, written by MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, details how vital it is for CC to have his family with him for support and have them experience the uniqueness of each city on the road.

In Bryan’s story above, Sabathia said with a laugh he wouldn’t want to miss next summer’s road-trip to London, England, against the Boston Red Sox. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is his swan-song with retirement no more than two months away. He has been dealing with knee-pain for the last eight years, and chronic pain can be distracting. Mentally, it can suck the life out of a person. It’s hard work for a starting pitcher to maintain their body for 30-plus starts over a 162 game schedule, no matter how young or old they are. It’s even more work for a 38 year old starter with a bad knee, who’s started well over 500 games and pitched over 3,400 innings. Between the mental and physical grind, it has to wear on a person. Coupled with requesting in his 2018 contract that his family accompany him on the road, I have a hunch these upcoming weeks may be the last for CC Sabathia. If that’s the case, it’s been a hell of a ride watching his career for the past 18 seasons.

All-Star Snubs – American League

The 2018 baseball season is more than half over. Major League Baseball’s All Star Game is next Tuesday in Washington, D.C. (on FOX) and the rosters for the All Star Game were announced Sunday evening. Yesterday, we took a look at some National League players who were snubbed for the mid-summer contest. Today we’ll get a glimpse at a handful of guys who should have initially made the squad in the American League, but were overlooked.

Blake Snell – (Rays) Since Snell is our featured image above, we’ll start with him. He’s sporting a 12-4 record with a miserly 2.09 ERA and somehow he didn’t make the cut. I am sure Snell will end up an alternate since Justin Verlander is scheduled to start for Houston on Sunday, thereby eliminating him from pitching the the all star game. But how he didn’t make it on his own is just ridiculous.

**UPDATE** 7/13 – Added to AL All Star team, replacing Corey Kluber.

Andrelton Simmons – (LA Angels) The Angels shortstop is having an excellent season (.213/.372/.442), hitting 40 points higher in batting average and OBP than his numbers in 2017, but Manny Machado and Francisco Lindor got the All Star nods. Simba is also providing his typically excellent defense with only five errors this season as of this writing.

Nick Castellanos – (Tigers) With young 3rd baseman Jeimer Candelario joining the team out of spring training, the Tigers switched Castellanos to right-field this season. So far it’s worked out well for Nick. His slash-line (.306/.359/.523) are at all time highs for him, and he is roughly on pace to match his career highs of 26 home runs and 101 RBI, set last season.

Whit Merrifield – (Royals) Not much has gone right in Kansas City this season, but young Merrifield has been a diamond in the rough. He can play most positions in the field except catcher. he’s hitting .306 and boasts an OPS of .810. He has only five home-runs, which says he’s adept at driving balls into the gap. I’ve heard his name mentioned in trade-talks, so it remains to be seen if he will be dealt. Any team who deals for him will be getting a spark-plug kind of guy who hustles and is fun to watch. Also, Whit just has a cool baseball name — don’t ask me why, but he does.

 

Eddie Rosario – (Twins) – He doesn’t get all the press that guys like Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper and many others get, but Rosario is quietly putting together a good season up in Minnesota. Currently he has 18 HR’s to go along with a slash-line of .300/.341/.530. His defense has slipped a bit from 2017, as he currently has six errors in left field, compared to four all of last year. Nonetheless, the 26 year old Rosario is an exciting young player who’s been flying under the radar up north.

Charlie Morton – (Astros) How Morton was left off the All Star Team is beyond my comprehension. After his career high 14 wins last season for the World Champion Astros, “Ground Chuck” is on pace to obliterate his numbers from last season. Morton is boasting a record of 11-2, with an ERA of 2.83. He is striking out just a shade under 12 per nine innings. Morton has indicated that he may retire after this season to spend more time with his wife and kids. Hopefully he will make the squad as an alternate in what could be his last chance to play in an All Star Game.

UPDATE: 7/13 – Charlie Morton added to All Star team, replacing Aroldis Chapman.

**Late Addition**

Andrew Benintendi – (Red Sox) Somehow I overlooked one of the more obvious guys who should have been on the AL team to begin with. The young Benintendi has been somewhat streaky in 2018, hitting .242 in April. However, he ramped things up in May batting 100 points higher (.349), and has hovered around .300 since. Benintendi has 14 HR’s on the season and 17 steals to go along with 57 RBI. In the field, he runs down everything hit at him and also has six assists on the season. The 24 year old outfielder lost out on the “Final Vote” to Seattle’s Jean Segura, and has since been put on the Bereavement List due to a death in his family.

Hired Guns – Who Will Load Up in the AL?

As we approach the halfway point of the 2018 season, this is when contenders start to separate themselves from pretenders. These contenders then look to the pretenders to see where they can shore up weak-spots via trade before the July 31 deadline for non-waiver trades. Most deals will involve players who are set to become free-agents after the season or from teams looking to shed payroll.

Today we will take a look at contending teams in the American League to see where they could use some help via trade. We will start with teams in the American League East and work our way through the Central and the AL West. We will look at the National League in an upcoming entry.

AL EAST

New York Yankees – The Yankees, sitting atop the AL East, don’t have many holes to fill. GM Brian Cashman is actively seeking a starting pitcher, (Cole Hamels‘ name has frequently been mentioned) and that’s their only real need. That said, rookies Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga are more than filling the need, especially German. The bullpen has been in lock-down mode all year, but they could use another situational LOOGY, because Chasen Shreve is shaky at best.

Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox are sitting two games back of New York, and could use help behind the plate, where the platoon of Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon get on base barely more than a quarter of the time. If somehow GM Dave Dombroski could pry Salvador Perez from the downward spiraling Kansas City Royals, he would be a great fit in Boston. Otherwise, Jonathan Lucroy of the Oakland A’s would be an upgrade, and has a reputation for working well with his pitchers. Jackie Bradley, Jr. has a slash-line of .181/.278/.292 in center-field, but is still only 28 years old and plays stellar defense. He may not win a game with his bat, but he usually won’t cost you the game with his glove-work.

AL CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians – The 1st place Indians are currently five games ahead of the Tigers and six above Minnesota. They could really use another starting pitcher with Danny Salazar out until at least September and Carlos Carrasco a concern with an elbow contusion. Beyond the solid trio of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, the Tribe has been relying on the likes of Josh Tomlin, Adam Plutko and currently Shane Bieber in the rotation. The 23 year old Bieber worked seven scoreless innings tonight in his third MLB start against the Detroit Tigers. A lefty addition such as the aforementioned Hamels, J.A. Happ or Derek Holland would help balance Cleveland’s all righty rotation.

Minnesota Twins – The Twins sit in 3rd place in the Central, six games behind the Indians and are currently five games under .500.

There is a lot of good talent on this Minnesota Twins team. Steve Pearce or Lucas Duda would serve well as an upgrade from first baseman/DH Logan Morrison (.191/.297/.340). Jorge Polanco is expected to be reinstated from his 80-game suspension for PED use on July 2, and Byron Buxton is currently on rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester and will soon be ready to rejoin the parent club. The addition of Polanco and Buxton will add instant offense for the 2nd half. The team could also use an inexpensive lefty starter (Derek Holland again comes to mind) to balance the rotation. Say a few Hail Mary’s for closer Fernando Rodney..

AL WEST

Houston Astros – The Astros are poised for another run to the players, hoping to repeat as World Series champions.

Their starting rotation appears to be bulletproof with Justin Verlander leading the way. Houston also has a deep bullpen, although closer Ken Giles can be shaky when off-kilter. Their lineup is solid from top to bottom, their weak-link currently is CF Jake Marisnick (.176/.200/.321) but minor league prospects Derek Fisher and Kyle Tucker will soon be on the horizon. The Astros could stand to get younger behind the plate, and trading for Kansas City Royals backstop Salvador Perez would set them up for the next several years. A package involving prospects including Tucker, Forrest Whitley, Yordan Alvarez and J.B. Bukauskas could help entice Royals GM Dayton Moore into pulling the trigger.

Seattle Mariners – The Mariners haven’t made the playoffs since God was a baby (Okay, since Lou Piniella was at the helm, seven managers previous), but GM Jerry DiPoto and current manager Scott Servais are pushing to get back in the postseason.

This team is talented! DiPoto fleeced the Dbacks when he acquired OF Mitch Haniger and SS Jean Segura for Tijuan Malker and Ketel Marte. The weak-spot in the offense has been catcher Mike Zunino, who is struggling at .202/.266/.424 but he’s too good to not rebound. Dee Gordon slid into his much more familiar spot at 2nd base when Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games for performance enhancing drugs. To the credit of this team, the Mariners have won 23 of their 35 games since Cano’s suspension was announced. DiPoto traded for Denard Span and Alex Colome from the Tampa Bay Rays to shore things up. The M’s have a lefty-heavy rotation and could use another righty starter for additional depth. Someone like San Diego’s Tyson Ross would be a nice fit, if DiPoto opts to add another right-hander.

Next time, we will take a look and see who could be “hired-guns” in the National League.