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Posts Tagged ‘Nick Swisher’

Hal and Hank Steinbrenner (Hal is on the left)

The Daily News reported this morning that the Steinbrenner family may have the Yankees up for sale.

“Rumors are flying in Major League Baseball and New York banking circles that the family that has owned Major League Baseball’s premiere franchise since Cleveland shipbuilder George Steinbrenner purchased the club for $8.8 million in 1973 is exploring the possibility of selling the Yankees.”

Later this morning, the Yanks issued a flat denial. Via Bryan Hoch of MLB.com:

“‘I just learned of the Daily News story. It is pure fiction,’ (Hal) Steinbrenner said in a statement. ‘The Yankees are not for sale. I expect that the Yankees will be in my family for many years to come.'”

Is this a case of the Daily News, forever locked in a back-page battle with the New York Post, creating a story to spur readership? Or are the Yankees actually on the block? If this were any other tabloid, my gut would be to dismiss the story outright. But this one has Bill Madden in the byline, and over the years I’ve come to respect Mr. Madden’s ability to unearth behind-the-scenes information. So…

The answer may not lie in the perceived value of the Yankees franchise, currently reported to be around $3 billion. Instead, it might be better to examine the current ownership group for any signs they may want out of the baseball business. The two principles, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, are near polar opposites in terms of their personalities. Hank is much more the fan and fiery competitor. Like George, he also has something of a mercurial temperament – this is the son who lambasted the NL for not having the DH, called out Derek Jeter for building a mansion in Tampa, and stoked the Yankee – Red Sox rivalry by memorably deriding “Red Sox Nation.” Hank even looks more like his father than his brother. Hal, on the other hand, is far more concerned with the bottom line. Hal once referred to himself as a “finance geek.” While it should be obvious to anyone that while he may have been one, I can’t ever picture the bombastic George referring to himself that way.

There is also the fact that Hal is beginning to realize that while Hank was probably overzealous in giving Alex Rodriguez a ten year, $260 million extension going into his age 33 season, his preferred method of building from within isn’t exactly as easy as Gene Michael made it look in the 1990’s. None of the top prospects he anticipated being part of the team’s core by now – Phil Hughes, Jesus Montero, Eduardo Nunez, Dellin Betances, Austin Romine, Ian Kennedy and Manny Banuelos – has been able to establish themselves as major leaguers. Of that list, only Hughes is a regular contributor; Montero and Kennedy are now elsewhere, Nunez is back in the minors and Betances, Romine and Banuelos have been plagued by inconsistency and injury while in the high minors. He understands that the Yankee fan base won’t stand for losing. In order to keep the seats filled at Yankee Stadium (and ad revenue on the YES Network peaking), he needs a winning product on the field. At the same time, Hal has made it a goal to have payroll below the anticipated $189 million luxury-tax threshold by the 2014 season – a season in which the Yankees already have $75 million in salary committed to four players and will likely be well over $100 million if they decide to resign any combination of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Ivan Nova, Nick Swisher and Russell Martin.

While I find it hard to believe that Hank would be willing to part ways with the Yankees, it isn’t hard to see Hal wanting to leave the circus and go home to heading Steinbrenner Properties. If this season’s on-the-field troubles continue, I suspect Hal may begin earnestly looking for a way out. He’ll be pressured to do something that really doesn’t work well in the New York market: find inexpensive talent to replace popular (and productive) players jettisoned for contract reasons. He got to preview the way a frugal owner gets treated in the situation when negotiating Derek Jeter’s contract last year. Imagine him playing hardball over money with Cano and Granderson, two popular players entering their prime and the resulting back page fallout from that.

The big question is whether the rest of the family trusts Hank to run the financial side of the team and keep his temper in check. Those of us old enough to remember George Steinbrenner from the 1980’s shudder a bit at the thought of Hank reprising that role. Still, if Hal actually does want out (that $3 billion price tag is awfully enticing to a “numbers guy”), I can see the family giving Hank first shot at forming a new ownership group. It would certainly be interesting, in an All My Children kind of way.

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As I’m writing this, the Yankees are in first place, 2 ½ games ahead of the hated Red Sox.

Stop to think about that for a second. Despite all of the injuries and preseason prognostications calling Boston the greatest team since the ’27 Yanks, It’s the Yankees who have the best record in the league. So much for predicting baseball, eh?

So how did we get here? And what about the next 84 games – can they keep it up?

CC and the 7 Dwarves

The starting rotation, if unspectacular, has been steady. That CC Sabathia  (10-4, 3.25 ERA) would turn in a typical ace-like season was not in much doubt. But when Phil Hughes broke camp without a fastball or command, an already shaky rotation seemed destined for trouble. Instead, AJ Burnett (8-6, 4.05) has seemingly put last season’s demons on hold, Freddy Garcia (7-6, 3.28) keeps junkballing his way to wins, Ivan Nova (7-4,4.26) has gotten progressively better as the season has moved into the summer and Bartolo Colon (5-3, 3.10) found the fountain of youth. Even journeyman Brian Gordon has turned in a couple of credible starts. With Hughes and Colon due back from the disabled list within the next week, the Yanks still may not have a “name” #2 guy, but the team won’t suffer from a lack of credible rotation options in the second half.

Mo and the other 7 Dwarves

At the beginning of the year, the bullpen was supposed to be the best in baseball. And it started out that way. But Pedro Feliciano was injured before camp even opened. Then Rafael Soriano (1-1, 5.40) followed up an erratic first month by hurting his elbow. Joba Chamberlain (2-0, 2.83) needed Tommy John surgery. Suddenly, a lock-down bullpen had holes everywhere except closer, where the ageless Mariano Rivera (1-1, 1.72, 21 SV) remains incomparable. Stepping into the breach has been Houdini’s reincarnation, David Robertson (1-0, 1.11) and a bunch of guys that barely earned a mention in the media guide: Hector Noesi, Luis Ayala, Buddy Carlysle, Lance Pendleton, Cory Wade, Jeff Marquez, Kevin Whelan, Amauri Sanit. Even the much-maligned Boone Logan has managed to become effective lately. Here, too, reinforcements are on the way, as Soriano looks to be ready by mid-July. And just to add to the laugh factor, yesterday the Yankees re-acquired Sergio Mitre.

The EVIL Home Run

Call it a sign of baseball experts not being as expert as they thought. A common refrain is that the Yankees hit too many home runs. Maybe I’m thin-skinned, but I take it to mean that the Yankees “cheat” because they do what they do best: hit home runs. They lead the majors in homers (115), runs scored (416) and OPS (.793). If the rest of baseball is jealous simply because the Yankees sport an offense that means they’re never out of a game, let them eat (AJ) pie. Oh, and for all of those NL “small ball” types: the Yanks are third in steals, with 71.

What probably scares the bejeezus out of the rest of baseball is that as good as the offense has been, it hasn’t really clicked on all cylinders yet – even though it’s beginning to heat up. While Curtis Granderson (.276, 21, 56, along with a ML leading 70 runs) is having an MVP type year and Mark Teixeira leads the majors with 24 homers, Nick Swisher (.250, 10, 43) and Jorge Posada (.240, 9, 27) have just started to hit over the past couple of weeks. Derek Jeter (.260, 2, 20) was playing old before his injury and Alex Rodriguez (.299, 13, 51) still hasn’t recovered his power stroke. Robbie Cano (.289, 14, 49) is hitting 30 points under last season.

The Manager

I’ve never been a fan of Joe Girardi. I probably never will be. But I have to give credit where it’s due and this season, Girardi deserves mention for Manager of the Year. He has stumbled a couple of times, but for the most part he has managed to string together enough oddball pieces to keep this team playing better than the sum of its parts.

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Have the Yankees upset Jobu? If last night’s game is an indicator, than maybe they have.

The other day I posted about the Yankees all-or-nothing offense and pointed out who I think are the three main culprits behind the inconsistency: Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner and Jorge Posada. As I mentioned, I’m not so worried about Jeter and Gardner is fine in the 9th spot in the order. However, Posada is positively killing the team right now. Mike Axisa at RAB also has a piece on Posada’s horrible season thus far.

Since that article posted, I’ve received numerous comments through Facebook
and Twitter
about other Yankee sluggers who haven’t done the job lately. Their lack of production is, as far as I can tell, more due to messed up mechanics than anything else. Has Alex Rodriguez slumped terribly over the past ten games? Sure – and if you watch his at-bats, you notice his head flying open before the bat head on breaking balls. Nick Swisher? From the left-hand side, Nick is holding his bat lower and diving into the plate too much; he can’t get decent wood on anything on the inner half.

The point is, every major leaguer in history has had slumps. 98% of them make their peace with Jobu and resume hitting. The rest end up behind the counter at your local Wendy’s.

I strongly suspect that the Yankees principle culprit is plain old exhaustion. They’re in the middle of a stretch where they will play 32 games in 33 days. That kind of grind will take its toll on anyone. Which brings up a point not totally off kilter that I’ll expand on in a later post, the decline in offense generally (overall AL OPS is at .714, 20 points lower than last season and 62 points lower than in 2006). I personally think it has to do with two things: the number and quality of pitchers each team carries –and the number of quality reserves on each team’s bench. Stay tuned…

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This is the new Philips Norelco commercial, featuring Jonathan Papelbon and Nick Swisher.

Whose side are you on? The acting in this commercial is pretty bad, but the best line was delivered by Swish: “So, you’re always perfectly groomed for a blown save.”

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The season is now ten days old and Mr. Mailbag’s inbox is filling up. While Mr. Mailbag never pretends that the sky is falling when the season is less than two weeks old and the Yankees have a winning record, there sure are a lot of pessimistic Yankee fans out there. So here are the four most often asked questions I’ve received:

  1. Have Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada reached the end of the line? I hope not, but both players are aging and not necessarily gracefully. As of tonight’s game, Jeter is batting only .206 with one extra base hit in nine games. He’s abandoned the new stance and looks slow on fastballs. If you’ve watched the games, you can see Jeter is back where we left off last year – getting beat on fastballs inside, fishing for slow stuff outside and hitting weak grounders at the middle infielders. Were he playing stellar defense, you could overlook the slow start offensively. But in the field, he’s been caught cheating either in the hole or up the middle in an attempt to make up for his diminished range. That combination of range and cheating has resulted in 5 or 6 hits so far that most shortstops would have cut off. Unfortunately, DH isn’t a real possible position switch because Jorge Posada is sitting in that spot. Posada, other than a two-day power surge, has been even more atrocious than Jeter so far, hitting a mere .138. Take away those days and Jorge is hitting .048 with no extra base hits and 9 strike outs. (At least he’s been consistent). As much as we love these guys as fans and respect their past glories, the fact remains: both look old, slow and overmatched. For the Yankees to contend, both of these old warriors need to turn it up a few notches.
  2. What happened to Phil Hughesfastball? For all the questions about the starting rotation, Hughes wasn’t supposed to be one of them. Yet, over his first two starts, Hughes has thrown 6 innings, allowing 12 hits and 11 runs, while walking 4 and watching three of his pitches sail into orbit. What’s more, for a strike-out pitcher, he’s only managed to sit down 1 of 33 batters faced so far. The reason seems to be a general loss of velocity. Everyone in the Yankee brass insists that Hughes is physically fine, but the sudden case of Javier Vazquez-itis has to trouble everyone. If Hughes’ next start on Wednesday is as bad as his first two, it is officially time to swap spots with Bartolo Colonwhile Hughes gets himself straightened out.
  3. How will Freddy Garcia pitch this year? We’ll get our first glimpse on Friday,when Garcia finally gets his chance to shine. Unfortunately for Garcia and the Yankees, that start will come against the Rangers, a team that is scoring at will so far this year. But right now there can be little doubt that the team needs a strong start from Garcia. Otherwise, the bullpen and CC Sabathia will collapse from overwork before we get to May.
  4. When is the 8th inning not the 8th inning? The Yanks head into tonight’s tilt with the Orioles (weather permitting – it looks pretty nasty right now) with a 5-4 record and at least one of those losses can be hung directly on the shoulders of one Joe Girardi. That loss was the extra-innings tilt against the Twins, when Clueless Joe inserted Rafael Soriano into the game in the eighth inning with the Yanks leading 4-0. Never mind Soriano’s history of awful performances with both Tampa Bay and Atlanta when there isn’t a save situation, it was the eighth, so in went Soriano. 6 batters later, it was David Robertson being asked to bail out the team. He almost did, but a blooper tied the game and sealed the Yanks fate. After the game, Joe insisted on using some type of convoluted logic for using Soriano in the game. Here’s hoping he learned that just because you signed a guy to pitch the eighth inning doesn’t mean he always has to pitch the eighth inning.
  5. Where has Nick Swisher gone? For this, I have no answer. There’s certainly a guy in right field wearing #33 that looks like Nick Swisher. And some dude calling himself Nick Swisher has been showing up around town, handing out tickets. But I strongly suspect that a deranged Red Sox fan has kidnapped Swish and replaced him with a robot that can’t hit and can’t field. I am hereby calling for his immediate release.

In exchange, I’ll return the real Carl Crawford. :)

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There can be no doubt that the American League East is easily the best division in baseball. In fact, this year could wind up being historic in terms of division play, as my projections show 4 of the 5 teams capable of winning 90+ games this season – a feat that’s never been accomplished before. Is the talent level in the East really that much better than the rest of the AL? In a word, YES.

Both the Boston Red Sox and Yankees look to be the class of baseball this year. I project both teams to win 105 games this year and finish tied for the division crown. How evenly matched are the two juggernauts? The projections also have them splitting the season series, 9-9. Many prognosticators are giving the edge to the Red Sox this year, based on their starting rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. While the Yankees rotation is known to be unsettled, relying on a return to form by AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes avoiding regression from his 18-8 2010 season, and a collection of rookies and reclamation projects to fill the 4 & 5 spots, the Sox rotation also has question marks. Can Lackey reclaim his form? Can Beckett come back from an injury plagued season? Will Buchholz ever deliver on his promise? Can Matsuzaka come back from injuries and inconsistency? In short, both teams could have excellent rotations – or horrible ones, once you get past the aces. But offensively, both squads are loaded 1 – 9. The Yankees projected line-up of Derek Jeter, Nick SwisherMark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner may actually be better than the team that led the league in runs scored last season. Boston counters with Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury. Both line-ups are capable of scoring 1,000 runs. The real differentiators between the teams are in the bullpens and on the bench. The Yanks have a slight edge in the bullpen, with the 1 – 1a tandem of Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano. The Sox have a slight edge on the bench.

As for the rest of the division, Tampa Bay suffered some tremendous free-agent losses. Despite that, they come into the season with their only real question being the strength of the bullpen, where the oft-traveled Kyle Farnsworth heads a makeshift relief corps. The additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, along with new shortstop Reid Brignac and rookie Desmond Jennings, should actually make the offense better. And Tampa’s rotation remains one of the game’s best, led by David Price. But while good enough to win pretty much any other division in the game, this year’s Rays aren’t in the same class as either New York or Boston.

The same goes for the Orioles, although Baltimore may have the most improved team in the league. The infield was completely remade, as Mark Reynolds, Derek Lee and JJ Hardy join Brian Roberts. The O’s also brought in veteran slugger Vladimir Guerrero and closer Kevin Gregg. Add in what looks to be the league’s best young rotation and proven winner (and old friend) Buck Showalter as manager, and Baltimore is poised to shock people the same way Toronto did last year.

As for the Blue Jays, this team lost too much – and replaced those parts with questionable signings – from last year’s overachieving squad to compete this year. They’ve brought in pitching guru John Farrell to lead the team, but this team will suffer from losing Cito Gastons “let-’em-fly” attitude on offense. Include a rookie catcher, changes at 1st, 3rd and all three OF spots and it will prove to be too much turnover to overcome. One bright spot for the Jays this year could be rookie starter Kyle Drabek, one of the game’s more hyped young pitchers.

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Craig Robinson (with some help from Benjamin Kabak- Swisher) has done it again. He’s allowed us fans to look at the game in a different way through visual graphics. Here are some Yankees-related graphics I thought I would share with you guys from his website:

(more…)

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Fourth in a series

2010 was the tale of two offenses for the Yankees: there was the offense that could explode at any moment; that led the league in runs scored and struck fear into opposing teams. And then there was the offense that could go days without getting a clutch hit; that lived and died as it waited for someone to hit the mythical 5 run homer. Both offenses were evident in the 2010 ALCS. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the latter offense was the one that spent most of the time on display. Injuries to key players like Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada robbed key players of time in 2010 and 2011 doesn’t figure to offer much improvement on that front. Of the 9 projected starters, 3 (Derek Jeter, Posada and Rodriguez) are older than 35. Additionally, the only projected regulars under 30 next season are Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner. This isn’t meant to be pessimistic – the emergence of Cano as an MVP caliber player and Gardner as a solid corner outfielder were huge positives for the team in 2010. There’s also a crop of intriguing minor leaguers nearly ready for the jump to the Big Ballclub in the Bronx. Once again, players highlighted likely won’t be back in 2011.

Under Contract (9):

2B Robinson Cano, C Francisco Cervelli, LF Brett Gardner, CF Curtis Granderson, IF Ramiro Pena, C Jorge Posada, 3B Alex Rodriguez, RF Nick Swisher, 1B Mark Teixeira

Free Agents (6):

1B Lance Berkman, SS Derek Jeter, 1B Nick Johnson, OF Austin Kearns, C Chad Moeller, OF Marcus Thames

Minor Leaguers to Watch (9): Note – this group includes players who received a call-up during the 2010 season

IF Reegie Corona, OF Colin Curtis, OF Greg Golson, 3B Brandon Laird, 1B Juan Miranda, C Jesus Montero, IF Eduardo Nunez, C Austin Romine, IF/OF Kevin Russo

Infield:

Derek Jeter may be a free agent this offseason, but nobody honestly expects him to sign elsewhere. GM Brian Cashman may have pulled some idiotic maneuvers in the past, but if he fails to re-sign the Captain I would fully anticipate his head being hoisted on a pole outside gate 4. That said, all four infield starters from last year – A-Rod at 3B, Cano at 2B, Teixeira at 1B and Jeter at SS look to be back next year. The key for this group in 2011 is health, as age, injuries and lack of rest caught up to them. Jeter had what is easily the worst season of his illustrious career, and at times seemed to have a slow bat. Teixeira battled nagging injuries throughout the season, as did Rodriguez. Cano finally realized his incredible potential and had his best season ever, but tailed off towards the end of the season – although he did seem refreshed by October. Despite their troubles, the infield combined for 102 HR, 401 R and 409 RBI. Getting the regulars some rest on occasion can only help their production, especially down the stretch. To that end, the Yankees need to decide what to do about reserve infielders. Ramiro Pena has a sure, if unspectacular glove but tends to get his bat knocked out of his hands, managing a meager .504 OPS despite garnering 167 plate appearances. Eduardo Nunez got a look late in the season, but displayed shaky defense with a middling bat. Kevin Russo got a look early in the year, but proved to be another Cody Ransom. Expect Reegie Corona to get a look this spring, but I expect he’ll spend a year at Scranton as the Yanks look to see if he might be able to fill in for Jeter in 2012. Another option is the free agent market, which is loaded with career utility types. One in particular, Willie Bloomquist, has piqued the Yankees interest in the past. As for Nick Johnson, 2010’s big offseason free agent signing: I don’t think he can pack his bags fast enough for the Yankees or their fans.

Catchers:

This was a definite weak spot for the Yankees in 2010. Neither Jorge Posada nor Francisco Cervelli proved to be worth much defensively. To make matters worse, Posada not only battled an assortment of injuries during the season, but suffered through a decidedly sub-par season offensively. Cervelli finished with decent numbers for a catcher (.694 OPS), but disappeared for the entire summer, hitting only .147 in June, July and August. Fully expect touted rookie Jesus Montero to make his Bronx debut in 2011, although that will crowd the situation behind the plate. If the Yankees do keep 11 pitchers on the roster, as is generally the case these days that only leaves room for 14 fielders – carrying three catchers is probably a luxury the Yankees can’t afford. Expect the Yankees to give Cervelli a look at third before making a final decision, to see if he can field the position defensively. Whatever the future holds for Cervelli, fully expect Posada and Montero to split the catching duties, with Montero getting the bulk of the starts behind the plate as the season progresses. The reviews on Montero’s defense have not been kind, but the Yanks hope that he can learn on the job, similar to another young, power-hitting catching prospect from 15 years ago. Some kid named Jorge Posada.

Outfield:

The Yankees seem to be set, with all three of 2010’s starters returning. But here’s the catch: there are two FA outfielders the Yanks have long coveted, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. Should the Yankees sign one or the other, a stable outfield situation suddenly becomes crowded. Do you sit Brett Gardner, who had a very respectable .762 OPS and stole 47 bases? Do you trade Nick Swisher, who is a fan favorite in the Bronx and posted a .288/29/89 line? Do you trade Curtis Granderson, a former all-star who found his stroke towards the end of the season? The most likely scenario has the Yankees signing Crawford (.307,19 HR, 90 RBI, 47 SB), if for no other reason than to keep him away from Boston, starting him in left and sitting Gardner. Also expect the Yankees to make an effort to re-sign Thames, who proved to be a valuable bat off the bench. But since 2011 looks to offer him even fewer opportunities than 2010, Thames will likely look elsewhere first.

That means the projected opening day line-up in 2011 would be:

SS Jeter, LF Crawford, 1B Teixeira, 3B Rodriguez, 2B Cano, RF Swisher, C Posada, DH Montero, CF Granderson

Current MLB players on 40 man roster:

Position Name Age Avg OBA SLG 2010 Salary 2011 Contract
2B Robinson Cano

28

0.319

0.381

0.534

$ 9,000,000.00 $ 10,000,000.00
C Francisco Cervelli

25

0.271

0.359

0.335

$ 410,800.00 Under Team Control
LF Brett Gardner

27

0.277

0.383

0.379

$ 452,000.00 Under Team Control
CF Curtis Granderson

30

0.247

0.324

0.468

$ 5,500,000.00 $ 8,250,000.00
IF Ramiro Pena

25

0.227

0.258

0.247

$ 412,000.00 Under Team Control
C Jorge Posada

39

0.248

0.357

0.454

$ 13,100,000.00 $ 13,100,000.00
3B Alex Rodriguez

35

0.270

0.341

0.506

$ 33,000,000.00 $ 31,000,000.00
RF/1B Nick Swisher

30

0.288

0.359

0.511

$ 6,850,000.00 $ 9,000,000.00
1B Mark Teixeira

31

0.256

0.365

0.481

$ 20,625,000.00 $ 22,500,000.00
1B Lance Berkman

35

0.255

0.358

0.349

$ 15,000,000.00 Free Agent
SS Derek Jeter

37

0.270

0.340

0.370

$ 22,500,000.00 Free Agent
1B Nick Johnson

32

0.167

0.388

0.306

$ 5,500,000.00 Free Agent
OF Austin Kearns

31

0.235

0.345

0.324

$ 750,000.00 Free Agent
C Chad Moeller

36

0.214

0.267

0.429

Unknown Free Agent
OF Marcus Thames

34

0.288

0.350

0.491

$ 900,000.00 Free Agent

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Tonight, the Yankees start the second leg of the Chase for 28 in Arlington, Texas. The game is on TBS and coverage begins at 8pm ET.

The Yankees got to this point by disposing of the Twins in 3 straight, while the Rangers are coming off a much more grueling 5 game victory over the Rays. The teams split their regular season series at 4 wins apiece – but this is the postseason, where the Yankees have historically owned the Rangers. But these aren’t your father’s Rangers. Those teams tried to club you into submission; this one features some pitching and speed in addition to the power.

During the regular season, the Rangers cruised to the AL West crown, finishing 9 games ahead of Oakland. Still, they would have finished third in the AL East, only one game ahead of Boston – and Boston was never really in the race after the All-Star break.

Let’s break it down.

Rotations:

Each team is planning on going with a four man rotation, although if either is down 3-0 the smart money is the game four starter will change.

Game 1: CC Sabathia vs. CJ Wilson

In the battle of Starters With Initials For Names, Sabathia is the Yankee ace and won 21 games this year. Wilson is the Rangers version of Phil Hughes, emerging from the bullpen to realize his potential this season. In their respective starts in the ALDS, Sabathia worked through 6 innings, demonstrating why he’s an ace: even without great command or life on his pitches, he kept the Yankees in the game until the team solved Francisco Liriano. The guy just finds a way to win, especially in prime-time. Wilson dominated the Rays in Game 2 of that series.

Game 2: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis

Hughes gets the ball in Arlington, where he’s pitched well in the past. Lewis is a reclamation project, being rescued from Japan. Hughes went 18-8 while Lewis parked a 12-13 record. Each pitcher is relatively inexperienced in the postseason and will be making their second start, although Hughes also pitched out of the pen in last year’s postseason run to #27. In their previous starts, Hughes dominated the Twins in winning the clincher. Lewis was nearly as effective in game 3 against the Rays.

Game 3: Andy Pettite vs. Cliff Lee

The marquee matchup of this series pits Pettite, the all-time leader in starts and wins in the postseason against the Rangers ace – who has been dominant the past two years in October. Prepare for one of those classic 1-0 type games.

Game 4: AJ Burnett vs. Tommy Hunter

Burnett is basically like the lost lamb trying to find his way back, after a season in which he posted career highs in hit batters and ERA while posting a career worst WHIP. It was an ugly year for AJ and is pretty much getting the start only because the Yanks don’t want to burn out CC before the World Series. However, the Rangers may be the perfect team for AJ to get his groove back – the only teams he was statistically better against in 2010 were the Royals and Indians. Hunter posted career highs in wins, starts and innings pitched, but he’s very much a pitcher who relies on guile and command. Yankee Stadium in October isn’t exactly conducive to easing rattled nerves for opposing players (just ask the Angels from last year).

Because the Rangers had to go the distance with Tampa Bay, the Yankees catch a huge break: Rangers ace and Yankee-killer Cliff Lee will, at best, get 2 starts (games 3 & 7). But the odds are this series won’t go the full 7 games. Edge: Yankees

Bullpens:

The Yankees have the ultimate post season weapon in closer Mariano Rivera, and set him up rather nicely with Kerry Wood, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and lefty Boone Logan. Despite the Rangers being primarily right-handed offensively, Logan still figures to be an important weapon out of the pen against Josh Hamilton.

The Rangers feature first-year closer Neftali Feliz and veteran lefty swing-man Darren Oliver. After that, it’s a hope, a prayer and somebody getting thrown to the wolves. The primary set-up man this year is Darren O’Day, but expect lefties Michael Kirkman and Derrek Holland to see plenty of action, as well. The Rangers also added another lefthander, Clay Rapada, to the roster for this series. Edge: Yankees

Offenses:

The Yankees led the league in scoring and the lineup is so deep that veteran All-Star Lance Berkman hits 8th. MVP candidate Robinson Cano is joined by perennial All-Stars Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in the 100RBI club, and 5 Yankees went deep 25 or more times in 2010. When future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter is the weakest link in your lineup, you’re pretty set offensively. The Yankees also have speed in Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner (3rd in steals). Marcus Thames adds a proven power bat off the bench. The key to holding the Yankees down is hoping that Joe Girardi goes insane and starts IF Ramiro Pena and OF Greg Golson.

The Rangers boast some serious offense with the likes of CF/LF Josh Hamilton (also an MVP candidate), RF Nelson Cruz, DH Vladimir Guerrero, 3B Michael Young and 2B Ian Kinsler. SS Elvis Andrus and CF Julio Borbon add speed, but not much pop and not much in the way of getting on base. OF Jeff Francouer was brought over from the Mets to add a RH bat off the bench and pair with lefty OF David Murphy. The Rangers are offensively challenged at C and 1B, although C Bengie Molina can turn on a mistake. Still, the Rangers are only a real force offensively in positions 2-6. Edge: Yankees

Defenses:

The Rangers are a solid team defensively, particularly in the outfield, where the speed of Hamilton, Cruz and Borbon lets them get to a lot of balls and both Hamilton and Cruz feature excellent throwing arms. On the infield, Kinsler and Young don’t make many mistakes, but both have been compared to statues in the past. Catcher Molina is a weapon against opponents running games, but more importantly works well with the pitching staff. Reserve C Matt Treanor also figures to get at least one start. SS Andrus has terrific range and a good arm, but can be erratic at times. Manager Ron Washington has done a terrific job in shoring up what was once one of the worst defenses in baseball, but the Rangers aren’t on par with 1976 Reds yet.

The Yankees feature Gold Glove defense at 1B, 2B and LF. The greatest weakness is behind the plate, where C Jorge Posada had a sub-par year both throwing and blocking balls. Reserve C Francisco Cervelli seems destined to get the game 4 start, but has only been marginally better. Edge: Yankees

On the whole, the Yankees are clearly the better team. Watch out if the Yankees win the first two in Texas – this series could be over before Cliff Lee even takes the hill in game 3. Pick: I was originally going to say Yankees in 5, but I talked myself into it…

Yankees in a sweep.

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Courtesy: Newark Star-Ledger

One of the downsides to all of the day games the Yankees have been playing lately is that I don’t get to watch them. I try to keep up by following on Twitter and sneaking a peek via MLB.com every so often, but we all know it’s not the same as actually watching the game. I feel almost disconnected from my favorite team. I can get the final score, of course, but it’s just not the same. And lately, the scores have been mostly pretty good, but I feel as if I’m missing out on something special. After all, the team has increased their lead over Tampa Bay over the last two weeks, somehow weathering the injury to A-Rod remarkably well.

But some days are better than others, even if I can’t watch. Some days popping open the final box or game recap are almost as thrilling as watching live. It brings back memories of my youth, when I would grab the morning paper after a midweek night game to find out if the Yankees won. To find out if Reggie or Thurman or Catfish had done something incredible.

Today is one of those days. Nick Swisher, all I can say is THANK YOU for bringing a smile to my face (and a very loud cheer to my coworkers’ ears) during the afternoon grind. Thank you for doing something incredible.

Oh, and thank you for giving me a great excuse to grab a slice of pie on my way home!

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Nick Swisher & Andy Pettitte recently took part in a AT&T New York Yankees commercial shoot. I’m sure you guys all remember Posada and Girardi filming that MLB Extra Innings commercial for DirectTV a while back. I have no idea when this commercial will air, but I’m excited to see it. As you can see from the videos, the commercial shoot took place at Richmond County Bank Ballpark along the waterfront in St. George (the home of the Staten Island Yankees).

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