Well, the Yankees dropped their first series of the postseason, losing two of three from the Angels. I thought this would happen, but I also thought the Halos would take one of the first two games in Yankee Stadium; their defense and untimely hitting made that impossible.
The Angels changed their approaches while playing at home. During Games One and Two, Vladimir Guerrero was constantly being challenged inside and he never once came though with a big hit.
However, during Game Three, he tied the game at three all with a two-out, two-run homer off of Andy Pettitte. When Guerrero first came to the plate that game I said to my friend, "Vlad's off the plate more than he was in Games One and Two. He is compensating for his slow bat." Just last week, I wrote that Vlad was being pounded inside by the Yankee pitchers. We went to MLB.com and saw video of Vlad in Game Two and from Game Three.
Vlad was off the plate more in Game Three and this little adjustment helped the Angels take two of three.
Being off the plate allows an inside ball to become a pitch Vlad is better able to hit. And he showed that with the tying home run. The Yankees have to notice this and begin to mix up their locations. Always a game (and series of adjustments), Vlad also came through in the crucial Game Five with a game-tying, two-out single off Phil Hughes.
He is not back to the old Vlad, but the Yankees need to realize they must mix their locations more and not leave pitches over the middle of the plate for him.
Or for Jeff Mathis, for that matter.
The Angels backup catcher is known as more of a good field, no-stick catcher who only hit .211/.288./.308/.596 with just 13 XBH in 272 plate appearances (PA). His line last season was about the same, only he was below the Mendoza line. And Mathis strikes out way too much for a hitter, as he totaled 90 whiffs in 2008 (in 328 PA) and 72 K's this year.
And here is a quirky stat: Mathis has struck out the same number of times as the amount of total bases he produced in each of the past two seasons. He totaled 90 bases last year and 72 this season and had the exact same number of whiffs.
That is almost impossible for a non-pitcher to attain. A hitter who is that unproductive usually is not in the majors very long.
Defense is why Mathis is in the majors, but offense is why he is playing more in the ALCS, where he is hitting .600 (6 for 10) with four doubles. He is also John Lackey's personal catcher, catching the pitcher's last 19 starts, including the three Lackey started this postseason.
In fact, Mathis was behind the plate for this game, a Lackey win over CC Sabathia on July 12. Mathis will get a chance to hit again this series, starting Game Six behind the plate. Scioscia is banking on Mathis’ hot bat to keep going strong.
Mathis will not have much of an offensive impact in Game Six.
Doesn't it seem like every time there is a called strike on the Angels right fielder, that he has a look of disgust on his face? It appears that Abreu thinks any time he takes a pitch, it should never be called a strike. He is a patient hitter, walks a lot, taught the Angels' hitters to be patient, blah, blah, blah, but Abreu is not Ted Williams.
(There is a great story about a young catcher who asked the home plate umpire where a close pitch was on a certain lefty slugger. The umpire replied the pitch was outside, when the catcher said, "No it wasn't, it was right on the corner." The umpire came back with, "the batter up right now son is Mr. Ted Williams and he has such a good batting eye that if Mr. Williams does not swing at a pitch, it is most certainly off the plate.")
Abreu has not had a good series, going 3-for-21 (.143 BA) with two doubles and one RBI. He has an uncharacteristic seven strikeouts, one for every three at-bats. Instead of taking all these good pitches for strikes, it might be wise to adjust a little and begin swinging earlier, at better pitches.
Swisher had the ultimate opportunity to cleanse his putrid ALCS system with a go-ahead hit against Angels reliever Brian Fuentes on Thursday night. The two-out, 3-2 pitch from Fuentes was a virtual meatball, right down the middle at 89 MPH. A very, very hittable pitch.
And Swisher muffed it. It is impossible to come through all the time in big situations, but on a pitch like that from Fuentes, the odds of getting a hit go up immeasurably. All the pressure was on Fuentes to throw a strike as he did not want to walk the ever patient (and walk machine) Yankee right fielder.
But it was Swisher who wilted under the pressure. In between every pitch in that at-bat, Swisher was seen taking huge deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. Wilting under playoff pressure is nothing new for Swish, as he has been a dud in most of his other postseason experiences.
That is why I felt it strange Yankee manager Joe Girardi did not "rest" Swisher in Game Five against the right-handed Angels starter, John Lackey, giving the start to speedy Brett Gardner. In that case, Girardi would be using Gardner’s speed to give better defense and on the bases a few times a game.
Gardner offers different weapons than Swisher, but it is all dependent on him getting on base; he couldn’t be any worse than Swisher at getting on base at this point. Also, Lackey has shown often in this series that he can be agitated on the mound, and what better way to agitate a pitcher than to have speed on the bases.
But that being said, Swisher will likely start against lefty Joe Saunders tonight. Any other righty power hitters on the Yankee bench, or even in their system?
Shelley Duncan, where are you? Better yet, this role will be played next season by youngster Jesus Montero, who will be only 20, but his bat is Major League ready right now.
Speaking of Lackey and his attitude, unless the Angels win Game Six in New York and/or get to the World Series, the really good, right-handed pitcher has thrown his last game for the Angels. His demonstrative actions on the mound shows his competitive spirit, but he must bring up his issues with his manager before the inning or while the pitching coach visited the mound earlier.
Lackey can not show his manager up in that situation, although Mike Scioscia was clearly wrong in pulling Lackey with bases loaded and no outs in the seventh inning. Lackey had a 4-0 lead, giving up no runs in the contest!
Imagine Johnny Keane pulling Bob Gibson during a must-win game. Imagine Walter Alston pulling Sandy Koufax in the mid '60s, or even Tommy Lasorda pulling Orel Hershiser during a key game during the last two months or the postseason in 1988.
And who was Hershiser’s catcher during that season?
Mike Scioscia, who should know that No. 1 starters in the playoffs deserve any benefit of the doubt in key spots.
That is why Lackey, a free agent after this season, will definitely leave the Angels for greener pastures. Lackey also showed his Steve Carlton and Jim Palmer frustrations with his defense in Game One after Eric Aybar let Hideki Matsui’s pop-up drop in the first inning.
And forget it, New York Met fans, who would love to sign Lackey to a free agent contract. It is not going to happen. Why would any big-name free agent choose to play for that joke of an organization like the Mets over any other team with a chance at playing in the postseason? With Omar Minaya’s negative exploits this season, most free agents are using the Mets to bid up prices for other teams.
It has been written ad nauseum about Girardi’s managerial decisions regarding bullpen management. Bottom line is Girardi has gone with Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera the entire second half as covering the last two innings. Even though Hughes has struggled, and David Robertson has succeeded throughout the playoffs, there is no way Girardi will take Hughes out of his customary 2009 eighth inning role.
But, Girardi might need to utilize D-Rob’s talents more often, and for longer stretches, in future postseason games.
With Hughes and Joba Chamberlain likely going into next season’s rotation, Robertson is going to have the leg up on Mark Melancon and others for next season’s eighth inning role in front of Rivera.
That being said, if there is a Yankee lead in the seventh inning tonight, two outs and men on base, I go with a well rested Mariano Rivera for two-plus innings.
I still do not know why Girardi pinch hit Francisco Cervelli in Game Three for Rivera when Mo could easily have gone another inning or two. The "DelGrippo Rule" on postseason games is win the game you are currently playing and worry about balance of the series tomorrow.
There is no need to go with something other than your best in a close situation. Guys like Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle, John Hiller, and Rich Gossage used to continuously go multiple innings in important games.
In that classic Game 163 on Oct. 2, 1978, Goose went two-and-two-thirds innings for the save in the Yankees 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox for the American League East title. It was done then and could be done now. Rivera went three innings in Game Seven of that 2003 ALCS versus Boston. I know both were lose and go home games, but these guys can do more than what current managers are asking.
My Take on Tonight
I originally picked the Angels in six games. I never like to pick a team in seven games in a baseball series because of too many variables in one baseball game. Your team could have a Bob Gibson gem, and still have a Curt Flood type of play lose the game for you.
I thought the Angels would take one in New York, win two of three at home, and have Joe Saunders pitch great in a Game Six back in New York. However, I did not anticipate how much they would be affected by the poor weather in New York and play lousy defense.
Instead of the Angels going for a clincher tonight, it is the Yankees going for series victory. That is the big difference in this Game Six.
The Yankees have been amazing all year in their home park, and there is no reason to believe this will change. There is no aura about the Stadium, no ghosts from Ruth, Gehrig, or DiMaggio who will help their old team.
What they will get is an effective start from Pettitte with Mariano closing it out. While I believe Girardi should use Mo earlier and longer tonight, General Joe will likely go with his usual seventh and eighth inning guys. His reasoning is that you need to keep guys for tomorrow’s game, but the idea is to go all-out to win tonight and worry about tomorrow...well, tomorrow.
Jeter and Alex have big nights with the bat, and the Yankees win 7-3.