Jeter, A-Rod, Sabathia fuel Yankees' Game 1 win

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Given the circumstances, the only real surprise from Game 1 of the ALDS is that the Twins jumped out to an early lead.
After playing 12 innings to decide the AL Central crown Tuesday night and arriving in New York at around 3:30 a.m. local time for a 6:07 p.m. game, the Twins drew first blood with a pair of third-inning runs before 26-year-old rookie Brian Duensing predictably struggled in his first taste of the playoffs, at Yankee Stadium, against baseball’s best offense (with a bespectacled Jay-Z looking on, no less).
Derek Jeter quickly erased Minnesota’s early lead with a two-run homer in the next half-inning and Nick Swisher’s run-scoring double–with the aid of shoddy throws from both left fielder Delmon Young and shortstop Orlando Cabrera–in the fourth frame gave New York the lead before the Yankees broke the game open in the fifth inning. Jeter drew a leadoff walk and came around to score on Alex Rodriguez’s first postseason hit with runners in scoring position since approximately 1942.
With the Yankees up 4-2 manager Ron Gardenhire gave Duensing a quick hook, pulling the southpaw with two outs despite left-hander Hideki Matsui coming to the plate. Duensing held left-handed batters to just .244/.311/.268 this season, but Gardenhire chose to bring in fellow southpaw Francisco Liriano and his slightly worse .255/.325/.307 mark against lefties. Whether he thought that Duensing was tired after throwing 79 pitches or Liriano was simply a better matchup against Matsui the move didn’t work.
Matsui got ahead of Liriano and homered on a 2-1 pitch, putting the Yankees up 6-2. New York tacked on another run against Liriano in the seventh inning and Minnesota went just 4-for-23 with four singles and one walk after scoring the pair of third-inning runs. Armed with a five-run lead and an off day next on the schedule the Yankees’ bullpen went into full shutdown mode with Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, and finally Mariano Rivera relieving CC Sabathia after his 6.2 innings of two-run ball.
Sabathia pitched well despite some shaky work behind the plate from Jorge Posada, striking out eight, walking none, and allowing just two extra-base hits after coming into the game with a 7.92 ERA in five previous playoff starts. And once armed with a lead the Yankees’ bullpen trio of Hughes, Chamberlain, and Rivera–with a little Coke mixed in against tough left-handers–is going to be awfully tough to come back on throughout the postseason.
About the only negative from the Yankees’ point of view is that Mark Teixeira went 0-for-4 and hit into a double play, but the rest of New York’s incredibly deep and dangerous lineup picked up the slack and the quintet of pitchers combined for a dozen strikeouts versus just one walk. Sabathia working into the seventh inning before handing things over to Rivera and company is a combination that looks capable of carrying the Yankees deep into October, and he’s now won seven of eight starts versus the Twins.
Luckily for the Twins they have matchups against the far more hittable A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte before Sabathia’s turn in the rotation comes around again in Game 4 and today’s break in the schedule gives them a chance to set up their own rotation after throwing Duensing almost by default. As noted in my ALDS preview Nick Blackburn against Burnett is the Twins’ most favorable matchup of the series and that’s on tap when play resumes tomorrow night for Game 2.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.