Are there some players who just can't hack it in New York?

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Javier Vazquez cap.jpgI’m extremely reluctant to give credence to the “Player X just can’t handle New York” line of reasoning because as explanations go, it rarely if ever accounts for all of the variables.

Javy Vazquez is a good example, inasmuch as that meme doesn’t account for the fact that he handled things just fine in New York until he got hurt back in 2004. Something else is almost always going on when a guy is playing poorly for the Yankees or any other team — maybe many something elses — and if we care at all about figuring out what it is, we’re best to leave unverifiable, unquantifiable blanket explanations out of the equation until there is nothing else available.

But you know what? Sometimes you may not have any other explanation. Take pitcher Ed Whitson. As ESPN’s Ian O’Connor writes, the fact of being in New York seems to have been his biggest problem during his brief tenure with the Yankees back in the mid-80s:

“It’s like working in an office and your boss comes in and says, ‘You
suck,’ after you’ve tried your best,” Whitson said. “Now multiply that
by 50,000 bosses, all of them telling you that you suck, and imagine
what that feels like.

“You feel like everybody’s against
you, and sometimes you just want to quit. But you can’t ever quit.”

Some people are just wired to be more sensitive to criticism than others. I have no idea if Javy Vazquez is one of those people or if his struggles this year are a function of playing in New York. And given that there’s still a lot of season to go and scores of reasons why any one pitcher can struggle, I’ll probably be the last guy to hop on that train when assessing Vazquez. Let’s talk about his decreased velocity first, ya know?

But “he just can’t handle New York” is not a wholly fictitious concept. There are extremes to the place that major leaguers don’t face in San Diego, where Whitson thrived, or the Columbus, Ohio suburbs where he now lives.

I suspect that the vast majority of ballplayers face more pressure simply making it up through the ranks to the bigs than they face from a hostile crowd or press corps, thereby rendering the pressures of New York relatively quaint, but it can’t be said for absolutely everyone.

The Cubs live for another day, but death will come soon

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The Cubs had a nice night last night. Javier Baez finally broke his hitless streak with not one but two homers. Willson Contreras hit a nearly 500-foot homer. Jake Arrieta, possibly pitching for the last time as a Cub, dug down for a gutsy performance, pitching into the seventh inning, working around some walks to allow only one run while striking out nine.

After the game, Cubs players sounded hopeful notes about believing in themselves, taking them one game at a time, getting the series back to L.A. for a Game 6 and Game 7. They’re professional athletes who know better than any of us that to achieve a thing you have to believe you can achieve that thing, so it’d be dumb to expect anything else from them in this situation. Ballplayers, quite admirably, don’t sound a note of defeat until they are actually defeated.

But let’s be realistic there: they’re still a dead team walking.

  • They’re dead because, as we have been reminded oh so many times, only once in 35 tries has a team come back to win a seven game series in which they’ve found themselves down 0-3. That team did so because Dave Roberts worked some magic. Dave Roberts is working for the other team now.
  • They’re dead because their biggest weakness this postseason — their bullpen — is not going to have its best pitcher, Wade Davis, available today in Game 5 after throwing 48 pitches in Game 4.
  • They’re dead because while the Dodgers used five relievers last night, none of them were worked particularly hard and neither Brandon Morrow nor Kenley Jansen were used at all, allowing them to come in and work hard and heavy tonight if need be.
  • They’re dead because the man on the mound to start tonight’s game is Clayton Edward Kershaw. Yes, he has had some less-than-glory-filled moments in the postseason in recent years, but all of those have come at the tail end of starts, when his managers have left him in perhaps an inning too long. See the above bullet point — and Dave Roberts’ early hook in Game 1 — if you think that’ll be a problem tonight.

The Dodgers lost last night, yes, but it was their first loss in the postseason. All teams have lost at least one postseason game since it went to the three-round format, so it was likely inevitable that L.A. would drop one. Heck, maybe they’ll drop two before the NLCS is over, but they’re not going to drop the next three in a row.

Last night’s Cubs win was nice for them, but it only delayed the inevitable.