Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Yankees Were Just Better

  • The Yankees overpower and outmaneuver the Phillies:

The keys to the Yankees win:
Mariano Rivera; the relentless lineup; the veteran warhorses; money.

Given the way team's "closers" gacked up so many games for their clubs and ostensibly cost them series wins, there can never be any underestimating of how important Mariano Rivera has been for the Yankees not just in this post-season, but for his entire career.

It was Rivera who was the key to the first championship in 1996 in which Joe Torre stumbled onto the winning formula of cutting the games down to a little league style six innings and handing the game over to Rivera and John Wetteland; it was Rivera's relentless nature and fearlessness in the face of any and all opposition that carried the Yankees to their four other titles.

While the closer's role is generally defined as more mental than physical, in the big games it takes someone whose nerves aren't going to get the better of them as they think about things other than the task at hand. Rivera has the combination of devastating stuff and mental will to be the premier closer not just of this generation, but in history. He took the ball whenever necessary; he performed past his customary workload; and he got the job done. If you didn't know it before, you know now----Rivera is the master.

Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano were all but non-existent in this series. It took the overlooked veteran Hideki Matsui to cement his place in Yankees lore with a veteran renaissance as he picked his club on his back and carried them to the title. What made the Yankees lineup so impossible to deal with wasn't the stack of stars that come at the opposing pitchers in waves; by the time the series had advanced to games 5 and beyond, I doubt the Phillies were overly concerned about the aforementioned players who hit as if they were in a fog; it was Matsui that they feared because of his clutch bat and power.

Even with the changes that have altered the facing of the Yankees from the time of their dynasty until now----gone are manager Joe Torre; the coaching staff; Tino Martinez, David Wells, Paul O'Neill, David Cone, etc----it was the remaining veterans from those years, specifically Derek Jeter, Rivera and Andy Petttitte who carried their club through to their long-sought return to baseball's promised land.

For all the talk of clubs needing to get "younger and more athletic" to compete in today's game, there still has to be a veteran presence and calm to lead those inexperienced and, let's be honest, frightened players through and show how it's done in the playoffs. No one exemplifies that better than Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte. Age and stats need to be discounted in certain cases and the Yankees warhorses proved it again.

You keep hearing Yankee fans complaining about the repeated mentioning of money as an all-important factor in their victory. I understand that in the hangover of achieving that which has eluded them for nine years, they don't want to hear any caveats or negativity, but discounting the way money fixed the 2009 Yankees is absurd.

We saw what happened as GM Brian Cashman went stat zombie in trying to save money (that wasn't even his) and garner credit for himself in 2008. They inserted inexperienced and limited entities into roles they were neither ready, nor had the aptitude for and missed the playoff entirely; and when I say "inexperienced and limited" that's not relegated to the players----manager Joe Girardi falls into that category as well.

In addition to the veterans that carried the Yankees through, they wouldn't have gotten this far had they not flung big money at each and every one of their holes in a desperate attempt to get their angry fan base to forget the lost year of 2008. No other club in baseball----and that includes the Red Sox, Mets and Dodgers----could have signed the best hitter on the market (Mark Teixeira); the best pitcher on the market (C.C. Sabathia); a talented, but flighty roll of the dice (A.J. Burnett); and traded for a limited, useful and overpaid bat (Nick Swisher).

These are facts.

Unlike others, I don't see anything wrong with spending money to fill holes. Why hang onto it if it's available? But to dismiss it as irrelevant is just as nonsensical as saying it was the only reason for the win. Money can't buy championships, but it helps a lot.

The keys to the Phillies loss: the bullpen; the lefty-heavy lineup; strange managerial machinations; the starting pitching.

They stickhandled their way around an atrocious and mentally fried bullpen because: A) they hit their way past them and, B) other teams' bullpens were in fact worse. But the Yankees had the advantage once it got into the ninth inning and were trotting Rivera to the mound and the Phillies were scrambling to find someone who wouldn't curl up into the fetal position and start sobbing if they walked a guy.

As great as Brad Lidge was in 2008, he was equally hideous in 2009. He danced through the raindrops in the first two rounds against the Rockies and Dodgers, always hair-trigger and on the verge of another meltdown sending him back into his tailspin. It happened in the only World Series game in which he saw action, game 4 and he was shot for the rest of the series. No team can function like that especially if their biggest bat, Ryan Howard, is in such a hopeless slump against lefties that he might as well have gone up there batting righty since he couldn't have done any worse.

The rest of the bullpen was all over the place as well from Chad Durbin (who had his career year in 2008 and has reverted to the journeyman he is), to Ryan Madson. With their starting pitching wobbly, the bullpen was the key for the Phillies and they failed.

It took all season for the predominately left-handed hitting lineup to catch up to them but it finally did. Chase Utley was a one-man-gang against pitchers from both sides, but Ryan Howard was about as bad as bad gets this whole series; utterly helpless against any and all lefties. Shane Victorino did little of value; Raul Ibanez had a moment here and there; and Jimmy Rollins? My God. For someone who yaps as much as he does, he cannot be as terrible as he was. Can-not.

Did Charlie Manuel think that last night's game was a meaningless inter-league matchup in June in which he needed to get a look at what Pedro Martinez had left and whether to count on him for important innings in September and October?

Given how weak Pedro's stuff was, it's a miracle that he only allowed 4 runs in his 4 innings. What was Manuel waiting for? Did he want Pedro to blow the game up and put it totally out of reach before he went to J.A. Happ or anyone else to try and stop the bleeding? It's hard to criticize a manager who won the World Series last year and got his team back to the big dance this year, but sometimes the decisions Manuel made aren't just head-scratchers, they're insane. How did he not have anyone warming up after Pedro gave up the homer to Matsui?

One gigantic mistake Manuel made was to keep Utley and Howard back-to-back in the lineup. With the way Jayson Werth has been raking for pretty much this whole season, the smart move would've been to insert Werth in between Utley and Howard. And I don't want to hear any of this nonsense to the tune of "this is what got us here". It's crap. The lefty-righty stuff would have been more of a risk-reward thought for the Yankees had Werth been in between Utley and Howard. Status quo was a big mistake.

I still believe it was a good move to save Cliff Lee for game 5. Joe Blanton pitched as well as could be expected in game 4 and the game was lost late. As for Cole Hamels, he was awful and the Phillies having to rely on Pedro for two of the six games was a major factor in their demise. At this point in his career, Pedro had delivered above-and-beyond what could reasonably be expected from a declining superstar just hanging on.

  • Moving forward for both clubs:

The Yankees:

Don't be surprised to see Cashman try and move Jorge Posada. Posada's defense had become heinous; the pitchers hate him; and he's looked very, very old in recent weeks. He's also making a lot of money ($26 million over the next two years) and has a no-trade clause, so don't expect him to be dealt. If he stays, the Yankees are going to have to work out this problem with the pitchers, especially A.J. Burnett. At this point, Posada's going to get worse, not better, but they're stuck with him. Like a nasty, pretty girl who loses her looks as she ages and grows intolerable, it's getting harder to overlook Posada's contentiousness as he becomes a liability on and off the field.

There's debate on what they're going to do with the free agents Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. If it was me, I'd keep Matsui as the DH and find another left fielder. No one knows what Cashman wants to do, but I would think that Matsui would be more agreeable to a short-term contract than Damon would and that could be the arbiter between the two and whom to keep.

The Yankees problems in finding a fourth starter didn't cost them in the post-season, but they can't continue down this road. Phil Hughes is not a reliever and I'd think he'll be in the starting rotation next year, full time. And what are they doing with Joba Chamberlain? If they continue with the misguided "Joba as a starter" charade, all they're going to do is get the guy hurt. I'd put him in the bullpen already and be done with it, but the way the Yankees have been so obstinate with Chamberlain, expect him to be a starter next year----to his and the club's detriment.

The Phillies:

All the talk of a "dynasty" has disappeared as the Phillies holes were exposed so effectively by the Yankees. The Phillies are so despised around the National League that every other team is going to take joy in knocking them on their asses next year.

Jimmy Rollins is going to rapidly get worse. A player who has so little plate discipline and is so invested in being at the center of everything is doomed to fall----fast. I have no idea where Rollins was going when he stole second in the top of the seventh down 7-3; and he was almost out. With the middle of that lineup coming up and down four runs? Has Rollins lost his mind?

When you have a player who swings at anything and everything; is so overly impressed with himself that he says the stupid things that Rollins does; and is clearly diminishing as a player, the pitchers around the league know about it. The more aggressive he becomes trying to live up to his mouth, the fewer pitches to hit Rollins will see and he'll become an overpaid, loudmouthed journeyman. The process has been going on for awhile now and the skid down the hill can't be stopped. It's unavoidable and Rollins's mouth is exacerbating matters with the other players.

No one's taking Brad Lidge's contract even with the potential of a repeat of 2008 in another venue. He's got $24.5 million coming to him guaranteed for 2010-2011. His mental state and the health of his knee would be the main concerns for me, but the Phillies aren't going to have much of a choice but to go with him as their closer next year. I'd expect a good comeback year from Lidge as long as the charming Philly fans don't place him into a greater mental funk from the start.

Raul Ibanez's weak second half would worry me. He did very little after his massive first half and it could've been the National League pitchers getting wind of how to pitch him and are exploiting his weaknesses. He's not young, either.

The lineup is secondary to the problems on the mound for the Phillies. Had they managed to squeak through and win the World Series, the Cole Hamels comments would easily have been forgotten during the celebration----more so if Hamels pitched game 7 and pitched well. Now that they lost, this isn't going to go away; it will linger not just on radio talk shows, but in the Phillies clubhouse and it's going to be a problem. J.A. Happ looked scared to death every time he pitched in the post-season; Jamie Moyer's probably done. After Cliff Lee, they're somewhat short in starting pitching even if Kyle Drabek arrives and develops.

The Phillies window is closing. They're not just dealing with their internal issues, but the rest of the league loathes them; the Braves are going to be very good next year; and the Mets can't have everything go as badly for them in 2010 as they did in 2009----it's impossible; plus the Marlins are tough.

Don't expect to see the Phillies here again next year as backbiting and infighting sabotages the remnants of their championship team.

As little as I want to hear the Yankees and their fans crowing all winter, at least they beat the Phillies who will have their downfall far sooner than anyone expected. It's the lesser of two evils for the Mets fan.

Things are looking up.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I think the scariest part of this entire article is the fact that Brad Lidge has "$24.5 million coming to him guaranteed for 2010-2011."

Yikes. Someone's gettin' the wrong end of that deal, and it ain't Brad Lidge.