NFL: Week 4 Picks

5 undefeated teams remain as we head into week 4 of the NFL season.  I went 9-7 a week ago, bringing my season total to 26-22.

Bye Week: Philadelphia and Green Bay

Thursday Night Football

  • Dolphins @ Bengals: Miami barely squeaked by the Browns last week, while the Bengals were beat down by the defending champs at home.  The Dolphins got a big day from Jarvis Landry, but inconsistency continues to plague Ryan Tannehill, who threw a pick six in the win. Cincinnati got their running game going, but still lost to 1-2 for the first time in five years.  After two very good weeks, Andy Dalton couldn’t do much against the Broncos defense. I like the Bengals at home with another good rushing game to get their second win of the season. CINCINNATI WINS

Sunday Morning Football 

  • Colts @ Jaguars: London here they come! Indianapolis got their first win of the season last week, while Jacksonville is still looking for theirs.  Andrew Luck has the uncanny ability to turn a bad day into a big day passing the ball, but the Jaguars defense isn’t the problem so far, so he’ll need help.  Blake Bortles on the other hand, has been pretty awful for Jacksonville in his third year under center. So what happens this weekend across the pond? Give me a cleaner day from Luck to lift the Colts. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bills @ Patriots: Three different quarterbacks have started for New England, but that hasn’t stopped the winning.  And as for the Bills, they got their first win over a team many think, myself included, are a playoff team destined for a deep run.  Both teams got big two-touchdown games out of their number 1 running backs, so look for another day of running the clock. The Patriots have to get through one more week without Tom Brady, and while they’ve done a great job doing so, and are very, very good at home, I’m taking the road team in this one. BUFFALO WINS
  • Titans @ Texans: It was a very bad week for Houston, who not only lost their Thursday game versus New England 27-0, they learned that JJ Watt re-injured his back and will be out the rest of the year.  Tennessee’s week wasn’t much better, as they scored just 10 points in their loss to Oakland. Both teams enter action having scored the same amount of points through 3 games, but of course that’s skewed with the Texans O-fer last weekend. Marcus Mariota and Brock Osweiler have both thrown 4 interceptions so far this season, so whoever can limit mistakes has the edge. A Titans win puts them in a tie for the division early.  But I don’t think they get it, because I like the Texans skill position players better. HOUSTON WINS
  • Lions @ Bears: The Lions are 1-2, but haven’t struggled in the passing game, as Matthew Stafford has found a new weapon in Marvin Jones after Calvin Johnson called it a career in the off-season.   The silver lining there for the 0-3 Bears is that their defense has actually done okay against the pass so far this season.  Chicago got a pretty good game out of Brandon Hoyer, who finished 30-49 for 317 yards, though most of that came with the game out of hand already. Both teams have the ability to get the points in the air, and with two middling defenses, that shouldn’t be a problem.  So this game will be won in the trenches, and the edge there lies with the Lions. DETROIT WINS
  • Panthers @ Falcons: Carolina is another team I thought would have a great season, but has disappointed so far.  Thanks to the struggles of the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South, Atlanta finds themself atop the division early on in the season.  This dispite allowing 31, 28 and 32 points in their first three games.  The Falcons may not be getting sustained success in their ground game early, they are getting it when it counts.  Tevin Coleman has just 110 yards on the ground, but has 4 rushing touchdowns, including 3 on Sunday in New Orleans. Carolina entered action red-hot at home dating back to 2014, but we shut down by a red-hot Vikings defense a week ago.  I still believe in the Panthers defense, and as hot as Atlanta has been, I think Carolina gets the win on the road. CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Jets: The good news for Jets fans? Ryan Fitzpatrick can only be better than he was a week ago. The bad news? He has to be a lot better against the top defense in the league. After scoring just 3 points against L.A. in week 2, the Seahawks exercised some demons putting up 37 against the Niners.  Russell Wilson was hobbled in the game, but still managed to leave with a nice lead.  Big games from Christine Michael and Doug Baldwin helped get the offense back on track.  New York can solace in the fact that they have had a pretty good run game all season, and while some of it came in garbage time, Seattle did allow the Niners to get over 130 yards on the ground, finding pay dirt twice.  This shouldnt be as ugly for the Jets as it was last week, but it will still be a loss. SEATTLE WINS
  • Raiders @ Ravens: Baltimore finds itself among the undefeated teams heading into week 4, in large part thanks to their defense and a good day from kicker Justin Tucker.  The Ravens are second in total defense through 3 weeks of play.  Their opponents won their 2nd game by  forcing three turnovers, with a sack after entering week 3 having allowed the Saints and Falcons to walk all over them.  So based on defenses, Baltimore should have an easy win.  But I actually like Oakland’s offense a lot more, and as someone who thinks this is a playoff team, I’ll take the Raiders in the upset. OAKLAND WINS
  • Browns @ Redskins: Cleveland should’ve gotten their first win of the season in Miami a week ago, but an inability to stop the air attack, and three missed field goals left them at 0-3. They gave themselves a shot, but couldn’t take it.  Cody Kessler’s first career start wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very good for Cleveland, though at this point, coming out healthy is huge for the Browns. Washington did get their first win, taking down the Giants on the road. After a couple lackluster offensive weeks, Kirk Cousins let it loose and got a number of big plays in the passing game to help get that first win and move back in the right direction to defend their NFC East title.  So can the Browns get their first win this week? Yes. Will they? I don’t think so. They stayed in last week thanks to mistakes by Tannehill, but Cousins won’t make those same mistakes. WASHINGTON WINS

Sunday 4/425PM Games

  • Broncos @ Buccaneers: The Superbowl Champs are showing no signs of slowing down as they look to start the season 4-0.  Denver got off to a slow start last week against the Bengals, but came on strong late thanks to a big day from rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian.  Siemian threw four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter for the win.  Not to be outdone, the Broncos are a top flight defense that held down Andy Dalton and their rushing attack.  They’ve got another tough test when they take on Jameis Winston this weekend.  The Bucs 2nd year quarterback is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes so far with 8, though he has thrown six picks to.  It won’t be a blowout, none of Denver’s games really have been, but it will be another win for the Broncos. DENVER WINS
  • Rams @ Cardinals: I’m shocked at the start the Cardinals are having at just 1-2. Carson Palmer has had a bad TD-turnover ratio through 3 weeks.   Arizona isn’t getting quite out of David Johnson on the ground, while their defense is allowing the 5th most rushing yards per game.  This is as good a week as any to get back to what they want to do in all phases as they take on their division rival Rams, who find themselves tied atop the division at 2-1.  Los Angeles has rebounded nicely from a shutout on opening day, winning their last two games.  The Rams tend to play up or down to their opponents, evident by a 9-3 home win over Seattle and a 37-32 shootout on the road in Tampa Bay.  Going off those results,  I’ll take the Cardinals at home in what should be a close game throughout between these two West foes. ARIZONA WINS
  • Cowboys @ Niners: Dallas couldn’t have asked for more from rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot through three weeks.  The Tony Romo-less Cowboys were a game-winning field-goal away from being 3-0 right now. Dez Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee but is still expected to play this weekend.  San Francisco was manhandled in week 3, and still isn’t making a change back to Colin Kaepernick.  The biggest thing the Niners have going for them is Carlos Hyde has looked pretty good.  I like what the Caowboys have done this season, but I have a feeling about San Fran this week. It might be a bad feeling, but I’m rolling with it. SAN FRANCISCO WINS
  • Saints @ Chargers: It’s still early, but the Saints need to start picking up some wins quickly if they want to make the playoffs as I predicted they would as a wildcard team in the NFC.  The offense hasn’t been the problem.  Drew Brees is already over a 1,000 yards passing, with an 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio, though that one interception last week was a fourth quarter pick six for Brees.  New Orleans defense hasn’t been been able to stop anyone, as they’ve allowed the 2nd most total yards.  Worst at stopping the run, that’s where the Chargers will need to take advantage this week.  But without Danny Woodhead, San Diego needs Melvin Gordon to get going, so this is the perfect opportunity for that.  I like Philip Rivers, but I like Drew Brees more.  Give me the road team to get win number 1 this week. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Steelers: What a defensive performance put on by the Chiefs this past week! Two defensive touchdowns and six interceptions helped Kansas City get the easy win over the Jets.  The offense wasn’t great, but they didn’t need to be with that showing on defense.  Alex Smith continued to show his game management skills, and why Travis Kelce is one of the better tight ends in the league right now. They’ve got a desperate Steelers team thsi week, who didn’t score a touchdown in a week 3 beatdown by the Eagles.  After two very good weeks, DeAngelo Williams was stymied on the ground, so the rushing attack will gladly welcome back Le’Veon Bell from suspension this week. The biggest test for the Kansas City defense will be stopping Antonio Brown, but I don’t think it will matter much even if he does have a big day. KANSAS CITY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Giants @ Vikings: This should be a battle of two unbeatens, but a late game collapse left the Giants at 2-1 heading into today.  Too many penalties, a couple late turnovers and allowing Washington to open up the field multiple times led to the home loss for New York.  They lost Shane Vereen to a triceps injury as well.  Eli Manning and company need to do more in the passing game, and they have the capability with three wide receivers.  The bad news for New York is that the Vikings are running on all cylinders right now.  Their defense has been relentless through three weeks, and despite losing starting QB Teddy Bridgewater before the season started, the offense has been very good.  Sam Bradford has come in and fit in better in two weeks then he’s done in the first few seasons of his career.  It’s going to be tough for the Giants on the road, but I like New York will figure things out and get back in the win column.  NEW YORK WINS
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A Busy Two Weeks for the Yankees Capped Off by a Cano “No”

It wasn’t $300 million, but it was the best he was going to get.  All-Star 2nd Baseman Robinson Cano, saying goodbye to the pinstripes for the dollar signs of Seattle?  It’s true.
 
After years of teams home-grown talent leaving for the Big Apple, the Yankees feel the ironic sting as Cano departs for the West Coast. Seattle was willing to not only give him the money he wanted, $240 million to be exact, but also the 10-year deal the Yankees are no longer willing to give.  The total value of the contract matches the Angels Albert Pujols for the third largest in baseball history, behind only two Alex Rodriguez 10-year contracts.  And we all know how those have worked out so far, hence the hesitation by New York to give in again.  But the Mariners are all in and so they got their guy.
 
The departure didn’t sneak up on anyone, but it still surprised many that Cano would actually leave the only team he’s ever known, after saying he wanted to go down as a Yankee legend.  It was setting up to be his team, with Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte retired, and Derek Jeter at the tail end of his own storied career. Instead, he goes to Seattle where he can be the number 1 from the get go.
 
The move leaves a big hole at 2nd for New York.  Not many can field the way Cano can, and not many can hit the way he can.  But if there’s one thing Yankees fans won’t miss, evidenced by reactions to his leaving, his lack of hustle to first base.  It’s something that you hear a lot, guys shouldn’t be praised for their hustle.  But for top-flight guys like Cano, it’s noticeable, especially with players like Derek Jeter on your team, that hustle even when their ankles are seemingly made of glass.  That being said, Cano was a huge presence in the lineup, and he will be missed, and very hard to replace.
 
The 9-year veteran is a .309 lifetime hitter, consistently gets around 25-35 homers, 40 doubles a year.  He was a key part of the 2009 Championship team.  Cano was always producing, playing over 1,300 regular season games, picking up 1,649 hits, 204 home runs, 5 All-Star Game selections, 5 Silver Slugger Awards, 4 straight top 6 MVP finishes and 2 Gold Gloves. 
 
That’s a lot of production to lose from the right-side of the infield, but
the Yankees have already made strives to try to replace his numbers, starting with a 3-year, $45 million deal with Carlos Beltran. The 37-year-old outfelder had a fantastic season in 2013 to help the Cardinals get to the World Series, hitting .296 with 24 homers.  Not to mention his production in the playoffs.  Beltran may up there in age, but he  The move creates more of a log game in the outfield, after the addition of ex-Red Sox Centerfield Jacoby Ellsbury on a generous 7-year, $153 million contract.  Ellsbury brings very good baserunning and the ability to use the short porch to his advantage, along with an injury bug the bombers hope is behind him. Adding to the log jam, the Yankees already have Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells and Brett Gardner in the outfield.  But the Ellsbury deal in addition to the Beltran deal turns the speedster Gardner into a valuable trade tip.  He’s the perfect National League guy, solid defender, late game speed with a good eye at the plate.  And don’t forget, Beltran is a better option at DH than the Yankees had pretty much all last season.  Soriano and Wells will both also see time as the designated hitter.
 
Or how about answering maybe their biggest question: who’s catching?  That was answered by signing the Braves free-agent Brian McCann for five years to the tune of $85 million.  The Yankees saw 4 different people catch last year, and none of them were very good.  Chris Stewart was shipped to Pittsburgh to join former Yankee backstop Russell Martin following this deal. Stewart is nothing more than a backup, but started most of the year following Francisco Cervelli going down early in the year.  And known for his defense, Stewart wasn’t even that good at that in 2013, with 12 passed balls.  Austin Romine showed something late with the bat, and JR Murphy was brought up late out of necessity, but neither were ready to start.  So the 29-year-old looks continue his above average output behind the plate and give the Yankees stability there. 
 
Capping off the busy week in Yankee land was the re-signing of starting Pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to a 1-year $16 million contract. Kuroda took his time in deciding to come back for a 3rd year in pinstripes, as he weighed retirement and returning to Japan seriously.  But the innings eater is back, keeping the three-headed monster of the rotation in tact (CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova).
 
So many of the Yankees biggest off-season questions have been answered, while the Cano departure leaves one in its stead.  Who plays 2nd? Kelly Johnson was brought in, and he had a pretty good offensive year last season, though he’s more known for his glove.  But all the bats added, with the return of Mark Teixeira coming, you can get away with a light hitting second baseman if the glove is there, and with Johnson it is. 
 
So overall, I like what New York has done so far.  After saying they wouldn’t open the wallet, they have big time. McCann was my favorite move, becaues after they let Russell Martin go, they didn’t have a real answer at catcher, as seen by what happened last season.  I’d like to see an arm added to the pen, preferably a lefty, and another solid arm added to the starting rotation.  You can’t rely on Michael Pineda finally being healthy, but if he is, that’s going to be huge for New York.  Kuroda staying put was big to help stabilize the rotation in case they make no other moves and fill in with Adam Warren or David Phelps. I don’t like the length or amount of money in the Ellsbury deal, but if he can find away to play 100-13o games and run the bases like he can, I’ll live with it.  Cano leaving hurts, but I agree with the Yankees for saying no deal on 10-years. Those deals don’t end well, especially when given to guys over 30, even to guys as durable as Cano has been in his career. 
And don’t think the Yankees are done. Like I said, Gardner might be up for grabs, and he can bring the Bombers a pretty solid pitcher or infielder in return.  So time will tell.  I think we can expect a few new Yankees under the tree this Christmas season.

A Long Off-Season Ahead in the Bronx

The champion has been crowned.  The awards handed out.  Now it’s all about the off-season and making all 30 teams better.

As for the Yankees, after a season of injuries, poor pitching performances, key player retirements and a weak farm system exposed, changes need to be made in a lot of areas.

The Yankees biggest questions?

  1. Can they afford to keep Robinson Cano?  Reports have surfaced that the second baseman is looking for a record-breaking 10-year, $305 million deal.  Whether it’s true or not remains to be seen, but you have to think the Yankees, and every other team in baseball will stay away from a deal like that.  It’s not even about the money necessarily, but the length.  Cano will turn 31 next season, and long-term deals like that can turn bad quick.  Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are all prime examples of big contracts given to players already in their prime, and not really working out long-term, or at all.  So while the bombers are probably the only team that can afford Cano, will the gold-glover stay.  With no viable options in the minors to play second, fans are hoping they haven’t seen the last of number 24. [UPDATE – Reports say Cano is leaning towards re-signing with the only team he’s every known, but isn’t rushing.  He will take the money first. Seattle looks to be a major player now that New York and Cano seem to be far apart and no longer talking.]
  2. Who will be the manager come spring training?  Joe Girardi is a free-agent, and while GM Brian Cashman insists the team wants him back, there are things that could pull Girardi away from New York, and even coaching all together.  The new head coaching vacancy in Chicago might be the biggest pull.  A Chicago native, it could be a good place for the man who’s led the Yankees since 2008 to make a fresh start.  He loves working with young teams, and it would allow him to go back home.  Or Girardi could go back to working as a broadcast analyst, something he did for the YesNetwork the year between managing the Marlins and starting with New York.  [UPDATE – Girardi Signed a 4-year contract to keep him in pinstripes  until 2017.  The deal is worth $16-million plus bonuses.]
  3. Will Hiroki Kuroda retire, go back to Japan, or consider a third year in the Bronx?  Their savior the first 4 months of the season, Kuroda heads into 2014 the same way he did 2013.  With a choice to make.  After 6 years in the Majors, does he go back to Japan to finish his career, or go back home a retired player.  He’s done nothing but win and stay healthy for the bombers in his two years here, and would have many more wins if not for a lack of run support here and during his time in LA.  With only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova (and hopefully our first Michael Pineda sighting) there aren’t many guarantees in the Yankees rotation next year. [UPDATE – Didn’t accept the Yankees qualifying off worth $14.1 million for a year.  But the Yankees have reportedly offered him a new deal, and say they didn’t except a decision from Kuroda until December.]
  4. Will Derek Jeter be good to go in 2014?  That remains to be seen. I think we can all agree the captain was rushed back too often this past year.  He played in just 17 games this season.  Jeter turns 40 midway through next season, so there were already questions of how long he’ll last at short let alone in his career.  He’s the lone member of the Yankees 1996-2000 dynasty, with two of the Core Four members hanging it up this year.  [UPDATE – The Yankees have given their captain, a new one-year, $12 million contract.  It’s a deal worth $2.5 million more than the player option Jeter could have picked  up.]
  5. What to do about the catching situation?  There hasn’t been a real solution since Jorge Posada retired after the 2011 season.  For years all you heard was the name Jesus Montero as the answer behind home-plate.  But he went to Seattle in the Pineda deal, and spent a majority of the season in the minors for the Mariners.  Then Francisco Cervelli was supposed to be the answer, but he’s been very injury prone.  So that meant backup Chris Stewart was made the starter this year, with Austin Romine tabbed to be his backup.  Romine finally showed signs of coming around offensively towards the end of the year, before he suffered a concussion.  The question is do the Yankees hope Romine can develop more for them, or do they make a move for the Braves Brian McCann, or maybe wait til the Orioles Matt Weiters becomes available.  Maybe a run at the Rangers veteran AJ Pierzynski? [UPDATE – Brian McCann it is.  The 29-year-old is leaving Atlanta and after passing his physical, is ready to don the pinstripes. A 5-year, $85 million deal that could reach 6 and $100 million if he hits certain numbers in those 5 seasons.] 

These are just some of the questions/problems that can be solved in the off-season.  Others include whether to bring back Curtis Granderson, what to do about Phil Hughes (give him another shot in the pen now that David Robertson most likely moves from the set-up role to the closer role) and what happens at 3rd base with Alex Rodriguez appealing his 211 Biogensis suspension.

The biggest problem the Yankees have can’t really be solved in one off-season.  Injuries exposed their weak farm system.  Guys they’ve drafted during this 19-year run of success haven’t panned out.  Or trades gone wrong.  There needs to be a foundation for this organization to build on.  The Yankees felt too safe with lifers like Mariano Rivera, Posada and Jeter, whose longevity meant they could “wait” to build at the position.  Well, the time to have guys like Mike Trout, Weiters and Clayton Kershaw waiting in the wings is now, and the Yankees don’t have game changers like that.  It all starts this coming draft, where the Yankees have the 18th pick, their best position in a long time.

So while these questions may not all be answered for months, don’t completely despair Yankees fans.  This team managed with 85 games and stay in the playoff conversation until the final week of the season despite a bevy of problems.  Mark Teixeira will be back, Eduardo Nunez finished the season hitting the way the Yankees always thought he could, and began playing 3rd base like a pro.  Ivan Nova was a revelation in the 2nd half, pitching like the guy who took the team by storm winning 16 games in 2011.  You have to think CC Sabathia will figure out what was off mechanically and fix it this off-season.

So that’s it for me for.  Now I want to hear from you.  Answer the poll question and tell me what you think the 1st thing the Yankees need to take care of is.

Yankees 2013 Recap: The Year Everyone Played 3rd Base

975517_10151705290480555_1720384794_nWell, it’s late November, and the Yankees watched as their bitter rivals won their 3rd Championship in the last 10 years.  It was just the 2nd season New York wasn’t a playoff participant in last past 19 years.  So not a bad run.

It was a strange year for the Yankees, and the biggest story was the injury bug.  Every position had some player go down in 2013.  Let’s start with the names that appeared on the disabled list and go from there.

  • Curtis Granderson – (2x) Hand broken by a HBP in his first at-bat of spring training.  Then, 8 games after returning in May, another HBP broke his pinkie.  His pop was only in the lineup 61 times.
  • Derek Jeter – (4x) Started season on DL with re-fracture in left ankle.  1 game after returning, he hit shelf again with a strained calf.  A quad and finally more trouble with the ankle ended his season in September. The captain played in just 17 games.
  • Alex Rodriguez – (1x) That pesky hip kept the Yankees 3rd baseman out until August 5th.  He wasn’t the same guy when he came back, and his season ended with lingering soreness in his legs.
  • Mark Teixeira – (2x) A torn tendon in his right wrist kept the switch-hitting 1st baseman out of all but 15 games this year.  He made his season debut on May 31st, but would eventually have season ending surgery.
  • Kevin Youkilis – (2x) In his first year as a Yankee, Youk got off to a good start, then back issues popped up, and never went away.  Surgery ended his season. He appeared in just 28 games.
  • Francisco Cervelli – (1x) He went down in early April when he fractured his right hand thanks to a foul tip while catching.  Then just when the Yankees thought they’d get their catcher back, an MRI found a stress reaction in his throwing elbow, effectively ending his season, playing in just 17 games.
  • David Robertson – (1x) The setup man went down with shoulder soreness in early September, but finished the year pain-free.
  • Eduardo Nunez – (1x) This was the year Nunez was supposed to take the next step.  Instead he spent a lot of time on the DL.  First he went down with sore ribs in May.  Then he battled leg issues in August, though he never hit the shelf again.
  • Travis Hafner – (1x) After a blistering start, Hafner struggled in May to July.  It came out he’d been playing through shoulder pain, a strained rotator cuff, effectively ending his season.
  • Jayson Nix – (1x) Nix did a good job filling in on the left side of the infield, but his season came to an end in August thanks to a calf strain.
  • Brett Gardner – (1x) Another guy who stayed healthy for most of the year, but an oblique strain ended his year in mid-September.
  • CC Sabathia – (1x) A grade 2 hamstring injury shut him down before his final start of the season.  It takes 8 weeks to heal, so no danger of missing time next season.
  • Andy Pettitte – (1x) The lefty missed a couple starts in late May with a strained trapezius muscle.  One of the few injuries that didn’t linger for New York.
  • David Phelps – (1x) Phelps hit the shelf in July, when he suffered a right forearm strain. He then re-injured the arm while rehabbing in August.  He would return late in September.
  • Boone Logan – The lefty-specialist saw his season cut short when it was found that he had a bone spur in his pitching elbow.  Surgery to come.
  • Michael Pineda – Two years after the big trade with Seattle, Pineda has yet to suit up for New York in the majors.  He did make 20 minor league appearances on his way back from shoulder surgery.

Not to mention all the day-to-day injuries this team had.  It may have been easier to just tell you who didn’t make the DL.  The many injuries forced the Yankees to dig deep into a weak farm system, as well as look league wide for depth.  The Bombers used a total of 56 different players, a team record.  

  • 1st base – 10 players (Lyle Overbay 127 games)
  • 2nd base – 8 players (Robinson Cano 151 games)
  • 3rd base – 11 players (Jayson Nix 41 games)
  • Shortstop – 8 players (Eduardo Nunez 74 games)
  • Outfield – 13 players (Vernon Wells 72 games in LF, Brett Gardner 138 games in CF and Ichiro Suzuki 121 games in RF)
  • Designated Hitter – 16 players (Travis Hafner 66 games)
  • Catcher – 4 players (Chris Stewart 107 games)
  • Starters – 9 players (CC Sabathia & Hiroki Kuroda 32 appearances)
  • Relievers – 21 players (David Robertson 70 appearances)

You can see from the breakdown that there was a lot of overlap.  Guys like Vernon Wells, a center-fielder by trade, made multiple appearances in the infield.  Position players were called upon to pitch innings.  3rd base and short stop were basically revolving doors where a new guy was there everyday.

Adding to the injuries, were bad years from usually reliable guys, as well as role players.  The biggest offender?  Once ace CC Sabathia.  This was a guy who took the ball every fifth day, and you usually felt like a win was coming.  But the lefty finished just a game above .500 at 14-13 and with an ERA hovering around 5.  He led the league in games where he allowed at least 3 earned runs at 22.  He led the team in home runs allowed at 28.  All numbers that are not CC like.

Guys like Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells all contributed to wins, but they were all very cold for longer stretches.  Overbay filled in great with the glove at 1st for Teixeria, and when he did hit, it was usually a clutch RBI.  He led the team with 13 go-ahead RBIs.  But after great Aprils for Hafner and Wells, there’s very little good to talk about.  Hafner of course missed most of the season, while Wells contributed with the glove, and by staying healthy, but was a let down in many big spots in the 2nd half.

And despite the turnover, and the down years, the Yankees managed to win 85 games and stay in the Wild Card hunt until game 157.  It was a 10-win drop off from their AL East crown a year ago.  They played terribly against teams in their division, as well as teams with winning records.  There are a lot of games you can go back to and say that’s why they’re not still playing.

That brings me to my best moments/biggest surprises, and worst moments of the year:

Best of 2013

  • 10.  I put this last because it’s not too surprising, but still great.  It’s the fact that at 43, Mariano Rivera came back off a torn Achilles injury to be just as good as ever.  Sure he blew a few more saves than usual, but he was healthy all year, and still saved 44 games for the bombers.  He leaves us on top.
  • 9. Jayson Nix.  He played a lot more than you thought going into the year, but he did a solid job wherever he played.  He isn’t an average hitter, but he got on base enough, and is a smart baserunner, so he was able to move him self over to the tune of 13 steals to 1 caught stealing.
  • 8. Preston Claiborne’s emergence in the bullpen.  He ended the season poorly, but he came out of the gate retiring everyone in sight.  Claiborne quickly leapfrogged guys to become a late inning option for Joe Girardi.   Look for him to compete for the setup role next season.
  • 7. Shawn Kelley.  Here’s another guy that was invited to spring training who made the team, and decided he’d just strike everyone out.  After a rough April, Kelley was dominant in June and July, and finished the year striking out way more than a better an inning.  He’s another guy who could factor heavily in the pen in 2014.
  • 6. Lyle Overbay.  He wasn’t even at Spring Training until March 26th, when the Red Sox released him.  Losing Mark Teixeira was made easier because of Overbay, who is a great defensive 1st baseman.  He also drove in a lot of meaningful runs for New York, and he did something very rare in 2013, he stayed healthy.
  • 5.  Getting off to a 30-18 start despite all the early injuries.  The Yankees were shocking some people, with contributions from guys you never thought would be on the team.  Guys like Vernon Wells, who came out swinging in his first year as a Yankee.
  • 4. Their big 9-6 come from behind win in Boston on August 18.  Otherwise known as the game Ryan Dempster threw at A-Rod on 4 straight pitches.  Already on a bit of a hot streak, you thought maybe it would propel the team towards a playoff spot.  It didn’t, but it sure added another interesting chapter to Yankees/Red Sox.
  • 3. My biggest surprise of the year was Alfonso Soriano.  No one saw his return to the Bronx coming, and he’s a huge reason why the Yankees remained in the playoff chase as long as he did.  He added energy and pop to a lineup that struggled to score runs all year.  And for a guy not known for his defense, he made some spectacular plays in left.
  • 2. Andy Pettitte’s final major league start, a complete game on September 28th in Houston.  At 41, the lefty threw his season high to walk-off in style.  It was a fitting place for his last start, since the Astros are the only other team he ever played for, and being a Texas boy, his family was in attendance.
  • 1. Mariano Rivera’s final appearance of his career. What a moment at Yankee Stadium on September 26th when Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter came in to take the closer out in the 9th.  Tears of joy, sadness flowed from baseball’s all-time saves leader, as well as the eyes of mound that night.  A perfect sendoff for a guy who was near perfect for nearly 2 decades.

Worst of 2013

  • 10.  Being swept by the Mets.  They lost 3 of those games by a combined 4 runs, including a blown save in the final appearance at Citifield by Rivera.  The Mets finished below .500 again.
  • 9. Bad offense all year.  You can blame injuries, but if you’re a major league player, you have to be able to drive guys in scoring position home.  The Yankees found ways to get guys on in the 1st half, but often left them stranded.  This team was bad at moving guys over, and couldn’t adapt to life without the long ball.  Even when pop returned to the lineup, close games were lost because a lack of execution.
  • 8. The awful year turned in by Phil Hughes.  He finished at an abysmal 4-14.  If he even wins 3 more, this season could have been a lot different.  He had some very good starts, but those get lost in the very bad ones.  He actually got the less run support than Kuroda, but that means nothing when you’re allowing nearly 5 runs a game.  Hughes had one good season starting, but his best year came in 2009 as a reliever.  There’s very little chance we see him back in a Yankees uniform.  He’s a fly ball pitcher who needs to be in a pitcher friendly park.
  • 7. If Hughes was awful, Joba Chamberlain was abysmal.  He couldn’t pitch in close games, he couldn’t pitch in blowouts.  At least Hughes has had good times on this team.  Chamberlain came on the scene quick, and flamed out even quicker.
  • 6. The loss of Curtis Granderson on the first pitch of spring training.  One pitch meant the loss of Robinson Cano’s protection in the lineup, and a guy who hit 84 homers the previous 2 seasons combined.  Losing him a 2nd time wasn’t any better.
  • 5. Being swept in Fenway in mid-September.  They entered the series just a game back in the wildcard with 16 to go and 3 left with Tampa.  But the Sox were clearly on a different level, and outscored the Yankees 22-7.
  • 4. Being swept in Chicago by the White Sox in early August.  It was the series where ARod returned, but it didn’t matter.  The series finale was marked by another Rivera blown save.
  • 3. Biggest surprise.  Like I said early, CC Sabathia’s drop off.  In four previous seasons with the Yankees, he hadn’t lost more than 8 games, and his worst ERA came last season at 3.38.  This year it was over a run and a half worse.  They need him to bounce back next year in a big way.
  • 2. The injuries.  You go into a season knowing you’ll need more than your 25 man roster, because injuries are apart of the game.  But the number of injuries to key players, and how it seemed they’d get one back and lose another was unusual. Having to constantly release players to make room for others, or place someone on the 60-day DL is hard for any team to overcome.
  • 1. The lack of real depth to cope with the injuries.  Having to play guys out of position because your farm system is weak is unacceptable.  Years of bad drafting, poor scouting and trading away guys came back to haunt the Yankees this year.  Sometimes prolonged success hurts teams, because it lulls them into a false sense of security.  New York didn’t factor in that eventually, guys would have to take over for guys like Jeter, and A-Rod or even Jorge Posada.  This is the Yankees biggest issue heading into 2014 and beyond.

So clearly a lot to think about when it comes to the strange 2013 season.  I had fun watching the roller-coaster ride, even if it didn’t end the way the fan in me wanted it to.

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UPDATE: Joe Girardi isn’t going anywhere. He signed a new deal that will keep him the manager of the pinstripes til 2017.  Robinson Cano is still asking for $300 million-plus, so the All-Star 2nd baseman remains teamless with no one willing to give him that much money.  Alex Rodriguez still doesn’t know the fate of his appeal of the 211-game Biogenesis suspension.  This team has yet to make any splashes on the free agent market, meaning they still have a lot of holes to fill.

Season Ends on a Sweep Note

It came too soon, and it’s not the win they wanted to end their season on, but the Yankees wrapped up the 2013 campaign with a 5-1 win over Houston.

The baseball god’s didn’t want the season to end, sending this one into extras.  David Huff got the call to start the finale, and went a solid 5 innings of 1-run ball.

The bombers tied the score in the 8th on the strength of a Curtis Granderson RBI single.  And to extras the Astros and Yankees went.  Fast-forward to the 14th, when the Yanks struck.  Mark Reynolds led off with a solo homer to put New York ahead.  A few batters later Eduardo Nunez finished off a nice stretch to end the season with a 2-run double.  JR Murphy capped off the scoring with an RBI single.

David Robertson finished it off in the bottom of the 14th, giving the Yankees the season ending sweep.  Matt Daley picked up his first career win, throwing 2-shutout innings in extra innings.  A good week for Daley, as he came in after Mariano Rivera was lifted one final time on Thursday.

The Yankees end their season at 85-77, and tied for 3rd place with Baltimore in the American League East.  It’s a 10-win drop-off from last season’s AL East crown for the bombers.

Stay tuned for my full 2013 recap, as well as my post season preview and predictions.

Saying Goodbye to Number 42

Mariano Rivera delivers his cutter.

Mariano Rivera delivers his cutter.

At 24, I haven’t seen too many down years for the New York Yankees.  I know how lucky I am for that.  And if you want to know why I’ve been blessed to see so many World Series wins, look no further than the last man to wear the number 42, Mariano Rivera.

The greatest closer in baseball is hanging them up after the season if over, which will be Sunday unless the bombers get a lot of help the final week of the regular season.  After 19 years in the majors, 23 as a member of the Yankees organization, Rivera is ready to leave the game he loves so much behind.  And it’s a game that loves him maybe even more right back.

After announcing his retirement prior to the start of the 2013 season, Major League Baseball vowed to send him out the right way.  And they held up that promise.  Every road team the Yankees visited this year, in his final game of the year there, those teams presented Rivera with gifts.  Gifts to say thank you for being such a class act and a legend among men.

Some of the more memorable gifts include a sandcastle from the Rays, playing off Rivera’s nickname the “Sandman.”   Or how about the chair presented by the Minnesota Twins made entirely of broken bats, something Mo’s cutter did to hundreds of hitters over the years?  In his last trip to Fenway, the arch rival Red Sox paid tribute by presenting Rivera the visitors bullpen rubber, and the 42 used on the Green Monster when he entered games.  Of all the gifts, I bet Rivera appreciated the check presented by each team to his foundation, because if there is one thing Mo loves more than baseball, it’s giving back to those around him.

Then there’s what the Yankees did for their beloved closer Sunday in the Bronx.  For years Rivera came out to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” so why not have the band set up on the field and have number 42 walk out to it live? Add to that retiring his number in monument park, a check for $100k to his foundation, a crystal replica of his glove, another chair made of bats and a retired number for his wall at home, the Yankees made sure they told Mo thanks in the best way they knew how.  It all happened in front of a packed stadium crowd, as well as many of Rivera’s former teammates including the man who caught more than half his saves, Jorge Posada.

Why so much fan fare?  How could you not honor a man who has done nothing but produce consistent excellent play for nearly 2 decades, while being an upstanding ambassador of the game.  The 43-year-old is the Major League leader in saves, a 5-time World Series winner and is the only man to throw the final pitch of more than 2 World Series, doing so in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.

Jorge Posada by far has caught more of Rivera’s 652** career saves, being apart of 379 of them, with 22 catchers total on the receiving end of a final pitch from Mo.  Other numbers that scream first ballot Hall-of-Famer: Rivera’s 2.21 ERA, way less than a hit per inning, and a WHIP of 1.  71 homers in almost 1,283 innings, or 1 every 18.  44 saves in 2013 mark the most in the final season of a closer’s career, this despite blowing a career high 7 games this year.  With 5 games left, Rivera carries an 82-60 record into retirement.

But as good as Rivera was in the regular season, no man shined brighter in the postseason.  In the Yankees most recent World Series run in 09, of the 8 teams to make it to the playoffs, 7 blew saves, 1 did not.  That’s right, Rivera was perfect en route to winning their 27th championship.  According to Sports Illustrated,  Rivera’s postseason records include most games pitched (96), most saves (42) and lowest ERA (0.70, minimum 30 innings pitched).  Not too shabby for a guy who used an orange carton as a mitt as a kid in Panama.

What are some of personal favorite memories?  I will never forget him collapsing on the mound as Aaron Boone rounded the bases during his walk-off homer in the 2003 ALCS against Boston.  Or his 500th save against the Mets.  How about the one two break the record, passing Trevor Hoffman with 602 saves.  I think my favorite though was his first and only career RBI, a bases loaded walk of all things against the Mets.  The smile on his face when he went to first was priceless.

So as the season winds down (5 regular season games to go), the story of Mariano Rivera the baseball player comes to an end.  But while stars fade, legends never die.  Rivera will forever be in the annuls of Major League Baseball history.   As the last man to wear the number 42 (which was retired across baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson), Rivera’s number will reside in Monument Park for ever.  No man will ever fill his shoes.  The Yankees must move on, and it will be difficult.  You have to be encouraged by a guy like David Robertson, who can strikeout any one at any time, and more importantly has the mental makeup to be a closer.  Like Rivera, he doesn’t bad outings affect him, and rarely does he put back-to-back bad outings up.  He has the nickname “Houdini” for being known to create jams for himself, but he usually gets out of them.  Gone are the days of having a security blanket like Rivera, but that doesn’t mean whoever comes in next for New York, whether it’s Robertson or someone else, that they can’t be effective.  It just won’t be the Sandman.

I will always be grateful for being able to see Rivera pitch.  And I can’t even say in his prime, because he is still a  top flight pitcher.  I will tell my children and my grandchildren that I saw number 42 pitch.  He will forever be Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in Yankees and Major League history.

Thanks for the memories Mo.  Enjoy life after baseball.

Celebration Gives Way to a Bad Loss

On a perfect day in the Bronx, the Yankees organization, their fans and baseball said goodbye to number 42.  Mariano Rivera was honored pregame with everything from former teammates returning, his number retired in Monument Park, a $100k check for his foundation and a live rendition of “Enter Sandman” performed by Metallica as Rivera walked out from the pen.  It was a perfect way to say goodbye to a guy who’s been perfect on and off the field for New York for nearly two decades.

Not to be forgotten, Andy Pettitte took the mound for his final appearance in the Bronx.  The leagues oldest starter announced his retirement, for the 2nd time, on Thursday.  

Pettitte carried a no hitter though 5 innings, and held a 1-0 lead thanks to a Mark Reynolds solo homer.  Too bad it wasn’t enough.  The no-no was broken up in the 6th thanks to San Francisco’s rookie shortstop Ehire Adrianza.  It was his first career home run, in just his 7th at-bat. 

Pettitte would leave with one on and no outs to a rousing ovation in the 8th.  It was another perfect and well deserved moment.

Unfortunately for Pettitte and the Yankees, David Robertson came in and allowed the inherited runner to score, dropping Pettitte’s record to 10-11 on the year.  His final start will come in Houston.  Mariano would enter one final time.

But there want any magic left for the Yankees bats, and they fell 2-1.

For New York, it wasn’t how the day was supposed to end.  But more importantly, it’s a loss that really hurts New York’s slim playoff chances.

The Rays won again, so even if the Yankees can sweep them this week, they’ll still be a game back.  That’s because the Indians won again, so the bombers are 4 back with just 6 games to go.  The Royals jumped ahead of them again as well, with Texas still in between them and a playoff spot.