ALDS Preview and Predictions – Oakland Athletics vs. Detroit Tigers

Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs

Oakland Athletics (96-66) vs. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

Keys for the Athletics: Do their “thing”; keep the Tigers in the ballpark; get into the Tigers’ bullpen.

When I say “do their thing,” I mean the A’s game is based on hitting home runs and their pitchers throwing strikes. As long as they’re hitting home runs and their pitchers are throwing strikes, they win. If they don’t hit home runs, they don’t do much of anything else worthwhile.

Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes all had big power years. Other players in their lineup – Jed Lowrie and Josh Reddick – hit the ball out of the park as well. But if they don’t hit homers, they won’t score.

The Tigers are a power-laden team that hits a lot of home runs in their own right. With Miguel Cabrera dealing with a spate of injuries, the A’s can’t fall asleep on him because he can still manipulate the pitcher like an aging George Foreman used to with his, “I’m an old man, I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m not gon…” BANG!!! Then they’re watching the lights in the sky from their backs. It’s a similar situation as watching a Cabrera homer.

The Tigers’ bullpen is shaky and if the A’s force their way into it, Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit aren’t accustomed to the roles they’ll face as post-season set-up man and closer.

A’s’ boss Billy Beane makes an impassioned self-defense of his methods not working in the playoffs because the playoffs are a “crapshoot.” It’s the exact type of excuse to which Beane would reply arrogantly and obnoxiously if someone else were to give it. If he’s supposed to be finding methods to bend baseball to his will, isn’t it time he finds a way to win in the playoffs?

Keys for the Tigers: Get something from their warhorses; get depth from their starters; hit the ball out of the park; keep the A’s in the park.

Cabrera is injured and Justin Verlander has been shaky. The playoffs tend to send a jolt into veteran players who’ve grown accustomed – and perhaps slightly bored – by the regular season. Adrenaline could help Verlander regain his lost velocity. Max Scherzer has been great this season, but the Tigers’ chances may come down to Verlander.

Leyland doesn’t like having an untrustworthy bullpen and while Benoit has adapted well to being a closer, there’s no way of knowing whether he’ll be able to do the job in the playoffs until he gets an opportunity and does it. It’s best to have the starters go deep into the games and score plenty of runs to not have to worry about it.

The Tigers’ pitchers keep the ball in the park. That has to continue.

What will happen:

Every year, the A’s are the “feel good” story and every year they get bounced in the playoffs. There’s a desperation to have Beane win that ring to somehow shut out any remaining simplistic Chris Russo-style, logically ludicrous argument of, “I don’t wanna hear what a genius he is. Win a championship.” If he wins, where can they go?

The problem is that Beane has never figured out how to use his “card counting” skills in the draft (also a fallacy) to handle the dice in the “crapshoot” that is the playoffs. One would think he’d have done it by now. Maybe he should show up for the playoffs in a mask and declare himself “Billy Bane” while telling the A’s to take control of his genius.

The Tigers are deeper and their defense has been shored up by the acquisition of Jose Iglesias. The shift of Jhonny Peralta to the outfield gives them an even deeper lineup.

Not hitting home runs is the death knell for the A’s and the Tigers aren’t going to give up the homers the A’s are used to hitting. On the mound, the Tigers and A’s are evenly matched top-to-bottom, but the Tigers all-around offense gives them the advantage.

The A’s are trying to validate their backstory, but all they continually do is validate the criticism of it.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FOUR




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Mike Francesa and Brian Cashman Share a Bowl of Lollipops

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Mike Francesa had Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman as a guest yesterday on WFAN in New York and simulcast on YES and rather than conducting an evenhanded interview designed to ask legitimate questions as to why the team failed in its mandate of World Series or bust, it morphed into Francesa taking part in organizational meetings to plot the course for the 2013 club.

You can hear the interview here.

This was diametrically opposed to the antagonistic interviews Francesa has with the Mets’ GM Sandy Alderson (and in which he backs down immediately because he’s intimidated by Alderson) as to the state of the Mets. If the idea is that the Mets aren’t in the Yankees stratosphere, so they don’t get the same treatment, that also applies when the Yankees don’t achieve their designated preseason goal of winning a World Series.

If the Mets aren’t in the Yankees class and the comparison between the two organizations is the implied absurdity that Francesa and others suggest it is, then the playing field and reaction to the two teams should be different as well. When Francesa had his poorly acted, preplanned meltdown about the Mets, there was no logic; no reason; no viable explanation as to what he wanted them to do. By contrast, the expectations for the Yankees are the World Series. Period. This make it reasonable that such a reaction would ensue when they fall short.

If a person standing on the street was screaming in the manner Francesa did during that Mets lunacy, they would be arrested and shoved into a mental health facility for observation. Francesa does it on the radio and it’s a “passionate” display to “call out” the Mets organization.

What about the Yankees? When the Mets faltered in 2007-2008, Francesa ad nauseam stated that the team had to “break up the core.”

Do the Yankees have to break up the core? Is there any hard hitting honesty regarding Francesa’s preferred team? Or is he under the delusion that he’s an advisor to the GM and his suggestions and statements are taken seriously by Cashman that they should bring back Ichiro Suzuki; that it’s obvious that Raul Ibanez, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda will be back on 1-year deals? That there are no serious and uncomfortable questions to be asked of the Yankees GM?

During his Mets rant, Francesa tore into the Mets top pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler while knowing absolutely nothing about them. On the opposite end, when discussing the crown jewels of the Yankees farm system, specifically Manny Banuelos, he let Cashman saunter by without one word in opposition as to why the Yankees’ young pitchers have failed so consistently when they were propped up as the “future.”

Cashman’s flat-out insinuated that Banuelos’s Tommy John surgery was no big deal because of the “98% success rate” of the procedure. This left wide open the next question that should’ve been asked by an evenhanded analyst of why the Yankees pitchers, who were nurtured so stiflingly, have gotten hurt or not been very good time and again.

But Francesa didn’t ask about Banuelos. He didn’t question the pitching analysis or program, nor did he ask why, since Banuelos was hurt in May, they waited so long to make the decision for him to have surgery. The difference between the Mets and the Yankees pitching prospects is that the Mets pitching prospects are being allowed to pitch and develop, but the Yankees prospects such as Banuelos and Dellin Betances have provided nothing apart from hope and hype and yielding poor results and injury.

Where’s the screaming about that?

It’s highly likely that Francesa was unprepared to ask the question regarding Banuelos because he had no idea when the pitcher got hurt or the circumstances surrounding the surgery, which is an even bigger problem for the main voice on New York sports talk radio.

He asked about Michael Pineda—lollipop question without wondering what happened and why.

Banuelos and Betances—lollipop.

Alex Rodriguez—lollipop.

Jose Campos was mentioned and Francesa, after spending the entire spring talking about he was the “key” to the Pineda deal after Pineda got hurt, said nothing about him either. Again, he probably had no idea that Campos was hurt; nor an idea as to who or what he is, but that goes back to other issues of pure ignorance and arrogance.

Lollipop.

This interview could just as easily have been conducted in a think-tank style fashion on YES with Michael Kay, Meredith Marakovits, and Bob Lorenz lobbing softballs at the GM. The glaring difference is that Francesa is supposed to provide information rather than being a Yankees sycophant, while the YES people are there to promote the Yankees. This is another example of why Francesa needs a partner that is not a Yankees’ shill. Had Chris Russo been there, he would’ve functioned as an effective counterbalance/devil’s advocate/intentional agitator asking why the Yankees lost embarrassingly and demanded an answer. But that’s gone. Instead, we receive this: biased unreporting from a Yankees fan. If you want that, you can just listen to Michael Kay, watch YES, or go sit in a New York City bar. Or not pay any attention at all and come to your own conclusions because listening to a “state of the Yankees” such as this is a waste of time.

And being that waste of time is where Francesa is headed. Fast.

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The Yankees’ Problems Go Far Beyond One Fractured Ankle and a Blown Call

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So Nick Swisher’s gregariousness—long an irritant to opponents—is no longer charming to the home fans when he’s 4 for 26, lost a ball in the lights in right field, and they’re looking for someone, anyone to blame for Derek Jeter’s ankle injury no matter how ludicrous the shifting of responsibility is? Swisher is surprised and “hurt” by the fans heckling and booing him?

Indicative of the need for vast chunks of the fanbase to awaken to an unexpected and unforeseen reality, Swisher is the case study of how things truly are for the Yankees when the “magic” disappears or decides to shift its allegiance to another venue.

The search for reasons that there were blocks empty seats at Yankee Stadium for playoff games is a bunch of noise. No one can pinpoint exactly why it’s happening in spite of Randy Levine’s complaints or baseless theories. It could mean anything. In a poor economic climate, fans may not have the money to purchase the seats, pay for the parking, indulge in the concessions. It could be that some have become so accustomed to the Yankees being in the playoffs every year that it’s lost its specialness and they’re paying scant attention to the how and are making the unsaid statement of, “Let me know when the World Series starts.”

The World Series will start on October 24th and the Yankees still have time to be a participant. But barring a miraculous turnaround, they will instead be cleaning out their lockers while it’s going on. Some, like Swisher, will be doing it for the final time as a Yankee.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t call for instant replay when it negatively influences you, but laugh heartily and say smugly, “Them’s the breaks!” when Joe Mauer hits a ball that was clearly fair and was called foul; or when Jeffrey Maier has become a folk hero and part of the “Yankees lore” when he interferes with a Jeter home run ball that wasn’t and may have turned the entire 1996 ALCS in the Yankees’ favor and been the catalyst for their dynasty. Jeter, after that game, was asked what he would say to the young Maier and with the remnants of his antiquated fade haircut still in place and in the formative years of being a Yankees’ hero, he said, “Attaboy!!!” with undisguised glee at the Yankees winning in a similarly unfair fashion as they’re complaining about losing now. Except the Mauer and Maier calls changed the games entirely and the blown call on Omar Infante was only made because Infante made a mistake rounding the base and that the subsequent Yankees’ pitchers couldn’t record one out to make the point moot.

It’s the condescension and self-indulgent arrogance that is currently reverberating on the entire Yankees apparatus from the front office, to the YES Network, to the sanctioned bloggers, to the media, to the players, to the fanbase.

We want justice when it benefits us.

We love the players as long as they perform for us.

We function with dignity and class as long as we win.

Players join the Yankees because they offer the most money and they win. But when a player says no as Cliff Lee did, it’s because he doesn’t appreciate the “privilege” of being a Yankee, not because he and his wife preferred Philadelphia or Texas or because his wife didn’t brush off the same abuse that is being heaped on Swisher now was being hurled at her (along with spit and beer) in the 2010 ALCS.

It’s a wonderful world to live in where there’s no responsibility and money can be tossed at every problem to solve it.

The reality hurts when it hits like a sledgehammer. This faux history and concept of invisible baseball Gods smiling on the Yankees is eliminated by the truth. It was the need for capital in a musical produced by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee that led to the selling of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. They started winning shortly after getting the best player in the game and it turned into a circular entity. The more they won, the more money they made; the more money they made, the more free agent amateurs wanted to play for them because they paid the most in bonuses and they won. It continued on through Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. The amateur draft was implemented in the mid-1960s and the Yankees collapsed. They began winning again through free agency in the mid-late-1970s and it started all up again. There was a long lull and lucky—not smart, lucky—drafts garnered Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Amateur free agents upon whom they stumbled and nearly dumped such as Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams turned into stars. They drafted a skinny shortstop, Jeter, in the first round of 1992 and got a historic player. This talk I’ve seen of a method to the madness with “doing the most damage in the later rounds of the draft” is pure better-breeding, blueblood idiocy. Any team that drafts an infielder in the 24th round who develops into Posada, or a lanky lefty like Pettitte in the 22nd round—both in the 1990 draft—is lucky.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t make it more than it is.

Jeter gets injured and rather than being treated as an athlete who happened to get hurt in the middle of a contest, on Twitter it morphs into “a funeral procession,” and those who laughed (sort of the way the Yankees laugh at the Mets and Red Sox when misfortune hits them), are “justified” to have been thrown over the railing at Yankee Stadium. Jeter is analogous to a “wounded warrior being carted off the battlefield.” No. He’s not. He’s a very rich athlete who got hurt. That this type of thing was said while there are actual soldiers being carted off real battlefields and coming back missing limbs, burned beyond recognition, or dead makes this type of comparison all the more despicable.

Yes. Murdering someone makes logical sense when things don’t work out for you. That’s the way 12-year-old, bullying mentalities think. “If I don’t get to play with your toy, I’m gonna break the toy so you can’t play with it either.” “If I don’t get to win, I’m taking my ball and going home.”

When Rivera got hurt, there was this identical dynamic.

There’s an impenetrable fortress of delusion among these fans who have known nothing but winning in their time as Yankees’ fans. They don’t realize that sports is a diversion and these are human beings doing a job. A true tragedy occurred in 2006 when Cory Lidle crashed his plane days after the Yankees had been eliminated by the Tigers. Days earlier, he’d been a guest on WFAN with Chris Russo and, when Lidle said he was enjoying a beautiful day in New York City with his daughter, Russo indignantly said something to the tune of, “Well, if I’d just lost a playoff series I wouldn’t be out enjoying the day.” Lidle replied, “What am I supposed to do? Sit home and cry?”

In the Jimmy Fallon movie Fever Pitch, as the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the ALCS of 2004, Fallon’s character is out drowning his sorrows when he spots then-Red Sox players Johnny Damon and Jason Varitek out having dinner. An epiphany hits him that they’re human beings who are doing a job and will then go out and live their lives after the fact and that includes going out and having a nice dinner. There’s no reason to cry; a tantrum won’t help; and there’s no hiding in their homes musing on what went wrong.

Because it’s a job.

This incarnation of the Yankees from 1996 to now has never had to do a rebuild. They never had to worry about money because George Steinbrenner, for all his faults, was willing to spend under the theory that success on the field would beget profit off it. And he was right. But now the Boss is gone and GM Brian Cashman is hell-bent on getting the payroll down to a reasonable level so the new luxury tax regulations won’t drastically increase the bottom line. Is it due to a mandate from Hank and Hal Steinbrenner? Or is it Cashman trying again to prove that he belongs in the fleeting upper echelon of GMs currently inhabited by the likes of Andrew Friedman and Billy Beane who are specifically there because of limited resources and their own cagey maneuvers that sometimes work and sometimes don’t?

Cashman tried to rebuild his farm system so the Yankees didn’t have to rely on the checkbook to save them. In 2008 that resulted in a missed playoff spot and was, as usual, covered by spending, spending, spending on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. They’re still seeking young pitchers with cost certainty and upside and have Manny Banuelos (Tommy John surgery), Dellin Betances (can’t throw strikes), Michael Pineda (acquired, abused, and on the shelf with a torn labrum), and Jose Campos (the invisible key who hasn’t pitched or been heard from since May).

Annual contention and a World Series or failure sentiment is a great roadmap to disappointment. As the Phillies, Angels, and Red Sox have proven, money doesn’t buy a playoff spot, let alone a championship. The Red Sox and Mets have proven how quickly it can all come apart.

That can happen to the Yankees.

As they age, they decline (Alex Rodriguez); get hurt (Jeter and Rivera); outlive their usefulness (Swisher, Curtis Granderson), and bear the brunt of the outrage that the championships are not being delivered as they were in the past.

Are they prepared to pay Robinson Cano the $200+ million he’s going to want as a free agent after 2013? While they’re trying to cut costs and know that Cano isn’t the hardest worker in the world and whose laziness will extract an increasing toll on his production when the game is no longer easy for him? Does Cano look effortless because he’s so good or is it that he doesn’t put in much effort? And how does that portend what a player like him is going to accomplish as he’s guaranteed an amount of money that he’ll never be able to spend is coming to him no matter how he performs? He doesn’t run ground balls out now in the playoffs, is he going to run them out when he’s 35 and has 5 years to run on a contract that the Yankees can look at A-Rod’s fall and know is disastrous? The days of a player putting up Barry Bonds numbers at ages 36-42 ended with increased drug testing and harsher punishments. A-Rod is a 37-year-old player and this is what happens to 37-year-old players regardless of how great they once were. They can’t catch up to the fastball, they have to start their swings earlier in case it’s on the way leaving them susceptible to hard breaking stuff and changeups.

There’s no fixing it.

The Yankees might come back and win this ALCS. To do it, they’ll have to beat the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander, pitching at home as the Tigers have a 2-0 series lead. It can be done. The Yankees can still win the World Series. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that they do. Will it be enjoyed or will there be a la-de-da, “we win again,” attitude that has set the stage for this rickety foundation and imminent collapse?

How much cake can a fan eat? How many pieces of chicken parm can Michael Kay stuff into his mouth? Like Wall Street, how many yachts can they waterski behind? When is enough enough?

Whether your personal investment and fantasyworld of egomania lets you see it, win or lose this dynasty is coming down and it’s happening right before your eyes.

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The Cheap Shots Against Mike Francesa Are Unnecessary

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WFAN in New York announced yesterday that, starting in November, the longtime AM station on 660 here in New York will be simulcast on 101.9 FM—NY Times Story. How much longer they’re going to be broadcasting with their signature name on the station, Mike Francesa, is unknown, but if the cheap shots perpetrated by media “watchers,” columnists, callers, and critics continue, it wouldn’t be a shock for the 58-year-old Francesa to give it a few more years and walk away for an easier, less time-consuming job. If he chose to relax his schedule, one of the multitudes of NFL shows on CBS, Fox, NFL Network, or many others would certainly have him. Presumably, CBS would be pleased to have Francesa discussing golf and NCAA basketball along with football.

With young children at home, the question for Francesa will change from, “What will I do if I don’t have this outlet 5-6 days a week to talk sports,” to, “Do I need this aggravation and to put in all these hours if I have to deal with 24/7 ridicule for minuscule missteps?”

If you’d like to attack Francesa for his pomposity, egomania, occasional laziness, dismissal of those who disagree with him, and overbearing demeanor, then fine. Go nuts. But in another piece in today’s NY Times, when discussing Tigers’ pitcher Al Alburquerque’s strange decision to kiss the baseball before throwing Athletics’ outfielder Yoenis Cespedes out on a comebacker in game 2 of the ALDS, the author mentions Francesa’s confusion as to what a caller was talking about when he referenced Alburquerque a year ago during the Tigers-Yankees ALDS series.

Why?

Did it fit into the narrative or was it just tossed in there in case someone did a search on the Times website for “Mike Francesa”?

Yesterday another caller cryptically and in an unfunny fashion alluded to Francesa’s famous falling asleep episode from last month while WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti was on. Francesa made the mistake of first denying it happened, and now when it’s broached, he goes into a long diatribe about his 20+ year career in broadcasting, the awards he’s won, etc. If I were advising him, I’d tell him to make a joke about it. It happened. I didn’t see it as a big deal then and it’s not a big deal now. It’s a bigger story if he or anyone manages to stay awake during a Sweeny Murti appearance.

Say what you want about Francesa, but he worked hard to get where he is. No one handed it to him and, at his age, it’s not easy to sit in a studio alone 6 days a week and talk sports for 5+ hours a day. Also, he has to read commercials, do appearances, and the other aspects of being a sports personality that take time and energy to do and that listeners aren’t aware of or think takes much effort.

During the summer, Francesa is often criticized for the amount of vacation time he takes. As stated before, he has young children. The days of working, working, working have to stop sometime. Part of it is his fault for not taking on a partner to replace Chris Russo. The show would probably be better and he’d have someone to pick up the slack, but that’s his choice. What those who seem determined to drive him off the air have to ask themselves is what they’ll be listening to if Francesa chooses to end this losing battle and go do something that isn’t as taxing. If you’ve listened to what WFAN puts on in his stead over those summer months when he’s off, you realize that the alternatives are not only weak, but they’re boring, skittish, obnoxious, and unlistenable unless you prefer them to the choices of Sean Hannity, bad top-40, dated rock, or shutting the radio off entirely.

Keep pushing Francesa out the door and you’ll learn that not only is his afternoon spot going to be difficult to fill literally, but figuratively as well.

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Denial Doesn’t Solve The Yankees’ Problems

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I’m no fan of Chris Russo as a broadcaster, sports analyst, or human being, but his absence as a partner and counterweight (figuratively—there’s no way he could do it literally) to Mike Francesa is sorely missed during the Yankees September swoon. If you listen to Francesa and his guests, this run of poor play is little more than a blip with multitudes of excuses and Fight Club-style group therapy sessions to assuage the small warning light in the backs of their collective heads telling them, “Yes, the Yankees might actually blow this.”

Is it a “blip”? The Yankees were 60-39 on July 27th; since then, they’ve gone 19-23. That’s a quarter of the season. That’s no small sample to be dismissed. Objectively, they’ve had one good month this whole season in June when they went 20-7; aside from that, it’s been this. There’s a disturbing amount of delusional denial within the media of what’s happening with this team.

This from Ken Davidoff in the New York Post today:

You can’t call this your classic collapse. The Yankees are winning too often, playing too well, to draw comparisons to any of the all-time tank jobs.

Really? Is that the barometer? Because they’re not comparable to the 1964 Phillies; the 2007 Mets; the 2011 Red Sox and Braves, then it’s not as bad as it seems? It’s a ridiculous argument that isn’t worth examining the current Yankees circumstances and peeling the layers of other collapses. They’re playing too well? Where? Art Howe used to get roasted in the same pages in which Davidoff writes because he explained away the Mets losses with, “We battled.” Are the Yankees battling? I suppose they are. But they’re also losing those battles.

This overriding theme is the classic excuse of, “It’s not their fault.” But whose fault is it? The umpires? Other teams for not blindly accepting the Yankees’ superiority and letting them win? You can’t look down on other franchises and openly promote historic greatness and then complain when the formula doesn’t hold true. It doesn’t work this way with the Yankees. They don’t want to hear excuses from other franchises as they look down smugly from their self-created perch, so they shouldn’t be indulging in such weak excuses themselves. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Twins or any of the other clubs on their supposed powderpuff schedule is going to have sympathy, want to hear about how the playoffs aren’t the same without the Yankees or other similar bits of absurdity.

There appears to be a coping structure in place among those whose embarrassment will rival that of the Yankees organization if the team does somehow manage to stumble out of the playoffs; that they’re more concerned with the ridicule they’re going to have to endure rather than honestly analyze why this is happening. Much like the entire YES Network, the media contingent whose lifeblood hinges on the success of the Yankees, and the fanbase, there’s a tacit decision to ignore this reality as if it’s going to go away; as if the schedule will save them.

Every Francesa guest has been offering validation to his underlying pleas to tell him and the listeners/watchers that everything’s going to be okay with little basis for the assertion other than the schedule. From Peter Gammons to Sweeny Murti to Mark Feinsand to anyone and everyone, they’re clinging to what the Yankees were and thinking that it’s still what they are. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. He sounds like one of his callers. If he had Russo—or anyone willing to stand up to him—it wouldn’t pass without protest.

The Yankees’ margin of error that is usually in place in September has been wiped out since they blew that 10 game lead and there are not one, but two teams ahead of them in the American League standings. They’re tied for first place in the division, and three teams are right on their heels. Mistakes or strategic missteps are magnified when the margin for error disappears. Manager Joe Girardi’s strategic moves are under greater scrutiny because they matter. In July, when they were rolling toward the playoffs, one small bullpen call that didn’t work wasn’t an issue because it was a tiny pebble in the river of that lead. Now there’s no river. It’s a disappearing puddle. This is how you wind up with Girardi physically looking like Billy Martin after a 5-day bender and losing his composure at the provocation of the instigator Joel Sherman. Girardi has handled himself as well as can be expected and been a professional. That’s not going to fly with the masses. They want someone or something to blame.

Francesa’s new template is to desperately look at the upcoming schedule and, in an identically ignorant fashion to his annual picking of the Twins in the AL Central since “I awways pick da Twins,” is picking and choosing wins and losses. This isn’t football where there are factors such as quarterbacking, special teams, matchups, and home field advantages that will make a difference.

The Red Sox won last night because the Yankees didn’t capitalize on Jon Lester’s wildness. David Robertson’s luck in getting himself into and out of trouble didn’t work its magic. The idea that the Yankees were going to stroll into Boston and sweep the Red Sox—no matter how poorly the Red Sox were playing—is ignoring how much hatred the key performers in last night’s game, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, have implanted in their psyches from battles between the franchises over the past decade. That permeates to the clubhouse. The players can feel the buzz in the ballpark and it’s going to spur them to play harder. Manager Bobby Valentine, knowing his time as Red Sox manager is dwindling to these final three weeks, also despises the Yankees from his time as Mets’ manager and would love to put an addendum on what is likely his final ballroom dance as a big league manager with “helped knock the Yankees from the playoffs” instead of having “Red Sox disaster” standing alone as his managerial epitaph.

Semantics and the cuddly positive reinforcement that the heroes from years gone by like Andy Pettitte will tear off his shirt and go into a Superman act to save the day aren’t solutions. They’re dreams. The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting it, but that’s something no one invested in the Yankees is willing to do.

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MLB Stories 9.2.2011

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McCourt is either Goldfinger or Dr. Evil.

MLB is “skeptical” of the latest act in this long-running soap opera known as the Los Angeles Dodgers.

If Dodgers owner Frank McCourt hatched a scheme for Bill Burke to offer him $1.2 billion for the Dodgers and it’s all an elaborate ruse to convince MLB and the bankruptcy judge to let him keep control of the club, he’s either a brilliantly megalomaniacal James Bond villain-type character or a clumsy and inept Austin Powers villain-type character.

Even with the divorce, bankruptcy, continued wrestling matches with MLB over control of the club and other embarrassments, McCourt did manage to get his hands on the Dodgers in the first place with a highly leveraged deal and, like it or not, the team’s been mostly successful on the field under his ownership.

Don’t discount genius, madness, goofiness, desperation or all of the above.

The Cubs have yet to ask permission to speak to Billy Beane.

It’d be pretty funny if the Cubs ignored the made-for-public-consumption stories and looked at Beane’s track record on the field and said, “why would we want him?”

It’s going from one extreme to the other to have been referred to as a genius (while everyone else is an apparent idiot) to not being interviewed for a job that one would assume is a perfect landing spot for Beane, but what if the Cubs decide they’d prefer a GM with a little less baggage?

I’m not talking about the Moneyball albatross, I’m talking about how Beane has callously treated his managers; shifted blame to everyone other than himself; has had teams in both 2009 and 2011 that were expected to win and didn’t; and has used his fictional reputation as a shield to let him do whatever he wanted regardless of repeated failures.

If Moneyball didn’t exist, would Beane be such a hot commodity? Or would he be relegated to the netherworld of journeyman GMs with Bill Bavasi, Omar Minaya, Ed Wade and the man he’d be replacing, Jim Hendry?

He’s a smart guy with strengths and weaknesses as a baseball executive and might—might—be a good pick for the Cubs to take over.

The Cubs could just hire Brad Pitt as GM and Michael Lewis as his minister of propaganda. Many of the faux baseball experts who read Moneyball and think it’s 100% accurate wouldn’t know the difference.

Yankees fans need to calm down about Montero.

Jesus Montero‘s arrival has been kiddingly referred to as the second coming of Jesus.

Christ, I mean.

Have they not learned their lesson that it’s counterproductive and/or outright destructive to lavish this type of attention on a prospect? That placing expectations on a young player who’s walking into a clubhouse with future Hall of Famers like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter can be a little intimidating? That if he’s treated as a superstar before he puts on the uniform, it could hinder his ability to relax and play the game?

Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy arrived with similar idol worship. None lived up to the hype in pinstripes.

Wouldn’t it be better to have a young player arrive without this lunacy as Robinson Cano did? When Cano got to the big leagues, no one knew who he was and those who didn’t know who he was took this to mean that he’d play a few games in the big leagues and be sent back down, never to be heard from again.

Mike Francesa and Chris Russo—those noted experts—did that exact thing.

That was in 2005.

Look at Cano now.

Calm down with the Jesus worship for his and your own good.

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A Diet Coke Sitz Bath

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Mike Francesa has always had an ego; such was expressed in a 1996 Sports Illustrated profile in which former WFAN program director Mark Mason said it was as “big as all outdoors”; but there’s a difference between believing what you so so fervently that you present it in a matter-of-fact way and don’t care one way or the other as to the reaction or response and not listening to dissent or acknowledging being wrong.

There’s something to be said for, “this is what I think; and if you don’t like it, too bad.”

But there’s a line between confidence and self-indulgent narcissism.

Francesa crossed that line long ago.

Now, he’s ventured into the world of arrogance meeting obfuscation meeting Diet Coke.

Interpreting what the subject of an interview is really saying by reading between the lines is an important part of being in the media; but twisting what the person said to suit one’s own needs is not only inaccurate, but it’s unprofessional.

Two years ago, the Mets had gotten off to a good start over the first 50 games and Francisco Rodriguez was fantastic early in the season; this was before injuries ravaged the entire team and relegated them to a laughingstock as 2009 was the next step in the downward spiral that they’re now trying to repair with a new baseball braintrust.

On the West Coast, Brian Fuentes was closing games for the Angels as K-Rod’s replacement; he got off to a terrible start and Francesa, discussing the Angels, Mets and K-Rod, said something to the tune of the Angels had openly admitted their mistake in letting K-Rod leave.

This struck me as a huge story. A team allowed their homegrown free agent closer to leave—the same closer who had set a record for saves in the previous year—and was now confessing that it was a mistake a month into the next season?

Wouldn’t that cause a tremor and aftershocks in the Angels clubhouse with Fuentes? With his teammates? With other players around baseball who would think it odd that the team was burying one of their players in favor of the one he replaced?

It was unheard of.

It was unheard of for a very good reason—it wasn’t true.

I scoured the web, searching for various stories in the California papers, ESPN, MLBTradeRumors and other sites to see if there was anything anywhere that indicated the Angels expressing regret—publicly—that they replaced K-Rod with Fuentes.

I didn’t find anything because it didn’t exist. Not even the worst-run teams in sports are going to allow themselves to be quoted ripping one of their players in favor of a former player—one they chose to let go.

Is it possible that someone told Francesa privately that the Angels regretted letting K-Rod go? Of course, but he didn’t provide any background to the assertion other than that the Angels regretted it and left it there as if his simple utterance was good enough for everyone to accept it.

It was a factoid. Not a fact.

Francesa’s gotten worse as he’s been left alone to do his own show without a partner to check him on the things he says that are in the realm of megalomania/egomania. I was no fan of Chris Russo, but he performed that function.

The dismissals of callers has gone on ad infinitum; but Francesa’s become delusional.

This week alone he made two ridiculous statements that are easily torn to shreds by anyone who has a basic concept of baseball.

His ironclad decree that the Yankees will always be able to stay toward the top of baseball because of their financial might sounds like it would come from a die-hard fan and not one who is supposedly the expert baseball analyst Francesa thinks he is.

Did he miss this past off-season in which the prize of the free agent crop, Cliff Lee, spurned the higher offer from the Yankees to go back to the Phillies because he was familiar with the team and atmosphere and straight out thought that the Phillies had a better chance to win?

Has he been paying attention to the new trend clubs (and players) are employing in signing long-term contracts to prevent said players from ever seeing free agency? It just happened with Ryan Braun and had previously occurred with Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Howard.

Here’s the math: the more young players who sign long-term deals to preclude their first few years of arbitration/free agency, the fewer will be available to sign with the Yankees or anyone else; nor will they be available via trade. Revenue sharing has allowed teams to spend money they heretofore didn’t have to try and compete with the Yankees.

Do you really think that Tim Lincecum is ever going to be a free agent while he’s still healthy and in his prime? That Felix Hernandez will be traded to the Yankees simply because the Yankees want him?

Those days are over and aren’t coming back. All they have to hang onto is their supposedly bursting farm system and the money to buy the aged veterans who are a massive risk—see the offer they made to Carl Pavano.

As for the farm system, you can rave about the “high-end” prospects like Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, but as the Phil Hughes injury and team-induced failure of Joba Chamberlain has proven, you cannot automatically expect a player to fulfill his hype just because there have been rules, regulations, news stories and overprotective measures enacted to place him in a box and “guarantee” success.

The Yankees are always going to be contenders?

Does he remember the fall of the Yankees dynasty from 1965 to 1975? When they couldn’t do anything right? It happens more quickly than you realize and all it takes is one crack to slowly allow seepage to poison the whole foundation until it comes crashing to the ground; it can happen to the Yankees; it can happen to anyone.

Age; terrible contracts; failed free agent acquisitions; unfulfilled promise of prospects; bad trades; injuries and the dearth of available replacements all contribute to such a downfall.

The pieces are in place for the Yankees right now.

Then we get to the most egregious of the Francesa assertions: that Mets GM Sandy Alderson had called around to other teams during their 5-13 start to try and clean out the house.

At least that’s what Francesa’s tone implied after his interview with Alderson in which Alderson said he was calling other GMs to “gauge the market”.

There’s a bit of a difference—no, there’s a giant difference—between calling another club and saying, “What are you willing to offer for Jose Reyes; David Wright; K-Rod; the light fixtures; Jeff Wilpon; whatever?” and calling to say, “If you’re ready to deal and we’re still playing like this, call us when the warm weather hits and we’ll talk about anyone.”

It all returns to the Francesa fantasy to “break up da core” of the Mets. He’s wanted it for so long; believes—again as is his right—that it was the right thing to do after the 2008 season and thinks it’s now a bit too late, but still an alternative.

But it’s not due to analysis. It’s the propping up of the self that’s so entrenched in his mind.

“I hafta be right.”

Much like his pre-season predictions in which he made such idiotic declarative statements like “I’ll pick the Twins because I always pick the Twins”, there was no research; no basis; no nothing. Just an agenda based on his own enormous opinion of himself.

It’s getting worse and worse as he transforms from irritating in his arrogance, but making a good point occasionally, to simply formulating stories that don’t exist and living in a universe all his own.

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