By Neil Keefe
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There is this imaginary switch in sports, and it's always supposed to be on. You aren't supposed to play around with the switch, and you are never supposed to turn it off. You aren't supposed to turn it to "OFF" when you feel like it and then flip it back to "ON" when you feel like it. It's supposed to remain on at all times because it's too dangerous to play around with it.
It's too risky to think you can just take innings and games off in Major League Baseball. And it's even riskier to think that you can just get up for a game and go out and win when you need to. Apparently Joe Girardi is unaware of this because he has been playing around with "the switch" the way a child plays around with the power windows button in the backseat of a car. But I'm glad someone made him aware before Sunday.
Sure there's the 2000 Yankees who went 3-15 down the stretch before winning it all, and there's the 2006 Tigers that finished with 19 wins in their last 50 games, losing the division in the final weekend before settling for the wild card and defining "backing into the playoffs." But hey, even that Tigers team was able to dismantle the Yankees and A's on the way to the World Series.
For the most part these fairytale stories are few and far between in the playoffs, and for every team that crawled to the finish line and was successful in the second season, there are a dozen that weren't. You can't just decide that Game 1 of the division series is when you are going to start playing for keeps and you can't plan on or hope to get hot at the right time. Yes, it can happen, but it helps if you are already playing great baseball entering the playoffs.
Joe Girardi has done his best to make September interesting. He has even attempted to outdo the 2007 Mets with a collapse that would make the 2004 ALCS seem like no big deal, and a collapse that would scar the Yankees forever, probably end my life as a baseball fan and throw me into a depression that would make me move to Mexico, become a cockfighter and change my name to Steve like Kenny Powers did.
Even though the Yankees were able to get back in the win column on Sunday night and reduce their magic number to 1 with 13 possible chances now to clinch a playoff berth between now and next Sunday, there are still plenty of reasons to question Joe Girardi's managerial decisions. So once again, let me be your host for another episode of The Joe Girardi Show.
Why did you change your mind about starting Phil Hughes on Sunday?
When I went to sleep on Saturday night, Dustin Moseley was going to start on Sunday night against the Red Sox. When I woke up on Sunday morning, Phil Hughes was going to start against the Red Sox on Sunday night. So, what happened in the middle of the night that changed Joe Girardi's mind? The weekend started with Girardi announcing that Phil Hughes would be skipped this time through the rotation because of his innings limit, and all of a sudden, the innings limit didn't mean anything?
With a four-game losing streak surrounding the Yankees and a potential sweep at the hands of the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium with the magic number sitting idle at 3, Girardi still had Moseley slated to start for the Yankees on Sunday night. The same Dustin Moseley that was taken out of the rotation for incompetence. But then Brian Cashman, or someone with a pulse or someone that isn't possibly trying to make a getaway plan to escape to Chicago for 2011, finally stepped in and said, "Enough is enough, Joe."
Someone finally made Girardi realize that the Yankees weren't in the playoffs yet, but were instead stumbling to the finish line like a runner with a blown out hamstring and bleeding nipples trying to finish out the New York City Marathon after six hours. Things were beginning to get ugly.
Cashman said the Yankees made the change "based on the information we had," which was the scientific way for saying Girardi was letting the 2010 season unravel at a Burnett-esque meltdown pace.
Over the weekend, Girardi was asked about his odd managerial decisions during the Yankees' recent skid, and he responded by saying, "I would manage the same way" in reference to if the postseason race had been tighter, and the Red Sox weren't breathing without the help of life support.
I don't want to call Girardi a liar, but it's not like it would be the first time. After his strange handling of the media in 2008, his constant cover up of injuries during his time as Yankees manager and his devotion to players that have proven incapable of getting the job done, if Girardi told me it was going to be sunny out, I would bring an umbrella.
It's odd that he would suddenly decide to pitch Hughes instead of Moseley, especially if he's managing "the same way" he would be if there wasn't a 99.9 percent chance the Yankees would make the playoffs.
If you are managing "the same way," then why are September call-ups pitching meaningful innings?
In one sentence, Girardi basically said that if the Yankees were one or two games ahead of the Red Sox, he would still have a bridge to Chad Gaudin in the late innings, and he would use Royce Ring, Jonathan Albaladejo and Humberto Sanchez in middle relief. OK, Joe, we believe you. No really, we believe you.
So let's look at the pitchers he chose to go to this weekend in games in which the Yankees would nearly erase two large deficits, if not for the fact that this version of The Insurance Run Brigade let the Red Sox extend their lead.
Chad Gaudin might technically be a major league pitcher, but he isn't a major league pitcher. After A.J. Burnett's first start of the season I said, "Watching A.J. Burnett is harder to watch than the scene in Casino where Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) and his brother Dominick are beaten within an inch of their lives by baseball bats and then buried alive." If that is the case, then watching Chad Gaudin pitch has to be harder to watch than the final scene in Pride and Glory where Colin Farrell is beaten to death by a group of hoodlums with baseball bats while Edward Norton is held back and has to watch.
Chad Gaudin has two pitches: the pitch that ends up as a ball in the dirt and the pitch that ends up as a line drive somewhere. On Saturday we saw two of the line drives end up in the seats on consecutive hitters, and nearly a third one in a row, but David Ortiz just missed it and Nick Swisher had to make an acrobatic catch to keep it from being a double.
Chad Gaudin wasn't good enough to make the Yankees out of spring training, so the A's took him. The A's, a team that would fire family members if it meant saving an extra buck, didn't even want Gaudin at the bargain of $700,000, so the Yankees said, "Come on back!" Despite putting up numbers that would have anyone else pitching in an independent league or doing anything other than pitching a baseball professionally, Gaudin has managed to remain a member of the New York Yankees, a team with a $213 million payroll.
Gaudin has one perfect appearance since August 1 despite pitching 22 innings over 15 games. He has appeared in 29 games for the Yankees in 2010 and has allowed earned runs in 14 appearances. It's no surprise that the Yankees are 2-6 in games Gaudin has appeared in since September 7. His line in those eight games: 9.1 IP, 13 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 5 HR, 7.71 ERA, .325 BAA. Remarkable!
Whenever I hear "Jonathan Albaladejo," I think of Tyler Clippard. And whenever I think of Tyler Clippard, I think of that Sunday Night Baseball game against the Mets on May 20, 2007 when Clippard, at 22, allowed one run over six innings and struck out six for a win in his major league debut in a game the Yankees had to have. That winter the Yankees traded Clippard to the Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo. Since the trade, Clippard is 16-9 with a 2.84 ERA in 118 appearances. He has pitched to a 2.77 ERA for the Nationals this season and has 109 strikeouts in 87 2/3 innings. Excuse me while I cry a little.
Albaladejo had 43 saves and a 1.42 ERA at Triple-A this season, so normally that would cause one to ask the question, "Why isn't he in the majors?" Well, I think you are seeing why Albaladejo only appeared in two games for the Yankees prior to the roster expansion for September. It's not because the Yankees wanted to make sure they had a quality closer in Triple-A, so the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees could make a run at an Eastern League title.
Since being called up for September, he has the following line: 7 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 5.14 ERA. Hey, at least it does look like he has lost some weight.
Royce Ring made his Yankees debut on September 22, but I could have sworn I had seen him pitch for the Yankees before. And then I realized I had, except he went by the name of Mike Myers, Alan Embree and Billy Traber.
Lefties can thank Jesse Orosco for job security until their left arm actually won't work. Orosco pitched for nine teams over 24 seasons. He pitched in the majors from the time he was 22 until he was 46. He pitched from 1979-2003. All of those things are incredible. The most incredible part might be that he didn't become a Yankee until his final season in 2003 when he was 46. That's right, the Yankees were willing to take a chance on a 46-year-old lefty.
Orosco proved that no matter your age, history or workload, if you throw a baseball with your left arm, someone is willing to give you a chance to get outs for them. If Orosco had been right-handed, he would have needed a second career after his playing days ended, which would have been sometime in the late 80s or early 90s. Instead, according to Baseball Reference, he made $15.9 million in his career.
I always joke that when I have a kid someday, I am going to tie his right arm behind his back when we play catch so he learns to throw lefty (with one arm tied behind his back I' not sure yet how he will catch returns throws), whether he likes it or not. But the more and more I think about it, the less I am kidding.
Ring is the latest lefty specialist experiment for the Yankees, and I'm not sure exactly what the Yankees think they have here. If Ring makes the postseason roster (very, very doubtful), he will be second biggest waste of a postseason roster spot in the last two years. Freddy Guzman is still No. 1.
Are you really going to start A.J Burnett in Game 2?
I wouldn't trust A.J. Burnett to hold my place in line at the grocery store while I went to get a gallon of milk. I'm not about to trust him to start Game 2 of the playoffs, even though he did so last season. I know I said on Friday that I wouldn't say anything negative about Burnett for the rest of the season, but I don't think I'm saying anything negative. I'm just speaking the truth. The truth might hurt, but it probably doesn't hurt as much as punching a lineup card holder after hanging a four spot in two innings against the Rays. OK, that's it.
There are three potential problems with A.J. Burnett starting Game 2 in the playoffs:
1. He could get lit up (the most obvious).
2. Girardi has no clue when an A.J. Burnett meltdown is brewing and before you can blink, two men are on with two runs already in and Girardi hasn't even got anyone warming up yet. Girardi's long leash for Burnett coupled with Burnett's ability to let things get out of hand in a hurry is lethal combination and a recipe for disaster.
3. Game 2 is crucial. If CC Sabathia were to ever lose Game 1 (let's hope not), then all the pressure would be on Game 2, especially in a five-game series. Over the last few weeks, this notion that Game 3 of a series is the most important game has been floated around, and that is why the Yankees would have Andy Pettitte start Game 3. It might be the single dumbest theory I have ever heard aside from Joe Maddon's that getting thrown out at third to end a game is the right play. If Girardi wants to split the lefties in the postseason, then OK, split them up and pitch Hughes in Game 2 and let Burnett take Game 4 or not game at all. But don't tell me how important Game 3 is, as if it's any more important than Game 1 or Game 2. If Game 3 were the most important, then CC would be starting it, no?
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