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Keefe To The City: Yankees In September Swoon

By Neil Keefe

The Yankees dropped another series, and it was a series that cost them first place in the AL East for the time being. Now a 1/2 game behind the Rays in the division, the Yankees have won just twice in their last 10 games.

Joe Girardi once again used his bullpen like it was Little League on Monday by giving everyone a chance to pitch, as we watched Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre pitch in an extra-inning game that the Yankees would lose. On Wednesday, Girardi let Austin Kearns and Colin Curtis take important at-bats in a game the Yankees would lose by one run, as the duo went 1-for-8 with five strikeouts, leaving a combined 10 men on base.

It would be wise for Joe Girardi to try to win the AL East. Actually, it would just be nice for him to try to clinch a playoff sport first, as the Red Sox are suddenly breathing again.

Whenever there is trouble with the Yankees, there is one person I can turn to for some perspective on things in hopes of breaking up a string of poor play. Sweeny Murti joined me to talk Yankees baseball as the team is trying to get back on track after their recent slide.

Keefe: It didn't even take a full day for me to take back my apology from Boone Logan. What happened Tuesday night was what I have feared all season and what Boone displayed earlier in the season. Here is what I said about Boone Logan on Tuesday after I apologized:

"Now, I say I am sorry, but I know that at some point between now and the last game the Yankees play this season, Boone Logan will be asked to get a BIG out, an important out, a significant out in the 2010 Yankees season. And mark my words … he will put a scare into every Yankees fan."

I know he was due for a meltdown, but that was of epic proportion given the Yankees' recent play. At least the Yankees won the game in the end. I guess we still can't trust Boone Logan, but I know Joe Girardi will in the playoffs.

Murti: Well, I guess I learned a lesson here too. Why should I make you change your mind about a player, when clearly the right solution is to let you crush him time after time, even though he is playing well? After all, it's the results we're after, not being right or wrong, right?

I'm not sure that makes any sense whatsoever. Anyway, here's the 2-1 …

Logan has done his job, and that's getting lefties out. They're batting just .174 against him, and he recently went 25 straight scoreless outings. The last Yankee to do that was Mariano Rivera. Logan, like any other reliever, when he gives up runs will likely give them up in a key spot. The other team has good players too, and Joe Maddon went to his bench and found the right guy.

Perhaps your apology to Logan seemed ill timed, but in reality it was long overdue. If he continues to blow games down the stretch or in the postseason, then we'll reevaluate.

Keefe: Brett Gardner and Carl Crawford made virtually the same mistake in back-to-back nights that two of the fastest guy in baseball shouldn't be making: trying to get to third with two outs. I'm not sure why already being in scoring position wasn't good enough for either of them, but their mental mistakes ended up potentially costing their team in two tight games.

Joe Maddon stuck up for his player with his excuse that it's OK to make a decision like that with Mariano Rivera on the mound, but I don't think anyone can believe the Rays manager.

There is probably a much greater chance of Mariano Rivera giving up a hit with two outs and a man on second than there is of Mariano throwing a wild pitch or there being a passed ball with Crawford. Mariano has one wild pitch in the last three years and 12 in his career (thanks, Michael Kay). I understand Maddon's reasoning about the throw from Golson maybe getting away or hitting Crawford and leading to a run without a hit, but let's be honest, that's just a bad excuse for a bad play by his left fielder.

Murti: I'm not going to call Joe Maddon a flat-out liar, but I think there is an element of protecting his player there, no doubt. I had a longtime coach tell me that the last thing you want to do with aggressive players is take away their aggressiveness. You certainly want to teach them smart vs. stupid, and last night was certainly not smart considering the high-risk and low-reward situation you described with Mariano on the mound.

Keefe: Jorge Posada's home run on Tuesday night was so clutch, and I think sometimes people take for granted Posada's ability and forget how much he means to this team. When you think about the one season the Yankees didn't make the playoffs since 1993 being 2008, which is the year Posada missed the majority of the season, it shows how valuable he is.

Last postseason, Joe Girardi decided to start Jose Molina over Posada when A.J. Burnett's turn in the rotation came up. Is there a scenario this postseason in which Girardi would not start Posada? Please tell me there isn't.

Murti: Posada will not start with Burnett pitching, again. Mark it down.

But I agree with your point as well, that complaints over the years about Posada's ability to frame a pitch, block a ball in the dirt or throw out a runner all mysteriously vanish the second he hits a home run in the eighth inning. That kind of sustained offensive production from that position comes along how often in these parts? Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson and Posada, right? That's about once in a generation, so that should be easy to replace …

Though Cervelli has some potential as an everyday catcher, his bat needs a lot of improvement if he will ever hold that title.

Meanwhile, we need to be certain that Jesus Montero or Austin Romine is ready to play in the big leagues before pushing Posada aside and handing over the reigns. Once you make that move, there's no going back, and there will come a day you will remember how good Jorge Posada really was.

Keefe: We talked about how wishing to play a certain team usually doesn't work out for your favor, and that's why I am OK with the Yankees playing either the Rangers or Twins in the ALDS. However, it's pretty obvious the Yankees don't care which team they are playing either.

The Yankees want to win the AL East, but they aren't going to extend themselves to do so. There is a very real chance the Yankees will open the playoffs in Minnesota playing the Twins, who have the best home record in the American League. Not exactly an appealing ALDS matchup even though the Yankees have defeated the Twins in the ALDS in 2003, 2004 and 2009.

It seems like Joe Girardi is already playing like the Yankees have clinched, and while I am all for Girardi resting the veteran players and pitching staff leading into the playoffs, there is still something to play for here. Backing into the postseason, whether intentional or unintentional is never a good strategy, and I think it would be wise for the Yankees to go after the AL East and not just settle for getting into October because settling for the wild card and too much rest could mean a three-day postseason for the Yankees.

Murti: Let me offer you some advice … don't ever tell players on a team that wins 90 or more games that they "backed in" to the playoffs. While the actual manner of clinching the spot varies down the stretch, players look at this as a season-long journey, one that began in Florida back in the February. Seven or eight months later, they feel they deserve to be where they are. If the Yankees or Rays win 97 or 98 games and end up as the wildcard, is it fair to say either team "backed in?"

That said, I agree with your point about wishing for one team vs. another as an opponent. The Yankees played more desirable opponents in 2006 (Tigers over Twins) and 2007 (Indians over Angels) and how'd that work out? Be careful what you wish for. Even the Twins this year (I know the Yankees have owned them over the years), but how many years can that keep happening? There's something that scares me about the Twins with the way they've motored through the season competing for best overall record without Justin Morneau. Imagine the Yankees missing a player of that caliber and not missing a beat. Scary.

As for playing to win ... they go out there every day with the intention to win. They have a lineup that every day is better than the other team's, even when certain guys are on the bench. And they are throwing out the best starting pitchers they can each time out. If you tell me that CC Sabathia is being pulled after four innings to conserve him, or that Ramiro Pena is going to be tomorrow's starting pitcher, then I think they've given up.

Most of people's objections over how hard the Yankees are trying goes back to Joe Girardi's bullpen decisions, which I talked about earlier this week.

Keefe: Sure, the Yankees will be where they deserve to be at the end of the year over 162 games, but winning once over nearly a two-week span with two weeks left in the season isn't exactly assuring for a team that has been only a handful of games over .500 since the All-Star break.

With Javier Vazquez banished to the bullpen and Andy Pettitte due back on Sunday, it looks like the postseason rotation is starting to take shape, and it seems like Phil Hughes will be a part of it even though it was suggested for a while that he would be coming out of the bullpen. Now it's a matter of figuring out the order of the rotation.

Personally, I would go Sabathia-Pettitte-Hughes-Burnett, but I think Girardi will want to split the lefties up, and I wouldn't be surprised to have the rotation look the way it did last postseason with Hughes attached to the end of it.

Murti: If Hughes is pitching well, I think he could slide into No. 3 spot and you keep the lefties together with Burnett being No. 4. If you want to split the lefties, I don't have a huge problem with Hughes as the No. 2, but Burnett is clearly No. 4 the way he's been going and I don't think even he would argue that. He is probably just feeling fortunate to still be in the rotation.

Vazquez has been banished to the bullpen and maybe for good, but he can still be an important piece depending on how some of these postseason games go. Remember he got a huge out early in the season against Boston coming out of the 'pen.

I know its been suggested by many that Burnett doesn't even deserve to still be in the rotation at this point, but one veteran Yankee pointed out to me that Burnett is under contract for three more years and the Yankees have to be careful not to lose him mentally.

Keefe: Kerry Wood has simply been the man since he arrived in the Bronx, and I think he will play an important role this postseason. Wood has a club option for $11 million that there is no way the Yankees will pick up this offseason, but I would like to see Wood back. I understand he is auditioning for his next contract and probably wants to go close somewhere rather than set up here, but what are the chances he could come back?

Murti: Well, like you said, if somebody offers him a closer's job and more importantly closer's money, then I would think it would be tough for the Yankees to match. I don't see them overpaying for a setup man, no matter how good a job he's done for them this year. But he is turning out to be a classic midseason addition for Brian Cashman.

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