Detroit's pitchers toyed with Yankees batters in all four games of the ALCS. Here's a closer look at two striking Tiger sequences.
When I was in high school, the thing to do was play poker. Kids would play during free periods, lunch, whenever, sometimes winning and losing over $100 in a day. (And some of them could actually afford it.) Like any high schooler worth his salt, I followed suit, and soon I was a dependably willing player, relatively conservative but always game to try to fleece a freshman who’d just looked up the rules on his expensive new iPhone. As an editor of the school newspaper, I even planted this quote in a cover story we ran on the poker fad: “It’s the most intellectually challenging thing I’ve ever done.” Yeah, when it came to antagonizing our teachers, we had a lot of tricks in our bag.
Poker may not have taught me as much as I wanted my teachers to think it did, but I did introduce me to one piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since: a successful poker player focuses more on his opposition’s holding than his own hand. I find that’s true in many walks of life, nowhere more so than in the duel between batter and pitcher, when it’s just natural to do what feels most comfortable to you, rather than what might feel least comfortable to your opponent. In the most extreme example, Aroldis Chapman walks a Little Leaguer on four sliders because he fears he doesn’t have his best heat that day. In a real-world example, the Yankees don’t adjust to the way their ALCS opponent’s pitchers attack them, and their season ends because of it. (Oh, and Justin Verlander somehow allows a home run to Eduardo Nunez. But we’ll get there.)
The Cardinals try to get through spring training with both aces intact despite Chris Carpenter's bulging disc, Kenley Jansen listens to his heartbeat and doesn't like what he hears, and Giancarlo Stanton and Nolan Reimold lose battles with balls.
Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals (Bulging disc in neck)
Carpenter has been dealing with stiffness and pain in his neck for about a week and was sent for further tests that revealed a bulging disc. That wasn’t the worst diagnosis in the world, but it could have been better.
There are multiple ways in which a bulging disc can cause pain. The muscles and tissues around the neck can become painful as they strain to stabilize the area and take pressure off the injured disc, and the bulge can be so big that it puts pressure either on the nerves exiting the spinal cord or on the spinal cord itself. By all reports, Carpenter does not have a disc that is bulging to the point where it presses on the nerves. In cases like this, physical therapy focuses on decreasing pain and inflammation as well as strengthening the area. An epidural injection may also be considered to relieve the inflammation, but that does not appear to be in the works quite yet.
Pitching and defense carried the Angels last season and will aid them again in 2012, though a couple new bats might make the difference in the division.
The most famous play of Peter Bourjos’s major-league career to date comes in the bottom of the fourth inning in the Bronx on August 10, 2011, with the Yankees already out to a 5-0 lead. Bourjos is set up in center and just a few steps towards right when New York infielder Eduardo Nuñez is late on a 3-2 fastball and lines it into the right field gap. Both Bourjos and Hunter break for the ball; it’s closer to Hunter, and he dives…inches short. Less than inches short. He’s so close to catching it that it almost looks like he tips it with his glove, but the ball continues on its course untouched.
Good thing, too, because as Hunter extends in mid-air to make a highlight-reel-worthy play on the ball, Bourjos comes streaking out of nowhere behind him and gloves the ball knee-high on the run, stops, plants, and delivers the ball back towards second, where the Angels almost double up a disbelieving Russell Martin. In the three, maybe four seconds between Nuñez making contact with the outside fastball and Bourjos retiring him, the Angels center fielder crossed from medium-deep center to make a play in front of the scoreboard in right and remained on his feet while doing so, allowing him to try for the double play. The putout makes highlight reels across the country; after all, it has a spectacular dive, an out, and a near-collision in the outfield. It’s not really important which of the outfielders was responsible for what.
Now that the Yankees have dealt Jesus Montero to the Mariners, they're in search of DH options.
Last Friday, the Yankees pulled off a major trade, sending Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. The move shores up the pinstripes' rotation both for 2012 and beyond, but it does create a vacancy at designated hitter, since the 22-year-old Montero was penciled in as the presumptive starter after a September audition in which he hit a searing .328/.406/.590 with four homers. While finding an adequately productive DH shouldn't be all that hard—the average AL DH hit .266/.341/.430 in 2011, while the Yankees’ DHs contributed a .251/.336/.450 line—Brian Cashman and company are up against some self-imposed financial constraints that make their task somewhat more challenging.
Brian Cashman says the Yankees aren't interested in Jose Reyes, but perhaps the GM doth protest too much.
The Golden Age of the American League shortstop has ended. Ten years ago, the game had its banner shortstops, who graced the pages of Sports Illustrated, but those pec-adorned days are long gone.
The reigning king of the AL East’s shortstops is, of course, Derek Jeter, but as The Times reminded us last week, Jeter is aging quickly. He’s currently on the disabled list for a strained calf suffered while jogging off the field. This has been the second-longest DL stint of his career, and for a player who has long played hurt and healed quickly, the next two-and-a-half guaranteed years—let alone that player option—might not fly by.
Nate finishes up his PECOTA-driven look at prospects with a few rankings, and some final thoughts.
Since the All-Star Game was first played in 1933, there have been 519 players who have been named to participate in the event at least three times. This constitutes a reasonable, if slightly arbitrary, definition of what we might consider to be a "star" performer; our apologies in advance to relatives of Tim Salmon and Bobby Abreu. If we divide that 519 figure by the number of seasons covered during this time period (73), we come up with 7.1 players that "graduate" to star status per year. That is, if we took a typical amateur draft class, we'd expect--give or take--seven players from that draft class to develop into stars.