Post-mortem for the 2013 New York Yankees and Off-season Outlook

You could say they were doomed from the start, but that isn’t even the beginning of the problems that the New York Yankees faced this year and moving forward.

For only the second time since 1995, there will be no playoff baseball in the Bronx. They finish with their worst record since 1992. Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera say goodbye after 19 wonderful seasons, most of them together here in New York. Clearly, one of the greatest eras of the most storied franchise in sports is over.

A lot of people will blame the plague of injuries for the Yankees not playing October baseball, and I don’t blame them. The Yankees used a franchise and possibly a major league record 56 different players over the course of the season as a result of 22 players landing on the disabled list 28 total times.

To sustain that many injuries and still win 85 games and miss the playoffs by a few games is pretty amazing, a testament to a brilliant managing job by Joe Girardi. However, it doesn’t really matter, because the goal for the New York Yankees every single year is to bring home a World Series championship, and missing the playoffs is unacceptable and a failure at all levels of the organization.

Honestly, the source of the problem is in the Yankees’ front office. This team was poorly equipped to begin with, and perhaps on purpose. They forced themselves to cut payroll to avoid the luxury tax for the 2014 season, which limited their options. However, instead of going for smart moves, like going in house or scouting the trade market, they signed aged and injury prone players like Ichiro and Vernon Wells (both on the hook for another year!) and Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis for large money. Thus they allowed themselves to be significantly downgraded at catcher and in the outfield after letting Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, and Nick Swisher walk.

With their weakest lineup in 20 years, the Yankees surprisingly got off to a 30-18 start, but soon swooned for much of the summer, falling to one game over .500 and seven games out of a playoff spot in early August, with the season defined by being embarrassed by the lowly Mets and White Sox and being unable to beat the Red Sox or Rays. The offense continued to stink, and even the pitching, especially CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes started to decline.

However, they turned it around – again – and climbed to within one game of the second Wild Card in the middle of September, highlighted taking three of four from Baltimore. Still, their constant inability to beat Tampa Bay or Boston did them in, and the Yankees will watch October baseball from the couch.

Statistically, this was a very mediocre team, particularly on offense. They ranked 16th in runs, 24th in batting average and 26th in OPS and 27th in OPS+. After leading the majors with 245 home runs last year, the Bronx “Bombers” hit the second least in the American League, a 101 decrease. Of course, what else could you expect from a lineup that trotted out the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, Chris Stewart, Eduardo Nunez, and Lyle Overbay every. single. day?

On the pitching side, it wasn’t much better. They only had a 102 ERA+ on the year, ranking dead in the middle of the majors. However, when you go by individual performance, Hughes and Sabathia may be the two biggest reasons why the Yankees missed the playoffs, pitching to ERA+’s of 78 and 85 respectively, both in the bottom five in ERA in the AL. Hughes set a major league record for fewest innings pitched in 29 or more starts with 145.2 IP. Even Hiroki Kuroda turned into a pumpkin near the end of the season, allowing 34 earned runs in his final eight starts (46.2 IP)

This offseason is extremely important to the Yankees for the sake of their immediate future and the blueprint for the next age of dominance. A lot has to change this winter. There is already talk of clearing house at some levels of the organization, particularly in player development, which has been totally slacking in the past couple of years.

This is a necessary step. Over the past seven years, the Yankees minor league system has produced just five everyday players for the Yankees (Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, and Ivan Nova), and none of them overly fantastic with the team with the exception of Robertson and probably Gardner. Only three first round draft choices since 2003 have reached the big leagues. With the age on this team, that is absolutely unacceptable. New blood in the farm system is a must.

Unlike last year, the Yankees have to make the right, sensible moves to better prepare for the grind of 162. Assuming Derek Jeter opts in his $8 million player option, the Yankees will have seven players under contract for about $95 million (not including arbitration cases, of course). Of course, $25 million could be freed up if Alex Rodriguez is suspended for all of 2014, so it could be actually $70 million, well below the Yankees’ target payroll to get under the luxury tax.

To start, the Yankees should do what it takes to get rid of Vernon Wells, as they’re onthe hook for just $2.4 million for him. They should not give in to Robinson Cano’s ridiculous demands ($305 million?!) by haggling with him until he caves or they decide to let him walk. If nobody else wants to pay him, it could help their leverage. If not, say goodbye. They can’t afford another dumb contract. They also have to find a way to resign Curt Granderson, whose value was killed by two freak injuries that knocked him out for 101 games, as they can’t afford to continue to give Ichiro and Wells regular at-bats. They really can’t.

With Andy Pettitte retired and Hiroki Kuroda and Hughes unlikely to return, the Yankees are desperate for pitching. The only guarantees to be in the rotation are Sabathia, who had a 4.78 ERA, and Ivan Nova, who enjoyed a rebound from a rough 2012, winning AL Pitcher of the Month in August and allowing just 48 earned in 139.1 IP.

The only possible and most realistic help for the rotation in house is Michael Pineda, who has yet to throw a play a game for the Yankees two years after being traded from the Mariners for Jesus Montero. The best options in the free agent market are Matt Garza, who struggled in Texas after a trade with the Cubs, James Shields, whose option will likely be picked up by the Royals, and Ricky Nolasco, an average at best pitcher in his career with the Marlins but picked it up with the Dodgers this year.

In other words, the outlook isn’t pretty. Plain and simple, the Yankees need to re-commit themselves to developing talent in the minor leagues. Both the positional and pitching talent is very lacking in the upper levels, with the more talented players like Rafael DePaula and Gary Sanchez a few years away. An 85 win campaign this year may be the best the Yankees got moving forward unless something really crazy happens this winter.

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NFL Week Four Picks

Last Week: 7-9

On the Season: 24-24

Week Four Byes: Green Bay, Carolina

Already Picked San Francisco over @St. Louis, won

 

1:00PM Games

Baltimore over @Buffalo (BAL by 4, OVER)

Cincinnati over @Cleveland (CIN by 6, OVER)

Chicago over @Detroit (CHI by 2, OVER)

@Kansas City over NY Giants (KC by 6.5, UNDER)

Pittsburgh over @Minnesota (Game in London, PIT by 1.5, OVER)

Arizona over @Tampa Bay (ARI by 3.5, UNDER)

Indianapolis over @Jacksonville (IND by 9.5, OVER)

Seattle over @Houston (SEA by 3.5, UNDER)

 

Later Games:

NY Jets over @Tennessee (TEN by 1, Upset)

@Denver over Philadelphia (DEN by 9, UNDER)

Washington over @Oakland (WSH by 2.5, OVER)

Dallas over @San Diego (EVEN)

@Atlanta over New England (EVEN)

@New Orleans over Miami (NO by 5, OVER)

Mariano Rivera’s 42 Greatest Mo-ments

Mariano Rivera will likely end his incredible career on Sunday. With 652 saves, the highest ERA+ of all-time, a 2.21 ERA, 13 All-Star appearances, five world championships an ALCS and World Series MVP, and of course, 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA in the postseason, he is indisputably the greatest relief pitcher that ever played the game. He is certainly filled with classic moment after classic moment, so I decided to count down his career in chronological order, measuring it out in respect to his #42. Here are the 42 Greatest Mo-ments of Mariano Rivera’s career.

1. MLB Debut: People forget Rivera broke in as a starting pitcher. On May 23rd, 1995, Mo made his debut against the California Angels, allowing five runs on eight hits in less than four innings in a 10-0 Yankee loss in Anaheim.

2. First Win: Five days later, Mo won his first game as a big leaguer, tossing 5.1 innings allowing just one run in a 4-1 decision in Oakland. His best outing as a starter came on the 4th of July in Chicago that year, striking out 11 in eight scoreless.

3. Postseason Debut: Mariano went to the bullpen toward the end of the 1995 season, managing to make the postseason roster in what would be Don Mattingly’s only playoff run. In Game 2 of that classic Division Series against Seattle, Rivera threw 3.1 scoreless innings, setting up Jim Leyritz’ walk off home run in the 15th inning.

4. Break Through As Wetteland’s Apprentice: Before he became the master, he was but the learner as John Wetteland’s set-up man. Here Rivera would first make his bones, striking out a Yankee reliever record 130 batters and finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting (the runner up was Andy Pettitte). Rivera’s success helped the Yankees to their first division title in 15 years as the Yankees outlasted the Baltimore Orioles in the division race and later the ALCS. Mariano makes a beautiful catch to end the game in 1996

5. First save: Number one came on May 17th, 1995 against the Angels at Yankee Stadium, a scoreless inning in an 8-5 victory.

6. Setting Up The First Title: Mariano had four holds in the 1996 playoffs, allowing just one run in over 14 innings. He pitched the 7th and 8th innings of Game 6 of the World Series at the Stadium, setting up Wetteland for the last time. Wetteland, the MVP of a 2-0 series comeback, saved his fourth game of the Fall Classic that night and the Yankees were World Champions for the first time since 1978.

Mo watched as his apprentice and 96 WS MVP Wetteland finished off the Yankees’ first title in 18 years

7. Taking Over: The Yankees allowed Wetteland to sign with Texas after the World Series, giving the reigns to Rivera. He blew nine saves in 51 chances in 1997, but was still named an All-Star for the first time. He blew his first of only FIVE postseason saves in the Division Series, a home run by Sandy Alomar in Game 4 in Cleveland, and the Yankees went home the next day after getting shut down by Jaret Wright.

8. Discovering the Cutter: After struggling to adjust in the closer’s role in the ’97 season, Mariano accidentally discovered the cut-fastball while playing catch with Ramiro Mendoza, finding his pitch hate a certain bite when holding the ball in a certain way. He continued to experiment with the pitch until making his signature weapon the next year, and the fate of baseball bats everywhere would be doomed.

9. Greatest Team of All-Time: The Yankees rebounded in 1998, setting a then-American League record 114 wins in the regular season, and the team lived up to expectations in the playoffs, as they won their second World Series in three years. Mariano had six saves that postseason, including three in the four game sweep of San Diego.

Yankees win the 1998 World Series

At a total record of 125-50, the 1998 Yankees are considered to be arguably the greatest team in baseball history.

10. Birth of the Sandman: Metallica and the New York Yankees, two of the greatest in their respective fields, are forever entwined because Mariano has come into the game with the breakthrough hit Enter Sandman since 1999. According to the NY Daily News http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/behind-music-mo-metallica-teamed-article-1.1461465 After experimenting with other songs such as Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle”, Yankee Stadium employee Mike Luzzi tried using a CD of the thrash metal band’s eponymous Black Album, the crowd erupted, and ever since Mo’s come out to it, forever associating himself with it.

11. The Invincible Postseason Pitcher: After the Sandy Alomar game in 1997, Mariano converted 23 consecutive save opportunities between the 1998 and 2001 postseasons, allowing just four earned runs in 53 innings. He also lead the majors in saves in the regular season for the first time in 1999.

12. World Series MVP: In a rematch of the 1996 World Series, the Yankees swept the mighty Atlanta Braves in 1999 to claim the title of “Team of the 90s”, and Mariano was a big part of it, he threw 12.1 scoreless innings, saving six games and winning two in the postseason. He was named World Series MVP after saving Game, tossing two scoreless to set Chad Curtis’ walkoff homer in Game 3, and closed out Atlanta in Game 4 after Roger Clemens played his role in getting his first championship.

The REAL team of the decade

13. The Three-Peat: The 2000 Yankees almost didn’t make the playoffs at all, winning just 87 games after a brutal September, only barely surviving the last week to win the East again. In the playoffs, it was a similar story. Rivera had three saves in a five game Division Series victory over upstart Oakland but in the end the Yankees were the champions again after taking down the cross-town rival Mets in five games, with Mo once again a perfect six for six in save opportunities that postseason.

Mo closes out the Mets in Game 5 for a three-peat

14. First 50 save season: 2001 was the last ride for the 90’s dynasty, with Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, and Chuck Knoblauch were all gone after the season. As age slowed the once mighty and fearsome Bronx Bombers’ offense, the team relied more on pitching this year, with Roger Clemens going 20-3 to win his 6th Cy Young. Mariano was also up to the challenge, amassing a career high 50 saves in 80.2 IP, certainly no easy duty for any closer. The new look Yankees won yet another AL East title.

15. Mo helps save the day again: The Yankees were one game from elimination in the 2001 Division Series against the A’s, having to win two games in Oakland to force a Game 5 back in New York. Right after the immortal “Flip Play” by Derek Jeter, Rivera came into the game in the 8th inning in relief of a brilliant Mike Mussina and pitched two scoreless innings to close out a huge 1-0 victory to stay alive.

After the Yankees forced Game 5, Rivera came on again in the 8th inning, again throwing two scoreless innings to send the Yankees back to the American League Championship Series.

16. 2001 World Series: The Yankees were in their fourth straight World Series and their fifth in six seasons, but this time it was personal. After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, New York City was able to get back on its feet, and the Yankees helped the healing by surviving the Division Series against Oakland and taking down the mighty 116-win Seattle Mariners in the five games ALCS. With the Yankees down 0-2 in the Fall Classic to Arizona, the Series returned to a raucous Yankee Stadium and only got louder when President Bush threw a strike for the First Pitch

The Yankees rallied to a 2-1 Game 3 to get back in the series, and Rivera tossed two perfect innings, striking out four. Rivera’s efficient pitching throughout the series helped the Yankees rally back to a 3-2 series lead, just like back in 1996.

17. Game 7: The Yankees may have never made it to a Game 7 if not for the heroics of Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Scott Brosius, and rookie Alfonso Soriano. Rivera tossed five scoreless innings in the Yankees’ epic three wins at the Stadium, and got the ball with a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning of the final game, striking out the side. In the ninth, the Diamondbacks had a rally of their own, and the iconic blooper off the bat of Luis Gonzalez denied the Yankees their 27th championship and fifth in six seasons in a four-peat.

Sadly, it will be a moment that will live in Yankee lore as probably the most heartbreaking moment and a bitter conclusion to the most epic World Series of all-time

18. Mo becomes Yankees’ all-time save leader: On May 9th, 2002, Mariano closed out the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a shaky outing for a 3-1 victory at Tropicana Field. The save was Rivera’s 225th of his career, passing Dave Righetti for the most in Yankees’ history. Of course, at over 650, no Yankees will ever catch him.

19. Roger Clemens’ 300th victory: Thanks to Rivera, Roger Clemens made history twice on June 13th, 2003 against the St. Louis Cardinals at the Stadium. In the second inning, the Rocket fanned Edgar Renteria for his 4000th career strikeout, and watched as Mariano closed the game out. Finally, on Clemens’ fourth try, he became a member of the 300-win club.

20. 2003 ALCS MVP: The Yankees and the Boston Red Sox met 25 times in 2003, a major league record. The Yankees won the regular season series 10-9 and won the East once again. However, the Sox forced the Yankees to the limit, even having a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning in Game 7 in the Bronx with Pedro Martinez on the mound. The Yanks mounted an epic comeback, forcing extras in which Rivera came into the game. He threw three scoreless innings to set up Aaron Boone’s Pennant winning home run.

The image of Mo running to and collapsing on the mound overwhelmed with joy remain iconic in Yankee -and baseball- history. Rivera was named ALCS MVP after totaling eight innings and a meaningless run.

21. Career best 54 saves for overachieving 2004 team: The Yankees were a much different team in the 2004 season. Instead of Alfonso Soriano, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte there were now Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez. The Yankees had one of the worst rotations in the game. Still, they managed to win 101 games again because their offense was too good and Mariano led the majors with a career high in 53 saves while blowing just four. The Yankees won their seventh straight division title.

22. 300th save: Mariano collected his 300th career save on May 28th, 2004, striking out former Yankee Tino Martinez in a 7-5 victory over Tampa Bay. He became just the 17th pitcher with over 300 saves.

23. Mo makes an epic return: After the Yankees advanced to the ALCS in 2004, Rivera returned to his native Panama after two of his wife’s relatives died in an accident in a swimming pool. As the funeral was in Panama on the day of Game 1 against the Boston Red Sox, it was unknown if Rivera would be there in time.

However, he arrived at Yankee Stadium and held off a furious comeback by the Red Sox to save it for New York.

24. Fenway salute: Mariano blew saves in Games 4 and 5 of the 04 ALCS, and the Yankees of course became the first team in baseball history to blow a 3-0 series lead and watched the Red Sox win their first championship in 86 years. Rivera proceeded to blow two more saves in the first week of the 2005 season, against, of course, Boston. When the two teams met again at Fenway, where the Red Sox received their rings in an epic celebration. When the Yankees were introduced, the Fenway Faithful sarcastically cheered when his name was called. http://wapc.mlb.com/play?content_id=30569455&topic_id=8878548

25. Cy Young runner-up: After blowing his first two save opportunities of the season, both against Boston, Rivera was booed loudly by the Yankee Faithful and many media pundits wondered if it was the beginning of the end of the Sandman. However, Mo rebounded and went on to have arguably the best season of his career, converting 43 of 47 chances and pitching to career bests in ERA (1.38) and ERA+ (308). For his efforts, Rivera was the runner up in the AL Cy Young voting to Bartolo Colon, never an easy accomplishment for a relief pitcher

26. 400th save: Rivera picked up save #400 on July 16th, 2006 in a sweep of the defending World Champion White Sox. Mo entered the game in the eighth inning, bailing out Kyle Farnsworth by getting a pop-up and a 4-6-3 double play.

He pitched through the ninth by getting Paul Konerko to ground into 6-4-3 twin killing and striking out Jermaine Dye to end it. Rivera became only the fourth pitcher to join this exclusive club.

27. Not finished yet: In 2007 Rivera had a career “worst” 3.15 ERA and at 37 “experts” once again wondered if his was on the decline. After intense negotiations in the offseason, Mo got his money and responded in 2008 with another incredible season. 1.40 ERA, blowing only one save for the entire year and posted a ridiculous 12.83 K/BB ratio and 0.665 WHIP. He pitched 1.2 scoreless innings in the marathon All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. The previous week, he pitched out of a bases loaded jam, like Houdini, and closed out a wild 2-1 win over Boston on Fox

28. Closing out the House that Ruth Built: 2008 saw Rivera miss the playoffs for the first time in his career. Mo closed out the last game at Yankee Stadium, a 7-3 win over the Orioles

29. First save at the new House: The first game at the new Yankee Stadium was an unmitigated disaster, a 10-2 loss to Cleveland. I was there, unfortunately, and thanks to Jose Veras and Damaso Marte, didn’t get a chance to see Mariano save the first game there. The next day, after a total of nine home runs over the first two games, Mo grinded out the ninth inning, sealing a 6-5 win over Cleveland. He would save 83 more at the new House

30. 500th save and 1st RBI: Twice Mariano was called on for a four out saves on the week of June 28th. As both games were on the road against interleague foes, Rivera got a chance to hit. In the first game in Atlanta, Rivera batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth, actually swinging and lining it to Nate McLouth in center, narrowly missing a base hit and at least two RBIs. That Sunday, Mo got another chance to bat, this time against Francisco Rodriguez at Citi Field with the Yankees already up 3-2 looking for insurance. After a seven pitch at-bat, K-Rod missing inside to walk Mo and force in a run with the bases loaded, giving Mo his first big league RBI, a moment defining the 2009 Mets.

In the bottom half of that inning, Rivera got Alex Cora to ground out to second, giving him his 500th big league save, making him the second to do so.

31. Division Champions Again: After missing the playoffs in 2008, the Yankees rebounded in 2009, led by three big offseason acquisitions. Rivera had another outstanding season, converting 44 of 46 saves, the last coming on the day the Yankees clinched their first division title in three years against the Red Sox. After the struggles over the years against them, New York finally turned the tables back over, winning nine of their last 10 against Boston that year and ended up running away with the East crown, finishing at 103-59, their best record since 2002. Here

32. Reclaiming the Pennant: The Yankees had not been back to the Fall Classic since 2003, but that changed in 2009. After the heroics of Alex Rodriguez put them back in the ALCS for the first time since 2004, the Yankees took down the Angels in six games, with Rivera pitching two innings to clinch the pennant. Finally, after five years of frustration, the Yankees were back in the World Series. Mo saved five games that postseason, allowing just one run in 16 innings. Yankees Clinch Their 40th Pennant

33. Back on Top: New York then faced the defending champion Phillies in the Fall Classic. After dropping Game 1 to Cliff Lee, New York won three straight, with Rivera pitching two scoreless in Game 2 and got his second save in a dramatic Game 4 in Philadelphia. The series returned to New York with the Yankees won win away. Up 7-3, Mariano was called upon again in the eighth, and got the job done once again, clinching the Yankees’ 27th World Championship and their first since 2000, the Core Four’s fifth title. Later it was revealed that Mo pitched the whole 09 postseason with a ribcage injury.

#27: 2009 World Champions

34. The Core Four’s final run: All four came up in 1995 and won five world championships over 15 years with the club. Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter played their final season together as a whole in 2010. Jeter had his worst season ever and Posada and Pettitte dealt with major injuries. As the team struggled down the stretch to lose out on the division, Mariano was a constant, pitching to a 1.80 ERA at 40 years old

35. 42nd and final postseason save: Because of plenty of circumstances, Mariano Rivera’s final save in the postseason  came in Game 1 of the 2010 ALCS against Texas. The Yankees climbed out of a 5-0 deficit to take a 6-5 lead in the eighth. Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, getting that year’s AL MVP Josh Hamilton to ground out to A-Rod to take the game in a stadium where the team as well as Rivera had struggled that season. It’s unlikely anyone will ever touch Mo’s record of 42, and I guess it’s appropriate that that is his career total. Mo’s 42nd postseason save

36. 600th save: The 2011 season already saw a major milestone in Yankee history with Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit, so why not another? On September 13th in Seattle, Mariano saved his 41st game of the year and his 600th of his career, becoming only the second player to ever do so. On September 17th, he tied Trevor Hoffman for the most of all-time. #600

37. Rightful Place as King of Saves: And why not another milestone? Back in the Bronx on September 19th that season, Mariano pitched a perfect ninth, striking out Chris Parmalee with a back-door cutter (what else?!) to become the all-time saves leader. With all due respect to Trevor Hoffman, it is only appropriate that the undisputed GOAT of relief pitchers holds the all-time record.

38. Final Run At the Postseason: Mariano’s final postseason appearance was a very brief one, just two scoreless appearances and no saves in the Yankees five-game loss in the Division Series to Detroit in 2011. He did not pitch in the 2012 postseason as he tore his ACL that May. Mo closes out Game 1 of 2011 ALDS

39. The Return: After hinting he would retire at the end of the 2012 season, Rivera tore his ACL in a freak accident in Kansas City while doing his pre-game ritual of shagging fly balls during BP. He vowed to return and “not go out like this”. After announcing 2013 would be the end of the road, he made his return to the mound on April 4th, a shaky save against the Red Sox for the Yankees’ first win of the year. The Return

40. Mo and Andy’s Tag Team: Rivera and Andy Pettitte have combined to win+save an MLB record 72 games in the regular as well as 11 in the playoffs. Since 1995 they’ve been the most constant pitchers on the Yankees’ staff. Their last win/save came on July 6th this season. It’s only fitting that they are retiring together. Their final win-save combo

41. All-Star MVP: Mariano saved his first 18 chances of the 2013 season. Entering the break, he was 30 for 32 with a 1.83 ERA, earning him his 13th All-Star selection, second to only Warren Spahn among pitchers. During the 84th edition of the Midsummer Classic Queens, Rivera was surprisingly called upon to pitch the eighth inning as Citi Field blasted Enter Sandman and was received very warmly by both the crowd and the teams. He pitched a perfect inning in the All-Star Gameand was named MVP, the first reliever to ever win the award

42. The Goodbye: Mariano spent much of the 2013 season being showered by gifts from other teams around the majors like the Twins’ rocking chair made of broken bats, Cleveland’s gift of a framed gold record of Enter Sandman from the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. None, however, bigger than the festivities the Yankees threw for him this past Sunday. Metallica was there to play his theme, Jackie Robinson’s family, whom Rivera is very close with, helped reveal the Jackie Robinson memorial in Monument Park, and of course, the Yankees retired the #42 in the name of Mariano Rivera. He gave a speech at the end, thanking and saluting the Yankee faithful one last time. Only appropriate that his long time teammate and friend Andy Pettitte made his last home start that day as well. With the Yankees likely out of the playoffs, Mo’s last appearance will likely be at the Stadium at the end of this homestand.

The full ceremony from Sunday

Thank you Mariano Rivera for all you’ve done. Your class, integrity, and love and respect for the game has blessed this young Yankees fan’s childhood. It’s heartbreaking to see the you go, but I’m glad you are doing so on your own terms. The Bronx Bombers would not have 27 World Championships without you.

Breaking Down the Jets’ Week Three Win Over Buffalo

The New York Jets had 10 days to prepare for their second division game of the season against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Coming off a frustrating 13-10 loss to the Patriots on Thursday Night Football, they delivered a 27-20 victory that honestly felt it should have been bigger, no thanks to some dumb penalties. Overall, they played very well.

Offense: Rookie QB Geno Smith had his best performance in his three game career, scoring three total touchdowns while accounting for 345 total yards, adding up to an 85.8 total QBR. He threw two more interceptions, one on an under thrown deep ball and the other in a crowd. Still, he should very good poise and made some great throws to receivers who could actually catch the damn ball. Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill both hauled in touchdown passes from Geno and accumulated over 100 yards.

Indeed, the offensive line played outstanding and gave Smith plenty of time to through and didn’t get him roughed up or shaken, allowing ZERO sacks against a great Buffalo defensive line. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was Bilal Powell and his career game, 149 yards on 27 carries. Overall, the offense got over 513 yards and scored 27 points. Easily their best performance of the year.

Grade: A-, only because of the penalties and turnovers

Defense: Rex Ryan’s defense looks like a monster again. They made Bills rookie QB EJ Manuel (just 19/42) run for his life, sacking him EIGHT times. Other than a 59 yard run by Fred Jackson, they were mostly able to keep Buffalo’s running game in check; C.J. Spiller had just nine yards. Guys who played best on defense include Muhammad Wilkerson (two sacks, it looks like he’s breaking out), David Harris, rookie DT Sheldon Richardson (a sack, two tackles for a loss), Damon Harrison and DeMario Davis. With a young CB replacing Darrelle Revis, it was key for the Front Seven to contain the running game and get to the young QB and they were able to do so. Other than the penalty assisted TD drive Buffalo could not move the ball at all on Sunday.

Grade: A

Special Teams: The Jets could not return anything on punts or kick offs on Sunday, but Nick Folk did his job, hitting a 47 yarder and a 34 yarder in two attempts and newly acquired punter Ryan Quigley was a bit more effective than Robert Malone was last week. They have to get the return game going, though, 71 total yards on six punts and kickoffs is unacceptable. 

Grade: D+

Coaching: Rex Ryan had one of his more forgettable games despite the victory. He wasted both challenges and two timeouts in a matter of a few plays in the second half, which came back to haunt them on the game-tying drive by Buffalo, as the Bills appeared to fumble on two separate occasions. The Jets set a franchise record with a whopping 20 penalties for 168 yards (that’s more than the Giants were able to pick up in their disgusting 38-0 loss to Carolina). The penalties kept Buffalo in the game especially Kyle Wilson who was called for three flags for 25 yards which set up the Bills’ game tying TD. Wilson wasn’t pulled until the damage was done despite his already bad play. Not the best day for Rex, but I know he will take the win.

Grade: F

Moving Forward: The Jets take on the Titans next week in Tennessee, where they were eliminated from playoff contention last season in a disgraceful performance on Monday Night Football. It’s a winnable game, but again, they can’t take them lightly. Stopping Chris Johnson is crucial. Their defense is decent, so Geno will have to look to cut down on the turnovers. That’s how Sanchez lost it last time they were here.

 

NFL Week Three Picks

Last Week: 9-7

On the Season: 17-15

Already Picked @Philadelphia over Kansas City, lost.

Sunday 1PM Games:

Green Bay over @Cincinnati

@Dallas over St. Louis

San Diego over @Tennessee (Upset)

@Minnesota over Cleveland

Tampa Bay over @New England (Upset)

@New Orleans over Arizona

Detroit over @Washington

NY Giants over @Carolina

Houston over @Baltimore

Later Games

Atlanta over @Miami (Relatively Even, somehow)

@NY Jets over Buffalo

@San Francisco over Indianapolis

@Seattle over Jacksonville

Chicago over @Pittsburgh

@Denver over Oakland

The Yankees Can Only Blame Themselves For Missing the Playoffs (And The Direction They’re Headed Now)

It’s not official yet, but much like the Old Stadium, the career of Mariano Rivera, and now Andy Pettitte, will come to a close on a note as anti-climatic as can be. For only the second time in the wild card era, the New York Yankees will not make the postseason.

As I turn 20 in May, this will also be only the second time in my life that I do not see my beloved Yankees not play October baseball. It’s such a strange feeling, but I’ve come to accept this long, fruitful era is officially over. Now, every team goes through its highs and lows, some longer than others, and the Yankees have dominated baseball since the 1994 strike: 17 playoff appearances in 19 seasons, 13 American League East division titles, seven American League Pennants, and of course, five World Series championships.

But honestly, as inevitable as a decline was, the Yankees can only blame themselves for missing the playoffs this year; both the front office for making horrible moves in the offseason and the team itself for blowing a huge chance to get back in the playoff picture. Yes, the Yanks were cursed with injuries this year, but if they made the right moves and built on the momentum they had a few weeks ago, they’d be on the inside and not out looking in.

Going into the offseason, already knowing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez would be out for a long period of time this year, GM Brian Cashman and company had upgrades to the left side of the infield at the very top of the list. As Russell Martin was a free agent and the Yankees’ top catching prospects were not ready at the time, they also needed help behind the dish.

Cashman had to act on a commanded budget from the Steinbrenner brothers, as they wanted to cut payroll to $189 million for the 2014 season, which limited options. So, they decided to go with Eduardo Nunez (career.683 OPS in 783 plate appearances) and paid Kevin Youkilis $12 million as well as $2 million for fellow cripple Travis Hafner.

In the outfield, they decided to bring back a 39 year old Ichiro, giving him $13 million for two years. They let Martin walk and sign with Pittsburgh to a reasonable two year deal for $17 million. Instead of responding by signing another free agent catcher like Mike Napoli, AJ Pierzysnki or David Ross, they decided to go into the season having Francisco Cervelli and journeyman Chris Stewart share the duties.

When Spring Training hit, more disaster occurred. CF Curtis Granderson and 1B Mark Teixeira suffered freak injuries and were put on the disabled list for the first few months of the year. Desperate, the Yankees sign journeyman Lyle Overbay to play first and traded for washed up OF Vernon Wells, and having to pay him $14 million toward the end of 2014, a move I absolutely ripped to shreds the moment it happened.

Thanks to a plague of injuries and horrible moves by Cashman, the Yankees began the season with only Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner as returning every day players and potential black holes at catcher, 1B, SS, 3B, LF, and RF, and DH, probably their worst lineup in 20 years. Surprisingly the team played very well through the first two months of the year, starting 30-18 thanks to stellar pitching and timely hitting.

That didn’t last long, as Wells and Overbay predictably turned into pumpkins and Youkilis and Hafner got hurt and missed pretty much all of the second half. Surprisingly, even CC Sabathia struggled this season. At the deadline, the Yankees brought back Alfonso Soriano, and he was arguably the biggest reason why the Yankees didn’t fall out of the chase.

After hitting rock bottom in Chicago, the Yankees were only one game over .500 and seven games out of a playoff spot. Still, they proved resilient, as they went off on a 22-12 run, capped by a 3-1 series victory over the Orioles at Camden Yards to climb within a single game of the Wild Card. However, they were unable to build on that momentum, losing three out of four at home against the Red Sox in the most excruciating way possible two weeks ago, getting swept at Fenway last week, and losing two out of three to the woeful Blue Jays this week, all but killing their chances of October Baseball

Despite all the injuries, underachieving by Sabathia and others, and the awful moves like Wells and Hafner, the Yankees still had a chance this season, especially this month. They blew it, not because they weren’t good enough, but because they underachieved and were poorly prepared to begin with.

The blame not only goes on the players, but also the front office for making poor moves in the winter. Instead of sticking to the budget plan while making smart moves like bringing back Russell Martin or getting AJ Pierzynski on a reasonable deal or bringing in a Nate Schierholtz, they went with putting out Chris Stewart as the every day catcher, acquired aged names like Vernon Wells and Ichiro and even overpaid an injury-prone Kevin Youkilis.
That’s why they’re missing the playoffs, not the injuries, and even when they had a chance to get in position for the wild card, they lost key games.

As for the future, don’t get me started. The Yankees’ farm system is dryer than the Sahara. Despite Cashman’s committment to it since 2005, the Yankees have failed to develop legitimate players that are contributing to this squad or likely will in the future, and any that do like Joba Chamberlain or Dellin Betances became busts. It’s a sad situation. Because of this, the Yankees could end up being mediocre to bad for several years, at least until they either get sold to an owner who wants to spend money to win or the next Core Four shows up and a competent general manager puts the right pieces around them.

The Yankees problems are rooted in the front office, and they affected the team’s play this year and going forward next year and beyond.

NFL Picks: Week Two

Last Week: 8-8

On the Year: 8-8

 

Already had @New England over NY Jets on Thursday

Sunday 1 PM Games:

@Atlanta over St. Louis

Carolina over @Buffalo

Minnesota over @Chicago (Upset)

@Green Bay over Washington

@Indianapolis over Miami (even)

Dallas over @Kansas City (Upset)

@Philadelphia over San Diego

@Baltimore over Cleveland

@Houston over Tennessee

 

Late Sunday Games and Monday Night:

Detroit over @Arizona

New Orleans over @Tampa Bay

@Oakland over Jacksonville

Denver over @NY Giants

@Seattle over San Francisco

Pittsburgh over @Cinncinati (Upset)