McAdam at the ALCS: Yanks on the brink, Girardi on the hot seat

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McAdam at the ALCS: Yanks on the brink, Girardi on the hot seat

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

NEW YORK -- Five short days ago, the New York Yankees were riding high.

Box score Play by play

They had swatted the Minnesota Twins aside like a bothersome bug in the ALDS, then started defense of their American League pennant with a stirring comeback win on the road against the Texas Rangers.

Now?

Now, they fight for their lives Wednesday afternoon, one misstep away from having their season ended far earlier than they could have imagined.

Their 10-3 loss to Texas in Game Four of the ALCS was plenty ugly, from A.J. Burnett's three-run gopher ball to Bengie Molina in the sixth, to the nasty razzing Joe Giardi got every time one of his bullpen moves backfired, to the fans who, for the second night in a row, emptied the sterile shopping plaza in the Bronx way ahead of schedule.

They trail the Rangers 3-to-1, and frankly, are fortunate the series isn't already over. For that, they have the Rangers' bullpen to thank. Without that collapse by Texas relievers in Game One, the Yanks would have already been swept in a seven-game postseason series for the first time since the 1976 World Series.

They have been badly outplayed and outpitched the entire series. They have led for exactly 4 of the 36 innings played. They've been outscored 30-11 in the series, and since the start of Game Two that figure is 25-5.

Other than trusty Andy Pettitte, they haven't come close to a quality start in the other three games. Not that the problem lies fully with the rotation -- in the last two games alone, their relievers have combined to give up 11 runs in four innings.

When Sergio Mitre is on the mound in the ninth inning two nights in a row, that's usually not a good sign.

It's not just the pitching which has failed them. The Yankees are hitting .198 as a team in the ALCS. Three key stars -- Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira -- are all hitting .133 or lower. And Teixeira, without a hit in this series, won't get a chance to collect his first, having added injury to insult -- he suffered a severe hamstring strain and won't play again until spring training.

Girardi is likely to come under fire for his misplaced faith in Burnett. It's one thing to give him an ALCS start, thus avoiding having to pitch all of his other starters on short rest.

But sticking with Burnett into the sixth, with David Murphy on base representing the go-ahead run, was probably a bit much.

"We like the matchup, A.J. against Molina,'' said Girardi. "We did. And unfortunately, it didn't work out.''

Girardi appeared to get greedy after getting five innings from Burnett with a 3-2 lead. He had Mariano Rivera available for four or five outs, so he wanted to shorten the gap between his starter and his closer.

Then again, as unreliable as Girardi's set-up bunch has been, perhaps there wasn't much of a choice. It's not as if David Robertson or Joba Chamberlain was a lock to slam the door on a Rangers lineup that has clearly found its stroke.

And that, from the Yankees' perspective, is part of the problem. Young and largely untested, the Rangers are seemingly gaining confidence by the inning. If they're intimidated by trying to unseat the defending champs in their own ballpark, they're doing a fine job disguising it.

"They've got a great mojo going right now,'' acknowledged Lance Berkman. "They're a cohesive unit. You can tell they enjoy playing together and they're dangerous. I'm biased towards our lineup, but outside of our lineup, I feel like they've got the best lineup in the game.

"When you have to navigate that and you're not perfect, they can hurt you and they've done that the last couple of nights.''

If the Yankees have to be down and facing the golf course, they at least have CC Sabathia going Wednesday. The Yankees rode Sabathia hard last fall, all the way to World Series title No. 27, but he wasn't sharp in Game One.

At home, however, he's been virtually unbeatable. He needs to be Wednesday, or else the Yankees are going home for the winter, just a week after they seemed destined for another long postseason run.

"As I said,'' restated Girardi, "I believe in this team. We have bounced back many times this year. It's a very resilient, professional bunch and they will be ready to play and you worry about Wednesday and that's it.''

Final score and series status aside, Tuesday wasn't a good day for Girardi. Earlier in the day, the Chicago Cubs made the hiring of interim manager Mike Quade permanent, thus taking away some leverage for Girardi, whose three-year deal is up when the Yankees season is over.

The way things are going, that could come far sooner than anyone anticipated.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.