A New New York Attitude Goes a Loooooong Way

Last night’s Twins/Yankees game was probably the best game I have watched in a really long time. As a Yankees fan, around the fourth inning, I was smelling yet another shellacking at the hands of the surprising Minnesota Twins. The Bombers were down 5-0 after another(!) poor outing from CC Sabathia. But then, the 2015 Yankee savior stepped up to the plate. Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez clobbered a homer to the third deck (it was later deemed to be a 480+ footer!) and set the wheels in motion for one of the biggest games of the year. Three (THREE!!) homers from A-Rod, one massive 3-run homer from back up catcher John Ryan Murphy, and a sac fly later, the Yanks won the game in spectacular fashion.

This year, with this group of guys, makes for one fun team to watch. It’s not just that the Yanks are actually playing like they are being paid to play, but there seems to be a whole new attitude amount the players in the dugout. There seems to be a little more life to this team. Maybe it’s because they are all relatively healthy. Maybe it’s because they are starting to get production from the bottom of their line up. Maybe there is an over-arching sense of optimism about not just getting to October this year, but how they could be getting to many more Octobers to come given the influx of homegrown talent coming up through the farm system.

Or, maybe, it is the presence of new (and recently returned) guys in the clubhouse. It’s amazing how just a few players can change the dynamics of a clubhouse. This year, I’ve noticed things are a little looser in the Big Apple, which is not a bad thing at all. There have been more bat flips, more enthusiastic interviews, and a lot of fun moments in the dugout.

I know it sounds crazy, but is it possible that with Derek Jeter no longer in the clubhouse, everyone is a little more rambunctious? It’s blasphemous, I know, but just hear me out: DJ was a quiet leader who kept to himself and felt that all the other players should do the same. His mentality was that he only wanted his bat and his glove to do the talking. Perhaps with his stoic leadership gone, the stoic nature of the Yankees’ clubhouse is gone, too.

Let’s face it: A-Rod is the new OG (Originial Gangster) in town and he is anything but quiet and stoic. He’s been acting as a pseudo-coach to the younger players and has quietly mentored them, too. He’s taken the pressure off his teammates in terms of the media attention, and not only that, but he has given every teammate the highest of praise. He has also shown, more indirectly, that you can’t take the game for granted. My guess is that his teammates see how much he embraces the game now and how excited he is to not just produce in the line-up, but thrive. A-Rod has been a humbler man this year and he looks like he is having the time of his life everyday. That childlike enthusiasm is rubbing off on his teammates, too. Everyone seems happy and lighter in the Yankees’ clubhouse. Whether that is because of A-Rod is anyone’s guess, but I’d like to think that he has contributed to that somehow.

The 2015 Yankees are having a fun time playing baseball and it’s making it fun for the fans to watch. Of course, baseball is always more fun when your team is winning. If the Yanks, God forbid, go on a skid, we will see how this new attitude holds up. However, I think it’s been fun to see the Yankees playing with the enthusiasm and attitude of little leaguers. Baseball is, after all, a game. In 2015, the Yankees are not all uppity and prissy, high and mighty, but rather a club full of guys who are having the time of their lives. Regardless of why this team has a new attitude, it’s a fun team to watch and I am so excited to see them perform the rest of the season, and hopefully into October, as well.

One, two, three strikes, you’re ejected.

I don’t know about you, but I have been noticing an interesting trend occurring in baseball this year. More and more players and managers are complaining about the strike zones. And, subsequently, more and more players and managers are getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes.

Last night, during a game against the Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter had a magnificent ejection after arguing balls are strikes. Watching the video, it’s pretty funny. Not only is he yelling, but he strips off his jersey, gloves, and pads and throws them across the field. It’s quite a spectacle considering how mild-mannered Hunter usually is. Because he is so mild-mannered, that’s what makes his ejection so interesting and makes the issue of balls and strikes more pressing. If calm players like Hunter are getting worked up, maybe the problem is bigger than we realize.

A few days ago, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, another usually cool and calm player, got ejected for the same thing. He was upset because the Yankees batters kept getting rung up on a low pitch, but the Angels were not. He was ejected after jawing with the ump and his manager Joe Girardi was also tossed (after completing what might be the smoothest jump over a dugout railing I have ever seen). It’s quite a sight to see. And, in an earlier series against the Mariners, their manager Lloyd McClendon was ejected after defending his catcher, who thought my homie A-Rod took a checked-swing a little too far. A-Rod was awarded first base instead of getting called out on strikes. McClendon got his money’s worth, though. And even the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday was ejected for arguing pitches.

One thing I have noticed is that players are becoming more aware of the strike zone and the inconsistencies that go along with it. If I had to guess, it’s probably because of all the video that is available to players now. Every single pitch can be looked at and every single call can be questioned. With replay now in effect, you can review almost any call…except balls and strikes. I agree with this because can you imagine how ridiculous it would be having to pause the game every time a player disagreed with a call?

Not only can you review video after the games, but a lot of the TV broadcasts are now showing the strike zones during the broadcast. You can see exactly where the ball hit in the strike zone. Of course, it’s the networks that create the strike zone, but it’s still a good way to gauge consistency in the umpire’s calls. It’s a situation that needs to be resolved, but that’s tricky thing to do. I have a feeling new commissioner Rob Manfred will take a look at this, since he has proven to be a man who will take action on issues quickly.

I don’t know how we can change the strike zone since we have so many different umpires, but I do think we can work on consistency throughout the game. If you’re going to call a low pitch a strike, call it that throughout the whole game. If you’re going to have a wide strike zone, keep it wide. It’s hard being an umpire behind the dish, but making small improvements like this during the game could be really beneficial.

If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it. Oh, You Did Fix it? Huh.

This year’s trade deadline brought a bunch of change for many teams, but none more so than the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s. Both teams should theoretically make the playoffs because both teams have been great all year. Before the trade deadline, these teams were leading their divisions and cruising to an easy postseason berth. What shocked the baseball world was when Billy Beane traded his beloved prospects for a ton of high-caliber starting pitchers, plus Jonny Gomes. We were also shocked when Detroit pulled off a three-team trade for the Rays’ David Price. So, with these two teams on paper becoming world superpowers (kind of), what could possibly go wrong?

Well, let’s start with Oakland since I really really really really want them to FINALLY get to the World Series and so Brad Pitt can finally win the last game of the season. Now that I have accepted the fact that my Yankees will not get to the World Series, I can start choosing sides. Anyway, Oakland sent the home run derby champ Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes, further ramping their rotation, even after their trade with the Cubbies. So what happened? Well, the Angels are now in sole possession of first place in the AL West, and they are not backing off. Oakland is somehow unable to consistently win games. It is worth noting they still have the second-best record in baseball, but this is not what they were expecting. They were expecting to be on a rampage, riding unicorns into battle and slaying their opponents mercilessly.

Let’s talk the Tigers now! With the acquisition of David Price, the Tigers have the most lethal rotation in baseball. I firmly believe they could out-pitch the Dodgers if need be, but ever since the trade, their offense has become sporadic and their rotation is a little shaky. They got walloped by the Twins two games in a row, including a 20-6 massacre. I am unsure if the Twins have scored 20 runs combined all year. Another example is when Price pitched in Tampa. He gave up ONE hit, a homer, and still lost the game. How messed up is that? Anyway, another factor is cause for alarm in the Motor City: Kansas City. The Royals have come out of the woodwork and overtaken first place in the AL Central. Now, Detroit is jockeying for a Wild Card spot. Well then.

So, is there reason to worry about these teams? Nah, not yet. If we get to mid-September and these two teams are in fact NOT riding unicorns and slaying their opponents, then I will worry. Pitching is the key to winning in the postseason, and Oakland and Detroit have that in spades. Once the new players settle in, I think both teams will be fine. However, after the deadline, these were not the results these two teams were hoping for. Like I said, everyone was expecting them to be riding unicorns and slaying every other team, but that is not happening. The unicorns are doing a slow trot, but hopefully this just means they are saving their energy for late September.

Pitching wins the postseason and these two teams have no reason to worry. They just have to get there first.