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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Go Go Go Go, Ichiro

The Yankees' acquisition of Ichiro yesterday would have been a blockbuster deal a few years ago. As it stands now, Ichiro is an aging superstar whose best days are behind him. 

But Ichiro has always enjoyed the spotlight and is a somewhat larger-than-life figure, not one to shy away from media attention but rather embrace it fully. Couple this persona with the fact that he went from worst to first and should be playing in October for the first time since his rookie season of 2001 and I believe Yankee fans will be seeing a rejuvenated Ichiro that thrives among the bright lights of the big city.

This trade is a shot in the arm for both Ichiro and the Yankees, who have become far too stationary on the bases without Brett Gardner. He provides speed and defense and, while obviously not a home run hitter, I expect he'll take advantage of the short porch in right at least a few times this season.  And while he's hitting .261 overall, his average away from the cavernous Safeco Field is a more Ichiro-like .296.

Ichiro tipping his cap to the Seattle fans after a lengthy ovation. (Yahoo! Sports)

Another important aspect that has largely been ignored by critics of the trade? The protection he'll be provided by the vaunted Yankee lineup. In his last game as a Seattle Mariner, Ichiro led off in a lineup that included FOUR men hitting below .200. After John Jaso (who has played in just over half of the games this season and is hitting .292), every single Mariner is hitting below .267. The Mariners are second to last in the A.L. in average (.230), home runs, RBI and runs scored and dead last in On Base Percentage and Slugging. Now he suddenly finds himself in a lineup full of productive superstars providing the sort of protection he could only dream of with the Mariners in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the league.

He's not going to hit .350 or steal 40 bases but before this season's over, I think Ichiro is going to make his mark on this team and fully embrace New York and all it has to offer.

Check out Ben Gibbard's (Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service) musical tribute to Ichiro

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Look Ahead to the Second Half...

Despite key injuries, the Yankees are in good shape heading into the second half. Owners of baseball's best record, the Bombers also have the largest division lead of any first place team. If you had been told all this back when Mariano Rivera went down for the season (and knowing later that CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte would both find themselves on the DL), I think you'd be quite thrilled with the results, no?

What do you think are the keys to the Yankees' success in the second half? More production with runners in scoring position? Less reliance on the home run? Health? Russell Martin? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Public Enemy Number One: Robinson Cano?!

In a game full of true ‘villains’ - cheaters and drug abusers and out-and-out criminals - an entire stadium, during an exhibition home run hitting contest that, while fun (or supposed to be) means nothing in the grand scheme of things, decided to pour its collective vitriol out on one of baseball’s best and brightest young stars.

Last year’s Home Run Derby was one of the most memorable contests in some time. Baseball is a sport with a rich history of being passed down from generation to generation. With his father on the mound, Robinson Cano launched bomb after bomb and for a moment it was as if the Cano’s were back in their backyard sharing that time-honored tradition of father-son baseball bonding. When it was all over, Cano leapt into his father’s arms victorious and every headline the next day harped on about the feel-good nature of that moment.

Flash forward a season, and both Cano’s looked as though they wanted to be anywhere but on the diamond as the ruthless Kansas City crowd cheered every Cano out mercilessly (this including his final out, the ‘gold’ ball that, when hit for a home run, turns into a charitable donation). Some fan went as far as to fly a plane over the stadium with a banner that read ‘You blew it, Cano’ in reference to his not selecting Billy Butler for his American League squad. Some fans claim their issue is not with Cano leaving Butler off but with him saying he would bring a Royals player along and going back on his word, but according to Cano, Major League Baseball wanted his selections a week before the All Star rosters were announced so he didn’t know who would be representing Kansas City at the Midsummer Classic.

Robinson Cano hugs his father after failing to hit a home run in the 2012 Home Run Derby. (Yahoo! Sports)

This whole ugly episode starts with, of all people, Billy Butler. Butler’s had himself a nice first half and was selected as an All Star reserve, meaning he will get a chance to play in the game in front of his hometown fans. You know, in the game that actually counts. It’s impossible to argue with Cano’s choice of Jose Bautista (27 home runs) and while Prince Fielder’s HR totals are low, he is a prolific home run hitter who won the contest in 2009 and can (and did) put on quite a memorable show. Mark Trumbo seems to be the player fans expected Cano to leave out in the cold, even with his 22 home runs compared to Butler’s 16. Butler’s 16 home runs, by the way, leave him 16th in the American League (not MLB, the A.L.) in that category, so Cano passed up a lot of home run hitters more deserving. Just because he happens to play in the ballpark doesn’t mean a player is entitled to a spot. And they say Yankee fans have a sense of entitlement!

While last year’s Home Run Derby was memorable for sentimental reasons, the 2008 affair at the original Yankee Stadium will always be remembered for the remarkable show Josh Hamilton put on, launching some of the longest home runs the old ballpark in the Bronx ever witnessed. Hamilton didn’t even win yet his performance will forever be remembered as one of the greatest Home Run Derby showings ever. The Yankee Stadium crowd oohed and aahed appropriately, loving every minute of the spectacular show they were watching, and guess what? Not a single Yankee participated in that Derby. The final season at historic Yankee Stadium and no Yankee participant? After last night, it’s a shock that no one rioted.

In the end, what is supposed to be a fun night that celebrates the game of baseball and the accomplishments of the first half turned into an ugly affair that did nothing but make the fans of Kansas City look bad. Prince Fielder’s eventual victory (on Robinson Cano’s American League squad that finished one, two and three in the contest) is almost an afterthought. What will be remembered about the 2012 Home Run Derby is nothing to write home about.