Talkin’ Yanks with River Avenue Blues

For those of you who liked last week’s interview with Fire Jim Bowden, I’ve got another one for you. This time, in preparation for the Phillies-Yankees match-up in New York, I’ve talked with Ben Kabak at River Avenue Blues. RAB is one of the most thorough team-specific baseball blogs of any kind that I’ve come across on the Internets, so make sure you stop over there. I’ll give you another reason: Ben asked me a few questions as well, which I’ll link to tomorrow evening, or you can stop by RAB beforehand.

UPDATE: Click here to head over to River Avenue Blues. Sorry for the delay.

I asked Ben some tough questions, but I think he did all right. My questions will be in bold, and his answers will follow in normal typeface.

1. Brett Gardner got an inside-the-park home run recently after visiting a sick child at the hospital. She gave him a bracelet, telling him that it would help him hit a home run, sort of like Paul O’Neill in the Seinfeld episode “The Wink”. Only, in that episode, Kramer promised a sick child that O’Neill would hit two homers. O’Neill’s second homer was, like Gardner’s, of the inside-the-park variety, but it was scored a triple and a run on the fielding error. If something like this happened with Gardner the other night (losing the HR on the scorer’s decision) how irate would Yankees fans have been, knowing the context of the situation?

RAB: I’m tempted to say “throwing batteries at Santa Claus” irate, but then I’d be taking a dig at Philadelphia in my first sentence. Every time a home team loses a hit on an Official Scorer’s decision, the fans are generally irate, but I find Yankee fans to be a forgiving lot when it comes to the heart-warming stories. It would have been disappointing for a lot of people, including the little girl, but Brett Gardner is a bold, bold pick for that home run.

The more interesting part to this story though is the fact that nearly hit a second inside-the-parker a few innings later. He blasted what ended up a triple later in the game, but tripped rounding first. Had he not stumbled, he could have delivered two inside-the-park home runs in one game.

2. Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Ibanez, Stairs or Damon, Teixeira, Matsui, Swisher, Cabrera — who has the bigger left-handed advantage at New Yankee Stadium in the series?

RAB: It’s hard to pick one right here. The Phillies’ left-handers are a potent bunch. Ibanez has been tearing the cover off the ball lately, and Utley and Howard are no slouches. Rollins’ power doesn’t scare me too much right now, but all it takes is a deep flyball.

Meanwhile, Damon and Teixeira have been utterly mashing of late. Teixeira has 11 long-balls on the season and has twice hit home runs from opposite sides of the plate in the same game. Johnny Damon loves hitting into right field at the New Yankee Stadium and has 10 on the season. Still, I think the Phillies’ left-handed power is better distributed than the Yanks’, and I’d urge Burnett, Sabathia and Pettitte to keep the ball low and away to the big bats.

3. How would you grade the Yankees’ off-season acquisitions so far? Have Teixeira, Sabathia, and Burnett lived up to expectations or have they been disappointing?

RAB: Right now, I’d say Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia have lived up to expectations while A.J. Burnett has been slightly disappointing. A few weeks ago, Mark Teixeira was struggling with an average well below the Mendoza Line, but since A-Rod’s return, Teixeira has been on fire. He has eight home runs and 21 RBI this month and is well on his way to putting his poor start behind him. The same can be said of CC. He’s been utterly dominant after a rocky start. Only Burnett, with an ERA hovering around 5.00 and a bad strike out-to-walk ratio, hasn’t delivered the goods.

4. Which reliever do you trust the most bridging the gap between your starters and closer Mariano Rivera?

RAB: Oh the bullpen. We’ve written a lot about the bullpen at RAB, most of it under the rather ominous Death by Bullpen category. Right now, I go with Phil Coke against lefties and Brian Bruney as the primary set-up man. Those two don’t seem as afraid as other Yankee relievers to throw strikes, and they have been more effective at getting outs than anyone else. The revolving door of the pen with Jose Veras, Jonathan Albaladejo, Edwar Ramirez and now even Brett Tomko earning innings has been a big source of the Yanks’ problems so far this year.

5. Another silly hypothetical: two people are hanging on at the edge of a cliff by their fingernails. One is a Mets fan and one is a Phillies fan. You, a Yankees fan, have to help up one of them. Which one do you choose? Or, put another way, which one do you refuse to help and gleefully watch fall to his demise?

RAB: I’m glad I don’t have to make a real decision on this one. In an effort to curry favor with Phillies fans before a three-game set, I’ll say I’ll help up the Phillies fan. That way, when the Yanks win the series, at least I will have saved a life.

6. BONUS: Who wins the series? Is it a sweep?

RAB: I think the Yanks take two out of three. I like the Yanks’ chances on Friday because, well, I’m going to the game. I’ve seen A.J. Burnett make four in Yankee Stadium this year, and the Yanks have won all four of them. I’ll give J.A. Happ the win against Pettitte on Saturday. Andy has been giving up far too many baserunners to win, and the Phillies have an offense that will make him pay. Finally, the tie-breaker goes to CC. While Cole Hamels is a stud, Sabathia has been throwing lights out baseball this month. Over his last three outings, he’s 3-0 with a 1.12 ERA in 24 innings, and I’m not going to bet against that right now.

. . .

Many thanks to Ben for taking the time to answer my ridiculous questions. He was very political with his answer to #5, no? He’d make a great senator, and not the kind that used to play on the baseball diamond.

Head over to River Avenue Blues if you haven’t already. I’ll definitely be stopping by to get their thoughts as the Phillies-Yankees series progresses.

I’ll be begging for someone over there to lend a helping hand, or maybe a Heimlich maneuver.