Thursday, August 27, 2015

Astros the Real Deal, Yankees Need a New Deal


I hate Texas. But if I gotta choose a Texas team to win anything, I'd rather it be a Houston team than a Dallas team.

After all, Houston's greatest sins are the 1st domed stadium and the 1st artificial sports field. They didn't kill a President in the Sixties, cheat their way to football success in the Seventies, and exemplify green on TV in the Eighties. That was Dallas.

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees concluded a 3-game home series with the Houston Astros, who are the real deal after as bad a 4-year stretch as any team has had in the Divisional Play era. (Draft picks paying off, I suppose, but it takes brains to assemble a team properly.)

You might remember the Astros' very unofficial theme song from 1969, their 1st Pennant race season, quoted in ex-Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton's book Ball Four, to the tune of Tom Lehrer's "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier:

Now, the Astros are a team
that likes to go out on the town.
We like to drink and fight and fuck
'til curfew comes around.
But then we'd better make the trek.
We've got to be back by Buddy's check.
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro.

Buddy was Buddy Hancken, a coach under manager Harry Walker, a former all-star with the St. Louis Cardinals. Bouton said that the song was "sung with great gusto," and that catcher Johnny Edwards said that the last verse is the most popular:

Now, Harry Walker is the one
who manages this crew.
He doesn't like it when we drink
and fight and smoke and screw.
But when we win our game each day
then what the fuck can Harry say?
It makes a fellow proud to be an Astro!

Those Astros were in the National League West race until September 15, then took a nosedive (after eating some dodgy chicken a la king -- presaging the "Tottenham lasagne" by 37 years) and finished 81-81. The team wouldn't reach another Pennant race until 1979, won the NL West for the 1st time in 1980, made the strike-forced Division Series of 1981, scared the shit out of the Mets in the 1986 NL Championship Series, then won NL Central Division titles in 1997, '98, '99 and 2001. They made the NL Wild Card in 2004, and finally won their 1st Pennant in 2005, before getting swept in the World Series by the Chicago White Sox. After 4 straight 100+ loss seasons, including a shift to the American League, they are now leading the AL Western Division.

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And they showed the Yankees why, dropping the 1st game of the series by a mere 1-0 score, before taking 2 away games in a span of 18 hours.

Collin McHugh started for the 'Stros, and was very effective. The Yankees got only 5 hits and 2 walks off him in 6 innings and change.

Michael Pineda returned from the Disabled List for the Yankees. Maybe he should have had 1 more rehab start: He allowed a home run to Evan Gattis in the 2nd, and was only trailing 1-0 going into the 5th, when he imploded: Single, single, RBI single, walk, RBI sacrifice fly. Joe Girardi brought in Chasen Shreve, and he allowed RBI single, walk, run-scoring wild pitch, before getting the last 2 outs.

The game was effectively over. The Yankees got exactly 5 baserunners the rest of the way, including a home run by Didi Gregorius in the 7th inning (his 6th of the season).

Astros 6, Yankees 2. WP: McHugh (14-7). No save. LP: Pineda (9-8).

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So the Astros are the real deal. The Yankees? As that great New Yorker Franklin Delano Roosevelt would say, they need a new deal. Here's the situation from the Yankees' perspective:

* If the current standings hold to the end of the season, the Yankees would get the 1st AL Wild Card slot, facing the Minnesota Twins in a play-in game.

* The Yankees are now 2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East, including in the loss column.

* There are 36 games to go.

* Alex Rodriguez is not hitting.

* Mark Teixeira has been hurt, and not playing, but not being put on the DL, either. So the Yankees are essentially playing with a 24-man roster (at least until roster callups on September 1).

* The Yankees still have a hole in their starting rotation. If Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka don't get hurt (or aren't hurt now -- it's hard to tell sometimes), that's 2 reliable starters. But those are both big ifs. But Ivan Nova has been hurt and shaky, and CC Sabathia is hurt, and hasn't been effective when healthy. Luis Severino has looked great in his 1st 3 starts, and serviceable in his 4th, although it was only in his 4th that he's gotten a win. Can we count on him down the stretch? Nathan Eovaldi is solid, so that's 1 guy we're sure we can count on... but only 1. If Pineda, Tanaka and Nova shake off their injuries, and Severino is for real, that's 5. But 4 out of 5 Yankee starters are big ifs. You'd have better odds with 5 dentists.

* And then there's the bullpen. Both closer Andrew Miller and 8th inning man Dellin Betances have dropped a level after being great for most of the season. As for the guys between the starters and "Betiller," I don't want to see them. (But I will, because Girardi sees them in his damned binder.)

The Yankees have today off, and travel to begin a long roadtrip in the Confederacy. They visit the Atlanta Braves for 3. Here's the projected starters:

* Tomorrow night, 7:35: Tanaka vs. Williams Perez. Sounds like the name of a law firm.
* Saturday night, 7:10: Severino vs. Matt Wisler. Not to be confused with soccer player Matt Besler.
* Sunday afternoon, 1:35: Eovaldi vs. Julio Teheran. That's right, the Braves have a starting pitcher whose name is the capital of Iran.

Then, on Monday, just what the Yankees didn't need: They go from the Confederacy to Scum Town for 3 against the Red Sox. As bad as The Scum are right now, I am not looking forward to this.

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