Walcoff: Yankees stars need to step up to advance

Here we go again. Baseball’s marathon regular season gives way to a first-round playoff sprint that could end a club’s championship dreams as early as Saturday.

Worse yet, after battling six months to earn home field advantage, there is arguably more pressure on the team that hosts the first two games of a best-of-five divisional playoffs. Fail to win the first and second game and you may never see that fifth game in your ballpark.

The NBA and NHL wisely expanded their opening playoff rounds to best-of-seven series, but MLB — unwilling to reduce its bloated 162-game regular season — is hard-pressed to extend its postseason. The seventh game of this year’s World Series is scheduled for the night of Nov. 5.</p>

Imagine the scene, possibly in Boston or New York, where it’s so cold that relief pitchers want to hitch a ride on a Zamboni coming in from the bullpen and players get frostbite hoisting Champagne bottles. Then again, since baseball isn’t allowed in the Summer Olympics, maybe Bud Selig can make this year’s Big Chill World Series an audition for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

The Yankees may be the “team to beat” as special advisor Reggie Jackson told me in an interview last week, but if the richest team in baseball is going to win its first championship since 2000 they will have to see a major turnaround from the game’s highest-
paid player, Alex Rodriguez, and highest-paid pitcher, CC Sabathia.

In the last three years, A-Rod has batted .159 with one RBI in his last 13 postseason games (not coincidentally, the Yankees lost all three divisional series). Heading into Wednesday’s opener against the Twins, Sabathia’s postseason record of 2-3 with a 7.93 ERA hardly merits optimism.

Bay Area teams look to 2010

Forget all the justifiably great things Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy are saying about free agent Bengie Molina. There’s no way the Giants should give the 35-year-old catcher the two- or three-year deal that he is certain to be seeking.

Sure, the Giants will miss Bengie’s presence behind the plate, but they have three potentially viable replacements in Eli Whiteside, Buster Posey and, in a pinch, Pablo Sandoval. Saying goodbye to Molina, Randy Johnson and Randy Winn saves San Francisco over $22 million

and would enable them to make a big pitch to re-sign free agent Brad Penny and go after a desperately needed hard-hitting first baseman or outfielder like free agents Nick Johnson, Hank Blalock, Vladimir Guerrero or even Matt Holliday.

While the Giants are a couple of hitters away from being a legitimate contender, the A’s are a couple of years away from being relevant again. Sure, Oakland has a talented corps of young pitchers in Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden, Vin Mazzaro, Andrew Bailey and Michael Wuertz, but their lineup scares no one. Highly touted prospects third baseman Brett Wallace and first baseman Chris Carter (his 39 homers ranked second in all of the minor leagues this season) could both give the offense a much needed boost in 2010, but whether they deliver right away or not, it’s time for the A’s to part ways with Jack Cust. Despite leading the team with 25 homers, Cust hit only .240 and killed too many rallies with his 185 strikeouts.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news and is also the co-host of “Raiders Gameday” and “Recap” talk shows on KSFO (560 AM). He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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