Thursday, July 9, 2009

Twin Sweeps

(Photos via AP/ESPN)

Well it wasn't pretty, but the Yankees cobbled together enough offense and pitching this afternoon to complete their second sweep of the Twins in as many series.

After a scoreless first, the Yanks jumped out to an early lead in the second. Alex Rodriguez drew a lead off walk then stole second base. He was then joined on the bases by Jorge Posada as a 3-2 offering from Francisco Liriano hit Posada atop the foot. Robinson Cano then bounced an easy one to second baseman Matt Tolbert, who may or may not have been screened by the advancing Posada. Either way, Tolbert booted the ball, loading the bases with no one out. Melky Cabrera flew to right, but not deep enough to score A-Rod. Cody Ransom followed with a walk, forcing in the first run. A fielder's choice from Brett Gardner erased Ransom at second but plated Posada, then Derek Jeter dropped a bloop single into short right-center to make it 3-0. The Yanks then ran themselves out of the inning. A pick off attempt from Liriano had Jeter caught between first and third. Gardner broke for home, and the throw from Justin Morneau was in plenty of time to get Gardner. It wasn't quite as bold as Gardner's mad dash against the Twins in May, but it was close.

Alfredo Aceves gave two runs back in the second. After an efficient first that saw just a single, Alf jumped out 0-2 on leadoff hitter Jason Kubel. But his third pitch, a fastball that was supposed to be outside, caught too much of the plate and was bombed out to deep centerfield to make it 3-1. Things got a little rough from there. Michael Cuddyer walked on five pitches, then advanced to second as Alf threw away a pick off attempt. With one out, Mark Redmond grounded to third. Cody Ransom made a nice play on a tough hop off the lip of the carpet, but struggled getting the ball out of his glove and threw away his rushed throw to first, allowing Cuddyer to score and Redmond to advance to second. Alf then got the next two batters, but his own struggles and the error forced him to use up 26 of the roughly 65 pitches he had in the tank.

Both starters threw perfect third innings, then the Yankees struck again in the fourth. Posada led off with a single, despite a brilliant play by Nick Punto to field the ball deep in the hole. Cano promptly doubled Posada to third. After another Melky flyout, Cody Ransom atoned for his earlier error, collecting his second RBI of the afternoon by driving in Posada. Gardner followed with his second RBI, singling in Cano to make it 5-2.

Just as he had in the second though, Aceves struggled after his offense gave him some runs. Kubel led off again, and this time Aceves retired him on a little nubber in front of the plate. Cuddyer doubled and moved to third on a Brian Buscher single. Alf then plunked Redmond to load the bases, and was at his 65 pitch limit.

David Robertson had the uneviable task of entering a bases loaded one out jam. He struck out Punto for the second out, but proceeded to walk Denard Span and Tolbert to force in two runs. Robertson rebounded to retire Joe Mauer to get out of the jam, but the Yankee lead was down to one.

Mark Teixeira pushed the lead back to two in the top of the fifth, knocking his first HR in 95 at bats. That closed the scoring on the afternoon, but the adventures were not over yet.

Robertson fanned Justin Morneau leading off the fifth, but then issued his third walk in just one inning. Girardi yanked D-Rob in favor of Jonathan Albaladejo, who sandwiched a walk of his own between two Ks to end the inning. Albie then worked a perfect sixth, convincing the official scorer to award him the "W".

Girardi got a little match-up happy again in the seventh. With lefties Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel due up, Phil Coke was the obvious choice to start the inning. Mauer led off with a bunt single, was erased on a fielder's choice from Morneau, then Coke fanned Kubel. The Yankees had a two run lead in the seventh, two outs, a runner on first, and Michael Cuddyer coming up. The Twins run expectancy for the inning was just 0.2255 at that point, while the Yankees win probability for the game was 72%. While Cuddyer is a good hitter, he's not as a good as Mauer nor Morneau, and this year at least, he's even a tick below Kubel. But he's right handed, so even though Coke has held righties to a line of .167/.297/.296 - even better than what lefites are hitting off him - Girardi saw fit to make a pitching change.

Phil Hughes was summoned. I understand Hughes is probably the best non-Mo arm in the pen right now. I understand that Girardi loves him. But as discussed at several points earlier, Fack Youk is starting to worry about the way Hughes is being used. If Girardi absolutely needed to deploy Hughes mid inning, the bases loaded one out jam in the fourth was a much more opportune spot. Instead, Girardi brought him in to replace Coke, who's likely just a peg below Hughes in the bullpen pecking order. Hughes didn't even have to retire Cuddyer, as Morneau was thrown out at second trying to advance on a pitch that skipped away from Posada.

Hughes returned for the eighth. After retiring the first two batters, Ron Gardenhire set up a pinch hitter for Redmond: Jose Morales. So we have a close game, bottom of the eighth, two outs, and the mighty Jose Morales coming up to pinch hit. Sound familiar? While this was a Mo worthy situation on Wednesday night, apparently the extra run lead and the lack of a runner on first was enough to make Girardi comfortable to allow Hughes finish the inning himself this time. And that he did.

Mo pitched the ninth, working around a two out single for his 23rd save. In all it was a good day. It was a game in which the Yankees squandered some offensive opportunities and made a couple costly errors. It was a game in which they sent a spot starter to the mound, with a low pitch limit, and he didn't pitch particularly well, yet the still escaped with a win. Still they managed to go through five relievers, leaving mop-up man Brett Tomko and the struggling Brian Bruney as the only guys not to pitch. Tomorrow they send arguably their least reliable starter to the mound. I hope they have enough of a pen to piece that one together too. We'll see you then.

Game 85: Outshined

It's our second matinee in four days as the Yankeess and Twins wrap up their season series this afternoon. The Yanks look to sweep the season from the Twinkies for the first time since they went 7-0 in 2003. Barring a playoff matchup, this will also be the final time the Yanks play at the Metrodome.

Former phenom Francisco Liriano gets the start for the Twins. The lefty was part of the Twins' haul from San Francisco in the A.J. Pierzynski deal (nice work again Mr. Sabean). Liriano set the world on fire as a rookie in 2006, moving from the pen to the rotation in May and going 12-3 with 2.16 ERA (200 ERA+), a WHIP of exactly 1.00, and 10.7 K/9. An elbow injury allowed him just two starts after August 1st and cost him all of 2007.

Liriano returned last year. He got off to a rough start, carrying an 11.32 ERA after three starts, earning him a trip to AAA. He lit it up at Rochester, leading to his agent and the MLBPA investigating filing a grievance to get him recalled. He came back up in early August and went 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP, and 8.2 K/9 over his final 11 starts. But the wheels have come off this year. Liriano leads the AL in losses with eight, has a 5.49 ERA (74 ERA+), and his WHIP has ballooned to 1.48. One of his better starts this year came against the Yanks on May 15th. He went six innings, gave up just one run, fanned six, but also walked six and took a no decision.

For the Yankees, Alfredo Aceves gets the spot start. Alf has been a revelation out of the pen this year, versatile and valuable, and has earned this start. In four MLB starts covering 23 innings last year, he went 1-0 with 2.74 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He held opponents to a .238/.304/.393 batting line, but benefited from an absurdly low .236 BABIP. In four minor league starts this year Aceves was 2-0 with 3.80 ERA and a WHIP of just 0.97. He made two relief appearances against the Twins in May, pitching a perfect inning in both, and picking up two of his five wins on the year.

Alf last pitched Sunday, going four innings of scoreless relief, allowing just a single hit, and picking up his first Major League save. He needed just 43 pitches to cover the four innings. It would serve the Yanks well if he can be that efficient today, as he's expected to be capped at about 65 pitches.

The fifth starter spot won't be needed again until July 21st. There's no telling who will get that start, but it's looking increasingly likely that it won't be Phil Hughes - which is a huge mistake in my estimation. Aceves is likely the next best choice for the near future, and a good start today will go a long way towards ensuring he gets the ball again on the 21st.

As for the line-up, A-Rod will be the DH today with Cody Ransom starting at third. Might it have been better to DH him last night and play Hinske at third against a righty? Johnny Damon and his leftfield tightrope act get the day off, with Swisher moving into the two spot in the order and Melky playing in left. Posada catches the day game after catching last night's game.

There will not be a live chat this afternoon folks; sorry about that. While we still intend to do them for weekday afternoon games, doing two this week just isn't feasible. Feel free to use the comment section to discuss the game as it unfolds. I'll be kicking around there.

The good news is that if you're a Cablevision customer living in-market, and you're willing to pony up $20 to $50, you can watch today's game on your computer, which means my workday afternoon just got a little less productive.

Soundgarden got left out of our little Seattle inspired grunge-o-rama against the M's last week, so we'll make it up to them today. The Yanks will head to California after the game. But at 6-0 against the Twins this year, they're definitely feeling Minnesota as Alf tries to outshine Liriano.

I'm looking California
And feeling Minnesota
So now you know, who gets mystified
So now you know, who gets mystified

Show me the power child, I'd like to say
That I'm down on my knees today
It gives me the butterflies, gives me away
'Til I'm up on my feet again.
I'm feeling outshined.

Why Would J.P. Ricciardi Want Everyone Talking About Roy Halladay?

To draw some attention away from this, perhaps?
The Blue Jays have released B.J. Ryan, according to's Jordan Bastian. The 33-year-old lefty signed a five year $47MM deal with the Jays before the 2006 season that was, at the time, the largest deal ever for a reliever. The contract expires after 2010, but the Jays still owe Ryan about $15MM.
"Hey guys, talk about the best player on my team for a while as I try to sweep a disastrous free agent signing under the rug!"

At the time the Jays signed Ryan to that deal, it was the largest ever to be given to a relief pitcher. He was only 29 years old, but as Joe from RAB mentioned a little while ago, some of the more knowledgeable voices in baseball saw his elbow as a ticking time bomb. Joe goes into more detail about how the market for relievers played out that offseason, with Billy Wagner ending up with the Mets, Ryan signing with the Jays, Tom Gordon going to the Phillies, thereby leaving the Yanks with Kyle Farnsworth.

In 2006, the Jays got even more than they expected, and Ryan was the best of those four relievers by far. He appeared in 65 games (72.1 IP) with a 1.37 ERA (333 ERA+) and a 0.875 WHIP. He gave up only 3HR and while converting 38 saves. The following year, he pitched in 5 games before missing the rest of the season Tommy John surgery. He came back in '08 with a respectable campaign (58 innings, 2.95 ERA, 32 Saves) and appeared to be an effective reliever once again.

This year, however, he fell so far that the Blue Jays paid him $15M just to disappear, conceding any potential value they could get out of him this year or next. He walked 17 in 20 2/3 innings, had an ERA of 6.53 and threw just over 50% of his pitches for strikes. This doesn't appear to be guy who just needs a change of scenery; he might be done for good. By virtue of who he was, though, it's likely that a team will take a flier on Ryan.

Fangraphs estimates that the Jays have got $10.8M out of Ryan's 2006 season, only slightly more than 1/5th of his contract represented ($9.4M). Since then the Jays will have revieved only $1.4M worth of services over the last four years of that contract (including -$0.7M in 2007, -$2.2M this year and nothing in 2010) while paying $38.6M. Ouch.

Praise be to Mo.

Joe Girardi Refuses To Be Outmanaged

With two outs in the eighth inning last night, Joe Girardi gave way too much respect to a bad hitter. It was a lot like calling on Phil Coke to face Brayan Pena back in April, except this time he got away with it.

There were two outs and a man on first base, and the pitcher on the mound was a converted starter, clearly capable of throwing more than 13 pitches in an outing. Instead he went to his 39 year old closer to get yet another four out save.


I'll tell you why. Ron Gardenhire made a managerial move and Joe Girardi was too scared to stand pat in response. This is the epitome of overmanaging. Making a move for the sake of making a move.

Jose Morales has good numbers in the Majors, but before he got called up, he was hitting .273/.362/.327 in AAA. He has only four extra base hits in 70 MLB plate appearances this year, none of which are home runs. As a matter of fact, he's hit just 6 homers in his last 746 minor league PA's, and 0 in 127 this year. Not exactly a threating presence at the plate.

I love the fact that Rivera isn't coddled like Trevor Hoffman and can get saves that require more than three outs. But let's conserve those for when they are actually needed, not when the opposing manager summons a guy with a career .373 minor league slugging percentage to pinch hit. Girardi has brought Mo into the 8th inning three times in his last 7 outings. Easy there Joe, it's only July.

Notice that I didn't question the move to bring in Phil Coke, which made sense but didn't work out. I'm questioning removing Hughes, which was overkill, and worked out anyway. Hindsight is irrelevant, optimal decision making is about using the information at hand to choose the best alternative at the time. This was unnecessary.

After the game Girardi hinted that Hughes might stay in the bullpen for the rest of the year. how about letting him build up some confidence, instead of essentially telling him you don't think he's capable of getting a big out?

Hughes has pitched 50 1/3 innings to date this season, between starting and coming out of the bullpen. If he stays in the 'pen being used how he is now, how many innings could he possibly pitch? 80? 90? 100 max?

What happens next year if they want to put him back in the starting rotation? The Yanks are going to be in the same spot they were at the beginning of this season; miles away from a reasonable innings limit for a starter.

The way things are going, Chien Ming Wang is far from a lock to hold down one of the spots. Andy Pettitte wanted to pitch in the New Stadium, but as rough as it has been on him so far, it's beginning to look more and more like he isn't going to want to come back. We'd all like to think Joba Chamberlain will get things figured out, but that's not a guarantee either. That leaves the Yanks with two starting pitchers, A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia, both of whom are fairly significant injury risks.

Do I think having Hughes in the bullpen gives the Yanks the best chance to win in the short term? Sure, but so does calling up J.P. Ricciardi tomorrow and offering him Hughes, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero for Roy Halladay. The organization has stated multiple times that they see Hughes as a future component of the Yankees' rotation. Why don't they start acting like it?

The Half Century Mark

A.J. Burnett was far from sharp tonight; wild was more like it. He walked four batters while only striking out two and whipped three wild pitches off of the artificial turf past the backhanded stabs of Jorge Posada. But in the end he was good enough.

The first of the wild pitches was erased after Burnett picked Denard Span off of second base in the first inning. His throw hit Robinson Cano's glove right on the bag at ankle level, and caught Span so off guard that he didn't even bother to slide.

In the top of the second, the Yankees loaded the bases with three one out singles by Matsui, Posada and Cano. Nick Swisher drove in a run with a slow chopper back to Anthony Swarzak, bringing up Brett Gardner with two outs. (According to Ken Singleton on the YES broadcast, Gardner came into the game leading all AL Rookies in on-base percentage, batting average, walks, stolen bases and runs scored. Surprising, yes?) He continued his recent hot streak by lofting a single to left, which scored Posada and Cano, making the score 3-0.

Burnett's wildness resurfaced in the third inning, but only after he had recorded two outs. After allowing a single and a stolen base to Denard Span, he walked Brendan Harris, bringing up Joe Mauer. He then threw two consecutive wild pitches, the first moving the runners to second and third and the next allowing Span to score. It might have cost Mauer an RBI because on the following pitch, he ripped an opposite field double to bring the Twins within one.

The Yanks struck again in the 5th, spearheaded by a leadoff double by Derek Jeter. Mark Teixiera followed that up with a one out walk and A-Rod drove Jeter in with a single. That would be the last batter Swarzak would face as he left the game after 4 1/3 IP, surrendering 4 runs on 8 hits.

Burnett settled down after his rocky 3rd inning, working scoreless a scoreless 4th, 5th and 6th. He got Brendan Harris to line out to start the 7th, but with Joe Mauer on deck and 3 for 3 on the night, Joe Girardi elected to call on Phil Coke to match up with the lefty. Burnett couldn't have done much worse, as Mauer took a 3-1 fastball out to the opposite field for a solo homer. Coke then retired Justin Morneau on a slider in the dirt for the second out of the inning. Girardi, again matching up, brought in Phil Hughes to face the righty Michael Cuddyer, who turned the first pitch he saw into a pop out.

Hughes came out for the 8th inning and needed only 7 pitches to take down the first two hitters. With Nick Punto and his abysmal 59 OPS+ coming to the plate, Ron Gardenhire decided to call on switch-hitting backup catcher Jose Morales to pinch hit.

Giradi countered with Mariano Rivera to get a four out save (more on this later), and like the unstoppable force that he is, Mo cut them down in order, including two strikeouts.

It was much more similar to the first four games the teams played against each other this year than the one last night, but the Yanks continued their dominance over the Twins on the season and pulled down win number 50 for 2009.

The Red Sox beat the A's 5-4 to remain one game up in the AL East. The Yanks will make the first move tomorrow, as they have a second weekday matinee of this week at 1:10.