Friday, July 10, 2009

Game 86: Going To California

Made up my mind to make a new start
Going to California with an aching in my heart

The season is more than half over, but tonight will be the first time all year the Yankees play a game in the Pacific Time Zone. As a result, this is first of three trips the Yanks will make to West Coast before season's end. By contrast, the Yankees co-leaders atop the AL East are already done going out west.

The West Coast part of the schedule couldn't start at a crueler place for the Yankees, as Anaheim has been a house of horrors for them in recent years. They lost the final two games of the 2002 ALDS there. In 2005 they lost Game 2 and the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS there. Since that 2005 ALDS, they Yanks are an abysmal 12-20 (.375) against the Angels, including 4-11 (.267) in Anaheim. Last year LAA took the season series 7-3, winning 5 of 6 at home.

This year things may be a bit different. The Yanks took 2 of 3 in The Bronx earlier this season. These Angels are markedly different team than in years past. While they're just a half game out in the AL West, their run differential is only sixth best in the league, mainly because their pitching is giving up the third most runs per game in the AL. Amongst their starters, only Jerred Weaver has been above league average.

At the plate they've done well. But Vlad Guerrerro and Torri Hunter are currently on the DL, and they've gotten virtually no production from their middle infield positions. Howie Kendrick had actually been demoted to AAA until his recall last week.

The Boo Mark Teixeira World Tour 2009 reaches Anaheim tonight, where Teix spent the final fifty-four games last season. Angels' owner Arte Moreno claims that while Teixeira was his team's number one priority last off-season, Teixeira did not negotiate in good faith, using the Angels' eight year $160M offer to drive up the price for other bidders. I'm sure Teix's reception will be much the same as it was in Baltimore and Boston, and to a lesser extent, Atlanta.

For the Angels, lefty Joe Saunders gets the start. He was great last year and his 101 ERA+ is good for second amongst Angels starters this year, but he's got a WHIP of 1.33, and is walking 3.1 per 9 against only 5.1 K per 9. He missed the Yanks in the earlier series this year. For his career he's pitched 15.1 innings against the Yanks over three starts, carrying a 7.63 ERA and 1.76 WHIP. Let's hope for more of that tonight. It may be needed.

Joba Chamberlain goes for the Yanks. With the bullpen a bit worn out tonight, this would be a very opportune time for Joba to correct his recent problems with getting deep into games and being inefficient with his pitches. For a guy who's been downplaying his issues of late, it would be very nice for him to turn in a good a start in the same park where Ian Kennedy notoriously dismissed his struggles last year.

To fortify the bullpen Mark Melancon has been recalled, but there's still no word on the corresponding roster move.

These West Coast games suck for those of us back on the East Coast. Thankfully, this one's a weekend series, making it a little more bearable. Plus, tonight's the only night game, with 4:10 and 3:35 EDT starts the next two days. For those of you lucky enough to be attending, stay safe. The Big A has had enough fan on fan violence already this year.

It's quitting time on a Friday. Head on over to the Happy Hour watering hole of your choice. Have a couple frosty cold ones. Get home safely. Then either watch the game from the comfort of your own home or head back out and catch it at the bar. Then you can sleep in tomorrow. We'll see you in the AM with the recap.

Pirates Pitcher Gets Win For Nats Over Houston

Wait, what?

The Nats and 'Stros finished a game yesterday that had been suspended on May 5th due to rain. The winning pitcher was Joel Hanrahan, who now pitches for the Pirates. The winning run was scored by Nyjer Morgan, who played for the Pirates when the game began. Morgan was pinch running for Elijah Dukes, who is currently in AAA or prison. I'm not sure which.

Deadspin has all the zany details; here's the box score.

Weird things like this happen from time. On August 4, 1982, Joel Youngblood started in centerfield for the Mets, batting third against the Cubs. This was before lights were installed at Wrigley Field, so it was an afternoon game.

Youngblood went 1 for 2 with 2 RBI before getting lifted for Mookie Wilson in the fourth. Youngblood was removed because he'd been traded to the Expos for the ever popular player to be named later. Youngblood left Wrigley, hopped a plane to Philly, where the Expos were playing that night, and entered the game as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning. In his only at bat, he singled in the seventh, becoming the only Major Leauger ever to record a hit for two different teams in two different cities in the same day. To boot, both hits came off future Hall of Famers: barely literate drug-smuggling Canadian Ferguson Jenkins and the possibly anti-semitic and all-around crazy Steve Carlton.

You Fackers got any other stories?

How Does Your Gardner Throw?

As Jay pointed out, by way of Ken Singleton, in Wednesday's recap, Brett Gardner is quietly putting together quite a season for himself. Gardner currently leads AL rookies in AVG, OBP, runs, SB, and BB. He's second in RBI and OPS and third in hits. It's an admittedly weak crop of rookie hitters, and Matt Wieters has not been up the whole year nor has he gotten hot yet. I'm not suggesting anyone start a Rookie of the Year campaign for Garner, but he certainly has been a pleasant surprise, particularly after his slow start.

Yet he's not even starting regularly. After getting five hits in the Friday night game against the Mets two weeks ago, Joe Girardi said Gardner had earned regular playing time, something we had advocated for weeks prior. Yet in the twelve games since then, Gardner has started just eight, and five of those came with Melky Cabrera also in the lineup.

Wednesday, Dave Cameron at Fangraphs had an interesting article on the defensive value of Brett Gardner. Sabremetric defensive evaluations have evolved markedly over the past couple years, but I'm not completely sold on them yet (side note, check this interesting Times article via Bronx Banter). That said, UZR/150 appears to be the most evolved at this stage, and Gardner is off the charts according to that metric.

Anyway, give the Fangraphs article a read. Gardner has uncorked a few memorably bad throws this year, but I can also recall a few good ones. Memories aside, the metrics say he's been more good than bad, much more good in fact. While Melky assuredly has a stronger arm, the Fangraphs piece seems to indicate that Gardner has a more effective arm, and a much better all around defensive game.

One Fewer Crappy Ballpark

Considering they play in the AL Central, it might be a little too soon to throw dirt on the Twins' playoff chances and hence another trip to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. However, we might as well touch on it now while the experience is fresh in our collective minds, just in case.

It's great that the beat writers found the place to be a nice work environment. Tyler Kepner enjoyed the climate control and the open air press box. Peter Abraham appreciated the view from the box, the fact that it situated only a few flights of stairs from the field and the friendly employees of the Metrodome.

Bully for those gents, but you guys aren't baseball writers, are you? Do you live in Minnesota? Google Analytics says a few of you do. But by and large, to us fans, the Metrodome was nothing more than a gigantic set that one of the TV shows that we like to watch used one or two times a year. And it was a tremendously shitty one at that.

Baseball simply wasn’t meant to be played indoors, on artificial surface, under a baseball-colored roof that disguised fly balls, in front of huge air conditioning vents that mysteriously blew harder when the home team was batting, with a oversized Hefty bag for an outfield wall.

Next year, the Twins will be playing outdoors, on grass, in an actual ballpark rather than a multi-purpose dome. Had that been the case on Thursday, the game would have taken place on a lovely, warm, sunny afternoon. Instead it took place inside under gloomy artificial light.
I'm not sure that Target Field is going to be the greatest place to play in April or October, when the average highs are in the mid-fifties and the lows are in the 30's, but getting to watch a few more baseball games played outside will be a cosmic leap forward. So good riddance to the baggy, and the vampire seats, and the field turf. The aesthetics of watching baseball on TV just got better.

Bullpen Help Coming

As we noted in yesterday's recap, Joe Girardi burned through five of his seven relievers yesterday - but boy, he sure matched up well in doing so. Trotting out a spot starter with a 65 pitch limit is a recipe for a long day for the bullpen, but needing five pitchers to cover 5.2 innings seems a bit much to me.

Regardless, the Yanks head to Anaheim tonight and send Joba Chamberlain to the hill. Chamberlain has averaged less than five and a third innings over his last six starts and has needed an unmanageable 17.3 pitches per IP this year. So this isn't exactly the best night to be carrying a fatigued bullpen, particularly when the only rested pitchers in the pen are a struggling Brian Bruney and a Brett Tomko-like Brett Tomko. I didn't think it was possible to be short on arms with a seven man pen, but apparently it is.

To that end, Girardi hinted during yesterday's post-game that an arm might be on the way. Last night, indespensible Scranton beat writer Chad Jennings reported that Mark Melancon will rejoin the Yankees today (h/t RAB).

Melancon was up briefly earlier this year, making four appearances covering 3.1 IP. He wasn't good, allowing two hits, five walks, and two earned runs. In his final outing he walked all three batters he faced. That said, this move is long overdue. Melancon has been dominating the International League, with a 2.50 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 39.2 IP. His K/9 is 9.5 while his BB/9 is just 2.0.

Unfortunately the pitcher who should go is one of the few fresh arms in today's pen, so Tomko gets yet another stay of execution. Jonathan Albaladejo and David Robertson both have options, so they would seem likely candidates for demotion.

However, between his 43 pitches Sunday and his 65 yesterday, Alfredo Aceves is spent until after the All-Star break. He too has options. While his performance certainly warrants continued presence on the Major League roster, he may be the best choice to farm out at present. Whoever is optioned out will have to stay down for at least ten days. Aceves is spent for the next three, then comes the three day All-Star break, followed by an off day next Thursday. Sending Aceves down will really only cost the Yankees his presence for three games while keeping the bullpen at full strength for this weekend's series. Plus, it looks increasingly likely that Aceves will be the new fifth starter. Sending him down today will allow him to make another minor league start or two to build endurance before the Yankees need him on the 21st.

We'll update on you the official move once it happens, which likely won't be until just before game time.

Back In The High Life Again

Good morning Fackers. As we try to make it through one more workday until the sweet, glorious weekend, we awake this morning with a little extra bounce in our step. The Yanks are tied for first in the AL East and for the best record in the AL, thanks to the combination of yesterday's sweep of the Twins and a Royals comeback victory (after being down four runs) over the Sawx last night.

Things are not good in Royal-land right now. They entered play yesterday with the third worst record in the AL and have had exactly one winning season (skippered by current Yankee Bench Coach Tony Pena) since the 1994 strike ended. Even longtime Royals optimists Joe Posnanski and Rany Jazayerli have apparently seen enough (h/t Rob Neyer for the links).

The Royals of course are led by former Yankee minor league manager Trey Hillman. After some early success last year, Hillman has fallen on the same tough times that did in his predecessors. But the man has a Hall of Fame cookie duster and that's gotta count for something. Not to mention a First Base Coach named Rusty Kuntz. Hopefully Hillman can keep his team rolling through the weekend and help the Yanks out.

We're now double digits into July. The All-Star break is three days away. The standings are no longer some small sample size fluke at this point; they're for real. The Yankees still have some flaws. Their record is still better than their run differential would predict. They're still 0-8 against the Sox. But despite all of that, they're still tied for the best record in their division, best in their league, and second best in baseball. So as we await tonight's late start, let that thought carry you through to quitting time. We're back in the high life again.