Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Game 158: Promised Land

Despite their best efforts last night, the Yankees actually beat the Royals and will attempt to continue their climb past 100 wins this evening. The highest they can get is 106, but it would only take three more wins to reach 104, their highest total since 1998. The last time they won as many as 104 games (save for '98) was way back in 1963, when the league had just recently expanded. It's an attainable goal, but obviously won't take precedent over aligning their rotation and getting everyone well rested for the playoffs along the way.

A.J. Burnett takes the hill for the Yankees tonight, fresh off two pretty solid outings. He didn't make it through the sixth inning his last time out against he Angels, but that was largely because he racked up 11 of the 17 outs he recorded via strikeout. He threw 65 of his 101 pitches for strikes but did allow ten baserunners over that span. This will be his second to last outing before the postseason rolls around, so he's still got a little time to work out the kinks. Tonight against the punchless Royals should be a good opportunity to do so.

For the Royals, Anthony Lerew gets the call. The 26 year old righty was up for a quick cup of joe in both 2006 and 2007 with the Braves but had Tommy John Surgery an was released after some rehab starts in 2008. The Royals picked him up off the scrap heap in the beginning of this year and signed him to a minor league deal. He posted pretty marginal numbers in AA this year but was recalled to make a start against the Red Sox last week. He gave up 4 runs (only 2 earned) in 4.2 IP but also surrendered 10 baserunners, threw 108 pitches and struck out just 2.

Unlike Luke Hochevar yesterday, Lerew will be facing pretty close to a full strength Yankees line up. Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada and Melky Cabrera were given the night off, but A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira, Matsui, Swisher, and Damon are all back in action.

Also, as Matt mentioned early today, tonight is also Peter Abraham's last night on the Yankees beat before he heads off to the fackin' Boston Globe. Be sure to head over to his game thread and wish him well.

We already did a tribute to Pete when the news first came down, but wanted choose a song to commemorate his ascent to what is one of the premier sports pages in the country. While the glory days of Ray Fitzgerald, Will McDonough, Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan and the like are gone, the Globe still represents the top of the world of sports journalism. Congrats Pete and best of luck.

There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor,
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm.

Dodging Zack Greinke

When I saw that Kansas City's ace and lone star player had pitched a nice game against the Red Sox last week (contrary to the observations of Jim Rice), I figured that the Yanks would be running into him as well when the Royals came to town this week.

Up until that point, one of the very few remaining arguments against Zack Greinke's right to the AL Cy Young was the fact that he hadn't faced the Yankees or Red Sox this season. Needless to say, this is a pretty weak point both because pitcher's can't control their own schedule and if you wanted to complain about a lack of competition, you might want to start by noting that he pitches in the AL Central.

The reason that the Yankees didn't see him the first time around this year goes back to the fact that Gil Meche was tagged as the opening day starter for the Royals. This was due in part because he had that designation ever since being signed to a 5 year, $55M deal before the beginning of the 2007 season, but we can be sure it won't be the case next year, barring some unforeseen circumstances. Greinke was the Royals best pitcher last year too, but not by all that much, and as such was ticketed to start the second game of the season. As a result, when the Yankees came to town for the 4th through 6th games of the season, they missed the Zack Attack who pitched in the 2nd and 7th.

[Sidenote: The Yankees actually drafted Zack's younger brother Luke in the 12th round out of Auburn University last June. The lesser Greinke started 9 games for the Staten Island Yanks to a 4.01 ERA in 33 1/3 IP but was released out of Spring Training this year, before he could be assigned to a higher level of the minor leagues.]

As fate would have it, however, Zack Greinke shut down the Twins over 7 innings on Sunday night, temporarily derailing their charge for the AL Central title, and will once again miss the Yankees. This would be a welcome reprieve during the regular season, one that the Yankees never seem to get from the likes of Roy Halladay. However, with nothing left to be determined but how many games over 100 the Yankees can win and who gets the last few spots on the postseason roster, it would have been nice to see Greinke make a start which could potentially tip which way the Cy Young voting goes.

As Joe Posnanski has seemingly taken it upon himself to prove, Greinke is having a historically great season. He currently leads the league with an absurd 2.06 ERA (213 ERA+) and 1.066 WHIP, and has struck out 237 and walked just 49 in 223 1/3 IP. He's gone fewer than six innings only four times all year, and in two of those outings, he didn't allow any runs. His six complete games are second only to Roy Halladay's 8 and both of them have 3 shutouts to their name. Basically, the only reason he hasn't won 20 games yet is because the Royals are historically inept offensively.

As Jason pointed out this morning, Greinke's ERA in his losses is just about equal to CC Sabathia's overall mark. Were he having the same type of season for the Yankees, he'd likely be headed for 25+ wins. If he doesn't get the Cy Young it will rank alongside choosing Bartolo Colon over Johan Santana - and to a lesser extent, Mariano Rivera - in 2005 in terms of recent egregious snubs.

It's too bad we won't be able to see him first hand against the Yankees.

Yanks Get Another September Call Up

Except this time, it's not a player. As we originally speculated the day after Peter Abraham announced he was leaving The Journal News, Chad Jennings, the Scranton Yankees beat writer of The Times-Tribune, has been hired as Pete Abe's replacement.

First and foremost, congratulations to Chad; this is a well-deserved promotion from AAA to the Big Leagues. Secondly, though I'm no newspaper expert, this is probably the best move The Journal News possibly could have made. As we discussed in the aftermath of Pete Abe's announcement, The Journal News is a relatively small player in the newspaper industry, particularly amongs the papers that cover the Yankees. Their blog on the other hand, is far and away both the best and most widely read amongst those of the Yankee beat-writers. In hiring Jennings they've brought on an impressive journalist who has maintained a great blog on the Scranton Yankees for the past couple seasons.

I admit that I didn't read Jennings' Scranton work nearly as often as I should have, but I'm very pleased with this decision. As a fan, LHYB is the best place to go for Yankee information as it happens. It has also been an invaluable resource for Jay and me to get information regarding injuries, line-ups, roster moves, etc. so that we can do our thing here. Hiring Jennings should keep the LHYB going seamlessly.

This of course leaves a hole for Scranton coverage, which Jennings has done so well for the past two seasons. Perhaps Mike Ashmore, beat writer for AA Trenton, will get promoted a level as well. As Yankee fans, we've been lucky to have outstanding coverage of the organization's top two minor league affiliates over the past few years. I hope that trend continues in 2010.

Today, I believe, is Abraham's last day covering the Yanks. Sam Borden and Josh Thompson will finish out the regular season until Jennings comes aboard October 7th. Once again, best wishes to Pete at the Boston Globe, and congratulations to Chad Jennings.

Bruney & Marte

About two weeks ago, I took issue with Joe Girardi for giving Brian Bruney too many chances to make the postseason roster despite repeated poor performances and was not allowed to fail. Today I would like to log the opposite complaint about Damaso Marte. Despite rising to the occasion nearly every time he's been used, he hasn't been given the chance to succeed.

It's interesting that Girardi favors Bruney over Marte because they've had opposite trajectories to their seasons. Bruney started off well but up until getting 5 outs against the Red Sox on Sunday, he had been pretty bad since coming off the DL. Marte on the other hand, was poor at the beginning of the year but has been perfect - with the exception of one game - since rejoining the team. You'd think the guy with the better track record recently would get the benefit of the doubt, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

Marte has pitched in 11 games since coming off the DL and made it through 10 of them without allowing a run. The one bad outing he had was against the Orioles on September 11th, costing Andy Pettitte the chance at a win on the night when Jeter broke Gehrig's hit record. Even on that night, when he gave up 4 runs, he didn't give up an extra base hit but was instead allowed three singles and a walk and Jonathan Albaladejo let one of his inherited runners score. Needless to say, he wasn't pitching under the most favorable conditions that night either.

Aside from that outing, he's allowed only two hits and one walk over 6 1/3 innings. In his career, Marte has held righties to .728 OPS, which is pretty respectable when you consider that Phil Coke has help RHB to a .695 OPS and he is asked by Girardi to face righties at a higher frequency.

I understand it was a meaningless game, but last night, Girardi pulled Chad Gaudin with no one on base so he could bring in Marte to face Alex Gordon. Although his numbers are pretty terrible this year, Gordon is a talented left handed hitter, so I understand that Girardi was trying to give Marte some reps against lefties in preparation for the postseason.

As soon as he came back up to the Big League club, Girardi publicly announced that Marte would be used as a lefty match-up specialist. I don't understand what good it does to pigeonhole a reliever with a good track record who has never been just a LOOGY.

My contention is that this is the time to see if Marte can get be trusted to get right handed batters out. In fact, Marte has 1187 against RHB compared to only 850 against LHB, indicating that he hasn't been insulated from right handed bats at other points in his career. Coke has only 121 plate appearances against RHB compared to 159 against lefties.

Marte is not Mike Myers. He's not an inverted Chad Bradford. He's not the pitching Freddy Guzman. Yet I know that's exactly how Girardi is going to use him in the postseason.

For whatever reason, I like Damaso Marte. I liked him when the Yankees acquired him and a big part of the reason was that he was a solid lefty reliever who could get guys on either side of the plate out. I'm guessing that's what the Yankees organization saw when they signed him to a three year deal for $12M during the offseason.

I don't think the unidentified injury that kept him stashed away in exile for the better part of the regular season has destroyed his ability to get RHB out. I hope that over the next 5 games, he gets a chance to pitch a few full innings, because there's a pretty good chance that we are going to need him to do that at some point during the postseason because of a shortened outing by a starer or an extra innings contest. Brain Bruney figures to get that chance. So should Marte.

Burnett Returns, Carter Departs

Good morning Fackers. At the risk of spoiling our preview for later, A.J. Burnett will start for the Yankees tonight. Burnett left the club after Sunday's clincher to fly back to Arkansas, where his father had triple bypass surgery yesterday. Reports from around the club prior to last night's game indicated that the procedure went well and that Burnett will rejoin the team in time for tonight's start.

While Burnett will be pitching the night after his father had open heart surgery, on May 14, 1996 Dwight Gooden took the ball the night before his father was to have open heart surgery. Doc tossed a no-hitter that night. The Yankees would settle for less than that from Burnett tonight, as a third straight respectable start would further alleviate concerns generated by Burnett's struggles through August and early September. Regardless of his performance tonight though, Burnett and his family have already cleared their biggest hurdle this week, and it had nothing to do with anything that happened on baseball diamond.


In entirely unrelated and far less important news, the Red Sox DFA'd minor league first baseman Chris Carter yesterday. You may recall that the Yankees placed a waiver claim on Carter last month, as the Red Sox apparently tried to sneak him through as the player to be named later in the Billy Wagner deal. It was a bit of a dick move on the Yankees part, as they clearly had no interest in Carter, but it was also strategical as it forced the Sox to pull him back and continue to use a 40 man roster spot on him.

In the Yankees defense, the Sox were trying to skirt the system by sneaking a player on their 40 man roster through waivers as a PTBNL. While that's no consolation to Carter, who likely would have been in the Big League's for the last month had he made it through waivers, it was a risk that both the Red Sox and Mets took by agreeing to a creative deal.

The Sox have ten days to trade, waive, or release Carter. Because the season has not ended and it's after July 31st, Carter still has to clear waivers in order to be traded. And since the Sox pulled him off waivers once already, they no longer have that option to pull him back should he be waived this time around. There's a chance he could be released outright and sign with the Mets, though I'm not sure MLB would view that as being completely on the level. While this has absolutely no bearing on the Yankees or really even the Sox any longer, I am interested to see how it plays out and how the Wagner deal ends up being completed.

Yanks Trot Out Hangover Lineup, Still Beat Royals

Despite the hour and 56 minute rain delay and the fact that the Yankees played only three members of their starting lineup (Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, and Melky Cabrera/Brett Gardner), the Bombers not only managed to keep the game interesting for the first six and a half innings, but also to blow it open in the bottom of the seventh.

Chad Gaudin bolstered his case for the postseason roster, again delivering an effective start. This time, he began by allowing only three baserunners over four scoreless innings, at one point retiring consecutive eight batters.

The Yankees led off the bottom of the fourth with three straight hits, a double by Robinson Cano, a single by Jorge Posada and an RBI base knock by Eric Hinske to put the Yanks up 1-0. The Royals struck back immediately when Mark Teahen led off the top of the 5th with a solo shot and tied it up.

Ramiro Pena countered with a solo home run of his own in the bottom half of the inning after Frankie Cervelli singled and was erased on a caught stealing (which was really a botched hit and run). Upon returning to the dugout, Pena received the silent treatment (giddily orchestrated by A-Rod) on a night when he might have actually believed that no one noticed it was the first homer of his career. Cliff from Bronx Banter has the details.

Gaudin gave up the lead once more on a sac fly to Mike Jacobs in the sixth but again, the Yanks snatched it back, this time on a single by Shelly Duncan. Duncan was pinch ran for by Freddy Guzman, who promptly stole second base on the very next pitch although the Royals were clearly expecting it, which is a necessary skill for a guy who is looking to make the postseason 25-man pretty much exclusively as a pinch runner.

Despite retiring the first two men in the 7th inning in order and having thrown only 92 pitches, Joe Girardi once again replaced Gaudin by calling on Damaso Marte to get one out - lefty Alex Gordon.

Trey Hillman took the exact opposite tact in the bottom half of the inning, leaving his starter, Luke Hochevar in, despite having allowed a run in the frame and then loading the bases with no one out. Robinson Cano stepped to the plate against the righty and took full advantage by smashing his second career grand slam and putting the game well out of the reach of the crew from KC.

Alfredo Aceves closed out the night with two perfect innings and the Yanks took a game that they wouldn't have minded giving away. They might not have been the top talent, but guys they sent out there didn't just roll over. Credit Chad Gaudin with a pretty solid performance, Robinson Cano for delivering with the bases loaded but most of all, the Royals for, well, still being the Royals.