Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Game 39: Second Song

It's been raining in metro-NYC for the better part of the day. The forecast calls for a 100% chance of rain through 6 PM, then a 60% to 70% chance throughout the game. It's no sure bet that this one gets played, and if it doesn't, it sort of underscores my point from yesterday: there isn't much sense in trying to line up your rotation for a series two weeks in the future if Mother Nature can wreck those plans at a moment's notice.

That said, as of this writing there's no official word on tonight's game and since Jay and I will both be occupied with various recreational athletic activities come game time, we're going to put up our preview as if the game will be played.

If it is played, CC Sabathia will make his third start against the Red Sox this year, the second consecutive one that has potential to be altered by the weather. Pitching in Fenway Park ten days ago, the umpires called for the tarp while the Big Fella was one strike away from qualifying for a win. Instead, the rain delay was long enough to prevent him from returning, leaving him with a four and two thirds innings pitched no-decision. He followed that up with a rough outing in Detroit last Thursday, allowing six runs in as many innings while surrendering nine hits. CC also had a bit of trouble with Boston on Opening Night, but in his five starts between his two outings against the Red Sox he pitched quite well: 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 26:12 K:BB over 37.1 IP.

Just as Sabathia has a bit of trouble with Boston in his two starts against them this year, tonight's Boston starter has done poorly in two outings against the Yankees in 2010. Josh Beckett was chased after just four and two thirds on Opening Night, after surrendering nine hits, two homers, three walks, and five runs. Things were even worse for him on May 7th: nine hits, one homer, three walks, and nine runs over five innings.

Also mixed in during that start were a pair of hit batsmen, and a couple near misses, as Beckett entirely unraveled in the sixth inning. Several Yankees were not pleased with Beckett's lack of control that night, CC Sabathia chiefly amongst them. In his start the next afternoon, Sabathia plunked Dustin Pedroia, almost assuredly as retaliation.

That will certainly be a storyline tonight, something Peter Abraham touched upon in a chat today and Bronx Banter relayed earlier this afternoon. I'm all for sticking up for your players, but I still contend that the only purpose pitch Beckett threw two weeks ago was when he buzzed Francisco Cervelli in the fourth inning. That said, I think both teams have too much to lose to go getting involved in a bean ball war tonight. Beckett has pitched extremely poorly this year and a sore back forced him to miss his last scheduled start. He has far more important things to be worried about tonight. Meanwhile, the Yankees are fending off injuries on a daily basis. They're also 14-3 in their last seventeen games against Boston and the Red Sox have struggled through the first six weeks of 2010. The last thing the Yankees need to do is engage in a basebrawl, risking further injury or lighting a fire under a scuffling Boston squad. Sabathia responded appropriately in his start a week ago; there's no need to push this agenda any further.

In roster news, the beleaguered Yankee bullpen figures to get some reinforcements tonight. Mark Melancon is rumored to be on his way to New York, and so long as they're confident the game will be played, he'll most likely be added to the roster at the expense of either Boone Logan or Greg Golson. It befuddles me that like Angel Berroa and Brett Tomko last year, Logan has yet another opportunity to dodge a bullet tonight. But with Damaso Marte likely unavailable after throwing 26 pitches last night, Joe Girardi will almost assuredly want the lefty Logan in the pen. And since we're talking beanballs, it's worth mentioning that Melancon was prominently featured in a couple near dustups last year, including a plunking of Dustin Pedroia last August.

In other bullpen news, Sergio Mitre is listed as being available out of the pen tonight. With only one day of rest since his start it's unlikely he'd be able to go for long though. Despite throwing just four pitches last night, I doubt we'd see Javier Vazquez tonight as he remains on track for a Friday start at Citi Field. Chan Ho Park is likely unavailable after throwing 30 pitches last night, but David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain figure to be back in the fold after resting yesterday.

So this will be the second game of a rare two game series and also the second Beckett-Sabathia match-up we've seen this year. Second game. Second match-up. Second Song.

The second song came softly, he heard it seeping through the vent
The notes were long and languished, they described their circumstance
The rent was halfway spent, the day was peeling hot
She asked "can we leave this place?" He answered "probably not"
They had less than they guessed but more than they knew
That second song was the best they could do
And all of the while there were two: one eyed green and one eyed blue

[Song Notes: Assembly of Dust frontman Reid Genauer first came to prominence with the band Strangefolk. Formed in 1991 at the University of Vermont, Strangefolk is definitely a New England band, with their tune "Sweet New England" leaving little doubt about that. Genauer left Strangefolk in 2000, and formed Assembly of Dust two years later while enrolled in graduate school at Cornell. So as the Yankees and Red Sox play tonight we turn to a musician who has formed bands in the territories of both teams. "Second Song" comes off their latest album, which features a different guest musician on each track and is thus smartly titled Some Assembly Required]


The Yankees run out virtually the same lineup they used last night. Juan Miranda replaces A-Rod as the DH tonight, A-Rod replaces Ramiro Pena at third base. Jorge Posada's sore foot keeps him out the lineup for the second straight day. He's now started just nine of the last nineteen games. Nick Swisher felt no pain hitting left handed off a tee today, but he remains out of the lineup.
Derek Jeter SS
Brett Gardner CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Francisco Cervelli C
Marcus Thames RF
Juan Miranda DH
Randy Winn LF

Red Sox:
Marco Scutaro SS
Dustin Pedroia 2B
J.D. Drew RF
Kevin Youkilis 1B
Victor Martinez C
David Ortiz DH
Adrian Beltre 3B
Bill Hall LF
Darnell McDonald CF

About Last Night

Before I pass along a few thoughts from last night's game, let me throw one more thought out about the much-discussed bullpen. Rebecca Glass at Purist Bleeds Pinstripes has a nice post about an impassioned answer delivered by Joe Girardi during last night's post game media session. Girardi bristled at a question suggesting Javier Vazquez was skipped against the Red Sox due to past performance, and emphatically explained that Javy was needed there due to the state of the bullpen last night.

First off, kudos to Girardi for defending Vazquez and painting him in a positive light. Regular readers here know where Jay and I stand on Vazquez, so I'm glad to see that Girardi did all he could to squash the avoiding-the-Red-Sox storyline.

That said, as I explained yesterday, I still have some objections to thought process behind skipping Vazquez. Yes, the bullpen certainly did need a longman last night, with Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson unavailable. But that longman did not need to be Javier Vazquez. If the ineffective Boone Logan, instead of Ivan Nova were optioned out to make room for Chan Ho Park, Nova could have been last night's longman. In fact, if they made that move Sunday, when Park was ready to return, CHP might have pitched Sunday leaving DRob or Joba available last night. Or, if they were so hell bent on getting Nova off of the roster, they could have given him the spot start Sunday, burned him, and sent him back down, thereby allowing Sergio Mitre to return to his longman role. It's all moot now I suppose, but the explanations still don't fully add up in my eyes.

On to happier news. As I mentioned yesterday, my buddy Gripp and I had batter's eye seats last night. When I first went to the Stadium during the exhibition games against the Cubs last year, I immediately singled out those two rows atop the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar as the best seats in the house. Sitting there for the first time last night, that opinion has only grown stronger.

We arrived right when the gates opened and were able to catch the tail end of Yankees batting practice. Unfortunately, Robinson Cano had already finished hitting, so we didn't get any BP home runs hit up there. We did, however, have the pleasure of watching Mariano Rivera shag flies in center field. It's been said that Mo is the best center fielder on the Yankees, and watching him last night didn't disappoint. Just as he does on the mound, he moves gracefully, gliding underneath flyballs. His throwing accuracy isn't just limited to his cutter either. At one point, Mo fielded a one hopper in deep center and spotted Curtis Granderson stretching behind first base. Mo wound up and unleashed a one hopper that caught the unaware Granderson square on the hip.

In addition to stretching, Granderson also took some hacks in the cage, marking the second consecutive day he's taken BP as he works his way back from a pulled groin. He also took some flyballs in center last night, but since gates open an hour later this year than they did last year, we weren't able to catch that.

David Robertson was shagging flies in left field, as most pitchers do during BP. Unlike other pitchers though, Robertson was fielding and throwing with his opposite hands, sporting his glove on his right and throwing with his left. Unlike Pat Venditte, Robertson wasn't trained to be a switch thrower, he did it out of necessity. As a high schooler, a bout of right shoulder soreness caused Robertson to learn to throw left handed. He was able to stand on the left field warning track and throw balls to the screen behind second base. As someone who was forced to throw with his opposite arm for a year following elbow surgery, I can assure you that's no small feat.

Alex Rodriguez launched a BP homer off the same Monument Park wall that Jorge Posada hit during Saturday's game. Unfortunately for us, this one didn't carom up into the seats. Fortunately for the people in Monument Park, it hit the retaining wall. Six inches to the left and it would have fallen in the small gap between the wall and the netting that covers the park, right where two girls were having their picture taken at the time.

After BP, I had the chance to meet up with Ben, Mike, and Joe from RAB, as well as Moshe from TYU, who I didn't know was going to be in attendance. It wasn't until this morning that I found out that Mike from Yankeeist was also at the game, otherwise I would have attempted to say hello to him as well. Quite a few us dorky bloggers in the house last night.

As for the game itself, there isn't much I can add that hasn't already been said. Aside from Game Two of the ALDS last year, it was probably the best game I've attended in person. I can't overstate how great the vantage point is from the batter's eye seats. You're right on top of the field, you have a clean view of everything, you get a true track of the ball's flight right off the bat. The latter was particularly valuable last night as homer after homer was hit. If you ever have the opportunity to sit there, I highly, highly recommend it.

How Bad Has The Yankees' Bullpen Really Been?

The Yankees' relief pitching has left a lot to be desired over the last two games. On Sunday, their two best relievers - Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera - combined to turn a two run lead into a three run deficit against the Twins. Last night, Boone Logan and Chan Ho Park allowed three home runs between them and if wasn't for the heroics of A-Rod and Marcus Thames, would have allowed the Red Sox to steal a game the Yankees had a stranglehold on starting in the first inning.

There have been other notable failures by relief corps throughout the year as well. Chan Ho Park gave up the lead on a two run homer to Dustin Pedroia on Opening Night. Kendry Morales hit a go-ahead, two run bomb off of Chamberlain in Anaheim that led to another Yankee loss. David Roberston coughed up the lead in Baltimore and combined with Damaso Marte to blow a game against the White Sox.

Of course, injuries have been a problem as well. Alfredo Aceves is on the DL with back problems and Chan Ho Park has just returned from a hamstring injury. Mariano Rivera was sidelined with a pulled muscle in his side and went nearly two weeks between appearances - not a DL stint, but in terms of his lack of contributions to the team, it nearly was.

This morning, Mike from River Ave. Blues talked about the Yankees "bullpen problem", Larry from the Yankeeist called the unit, save for Rivera and Chamberlain, "downright deplorable", and E.J. from TYU called the 'pen (aside from Mo) "a glaring weakness".

But has the bullpen really been that bad this year, especially considering the amount of injuries they've suffered?

Right now, the Yankees are roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of ERA with a mark of 4.02. In terms of Win Probability, they have about twice as many shutdowns as meltdowns but have cost the Yanks approximately one third of a victory overall.

Importantly, though, the Yankees have had the second fewest innings pitched out of any team in the MLB with 96 1/3 through their first 38 games, which averages out between 2 1/3 and 2 2/3 per contest. As a result, they have allowed the fourth fewest runs per game, which is possible given their middling ERA because they aren't being asked to shoulder very much of the load.

All told, I wouldn't say the bullpen has been all that bad this year. At worst they've been about league average. However, on a team with the second most wins in baseball, a part of that whole that functions as average is probably holding them back somewhat. And of course, any failure by the bullpen is going to stick out like a sore thumb. Which is probably why RAB, TYU, The Yankeesist and we are all talking about it today, on the heels of two very poor performances. When the bullpen gets the job done, no one bats an eyelash. When they fail to shut it down, everyone gets anxious, us Fackers included.

Going forward, it's tough to say if the Yanks' bullpen are going to get better or worse. There are two different forces at work which should more or less neutralize each other. They are near the bottom of the league in FIP, which suggests that they've been somewhat lucky to have given up as few runs as they have. On the other hand, that inflated FIP comes as a result of the fact that the Yanks have the 4th highest HR/FB rate in the Majors at 12.6% (driven by Park at 30.8% and Robertson at 23.1).

Robertson has been unsustainably bad in general. He might not improve on his dreadful 8.49 ERA and 2.314 (!!) WHIP, but if he doesn't, he'll be replaced by someone like Mark Melancon, resulting in a net upgrade one way or another. Eventually we may see Boone Logan optioned to AAA as well.

Furthermore, many of the innings that have been pitched so far have gone to guys who are replacing first line relievers who have been injured. Rivera, Park and Aceves - ostensibly three of their best five bullpen arms - have missed time.

If you are still dissatisfied with the Yanks' performance out of the 'pen, look no further than the space between the bleachers and left center field tonight. The Red Sox relievers have been absolutely dreadful this year, giving up 19 more runs than the Yanks and have the second worst FIP in the league.

Comes A Thames

Good morning Fackers. Ok, so it's "Comes a Time" not "Comes a Thames", but it's the a sweet song nonetheless. And it's the best I got this morning; still a little tired from last night's game.

Give me awhile to shake out the cobwebs and I'll tell you some stories about last night. Meanwhile, in honor of last night's hero, enjoy this one from Fack Youk's favorite Canadian.