Friday, May 21, 2010

Game 41 Recap

It wasn't perfect, but the Yankees took care of business tonight. Like they did against Tampa, they continued to leave runners on base and suffered yet another injury, but wriggled out of the 9th inning with a narrow victory over the Mets.

They squandered an excellent chance to score in the third. Francisco Cervelli worked a walk to lead off the inning and then advanced third base when Kevin Russo lifted a soft single off the end of the bat to left field. Javy Vazquez bunted Russo over to second, setting up Derek Jeter for an RBI opportunity, but he struck out on three fastballs, all called strikes. Brett Gardner followed with a slap towards third that David Wright fielded and put out easily to end the inning.

A similar situation arose in the fourth when Alex Rodriguez knocked a one out base hit and Robinson Cano slashed double off the wall in left field, putting runners on second and third. This gave Nick Swisher an easy chance for at least one RBI but Hisanori Takahasi threw him five straight balls away and out of the zone and Swish swung and missed at three of them. Cervelli followed with deep fly to center which would have been good for a sacrifice, but by then there were already two outs.

The third time was a charm as the Yanks finally broke through in the seventh. This time Swisher began the rally with a single to center. Cervelli then grounded a ball to Alex Cora at second base which should have been good for at least a force out, but Cora fired it into center field which was scored an error and allowed the runners to advance to second and third. Kevin Russo paired his second Major League hit with his first two runs driven in when he sliced a hanging 0-1 slider into the right field corner. He might have been able to stretch it into a triple but instead left he ended up standing on second base, having just given the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

Had he gone for third, whether reaching safely or not, Javier Vazquez probably wouldn't have been bunting and the biggest and most unfortunate story of the game for the Yanks might have never have been. Instead, in the process of bunting a first pitch changeup off the plate, Javy let his right index finger creep around to the front of the bat. The ball hit hit his digit squarely and he responded with a noticable wince. He stayed in for another pitch and completed a successful sacrifice, but he was pulled from the game immediately after running to first base. Thankfully X-rays were negative, but his finger is bruised above the nail and it seems a safe bet that he's going to miss at least some time as a result of it.

It's too bad because Vazquez was pitching beautifully. He needed only 70 pitches to complete six shutout innings and strike out six. Along the way he allowed just one hit and two walks and neither of those batters reached second base (thanks in part to Cervelli, who gunned down Alex Cora trying to steal to end the fourth inning). It took Vazquez a while to find his velocity and command, throwing a few fading 85mph fastballs in the early going and walking the second batter he faced, but found his grove as the innings wore on.

After Vazquez was pulled, Joe Girardi treated this game like one he was desperate to win. He brought in David Robertson to being the 7th. Alex Cora led off the inning with a single and D-Rob retired Jason Bay but Girardi called on Damaso Marte so he could match up with Ike Davis. The much-hyped rookie hit a swinging bunt up the right foul line that Marte probably could have fielded, but he pulled up on it too early, forcing Cervelli to scramble to make the throw. Frankie rushed it, hit Davis in the back and allowed him to reach. Girardi promptly made yet another change and brought in Joba Chamberlain. Joba stepped it up and struck out David Wright and Angel Pagan to end the inning. He threw a perfect frame in the eighth and passed the baton to Mariano Rivera.

Rivera retired Jose Reyes and Alex Cora with ease to begin the home half of the ninth. He ran into some trouble with the middle of the lineup, however. Jason Bay ripped a ball that hit the top of the 16' wall in left field and went for a double. Ike Davis then pulled a cutter inside into the gap in right center that scored Bay easily and left him - the tying run - on second. Wright then swung at the first pitch and grounded out to Cano, wh0 made a three quarter spin and fired to first to end the game.

The Yanks won 2-1 and snapped their three game losing streak, but amazingly, the game still took 3:19.

Tomorrow's game won't be on until 7:00pm so enjoy your Saturday.

Game 41: Don't Tell Me Your Troubles

The Yankees are embarking on a road trip tonight, but only by the strictest baseball definition of the term. They'll be sleeping in their own beds this weekend but showing up to play over in Queens against the Metropolitans.

Javy Vazquez again gets a road start in a spacious ballpark, circumstances under which he has posted his two best performances of the year. His seven inning, two run effort against the Tigers was especially encouraging despite the fact that he was tagged with a loss. That part wasn't his fault as the Yankees got shut out by Rick Porcello and two Detroit relievers. In the meantime though, enabled by the fact that he was again skipped in the rotation, he evened things out by picking up a cheap win in relief after facing just one batter in Monday's game against the Red Sox. While he did pick up a victory, he had another extra long layoff. It didn't seem to bother him last time and hopefully that will be the case again tonight.

It seems like every start has been a big one for Vazquez this year, but tonight feels like an important game for the team as well. Given the skid they've found themselves sliding in, the Yanks could really use a win to right the ship.

The trouble the Yankees are having pales in comparison to what the Mets are going through, however. The Yanks might have lost eight of their last twelve but the Mets have dropped nine over that same span and are now two games under .500 and six behind the Phillies.

Rumors are flying about Jerry Manuel after he removed John Maine from last night's game against his will after just five pitches and the feeling is that he could be axed as early as this weekend if things don't go well against the Yankees. The Mets won last night, despite leaning on their bullpen for all nine innings, and just in case the 'pen wasn't depleted enough after that, they are pushing one of the relievers who has done a good job for them this year into starting duty.

Because of the injury to Jon Niese last Sunday, Hisanori Takahashi will be making a spot start tonight. Although he hasn't been stretched out yet, he is apparently good for 100 pitches. Since being acquired in February, the Japanese import has filled the role of long man if necessary, pitching up to three innings at a time, with seven appearances of two innings or longer. He's been effective over that span as well and given up just nine runs in 26 innings (3.12 ERA) while striking out 33. The left hander only throws about 88mph, but employs four pitches (fastball, curve, slider & change) and has a bit of a hitch in his delivery, which hitters say throws off their timing.

Although this is his first start in the Major Leagues Takahashi has actually faced the Yankees before. Back in 2004, he started an exhibition game between the Bombers and Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo, a contest that the Yankees went on to win 6-2.

Both teams are currently going through their own struggles and you can't expect one team to have much sympathy for the other. Thankfully for one the teams, somebody has to win tonight.

video
Leave me alone,
Go on home,
Tell it to a friend,
I got troubles of my own,
Troubles of my own.

It happens to the best of us,
That's a what they always say,
Take it baby like a man,
Don't throw it away.
[Song Notes: Since you can't tell the title by this video, this is Don't Tell Me Your Troubles by Ronnie Hawkins with Duane Allman sitting in and playing some nasty slide guitar. It's on The Duane Allman Anthology (which is incredibly awesome) but was originally recorded for Hawkins creatively titled album The Hawk.]

-Lineups-

Yankees:
Matt here with the lineups. Kevin Russo gets his first Major League start and it doesn't come at his primary position of second base, his secondary position of third base, or even at shortstop. He'll be in left field tonight, where he's made seven minor league appearances, but just one this year. Upon his demotion just over a week ago the organization said he'd be getting the Jerry Hairston Jr super utility treatment and it appears that's what they're doing. Two things of note: first it'll be interesting to see how the inexperienced Russo handles the spacious Citi Field outfield. And secondly, I would have figured that the start still would have gone to Randy Winn with the versatile and speedy Russo held in reserve as a weapon off the bench in an NL park.

Francisco Cervelli gets his fifth straight start behind the plate. Just for the hell of it, Javier Vazquez is a career .207/.238/.247 hitter in 620 PA, which is halfway decent for a pitcher.
Derek Jeter SS
Brett Gardner CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Francisco Cervelli C
Kevin Russo LF
Javier Vazquez P

Mets:
If the Yankees are going to win the Subway Series opener on dropped pop up, like they did last year, they're going to have a bit of a tougher go of it this time around. Mets second baseman Luis Castillo, who had the infamous error last year, has been scratched with a sore foot. He's replaced by super-overpaid-but-really-friendly utility guy Alex Cora. During Cora's final season in Boston, he happened to enter the bar I was in, the same night the Red Sox clinched the Wild Card and officially eliminated the Yankees from playoff contention. I found him to be quite obnoxious. But that's a story for another time.
Jose Reyes SS
Alex Cora 2B
Jason Bay LF
Ike Davis 1B
David Wright 3B
Angel Pagan CF
Rod Barajas C
Jeff Francoeur RF
Hisanori Takahashi P

Minor League News And Notes

Here are some minor league notes as the Subway Series hype and Yankee paranoia machines steam towards game time:
Yesterday, the Yankees extended their playing development contract with Scranton through 2014; it was set to expire at the end of this season. This seemed less likely last year, when a rainy summer and drainage problems at PNC Field combined to cause a large amount of delays and postponements. As part of the press release announcing the extension, the Yankees pledged their support to help improve or replace the existing complex.

In extending their agreement with Scranton, the Yankees ensure that they keep their top two farm clubs relatively local, with their third club being located at their Tampa headquarters, and their short-season A team being owned by the franchise and located just over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. This seems to have been a concerted effort over the past decade, relocating affiliates to be closer to the home club. It's beneficial to the Yankees in that replacement and rehabbing players are relatively close at hand, and it's beneficial to the affiliates in that there's already a local fanbase.

It's a day late now, but yesterday Donnie Collins had an outstanding and in depth look at all the cons, and the few pros, that would come with promoting Jesus Montero in the wake of Jorge Posada's injury.

All the injuries at the Big League level are having a trickle down effect as the minor league clubs shuffle players around to fill the holes. To that end, the Yankees made two minor league signings yesterday, inking utility guy Jeff Natale and catcher Rene Rivera. Chances are these guys are around only as long as the injuries persist. The Rivera signing is a bit puzzling. It would appear P.J. Pilittere has fallen down some sort of rabbit hole.

In his pre-game media session yesterday, Brian Cashman said that were he not injured, outfielder Colin Curtis would have been considered for a recall. Loyal commenter Jimmy speculated as much yesterday. Curtis is not currently on the 40 man roster and has been out of action with a high ankle sprain since April 28th. Curtis was considered a middling prospect as recently as last year, but a torrid stay in the Arizona Fall League, an impressive Spring Training, and a hot start to the AAA season had his stock rising. We may see him before 2010 is out.

This is one specifically Yankee related, but Times of Trenton writer John Nalbone has a great interview with Chris Pittaro, Oakland's Director of Professional Scouting. Pittaro had a brief cameo in Moneyball and his role in the Oakland front office has grown in the years since. Check out the interview both at the Times and at Nalbone's BareBones blog.

We're a couple days late on this one, but Trenton has placed starting pitcher and 2008 supplemental first round pick Jeremy Bleich on the DL with a shoulder problem. His has returned to the Yankee complex in Tampa. His start in New Britain last week notwithstanding, Bleich has struggled over the past year. Whether the shoulder issue is the cause or whether it's an excuse to give him some downtime and try to get him back on track in Extended Spring Training, it's not a good sign.

Lastly, and not minor league related at all, but if you're near a TV right now turn on the MLB Network. My buddy Gripp informs me their currently showing this game from the Yankees' disastrous 1990 season, featuring Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, and the notorious Andy Hawkins. I won't spoil the surprise, but this was an outstanding game, featuring some rare and impressive feats. Plus, it'll remind you that the events of this past week are nothing compared to what the Yankees suffered through twenty years ago.

The Dirty Dozen

Good morning, Fackers. The Yankees have lost eight of their last twelve games. They started out this homestand with two wins but finished it just 3-4. They are only one game ahead of the Blue Jays.

Things are looking bleak heading into the Subway Series and the Yanks have, at one time or another during the last two weeks, been sabotaged by a lack of offense, poor starting pitching, bullpen implosions, defensive blunders, bad luck or any combination of the above. But, on the other hand, they've had all of those things working for them at one point or another over the last 12 games too.

Over the first five games of the skid, the Yanks' offense couldn't seem to get it going, averaging three runs per contest (including their only two scoreless efforts of the year) from the last game they played at Fenway on May 9th through the four game set in Detroit. Since then, though, the offense has scored 47 runs in seven games, just in time for their pitching staff to let them down. In the last five games, the Yanks have allowed 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 runs (although not in that order) due in part to poor starts by Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes but mostly to a series of meltdowns by the bullpen.

Add that all up and the Yankees have scored 62 runs while allowing 67 but have dropped 66% of their games during that span. Is that glass a third full or two thirds empty? I tend to think it's not quite as miserable as it has seemed.

Yes, the last four losses have been particularly painful. The Yanks finally let the Twins up off the mat at The Stadium. They blew two 5-0 leads against the Red Sox. They were out-pitched, out-slugged and out-defended and abused on the basepaths by the Rays. There's no hiding the fact that they are now five games back in the division and closer to the Red Sox than they are to Tampa.

However, this streak has come while the roster has been in a state of total disarray and the Yankees have been without, to varying extents, important contributors like Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, Jorge Posada and Alfredo Aceves. You could say that Curtis Granderson wasn't hitting well anyway, Nick Johnson isn't coming back, Frankie Cervelli has been filling in admirably and Alfredo Aceves wouldn't have stopped the bleeding out of the bullpen, but the Yankees will be stronger and more complete as the season moves on and those players return.

The Yankees were vulnerable during a tough stretch and paid the price. They played 12 games against what are likely four out of the five or six best teams in the American League without 25 players available on most nights, let alone their 25 best. It's tough to watch your team lose eight of of twelve regardless of the circumstances, but the Yankees were weak at the wrong time and got worked by some very good squads.

If you want to, you can see a team that has a terrible bullpen and isn't as good as their 25-14 record indicates. If you change your perspective a bit, however, you might see a club that is a little black and blue and just went through a brief stretch in the red.