Saturday, August 15, 2009

Game 117: With A Little Help From My Friends

The Yankees have already ensured at least a split of this four game set against Seattle. If the M's are going to turn this series around and keep their slim post-season hopes alive, they'll have their best chance at it tonight.

A-Rod has yet to play in this series and as of this writing, it's unknown whether the back spasms -somehow related to being hit by a pitch on his elbow - that scratched him from last night's line up will do the same tonight. My guess is he'll be playing. Mariano Rivera took his cranky shoulder to the mount for the ninth last night, and though he induced a 1-2-3 inning on nine pitches, his velocity was down. He may be given the night off to rest, but I fear the Yankees might not have opportunity to use him anyway.

That's because Sergio Mitre will make what could be his final start for the Yankees. In five starts this year, Mitre has not once made it through six innings nor has he allowed fewer than three earned runs. He has an astronomical WHIP of 1.91. As a sinkerballer, he induces a lot of groundballs that could potentially erase those baserunners, but at least three times Mitre's own poor fielding or throwing has ruined or jeopardized potential double plays. His ERA is 7.04 and opponents are hitting .373/.405/.529 off him. For comparison's sake, in six post-DL starts, Chien-Ming Wang had a 6.43 ERA, a 1.61 WHIP, and a batting line against of .298/.365/.509 - poor by any measure, but far better than Mitre.

For the second day in a row, the Yanks will dig in against a lefty, Luke French, who came to Seattle from the Tigers in the Jarrod Washburn deal. Since coming to Seattle, French has made two starts, allowing 8 ER and walking 7 in 10.1 IP. While with Detroit, French started against the Yankees on July 17th, allowing two runs, just one earned, in five innings of work before Joel Zumaya blew it for him. The Yankee win on that night placed them 15 games over .500. In the four weeks since they've played an additional 15 games over .500, going 21-6. That's damn impressive.

They say winning solves everything, so I suppose that's why there hasn't been the same level of vitriol directed at Mitre as there was at Wang earlier this year when things weren't going quite so well. One of the weak arguments in support Mitre has been that despite his 1-1 record, the Yanks have gone 3-2 in his starts. But look at his pitching line. They haven't won those games because of Mitre, they've won them in spite of him. Mitre has relied heavily on help from his friends on offense to keep his record respectable. Sooner or later he's going to have to do it himself or he'll likely find himself out of work. But for tonight at least, I'll take all the help he can get from the bats.

Most of my generation is familiar with this song from this. It also inspired a couple of hilarious parodies. Be that as it may, this may be the coolest performance from the entirety of Woodstock Music and Art Festival.

Upcoming Rotation & Potential Roster Moves

Yesterday the Yankees announced their rotation for the next week plus:

Today: Mitre @ SEA
Sunday: Chamberlain @ SEA
Monday: Burnett @ OAK
Tuesday: Sabathia @ OAK
Wednesday: Gaudin @ OAK
Thursday: Off
Friday: Pettitte @ BOS
Saturday: Burnett @ BOS
Sunday: Sabathia @ BOS
Monday: Off
Tuesday: Chamberlain vs. TEX

This deviates somewhat from the plan that was rumored heading into the road trip, which would have had Mitre and Gaudin closing out the Seattle series with Chamberlain held back until the getaway game in Oakland. The Yankees apparently thought better of having Mitre and Gaudin going in back-to-back games, fearful of overtaxing the bullpen.

This set up is probably best. It allows them to line up their three best pitchers against Boston. Chamberlain still gets skipped, giving him some necessary shutdown time, but by starting him tomorrow the Yankees have a little more flexibility with the bullpen today should Mitre turn in another stinker.

I know that save for Brian Bruney the bullpen is at full strength tonight and Alfredo Aceves is Girardi's long man of choice, but the Yankees would be wise to get Chad Gaudin some work today. Since his final start with the Padres on August 5th, he's thrown all of two innings, both coming in Wednesday's game. He's thrown just seven innings since July 26th. Giving him two or three innings today will allow him to sharpen up a bit and still be well rested for his start Wednesday.

Since the Joba Rules v2.0 have been mostly revealed I like the Gaudin deal more and more. That of course could change you know, once he actually starts pitching. But in theory, he gives the Yankees a viable spot start option who is more stretched out than Alf. When not starting, he could prove to be a valuable bullpen arm as he was with Oakland in 2006, as he's holding RHBs to a .229/.294/.348 batting line this year.

As for Mitre, I'm starting to think more and more that today will be his final appearance as a Yankee. He has not pitched well by any stretch of the imagination. Given the off days and the Gaudin spot start, the Yankees will not need a fifth starter again until August 29th. Meanwhile Damaso Marte's rehab assignment expires on Monday, and since he was transferred on the 60 day DL last Saturday, the Yankees will need to make room for him on both the 40 and 25 man rosters. DFA'ing Mitre would accomplish both. There is also the possibilty that the Yanks could discover a "new" Marte injury resetting the clock, but he's now pitched 11 AAA innings to the tune of 2.45 ERA. He's as ready as he's going to be. [UPDATE: Tyler Kepner implies Marte isn't coming back any time soon, h/t to our friend Joe P at RAB]

Gaudin could make the August 29th start, then with rosters expanding three days later, the Yankees will have a lot more flexibility to rest Joba, deal with the Labor Day doubleheader, etc. As Jay pointed out this morning, by that point a comfortable lead, while not a sure thing, will allow them further flexibility in setting up their pitching down the stretch.

Rob Neyer Grants Yankees Postseason Berth!

Great news isn't it? Here's Neyer responding to a tweet from Tyler Kepner proclaiming that Teixeira is the AL MVP, "no question":
No question? Honestly? Maybe Kepner just means that Teixeira will win, rather than that he should win.

What inspired this particular post? An essentially meaningless home run, hit well after midnight (back in New York). I mean, I'm sorry, but the Yankees aren't exactly in the middle of a pennant race anymore. They've got a huge lead over the second-place Red Sox. And if the Red Sox should somehow mount a late charge, the Yankees have a huger lead over the Rangers for that other postseason berth.
I guess what Neyer is trying to do here is gauge the impact this will have on the MVP voting, not give his own feelings on who should win the award, which he does later in the post. He goes both ways on it, though. The same people who weren't paying attention because it was past their bedtime are going to think it doesn't count because the Yankees were too far ahead? Right or wrong, the better the Yankees are, the more it helps the MVP chances of Teix or Jeter, who Neyer apparently doesn't consider a "viable candidate" either by oversight or purposeful omission.

"Essentially meaningless"? I don't care that the Yankees have a 98.9% chance of making the playoffs right now, a game winning shot in the top of 9th inning is still pretty significant. A bigger lead will give the Yankees more flexibilty coming into the postseason, allowing them to skip Joba's starts freely and align their rotation, if they are in fact fortunate enough to still hold the lead when the season comes down to the wire. Which is a major presumption at this point. As good as the Yanks have looked, I don't think you're going to find too many people in that clubhouse who think it's a forgone conclusion. They are one major injury away from looking awfully vulnerable.

Late Game, Late Inning Runs

Andy Pettitte continued his post All-Star break hot streak tonight. The evening didn't start off too well, as Pettitte surrendered three consecutive hits in the bottom of the first, staking the M's to a 2-0 lead. For the next five innings however, Pettitte held the Mariners scoreless, allowing just three more hits, finishing his night with six innings, six hits, two runs, a walk, and just like CC the night before him, a season high ten strikeouts.

While Pettitte's pitching line continued be impressive post All-Star break, his no decision trend is still alive as well. Despite quality starts in five of his last six starts, Pettitte is just 1-1 over that stretch.

The Yankees brought Pettitte back to even with runs in the second and fifth. Jorge Posada, back in the line up after a night off, led off the second with a ball that was either a double or a home run, depending upon who you ask. The umpires initially ruled it a double and their video review confirmed that. From second, Posada moved to third on a Robinson Cano groundout, and after a Nick Swisher walk, score on a fielder's choice from Jerry Hairston Jr, who was in the line up for the second straight night after back spasms forced Alex Rodriguez from the initial scorecard.

In the fifth, the Yanks tied it, as Melky Cabrera reached on an infield single, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored on a Derek Jeter single to make it 2-2.

To start the bottom of the seventh, Pettitte was replaced by Brian Bruney, who continued his recent rennaisance by running his scoreless innings streak to five, a single the only blemish against his record. Phil Hughes took over in the eighth and after yielding consecutive two out walks, recorded his second strikeout to the end the frame.

Meanwhile, the Yankee offense had gone fallow, going down 1-2-3 in the third, fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. But the bats woke up in the ninth. Mark Teixeira led off the frame by launching his 30th home run - good for second in the league - to deep right field, snapping the tie. With two outs Robinson Cano hit a ground rule double, then scored on Nick Swisher's subsequent basehit.

Mariano Rivera, he of the cranky shoulder, came on for the ninth and retired the M's 1-2-3 on groundouts, using just nine pitches, and ensuring the Yankees a split at worst in this four game set.