Saturday, October 17, 2009

ALCS Game 2: Gambler's Roll

Weather permitting, the Yankees and Angels will play Game Two of the American League Championship Series tonight. While the weather tonight shouldn't be any colder than last night, the chance of rain is much greater, as there is a nasty looking storm system sitting southwest of the city and heading towards the Stadium. If they can't go tonight, word is the make up would be scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 4:30.

With Game Three currently slated for Monday afternoon in Anaheim at 4:13 EDT, both teams would like to avoid playing Sunday if at all possible. Getting the game in tonight will give the teams a full day to rest following the cross country flight. The Yankees particularly will want to get tonight's game in though, as a rainout tonight would mean that if A.J. Burnett were to come back to pitch a potential Game Five, as is the current plan, he would be doing so on just three days rest. If the Yankees elect not to pitch Burnett under those conditions, it would likely result in Chad Gaudin matching up against Angels' ace John Lackey.

As we saw in Game Five of last year's World Series, Major League Baseball's now-official policy is that once a post-season game begins, it will be played to its completion. So even if the game begins tonight, it may not end until sometime tomorrow. And given that at present tomorrow's forecast is worse than tonight's, I imagine every effort will be made to get this game played this evening. In the post-season starting the game becomes the decision of MLB, not the home team as in the regular season, but I'm confident MLB will roll the dice and try to get this one in tonight.

MLB won't be the only ones taking a gamble with their decisions tonight, as both managers have made unorthodox line up decisions that, if they don't work out, could potentially place them in a media storm as intense as anything brewing in the Tri-State area right now. As we examined on Thursday, Joe Saunders will take the hill for the Halos and Jose Molina will be behind the dish for the Yankees.

As we saw last night, John Lackey struggled to get a feel for his curveball in the frigid conditions. Earlier today, the Yankees Universe predicted that Saunders would have similar problems tonight giving A.J. Burnett an edge, while over at LoHud John Flaherty thinks the weather will have a bigger impact on Burnett's arsenal. So I'm not sure what to think on this one.

Weather aside, I think the Yankees have the edge in the pitching match up. A.J. Burnett posted better numbers than Joe Saunders this year and has a better track record. Again, as we mentioned earlier this week, Saunders gave up the second most HR in the AL this year and had the second highest HR rate. Last night was just the second time in 86 games that Yankee Stadium did not yield a long ball. Maybe the weather supresses power again tonight, or maybe the combination of Saunders and the ballpark makes up for last night.

Saunders faced the Yankees twice this year, both in Anaheim. He allowed 11 baserunners and 5 ER in 5 IP in taking a no decision on July 10th, then went 8.1 IP with just 7 baserunners and 2 ER in getting the win on September 21st, giving him a line of 1-0 with a 4.72 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 13.1 IP. He gave up two home runs to Alex Rodriguez and one to Hideki Matsui. Saunders did not appear in this year's Division Series, but had a disastrous start (4.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 4 BB) in last year's series against Boston.

A.J Burnett made two starts against the Angels this year, on April 30th in the Bronx and in season series finale in Anaheim on September 23rd. In the first game he allowed 4 ER in 7 IP and received a no decision. In the second he went just 5.2 innings but allowed just two runs, fanned 11, and picked up the win. He made his first career post-season start in Game Two of the ALDS and allowed just 1 ER in 6 IP. He did issue five free passes though after leading the AL in walks this year; look for Bobby Abreu and his minions to attempt to exploit that tonight.

As mentioned, Jose Molina will catch Burnett again. Hideki Matsui remains the DH, which is a wise move since he destroys lefties. This will allow the Yankees to insert Jorge Posada directly into the game when Molina is inevitably pinch hit for at some point. Molina will bat ninth, with Nick Swisher taking Posada's customary six spot and Melky Cabrera moving up to eighth.

This will be an interesting one. If the weather doesn't postpone the game, it still has the potential to delay the game deep into the night and to be factor for pitchers, fielders, and batted balls. Saunders, coming off a lackluster season, gets the Game Two nod over ALDS Game Two starter Jered Weaver and over a better lefty in Scott Kazmir. Jose Molina once again plays over the far offensively-superior Jorge Posada. MLB, Scioscia, and Girardi are all taking their turns rolling the dice tonight. Here's hoping that the Yankees are the ones with the hot hand.

You know the gambler he rides, rides on a fool's train
Trading silver for gold
But his luck will change, time takes its toll
On a gambler's roll

Yanks Win A Chiller

On a cold and blustery night in the Bronx, where the temperature hovered in the low 40's and the wind whipped in from center field, no one could have been very comfortable. Some players donned hats with earflaps and thermal facemasks while fans watched in bundled up from the stands in knit caps, parkas and ponchos. It wasn't the type of night where balls are going to travel very far. With the team's respective aces on the mound, it had the markings of a pitcher's duel, but unfortunately for John Lackey, his defense didn't hold up their end of the bargain.

The Angel's fielding miscues started early on. Derek Jeter, who had made a living of swinging early in the count this year, uncharacteristically took the first 5 pitches against Lackey to lead off the home half of the 1st, ultimately working an 8 pitch at bat before knocking an opposite field single. Johnny Damon followed with one of his own - a broken bat flare to left - that allowed Jeter to advance to third base while Damon took second on an errant throw by Juan Rivera. Mark Teixiera popped out for an unproductive out but A-Rod knocked in Jeter with a sac fly to center.

With Damon still on second, Lackey busted Hideki Matsui in on the hands, getting him to pop the ball straight in the air towards third base, in between Chone Figgins and Eric Aybar. The ball hung in the air interminably and at some point they both lost track of it; looking at each other for a split second, before realizing that neither was looking at the ball.

It landed just in front of Aybar, allowing Damon to trot home easily on what was absurdly scored a single for Hideki Matsui. It might have been the highest single ever. John Lackey could not be reached for comment.

The Yanks left the bottom of the first with a 2-0 lead which proved to be enough for the man of the night, CC Sabathia. The Big Fellas' only hiccup came in the 4th inning when Vlad Guerrero absolutely ripped a ball to left-center and settled into his home run trot, only to see the ball bounce on the warning track. He ended up on second and was singled home with two outs by Kendry Morales two batters later.

The big man made a brilliant play in the 5th, fielding a well-placed bunt down the third baseline by Torii Hunter and firing to first. Teixeira made a great stab, falling off the base into a split but hanging onto the bag with his toe just long enough. Hunter thought he was safe and Mike Scioscia came out to argue, but replays (and the picture below) conclusively showed ball-in-glove and foot-on-bag.

The Yanks responded promptly. With men on first and second in the 5th, Hideki Matsui slapped a fastball from Lackey, splitting the left and center fielders before dying on the outfield grass just short of the warning track. Johnny Damon was ticketed for home already ticketed for home, but Juan Rivera slid towards the ball in a clumsy attempt to field it, which A-Rod picked up as he was passing second base. Alex put his head down rounding third and blew through a stop sign from Rob Thompson. The ball arrived before him and he collided hard with Halos' catcher Jeff Mathis, knee squaring up to jaw, bowling him over but failing to knock the ball loose. Replays showed that Mathis never applied the tag but it's a play would have been next to impossible for the ump to have called correctly.

In the 6th, Melky Cabrera reached on a walk, moved to second on another defensive mistake by the Angels, this one an errant pickoff throw by Lackey. Jeter followed with a sharp liner up the middle which should have produced a close play at the plate with Torii Hunter coming on. However, continuing the tragedy of errors, Hunter let the ball bounce over him, there was no throw and Jeter took second in the process.

Meanwhile, CC Sabathia had just settled into his groove. After giving up the run in the fourth, he allowed only one of the final 14 batters he faced to reach base; Kendry Morales with a walk in the 7th. That was only the second time Sabathia reached a 3 ball count all night and the first walk he issued this postseason.

As the cliche goes, the Angels did a lot to beat themselves in the field. But Sabathia did a lot to beat them on the mound, too, which the fans acknowledged at various points, chanting "C-C". Carsten Charles held them to four hits and one walk while striking out 7 in 8 innings The Yankees bullpen was warming at times, but Sabathia did not need to be relieved until the 9th.

Mariano Rivera issued a rare walk to Torii Hunter to begin the inning, but then recorded three straight outs including a swinging strikeout of Vlad Guerrero during which the once-deadly slugger looked like he was swinging underwater.

The Yanks took the 1-0 series lead, but a massive storm system looms east of NYC surrounding Game 2 of the series in a literal cloud of uncertainty. It could be a while before more baseball is played, but the wait won't seem as bad with a "W" under the belt.