Thursday, October 29, 2009

World Series Game 2: Idiot Wind

Here's a new one guys, Joe Girardi is driving us insane before the game even starts!

When Francisco Cervelli was dropped from the World Series roster, I said that we could "almost certainly infer" that Jorge Posada would be catching A.J. Burnett in Game 2. Earlier today I threw out the option of benching Nick Swisher and starting Brett Gardner in center field but said that I was "certain Joe Girardi won't do it".

Well friends, Joe Girardi certainly did remove Nick Swisher from the line up, but in favor of Jerry Hairston, Jr., not Gardner. Why, you might ask? Because Hairston totally crushes Pedro! In 31 career plate appearances, he has a line of .370/.433/.519. Pretty awesome, right?

/touches earpiece

What's that? Ah, I've just been told that the last time Hairston faced him was in two thousand fucking four when Pedro was a completely different pitcher. Since then, Hairston made over 1606 plate appearances for four different teams. But don't worry, those 31 PAs are totally relevant.

Hairston's a pretty good defender, but he's not about to take over center field and allow Melky Cabrera to play right, thereby shoring up two positions like a certain gritty, guttier option would have. (By the way, Hairston has only started one game in RF all year). He's not going to steal bases like Gardner theoretically could either. He's also 10 for his last 65, for what it's worth.

I was semi-in-favor-of benching Swish this morning so I guess I can't complain too much. But to do it in favor Hairston doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Even Eric Hinske, who figures to get some ABs in Philly and might benefit from a tune up would be a better choice. The Molina decision, on the other hand, doesn't make any fucking sense at all.

One might have thought that after the first inning of Game 5 in Anaheim, the sacred union of Burnett and Molina would have been all but dissolved. After all, Burnett gave up 4 runs in the first frame without recording an out and with Molina catching him. After Posada pinch hit for Molina, he and Burnett worked well enough to record two scoreless innings. A.J. gave up two baserunners in the seventh inning who eventually came around to score, but some of that falls on the relievers. Or at the very least, you could conclude that the catcher isn't the problem, it's Burnett. And then simply insert the better offensive option behind the plate.

Now everyone enters the game with a prepackaged scapegoat. If Burnett fares poorly, Girardi should have had Posada behind the plate. If the offense is dead and Jerry Hairston goes 0-4 with 3 Ks, Joe should have left Swisher in. He's inadvertently putting more pressure on his players because they now have to come up big to validate his inexplicable gutsy decisions. Ask Joe Torre how moving A-Rod down to 8th in the order worked out for him.

Oh yeah, Pedro is starting for the Phillies, but we already went over that.

As Jorge Posada said before Game 2 of the ALDS "we'd better win". Because if the Yankees don't, the blame is going to be aimed squarely at Joe Girardi. No pressure, Yanks.

People see me all the time and they just can't remember how to act,
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts.
Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at,
I couldn't believe after all these years, you didn't know me better than that.

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth,
Blowing down the backroads headin' south.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You're an idiot, babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

Who's Afraid Of Pedro Martinez?

Let's be honest, a lot more of us than would be had the Yankees won last night. Even the people who aren't worried at least realize the possibility that Pedro could come up with a resplendent performance against the Yanks at a very inopportune time for them.

Pedro has always been a bit of an enigma. A hot-headed, head-hunting control pitcher. A strikeout artist who rarely walks guys. A power pitcher with great feel. A little guy with a big arm.

The Yankees know him all to well, as they saw the most of Pedro when he was at his best. Save for this last year in Montreal and his first in Flushing, Pedro's prime fell squarely during his time with the Red Sox. From 1998-2004, which also nicely encapsulates the height of the so-called Steroid Era, Pedro had an ERA of 2.52 (190 ERA+) and struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings while walking only 2, good for an otherworldly K/BB ratio of 5.45.

During that time, he threw 189 regular season innings against the Yankees - when they were also quite excellent - to a 3.20 ERA and 11-11 record. He faced them 6 times in the postseason (5 starts) and in 34.1 IP, he had a 5.01 ERA and gave up 32 hits and 13 walks while striking out 42. Like the regular season, he had as many losses as wins (3-3).

Of course, that was a pretty long time ago. Since then, Pedro moved to New York but has only pitched against the Yankees four times in four years. We could look at those 27 2/3 innings but they aren't going to tell us anymore about what he's likely to do against the Yankees tonight than his numbers against them with the Red Sox. Those four outings came against mostly different hitters and were separated by weeks, months, years, shoulder surgeries, and cockfights in the Dominican Republic.

His numbers this regular season were reasonably good but Will from IIATMS thinks that he might have gotten a little lucky to have so few line drives end up as hits and to leave so many runners on base. The biggest cause for concern is that Pedro had an excellent start against the Dodgers in the NLCS, which, according to game score was the second best postseason start of his career. He threw 7 innings of two hit, no walk ball while striking out three and needed only 87 pitches to pull it off. But as previously mentioned, that was in Southern California under perfect conditions, against an already inferior line up with a pitcher in it.

Pedro no longer has a dominant fastball, but still throws it 60% of the time. He's got a curveball and a change up that he mixes in, but neither are particularly formidable. The man from Manoguayabo survives mostly on smoke and mirrors, changing speeds and locations. That's how Cliff Lee did it last night, but Pedro will be working with far less in the way of velocity and movement.

Perhaps facing Pedro will seem easy after having to deal with Lee last night. Or maybe the Yankees will again be baffled by someone who is able to throw one of several pitches basically anywhere in the count. Time will tell.

Anyone afraid?

This Is Not The Regular Season!

As we covered in yesterday's roster changes, Francisco Cervelli was removed from the Yankees roster for the World Series, leaving the Yankees with a more conventional two catcher roster construction. Given the impact this move has on the Yankees' roster flexibility, we assumed that Jorge Posada would now be catching A.J. Burnett. Then came Joe Girardi's pre-game media session yesterday:
“It’s something (catching Molina) that we’ll discuss,” he said. “But as I’ve said all along, it’s worked pretty well. And in the course of the season you go with two catchers all the time. I’m still comfortable using Molina, and if I have to, pinch hit Jorge.”
/holds breath
//counts to ten

Where to begin on this one? Joe Girardi did some things this regular season that pissed me off. He has made some decisions this post-season that I thought were the wrong ones to make. At the same time, he's taken some heat that he probably didn't deserve. This latest comment has got my blood up again.

Here are some other things that you do in the course of the season:
  • You use five starters, but I haven't seen Joba Chamberlain before the seventh inning, Chad Gaudin in anything but mop up duty, or Sergio Mitre anywhere in the tri-state area during the post-season.

  • You (supposedly) give A-Rod a day off once a week. But he's played every inning of every post-season game, including the one that was safe enough for Chad Gaudin to pitch.

  • You give injury prone veterans like Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui a day off every so often to keep them fresh, but they've started every game of the playoffs.

  • You keep Matsui and his balky knees out of the field all season long, but you don't rule out using him in the field in Games Three through Five.

  • You give a slumping player like Nick Swisher a day off when he's in a four for thirty two slump, but he too has started every game.

  • You don't use Mariano Rivera for 4+ out saves everyday, but he's averaging four outs per appearance in the post-season and has two outings of two plus innings.
And I'm not remotely suggesting that Girardi should have done otherwise on any of the six above points. What I am trying to say is that when it comes to line ups or certain pitching moves in the post-season, the decision making process is often quite different than in the regular season. Just because Jose Molina would get a start each time through the rotation in the regular season does not mean he should do so in the World Series.

The Yankees are in an 0-1 hole; starting Molina tonight would be borderline suicidal. Yet Girardi was non-committal about who would catch when making his post-game comments last night.

I was dubious of Molina's ability to coax a better game out of A.J. Burnett to begin with. Burnett's performance in Game Five of the ALDS only shoots more holes in that logic. At this point, I'm diametrically opposed to the idea of Molina behind the plate at any point unless it's in the event of an injury or a blow out. If the Yankees choose to go with a three man rotation, Burnett's second start would be at Citizens Bank Park. If Molina were to start that game the Yankees line up would feature what amounts to two automatic outs at the bottom of the order.

Part of me feels bad to hammer on points like this with the Yankees being in the World Series, but poor decisions like these can be the difference between winning and losing. Girardi is free to make whichever choices he wishes, but please don't insult my intelligence by trying to defend an unorthodox move as something that would be done in the regular season.

Nick Swisher Futility Update

In some ways it's a little unfair to single one person out after and impotent offensive output like last night, but this has been a long time coming for Nick Swisher.

It's not that Swish is having bad luck at the plate, hitting balls hard but having them find defenders. He's having poor at bats, not working walks and missing hittable pitches. In his three at bats last night, he popped out softly to first, flew out softly to right and struck out looking on a change up right down the middle in the 8th inning.

In the first two at bats, Lee threw a lot of tough pitches, staying away from Swisher or keeping it below his knees. But in the third one, six out of the seven pitches he threw were directly in the middle of the strikezone (follow the link for higher resolution):

Swish was even given a generous ball on the second pitch of the at bat - the green square which was clearly high enough and right down the pike. So what did Swisher do with the five (really 6) pitches that were in his - or Major League hitter's - wheelhouse? He took three for strikes (and one for a ball) and fouled the other two off.

You don't take three four strikes in those respective locations in one at bat unless you are completely lost at the plate and are simply resorting to guessing. You don't foul the other two off unless your rhythm and timing are out of whack.

It was as if Lee & Ruiz had figured out that Swisher wasn't going to hit the ball no matter where it was and decided to just lay it right down the middle.

Yes, it's one at bat, but it's emblematic of how awful Swisher has been since Game 2 of the ALDS. He got a great pitch to hit in the last at bat of Game 5 out in Anaheim from Brain Fuentes and couldn't do anything with that either. He's hitting .114/.205/.143 this postseason and still starting every game. He's walked three times and struck out 12. He has four hits in 40 plate appearances, only one of which has gone for extra bases.

Swisher is prone to extended slumps and he picked a pretty terrible time to have one of his worst of the year. The sporadic schedule has probably negatively affected as a switch hitter since he has two swings that he needs to keep working and both have seemingly fallen into a state of disrepair.

I'm well aware that this is going to sound stupid and I'm certain Joe Girardi won't do it, but what has to happen for Brett Gardner to start in center field and Melky Cabrera in right? How bad does Swisher have to be before you give him the night off? Because I don't think he could get much worse. At least the alternative would provide a significant defensive upgrade in the outfield, something that's not nearly as hit or miss from game to game.

With Pedro starting in Game 2, Swisher is going to have to spin around and hit from the left side of the plate. He hasn't batted lefty since Game 5 in Anaheim which was a full week ago, but again, pretty much anything would be an improvement over how he looked last night. In his career, he tends to get one base a little better against lefties and hit for power more successfully against RHP. Either of those things would be fantastic.

I would love for Swisher to go out tonight and jack a homer or drive in a couple of runs and shut me and his other critics up. But there are absolutely no signs that he will. You can say he's due, but that's not what his at bats are saying.

Please Nick, do something, anything before the postseason is over. Bad Octobers make for long offseasons. And it's going to be a couple days longer if you don't get it going soon.

Put To S-Lee-p

Good morning, Fackers. Probably safe to say that last night's game was not the note we were hoping to start the World Series on. If you were nodding off in the ninth inning, don't worry, you weren't alone. For the first time this postseason the Yankees are trailing in a series which, surprisingly, doesn't feel so good. Who knew?

It's one thing to scratch across a couple of runs and lose a tightly contested game. It's quite another to get smothered to death by a guy who, for all intents and purposes, threw a complete game shutout. Sure, the Yanks scratched a run in the ninth inning but it scored on a throwing error. I don't think we have to go too far out on the limb to give him credit for the ol' CG SHO.

The most aggravating thing was that Cliff Lee made it look so damn easy. CC Sabathia didn't pitch poorly last night after his rocky first inning, finishing with 2 runs in 7 frames. He made two mistakes to Chase Utley, but otherwise kept the Phillies in check.

However, up against Lee, Sabathia looked sloppy and inefficient. Anyone would have, really. Before the 9th inning, Lee gave up only four hits (Jeter's double in the third the one for extra bases) while striking out 8 and walking none. As Matt noted earlier, only three batters worked a three ball count against him all night. Sabathia had three in the first inning.

Lee was under control at all times last night, not so much pounding the strike zone as chipping away at the perimeter. It's an overused pitching cliche but I'm not sure there's a better way to describe Lee's performance last night than "sharp". He was locating with ease, snapping off filthy breaking balls and keeping batters off balance with a change up that sat about 11-12-13 MPH below his fastball.

Even with his historically great performance on the mound and the 10 strikeouts and no walks, the two lasting images from last night are going to be plays that he made in the field. In the 7th inning with Derek Jeter standing on first base, he caught a soft pop up from Johnny Damon with a limp wrist and didn't even look it into his glove, as if it had been thrown back to him by the catcher.

Whether that was contrived or not, at that moment, he looked like the most relaxed person in the stadium. I doubt it was designed to look to nonchalant, but it almost came across as smugly showing the Yankees up. Like he was their older brother and decided not to take it easy on them for once. "(Yawn) Are you guys going to start trying anytime soon?" Fine, act like it's a cakewalk, but remember that this is baseball and what looks easy today might look impossible the next time around.

That delicate little fluffy pop up by Damon was the culmination of 7 pitch at bat in which Johnny got ahead 2-0 but never got to that elusive three ball count. He fouled off three tough pitches and even when he was ahead in the count, it looked like he was behind. The Yankees were one swing away from tying the game but the way Lee was dealing, it felt like it would have had to been thrown by someone else.

The other memorable play came when Robinson Cano led off the 8th inning. The Phillies had just tacked on two more runs and led 4-0. Cano smoked the first pitch he saw right back up the middle but it hovered right a belt level for Lee, who nabbed it behind his back.

At that point, I think a lot of people realized it just wasn't the Yankees' night. A little higher or lower and Lee doesn't make that play. A little left or right and that's probably a base hit. But it bounced right into his glove.

With Lee's pitch count where it was, the Yankees were going to have to score at least 4 runs before making 5 outs against a guy that had shut them down all game. It wasn't happening. When a pitcher is throwing the ball like Lee was last night and having plays like that fall into place, there's not much you can do.

Tip your caps and all that. But Phillie fans, this is freaking creepy. And unless you are his mother, please don't refer to him my his full first, middle and last name. The dude's been on your team for like three months. Little weird. Just saying.

At least today isn't an off day.

Lee, Utley Spur Phils To Victory

Through the first seven innings, Game One unfolded like the pitchers' duel it promised to be. CC Sabathia needed just five pitches to retire the game's first two batters. The next two plate appearances however would foreshadow things to come. Sabathia got ahead of Chase Utley 1-2, but continued to pitch carefully to the Phillies' dangerous number three hitter. Utley worked a walk, then moved to third when Ryan Howard ripped a double on a fastball that was supposed to be outside, but caught too much of the plate. With first base open, Sabathia elected to be cautious with Jayson Werth, issuing a free pass to him as well. The Big Fella escaped the jam by getting Raul Ibanez to ground out, but the heart of the Phillies' order forced Sabathia to throw 19 pitches between the second and third outs.

CC cruised through the bottom of the Philadelphia order in the second, retiring the side on seven pitches. In the third, eleven more pitches got him two outs against the top of the order. Then Utley stepped to the plate for the second time. Again Sabathia jumped ahead 1-2, but Utley fought off three tough pitcher's pitches and worked the count full. On the ninth pitch of the at bat, a Sabathia fastball ticketed for the outside corner caught too much plate, just like against Howard in the first. This time Utley lofted it into the right field stands to give the Phils a one run lead.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee was dealing. He surrendered only a single to Jorge Posada the first time through the order, and stranded Derek Jeter after his two out double in the third. After a perfect fourth, Lee faced the minimum in the fifth. Hideki Matsui led off with a single, but thanks a bit of a baserunning blunder on his part and an astute play by Jimmy Rollins at short, he was erased on a double play.

Heading into the sixth, Sabathia had retired seven consecutive Phillies following the Utley HR, four by strikeout. Shane Victorino flew out to lead off the sixth, running Sabathia's streak to eight batters as Utley stepped back into the box. Once again CC got ahead, this time 0-2. Once again, Utley fought off a tough pitch, fouling away a 94 MPH fastball coming up and in on him. Sabathia came back with another heater, but left it over the heart of the plate and Utley absolutely destroyed it, depositing the ball in the right field bleachers for his second solo shot of the night.

By the time Sabathia exited the game following the seventh inning, he had surrendered just four hits and three walks while striking out six. But the two Utley home runs left CC and the Yanks down 2-0. They were still in the game, but Lee's continued dominance and a shaky pair of innings from the Yankee pen dug the hole deeper.

Phil Hughes began the eighth. Facing the top of the Phillies' order he issued back-to-back free passes to Rollins and Victorino. With the two big lefties due and Damaso Marte ready that was it for Hughes. As he departed he had a few choice words for home plate umpire Gerry Davis, and Pitch FX seems to indicate he had a legitimate gripe. Marte did his job, using a K to finally retire Utley then getting Howard to fly out. Marte gave way to David Robertson, who walked Jayson Werth with the aid of more questionable calls. With two outs and the bases loaded, Ibanez put a seeing eye single between Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira, making it 4-0.

Inexplicably, Brian Bruney was on the mound to begin the ninth. In his first appearance in twenty six days Bruney got a quick out, gave up a double, an infield single, and an RBI single to run it to 5-0. With Chase Utley coming up again Joe Girardi decided to either A). get Phil Coke some work or B). go back to matching up despite allowing the designated mop up man to start the inning. Coke got Utley to fly out, but a Ryan Howard double played the sixth run before Victorino got gunned down at the plate to end the inning.

The poor relief pitching and a few questionable calls from Davis didn't really matter. Cliff Lee was that good. He went the distance on just 122 pitches, scattered six hits - just one for extra bases, walked no one, and stuck out nine - eight swinging. He never threw more than 16 pitches in an inning, went to a three ball count on just three batters, and the only run he allowed was unearned thanks to an error on a would-be double play ball in the ninth.

The Yankee bats have been prone to periods of silence this post-season; the bullpen hasn't pitched the way most thought it would, and the Phillies have just captured home field advantage. Before anyone starts claiming the sky is falling, let's give credit where it's due. The Phillies are a good team. Chase Utley is one of the top hitters in baseball; Cliff Lee is one of the top pitchers. Sometimes you just get it handed to you. The good news is it's only one game, the first game at that, and that the Yankees are just as capable of doing tomorrow what the Phillies did today. We'll see you then.