Saturday, May 8, 2010

Game 29: Been Caught Stealing

In the very first game of the 2008 season, Jorge Posada injured his shoulder when he slipped on a slick home plate while making a throw. It kept him out of the lineup for a few days, but he eventually returned and attempted to play through it. He landed on the DL from late April through early June, returned, then eventually underwent season ending surgery in mid-July.

While Posada was still trying to grind it out, the Yankees played an early season series at Fenway. In the series finale, the same game in which Phil Hughes turned in the poor start we referenced in yesterday's preview, Posada got the start as the DH. But as the Yankees found themselves trailing in the eighth inning and with an opportunity for a rally at hand, Joe Girardi pinch ran for Jose Molina. When the bottom half of the frame came around, Posada was forced behind the plate for the first time in five days. He was under strict orders not to throw.

It's doubtful that the Red Sox knew that, but it's obvious that they knew that Posada - never blessed with great run-stopping abilities in the first place - was nursing a shoulder issue. Coco Crisp led off with a single, and despite two throws to first, promptly stole second on the first pitch. Later in the inning Dustin Pedroia singled. He too successfully took off for second on the very first pitch. The Sox ran in every opportunity they had in Posada's one inning behind the plate. It was painful to watch.

Last year the Sox continued to run on the Yankees going 16 for 21 in stolen base attempts, including a curtain call inducing swipe of home by Jacoby Ellsbury on April 26th.

The Red Sox have had their own problems controlling the running game in recent years. They've allowed the most steals in the AL this year with 42, 55% more than the second place team, and are next to last in CS%. In 2009 they allowed the most stolen bases in the league, and were dead last again in CS%. The second to last place team was closer to fourth place, percentage wise, than they were to the Red Sox.

Just like the Sox weren't shy about exploiting Posada's weakness to years ago, the Yankees have taken advantage of their opportunities to run on the Sox of late. In the season's opening series they went four for five in stolen base attempts, including a steal of home by Brett Gardner. Last year, they were successful in 19 of 21 attempts against Boston, including a merciless seven for seven against Jason Varitek in a late September game.

The tide of The Series That Shall Not Be Named turned on a stolen base, and in the years since the two clubs have taken virtually every opportunity to run on each other. Why should they, when virtually no one is caught stealing?

Taking the mound today for the Sox is a guy who has been caught stealing, but not on the base paths. Clay Buchholz was notoriously arrested in 2004 for swiping and selling 29 laptops from his town's middle school. After bouncing up and down for parts of three seasons, Buchholz finally established himself in the Sox rotation during the second half of last year. He's pitched well through his first five starts, sporting a 2.97 ERA but his high WHIP (1.42) as well as his FIP (3.11) and xFIP (4.03) suggest he's gotten a bit lucky. His strand rate and BABIP are not out of the ordinary, but his HR/FB of just 3.3% is not something that will hold up over time. Buchholz has made three previous starts against the Yanks, two in 2008 and one last year, and they've touched him up the tune of 18 hits, 2 homers, 9 walks, and 10 runs in 15.2 innings.

CC Sabathia takes the hill for the Yankees. He has no known history of thievery, but he was a pretty angry guy yesterday. First, he lashed out at his fellow "209" resident Dallas Braden, calling him a clown and saying his argument was tired. Then, as Josh Beckett buzzed batter after batter in the sixth, CC got on the top step of the dugout to make his displeasure known. Sabathia has been excellent through his first six starts, with his only poor outing of the season coming when he allowed five runs through five and a third on Opening Night in Fenway. He's been masterful since then, with a 1.93 ERA over his last 37.1 IP. If there's any blemish on the Big Fella's record so far it's that both his walk and strikeout rates are as poor as they've been since 2003. In his first season as a Yankee, Sabathia posted a 2.22 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 31:6 K;BB ratio in 28.1 IP against Boston.

The weather was pretty nasty in Boston earlier today. The tarp came off the field, then was placed back on, but word is the game will start on time as it appears things will be nice enough come game time. What started as miserable morning here in CT has turned into a beautiful afternoon, so perhaps Beantown will have similar luck.

Today's game is on FOX with our friends Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. Perhaps we'll get lucky and someone will steal their microphones. Lastly, in the event this game runs late, Joe West wanted me to tell you all that coverage will switch to FX at 7:30 due to FOX's NASCAR commitment. This happened during that April series two years ago and FOX made the switch without any advanced notice. I was none too pleased about that.

I've been caught stealing once when I was five
I enjoy stealing, it's just as simple as that
Well, it's just a simple fact
When I want something I don't want to pay for it

I walk right through the door
Walk right through the door
Hey all right, if I get by, it's mine.
Mine all mine!

Where to begin? As speculated this morning, Nick Johnson has been placed on the DL and Kevin Russo has been recalled. Jorge Posada is not in the lineup for the fourth straight day, and the sixth time in the last nine games. Word is he would have played today if not for the potential for a slick field. He's supposed to return tomorrow, but we've been hearing that for a few days now.

Robinson Cano was not in the initial line up, but after taking BP and the team decided he can give it a go. The order is looking pretty weak, so getting Cano back in there is an added bonus. Given his knee he'll DH in place of Marcus Thames, and Ramiro Pena will stay at second base. In Nick Johnson's absence it's Brett Gardner, not Nick Swisher, moving up to the two spot. Part of that is because the order needs Swish's pop in the middle with Posada and Granderson out. Most of it is because of all the stolen base stuff we talked about above. With the lineup a bit weaker than usual today, I expect the Yankees to try to use their legs to make up for some of the missing offense.

Johnson's MRI revealed an inflamed tendon in his wrist. He received a cortisone shot and will be out "several weeks". Commence gnashing of teeth and start the "Bring Up Montero" campaign.
Derek Jeter SS
Brett Gardner CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano DH
Nick Swisher RF
Randy Winn LF
Francisco Cervelli C
Ramiro Pena 2B

Red Sox:
This isn't exactly the "A" lineup for the Sox either. With a lefty on the mound, the Artist Formerly Known as Big Papi hits the bench in favor of Mike Lowell. Ditto for Jeremy Hermida, who gives way to Bill Hall in left field.
Marco Scutaro SS
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Victor Martinez C
Fack Youkilis 1B
Mike Lowell DH
J.D. Drew RF
Adrian Beltre 3B
Bill Hall LF
Darnell McDonald CF

Morning M*A*S*H Report

A special Saturday good morning Fackers. How you feeling today? Shaking out the cobwebs from a rough Friday? If you are, you're in good company. Not with me of course, but with the Yankees. Except they're not hungover (not to my knowledge at least); it's more like death by a thousand paper cuts for them. Two more injuries last night to add to the ever-growing list of the walking wounded. Let's get you caught up on the comings and goings.

Firstly, before the game, the club made it official: Andy Pettitte will be skipped on his next turn through the rotation. Pettitte wasn't happy about it, and that's understandable. But at nearly 38 years old and with a history of arm problems, there's no need to tempt fate in May. When Pettitte got a little ornery about being skipped due to injury last year, we speculated that it might have something to do with the innings and roster incentives in his contract. His contract has no such clauses this year, so there's question about the lefty's motives this time around.

As expected, Sergio Mitre will make a spot start in Pettitte's stead. However, Mitre will start Monday, pushing Javier Vazquez into Pettitte's slot on Tuesday. The off day on Thursday ensures that Mitre, who threw 29 pitches in 2.1 innings of relief on Wednesday, will make hist start on a full four days of rest. Pushing Vazquez back lines him up to start the first interleague game at Citi Field on May 21st. Vazquez is the most experienced hitter amongst the Yankees' starters, and he's posted fair batting numbers over his career.

As we mentioned in yesterday's preview, Mitre's spot start has left the bullpen a man short. As such, outfielder Greg Golson was optioned out before yesterday's game, replaced by Romulo Sanchez. The big righty has been knocked around through five starts in Scranton this year. He was Scranton's scheduled starter last night; Kei Igawa got the spot start in his stead.

I understand the desire to have a full bullpen for a series at Fenway. However, even before last night's injuries, the Yankees had a short roster with the injuries to Pettitte and Jorge Posada. They also have their three best starters lined up for the series. Is sending out yet another position player in exchange for thirteenth pitcher really the best use of the roster spot?

That question becomes all the more pressing in light of the injuries the Yankees suffered during last night's game. In the fifth inning, Marcus Thames pinch hit for designated hitter Nick Johnson. Not because the Sox brought a lefty into the game, they hadn't. But because Johnson has been battling a sore wrist for sometime and felt that he had no strength in it. As Jay pointed out in the recap, given Johnson's injury history - including missing much of 2008 with a wrist injury - many fans are already calling the Johnson signing a bust. Let's wait at least until his MRI results come in until we start jumping to conclusions.

In the sixth inning, as Josh Beckett's control abandoned him, Robinson Cano took a nasty HBP on the inside of his left knee. He hobbled down the line to take his base, but lasted just a single pinch before he signaled for a pinch runner.

Johnson will be DL'd today. But with Cano likely unavailable, the club will recall another infielder rather than someone to replace Johnson as DH. Scranton infielders Kevin Russo, Reegie Corona, and Eduardo Nunez are all on the 40 man roster. Speculation is that Russo will get the nod and I think that's the right move. Not only has Russo been on fire of late (.357/.400/.548 over his last ten games), he's made appearances in center field and right field over the last week. He's likely the best offensive option of the three infielders at AAA, and with the Yankee outfield still being short in the wake of the Granderson injury and Golson demotion, Russo's versatility could be of value at this point as well.

Once Cano is back to full strength, the extra infielder will likely be sent down in favor of a better bat. That bat will most likely be Juan Miranda, who's hitting .267/.369/.465 at Scranton. However, Miranda has missed the last two games after taking an HBP on the elbow Tuesday. Apparently the injury bug has made it's way to Scranton as well.

I'm sure the picture will be a bit clearer closer to game time. We'll have further updates in the preview.