Friday, May 28, 2010

Games 47-50: Let The Good Times Roll

[First, a quick housekeeping note. As Matt mentioned, he's going to be heading down to South Carolina for a wedding this weekend and in addition, I have a golf tournament that's going to last at least two days. As a result, the content is going to be sparse at best around here. We know from previous experience that web traffic plummets during holiday weekends, especially during the summer, and in the interest of making the most out of the next few days, we aren't going to be posting much or possibly anything at all. Unless something (awesome/incredible/tragic) happens or Matt gets really bored down in South Cackalacka, we'll probably just recap the happenings of the weekend with a wrap-up on Tuesday.

Since you will likely be BBQing or spending time on the lake or playing horseshoes or doing whatever it is that you folks do when it's nice out and you don't have to work, I doubt you'll really care, but we just wanted to leave something like this on top of the site in our absence. Anyway, on to the regular preview....]

There are no shortage of reasons why the Yankees went 7-11 over the last 18 games. We covered them so much here that I'm not even going to link to our previous posts. In short, injuries, the inability to drive in runners, poor starting pitching and sub-par work out of the bullpen (among other minor issues), all cost the Yanks a game or two each in aggregate over the last three weeks. But the perhaps the biggest reason for their Spring swoon was their opponents.

Of those dozen and a half games, six of them were against the Twins, four against the Tigers, three each against the Red Sox and the Mets, and two against the Rays. As of right now, every one of those teams has a winning record and the only one who isn't within two games of their division lead is Boston, who are two back of the Yanks.

Conversely, the Bombers have a relatively soft set of opponents on the horizon. The next 16 games (seven of which are at home) are comprised of four against the Indians starting tonight, a home and away with the Orioles, three against the Blue Jays, and another three against the Astros. Toronto has the same record as the Red Sox but the other three clubs occupy the basements of their respective divisions.

Conventional wisdom says that you can tell what a team is made of against the better teams that they face, but in this case, I think we'll have a better idea of what kind of Yankee team this is based on how much ass they kick over this stretch. 10-6 or better and I think we can deem the stretch successful; 9-7 or worse and I think the Yanks have some soul searching to do.

Fortunately, the Yanks will take a small step back towards full strength tonight when Curtis Granderson returns after damn near a month on the DL. It's hard to say that the Yanks missed a guy who was hitting .225/.311/.375 when he went down, but anything that keeps Randy Winn out of the line up can only be a good thing.

There will be a return of a different kind this evening as well. When the Yankees parted ways with Shelley Duncan back in January, I said:
The Indians visit the Bronx for a four game set starting May 28th. Hope to see you there, Shelley.
Well, don't you know, Shelley was called up last week and will likely see some playing time this weekend. It will be good to see Duncan getting some Major League playing time and if he gets himself a couple of hits, I won't hesitate to crack a smile.

Although summer doesn't officially begin on the calendar until June 21st, Memorial Day Weekend is the jump off point in my book. This is when the good stuff starts really happening. Hopefully this is when it starts to come together for the Yankees as well.

Since we aren't going to be around, here are four versions of this song, one for each game of the series.

Phil Hughes (5-1, 2.72) vs. Fausto Carmona (4-2, 3.45)
7:05 p.m on YES

UPDATE from Matt 4:05 PM FRI: Randy Winn has been designated for assignment to make room for the reutrning Curtis Granderson. I can't say I disagree with this move, but I am surprised that the Yankees made it at this time. They must really like what they've seen from Kevin Russo and must be confident enough in his ability to be the fourth outfielder.

Granderson returns to the lineup in the two spot. A-Rod gets the night off, so Robinson Cano hits clean up for the first time in his career. Francisco Cervelli gets his first off day since May 16th, further weakening the back of the lineup.
Jeter SS
Granderson CF
Teixeira 1B
Cano 2B
Swisher RF
Miranda DH
Gardner LF
Pena 3B
Moeller C

CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.86) vs. David Huff (2-6, 5.25)

1:05 PM on YES

[UPDATE from Matt 12:10 PM SAT: Alex Rodriguez and Francisco Cervelli return to the lineup after getting last night off. With a lefty on the mound Marcus Thames gets his first start since spraining his ankle last Wednesday. The lefty also lands Curtis Granderson on the bench just one day after his return. Kevin Russo plays left, Brett Gardner slides over to center, and Nick Swisher moves up to the two spot.
Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Marcus Thames DH
Francisco Cervelli C
Kevin Russo LF
Brett Gardner CF

A.J. Burnett (5-2, 3.55) vs. Justin Masterson (0-5, 6.13)
1:05 PM on YES

Andy Pettitte (6-1, 2.62) vs. Mitch Talbot (6-3, 3.73)

1:05 p.m on YES

Enjoy the weekend, Fackers. We'll be waiting for you on the other side.

Friday Grab Bag

At Big League Stew, Old Hoss Radbourn reviewed a book about himself. Unfortunately, it more closely resembles an actual book review than the fantastic musings of the legendary Twitter account, but it's still worth a read. That's old Charlie with the mustache on the right there, doing his best Kevin Youkilis impression.

Larry from Wezen-Ball's Tater Trot Tracker has been featured in such illustrious places as The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Fack Youk's linkarounds, but he has now he has really hit the big time. Tony Reali of Around The Horn brought it up on yesterday's show and Larry has the clip on his site to prove it. He was interviewed on an CBC radio broadcast for the posts he did on Charlie Brown's team's record and I'd bet you dollars to donuts that he's going to be on TV himself before the season is over.

I like Tim Marchman and understand that this is partially tongue-in-cheek, but come on, dude:
Is the pace at which the Yankees and Red Sox play baseball pathetic and embarrassing? Yes. Derek Jeter takes half a minute after every pitch to readjust his life giving glands, secure his gloves, check the seats for good looking women, read the defense, try to steal signs and so on, and he's probably not one of the five worst offenders on the two teams.
Jeter is scanning the seats for anyone who might be up to no good so he can foil their diabolical plots, just like any superhero worth his weight in salt would.

Speaking of Jeter, he talked to the WSJ about his approach to hitting, particularly when things aren't going well, and said he really doesn't think about what he's doing at the plate:
By his own admission, Mr. Jeter is not a true student of hitting. You will not find him in hitting coach Kevin Long's office too often, nor does he delve deeply into self-analysis. "I really don't dissect things like most people," he said.
It's kind of shocking to think that someone can just go up there without processing what they are doing but it made me think back to something that David Foster Wallace once said:

One more Jeter note: he doesn't use the internet? At all? I mean, I wouldn't expect him to go on read a bunch of stuff and waste his whole day on it like I do, but what about researching vacations or finding other ways to spend his copious amounts of money? For directions? To find a restaurant? EVERYONE USES THE INTERNET!

Tom Tango thinks Bryce Harper should blindfold himself and throw the steering wheel out the window. Not literally of course.

In his space in the NYT Bats Blog, Baseball-Reference's Sean Forman explains that having the last at bat isn't the home team's biggest advantage. Instead, it's the amount of extra base hits they amass. Just spitballin' here, but I'm guessing it's probably due to the visiting outfielder's unfamiliarity with the dimensions of the field and to a much lesser extent that hitters are better at finding the gaps at the place they play most often, whether it be consciously or subconsciously.

Does the fact that the Mets swept the Phillies make you feel any better about the Yanks losing two out of three to them? Me neither.

Disappointed by the Phillies anemic offensive output in the first game and a half of the series, Meech from the Fightins went on a hunger strike in the fifth inning of Wednesday night's game which will supposedly last until the Phils score a run. He's going to have to wait until at least 7:00 tonight for a reprieve. Chris Volstad is starting for the Marlins, so fortunately for Meech's health and enjoyment of his Memorial Day weekend, it shouldn't be too long after that.

Although the Yanks won't be visiting it against until October at the earliest, it's still worth reading David Brown's review of Target Field. The wood mural of Rod Carew on the left might be the greatest backdrop of a bar that I've ever seen.

While perusing Twitter yesterday, Rob Neyer spotted an interesting couple of tweets from Rangers' pitcher C.J. Nitkowski. It turns out that C.J. saw Ted Lilly doing something illegal on the mound. Casey Blake noticed from first base and was angry but the broadcast crew didn't pick up on it at first.

Since then, Lilly was questioned about it and acknowledged the possibility that he might have been ahead of the rubber but said that he "wasn't thinking about it" (which means he probably was).

Not baseball related, but this converstion between Ben Stiller and Mickey Rooney pretty much sums up Twitter insomuch as I understand it. (via Aaron Gleeman's always excellent Link-o-Rama)

Since I love podcasts, here is the link to the latest and greatest from the excellent one produced by Pitchers & Poets. Here's an older episode in which Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs is the guest, if you need more listening material to get you through the day.

We talked about John Smoltz's failed quest to qualify for the U.S. Open a while back but it looks like Tony Romo actually got through his Local Qualifier with some late-round heroics that put him right on the cut line with four other golfers. Romo flubbed a chip on the first hole of the playoff (sound familiar?) but managed to save par and sneak in to the Sectional Qualifier with another par on the second sudden death hole.

This is just about the most over the top themed wedding that I've ever seen. Even if you and your spouse really loved baseball and had unlimited time and money, could you see yourselves going to that length?

Minor League News And Notes

Good morning Fackers. Friday at last. T-minus eight hours until that sweet, glorious three day holiday weekend. I'll be wasting mine driving thirty one hours roundtrip to Charleston, SC and back for a wedding which I have no interest in attending. People who get married on holiday weekends should be forced to honeymoon in Guantanamo Bay.

To make matters worse, there will be no dinner served, so I'm sure it'll be cash bar as well (facepalm). The icing on the cake: the Charleston Riverdogs are out of town, so there'll be no checking in the Yankees low A affiliate for me. On the bright side, a wedding south of the Mason-Dixon line is all the excuse I need to wear a seersucker suit.

On to the minor league notes:
Curtis Granderson completed his minor league rehab assignment in the first game of Scranton's doubleheader yesterday. He played center field for all seven innings and went 0 for 2 with a walk yesterday, finishing his stint at 4 for 16 with 2 walks and no extra base hits over five games. He left for New York after the game and will be activated for tonight's series opener against Cleveland.

Recently signed Tim Redding has been named Scranton's starter for tomorrow's game, bumping Jason Hirsh from the rotation. Redding was signed more than two weeks ago, I'm surprised it took this long for the organization to assign him to an affiliate. As for Hirsh, he was a bit stunned by the move, but as Axisa noted in last night's DoTF, this move could be a positive sign for Hirsh. With Alfredo Aceves' immediate future a question mark, the organization could be grooming Hirsh for a long/middle relief role.

David Winfree has been absent from the Scranton line up since last Thursday. Yesterday word finally leaked that Winfree has been out with a sore left wrist but Scranton's intern Conor Foley tells RAB's Mike Axisa that Winfree should be back soon. Winfree was hitting a solid .283/.314/.455 while seeing time in the outfield corners and at first before hitting the shelf.

While Winfree's been out, fellow outfielder/first baseman Chad Huffman has been heating up, going .333/.405/.394 over his last ten games, running his line for the season to .285/.355/.445.

Speaking of wrist injuries, Trenton outfielder Dan Brewer rolled his wrist while making a diving catch last night. Hmm. Suspended game and an injury? Just like the big club does it. After the initial concern, Brewer stayed in the game. He's quietly putting together a nice season, with a decent walk rate and 16 steals in 17 attempts.

The bigger story in Trenton last night was Hector Noesi's second AA start. This one went much better than his first, as he allowed one single, one walk, and five strikeouts through three scoreless innings.

We're a day late on this one, but Trenton third baseman Brandon Laird hit for the cycle Wednesday, culminating the feat with a walkoff homer. Laird is posting an impressive .305/.356/.531 thus far, and new Pending Pinstripes contributor Josh points out that when adjusted for park, Laird's line is even more impressive. Josh also recognizes that Laird is pretty well blocked by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, and John Nalbone expands on that, noting Laird is Rule 5 eligible after this season, which will force the Yankees to make some decisions about his future in the organization.

Also out of Trenton, catcher Neall French has retired. French was Trenton's third string catcher and had spent the entire year on the DL. With the catching depth in the Yankee system he likely saw the writing on the wall.

While one minor leaguer was leaving, another was returning. The organization brought back Rudy Guillen, who hasn't appeared in organized ball since 2007. The Yankees signed Guillen out of the Dominican Republic in 2000. After spending his career as outfielder, he made three appearances as a pitcher prior to washing out of the organization in 2007. It appears he'll be an outfielder again this time, and while Baseball America sees some potential left in him, it's going to be mighty hard to kick start a career at 26 after three years out of the game.

Andrew Brackman tossed six shutout innings last night, giving up six hits and two walks while striking out seven. Over his last four starts, Brackman has surrendered just six runs, five earned, over 22.1 IP (2.01 ERA). He's allowed just 19 hits and only four walks in that time, while striking out 19. It's a small sample and nothing to get too excited over. But with the struggles Brackman has had, and with Jeremy Bleich facing surgery, and with Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos yet to pitch this year, it's great to see one of the Yankees' high ceiling pitching prospects performing well.

Game 46 Recap

Not much good to say about this one.

Offensively, the Yanks managed nine hits off of Nick Baker Blackburn but didn't walk once, allowing him to cruise through seven innings of two run ball in just 92 pitches. They mustered only one baserunner after he left the game - a single by A-Rod in the top of the eighth. It was the first time all year they went a full game without working a walk and they only did it six times last year, going 2-4 in those contests. And in those two wins, they hit a combined eight home runs. So there are ways to win without walking, but it involves delivering a few knockout blows, not a pair of doubles like they did tonight.

Granted, Nick Blackburn is notoriously stingy with the base on balls, but not earning one free pass all game is not a recipe for success for the Bombers.

Despite the continued futility of the Yanks' bats - just six runs in this series and six straight games without scoring more that four runs - this one is on Javy Vazquez. The Twins slapped Javy around for five runs on eight hits, an incredible six of them going for extra bases. Luckily he was able to strand runners (five in his 5 2/3 innings) or else this would have been a much shorter outing.

I didn't have very high expectations for Javy considering he was coming off that finger injury and the Twins have an extremely left-handed-heavy lineup, but this was particularly bad. Javy managed to keep the ball inside of Target Field for the most part, with the exception of massive home run by Jason Kubel in the fifth, but he induced just two strikeouts and five groundballs compared to ten flyballs and seven line drives.

Vazquez just didn't fool anyone tonight. Out of the 112 pitches he threw, only four were swinging strikes. Similar to the Yankees not working walks, there might be a fine line where a pitcher can consistently induce weak contact without missing bats, but typically, if guys can get a piece that often, they are going to be squaring up with regularity.

Chad Gaudin made his Yankee re-debut tonight and allowed a three run shot to Jason Kubel (although Chan Ho Park put two of the runners on for him). Including the one against Vazquez earlier in the game and the one off Mariano Rivera the weekend before last, Kubel has hit three homers off of the Yanks in his last three games against them.

In more amusing news, during the most pointless segment of this and every Yankee broadcast, some drunk dude who was standing behind Kim Jones with the broom from a dustpan hung around his neck decided to take a bite out of her cold, prop pork chop. So there was that.

This game really sucked, mostly because of Vazquez's regression to his early year performance, but the Yanks still took two out of three from a very good team on the road. Next up, they get the Indians for a 4 game, wraparound, holiday weekend set in the Bronx starting with a game a 7:05 tomorrow night.