Even though it's old news at this point, I still feel compelled to write a bit more about the firing, letting go, not re-signing, whatever you want to call it, of Dave Eiland.
I was a supporter of the move to make Eiland the pitching coach in 2008 with the signing of then new manager Joe Girardi. Eiland's claim to fame was his reportedly remarkable work and rapport with the Yankees' Big 3 pitching prospect trio of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. He had worked with them on their way up through the farm system and with the Yankees' plan being to make them the cornerstone of their rotation moving forward, it made sense to have the guy who had the most experience with them working as the pitching coach.
Fast forward to 2.5 years later and Kennedy is no longer with the organization after flaming out horribly in his first 2 stints with the Yanks and becoming part of the 3-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to the Bronx. Joba Chamberlain, who I will admit was completely fucked up by the team's horrific plan to manage his workload, has never come close to replicating the electric stuff he showed in 2007 nor has he ever shown the ability to handle the mental aspect of being an effective Major League pitcher as a starter or reliever. And Phil Hughes, after some injury setbacks, finally broke into the rotation this year and after a fantastic start, came back to Earth as the season wore on and teams began to pick up on his patterns.
As excited as I was about Eiland's hiring, I quickly tired of him through 2008 and 2009, as it seemed like he was always 2 batters too late in coming out to talk to pitchers who were struggling in outings and when he did come out he never seemed to say anything productive to them to make them change their approach or 2 batters too early to come out and talk to a pitcher who wasn't even in any real trouble. And after watching Joba continue to struggle this year, A.J. continue to be an inconsistent mess for the 2nd year in a row, and Javy never be able to find a way to work effectively with rapidly declining stuff (something Mike Mussina learned how to do in his final season in pinstripes), it was clear that Eiland had peaked and his time had come.
His pedigree with young pitchers got him the job, but it was clear that Eiland is not and never was the right man to get them over the hump and help bring them to that next level. Pitching in Triple-A versus pitching in the Majors is like night and day, and coaching is the same way. Eiland just didn't have the capacity and experience as a coach to translate the success his pitchers had at the lower levels to the Majors. Add to that his inability to work with veterans on the staff to overcome their issues and the fact that there is another bump crop of arms ready to possibly contribute in the next 2 years (Nova, Banuelos, Brackman, Betances, Phelps, Stoneburner, Warren, etc.) and it all added up to a pretty easy decision to me.
I believe Cash when he said Eiland's midseason personal absence didn't contribute to his being let go, and it shouldn't have. But when you look at his body of work as the pitching coach and consider the future, it's clear the Yankees need someone who can be more hands on and more helpful to both the younger arms on the team and the veterans. A.J. Burnett is a big cloud hanging over this rotation over the next 3 years with all the money he's making and Eiland had his time to crack the code that makes A.J. tick and couldn't do it. He had his time to turn Joba into something other than a hard throwing headcase who loses his composure at the first sign of trouble and he couldn't do it. He had his time to work with Phil Hughes to develop an effective 3rd pitch to make him a potential top flight starter and he couldn't do it. And the Yankees need somebody who can.
I wish Dave Eiland all the best and I hope whatever personal issues he had during the season have been resolved. I thank him for the work he did with Joba and Hughes in the Minors, laying the groundwork for the effective pitchers they have been, are, and can be. But I am also glad to see him go and I don't feel bad for saying that.
Well kids, my break is over. I've been far too productive at all the other things in my life sick with a wicked chest cold and drinking more beer than I probably should have over the last 5 days so I figured it was time to dust off the old keyboard and get back into the swing of things in Yankeeland. Here's my quick takes on the biggest Yankee newsbits to come to light since the ALCS ended with promise of more in-depth discussion to follow.
Can't say I'm surprised or disappointed by this move. Eiland had pretty much hit his ceiling of effectiveness in 2010 with Joba' continued struggles, A.J.'s continued sucktitude, Phil's inability to adapt to the league's changing approach against him as the season wore on, and the constant ups and downs of the bullpens. His little one-month PTO session in the middle of the season probably didn't help his cause either. I haven't the first guess about with whom the Yankees will replace Eiland, but if it's Mike Harkey I might kill myself.
Again, can't say I'm surprised by this. He didn't get a lot of work after coming back from the groin injury, never got fully stretched out before the postseason started, he's 38 years old, and he's not on HGH anymore. Pettitte's health was always a question mark all year, so why would you expect it to be any different after a 162-game grind? I will say that this information coming to light after the fact makes Joe's choice of ALCS rotation make a little more sense as he wanted to give Pettitte more rest, and it makes Pettitte's performance in both his postseason starts that much more impressive. I mean, you do realize that he was 3 pitches away from throwing 14 shutout innings in the playoffs at age 38, right? God and damn!
I would say it sheds some light on why he pitched so poorly in the postseason, but then I look up and re-read the story about Pettitte having a shitty back and shitty hamstrings and still dealing and I can't really chalk CC's ineffectiveness up to just health. This will obviously bring up all the questions about CC's workload and big fat ass again, and justifiably so. I think this story will linger around all throughout next season as the Yanks have to figure out how to keep the big guy in one piece for the next 5 years and keep him as the ace that he is and is supposed to be.
Did he revert back to being a tightwad nervous wreck this season? Yes. Does he horribly mismanage his starting rotation and bullpen all the time because of his obsession with his matchup binder? Yes. Does he make you as a Yankee fan feel confident at all times? Absolutely not. But who else is out there who could do better? I don't want Torre back here, LaRussa isn't going anywhere, Sweet Lou has retired, and what the fuck has Bobby Valentine ever done to make people love him so much? Each player on the team says Girardi is the best manager they've ever played for and that's good enough for me. At least for now.
* The World Series
Hey, Cliff Lee, thanks for saving your stinker of a game for the World Series. Seriously, bro, where the fuck were all those hanging curves for balls and cutters over the heart of the plate against the Yankees? That kinda shit ain't gonna get you the CC or Johan money you're looking for this offseason, dude. And tell your old lady to pipe down about how badly she was treated by the Yankee fans. She's the wife of an opposing team's best player in Yankee Stadium, what the fuck did she expect to happen?
Oh, and I couldn't care less about who wins this amateur hour World Series. A bunch of happy-go-lucky ginger ale sprayers with their cokehead manager against a rag-tag mishmash of other teams' spare parts off the scrap heap that happened to all start hitting a little bit at the same time. Whoopty-fuckin'-doo!
- What was up with TBS recapping Colby Lewis' history through the Majors and Japan like it was supposed to be a list of accomplishments. All that proves is that Colby Lewis has sucked for the majority of his career. I mean, if you get signed and then released by the Kansas City Royals within a month, you aren't exactly Greg Maddux.
- Lotta bad signs for Phil Hughes in what was a high-stress 1st inning. He threw a lot of pitches, struggled to put guys away, couldn't get the fastball down in the zone, and couldn't get the curveball down in the zone. Not a recipe for success right there.
- Lewis was solid but nothing special through 3 innings, much like he was in Game 2, and yet the Yankee offense couldn't do anything with the hittable pitches he was giving them. And was it me, or was Brett Gardner 0-2 in every at-bat he had this series?
- The Hughes wild pitch on an intentional walk to Josh Hamilton in the 3rd pretty much told the story of his night. He couldn't throw the ball where he wanted to when it WASN'T supposed to be in the strike zone.
- It also wasn't helping that he seemed to be attacking every hitter away, righties and lefties. Whether that was the intended gameplan or just an audible made by Eiland and Jorge when they realized Hughes didn't have his best stuff, going away, away, away against good hitters is not a good plan. You have to at least try to come inside and get them moving.
- The only 2 good at-bats through 4 innings for the Yankees were Curtis Granderson's walks. He did an excellent job taking pitches up and away and fighting off the fastballs inside that Lewis was throwing him. But again, when the best thing your offense has done is draw 2 walks, that's pretty fucking sad.
- That ball definitely hit Swish in the 5th inning on the fake wild pitch that scored A-Rod. How anybody could miss that is beyond me. This game needs instant replay now.
- Walking Josh Hamilton to pitch to Vlad worked in the 3rd inning, but not in the 5th. Hughes threw a terrible hanging curve up and over the plate and Vlad destroyed it. I know he didn't do much in the series, but Vlad DID drive in 115 runs this year. Walking an excellent hitter to pitch to another excellent hitter multiple times just wasn't a sound strategy by Joe, especially when his pitcher wasn't locating.
- After Hughes was removed, D-Rob was called on to stop the bleeding and he was just awful, giving up the HR to Cruz that was pretty much the nail in the coffin. Why CC was not brought into the game is beyond me. All we read about yesterday was how CC was available for an inning, maybe 2, and how he thought he could throw 40-50 pitches if needed. And with the lead lost and the game slipping away against a dominant Colby Lewis, Joe goes to his 4th best pitcher he had out there. If he didn't want to go lefty-righty with CC facing Cruz, fine, but there was no reason for D-Rob to be in that game in that situation. With the season on the line, the first 3 pitchers out of the 'pen last night had to be CC, Wood, and Mo in some order.
- Terrible job by the ballgirl on the first baseline last night. Never got in front of the ball, never attacked it, just sat back and let the thing roll past her every time. If I would have had a field-level seat down that line last night I would have been screaming "Come on, Dorn!! None of this 'Ole' bullshit!" at her all night. And that's because I am a terrible person.
- Jeter with 2 first-pitch swinging groundouts in his first 3 at-bats. Why? Why, why, WHY???? It's like he's trying to give the Yankees a reason to sign him for fewer years and less money in the offseason.
- Was Ms. Texas serious with that "God Bless America" performance last night? She was hideous, she couldn't sing, and she was wearing the fucking crown and sash. That's a bad job in a big spot by her last night, Mikey. Just a terrible job.
- You're down 5 runs in the 7th inning, so naturally you want to intentionally walk more baserunners on to load the bases and potentially make the deficit even greater, right? Seriously, what the fuck was Joe doing with the bullpen this series??? He made a great call in taking the fucking chalupa kid out at the first sign of trouble for Mo and then with all his real pitchers he's leaving starters out too long, intentionally walking everyone under the sun, and playing binder matchups with his team's shittier pitchers against the other team's better hitters.
- Jeter's flailing, half-swing strikeout was the perfect capper to his awful season. The Yankees really need to be serious in their negotiations with him in the offseason and at least make him realize that he sucks now instead of bending over and giving him a 4-year, $15-20 million a year deal.
- Mo in the 8th? Really, Joe? Why bother at this point? That's just insulting to Mo that you wait until the game is all but over to finally use him.
- Call me insensitive if you want, but I don't give a fuck about Ron Washington's house in New Orleans and how much time he spent rebuilding it. If the guy was smart, he wouldn't live there in the first place.
- The A-Rod strikeout looking to end the game was perfectly fitting for how this series played out. The Yankees were just completely overmatched in every aspect of the game and basically went down without a fight.
- I'm not even going to get into the details of each pitcher's outing. Hughes sucked and couldn't put the ball anywhere that he wanted to and Colby Lewis had great command of all his pitches. He was on top of his game and the Yankees made him look even better by doing nothing with the mistakes he did make up in the zone.
- When you really look back on the series, Game 5 was the aberration and the rest of the series was the truth of the matter. The Rangers outhit, outpitched, outran, outhustled, and outmanaged the Yankees for the overwhelming majority of the series. They were the better team and they deserved to win.
Play of The Game: Cruz's 2-run HR in the 5th
Nail in the coffin. You could almost see the Yankees give up as that ball landed in the stands.
Player of The Game: Colby Lewis
8 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 1 ER, 6 K. Dude pitched the game of his life in the biggest game of his life. If that doesn't get you some kudos, I don't know what will.
- Well that's it for this season. Now we can all start to plan for 2011 and start guessing what the Yankees will do in the offseason to improve the team. First, though, I am going to take a much-needed break for a few days and get back to the rest of my life. I'll be back when I'm back.
That just plain sucked. Like watching Games 2, 3, and 4 all over again.
I'll be back to recap this abortion of a game and a series tomorrow. For now I'm going to go puke and then go to bed. Seems like the only logical things to do after that "lay down and die" performance tonight.
In Game 2, the 2 starting pitchers were like night and day in the way their games panned out. Phil Hughes had great stuff but questionable command, which he lost early in the 3rd inning after not being able to get strikes on the corners with his fastball. Colby Lewis' stuff wasn't that great, as evidenced by the Yanks making a lot of solid contact on him in the early innings, but his command was solid. He developed a better feel for his off-speed stuff through the 3rd and 6th innings and threw a lot of strikes, keeping the Yankee hitters at bay as he worked aggressively with a lead. But the Yankee hitters have seen him now, so he won't be able to come with the same approach as he did in Game 2. And Hughes needs to have better command of his fastball tonight and needs to mix up his pitches as the Rangers were sitting on the fastball and cutter by the time the 3rd inning came around last time. Whichever guy can make the necessary adjustments should finish with a better stat line and give his team a better chance to win.
2) Who Steps Up to Help Cano & Curtis
The Yankee offense had been pretty much nothing but the "Robbie Cano, Don'tcha Know Show" through 4 games with a few guest appearances by Curtis Granderson. That changed in Game 5 as everybody reached base except Brett Gardner, 6 different guys got hits, 6 different guys scored runs, 5 different guys drove in runs, and the Yanks drew a series-high 6 walks. And in the middle of it all, Cano cranked another home run and C-Grand went 3-4 with a 2B, HR, and 2 RBIs. All of these guys saw Lewis in Game 2 except Thames, and they put plenty of good swings on him, so who's going to keep the offensive streak going? An answer that includes multiple names would be the best thing to help get a win.
3) Joe's Bullpen Matchups or Lack Thereof
After getting burned in Games 2, 3, and 4 by trusting his binder and watching Boone Logan, D-Rob, Mitre, and Joba take turns throwing BP to the Ranger lineup, Joe finally decided to not fuck around in Game 5 and went right to his bread and butter after CC got through 6 innings. And Kerry Wood and Mo responded with 3 shutout innings. With a day of rest between then and tonight, you have to think both of them will be available for 2 innings each if needed, and Joe also has CC on deck to throw an inning or 2 as well. I expect he will be the first out of the 'pen if Hughes falls apart early or runs into trouble in the 5th or 6th inning. After that I expect Joe to ride Wood and Mo again if the Yanks are ahead and we probably won't see any of the other guys unless the game goes to extra innings. No sense in matching up and playing the numbers tonight if you're Joe; you're still facing elimination and if you're going to go down, it might as well be with your best on the mound.
Player to Watch: Phil Hughes
Phil is going to be on a short leash tonight with the series and season on the line and all hands on deck in the 'pen. He was rattled by a lack of outside corner strike calls in Game 2 and that seemed to cause him to fall more in love with his fastball. Back on regular rest, Phil should be better tonight than he was earlier, but pay attention to his command and the strike zone he gets early. If he's falling behind to a lot of hitters and going back to the fastball, he'll get into trouble. And if he gets into trouble, it won't be a long night for him. Tonight it's important that he mix in some curveballs and changeups early to keep Texas honest, even if they aren't strikes. The more they have to think about in the batters box, the less likely they are to hone in on the fastball.
We said the series came down to 3 1-game series for the Yanks after they fell behind and they had to take it one game at a time. They did that the other night and forced the series back to Texas. Yes, the Rangers have Cliff Lee ready for Game 7, but Cliff Lee or not, anything can happen in a Game 7, and they certainly don't want the "choke" talks to start up if they lose tonight. You have to say the pressure is now back on the inexperienced shoulders of the Rangers tonight as they head out with their 3rd-best pitcher on the mound. We'll see if they can handle that pressure.
Thank you for giving me at least one more game to watch this season.
Thank you, CC, for battling without your A-game and making pitches when you had to to keep the lead where it was.
Thank you, Robbie and Curtis, for continuing to carry the offense as you have all postseason.
Thank you, Jorge, for distracting Francoeur, C.J. Wilson, and Michael Young with your pathetically slow running to the point that they couldn't make simple throws and catches to get you out.
No thoughts or afterthoughts today since I only got to watch the game from the bottom of the 8th on. Gives me a day to treat my impending carpal tunnel and prep for tomorrow night, though, so I'm OK with it.
1) Whether The Yankee Lineup Will Finally Start Hitting
.198/.295/.321 team line for the series. Those numbers get even uglier if you take out Cano. 'Nuff said.
2) Whether CC Will Bounce Back and Have a Strong Outing
10 IP, 7.20 ERA, 1.80 WHIP in 2 starts this postseason on long rest. Back today on regular rest. 'Nuff said.
3) Whether The Bullpen Will Wake Up And Stop Getting Shelled
14 IP, 16 H, 8 BB, 11 ER, 7.07 ERA, 1.71 WHIP over 4 games. Those numbers get even uglier if you take out Wood, Moseley, and Mo's 5 scoreless innings. 'Nuff said.
Player to Watch: All of Them
The Yankees are out of chances. One more loss and everybody goes home to make vacation plans while we begin to fire up the offseason hot stove rumor mill and figure out how much they should offer Cliff Lee. Save for the last few innings of Game 1, they have been thoroughly outplayed and outmanaged in every facet of the game by the Rangers. The injury to Teix obviously left everybody shocked and disoriented and they never seemed to recover, but they have to shake that off and get focused on the task at hand, which is win tonight and force the series back to Texas.
In honor of all the "do or die," "back against the wall," "there is no tomorrow" cliches that will be thrown around tonight, we'll join in and get cliche as all hell with our musical intro. So far the Yankees have had the eye of the schmuck. Tonight they need to have the eye of tiger. BOOM!!
- The top of the 1st went about as well as anybody could have hoped last night. I was still sweating bullets when it was over, but at least A.J. helped to calm all of our nerves early.
- I don't know how I haven't noticed this yet, but how the fuck does Michael Young have a Gold Glove at 3rd over A-Rod??? Michael Young is a fucking TERRIBLE 3rd baseman and he's got a Gold Glove?! Yikes.
- Good stat by TBS early last night: The last pitcher to win a postseason series with as much rest as A.J. had coming into last night's start was Red Ruffing in 1939. Damn!
- Cano crushed that ball in the 2nd inning off of Tommy Hunter, but the fans definitely reached over and definitely interfered with Nelson Cruz. I'd like to let my Yankee fandom override the facts, but I can't. That home run shouldn't have counted.
- By the time the 3rd inning rolled around, it was obvious Hunter didn't have much. He couldn't throw his curveball for a strike to save himself and the Yankees were just sitting on his fastball and cutter, waiting for him to make a mistake, a la the one he grooved to Jeter for his 3rd-inning triple.
- Unfortunately, the TBS crew was too busy talking about Hunter's odd physique, his family history, and his being a former US Jr. Olympic judo champion to focus on how shitty he was pitching. After the Lee victory in Game 3, suddenly everybody in the booth was a big Ranger fan. We've got Sager reporting on what their team psychiatrist told them before the game, EJ is going on and on about the Molina family history and how Darren O'Day became a side-arm pitcher. It was like watching an episode of "SportsCentury."
- Beautiful double play by the Yanks in the 5th inning: great scoop and throw by Teix while avoiding a flying bat, great turn by Jeter, and great job getting over to cover first by A.J. Big play and exactly what A.J. needed after putting the leadoff runner on again.
- After that, though, Jeter and A-Rod showed that they have no range left on that side of the infield on Andrus' bouncer through the hole. If that thing bounced anymore and rolled any slower through that side, it would have fucking stopped and they still couldn't get a glove on it.
- to the fan trying to catch the foul ball and fucking up Gardner in the 5th: Are you fucking serious, dude???? You're a grown man! You want a ball that bad, go to Sports Authority and buy one. When the Yanks are in field, get the fuck out of the way and let them make the catch. If Hamilton would have done something after that and that dude becomes the NYC Steve Bartman, I would have put money on him not making it out of The Stadium alive.
- The pitch A.J. made to Molina was terrible, but really, what do you expect? It's A.J. Burnett. It just sucked that he finally missed a spot up and in in that situation. I still put all the blame for that on Joe.
- What the hell is going on with the bullpen? D-Rob blows up in Game 3 then yesterday he's the only guy who can get an out without getting pelted all over the park. Logan might be out of a job come next year because he's been terrible in this series, and Joba is another bad outing or 2 away from possibly being run out of town with him.
- I hate to do it, but I have to hand it to Derek Holland for the job he did. Tommy Hunter had nothing, the Yanks hit a lot of scorchers off of him but couldn't ever put him away with a big inning and Holland came in and shut the door on the Yankee offense, giving his team a chance to do what they did later in the game.
- Can we get Kevin Long to work with Brett Gardner before next year on swinging the bat with some authority? I love Gardner, but this slap-and-run bullshit has to stop. His speed is weapon, but it can be better utilized if he can get a little more oomph into his swing and start putting the ball into the outfield. Start hitting for the gaps and he can rack up 20-25 triples a year. Speed is good, but it don't mean shit when you can't get the ball out of the infield.
- Even after it got to 7-3, the Rangers still seemed hellbent on letting the Yankees back into it. They walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the 8th and Swish definitely got hit by that pitch by Oliver. As bad as the pitching has been, this series has been just as much about the Yankee bats not coming up big when they need to and take advantages of the opportunities given to them and last night was just the latest example.
- Just to put the offensive ineptitude into further perspective, the Ranger 7-9 hitters have 10 combined RBIs in the series. The Yankees have only scored 11 runs as a team.
- Anybody see Boomer and Carton sitting behind the plate last night? Good stuff right there. I know I'm in the minority here, but I love Carton. Dude is entertaining.
- The Conan promos on TBS aren't nearly as horrible as the Lopez ones from last season, but they are much more annoying after a late-game Yankee meltdown.
- I'm going a little Peter King on you here, but I love the E*Trade commercials with the talking baby. Give me more of that and less shitty UPS commercials with the "That's logistics" song.
- Apparently the dude who got on the field last night was trying to attack A-Rod for dating Cameron Diaz. Newsflash, dude: Diaz is a washed-up old slut and her vag is way past it's prime with the pounding it's no-doubt taken from some of Hollywood's finest over the years, not to mention A-Rod. Get a new celebrity crush and get the fuck off the field.
- So what do you do about the lineup tonight without Teix? I say it should look like this:
1) Jeter, 2) C-Grand, 3) Cano, 4) A-Rod, 5) Thames, 6) Posada, 7) Swish, 8) Berkman, 9) Gardner with Berkman at 1B and Thames DH'ing.
I know it's a lefty on the mound but Granderson has swung the bat far better than Swish and needs to stay at the top. And since Cano has been the only one swinging with any consistency, you have to bump him up and give him a chance to drive in runs early. A-Rod doesn't have much protection behind him, but when nobody is hitting that's what happens.
Play of The Game: Molina's 3-run HR in the top of the 6th
Took the wind out of everybody's sails: the players and the fans. The KO punch that followed up the staggering blow that was the Teix injury.
Player of The Game: Bengie Molina
3-4, HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, including the go-ahead and eventual game-winning RBI. Not to mention he caught a good game too. Fucking asshole...
- Last one, I sure hope CC has it this afternoon because I won't be able to watch the game thanks to the early start and I can't stand to think about not being able to see the last Yankee game of the season. As much as it sucks, if they are going to go down I want to be able to see it as a fan. It would hurt more to not be able to see than it would to suffer through it.
I'm still too shell shocked by what happened in the top of the 6th inning to really get into all the other analysis/quirky shit/lighter-hearted notes I took on the game last night so I'm just going to talk about the 5 things that cost the Yankees the game last night.
1) Cervelli in the lineup over Jorge
I don't give a fuck who A.J. prefers throwing to. As horrible as he was in the regular season, he shouldn't get the right to influence the lineup, especially when that influence inserts a guy who had a .694 OPS in the regular season and hadn't had a single at-bat to date in the playoffs for a guy who had a .811 OPS in the regular season and happens to be one of the greatest offensive catchers of all-time. And I know Jorge has swung a crummy bat in this series and looked awful against Lee in Game 3, but other than Cano who hasn't and who didn't? Runs have been the Yankees' problem so far and I would still rather have the better bat in the lineup with a little pop than one that struggles to get the ball out of the infield on a consistent basis.
2) A.J. walking the leadoff batter (the # 7 hitter) and then promptly hitting the next batter who was trying to sacrifice (the #8 hitter) in the top of the 3rd
A.J. cruised through the first 2 inning perhaps easier than he had any other 2 innings all season. He was getting ahead in the count, throwing both pitches for strikes, and getting swings and misses. And then he came out to start the 3rd inning and promptly walked David Murphy, then drilled Bengie Molina in the back when he squared to bunt. We all rolled our eyes at those two occurrences, but no one was really surprised. That's what A.J. had done all year. A.J. got ground balls from the next 4 batters, but because one was a sacrifice and one a cheap infield single, the Rangers had 2 runs in and the lead. A.J. got what he deserved for letting the first 2 batters on without even having to swing the bat.
3) Yankees only get 1 run out of a bases loaded, 1 out situation in the bottom of the 4th
I texted both my friend and my dad after Berkman singled and said "that's not who you want coming up with the bases loaded," referring to Gardner and Cervelli. Gardner is what he is, a slap hitter, and that usually leads to a lot of ground balls and grounds balls with the bases loaded leave the door wide open for double plays. Gardner was lucky enough to not ground into one and unlucky enough to have Elvis Andrus make a fantastic play on his grounder in the hole at short. Maybe a guy with a little more power or at least a little more authority in his swing (we'll get to that later) gets the ball through. As far as Cervelli coming up next, refer to 1).
4) Yankees put 2 on with 0 outs in the bottom of the 5th and get 0 runs
Lost in the major bummer (sort of) of the injury to Teix was the fact that he failed to drive in a run with yet another weak hack with Jeter on 2nd, C-Grand on 1st, and Derek Holland on the verge of blowing up on the mound. A-Rod followed that up with a tailor-made GIDP ball and that was all she wrote. From being on the verge of breaking the game open to still holding a slim 1-run lead in a matter of 2 minutes thanks to the "heart" of your order. Bullshit.
5) Joe deciding to intentionally walk David Murphy in the top of the 6th
This is the one that really took the cake in my book. Joe getting caught up in his fucking binders and fucking matchup books and not just taking a second to watch what was happening on the field, assess the situation, recognize what was at stake, and make a simple logical decision. A.J. had battled back from allowing a lead off single to Vlad to get the next 2 hitters out with Vlad still on 2nd. But, A.J. had thrown 3 high-stress innings prior to the 6th, his pitch count was up, and he was starting to tire. All pitchers start missing their spots when they get tired, it happens. And with A.J., who has spotty control to begin with, the risk runs even greater. I don't blame Joe for not wanting A.J. to pitch to Murphy in that situation. But you don't, don't, DON'T, DON'T, DON'T put more runners on base in a 1-run playoff game.
That situation should have been real simple. You either trust your guy on the mound to get the next batter out and get out of the inning, or if you don't, you go to your bullpen and you bring in your lefty. You cannot give the opponent free baserunners in a 1-run game in the playoffs, especially when you're down 2-1 in the series and especially when it's the bottom of the fucking order that you're trying to get cute with. Instead Joe kept his nose in his fucking binders, saw Bengie Molina's history against A.J., ignored the fact that Bengie Molina had pounded the fuck out of the ball all series long and all postseason long, and left his tired, erratic starter in to face arguably the other team's hottest hitter. A.J. missed his spot, ballgame over.
And don't even try to make the "he was trying to save Logan for later in the game" argument because I'm not buying that for a second. I have all the faith in the world that D-Rob in the 7th, Wood in the 8th, and Mo in the 9th can get lefties out just as effectively as Boone Logan. That's why they have the roles they have to begin with. The most important batter is always the next batter and that moment, with a runner in scoring position and a 1-run lead, was the time to go to your lefty if you didn't trust your starter to get him out.
Joe didn't do that and he cost his team with another decision made based on what he read in a book rather than what was happening on the field.
Why didn't somebody tell Joe before the game tonight that the Cubs signed a new manager and he didn't have to try to manage his way out of town. I can't even begin to dissect some of his moves tonight:
1) Starting Cervelli over Jorge at catcher
2) Putting Marcus Thames in RF after the injury to Teix instead of Greg Golson
3) Intentionally walking the Rangers' # 7 hitter, the immortal David Murphy, to put more runners on base in a 1-run game when he had a tiring A.J. out there on the mound.
At this point there's no need to tally up the numbers again, we all know the Yankee offense has been pathetic except for the 8th inning of Game 1. Tonight's starter for Texas, Tommy Hunter, presents the perfect remedy to cure a slumping bunch of sluggers. He's a righty, which allows Teix and Swish to turn around to their power sides, he pitches to contact (only a 5.8% swinging strike rate and only 4.78K/9), and he pitches to a lot of power (1.48HR/9). The long and short of it is, there are runs out there for the taking tonight. The question is, can the Yankees shake off last night's ass plowing at the hands of Cliff Lee and start swinging the bats better?
2) A.J.'s Everything
His demeanor on the mound, his facial expressions, his body language, how quickly he works on the mound, his fastball location, his curveball command, how often he shakes off the catcher, how he works out of the stretch, how many times he throws over to first when a runner gets on. Everything is important to watch with him tonight because he's been terrible all year and he hasn't pitched real game innings in a long time. Joe is taking a big risk throwing his worst starter in a quasi-must-win game tonight, so every detail about A.J. is going to be that much more glaring. It shouldn't be too hard to see if he's on early, but the real test will come when he puts runners on, which he will. Can he finally sack up and get out of an inning or will it turn into another one of those strikeout, groundout, walk, single, walk, hit batters, double, single, double meltdowns that we're all used to seeing?
3) Joe's Patience
Like I said, Joe is taking a big risk going to his worst starting pitcher tonight down in the series when he could use his best starting pitcher who happens to have a great track record on short rest. Joe knows this. And he also knows how awful A.J. was this season. With the game and a 2-game series deficit on the line, how much leeway is Joe going to give A.J.? Given A.J.'s performance this year, Joe should rightfully yank him at the first sign of him falling apart, but since he announced him as the Game 4 starter before the series and stuck with that all the way through, I'm concerned that he will give A.J. more of a chance to get out of trouble than he rightfully should. For Joe's sake, and for A.J.'s, he better not wait too long to get him out if things start to go south.
Player To Watch: A.J. Burnett
Not a big surprise here. The latest in a long line of bad Brian Cashman pitcher signings is on the hill with a chance to redeem himself somewhat for a disastrous regular season and potentially swing the momentum back in the Yankees' favor by evening the series with their ace coming up in Game 5. We've all seen Good A.J. and Bad A.J. enough to know the telltale signs of which one we're dealing with, so we shouldn't have to wait long to know if all of our prayers for Good A.J. have been answered. Joe has stood by him since announcing he was going to get a start in this series and even went as far as to cater to A.J.'s fragile psyche and weaken his lineup by putting Cervelli in at catcher instead of Jorge, so A.J. has no excuses tonight.
I hate to be pessimistic, but given what he's done in the majority of his big moments as a Yankee, I have very little faith in A.J. tonight. I want to see the Yankees win and I want to see A.J. pitch well, but all I'm hoping for is for him to not fuck up bad enough that the Yanks are completely out of the game. Anything beyond that I would consider a miracle.
- Well that sucked, huh? Really not much to analyze if you watched last night's game. Andy was great again, save for the one cutter he hung to Hamilton in the first (which probably wouldn't have gone out if it wasn't hit at Yankee Stadium), but Cliff Lee was absolutely lights out, shutting down the Yankee lineup for what seems like the umpteenth time and doing it while appearing to exert all the effort with which one would loosen up before playing a rec league softball game.
- Andy appeared to be a bit sharper than in his ALDS start at the beginning of this one, and it was clear he was attacking the Rangers' righties away with back door sliders and cutters. Unfortunately he wasn't getting the calls on the outside corner from home plate umpire Jim Reynolds and that contributed to him throwing an extra 10-15 pitches in the first few innings. There were more than a few borderline pitches for Ks that a pitcher of Andy Pettitte's caliber and reputation usually gets, so it was a bit frustrating to watch him not be able to get a call here or there.
- But overall, Andy was fantastic again. He had good live on his fastball, solid movement on his slider and curveball, and his cutter was devastating, breaking enough bats to make one want to do a double take just to make sure Mo wasn't out there. All that added up to 12 swinging strikes on the night, a very good number for Andy, and only a handful of good swings that produced good contact by the Ranger hitters. Shit, Josh Hamilton's home run was off the end of the bat, certainly not a no-doubt crush job like Cano's Game 2 homer.
- Unfortunately for Andy, Cliff Lee was as on as he's ever been last night and the Yankee lineup had no answers for him. He gave them their best opportunities early in the count, exactly as I predicted, and there actually were some hittable pitches here and there but the Yankees couldn't put any good swings on them. By Lee's standards, his first-pitch strike rate wasn't that great, only 16 of 27 batters faced and 2 of those were on first-pitch balls that the Yankees swung at, but he followed those up with a steady combination of fastballs, 2-seamers, cutters, and a hook here and there to virtually every part of the plate. Generating 17 swings and misses will more than make up for a shoddy first-pitch strike percentage.
- About the only thing Lee didn't have working was his backdoor curveball, which he tried to sneak past a couple righty Yankee bats, and that was only because Jim Reynolds wasn't giving him that outside corner either. But overall, I think it would be fair to say that Lee's strike zone was just a little bit more liberal than Andy's, especially up and down in the zone. Not at it would have mattered if it wasn't last night. Lee was just that good and he made the Yankees look completely awful at the plate.
Some other notes:
- good job by Jeter taking some pitches against Lee and giving Gardner a chance to steal 2nd in the bottom of the 6th. That was the first time the Yanks had gotten the leadoff guy on all night, and when it's your quickest guy you want to give him a chance to get into scoring position. The strikeout right after the steal pretty much negated the effect of the steal, but still...
- I said to watch Teix last night and for that I apologize. He was absolutely pitiful to watch against Lee. With 2 outs and Gardner on 3rd in the 6th he got 2 very hittable pitches in his at-bat and couldn't do a thing with them, popping one foul and grounding the other to short to end the inning. Something is still off with his timing at the plate right now and it's making him embarrassing to watch.
- But that was one hell of a dig on A-Rod's throw to get Bengie Molina in the top of the 7th. On the replay it showed Teix was already turning his head out of the way when the ball skipped into his glove and he was able to hang on. Not many other first basemen in baseball who make that scoop, if any.
- Somebody explain to Ron Darling that CC being tapped to pitch Game 4 doesn't automatically mean A.J. is out of the rotation for the series. He's sitting around talking about how CC on short rest is OK but the Yankees don't want to put Hughes and Pettitte on short rest also by throwing CC in Game 4. Uhh, Ron, you could just pitch A.J. in Game 5 and keep Hughes and Pettitte on their regular schedules for Game 6 and Game 7, idiot. That's what I said the Yankees should do all along, but I guess Joe and Cash aren't as big fans of the blog as I thought.
- So how much extra coin do you think Lee earned on his next contract after last night? $15 million? 20? What's the Yankees' first offer to him in December? 6 years, $120 mil?
- I'm not going to get on Boone Logan and D-Rob for sucking in the 9th. They probably looked out in the Ranger bullpen, realized nobody was warming, and knew Lee was coming back out in the bottom of the frame to close things out. Tough to focus and be sharp when you know the game is already over. Hopefully D-Rob's blowup doesn't carry over to tonight.
- Neftali Feliz, calm the fuck down with the tongue action on that chew, buddy! It's fucking tobacco, not your girlfriend's pussy. Pack a fucking lip and leave it there, bro. Maybe spit every now and then but stop flicking your tongue around like you're trying to impress somebody. I was getting really uncomfortable watching that last night in the bottom of the 9th. He was like a lizard that was overheating in the desert sun or a hipster who smoked too much ganj and had horrible cotton mouth. Somebody please teach him how to dip before tonight!
Play of The Game: Lee's strikeout of Jeter in the 6th
I'm sure Hamilton's homer and some of the runs in the 9th had higher WPA values, but Lee K'ing Jeter right after Gardner stole 2nd effectively wiped out the steal and put him back in control of the one inning where the Yankees had a legit opportunity. The crowd quieted back down after that and Swish and Teix went quietly as well. At a time when the game was still close, thwarting the Yanks' only real attempt to get back into it was huge.
Player of The Game: Cliff Lee
8 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 0 ER, 13 K, 122 pitches (82 strikes). Need I say more?
Well that's over and done with. Now we can all sit around and chew our fingernails and cuticles to shit wondering if Joe is really going to stick with A.J. tonight and how A.J. will manage to implode this time. FUN!!
TX (most likely, even though I haven't been right once yet): Andrus- SS, Young- 3B, Hamilton- CF, Vlad- DH, Cruz- LF, Kinsler- 2B, Francoeur- RF, Molina- C, Moreland- 1B
3 Things To Watch For:
1) Which Struggling Power Hitter Breaks Out
While there have been plenty of timely hits on both sides so far this series, there are still a number of guys who haven't looked sharp. For the Rangers it's cleanup hitter Vlad Guerrero, who is just 1-9 through the first 2 games with 3 Ks and 0 RBIs. He's been fed a steady diet of away stuff from the Yankee staff and hasn't been able to come up with a counterattack to it yet. For the Yankees, Mark Teixeira has started off 0-8 in the first 2 games with a strikeout and 0 RBIS and he's looked awful doing it, swinging early in the count and putting a lot of bad swings on a lot of hittable pitches. Also worth noting is that the combination of Jorge, Swish, and The Horse are 4-24 so far with just 2 RBIs (both on A-Rod's Game 1 single) and 8 Ks. One of these guys has to break out eventually, and if it can happen tonight it will be a big boost to either team as runs should be hard to come by.
2) Andy's Cutter
Andy wasn't particularly sharp early in his Game 2 ALDS start, but after retreating to watch tape with Dave Eiland after the 2nd inning, he was a different pitcher for the rest of the game, establishing great command of his fastball and cutter and utilizing them both to get ahead in the count and set up his slider as his out pitch. As a pitch that can be very effective against righties and lefties, the cutter will be the key to Pettitte's success tonight. If he can team it up with his fastball and locate it to both sides of the plate, it will help mix up his approach and keep the Rangers' hitters guessing. If he doesn't have command of it, it's one less pitch they have to be concerned about and they can key in on the fastball and slider depending on the count.
3) Yanks' Aggressiveness Against Lee
By now the Yankees and everybody else in the world should know what to expect from Cliff Lee. He, like Pettitte, mixes his pitches well and works both sides of the plate. He also throws a lot of strikes early in the count to get ahead and set up his out pitches, so if you don't swing early, chances are you aren't going to get anything good to hit later on in the at-bat. Here's how his numbers against look from the regular season depending on the count:
- at 0-0: .348 BA, .825 OPS in 115 ABs - after 1-0: .219 BA, .613 OPS in 237 ABs - after 0-1: .223 BA, .563 OPS in 462 ABs - after 1-1: .227 BA, .592 OPS in 283 ABs - after 0-2: .158 BA, .394 OPS in 215 ABs - after 2-0: .231 BA, .782 OPS in 52 ABs
What that tells you is that the earlier you swing against Lee, the better off you're going to be. Hitters were effective swinging on the first pitch against him, and there was much more success swinging in 1- or 2-ball counts (which were far fewer than their 1- or 2-strike counterparts) than when Lee was able to throw an early strike. Once he has 2 strikes on you it's pretty much over from there, and his numbers in 3-0 or 3-1 counts aren't worth mentioning because he rarely makes it to that count, so clearly it behooves the Yankees to swing early in the at-bats tonight rather than sit there patiently and let Lee kill them with early strikes. Both the hitters and Joe Girardi have talked about their approach against Lee tonight and how they know they have to take their hacks against him, it's just a matter of them doing it. The numbers show that if you do it early, you have a chance against him.
Player To Watch: Mark Teixeira
After a strong start to the postseason in Game 1 of the ALDS, Teix's swing and production have abandoned him and he's off to an 0-fer so far in the ALCS. He's only struck out once in 8 at-bats and also has 2 walks to his credit, so it's not like he's not seeing the ball or getting fooled, his timing and balance at the plate just seems a bit off. Teix has gotten some very good pitches to hit and hasn't been able to do anything with them other than pop them up, a sign that he's reaching a bit too much in his swing and his hands and hips are not in tune. I'm sure Kevin Long has noticed this too and hopefully they worked on getting everything back in unison on the off-day workout yesterday. The Yanks need Teix to produce moving forward, especially with everybody else not named Robinson Cano struggling in the middle of the order. He's getting turned around to hit righty tonight, but watch his swings early. If he's putting good wood on the ball, even if he makes outs, that'll be a good sign that he's starting to get back to where he needs to be to do some damage in this series.
It's another lefty-lefty pitching matchup tonight, and so far the Yanks are 3-0 in those this postseason. This one tonight features arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of all-time against arguably the greatest postseason pitcher of the last few years. Pettitte is the Yankee stopper and Lee is the Yankee killer, and underneath the importance of tonight's outcome is the "Lee to the Yankees in 2011" storyline. If Lee comes out and dominates again, it could be the tipping point in them deciding to go all out for him in the offseason. A.J. got his big contract on his pitching well against the Bombers in the past, so there is something to be said for the Yankee brass being enamored with guys who kick their ass. In any case, tonight could be a classic pitchers' duel, with both guys using similar methods to gain success. Whoever can execute that method better should put a "W" up for his team.
I'm a little late on this breaking news, but I guess we can all put the rumors about who's starting Game 4 and Game 5 to bed now.
The forecast is now looking better for Tuesday night. So A.J. Burnett is your Game 4 starter, barring something unforeseen at this point. “He’s going to get the ball,” Brian Cashman said. “He’s capable of doing a good job and we believe he’s going to do a good job.” Cashman said no discussions about changes have taken place since the rotation was set for the series. The Yankees don’t want to have to push up everyone else on short rest. (via LoHud)
Cashman also said he believed in the existence of the Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Chupacabra. He also said he believed that there was no second gunman on the grassy knoll, the moon landing was faked, Diet Dr. Pepper really does taste just as good as regular Dr. Pepper, and the Jews and aliens from another faraway galaxy are secretly working together to run the world.
It's easy to say that A.J. is getting the start today, before Game 3 has been played, but color me unconvinced for now until we see how Game 3 plays out. Are Cash and Joe really willing to let A.J. go out there with a 2-game lead or deficit in the series on the line? I know I sure as shit wouldn't be.
Freddy “Sez”, a Yankee Stadium staple for the last 20 years, has died at age 82, according to friend Chuck Frantz. At almost every Yankee game, Freddy could be seen outside Yankee Stadium with his daily message for the Yanks and a frying pan he banged like a drum. He also let other fans bang it as well. He became such an institution that his lucky frying pan and spoon, thanks to Frantz, were put into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Yogi Berra museum in 2004. (via the NY Daily News)
Rest in peace, Freddy. You will be missed. I can still think back to my experiences at the the old Stadium, wondering who the person banging the pot for the whole entire game was. After a while, you didn't even notice it anymore, it was just part of the Stadium tradition. It would have been weirder to not hear it there than to hear it. I know the team and the fans will miss you and the pot tomorrow night when they get ready for Game 3, and Yankee fans everywhere will miss you beyond that.
P.S.- tough year to lose so many staples of the franchise...
- The Rangers made no secret of what their gameplan on the basepaths was going to be early, as Elvis Andrus stole 2nd off a ball in the dirt that Jorge blocked. And they ran with good reason, as Jorge made a terrible play later in the inning by blindly throwing down to 2nd to get Hamilton and allowing Andrus to score easily from 3rd. We all know Jorge sucks physically as a catcher, but I wouldn't expect him to make a rookie mental mistake like not looking Andrus back. That DH role is looking more and more secure for him next year with each passing game.
- Early on it looked like the pitching matchup was going to go the Yankees' way. Hughes threw a lot of pitches in the 1st inning, but also struck out the side and only allowed a run thanks to Jorge's aforementioned bonehead play. His fastball was live and he was locating it well. On the other side, Colby Lewis was living dangerously up in the zone with his fastball and slider. There were a couple of balls hit very hard off him in the top of the 2nd, including Cano's near home run, Swish's 2B, and Lance Berkman's frozen rope lineout to Nelson Cruz.
- Unfortunately for Hughes, it started to unravel for him in the 2nd. After getting squeezed on some inside pitches in both innings, Hughes missed with a couple fastballs to David Murphy and then had to groove one for a strike, something Murphy knew was coming and turned into a solo homer. That at-bat seemed to be the beginning of Hughes' end as his command started to abandon him after the home run.
- They didn't have much to show for it through 3 innings, but the Yankees were certainly making Colby Lewis work. It seemed like only a matter of time before they broke through and got back in the game, even after Teix and A-Rod put up a couple of shitty at-bats to end the 3rd.
- Phil Hughes completely fell apart in the 3rd inning, and although it didn't seem like it at the time, that was the end of the game. He was up in the zone with his fastball, cutter, and slider, and his curve was nowhere near the strike zone so the Ranger hitters weren't even paying attention to it. Most maddening, however, was Hughes' inability to put guys away with 2 strikes, something he had trouble with earlier in the season. Ron Darling pointed out that the Rangers had already picked up 5 2-strike hits through the first 3 innings and they would finish with 8 for the game, 7 off of Hughes.
- I'm not going to get on Nick Swisher for diving and trying to make a play on that Ian Kinsler triple in the bottom of the 5th. The Yankees were getting crushed, Phil Hughes was lost out on the mound, why not make a dive and try to steal an out for the kid and get him out of the inning?
- I know I said to watch out for a breakout game from A-Rod, but I was clearly wrong. He and Teix were absolutely pathetic at the plate yesterday, swinging too early in counts, making bad contact on hittable pitches, and just generally making life easy for Lewis and the rest of the Texas staff. Not what you expect or want to see from your heart of the order.
- At least Robbie Cano showed up yesterday to try to bail the other 2 out. His out in the 2nd inning would have been a home run at Yankee Stadium, his 2B in the 4th led to the first Yankee run, and his home run in the 6th off Lewis was an absolute fucking BOMB into the upper deck in right field. If you miss your spot with this guy, especially up in the zone, he's going to make you pay. People can bitch about him leaving 4 guys on base in his last 2 at-bats, but even the last out he made was a loud out to the warning track in left that probably also would have been out at The Stadium so I'm going to stand and applaud Cano's effort yesterday. It was probably the only effort worth applauding.
- After looking hittable early, Colby Lewis did calm down and look better from the 3rd-5th innings, getting some more strikeouts and limiting threats. But the Yankees still made him work and he finally tired and got knocked out after allowing 2 runners to reach and throwing 100+ pitches with 2 outs in the 6th. Even when it seems like they aren't doing shit, the Yankee offense can still grind and get into the bullpen and there was just a glimmer of hope for them when Lewis left after 5.2 IP.
- I liked the Marcus Thames-for-Brett Gardner move by Joe in the 6th. He had 2 guys on and what equates to his worst hitter up with a chance to get back into the game. If Texas brings in the lefty, why not counter with your best righty hitter and hope he gets ahold of one? It was a good at-bat by Thames, but ultimately nothing to show for it. At that stage in the game, I would have sacrificed Gardner's D for Thames' O too.
- If I have to hear Ernie Johnson say "The Catching Molina Brothers" like they're some kind of magical highwire act one more time, I'm going to heave my clicker through the TV screen. Newsflash, EJ, these guys aren't that great. They're a trio of marginally-talented fat Hispanic guys who all play the only position in baseball that their girth and lack of athleticism allows them to. Take it easy.
- For the 2nd time in 2 games, the Yankee bullpen was on point. Joba looked solid after entering for Hughes, even if he did allow the first inherited runner to score against the 'pen all postseason. Boone Logan and D-Rob were solid, holding the lead and continuing to give the Yankee offense a chance, and even Sergio Mitre didn't look terrible throwing for the first time in what seemed like a decade. Mo also got an extra day of rest by not working yesterday, so don't think Joe will consider using him for 4 or 5 outs on Monday.
- Surprisingly, the Texas bullpen matched the success of the Yankees and held the offense down through 3.1 scoreless innings. Darren Oliver still didn't look that sharp, Alexi Ogando looks like he could blow up at any minute, and Neftali Feliz still doesn't look like he wants any part of closing out a game as he walked 2 more yesterday, but they still managed to get outs when they needed to and not allow the Yankees to score, and that's all that matters.
- I don't want to make excuses for him, but I still say Phil Hughes getting squeezed early in the game on the corners had something to do with him losing it in the 3rd inning. After the home run to Murphy it was almost as if he stopped attacking the corners because he knew he wasn't going to get the calls. He was up in the zone and catching too much of the plate with his fastball and he could never find the command again once he lost it. He was terrible, there's no doubt about it, but it does warrant mentioning that Colby Lewis was getting some of the strike calls that Hughes wasn't and that Tony Randazzo's strike zone yesterday was pretty terrible.
- At the end of the day, though, the Yankees should be happy with the first 2 games. They got a split on the road and head back home with home field advantage now in what becomes a best-of-5 series. They have their stopper in Andy matching up against Cliff Lee, which is exactly what any Yankee fan should want, and you have to think CC and Phil Hughes are going to do some work before their next starts and be better the next time out. And sooner or later, Teix and A-Rod have to come around in this series to help Cano. Hopefully that happens on Monday back at The Stadium.
TX (Best guess since my internet connection is still a fucking piece of shit): Andrus- SS, Young- 3B, Hamilton- CF, Vlad- DH, Cruz- RF, Kinsler- 2B, Murphy- LF, Moreland- 1B, Molina- C
3 Things To Watch For:
1) Which Starting Pitcher Blinks First
Both Phil Hughes and Colby Lewis are coming into this game off of great outings in the ALDS. Each guy allowed 0 runs, and while Lewis was solid in 5 innings, Hughes was a stone cold killer through 7 in a series-clinching game and got his team the win while Lewis watched the bullpen cough up what would have been a W for him as well. Something has to give for these 2 today, and it will be worth noting how the first guy to give up a run reacts. People will point out that Hughes has never given up a run in 15.1 IP against Texas, but that should have no bearing on his performance tonight. What he needs to do is keep attacking hitters like he did against Minnesota, but be more conscious of mixing up his pitches because the Rangers are a much better hitting team than the Twins.
2) The Yankees' Approach Against Lewis
Only 4 Yankees have hit against Lewis in their careers, and they have shown over the year that they can look completely lost against pitchers they haven't seen before. And Lewis is no slouch, he was top 10 in the AL in strikeouts and WHIP so he has swing-and-miss stuff, which makes it more difficult for hitters if they fall behind early. But like every other Ranger starter not named Cliff Lee, Lewis does have the tendency every now and then to either lose the zone (as evidenced by his 5 BB in 5 IP against Tampa) or lose his command within the zone and get hit hard. I would imagine the Yankees will stick with what they've done all along so far this postseason and be patient early. But if Lewis is pounding the strikezone with fastballs, expect the Yankees to start swinging earlier and jump in him the 2nd time through the lineup.
3) Ron Washington's Bullpen Plan
Ron Washington certainly has had his troubles in the 'pen so far this postseason, having a quick trigger finger when it comes to going to it even when his starters are throwing well (see: Lewis' start in the ALDS). Yanking Lewis after 5 innings and only 85 pitches proved to be the wrong move in that game, but last night Washington fell victim to the other side of that decision, leaving C.J. Wilson in for a bit too long and then running through a marathon of ineffective middle relievers without ever considering going to his All-Star closer to stop the bleeding. So how will he approach today? Will he give Lewis some more lead on his line after a solid ALDS start and a bullpen meltdown last night? And if it calls for it, will he go to Neftali Feliz for more than 3 outs? Another fuckup by Washington when it comes to late-game bullpen management, and his team could be looking at a 2-0 deficit as they head to the Big Apple.
Player To Watch: Alex Rodriguez
I have no statistical basis for this, I just have a gut feeling that The Horse is due for a big game. He has had some big hits so far, but not a complete game where he just takes over like he did last year. Even on the outs he's made, he's made solid contact, he just seems to be a little swing happy at the plate and might be reaching just a little bit. After his first-pitching swinging 2-RBI single in the 8th last night, he was up there hacking again on the first pitch with Jeter on 2nd in the 9th when he probably should have been taking until he got a strike. If he can stay patient early in the count and get himself a favorable hitter's count or 2 tonight, watch the fuck out because there might be some souveneirs coming.
Well last night was a hell of a way to kick off the series and today the Yankees have a chance to take command of the series before heading home. The earlier start time ahead of the dynamite Halladay-Lincecum matchup that, quite frankly, deserves a primtime slot means that the shadows will come into play today. We saw the "strobing" effect the light-to-dark-to-light shadow pattern had on hitters in the Rangers-Rays series so that could be a benefit for the pitchers. Which lineup can handle the shadows better? We'll find out in a couple hours.
It's always great when you wake up early to write and your fucking internet connection is garbage so you have to wait around for it to come back. Because of that, and because Game 2 starts in less than 4 hours, we'll just cover the major points from last night.
- First and foremost, I'm not even going to mince words here. CC fucking sucked last night. I don't know if he was too jacked up, if he was nervous, or if it just came down to him not having a feel for his stuff after another long layoff between starts, but he was a complete disaster out there. He couldn't throw the fastball for a strike, couldn't establish consistency with the slider, and showed almost no ability to battle back after getting behind in counts because he had no command.
He hung an 0-2 slider to Hamilton belt-high and middle in in the first inning and Hamilton did what good power hitters do with it. That, along with his fastball almost always been up and away to righties showed how little command CC had last night. Everything was a constant struggle and he very rarely hit the glove where Jorge set it up. He also reached 8 separate 3-ball counts through 3 innings, which is unheard of for hiim. The only good news was that Joe was smart enough to get him out after 4 innings when he couldn't limit the damage after getting the first 2 outs in the inning. He threw 93 pitches and I'm willing to bet Joe wanted to save him up and bring him back on short rest in Game 4, hoping he would have better command getting back out on the mound sooner, rather than let him run up a pitch count and fall further behind.
- On the other side of the matchup, C.J. Wilson was very effective early last night, throwing a lot of strikes and a lot of strikes early, something that we said was a key for him against the patient Yankee lineup. Every time you looked up, he was ahead 0-2 or 1-2 and instead of wasting pitches, he kept going right after the Yankee hitters and got a lot of defensive swings. I was a little surprised Ron Washington brought him back out for the 8th inning as he had clearly started to tire. Jeter put a good swing on a pitch that didn't have the zip or sharpness to it that Wilson had earlier in the game to drive in Gardner and start the 8th-inning rally, and although he was charged with Jeter's run as well and couldn't get an out in the inning, Wilson certainly pitched better than his final line showed and pitched well enough to win.
- Once again, the Yankees showed how well they think the game, flipping the script on the Ranger bullpen and swinging at the first-pitch fastballs with runners on base. After Oliver walked Swish and Teix batting right-handed (not a good sign for him going forward), A-Rod and Cano both swung and got RBI singles off of first-pitch fastballs against guys who were brought in specifically to face them. After being patient and falling behind Wilson for the first 7 innings by laying off the fastball, the Yankees decided to get aggressive, knowing the Rangers were going to throw strikes just for the sake of throwing strikes and it got them back in the game.
- I can't speak for everybody, but after Joba pitched the 5th I saw Dustin Moseley's entrance into the game as a sign of Joe waving the white flag. With where the game was at the time, they clearly weren't high-leverage innings, but you have to give a call to Moseley for throwing 2 big scoreless innings, striking out 4, and keeping the deficit where it was, allowing the Yankee offense a chance to make the comeback. After looking a little too jacked in walking Ian Kinsler, Kerry Wood settled down after picking him off and got through the 8th, and then Mo did what he does to save the thing. Huge shoutout to the 'pen for not just mailing it in but bearing down, getting outs, and not allowing runs. And nobody had to throw too many pitches so it should be all hands on deck again tonight.
- Gerry Davis was very good behind the plate last night. He missed a few close strike calls but overall his strike zone was consistent all night long for both teams and he made the correct call on a bang-bang play in the first inning when CC tagged out Nelson Cruz trying to score on a wild pitch. At first glance it appeared Cruz was in by a mile, but the replay showed Davis made the right call and he was in perfect position to do it. It's nice when an umpire actually has a good night for a change.
- Top of the 8th: Exhibit S for how valuable Brett Gardner's speed is to the Yankees
- Great at-bat by Thames in the 8th to drive in the winning run off of Derek Holland. It was a good pitch by Holland and Thames just pulled his hands in and muscled the pitch into left. Nice piece of hitting.
- Nice work by Holland to get out of the 8th without allowing any more runs after the Thames hit. He was the only guy out of the Texas bullpen last night that didn't look like he wanted to shit his pants.
- Can anybody get Robinson Cano out? He sputtered down the stretch in the regular season but looks as locked in at the plate right now as he was in April when he started the season.
- Someone please tell Nick Swisher to stop bunting. He's terrible at it. If those calls are coming from Joe then he should be slapped. If Swish is doing it on his own, Joe should slap him.
Play of The Game:Cano's RBI Single in the 8th
It tied the game and allowed A-Rod to move into better scoring position for Thames' hit thanks to the Hamilton error in fielding the ball. Without that, A-Rod probably doesn't score on Thames' blooper.
Player of The Game:Robinson Cano
3-4 with a HR, 1 run scored, and 2 RBI, including the first run that got the comeback started in the 7th and the aforementioned game-tying RBI in the 8th. Not to mention the fact that all 3 of his hits came off lefties. Ron Washington might want to re-think his late-game matchup strategy with Cano because the dude can hit off of anybody.
C.J. Wilson is a good pitcher, no doubt about it. If the Rangers can't have Cliff Lee on the hill to start a series then he's the clear cut 2nd best option. But the guy does have trouble finding the strike zone sometime, evidenced by his AL-leading 93 walks in the regular season and associated 4.1 BB/9 rate that goes with it. Part of Wilson's issue in the regular season was his inability to throw strike 1. His 1st-pitch strike percentage of 54% was 5 points below the MLB average of 59%. For the record, his overall strike percentage of 60% was also below the MLB average of 63%.
The Yankees are a patient team and showed how they can wear down pitchers and drive up pitch counts against the Twins in the division series and those guys all throw strikes like it's going out of style. Wilson's tendency to lose the zone and fall behind in counts plays right into their hands, so it's important for him to throw strike 1 early and not after a 2-0 or 3-0 count. The Yankees are most likely going to be taking all day the first time through the lineup, so Wilson can get ahead if he willingly throws first-pitch fastballs for strikes. If he doesn't or can't do that, don't expect the Yankees to change their approach, as they've already touched him up a few times this year following their usual formula.
2) CC's Slider
By now we've covered CC's struggles with his command in Game 1 of the ALDS and attributed it to the long layoff between starts. He faces another long layoff before hitting the rubber tonight, but he tried to counteract that by throwing an extra bullpen session. We all know that CC likes to use his fastball to set everything up, so that will be priority number 1 for him to establish. But when his slider is on, it's a devastating, almost unhittable pitch for anybody, dropping off and away to lefties and sweeping down hard to the back foot of righties. In Game 1 against the Twins it was not devastating at all. In fact, I don't think he threw a single one for a strike in that struggle of a 6th inning when he started walking everybody.
Pay attention early to how many sliders CC throws and where they are locating. In Game 1 he was either to far up in the zone with them where they were being fouled off or hit into left for singles or they either started so low in the zone that they were already balls by the time they started to break closer to the plate. If he has it tonight, it will start about thigh-to-knee high and then drop off the table late. If that's what the slider is doing and he has it early, expect to see it a lot as his out pitch and expect a long night for the Ranger hitters.
3) C-Grand's Hot Streak
Curtis Granderson was arguably the MVP of the ALDS. He went 5-11 for a .455/.500/.727 tripleslash with 2 XBH, 2 runs scored, 3 RBIs, 1 BB, and a SB for good measure. He handled righties, lefties, and probably could have gotten a hit off a guy throwing 2 balls at him at once. He saw the ball incredibly well, laid off every bad pitch, and swung at the good ones, making solid contact almost every time, even on the outs he made.
The question is, can he keep that up in this next series after having almost a week to cool off? He looked good against the Twins' lefties but Wilson and Cliff Lee are different pitchers and C-Grand has no history of success against either. If he's still seeing the ball well and being patient at the plate, we'll be able to tell early tonight against Wilson. If he's keeping his hands back and staying with the ball through the zone, then he's still locked in. If he's reaching and his timing is off, then he's up there guessing. Granderson staying hot will be a big boost to the lineup and will give the Rangers' righties something to think about for Game 2 and Game 4, so it's important for him to keep the momentum rolling and get off to a strong start tonight.
Player To Watch:Josh Hamilton
Josh Hamilton is the best player on the Texas Rangers, the likely MVP of the American League, and possibly the best all-around player in baseball. When he's on, he's next to impossible to get out. But he went just 2-18 in the ALDS against Tampa and certainly didn't look like himself. His timing was off at the plate, most likely due to his extended absence with the rib injury, and he was beat constantly on off-speed stuff away.
I believe he is still suffering some effects of the rib injury and that explains why his swing is off, so pay attention to both the swing and how CC approaches him tonight. If he's feeling better and his timing and swing are back, he can put any pitch anywhere in the park, and if we see that from him at the plate tonight, it's a big boost for the Ranger lineup and a big obstacle for the Yankees to have to deal with going forward in the series. I would stick with a lot of off-speed stuff away since it worked for David Price and try to take away his pull power by forcing him to go the other way, at least until Hamilton proves he can do something with it.
So it's CC against C.J. in Game 1, another lefty-lefty pitching matchup. Each team went 2-0 in those type of matchups in the ALDS so something has to give tonight. It's the most decorated team in baseball history with the most championships against a team who is just coming off their first postseason victory in franchise history, and it starts in the Texas heat so let's fire this sonofabitch up.
As awesome as my postseason coverage has been so far, there is stuff out there that's just as good, if not better.
- The NYT's Yanks-Rangers preview reminds us of Texas' history against the Bombers in the postseason and points out some issues for Pettitte and C.J. Wilson. The info on how the Yanks can follow David Price's lead in attacking Josh Hamilton is helpful as well.
- Mark Simon at ESPN NY looks at the statistical support for the "Hughes over Pettitte in Game 2" decision. You can't argue with statistics. Numbers don't lie.
- The always-awesome Chad at LoHud has the details on the Yankees' last day of prep before the series starts tomorrow night. Note I found most interesting: CC threw 2 bullpens before this start instead of his usual 1. Also check out the notes from Joe's talk about the series and roster decisions a little down the homepage.
- Stephen R. of TYU has 2 phenomenal preview pieces on the Rangers' rotation. Part I about C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis can be found here, while Part II about Cliff Lee and Tommy Hunter is here. It's nice when people actually have the time to do REAL statistical research, huh? If Joe doesn't have these posts printed out and in his gigantic binders in the dugout then he's a moron.
- If you want more evidence to support how hastily my research is done (even if it is almost always relevant, accurate, and valuable in predicting outcomes. I'm just sayin'...), check out Stephen's batter-by-batter breakdown of the Ranger lineup too.
- Last but not least, Mike Axisa from RAB has a great piece on the Rangers' weaknesses and how the Yankees should exploit them. I got nothing better to say than to just say that's good stuff and another thing Joe should consult in his binder. Also, do yourselves a favor and check out Mike's live chats the day after each game on RAB. I particularly enjoy his quick wit and subtle sarcasm in dealing with people who ask stupid questions.
So there you go, Yankee fans. Between my shit and all this goodness, you should have everything you need to know to watch this series and wow your friends and neighbors with all your advanced knowledge while also betting intelligently on the outcomes. You've got less than a day left to study up and be prepared. Get to it!
Game 1- CC, Game 2- Hughes, Game 3- Andy , Game 4- A.J., Game 5- CC, Game 6- Hughes, Game 7- Andy
What It Should Be:
Game 1- CC, Game 2- Hughes, Game 3- Andy, Game 4- CC, Game 5- A.J., Game 6- Hughes, Game 7- Andy
I have no qualms with the order of the first 3 guys. I like the idea of splitting up the 2 lefties and I like the idea of having Andy ready to go for a Game 7 if it's needed. But I would swap CC and A.J. in Games 4 and 5. Game 4 is the most important game of the series, regardless of what happens in the first 3, and in all 3 of the potential situations, it makes more sense to have CC, your best starting pitcher, out there instead of your worst. If the Yankees are up 3-0, I want CC on the mound to close it out. If the Yankees are up 2-1, I want CC on the mound to put up a shutdown performance and give the team the best chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. And if they are down 2-1, I definitely want CC out there to shut down the Rangers and give the Yanks a chance to even it up.
Not to mention that CC pitching Game 4 has the potential to take all of the pressure off of A.J. in Game 5. If the Yankees are up 3-1 going into Game 5 they are still in driver seat even if A.J. blows up. Even if they're 2-2 and he implodes, the series isn't over. But A.J. looming in Game 4 puts more pressure on Hughes and Andy to pitch well to ensure the Yanks are up 2-1 going into that and a stink bomb by him if they aren't up 2-1 could spell doom.
Then there's the fact that CC almost always pitches well on short rest. He's a guy that likes to pitch often and he pitches better when he's able to do that. His stuff stays sharper and he can get into a groove. He had extra rest going into his Game 1 ALDS start and his stuff wasn't quite as sharp as we're used to seeing. I expect him to be better in Game 1 tomorrow night, but I still think bringing him back in Game 4 after he's had a chance to pitch again and get his groove back gives the Yankees a much better chance to win than A.J. going out there for the first time in weeks when he can't even get through a simulated session without throwing balls to the backstop and plunking his teammates.
And looking even further down the road, if the series goes to a Game 7, having CC pitch Game 4 on short rest would leave him available to pitch in Game 7 if, Joe Pesci forbid, Andy is either completely ineffective or gets injured early. Pitching in Game 5 will make CC available for Game 7 only in a situation where it's extra innings and the Yankees are out of arms, and even then he probably won't be able to give them much more than an inning or 2.
The decision has been made for now. But something tells me that rotation isn't set in stone, especially if the Yankees go into Game 4 down 2-1 in the series.
When you look at the Yankee lineup, you probably don't stop and give too much thought to Marcus Thames or Lance Berkman when you see their names penciled in. On a team that features A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Nick Swisher, these guys almost become afterthoughts, certainly not players that you build your pitching strategy around or worry about beating you late in games.
Unfortunately for the Minnesota Twins, that's exactly what happened in the ALDS. Thames and Berkman combined to go 4-11 in the 3 games with a 2B, 2 HRs, 4 RBIs, and 3 runs scored. Berkman's 2B in Game 2 turned out to be the game-winning RBI and Thames' 2-run bomb in Game 3 turned a 2-0 lead into a 4-0 lead and all but killed the Twins' hopes of coming back. Each of these guys has accepted their roles as situational DH hitters and performed those roles as well as any Yankee fan could have wanted against the Twins.
How that success translates over to this series against the Rangers remains to be seen. Thames will get the starts against C.J. Wilson in Game 1 and Cliff Lee in Game 3, and has had some success against both. He is 5-11 lifetime against Wilson and although he is just 7-36 overall off of Lee, 3 of those hits have gone for home runs. Berkman actually has more success against Wilson and Lee than he does Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter, but if he can stick his approach that worked against Carl Pavano and work himself into favorable counts, Berkman has shown what he can do with a fastball that catches too much of the plate and both Lewis and Hunter will have that in the back of their minds.
Thames and Berkman, at the very least, give the Rangers one more obstacle they have to overcome as they navigate the Yankee lineup. If they don't respect them and make bad pitches, they'll pay for it. If they think back to what these 2 did to the Twins and try to handle them a little more carefully, that could leads to walks and baserunners, something the Yankees are happy to take. The potential added benefit of Robbie Cano and Jorge seeing a few more pitches to hit in front of these guys wouldn't hurt either. As long as they stay hot, the benefits of what Thames and Berkman have already done and what they have the potential to do in this series are multiple for the Yankee offense.
Once again, I hate to cop out to something that is considered "intangible" and can't be measured by statistics, but given the drastic difference in situations for these 2 teams, I believe it warrants mentioning in this case.
Winning the series against the Rays was a big deal for the Texas Rangers. It was the first time in team history that they won a playoff series and they celebrated like motherfuckers after the win. ESPN Dallas even devoted an entire story to the continued celebration with the fans upon the team's return to Texas after Game 5. I know that by the time tomorrow night rolls around plenty of time will have passed since then, but are the Rangers going to be fully focused on the task still ahead of them or do they run the risk of still being caught up on finally winning a postseason series and falling into "just happy to be there" territory? I mean go ahead, celebrate, enjoy the victory, but remember that in the grand scheme of things you still haven't won shit yet, and when I'm reading about pitchers blasting music from iPod speakers and the team owner shaking every fan's hand like they just won the World Series, it makes me wonder where the team's focus is truly going to be when Game 1 starts.
The Yankees, on the other hand, know full well what the ALCS is about and how to approach. The majority of the guys on the roster were here last year for the title run and even the guys that weren't have experience to draw from. Kerry Wood pitched in the 2003 NLCS with the Cubs and Lance Berkman has played in a World Series before with the Astros. After all the crap they had to listen to heading into the ALDS about their rotation issues, how poorly they played down the stretch, and how Mo wasn't pitching well, the Yanks regrouped and reminded everybody over a 4-day period why the won the title last year and why they should still be the favorites this year. Plus they still have motivation to draw from by being the Wild Card and having to win this series on the road as well.
Bottom line, the Yankees have been here before and the Rangers (save for Bengie Molina and Darren Oliver) have not. The Yankees are coming in calm and focused on the task at hand while the Rangers are coming in off the high and excitement of winning their first playoff series. The Yankees have buttloads of ALCS experience to draw from and the Rangers have next to none. So when that pressure starts to set in, how will they be able to handle it? If Neftali Feliz's performance in the division series is any indication, the Rangers might have a bit more of a mountain to climb to get right mentally for this series.
3) The Bullpens
And we segue beautifully from Neftali's ALDS meltdown into the last, and most important, factor in determining the winner of this series, the bullpens. Both of the teams' 'pens had up and down years from its members, particularly against each other. In the 8 regular season matchups between the Yanks and Rangers, the combined stats of the bullpen guys who will play in this series looked like this:
That's a lot of activity for just 8 games with all the wins, losses, and blown saves accumulated by the bullpens. These totals include multiple bumps in the road for Mo, something that occurred with him down the stretch of the regular season and something that Yankee fans are never accustomed to seeing. Overall the Rangers' 'pen was clearly more effective than the Yankees', allowing fewer baserunners and runs and striking out more guys. Since the postseason started, however, it has been a different story. Observe:
The Yankee numbers are solid but don't completely blow you away, until you consider the fact that Kerry Wood's Game 3 totals inflate them quite a bit. Eliminate that one shitty outing and the Yankees are looking at 0 runs allowed and a 1.00 WHIP from the 'pen in 6.2 IP. The Ranger 'pen, on the other hand, has been a disaster so far, with nobody outside of Darren O'Day pitching particularly well. They have put too many guys on base and haven't been able to make big pitches in big spots to get out of innings. The fact that Ron Washington is so quick to use them and isn't exactly a rocket scientist when it comes to managing his relievers is also cause for concern.
The Yankees have their pecking order set, have other guys on standby who had solid years should they need to go deeper (Joba, Mitre), and have the greatest closer of all time back pitching like the greatest closer of all time and shattering enough bats to start a good-sized bonfire. The Rangers have a closer who has looked ready to shit himself both times he's been out there already in this postseason, no clear cut shutdown setup man, and nobody who can step in and handcuff the Yankee lefties. The moments aren't going to get smaller and the pressure is going to lessen in this series, so the Rangers are going to have to step up, if they can.
The Yankee lineup is deeper and more cyclical than that of the Rangers, and Josh Hamilton still doesn't look completely recovered from his rib injury, so you have to give the Yankees a slight edge there. Their rotation went deeper into games than that of the Rangers, and their manager will allow a little more slack to Andy and Phil Hughes than Washington will with everybody not named Cliff Lee. That gives the Yankees an advantage there, even if their starters don't pitch as well as they did in the ALDS, which translates to an advantage in the bullpen as well, where they have the better pitchers who should be called on to pitch fewer innings. Factor in the potential first-time effect that the younger Rangers could experience and all signs point to a Yankee victory. It won't be a cakewalk like the division series was, but I still see it never being in doubt.