Tuesday, August 10, 2010

3 Things To Watch For In The Yanks-Rangers Series

1) How the Rangers handle a playoff atmosphere

Yes, the Rangers are clearly the class of the AL West this season, but that's like being the blind person with the best eyesight.  It's one thing to beat up on the Mariners and A's and Zombie Angels in half- to three quarters-full ballparks knowing you're light years ahead of them in the loss column, it's quite another to face the Yankees in a packed house in what could be a preview of the ALCS.

The Rangers roster isn't exactly chock full of guys who have been around for a long time, and certainly not full of guys who have playoff experience.  The only vets who know about what it's like to play in big high-pressure games are Vlad Guerrero, Darren Oliver, and Cliff Lee, the last legitimate Yankee killer left.  And Lee's track record only goes back to last season, so again, not a lot of pressure-situation experience here to fall back on.

The Rangers have the benefit of playing this series at home, but it's still worth asking how the Elvis Andruses, Ian Kinslers, and Nelson Cruzes of the world will hold up against the Yankee starters and how the Texas bullpen will fare facing the Yankee lineup in a close game.

2) How the Yankees handle the 2 Ranger lefties, C.J. Wilson and Cliff Lee.

The Yankees have a winning record against lefties this season, but recently they have been handcuffed in their last 2 lefty outings by Ricky Romero and Jon Lester.  And of course the previously mentioned Cliff Lee has done his fair share of kicking the Yankees in the apple bag, so will their struggling offense be able to get on track against what has been their kryptonite of late?

Turning Teix and Jorge around is certainly to the Rangers' benefit, and guys like Berkman and C-Grand have done next to nothing against lefties this year, so there's some lineup juggling that should be done to try to get the lineup going.  Which brings us to our last point...

3) What Joe does with the lineup against the 2 lefties

I don't know about you, but I'm done watching Curtis Granderson flail around helplessly like a baby bird at the plate, especially against lefties.  At this point, he's more of an offensive liability than a defensive asset when there's a southpaw on the mound, so I would bench his ass for Austin Kearns and stick Brett Gardner in center for these 2 games.  If the Yanks have the lead late Joe can stick him in as a defensive replacement and slide Gardner over to left, but there is no reason to have Granderson hitting against lefties with what he's shown this season.

The same could be said for Berkman, despite the fact that he started swinging the bat better at the end of the Boston series.  He just doesn't have the numbers to justify being in there against Wilson and Lee, and Marcus Thames has done nothing but mash lefties all year.  Thames should get the nod here.

But then comes the issue of Cervelli already being announced as the starting catcher for both games of the series and the bigger issue of Teix being out of the lineup tonight unless his old lady can pop that kid out with the quickness.  Frankie catching almost automatically pencils Jorge into the DH spot and Teix being MIA means The BFP is probably in at first.  All this adds up to bye-bye, Marcus and means tonight's lineup will look something like this:

1) Jeter
2) Swish
3) A-Rod
4) Cano
5) Jorge
6) Berkman
7) Kearns
8) Cervelli
9) Gardner

Not exactly the A-Team out there but what can you do?  If Teix can go, you slot him in at 3 and bump everybody else down 1 to their normal spots until you cross out Berkman at 6.  Joe could take a risk and stick Thames in LF to get his bat in over Kearns', but I would hope by now he has learned the lesson of never putting Thames in the field.

I personally would like to see Jorge at first tonight if Teix can't make it and Thames at DH.  Now you've got your full compliment of righties in the lineup and Granderson and Berkman on the bench where they belong.  I'm sure that won't happen because of all the concerns about Jorge's health, but fuck that.  I would want to send a message this series that these cute little upstart Rangers haven't won shit yet and still aren't on the Yankees level.  And if that means Jorge takes a liner off his bad knee and the Yanks have to call up The Jesus after to fill in and rake, so fucking be it!

But that's just me...

** Bonus 4th Thing to Watch For: How A.J.'s back holds up tonight.  

I know I wouldn't be all that upset if he tweaked it again and had to make a DL trip.  Is that wrong to say?  Probably.  But with Ivan Nova wasting away in Triple-A, I'd rather see him come out and get shelled and chalk it up as a learning experience than watch A.J. get shelled and have to chalk it up to him being a candyass. **

Yanks-Sox Weekend Series Thoughts And Afterthoughts

(Photo of Jeter passing The Babe on Sunday courtesy of The AP)

Well the last of the booze had left my system after the weekend, and as it turns out I actually got to catch half of the series thanks to FOX not having anything Chicago or St. Louis-related to cover on Saturday to bump the Yanks and ESPN having to have Boston-New York on Sunday night baseball.  All in all, I'd say it wasn't a great weekend for the Yanks, but it certainly wasn't a terrible one either.  Let's review:

- On Friday, the offense was held in check by Clay Buchholz for the most part and Frankie Cervelli did himself a huge disservice in trying to get more playing time this year and next with the new additions by committing an inexcusable error on a dropped pop up that led to 3 unearned runs.  Javy didn't pitch great, not well enough to win against Buchholz, but he certainly didn't deserve to lose either.  Just a stagnant game and a case of nobody being able to pick anybody else up for their mistakes.

- On Saturday, CC outdueled the still-overrated John Lackey to even the series with 8 strong innings to bridge the gap to Mo.  After struggling through the first couple innings and allowing 2 runs, it was great to watch CC morph back into the dominant ace we've known him to be.  He was noticeably better in each inning after the 3rd, re-establishing his command of his stuff and keeping Boston's hitters completely off balance.  With the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the staff right now, it was a huge relief to see Carsten right the ship.

- A.J. Burnett's back spasms turned out to be the best thing that could happen to the Yanks on Sunday night as it allowed Dustin Moseley, someone the Red Sox most likely have no book on, to step in and completely dominate.  Moseley threw strike 1 to seemingly every batter he faced and mixed his fastball and off-speed stuff brilliantly to both sides of the plate to keep Boston's hitters completely off balance for 6 + innings.  Another typical Yankee beatdown of the Pitcher Formerly Known as Josh Beckett and that was that.

- Yesterday was another solid start for Phil Hughes, albeit a wasted one as the Yanks were shut down by Jon Lester.  The Yankees had their opportunities in the late innings, but could not capitalize on anything as Boston's bullpen did something right for a change and actually held a lead.  Surprising, I know, but still disappointing with a series win on the line.  All in all not a bad weekend, though, as the Yankees find themselves back atop the AL East thanks to Tampa's awful week.

Some more thoughts on the weekend:

- Great work by Boone Logan this weekend.  3 appearance totaling 2 innings of scoreless, hitless ball and a complete shutdown of Big Sloppi.  Logan has looked like a different pitcher since being called back up and should give the Yankees some lefty insurance if Marte is unable to go in the postseason.

- The box scores show a split, but this very easily could and should have been a Yankee sweep.  They put plenty of men on base and couldn't do much with that, save for a few at-bats on Saturday and Sunday.  Overall they were just 8-41 with RISP in the series, and 1-17 in the 2 losses.  Definitely a weekend of lost opportunities at the plate.

- Jorge Posada is old, I mean REALLY fucking old.  His swing looked slow and powerless in the 2 games I saw, his play behind the plate is still spotty at best, and he had yet another groundball to first that the firstbaseman dove for, fielded, recovered, and threw to first in the time it takes me to get ready for work in the morning to get Jorge by a step and a half.  I've loved Jorge for a long time, but if he keeps this up down the stretch, the Yanks might have to think seriously about calling The Jesus up next year to catch.

- The Big Fat Puma picked a good night to start hitting on Sunday night.  He plunked A-Rod in BP the day before and the boo birds were starting to come out at The Stadium before his 3-4 night.  Those back-to-back doubles down the line showed that there's still some life in Berkman's bat, even if there's next to none in his legs.

- Speaking of the BP incident, what the fuck was The Horse doing that close to the batting cage if he wasn't paying attention?  If you want to talk bullshit with guys in the dugouts or down the baselines, or find some good grass to graze on before the game, don't do it right in the infield during live batting practice.  Go in the fucking outfield or the clubhouse!  Come on, A-Rod.  This ain't no rookie shit.

- Well he ain't doing much for the ole batting average lately, but Teix is certainly making his hits count.  He had 5 hits against the Sox, 3 for home runs, and in his last 10 games has exactly 10 hits, 6 of them home runs and 1 a double for 13 RBIs.  Hey, I'm not going to complain about him still hitting below .260 when he's 1st in the AL in runs, 3rd in homers, 4th in RBIs, and 3rd in walks.

- Saturday was a perfect demonstration of how CC has evolved as a pitcher.  His stuff was sharp, but not dominating, and he simply pitched to contact, getting the Red Sox hitters to swing at what he wanted them to swing at, and trusted his defense behind him.  A fantastic performance and the best recipe to get the Yanks a win that Joe obviously wanted.

- You can't help but be impressed by Dustin Moseley.  The guy doesn't look like much, doesn't have anything special to his delivery, and doesn't throw anything in particular that makes you do a double take.  But the dude throws strikes, isn't afraid to come inside, and seems to have a good feel for the game.  After Sunday, I think we can all breathe a little easier knowing Moseley is around if someone else in the rotation gets hurt.

- Because of how well Moseley handled himself on Sunday, it made it all the more strange to me when Joe took him out in the 7th inning.  His pitch count was low (87), he was showing no signs of fatigue, he was facing a righty in Mike Lowell (and an older than shit one at that), and had a double play set up with a runner on first.  As well as he had pitched to that point, Moseley deserved a chance to finish out the inning, especially with a 6-run lead and especially if Joe's next choice was Joba.  As expected, Joba was a disaster and couldn't get Moseley off the hook and Boone had to come save the day.

- Then, to top that off, Joe yanks D-Rob in the 9th after a walk to bring in Mo even though there were 2 outs and the Yanks were up 5.  Mo never should have been up in that situation in the first place.  Stop overmanaging, Joe!!  Let your pitchers pitch!

- Is it just me or have the Yankees been extremely unlucky with infield singles against them?  It happened twice in the just discussed 7th inning on Sunday, and it seems like they have at least 1 or 2 against them every game.  Are teams actually trying to put the ball in these soft spots of the infield or is it really just a case of shit luck?  In either case, it sucks for the pitchers when they make a good pitch, get a shit swing for shit contact, and the dude still ends up on first.

- I for one was fully expecting the Yanks to light up Daniel Bard when he was brought in yesterday in the 7th with the bases loaded.  And the at-bats by Jeter and Swish were absolutely pathetic.  I know Bard's got good stuff, but come the fuck on!!  Add in C-Grand's hack job against Lester before that and that was just a disgraceful series of events for the Yankee hitters.  Bases loaded, nobody out, and they can't even get the ball in play to get the runners moving?  Pitiful.  That was the ballgame right there.

- It's stories like this one about the Rays putting Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis on the DL with shoulder injuries that really make me appreciate how the Yankees have handled Phil Hughes.  Sure, they fucked up Joba, but he sucks anyway.  Hughes was always the crown jewel of their pitching prospects and they've treated him carefully as such.  If he continues to pitch well this year without any problems, it should be all systems go next year and each year after.  And I'd rather have that to look forward to than MRIs and Tommy John surgery like Niemann and Davis have.