Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Et Tu, Jose Valverde?

"It's over already.  Verlander has it tomorrow. The next day we have the celebration in Detroit. They have a good team, but I think that's it for them."

What's that, Jose?  You were saying?  I could have sworn I heard you utter something stupid.


ALDS Game 4 Preview: A Season On The Brink

Pitching Matchup: A.J. Burnett (11-11) vs. Rick Porcello (14-9)

Starting Lineups:

NYY- Jeter (SS), C-Grand (CF), Cano (2B), A-Rod (3B), Teix (1B), Swish (RF), Jorge (DH), Martin (C), Gardner (LF)

DET- Jackson (CF), Santiago (2B), Young (LF), Cabrera (1B), Martinez (DH), Kelly (RF), Peralta (SS), Avila (C), Betemit (3B)

3 Things to Watch For:

1) Which Starting Pitcher Blinks First

Verlander-CC it ain't tonight, as A.J. Burnett, he of the 5.15 ERA/4.77 FIP in 2011, faces Rick Porcello and his 4.75/4.06 line.  As guys who weren't expected to factor into the equation this series, both will have the shortest of short hooks ready for them tonight from their managers and it will be critical for them to limit damage if/when they put runners on.  These guys are opposites in their makeup, A.J. all stuff and no command and Porcello not much stuff so relying on command, and history suggests A.J. could be in for the better outing (if that means anything).  In 6 outings and 30 innings over the last 4 seasons, A.J. has allowed 13 ER and 35 baserunners against Detroit.  Porcello has given up 16 ER and 45 baserunners over 29 innings in that same timeframe, striking out only 11 in the process.  Whichever guy can buck the trend of poor pitching in 2011 and shaky histories against the other team will give his club a leg up. 

2) Which Random Tiger Hitter Makes a Key Play

In Game 1 it was Delmon Young going 2-4 with a HR and 2 runs scored.  In Game 2 it was Don Kelly pinch hitting in the top of the 9th and getting what turned out to be a very important insurance run on an RBI single.  Last night it was the immortal Ramon Santiago and his .260/.311/.384 season line going 2-4 with 2 RBI.  I thought it would be Miguel Cabrera who would carry the team, and he did his fair share of damage in Game 2, but the Tigers have consistently gotten offense from some unlikely sources in this series.  With what he showed in the past 2 games, it could be Brandon Inge that steps up tonight, but I'm hopeful he'll decide not to and make a liar out of me. 

3) Which Yankee Hitter Decides to Start Hitting

The Horse doesn't have a hit in 10 ABs this series.  Russell Martin has 1 in 9.  Swish 2 in 11.  Teix 1 in 11 with 4 Ks (and just 16 in 99 career postseason ABs as a Yankee).  Jeter has 4 hits but 6 Ks and a small army left on the basepaths.  Cano has been nonexistent since Game 1.  It's essentially Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner carrying the offensive load right now, and that just doesn't cut the mustard.  The Yankees are facing a guy who they've knocked around before and are set up for tonight to be the night to start breaking out of this mini-funk (can't call it a slump after just 2 games).  The question is, who's going to be the one to do it?  Who's going to lead the charge, get the ball rolling, and get some good vibes going at the plate?  The cliche "hitting is contagious" has some truth to it, and somebody needs to start spreading those germs early tonight. 

Player to Watch: A.J. Burnett

All the hitting in the world don't mean shit if your pitcher can't hold the lead.  It's what the Yanks experienced last night with their best on the mound and it's something they've experienced multiple times with A.J., their worst, on the mound.  A.J. was much better in September than he was in August, but his signature outing was still against a Fraud Sawx team that had packed it in.  The Tigers are a team on the verge of advancing to the ALCS and aren't going to roll over for him like Bahhston did.  A.J. needs to be sharp, he needs to work quickly, and he needs to get ahead in counts because he's going to have Phil Hughes handcuffed to him from the start if signs point to him melting down.  Out of all the pitchers I say this about, A.J. is probably the easiest guy to recognize when he doesn't have it.  So tonight, we need to see this guy:

... and not this guy:

It's do-or-die time for the Yankees.  Tonight is their Game 5.  I'd much rather have at least one more day to write game previews and pick out YouTube songs instead of starting to figure out what offseason topics I'm going to discuss first.  The offense has sleepwalked through the last 2 games, not taking advantage of all the chances they've had.  Tonight they need to get it together and wake up.  A little RATM should help that.

Thanks, Gerry

Yeah, the zone was about even.  From Max Scherzer getting strikes on pitches that crossed the on-deck circle on Sunday to CC not getting strikes that were right on the corners last night.  Gotta love it.  OK, I'm done bitching about the umps.  I'll start moving on to bitching about A.J.

Bigger, better quality versions of the above graphs can be found here at Brooks Baseball.

ALDS Game 3 Thoughts & Afterthoughts

(The horror.  The HORROR!  Courtesy of The AP)

- The Yankees came out swinging against Verlander in the 1st and it paid off with a couple of quick runs.  It also forced Verlander to abandon his usual early-inning routine of throwing nice and easy and dial up the fastball to the high-90s/100, which seemed like a positive omen for the Yanks.

- Great baserunning play by C-Grand on the 2nd run, running on contact and forcing another iffy play by Detroit defense where they had to take the sure out instead of trying to prevent a run.

- He might not win the Gold Glove this year because of his sloppy errors, but that was an all-world turn by Robbie Cano on the DP ball in the top of the 1st.  Literally all arm on the play.  I would probably tear my rotator cuff trying to do that.

- The swing-early approach worked for the Yanks in the top of the 1st, but when Verlander changed his approach up and started going to the offspeed stuff, and missing, in the 2nd, they should have adapted as well.  Instead Swish swung at a borderline 2-0 pitch and popped out to left, and Martin grounded into a DP first-pitch swinging to get Verlander out of the inning quickly.  Oofda.

- It was clear from the start that CC's fastball command was not there last night.  He couldn't locate it down in the zone, and when he missed up, he missed WAY up.  And he couldn't get the changeup to consistently start in and fall out of the zone.  5 BB in a game for CC is practically unheard of, let alone 5 walks to the first 10 batters he faced through 2+ innings.

- It also didn't help his cause that homeplate ump Gerry Davis was not giving him ANYTHING on the outside corner.  CC could hit his spots there, or at least come close, but Davis was having none of it, and that certainly contributed to CC's walks and high pitch count in the early innings.

- Between the 2 teams there were 5 double plays turned in the first 3 innings.  That was really the only thing saving CC too, so it was a good thing he was facing a swing-happy lineup.

- Give some credit to the Tiger lineup as well for making CC work.  They did exactly what the Yankees usually do to Verlander: worked the count, fouled a lot of pitches off, didn't chase stuff in the dirt.  They could sense that CC didn't have that sharp stuff that he had early in Game 1 and approached their at-bats accordingly.  Kudos.

- Moving through the 3rd-4th innings, it was clear that CC wasn't finding his groove and even more clear that Verlander was.  He was locating his change and curve well and starting to mix them up with the fastball.  The short turnaround clearly did not affect Verlander as much as it did CC, despite the prevailing thought being the opposite going into the game.  They each had their stuff, but Verlander was able to find his command and pitch where he wanted to after a couple innings while CC never could.

- Verlander in the 5th inning was a thing of beauty.  He threw 10 pitches, 9 of them strikes, and made Posada, Martin, and Gardner look downright foolish as they got their knees bent and bodies frozen by the curve and then flailed helplessly at the fastball.  Just a clinic on how to mix pitches in that inning.

- Yet another bad pitching decision by Joe to bring CC back out to start the 6th.  I don't care that it was L, R, L that inning, CC was done after a long 5th.  When he's giving up doubles into the gap to Ramon Santiago and throwing wild pitches, that's a sign that the wheels have come off and Joe should have let the 5th inning be the end.  Instead, he once again failed to go to his stacked bullpen and it cost the Yanks another run.  At some point, somebody needs to tell Joe that this IS the ALDS and not some mid-July series.

- Teix moving out of the way of that Verlander curve inside in the top of the 7th was the pussiest thing I've seen since that all-girl porn parody of "X-Men: First Class."  Take one for the team, guy!  Especially when you aren't doing a goddamn thing with the bat to help.

- Go figure that Jorge Posada is the only Yankee hitter who has looked good at the plate throughout this series.  This is the same guy who people were talking about releasing in the summer and who I wanted taken out to Monument Park and shot.

"It's like RAAAA-yeeeeee-AAAAAAIN.  On your wedding day... "

- Just a great at-bat by Gardner in the 7th on the game-tying double.  He saw Verlander start to lose it a bit in the Posada/Martin at-bats, and took until he got in a favorable count.  3-1 he was looking fastball all the way and he put a great swing on it.  If he could hit situationally like that on a regular basis, he'd be in the All Star Game every year.

- The Jorge at-bat prior to that was just as good.  He didn't start hacking when he fell behind in the count, and he was reading every pitch perfectly out of Verlander's hand.  I would have bet my next 2 months' salary that Jorge would have looked lost last night against Verlander, but he was right on point.

"It's a freeeee riiyiide.  When you're already late."

- He said he thought he threw a good pitch, but I'm here to educate Rafael Soriano.  Throwing a first-pitch fastball over the outside half of the plate to Delmon Young, a first-pitch hitter AAAAAAND a fastball hitter who has shown opposite field power, is never a good pitch.

- Props to Smoltz for the "Dumb and Dumber" reference in the 8th inning.  I have to admit, I don't hate the team of Anderson, Smoltz, and Darling calling the game.  And Tom Verducci is very useful as the in-game reporter.  Ken Rosenthal should take notes.

- Admittedly this is me being sour grapes, but Verlander DID get more calls on the corner than CC last night.  Some of the outside strikes and high strikes he got in the 6th-8th were the same pitches CC was throwing for balls in the 1st-3rd.  In related news, Gerry Davis is a cocksucker.

- Did anybody else have absolutely 0 confidence that Teix was going to come through after A-Rod walked in the 8th?  I know I did.  I almost clicked the TV over to the end of WWE Raw I was so sure he was going to get out.  And he didn't disappoint.  Question, would the fans at The Stadium have booed Teix after that pop-up?

- The injuries have made him a shell of himself at the plate, but A-Rod has played a fantastic 3rd base in this series, especially last night.  Maybe the knee isn't bothering him as much because he looks smooth in the field, and at least he's contributing some way.

- Top 9th, Swish has another 2-0 count, and he fucking pops up to 3rd on a pitch right down the middle from Valverde.  The last beer bottle almost went through the TV screen on that one.

- If you're keeping score at home, Jeter has now left 784 men on base in the last 2 games.

- Even though CC barely had his C-game last night, the Yankees still had plenty of chances to win and didn't get it done.  Verlander made a few more pitches when he had to, and the Tiger offense got a few more timely hits, and that was the difference.  Now it's do-or-die time tonight and the Yankees rest their hopes on the arm of the man who inspires the least amount of hope in recent Yankee history.  I might have to start drinking at work this afternoon to prepare myself for tonight.