Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Derek Jeter's Sudden Pull Power

It's been another monster offensive month for Derek Jeter so far in August.  After predictably cooling down in May after his scorching hot April, and dipping down to a .608 OPS in June, Jeter started picking the batting average back up in July with a .346 month.  Since July has changed over to August, Jeter has been on an absolute tear, nearly matching the numbers he posted in April.  Jeter's rocking a .386/.407/.602 line in 92 August plate appearances, good for a .428 wOBA, a .324 season batting average that has him sitting 3rd in the American League, and some MSM whispers about Jeter garnering some votes on MVP ballots at the end of the year for the kind of season he's had.

The MVP talk is a bit of a stretch, but Jeter has been simply fantastic this year.  He's once again carrying the offense through an up-and-down stretch where the Yankees are battling injuries and slumps, and continuing to punch Father Time in the face while he does it.  In the past week I've noticed a new wrinkle to Jeter's game that hasn't been seen much in years.  Believe it or not, Jeter has started hitting the ball to left field with authority again.  Take a look.

Middle Relief Regression Is A Bummer

(They haven't all been "Booooooone" chants this month.  Courtesy of The AP)

Considering the injuries that they've had to deal with, the job the Yankee bullpen has done this season has been nothing short of outstanding.  Rafael Soriano has been even better than he was in his standout 2010 season that inspired the top Yankee brass to offer him his big contract, D-Rob has been quietly awesome again, and there have been big contributions from some very unexpected sources to help soak up middle innings while other guys were out.  It is those middle innings that have become a problem this month, as the 'pen has regressed to a 4.29/3.44/3.55 line in 50.1 combined innings of work.  The problem has been the bulk of the guys pitching in front of D-Rob and Soriano starting to struggle, leaving the pickings slim and risky when Joe has to manage the 6th and 7th innings.  The Yankees didn't make a move to add bullpen depth at the trade deadline, counting on the return of Joba Chamberlain being a stabilizing factor.  That hasn't happened and now the middle relief corps is turning into a weakness at the wrong time of the season.

Game 123 Wrap-Up: CHW 7 NYY 3

(Yeesh.  Courtesy of The AP)

Ivan Nova is a bit of a black hole right now.  He's got a 7.28 ERA in his 8 post-ASB starts, he followed up a great start against Toronto with another stinker the last time out, and if the pitching staff wasn't so decimated by injuries right now, he'd probably be out of a job as a starter.  Nova's problems have been consistent all year- inability to locate his fastball down in the zone, leaving his slider up too often, and just generally making bad pitches in very hittable spots in the zone that hitters pummel- and they were all present again last night against the White Sox.  With the way he's been going these last few months, it's now worth asking if Nova should keep his rotation spot when CC comes back on Friday.

Game Notes:

- Derek Jeter has been on an absolute tear lately and he kept it going right off the bat with the leadoff HR to start the game.  The Yankees loaded the bases behind Jeter and pushed another run across to make it 2-0 in the 1st.

- It wasn't a great start for Nova, but he managed to limit his trouble to just 2 runs through 4 innings.  He was giving up a lot of hard contact, his command wasn't great, but he wasn't getting killed.

- That changed in the 5th inning when Nova loaded the bases on a double, walk, single and then watched everybody trot home after he hung a to Kevin Youklis for a grand slam and a 6-2 White Sox lead.

- Meanwhile, Francisco Liriano gathered himself up and shut the Yankees down through the next innings.  He struck out batters ( on the ) and limited the Yankees to just one baserunner reaching 2nd base.

- The one good thing the Yankee lineup did do was work Liriano, who left after 6 innings and 108 pitches.  Russell Martin welcomed Jesse Crain to the game with a HR to lead off the top of the 7th, but the top of the order behind him did nothing to keep the rally going and it stayed 6-3.

- With a pretty taxed bullpen out there, Joe went to Derek Lowe to soak up the late innings.  Lowe got dinked and dunked on some soft hits and gave up a run in the 8th, but he still looked OK out there.  OK wasn't good enough last night and the Yankees had their second straight loss.