Monday, September 10, 2012

The A-Rod Effect

(That guy's feeling the effect... Courtesy of Getty Images)

All horse-related jokes and puns aside, I have to admit that I've been shocked by Alex Rodriguez's success since returning to the lineup just a week ago.  He's looked healthy, he's looked quick and sharp in the field, and he's looked comfortable and powerful at the plate.  In his first 7 games back A-Rod is 8-26 with 2 2B, 2 HR, 8 R, 6 RBI, and 2 BB.  Throw an HBP in there and he's a guy who's been productive both as a run producer and scoring-opportunity creator in the middle of the lineup, something the Yankees were missing.  Not only has his presence back in the lineup resulted in big-time production from him, but it's also contributed to the rest of the offense around him starting to get things clicking and getting back to what the Yankees do best.

Joba's Slider Keying His Turnaround

(How does nobody get a shot of mini fist pump yesterday?  Courtesy of the AP)

The Yankees stood pat at the trade deadline when it came to addressing their relief pitching needs.  They had Joba Chamberlain close to coming back and were counting on his return to help fill the void created by the bullpen's regression.  Looking back now, it's easy (and correct) to say that strategy was flawed.  Putting faith in a player returning from a 14-month layoff that included Tommy John Surgery was misguided, and Joba's early results in his first 9 appearances reflect that.  Any way you cut it, 9 ER and 22 total baserunners allowed in 7.2 innings pitched is rough.  In this past week, however, we've seen signs that Joba is starting to find himself and starting to turn things around.  His command in general has greatly improved, but his slider has been very sharp and has really been the driving force behind his resurgence.

Reconsidering The Middle Relief Hierarchy

(Why is this guy still getting the ball over Wade?  Courtesy of the AP)

When the Yankees announced their first round of September call ups a little over a week ago, I commented on the perception of the move as one of desperation and semi-panic, at least in my eyes.  To pull some of the top Triple-A contributors away from their postseason to become the 30th and 31st men on the Major League roster didn't make a whole lot of tactical sense unless Joe was planning on working everybody into the PT rotation somehow.  There was certainly a case for adding these extra bodies with the Yankee roster being as beat up and stale as it was, particularly in the middle relief department.  So far though, there hasn't been much of a change in Joe's usage rates when it comes to his middle relief crew, bringing up the question of just why the Yankees called up some of the players they did.

Game 140 Wrap-Up: NYY 13 BAL 3

(Maybe Curtis likes coming off the bench.  Courtesy of the AP)

The Joe Girardi-Joel Sherman saga dominated the pregame talk, overshadowing Joe deciding to sit Curtis Granderson for a second straight game.  The argument can be made that Granderson deserves it with the way he's swung the bat since the All Star break, but with the Yankee lineup losing Teix again it was surprising to see Joe sit his biggest power threat for a second straight day while he's healthy knowing he was losing Teix today.  As it turned out that second day off may have been exactly what Curtis needed.  He entered the game as pinch hitter in the middle innings and made his presence felt in a big way, sparking a couple big innings to turn a close game into a laugher.  The Yankees hadn't had a game like yesterday's in some time, so to leave Baltimore on it with the division lead again is something to build on this week.

Game Notes:

- An Alex Rodriguez GIDP almost halted a Yankee threat in the 1st inning, but Robinson Cano came through with an RBI single to bring home Derek Jeter and at least get the Yankees 1.

- Zach Britton wasn't sharp or efficient from the beginning, and the Yankee offense rode that lack of command to a big, patient inning in the 4th.  A-Rod led it off with a single to right, and the rest of the lineup played patience to the tune of 3 more hits and 4 walks to build a 5-0 lead.

- For his part, Freddy Garcia was better than he'd been in his last handful of outings through the first 3.  But the long rest in the 4th didn't do him any favors as he gave the Orioles 3 runs back on 2 hits, 1 walk, and a hit batter before getting the hook with just 1 out in the 4th.

- Joe must have had a plan for C-Grand, because he  went to him to pinch hit for the practically useless Andruw Jones in the 6th and C-Grand responded with his 35th HR of the season to give the Yanks a 6-3 lead.

- Joe made the right call in removing Freddy when he did, he made the right call going to Joba Chamberlain to replace him (4 Ks in 1.2 scoreless IP), and he made the right call going to C-Grand when he did.  With his job performance coming into question, Joe had himself a day just as good as his players'.

- Granderson kept his good bench vibes going in the 7th when he came through with a 2-out, bases loaded, 2-run single to extend the lead.  A-Rod, who was hit by a pitch, and Cano, who was walked, both came around to score.

- The Yankees kept hitting as the Orioles worked through their bullpen in the 8th, and they didn't take their foot off the gas until it was 13-3.  Jeter's 2-run HR and C-Grand's 2-run double were the big hits.

- Big props to Cory Wade for throwing 2 scoreless after Joba and probably earning himself some higher-leverage consideration.  The Yankees needed a blowout win like this, and to get it against the with whom they're in direct competition for the AL East title makes it even better.