Thursday, June 26, 2014

Happy Birthday To The Captain

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

He may not be able to hit a fastball anymore.  He may not be able to move laterally in either direction to field a ball that's hit more than 2 steps away.  He may not even remember how many outs there are in any given inning.  But there's something to be said for playing professional baseball at the highest level imaginable at age 40, and that's something Derek Jeter can proudly say he's doing as of today.

The Captain officially turns the big 4-0 today, and the laundry list of accomplishments he's achieved in his time spent as a Yankee over those years need not be repeated to anybody who follows the Yankees or the game of baseball in general.  He's one of the greatest players of the last 20 years, the greatest Yankee that anybody my age has seen in his or her lifetime, and his name and accomplishments are going to live on in New York sport history long after he and we are gone.  He may be a fraction of the player he was in his prime, but he's still out there doing something that almost all of his peers will say they wish they could still do when they turn 40 and that's pretty impressive.

So happy birthday, Captain.  If you want to celebrate by racking up a few hits tonight* and not making any physical or mental errors in the field, that'd be A-OK by me.

* (Or tomorrow, since the Yanks are off tonight.  Either works fine for me)

Kuroda Quietly Settling In At The Halfway Point

In his final start of June, Hiroki Kuroda finally picked up his first win of the month last night, tossing 6.1 innings of 3-run ball against the Blue Jays and helping his team leave Canada with their dignity intact.  In doing so, he wrapped up his best month of the season to date, a season that's seen him take a step back from the levels of remarkable consistency and occasional dominance that defined his first 2 years in pinstripes.  Kuroda pitched to a 3.52 ERA and 3.65 FIP this month.  It was the first time he's had a sub-4.00 monthly ERA this year.

Strangely enough, there hasn't been a big shift in Kuroda's peripherals to explain the better results.  His K and BB rates were both worse this month than they were in May and at his age he's not the type to experience a big boost in velocity as the weather warms up.  What has helped him is the fact that he's been far less hittable than he was in previous months.  34 hits in 29.0 IP in April, 41 in 36.0 in May, only 24 in 30.2 in June.  He also only surrendered 2 home runs in June after giving up at least 4 in each of the previous 2 months.

Is this just a better sample size of BIP luck?  Hirok finding better command of his pitches?  The cop-out answer is that it's probably some of both.  Regardless of cause, the important thing is that Kuroda has established some semblance of consistency, which he lacked earlier in the season.  After giving up 4 or more runs 4 times in his first 8 starts, he's allowed 3 or less in 6 of his last 8.  He's not the pitcher he was and it doesn't look like he's going to become that pitcher again, but he's been much more steady behind Tanaka and that's been one of the quiet blessings of the last few months.

Game 77 Wrap-Up: NYY 5 TOR 3

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

The halfway point of the regular season is almost here and I still have no clue what kind of team the Yankees are this year.  They've looked very, very good in small bursts, good enough at times even when they haven't been at their best, flawed for the majority of the season, overmatched at certain points, and downright awful and pathetic for stretches.  This recent 4-game losing streak falls under that last category and more than anything else, the Yankees needed to play a solid, competitive 9-inning game of baseball last night.  They managed to do that for a change and salvaged a little something from this series on their way out of town.

Game Notes:

- It wasn't the start the Yankees were hoping for at all.  Brett Gardner was stranded at third in the top of the 1st after leading off with a double, and Hiroki Kuroda gave up a leadoff homer to Jose Reyes in the bottom half.

- Kuroda shook off the undesirable first at-bat though, and got through the next few innings unscathed.  It took some good luck (lineout double play to end the 2nd), but Hirok was generally pretty good with his stuff and got a few big strikeouts when he needed them.

- His offense came around to supporting him in the top of the 3rd, when Kelly Johnson walked and scored on Francisco Cervelli's double to tie the game.  With 2 outs, a Jacoby Ellsbury base knock and a Mark Teixeira 2-run homer gave the Yanks 4 runs and the lead.

- Reyes ignited the next Toronto scoring strike in the 5th with a 2-out ground-rule double.  Melky Cabrera cashed in with a 2-run on a sinker that didn't sink and the Jays were back within 1.

- The Yanks stretched it to 2 with a Teix sac fly in the top of the 7th.  Probably should have been more since they had the bases loaded with nobody out beforehand, but old men Beltran and Roberts couldn't muster a hit for the extra insurance.

- Not that it was needed.  Joe pieced together 3 outs from Kelley, Thornton, and Warren to get himself within 5 of closing, then went to D-Rob for the 5-out save (3 straight Ks, 2 straight groundouts).