Nova nails first MLB win in 2-1 thriller

Montero's two homers help SWB to division title
Fan Confidence Poll: August 30th, 2010

Amidst rumors of an MLB probe, Yankee rookie Ivan Nova threw a gem against the White Sox on Sunday afternoon. He held the Chicago offense to one run over 5.2 innings, and the Yanks’ bullpen, shaky on Saturday night, spun 3.1 scoreless innings as the Yanks grabbed the rubber match of this three-game set 2-1.

Nova settles in

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Ivan Nova isn’t one of the heralded arms leading the Yankee farm system this season. He doesn’t generate the same kind of buzz as a Brackman, Betances or Banuelos does. But for the second straight start, he has beguiled Major League hitters, lending stability to a shaky Yankee rotation. On Sunday, he earned himself the game ball as he picked up his first Big League win.

As he did against Toronto, Nova showed confidence in his stuff on Sunday. He averaged 94 with a live fastball and hit 96/97 regularly. He showed good velocity separation with his change-up and threw his curveball for strikes as well. As the stuff was there, so too were the results. Through 5.2 innings, he struck out seven Chicago hitters, and the White Sox lone run came on a Juan Pierre RBI single. The Yankees needed a good pitching performance, and Nova, all of 23 years old, delivered.

After the game, Joe Girardi announced that Nova would start next weekend against Toronto, and it will be interesting to see how a team fares against him in his second turn in short order. Nova is clearly on a short leash; he started leaving the ball up in the sixth, and Girardi took no chances after just 88 pitches. The Blue Jays, as we saw, are a solid offensive club, and facing them will be a true test for a pitcher who could be a key player in the Yanks’ rotation in September.

Let the good Thames roll

Marucs Thames does the hokey pokey. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

With Gavin Floyd on the mound, the Yanks couldn’t get much of anything going, but Marcus Thames came through in the second. Pressed into service against a right-hander because the team wanted to give Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira remains sidelined by a sore hand, Thames led off the sixth with a booming home run to left field. The Yankees had a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.

“I’m a power guy,” Thames said after the game. “And it’s big for power guys: You have to get into a rhythm to get some stuff going. But I know my role, so I don’t need to start putting pressure on myself. I’m just glad if I hit the ball hard every time I get a chance.”

For Thames, this homer was his ninth of the season and his fifth in his last four starts. On the season, he is hitting .320/.401/.544 in limited playing time. Considering how badly a pair of Brian Cashman‘s other off-season pick-ups have fared, Thames’ solid play is a breath of fresh air for the Yanks. He’s a true weapon off the bench and has delivered during his starts as well. As long as the Yanks don’t need Thames to put on a glove, he’s a fine contributor and at 1 win above replacement and counting, well worth the money the Yanks are spending.

This is how you fist-pump properly. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Cervelli’s big day

For all the grief I’ve given Francisco Cervelli this season, I can’t wrap up this game without a nod to his 4-for-4 performance. It is but the second time in his professional career that the offensively-challenged catcher has knocked out four hits in one day, and on Sunday, Cervelli scored what would be the winning run.

On a 3-1 pitch to start the third, Cervelli roped a double to right field. After fouling off a bunt attempt, Brett Gardner swung away on 0-2 and lined a single to center. Cervelli scored, and the Yanks would plate no more men throughout the rest of the game.

Cervelli’s day wasn’t a good one just at the plate either. He had his moments behind the dish as well. With Joba on the bump to start the eighth inning, Paul Konerko reached on an error by Eduardo Nuñez. Brent Lillibridge came on to pinch run, and the stolen base was clearly in the mix. Lillibridge went, and Cervelli threw a strike to Robinson Cano. It was a huge out for the Yanks as Andrew Jones singled in the at-bat. Cervelli hasn’t been a defensive whiz this year, and with Jesus Montero knocking on the door, his time on the Yanks may be limited. But on Sunday, he gave the team its biggest late-inning WPA bump as the White Sox’s win expectancy dropped from 40.9 to 24.8 with that caught stealing. It was a good moment for the beleaguered Cervelli.

To end the game, Joe Girardi was able to mix and match with the bullpen. Although Kerry Wood came dangerously close to blowing the lead, the pen, so bad on Saturday, sealed the deal for Nova, Cervelli and Thames — three unlikely heroes — on Sunday.

WPA Graph

Box scores: ESPN and Fangraphs.

Up Next

With the Rays’ nailing two out of three from Boston, Tampa Bay and the Yankees remain tied atop the AL East as Boston slips 6.5 games behind the pack. The Yankees will take on the Oakland A’s tonight at 7:05 p.m. at the stadium in the Bronx. Dustin Moseley (4-2, 4.53) will face the man with a .215 BABIP and AL Cy Young candidate Trevor Cahill (14-5, 2.43).

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Montero's two homers help SWB to division title
Fan Confidence Poll: August 30th, 2010
  • Carlosologist

    Hell of a game. When Wood got out of that bases loaded jam I figured the game was in the books. If we can take two against Oakland, we’ll be the first team in the majors to clinch a winning season.

  • FIPster Doofus

    “AL Cy Young candidate Trevor Cahill.”

    Ugh. He doesn’t deserve it, but Cahill probably is a candidate in many media members’ eyes.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      That was tongue-in-cheek. He has the wins/ERA combo that sets off the salivating masses. I’d say he doesn’t deserve it.

      • Steve O.

        Yeah, he doesn’t deserve it, but he’s pitched very well this season. BABIP luck be damned.

        • andrew

          BABIP can be used to factor how likely he is to continue with this success, but it doesn’t really change the results that have happened thus far. Bottom line is the results. Cahill is definitely deserving of some Cy Young votes. Not that he should win, but i think he should receive some votes.

      • FIPster Doofus

        I assumed it was tongue-in-cheek, Ben, but I’m guessing he’ll get some votes on account of, as you mentioned, his record and ERA.

        • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

          It’s certainly impressive to have the results he has, but that’s mostly because I enjoy watching good sinker-ballers pitch. Odds are good it won’t last. Just ask Chien-Ming Wang.

          • FIPster Doofus

            Agreed. I do think Cahill will have a very nice career, but as of now, he’s not near elite status. In fact, he’s not even top 30 among AL starters in fWAR this year. That said, both his results and his ability to go deep in games (6.75 IP/S) have been impressive this year.

          • Ed

            Wang was an above average pitcher until his body gave out.

          • dalelama

            I don’t think indicting the future of a particular sinker ball pitcher because another failed due to injury is the highlight of your analytical career which I have found to be excellent overall.

      • Ed

        I couldn’t care less about the wins, but the ERA/WHIP combo is really impressive. He’s 2nd in ERA and leading the league in WHIP. That’s a really good season. Sure, he’s not likely to repeat it, but that doesn’t make what he’s done worth less.

        One thing I will knock him for is only being 28th in IP for the season. I’d definitely expect a higher workload out of a Cy Young candidate.

        • andrew

          Yea… Pretty much what I would’ve said above if it weren’t 2:30 and I could think straight. I agree with this. BABIP, FIP and other advanced stats are a good way to measure how likely one is to repeat a given statistic, but ERA and WHIP are a measure of what has actually happened.

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

            But ERA and WHIP also include defense, while FIP measures the things over which the pitcher himself has the most control. That’s what I think people don’t get about the FIP argument. It’s not using FIP as a predictor. It’s using it to measure the things we know the pitcher controls, or controls more than other factors. ERA includes defense.

            • Ed

              I think people get FIP just fine, just not everyone values it as highly as you do. I think FIP is looking at too small a subset of what happens in a game to give a true indication of a pitcher’s performance. I’d rather have a stat that made some effort to compensate for quality of defense rather than just ignoring it completely. (bWAR’s on the right track here)

              I do realize that when ERA & FIP differ by a lot, ERA is likely to move towards FIP as the sample gets larger. That’s why I value FIP as a predictive tool.

        • FIPster Doofus

          Well, the total IP stat is deceiving in this case because Cahill has only made 23 starts. Except for Cliff Lee, who also has 23 starts, everyone ahead of Cahill on the IP leaderboard has between 25 and 28 starts. As I mentioned above, he has averaged 6.75 IP per start this season. That is solid.

          • matt damon wayans

            He is not that good of a pitcher outside of his results.

  • Pat D

    I’m not very worried about this upcoming series because the A’s, notwithstanding the last few games in Texas, have trouble scoring runs and their pitchers won’t be in the friendly confines of their huge park.

    Call me unrealistic, but I think 3 out of 4 is necessary.

  • jake s

    Gonna be that guy and point out a typo. Cervelli threw a strike, not through.

    Nice win today. Think Nova will get a longer leash in the future?

  • Mattchu12

    I’m not sure that Cervelli’s time is as limited as we might think at first glance. Posada is on the verge of being a regular DH that catches occasionally, all that is standing in the way of that is the 2010 roster make up and his attitude towards being a full time DH.

    That would make Montero basically the starting catcher when he gets called up next spring-ish. And while conventional wisdom would say, “Oh, Posada will just catch on Montero’s days off, they don’t need a backup catcher”, I don’t think there is a manager in baseball that puts Montero behind the plate and Posada at DH nearly everyday without having a third catcher to back-up Montero in case of an emergency.

    Of all the catchers we’ve gone though, I still think Cervelli might as well be that guy. He is cheap, has his flashes of talent on defense and offense no matter how few and far between they may be, and I don’t think there is anyone we can sign that will come out as positive as Cheap and Talented as Frankie.

    • Pat D

      I agree with this.

    • Neil

      Maybe he can be the bunting coach for Gardner as well.

  • BigBlueAL

    Is it fathomable to think that Ivan Nova could start Game 4/5 of the ALCS (assuming Yankees will only need 3 starters in the ALDS and that they naturally advance to the ALCS and do not go with just a 3 man rotation)??

    Im going with the assumption that Pettitte is healthy and Hughes is the #3 starter in the playoffs. I still cant imagine Burnett not at least pitching decent enough in September to not make the playoff rotation but if he continues to struggle along with Vazquez seemingly out of the rotation now and Nova continues to pitch well who knows he might actually make a start in the playoffs. Im not counting on it but it is pretty remarkable that we could even be contemplating this scenario right now.

    • Steve O.

      Unless Nova goes on a ridiculous tear over the next month, and I mean ridiculous, he won’t even be considered for the playoffs, let alone the rotation. It’ll be Sabathia/Pettitte/Hughes/Burnett.

      • Ed

        If Burnett’s September is like his August, Nova should get serious consideration for the 4th playoff rotation spot.

        • BigBlueAL

          Yeah that is what I meant. If AJ pitches in September like he did in August and Nova continues to pitch well what will happen come playoff time is interesting.

          Again I assume and expect AJ to at least pitch decent enough in September for this not to even be an issue but you never know.

          • mustang

            agree

  • Joe West’s Music Career

    It’s worth noting that Joba looked good and was throwing very hard.

    • whozat

      Yeah, but he’s been throwing hard for a few months now and looking good in almost every game since he got demoted from the 8th inning. It’s not really new…sure he (and everyone else) had that hiccup last night, but he’s had good velo and good results for a while now.

  • http://twitter.com/stophamm3rtime Dela G

    Fun Fact (courtesy of LoHud): Marcus Thames has 9 HRs, 5 of which have come against RHP

    • ShuutoHeat (Passion>all)

      He can only hit LHP!

    • FIPster Doofus

      Thames has really been a hell of an addition. For a guy who allegedly couldn’t hit righties, his .274/.373/.532 triple slash against them is nothing to scoff at; even better, he’s lived up to the hype vs. lefties and then some (.353/.423/.553).

      I wonder if he’ll end up re-signing.

      • Gonzo

        I hate to be Debbie Downer, but his Babip is over 100 points higher than his career average. Take this year as a blessing and let someone else pay for this good year.

        • FIPster Doofus

          Definitely a valid point (one I wasn’t aware of), and Cashman should probably be wary of re-signing Thames back as a result. At the same time, though, Thames has historically been respectable against lefties. Thus, if the Yanks were to bring him back as a bench bat for a fair price, I wouldn’t complain.

          • Gonzo

            Agreed. Cash won’t overpay, and he’ll offer what he’s worth.

  • ShuutoHeat (Passion>all)

    I missed most of the game except for the 9th inning when I managed to walk into a home media store at this mall and made a beeline to the 46 inch tv showing the game. Standing there with me was a 80+ year old gentleman watching the game with me.

    What really made my day was when MO came out to close the game, the elderly gentleman said “timeless” and we both looked at each other and nodded in agreement. Then he said “that man is my hero”, agh to be a Yankees fan.

  • Sean C

    Lucky enough to go to the game today (I live in central IL) and it was a fun, frustrating, scary win. It certainly was interesting to watch Cervelli’s at-bats. And man, I really, really cannot wait to have healthy A-Rod and Tex back in the 3-4 spots. And it was a rather quiet game for most of the early innings for Sox fans, my family was louder than the entire section we were in for a good portion of the game.

    And seeing the stands start to empty once they saw Mo warming up: Priceless.

  • China Joe

    Nova could be pitching his way into 5th starter consideration for next year. With that power sinker and improved off-speed stuff he’s got a chance to be a real quality back-end starter who can give the Yankees a whole lot of innings…basically what Javier Vazquez was supposed to give us this year, except without the veteran salary and the arm fatigue.

  • mustang

    Great win!

    Can’t say enough about Nova I know its only 2 games, but the kid has been impressive. Especially for someone who wasn’t suppose to be much according to people here. Got to love it the kid comes up with zero fanfare the anti-“Big three” in that area and looks great. So much for minor league profiles!

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

      Mustang, never change.

      • mustang

        Don’t plan to.

    • mustang

      “Nova’s not going to come up and give the Yanks a late-season kick in the rear by firing off dominant after dominant start, he’s just not that kind of pitcher.”

      Dominant is to strong, but if his last two starts weren’t a needed kick in the rear then people aren’t looking.

  • larryf

    Couldn’t Montero be our Thames of 2011? DH against lefties and a few starts at catcher and maybe a few more if injuries dictate?

    • Zack

      You want young guys to play everyday. Over the last few years, Jeter has ~160 ABs per year v LHP. What’s a few starts at C? 20? 30? That’s basically under 300 ABs for the year then, that’s not good enough.

      • larryf

        folks here seem to be concerned about him getting 5-600 at bats next year so what is the answer for 2011?

        • Zack

          There’s a middle ground behind 300 and 5-600 ABs. Both of those numbers aren’t good for a 21 year old catcher, you can’t run a kid into the ground playing him 150 games, but giving him only a half of season isn’t going to help his development either.

  • the other Steve S.

    Guys, the USC radar gun was about 3 mph juiced this weekend. When did you last see No at 94? Or Joba at 100? I can’t believe Kay or Singy didn’t spot it.

    • http://ballcraft.blogspot.com Zanath

      Nova was at 94-97 in Toronto.

    • Yank the Frank

      It may have had a shot of B-12.

    • mike

      Good call – i was just going to post the same thing.

      I think Kay/Singy didnt want to contradict their comments about Joba’s mechanics from the previous innings as the reason for the higher readings, but when I saw Mo hitting 94 it was somewhat obvious.

      I became quite nervous when Joba turned around and took a peek at the scoreboard after one of his pitches…It made me worry he was trying to hit 100mph to his own detriment.

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    Good to see Cervelli finally awaken from his offensive slumber.

  • steve s

    Not alot of mention of it above but it was a good weekend for Girardi who did a masterful job of handling Nova and the bullpen yesterday and, while he was mostly equivocal, he handled the Cub/media stuff well which resulted IMO in advantage Joe regarding next year’s contract.

    • dalelama

      I would hardly call his performance masterful, the guy did his job right for which he gets paid millions. Agreed it was a good weekend as they won 2 out of 3. Bigger kudos should go to Cashman for bringing up Nova and acquiring Thames.

      • Neil

        Don’t forget the signings of Randy Winn and Nick Johnson!

        • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

          You’re missing the point, Neil.

  • Jerome S

    Nova did good, but not great. Keep in mind, he only went 5.2 innings. I’d really like to see more depth out of him. But really, considering all that he’s done, that’s asking too much, isn’t it?

    • Zack

      Keep in mind, he threw 88 pitches. Not 120 and Girardi was forced to pull him.