Archive for Offense
On September 8th the Yankees lost a big game to the Baltimore Orioles. With CC Sabathia on the hill they dropped a 5-4 contest that ended when it should have been tied up. Worse, they lost Mark Teixeira again. What we didn’t know at the time is that the Yankees suffered another loss that evening: Alex Rodriguez‘s power.
Things were looking so brightly at the time. A-Rod had returned to the lineup five days prior, adding some depth to a corps that sometimes featured Steve Pearce at cleanup. Through that game Rodriguez had gone 7 for 23 with two doubles and two homers, including a homer on that very night. Missing Tex for a longer stretch would surely hurt, but at least A-Rod was back with some power. Right?
If only that were true, perhaps the Yankees might have been celebrating a division title yesterday rather than just a playoff spot. In 89 PA since that game Rodriguez has gone 18 for 77 with just one extra base hit, a home run in a September 14 loss to Tampa. That amounts to a .234/.326/.273 line, which defies comment. Worse, he has now gone 65 PA without an extra base hit. I’m not going through his game logs, but I have to assume that’s the longest such skid of his career.
In some ways the lack of power makes sense. Hand injuries are no joke for major leaguers. Fans like to joke about what seem like minor injuries — David Wright’s injured pinkie, for instance — but they have real effects on a player’s ability to handle and control a baseball bat. It has been barely two months since Felix Hernandez broke Rodriguez’s hand, so his lack of power is understandable in that way.
Yet those first six games after his return made things seem optimistic. He’d collected at least one hit in each of those six games, and then added another three in the next game, a 13-3 drubbing that put the Yankees back in first place alone. Combined with his post-All Star game breakout, 15 for 47 with two homers and four doubles, and it certainly felt as though Rodriguez could provide quality, if not elite, production for the rest of the year.
As Mike noted earlier, the Yankees will get their A lineup back in tact tonight, just in time for the postseason. He notes the issues surrounding Teixeira, but there are just as many surrounding Rodriguez. Both have the potential to carry the middle of the order, but we’ve seen both slump horribly this season. If there was ever a time for both to catch fire, it’s right now. Given their ages and recent performances, it will be even tougher to bank on them in the future.
The last two days are just what Robinson Cano has needed. For months he’d seen his numbers steadily fall from his peak of .321/.382/.587 on July 16th. After going 0 for 4 on Monday Cano’s numbers had declined to .293/.362/.519 — good by any measure, great when compared to other second basemen*. Those numbers even compare favorably to Cano’s 2010 season. But after a torrid couple of months, we’d come to expect a bit more out of Cano.
*The average AL 2B hits .249/.310/.372.
Since that peak period in mid-July, Cano has hit .264/.345/.436 in 281 PA. That’s more than a third of the season, though those are just arbitrary end points. He has had some super productive stretches inside that 281 PA sample; from July 31 through August 16, for instance, he hit .321/.429/.547 in 63 PA. He also started off September not so horribly, hitting .275/.383/.550 from the first through the 12th. But that means he also had some pretty poor stretches in that period.
Yet even in those unproductive periods he has managed to keep his overall numbers in decent shape. For instance, from August 17th through the 31st he hit .245/.327/.469. During that stretch he walked six times (one intentional), good for an 11 percent walk rate. From the 13th through the 24th he was particularly bad, going 8 for 45 with just two extra base hits, but he again walked six times, good for an 11.75 percent walk rate. Even when he’s played poorly this year, Cano has remained somewhat productive for doing what he’s failed to do for most of his career: work a walk.
After a hot start in 2011 — .320/.340/.630 through May 1 — Cano slowed down considerably. In his next 143 PA he hit .237/.294/.405, walking just six times in that span. In September 2010, when he had a shot to steal the MVP with Josh Hamilton on the shelf, he hit .262/.304/.346 in 115 PA. That was just a 5 percent walk rate. Combined with the complete lack of power, it led to a considerable drop in his numbers and his removal from serious consideration for MVP. We needn’t even explore his pre-2010 career to find slumps where he not only hit for a low average, but also didn’t walk. Before 2010 Cano hardly walked at all: a mere 4.2 percent rate through 3036 PA.
One of Cano’s biggest changes in 2010 was his walk rate, which jumped to 8.2 percent. Of course, with his new spot in the middle of the order he was also intentionally walked far more often. That year pitchers passed on him 14 times; his previous career high was five, in 2007. Still, he did see his unintentional walk rate rise from 4.2 percent in 2009 to 6.2 percent in 2010. But in 2011 that dropped all the way to 4 percent. This year, while he’s been intentionally walked 10 times, he still has a 7.5 percent unintentional walk rate. It has helped keep him reasonably productive even when he’s not hitting for average or power.
For the first five years of his career, Cano was a guy who could hit with the best of them, but whose slumps hurt the team for stretches. When he slumped he did nothing productive; he didn’t hit for average or power, and he didn’t get on base. Even in 2010 and 2011 he still had trouble with taking passes amid slumps. Perhaps now, as he approaches age 30, Cano’s game has matured a bit. Even when he has slumped this year he’s managed to take walks and keep his numbers out of the gutter amid slumps. It doesn’t completely make up for the disappointment in his declining numbers since mid-July, but it’s certainly something positive he contributed amid that decline.
The Yankees needed the 2009 version of Mark Teixeira in 2012, but instead got something more closely resembling his rookie campaign. After two years of disappointing performances, Teixeira has turned in his weakest one yet. It doesn’t matter which stat you choose; they all look lousy compared to the expectations he set from 2004 through 2009. His 2012 campaign looks even worse now that he’s spent almost all of the last month on the shelf.
At the same time, the Yankees are desperately missing Teixeira’s bat in the middle of the lineup. That is, they’re missing what the healthy Mark Teixeira produced in 2012. While his overall numbers don’t reflect it, he was, for a stretch, a productive member of the lineup. Given the failings of other middle of the order hitters this month — Robinson Cano was hitting just .250/.353/.398 and A-Rod .256/.305/.384 going into yesterday’s game — they could use some more power behind Derek Jeter and Ichiro.
Early in the season Mark Teixeira came down with some kind of cold, and without regular rest it lingered. It might seem like a small thing, a mere cough, but think about it from a hitter’s perspective. You’re at the plate with a guy hurling a ball at you, and you have this burning in the back of your throat. It takes an insane amount of concentration to hit a baseball as it is. Now imagine having that concentration distracted because you have a cough coming up. It’s no simple task, and Teixeira certainly suffered for it.
Instead of the slow starts to which we’ve become accustomed, Teixeira slogged through the first month and a half of the season. He hit just .228/.283/.386, and his numbers were greatly propped up by his one great performance, 3 for 6 with 2 HR in Boston. In mid-May Girardi gave him a weekend off, and it seemed to do the trick. Since then he has hit .270/.361/.526 — not quite 2009 Teixeira, but certainly quality numbers given his depressed numbers in 2010 and 2011.
Things actually looked a bit better for a while, but then another injury struck.
On July 30th Teixeira left the game against the Orioles after hurting his wrist. The timing couldn’t have been worse, and not just because the Yankees had just lost Alex Rodriguez a few days prior. Teixeira had been on an absolute tear since that weekend on the bench. In 256 PA he was hitting .277/.371/.568. Considering the overall league offensive decline, these numbers lined up pretty well with his 2009 production.
Wrist injuries are notorious for sapping power, and that’s exactly what happened to Teixeira. After returning on August 3rd he hit .250/.330/.408 in 88 PA. Worse, he re-injured the wrist in a game on August 16. He returned just four days later, but went 5 for 22 with a lone double before the calf injury.
Since the calf injury Yankees first basemen have hit .225/.343/.393, a downgrade from even Teixeira’s full-season line of .255/.336/.478, never mind a healthy Teixeira. Yet even those numbers are a bit high; they don’t consider the game that Teixeira himself played first base, in which he went 1 for 4 with a walk and a double. Absent that game Yankees first basemen are hitting .223/.340/.388.
There’s a trickle-down effect, too. Nick Swisher has taken many of those at-bats at first base. While he hasn’t had a banner September, hitting .212/.316/.388 prior to yesterday, his absence is noted in right field. Since the Teixeira injury right fielders are hitting just .204/.282/.312, and while some of that is certainly Swisher’s doing, clearly there are others bringing down the numbers in right.
The hope is that the Yankees can get Teixeira back in time for the postseason. We had heard that he might be ready for this weekend’s series in Toronto, but given his progress it doesn’t seem likely. He has been progressing in the last week or so, though he did take a planned day off from running yesterday. He still hasn’t gone full speed, and says he is still experiencing tightness and soreness in his calf. As Joe Girardi said this week, “The concern is that you rush him and then he has that one play and then you know he’s probably gone for the season. You have to make sure.” It sounds like a longwinded way of saying that Teixeira is back against Boston at the earliest.
Getting Teixeira back for the postseason could be huge, especially if his time on the shelf has given his wrist ample time to heal. Yankees fans might not be excited about the prospect of Teixeira in the postseason; he’s hit just .170/.276/.302 in 123 postseason PA for the Yanks. Yet we’ve seen other Yankees postseason heroes falter in the postseason. Tino Martinez hit .183/.294/.290 in his first 109 PA as a Yankee in the postseason before hitting .280/.351/.430 from the World Series, 1998, through the World Series, 2001.
Tino hit well enough for the Mariners in the 1995 playoffs, .273/.360/.364 against New York and Cleveland. Teixeira actually hit better in his lone pre-Yankees postseason series, going 7 for 15 with four walks against Boston in the 2008 ALDS. This isn’t to say that Teixeira will turn around his postseason performance in the same way Tino did. But it is to say that Teixeira’s failures as a Yankee in the postseason don’t necessarily doom him to the same fate in the future.
If you only look at Teixeira’s 2012 season, you’ll only get part of the story. You’ll see his overall poor numbers and how they’ve hurt the team relative to expectations. You’ll see a third straight year of declining numbers, certainly a cause for concern for the final four years of his contract. But you won’t see how the season unfolded. The stat sheet doesn’t document his struggles early in the year, his resurgence when healthy, and his post-injury production. It’s not an excuse for his performances; rather, it’s a clarification of them. The Yanks could sure use that healthy mid-May to late-July Teixeira in the lineup in the postseason. It could make a huge difference in the offensive production.
There are only ten games left in the regular season, and right now the Yankees are holding on to their one-game division lead for dear life. The Orioles have been hot on their tails all month — the last time the lead was as large as even two games was three weeks ago — and there’s no reason to expect that to change in the next week. Maybe the Yankees will get lucky and clinch the AL East after Game 161 so they can rest some people the next day, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. This thing is going down to the wire.
Despite a miserable weekend against the Athletics, Alex Rodriguez has improved and deepened the lineup since coming off the DL earlier this month. Russell Martin‘s resurgence started a few weeks ago and Derek Jeter has been a hit machine all season. Ichiro Suzuki has suddenly decided to turn the clock back to 2004, and even Raul Ibanez has shown some signs of life with a few big hits over the weekend. That’s a decent chunk of the lineup right there, but the one hitter who is standing out for all the wrong reasons right now is Robinson Cano.
Since Mark Teixeira injured his calf (the original injury, not the re-aggravation) on August 27th, Cano is hitting just .213/.308/.362 with three homers in 107 plate appearances (24 team games). It’s an arbitrary endpoint that represents when the Yankees really needed Robbie to produce like the middle of the order guy he’s expected to be. Since the end of the ten-game stretch against the Orioles and Rays (and Orioles again), he’s hit just .184/.286/.286 with one homer in 56 plate appearances (12 team games). Even worse, Cano’s put up a miserable .190/.346/.238 line with runners in scoring position since Teixeira got hurt. Things have gotten so bad that the Athletics intentionally walked A-Rod to face Cano with two men on-base in the sixth inning of a one-run game on Saturday. That’s unfathomable. Opponents should be terrified of him, but instead he grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The problems are the same as they always are, at least when Robinson struggles. He gets impatient and starts swinging at pretty much everything, making less than stellar contact and/or putting himself in bad counts. Cano’s not exactly the most disciplined hitter to start with, but he gets away with it because he’s so good at getting the bat on the ball. When he starts to struggle and expands the zone even more than usual, he becomes his own worst enemy. It’s not an accident that most of his balls in play since Teixeira got hurt are grounders to the right side — Cano tends to lunge at pitches when things aren’t going right. Whenever he struggles, it’s almost always a case of him falling out of sync rather than pitchers exploiting a weakness.
Robinson might be the most extreme player I’ve ever seen, in the sense that when he’s hot and things are going right, no one is more fun to watch. When things are going poorly though, it’s incredibly frustrating. The at-bats feel like they’re over before they even start and the jogs down to first on ground balls stand out more than usual. The Yankees can’t afford to wait around and be frustrated as Cano tries to right the ship, he needs to turn things around right now, starting with tonight’s series opener in Minnesota. Robbie is arguably the most important player on the team, and there’s little the chance the Bombers will get to where they want to go if he continues to underperform.
The Yankees have dealt with a ton of injuries this season, an inordinate amount even when you consider the average age of the roster. Some of those injuries have been short-term bumps-and-bruises, others long-term issues that could be career-altering. Alex Rodriguez hit the DL for the fifth time in five years in late-July, after Felix Hernandez hit him with a pitch that broke a bone in his left hand. It was an unfortunate and fluke injury, but an injury nonetheless.
A-Rod had been on a bit of a tear prior to the injury, going 22-for-66 (.333) with five doubles, a triple, and two homers in 17 games (16 starts) before getting hit in the hand. Half of those 16 starts featured multiple hits. Even though he is no longer the 30+ homer, .900+ OPS hitter he was even just three or four years ago, the Yankees missed their regular cleanup hitter. The lineup suddenly lacked middle of the order depth and became very left-handed. The offense definitely lacked some balance while Alex was on the shelf.
After six weeks on the shelf, A-Rod returned to the lineup earlier this month and picked up right where he left off before the injury. He’s gone 15-for-50 (.300) with two doubles and three homers in his 13 games back, reaching base in all 13 and picking up at least one hit in 12. It’s unfortunate that Rodriguez’s return coincided with Mark Teixeira‘s calf injury — remember they brought him back after just two minor league rehab games because the lineup was going to be really short without Tex — because the Yankees are still short a power bat, but that just seems to be the way things have gone this season.
The important thing now is keeping A-Rod on the field, which is easier said than done. The Yankees had their final scheduled off-day of the season yesterday, and will wrap up the schedule with 16 games in 16 days. Derek Jeter is still nursing a left ankle problem and will occupy the DH spot for the foreseeable future, meaning Alex is going to have to play third base whenever he’s in the lineup. Joe Girardi has gone to great lengths to give his big right-handed bat regular rest, starting him in four straight games at the hot corner only twice this season: once during the NL park portion of interleague play in June, and these last four games while Jeter was the DH.
There is still no firm timetable for Teixeira to return to the lineup or the Cap’n to return to the field, so A-Rod is going to see a ton of time at third base these next two weeks simply because the team is going to need him. The race for a playoff spot (nevermind the division) is too tight to take his bat out of the lineup, especially when so many of the platoon bats near the bottom of the order have been so unproductive. Rodriguez has been an important player for the Yankees since the day they acquired him, and that will be no different in these next 16 days.
In more ways than one, the second half of this season has been the polar opposite of the first half. The Yankees were winning games left and right before the All-Star break, but recently they’ve been struggling to string wins together. The pitching staff carried the club for lengths of time back in May and June, but August and September haven’t featured the same kind of effectiveness. A deep and productive lineup carried a weak-hitting Russell Martin early on, but lately it’s been Martin who’s done the carrying.
Martin, 29, had the big blow in yesterday’s 6-4 win over Tampa, a three-run opposite field blast off the hard-throwing Matt Moore. The at-bat was as impressive as the outcome, as Russ battled back from an 0-2 count to work it full before going deep. It was his third homer in his last nine starts and part of a second half surge that has seen him hit .246/.324/.437 with nine homers in 51 games (46 starts). Joe Girardi has been batting his starting catcher higher in the batting order — including fifth against left-handers — and it is not undeserved.
The first half of the season was not kind to Martin, who hit just .179/.300/.348 with eight homers in the club’s first 85 games. He struck out in 20.2% and walked in 12.3% of his plate appearances prior to the All-Star break, rock solid plate discipline numbers. His batting average on balls in play was abysmal though, an unsustainably low .193. Obviously luck plays a major part in any BABIP south of the Mendoza line, but not all of it was undeserved. Here is his day-by-day batted ball profile…
Martin was beating the ball into the ground in the first half of the season, and if you watched the games, you know that most of those grounders were weakly hit to the left side of the infield. Smart teams played a bit of a shift on him, exacerbating the BABIP problem.
The second half has been a different story however, as the ground ball issue evened out and his batted ball profile normalized with last year, when he hit .237/.324/.408 overall. That looks quite a bit like his .246/.324/.437 line from the second half of this year, just with a little less power. His strikeout rate (17.0%) also began to approach his career average (14.7%) as well. Martin’s average on balls in play has jumped up to .254 in the second half, which is low for most hitters but probably right in line with his true talent level at this point. He is still prone to the weak ground ball and does hit a lot of pop-ups (especially on the infield), a combination that will forever keep his average in the dumps. There’s no away around that, his days of hitting .280+ like he did in 2006-2008 are undoubtedly in the rear-view mirror.
One thing we’ve learned during Martin’s time in New York is that he’s crazy streaky. He can carry an offense when he gets hot and he’ll turn into an out machine at the bottom of the order when things aren’t going his way. The lows are more frequent than the highs, but the Yankees needed him to perform better in the second half and he’s done that so far. It’s unfortunate that they’ve fallen back to the AL East pack and they’re relying on his production so much, but that isn’t really Martin’s fault. He’s hitting for some more power and a few more hits are starting to fall in, and lately they’ve come at the exact right time.
This has been a bit of a nightmare season for Eduardo Nunez, who had a chance to really establish himself as a useful player for the Yankees going forward. Instead, he lost his utility infielder’s job in mid-May because he struggled with the routine play, then suffered a thumb injury that cost him two months after being demoted to Triple-A. He resurfaced when rosters expanded in September and was used sparingly at first, but this past weekend he took over the shortstop position while Derek Jeter nursed his left ankle injury.
Nunez, 25, took advantage of the opportunity by going 4-for-13 (.308) with a double, a homer, a walk, and three stolen bases. He would have had another double had Jerry Meals not gotten in the way, plus he made a nice baserunning play on Thursday by aggressively advancing to third from second a routine ground ball to short. Eduardo Scissorhands did show up and whiff on a routine grounder that led to an insurance run for the Rays on Friday, but otherwise he played short quite well over the weekend. He even made two very nice plays going into the hole to his right and showing off his strong arm.
I have to think that both Nunez and the team are happy with his play over these last four games, as he provided some nice offense from the bottom of the lineup while adding some of the speed they’ve sorely missed since Brett Gardner got hurt in April. The Yankees have been a very station-to-station club these last few months and Eduardo’s energetic legs really did stand out. Add in his ability to make contact — just a 10.3% strikeout rate as a big leaguer — and you get a player that provides a much different dynamic than the rest of the lineup.
The Yankees are reportedly committed to using Nunez at shortstop and nowhere else following his defensive lapses as a utility player, hoping that sticking to one position will improve his glovework. With Jeter expected to return to his usual shortstop position later this week, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, Eduardo is suddenly a man without a place to play. Joe Girardi did indicate yesterday that he will consider giving Nunez at-bats as a DH against left-handed pitching, a move that seems beyond obvious given Andruw Jones‘ brutally ineffective second half. Frankly, at this point they should consider playing Nunez against right-handers as well. Raul Ibanez is 3-for-51 (.059) over the last month and looks completely worn out after spending way too much time in the field earlier this summer.
By no means do I think Nunez is a budding star or anything like that, but the players the Yankees have been using at DH most of the season have completely cratered in the second half. With Mark Teixeira on the shelf and not close to returning, the Bombers need as much offense as possible right now. Ibanez and Jones aren’t getting the job done, not even close really. Nunez doesn’t fit the typical DH profile — the big, lumbering slugger type — but he does have a productive offensive game built on contact and speed. The Yankees can use more of that and fewer hitless games from their regular DH combo down the stretch.
The Yankees won just four games during the recent ten-game stretch against the Orioles and Rays due in part to an offensive attack that scored more than four runs just four times in the ten games. Derek Jeter, Russell Martin, and Alex Rodriguez did all they could to carry the club with their bats, but the usually productive Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson dragged the lineup down. The duo combined to go 8-for-65 (.123) with two walks and two hit-by-pitches (.169 OBP) during the ten games, including an ugly 0-for-28 stretch for Swisher.
The last few games have gone quite differently for those two, however. Granderson went 3-for-3 with a double and a homer off the bench against the Orioles on Sunday, two days after going 2-for-4 with a pair of singles. He did most of the offensive damage in last night’s win with two homers against the Red Sox, including another ball to the warning track that was hit just as hard as the two homers but a little too far toward center field. Granderson has three multi-hit games in the team’s last six contests (including three homers) despite not starting two of them.
“Everything still feels the same as it has before,” said Curtis after last night’s win. “It’s just a matter of … I wasn’t able to get the consistent contact the way I wanted to. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m locked in by any means now. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t locked in before. Just, something wasn’t executing the way I wanted it to.”
As for Swisher, he’s been able to shake off that 0-for-28 skid to pick up five hits in the first two games against the Red Sox, including three doubles off the Green Monster. He also had a homer robbed in Baltimore over the weekend if you remember, so he’s starting to hit the ball with more authority than he did during the ten-game stretch. Then again, it would be tough for anyone to hit the ball with less authority than Nick did last week.
With Mark Teixeira out for at least another week and Derek Jeter now hobbled by a left ankle injury, the Yankees absolutely need Granderson and Swisher to pick up the offensive slack. Neither guy is hitting as well as he did a year ago (by wRC+) and it’s too late in the season to really change that, but these next three weeks are incredibly important to the club’s postseason chances. No one is expecting Granderson to hit two homers or Swisher to hit two doubles every night, but they can’t go through another ten-game slump like they did against the Orioles and Rays. These last two or three games have been very encouraging compared to where they were a week ago.
The Yankees got some bad news about Mark Teixeira yesterday, as the first baseman will miss 10-14 days after irritating his Grade I left calf strain on the final play of Saturday’s game. He had missed the ten previous games, so all told the Bombers figure to be without one of their core middle of the order bats for 20 games or so. Teixeira isn’t the hitter he was when he first got to New York, but it’s still a big loss at an important stretch of the season.
Thankfully there are no shortage of players on the roster due to September call-ups. Following yesterday’s Melky Mesa promotion, the Yankees are carrying 17 position players at the moment, not including Teixeira. I unofficially count five capable of playing first base at the drop of a hat, though the best solutions are Nick Swisher and Steve Pearce. Casey McGehee, Eric Chavez, and Raul Ibanez all have some experience at the position but aren’t exactly grizzled veterans at first. Given this cast of characters, it’ll take a bit of an unconventional outfield/first base platoon to replace Teixeira.
I’ve already written about using Chris Dickerson to replace Teixeira, which is the best thing Joe Girardi could do with his regular first baseman out. Swisher plays first, Dickerson plays right, Ichiro Suzuki plays left (or right, it doesn’t really matter), and Ibanez stays at DH. That gives the Yankees their best defensive alignment without Teixeira while getting their core platoon bats in the lineup. Chavez can steal some at-bats at DH or man third while Alex Rodriguez gets a half-day off, so there’s even more flexibility available. Point being, Teixeira’s vacated playing time against righties should go to Dickerson because he can help on both sides of the ball and add some speed to the lineup.
Against southpaws, you really don’t want Ibanez or Chavez in the lineup. Frankly you don’t want Dickerson or Ichiro in there either. Pearce has apparently usurped McGehee as the primary platoon left-handed bat, and his experience at first should land him there against lefties while Teixeira is out. Swisher goes back to the outfield, obviously. If the Yankees are unwilling to turn the reigns over to Mesa, Andruw Jones will continue to play left field against lefties despite his second half futility. A-Rod can DH while Jayson Nix (or Eduardo Nunez) take over at the hot corner. That was the plan coming into the season anyway.
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At this point of the season the only thing the Yankees can do is rearrange the furniture during Teixeira’s absence. Dickerson steps in against righties while Pearce steps in against lefties. There’s enough roster flexibility to have everyone play their best defensive position as well. Replacing Teixeira’s offense will be impossible unless someone unexpectedly gets extremely hot, but using this platoon setup puts the team in the best position to succeed while he’s on the shelf for these crucial upcoming games.
It’s easy to make too much of one game in baseball, especially when you’re talking about a game like yesterday’s. The Yankees clobbered the Orioles to wrap up an important ten-game stretch in which they went just 4-6, but winning that final game in blowout fashion heading into the off-day sure has a way of making everyone feel like things are going to be okay. The club isn’t out of the woods yet though, far from it.
With 22 games left to play, the Yankees still have a number of issues to sort through. The middle relief remains shaky, Mark Teixeira‘s calf is going to keep him out for at least another few games, a number of other key lineup cogs are slumping, CC Sabathia still isn’t pitching as expected, and both the Orioles and Rays remain hot on the Bombers’ tail. Yesterday’s win was both stress-relieving and encouraging, with signs that maybe a few of those issues are starting to sort themselves out.
Granderson’s extended slump has been well-documented around this parts. He took a 4-for-34 skid into yesterday’s game and was hitting .207/.297/.410 with a 31.7% strikeout rate in his last 300 plate appearances. That’s basically half a season worth of below-average production from the club’s second-best hitter a year ago. Curtis simply wasn’t doing enough, which is why Joe Girardi did not start him either Saturday or Sunday against the Orioles.
“It’s just a matter of continuing to swing the bat,” he said to reporters yesterday. “I feel like I’m getting balls to hit and putting good swings on them, but I wasn’t able to do much with them for whatever reason. It’s just baseball being baseball.”
Granderson came off the bench yesterday and did something he was unable to do the day before: he produced. Three hits in three at-bats, including a solo homer to center and a two-run double to right. The two-run bloop to shallow left off a left-hander was his softest hit of the day but arguably his most impactful. It was just his third three-hit game of the season and they felt like his first three hits in about two months. If he’s able to build off this and strong contributing more to the offense, it’ll be a huge during the final weeks of the schedule. Curtis can do a lot of damage when right.
The Yankees have been looking for a reliable non-matchup middle reliever to couple with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano for about three months now, and there was a lot of hope that Joba would be that guy once he came off the DL. He was anything but reliable at first, allowing seven runs on 20 baserunners in 6.2 innings during his first seven appearances. The stuff was there, the mid-to-high-90s fastball and wipeout slider, but he was making way too many location mistakes. That’s not uncommon for guys coming off Tommy John surgery.
Very quietly though, Joba has been rounded back into form. Yesterday’s six-batter, five-out, four-strikeout appearance put an exclamation point on a road trip that featured 4.1 strong innings. He allowed one hit during the trip, a solo homer to Mark Reynolds on Thursday. Reynolds has been clobbering Yankees’ pitching all year, so it’s not like Chamberlain’s alone here. Other than that, he walked one, punched out eight, and generated 14 swings and misses out of 76 total pitches (18.4%). This doesn’t mean he’ll turn into another dominant late-inning arm or anything, but Joba has shown signs of shaking off the rust — he told reporters yesterday that he made a slight mechanical adjustment as well — and has started to assume more responsibility in a bullpen that needs as much help as it can get.
This one kinda goes hand-in-hand in with the last guy. Wade was dynamite in April and May before completely collapsing in June, to the point where you had to wonder if he was even salvageable. He was that bad. Wade spent a little more than two months in Triple-A and pitched reasonably well (2.27 ERA and 4.12 FIP in 31.2 innings) before returning as a September call-up. In two appearances this month, Wade has retired all eleven men he faced, include six in two innings yesterday. He looked an awful lot like the guy he was last year and earlier this year against the Orioles.
It’s easy to write someone like Wade off because he doesn’t fit the stereotype of an above-average reliever. He doesn’t come out of the bullpen throwing gas with a knockout breaking ball, he relies on changing speeds and locating with a variety of offspeed pitches. He’s the Freddy Garcia of relief pitchers. Expecting Wade to return to his previous level of effectiveness is probably unrealistic, but these two most recent looks are encouraging at the very least. If he can step back up and give the team another reliable right-handed reliever for those middle innings, it’ll be a huge addition down the stretch.
This isn’t exclusive to Sunday’s game but is worth mentioning. The Yankees put together late rallies in three of the four games against the Orioles, including the two losses. Five eighth inning runs on Thursday tied the game before the bullpen blew it, then Saturday’s two-run ninth inning rally was cut short at one when first base ump Jerry Meals blew the call on a not so bang-bang play. Two runs in the seventh and five runs in the eighth put yesterday’s game out of reach. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what inning the runs are scored in as long as the Yankees push enough across to win, but stringing together hits and scoring multiple runs in an inning had been an issue up until this weekend.
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As I said, one big win has a way of making you forget about all of the team’s problems for at least a day. Granderson has shown flashes of busting out of his slump before so maybe this is just another tease. Relievers and their performances are fickle, so who knows what Joba and Wade can contribute going forward, if anything. If nothing else, at least we saw some positive signs in the finale against Baltimore, which is a lot more than what we had in previous weeks.