8/27-8/29 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(REUTERS/Patrick Smith)

The Yankees have 35 total games left to play this season and whopping ten of them will be against the Blue Jays. They’ve won five of eight against Toronto already this season, and the first three of those final ten will be played in the Bronx this week.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Jays were rained out yesterday, sparing them a potential eighth consecutive loss. Toronto has won just five of 23 games this month, dropping them to 56-70 (-37 run differential) on the season. They’re 17 back of the Yankees in the loss column and have the third worst record in the league.

Offense

(REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

The Blue Jays average a bit more than 4.5 runs per game with a team 96 wRC+, so they’re pretty much right in the middle of the pack offensively. Jose Bautista (138 wRC+) recently came off the DL after missing more than a month with a wrist problem originally suffered on a swing taken against David Robertson, but he felt more discomfort in the wrist in his second game back and has since been placed back on the DL. The Yankees are catching a break and won’t have to see the game’s greatest homerun hitter this week.

Injuries have decimated Toronto, but they still have the very dangerous Edwin Encarnacion (160 wRC+) anchoring the heart of the order. Regulars Yunel Escobar (69), Kelly Johnson (86), Adam Lind (87), and Colby Rasmus (91) have avoided the injury bug for the time being but are still underperforming. Moises Sierra (98 wRC+) have done well with his opportunity and Rajai Davis (97 wRC+) has been fine, but Mike McCoy (66 wRC+) and Adeiny Hechavarria (16 wRC+) have not. The catching tandem of Jeff Mathis (76 wRC+) and Yorvit Torrealba (72 wRC+) doesn’t scare anyone, and neither does Omar Vizquel (35 wRC+). The Jays are rolling with a three-man bench these days because of all the injuries to the pitching staff.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP David Phelps vs. RHP Henderson Alvarez
When these two clubs met last month, Alvarez struck out a career-high six batters while allowing two runs in six innings. The 22-year-old has managed to stay healthy and make 24 starts this season, pitching to a 4.84 ERA (5.18 FIP). His 3.43 K/9 (8.8 K%) is the second lowest among all qualified pitchers this year, better than only current Yankee Derek Lowe. Alvarez’s walk (2.51 BB/9 and 6.4 BB%) and ground ball (56.5%) rates are pretty excellent, however. He’s a three-pitch pitcher, with a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid-90s and two mid-80s offspeed pitches (slider and changeup). Hopefully the Yankees make some adjustments from their last look at the young right-hander.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette)

Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Ricky Romero
It’s been a disaster season for Romero, who in his last start became the first pitcher in four years and second pitcher in 21 years to walk eight while striking out zero. He owns a 5.63 ERA (5.17 FIP) with career worst strikeout (6.04 K/9 and 15.0 K%), walk (5.05 BB/9 and 12.9 BB%), and homer (1.05 HR/9) rates. His 54.1% ground ball rate is in line with career norms. Romero, 27, remains the same guy in terms of stuff — low-90s two- and four-seamer, low-80s changeup, upper-70s curveball — but his command has been awful and he’s making too many mistakes. The Yankees roughed him earlier this year and have seen enough of the southpaw in recent years to know what to expect.

Wednesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP J.A. Happ
The Jays acquired Happ as part of a ten-player swap last month to help cover for some of those injuries, and he’s allowed just two earned runs total in his last two starts (6 IP vs. Rangers and 7.1 IP vs. Tigers). You might remember that he stifled the Yankees for about five innings a few weeks ago before things fell apart late. The 29-year-old Happ owns a 4.68 ERA (4.13 FIP) overall this year with strong strikeout (8.62 K/9 and 22.3 K%) and walk (3.27 BB/9 and 8.5 BB%) numbers. The ground ball rate (44.3%) is decent enough, but the homer rate (1.27 HR/9) is pretty terrible. Happ is a four-pitch guy, using two fastballs (two- and four-seamer) right at 90 and two breaking balls (low-80s slider and upper-70s curve). His low-80s change is a distant fifth offering, so maybe call him a 4.5-pitch guy.

Drop and drive. (Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
The rain out yesterday means manager John Farrell has a very fresh bullpen. They’re carrying eight relievers, highlighted by closer Casey Janssen (3.06 FIP) and the left/right setup duo of Darren Oliver (3.03 FIP) and Brandon Lyon (2.75 FIP). Second lefty Aaron Loup (1.87 FIP) has done well in his limited time, and the rest of the relief corps features right-handers Carlos Villanueva (4.96 FIP), Steve Delabar (4.64 FIP), and Brad Lincoln (3.79 FIP). The middle innings can be a little sketchy, but that late-game trio is sneaky good.

Joe Girardi went all-out for yesterday’s win, using Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano for more than one inning apiece. Everyone else in the bullpen is well-rested, plus Robertson could be placed on the paternity list at any moment. Who the Yankees would call-up to replace him is anyone’s guess (Cory Wade just pitched yesterday). Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact recent reliever usage, and then check out Drunk Jays Fans and Tao of Stieb for the latest and greatest on the Blue Jays.

Ticket Info

You can save 25-50% off tickets for the homestand with this link. Just sign up if, find the section they’d like to sit in and make an offer based on the savings shown here. There won’t be any shipping fees or any other nonsense like that either.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 27th, 2012

Record Last Week: 2-4 (18 RS, 24 RA)
Season Record: 74-53 (615 RS, 516 RA, 75-52 pythag. record), 4.0 games up in AL East
Opponents This Week: vs. Blue Jays (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, vs. Orioles (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

Bullpen carries Yanks to win in finale over Tribe

The stench of getting swept by the White Sox still lingers, but the Yankees did what they had to do this weekend by taking two of three from the Indians. Sunday’s win was yet another close game — just two of their last dozen games have been decided by more than three runs — and Joe Girardi leaned on his bullpen to get it done.

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Small Ballin’

The Yankees often get accused of not playing enough small ball, but they play-the-game-the-right-way’d to three runs in the second inning against Ubaldo Jimenez. It all started with an Eric Chavez ground ball single to left and a Raul Ibanez walk, allowing Ichiro Suzuki to lace a run-scoring single off Ubaldo’s glove and into no man’s land. With one run already in, men on first and second with no outs, and a bad pitcher struggling, the Yankees did the sensible thing — Chris Stewart forfeited an out and bunted the runners up to second and third.

Thankfully, the club’s two most productive hitters capitalized. Derek Jeter put together a real hard-fought five pitch at-bat before grounding out to third, allowing the second run to score. Nick Swisher plated the third run with a solid two-out single to shallow left-center. Robinson Cano hit the ball hard but flew out to end the inning, but otherwise four of the first six men the Bombers sent to the plate in that second inning reached base while the two exceptions were productive less-damaging outs.

(REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk)

Four-Inning Freddy

These last two starts haven’t been great for Freddy Garcia, who’s labored both times out and failed to complete five innings of work. He pitched around a bases loaded jam in the third on Sunday, an inning in which he basically had to record six outs because Cano muffed a probably double play ball (instead getting zero outs) and a 2-2 pitch to Carlos Santana was called a ball when it should have been a strike. Here, look. Garcia retired Santana one pitch later to end the threat.

The fifth inning rally that took Freddy out of the game started with two outs. Jason Kipnis doubled to right to get it all started with two outs, then Garcia plunked Asdrubal Cabrera in the behind. A walk to Shin-Soo Choo brought Santana to the plate with two outs and bases loaded again, and this time he jumped on a first pitch fastball for a two-run ground ball single back up the middle. After 90 pitches and 14 outs, Freddy’s afternoon was done. He allowed just the two runs on four hits, two walks, and the hit-batsman while striking out six. Only one of his eight ball-in-play outs was on the ground.

Garcia is a fine fifth starter, but the middle relief isn’t good enough to keep picking him up if he’s going to be a five-and-fly guy. He’s completed six or more innings in five of his eleven starts since return to the rotation, and at least five innings nine times. The two exceptions are these last two starts.

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Long Relief

It was pretty obvious that Girardi wanted to win this game based on his bullpen usage. He went right to Boone Logan in relief of Garcia, using his top left-hander to record five outs in the middle innings. Only one of the six men he faced reached base, and that was the final one. Girardi went to David Robertson with one out in the seventh, and he escaped the inning with just four pitches. After sandwiching two outs around a single in the eighth, Rafael Soriano came in for the four-out save. You’d think it was a playoff a game. Matt LaPorta flew out to really deep left to end the inning.

The ninth inning didn’t go all that smoothly, especially since leadoff man Jack Hannahan singled to bring the tying run to the plate almote immediately. Soriano retired the next three men to end the game, but not before Kipnis lined a comebacker off the base of his right hand. It looked like it got some glove and some forearm on the replay, but Soriano stayed in and said he was “a little sore” after the game. He expects to be fine. Twelve outs from Logan, Robertson, and Soriano isn’t something we’re going to see very often, but those three were excellent — allowed one single apiece with four total strikeouts.

Leftovers

.335 OBP in year four of an eight-year contract. (REUTERS)

Curtis Granderson gave the Yankees a little bit of breathing room with his sixth inning solo homer, though he slammed his bat in disgust because he thought it was a pop-up. They weren’t even in Yankee Stadium! It was a nice response a half-inning after the Tribe scored the two runs, and it was also the 200th homer of Granderson’s career. The Yankees now have eight guys with 200 career dingers on the roster, the most in baseball history. The 2008 Yankees were the only other club with seven.

Swisher continued his torrid streak with three singles while Cano singled, doubled, and walked (intentionally). He’s been slowly climbing out of his slump as the road trip has progressed. Those two combined to go 5-for-7 with the other seven hitters in the lineup went 6-for-27. The Yankees drew just two walks as a team, the 11th time they’ve done that in 24 games this month. In the other 103 games this season, they drew two or fewer walks just 14 times. That has a lot to do with Alex Rodriguez being gone.

The Indians ran wild on Chris Stewart, specifically Kipnis. He stole three bases in three attempts. Stewart did manage to gun down Michael Brantley, but overall he’s thrown out just seven of 32 attempts base-stealers this season (21.9%). The league average is about 27%, so the supposed defense-first backstop hasn’t exactly stood out with his arm.

David Robertson’s wife is due to give birth to the couple’s first child very soon — apparently the due date was last week sometime — so I wonder if Girardi was willing to use him earlier than usual knowing he’s going to spend a few days this week on paternity leave. Then again, that wouldn’t explain using both him and Soriano for four outs. Eh, whatever.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. Both the Rays (Republican National Convention in St. Petersburg) and the Orioles (rain out) were off on Sunday, so the lead in the AL East remains four games in the loss column over both clubs. The magic number to clinch the division is down to 32.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are coming back home to open a three-game series against the last place Blue Jays. David Phelps and Henderson Alvarez will kick the series off on Monday night. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch the game in person.

Sunday Night Open Thread

200th career homer this afternoon. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

It certainly wasn’t the prettiest road trip in the world, but the Yankees were able to take two of three from the lowly Indians to wrap things up this weekend. Needless to say, they really need to take care of business during this upcoming six-game homestand. I’ll be pretty disappointed with anything less than four wins next week, this “flirting with .500 since the All-Star break” nonsense has to end already.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is a good one, the Braves at the Giants (Hudson vs. Lincecum). The Jets are also playing a preseason game you can watch on NBC. Other than that, talk about whatever you like here. Go nuts.

Garcia & Bichette get big late hits in wins

Triple-A Scranton (6-2 win over Lehigh Valley)
RF Chris Dickerson: 1-6, 3 K, 1 SB
2B Corban Joseph: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 E (fielding)
SS Eduardo Nunez: 1-5, 1SB
LF Ronnie Mustelier: 2-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB — 5-for-13 (.385) since coming off the DL
C Frankie Cervelli: 0-3, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 SB — 6-for-6 in stolen base attempts this year
DH Brandon Laird: 2-5, 1 R, 2 RBI
CF Melky Mesa: 1-3, 1 R, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 1 SB — four hits in his last 22 at-bats (.182) with 11 strikeouts
1B Kosuke Fukudome: 2-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
3B Ramiro Pena: 0-4, 1 BB, 1 K
LHP Justin Thomas: 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 13/2 GB/FB — 60 of 88 pitches were strikes (68%) … he’s become a nice little starter for them after moving into the rotation out of necessity, he might start Game Two of the postseason behind Adam Warren
RHP Cory Wade: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/5 GB/FB — 17 of 28 pitches were strikes (61%)

[Read more…]

Game 127: End of the Line

(Jason Miller/Getty Images)

This six-game road trip through middle America is already guaranteed to be a total dud, but 2-4 sure looks a lot better than 1-5. I guess it does, anyway. The Yankees haven’t been able to score runs lately other than when Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher drive themselves in, and I’m sure Ubaldo Jimenez will further test that theory this afternoon. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Eric Chavez
DH Raul Ibanez
LF Ichiro Suzuki
C  Chris Stewart

RHP Freddy Garcia

This afternoon’s game starts a little after 1pm ET and can be seen on YES. Try to enjoy.

The Morning After: Breaking up the Red Sox

Three-run dinger in his first at-bat last night. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Blame Robert Andino. Had the Orioles’ utility infielder not laced that single off Jonathan Papelbon last September, the Red Sox would have remained alive in the postseason hunt and none of this probably happens. Instead, the ball found grass and the dominoes started to fall when Terry Francona and Theo Epstein walked away from the organization last winter. Papelbon moved on as a free agent, new manager Bobby Valentine was brought in (by ownership?), and the losing resumed.

The Red Sox are mired in fourth place in the AL East, closer to having the worst record in the circuit than they are a Wild Card spot. Prior to last night’s game, Boston was 74-88 in their last 162 contests despite a payroll north of $170M. GM Ben Cherington (Epstein’s replacement) took a drastic step to improve his team yesterday, completed a trade that can be legitimately described as franchise-altering. Heading to the Dodgers are Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and $12M. Coming back are James Loney, prospects Allen Webster, Rubby DeLaRosa, Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus, and roughly $260M of cleared future payroll.

You can make a really strong case that this is one of the biggest trades in baseball history, certainly one of the biggest during my lifetime. Prior to this move, only one player with more than $100M remaining on his contract had ever been traded — Alex Rodriguez when he came to the Yankees in 2004. Both Gonzalez (~$109M) and Crawford (~$107M) are still owed nine figures after this year. A trade of this magnitude has a ripple effect throughout baseball, including an indirect impact on the Yankees. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts on the trade…

  • I think the deal is just flat-out brilliant on Cherington’s part. Yes, he did surrender one truly great player in Gonzalez, but in the process he rid himself of two of the most out-of-favor players in team history. Clearing a quarter-billion dollars in payroll and getting real live prospects in return is the stuff GM dreams are made of.
  • While the Red Sox made a great move for the long-term health of the franchise, the short-term damage is severe. David Ortiz may miss the rest of the season, which means they’ve have very little power in the lineup, particularly from the left side. They’ll have to find two corner outfielders, a first baseman, and maybe a DH after the season (more on that in a bit). That’s not easy to do. On top of that they have to replace Beckett in an already porous rotation.
  • On the other end of the deal, pretty bad job by the Dodgers to absorb that much money and give up those kinds of prospects. That said, they just acquired an impact first baseman, a potential impact starter, and a potential impact outfielder for what amounts to one Albert Pujols financially. The future might be ugly, but that team has a phenomenal chance to win now.
  • For more about the prospects involved, check out my MLBTR post. I really like DeLaRosa, that kid has a great arm. He’s not the next Pedro Martinez or anything, but his mid-90s fastball/power slider combination is true swing-and-miss stuff. Getting him alone would have been a coup for the Sox, but getting another strong pitching prospect in Webster and a useful role player in Sands is icing on the cake. DeJesus is just roster fodder in my eyes.
  • I couldn’t be happier that Gonzalez is out of the AL East. He is having a down year — a 114 wRC+ with Boston after three straight years of 140+ and six straight years of 120+ — but the guy still scared the crap out of me whenever he was at the plate. Gonzalez remains a terrifyingly good hitter and not having to see him 18+ times a year is a win for the Yankees.
  • It must be nice to free up all that cash, but that was only half the battle. The Red Sox have been pretty terrible when it comes to signing free agents lately, plus the new Collective Bargaining Agreements mean they can’t just dump all that money into the draft and international free agency. Reinvesting the savings wisely is much, much easier said than done.
  • I fully expect Boston to pursue Nick Swisher this offseason. They’re going to be looking for a first baseman as well as corner outfield help, and he provides both in addition to being a switch-hitter and all that. He makes a ton of sense for them. If a happens, hopefully they give him that Jayson Werth contract he wants.
  • There’s a pretty good chance that starting with 2010, the Red Sox could miss the playoffs for five consecutive years. This season will already be year number three, and although they have the ability to turn it around quickly, I’m not giving the new GM the benefit of the doubt just yet. This isn’t exactly a soft division. (h/t Jamal G.)
  • Here’s the question: are the Red Sox done selling off players? There will absolutely be a market for Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia this winter, though I can’t imagine Pedroia would go. Ellsbury sure, Lester maybe, but not Pedroia. That would be a stunner. At the same time, I can seem them signing all three to contract extensions and move forward with them as the core. Will be interesting to watch.

Lastly, I consider the trade to be an indication that Bobby V. will be back as manager next season. Instead of firing him they got rid of Gonzalez, a great player and one of his most outspoken subordinates. These rebuild things tend to happen step-by-step — first the coaches go, then the manager goes, then finally the team realizes it’s the players who needed the change. The Sox fired their pitching coach last week, then skipped right over the “fire the manager” step and dumped some players. Regardless of what happens with Valentine, yesterday was a monumental day for the Red Sox in terms of their rebuilding effort, and that’s generally bad news for the Yankees.