8/17-8/19 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

I’m sure that was a not at all awkward conversation. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

This is going to be a much different Yankees-Red Sox series than we’re used to seeing, at least in terms of its impact on the standings. We’re still going to have to sit through four-hour games and all the FOX/ESPN stuff, but in terms on actual impact, there is little to be gained or lost this weekend. The Yankees are far out in front of the rest of the AL East pack, the Red Sox way back.

What Have They Done Lately?

Other than a revolt against manager Bobby Valentine, the Sox are coming off a series-salvaging win over the Orioles yesterday. They lost two of three in Baltimore and ten of their last 15 games overall. At 58-61 with a +36 run differential, Boston is 13 games back of New York in the division race.

Offense

Hate you, Pedro. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

The Red Sox can still score runs despite their underwhelming season, averaging 4.9 runs per game with a team 101 wRC+. The Yankees are catching a bit of a break this weekend because David Ortiz (165 wRC+) is still out with his Achilles injury. That alone will save the Yankees like, six runs this weekend. He just kills them. Will Middlebrooks (121 wRC+), Daniel Nava (113 wRC+), and Ryan Sweeney (78 wRC+) are also on the DL.

Among the players that are healthy, you still have the very dangerous Adrian Gonzalez (117 wRC+), Cody Ross (126 wRC+), and Dustin Pedroia (102 wRC+). Carl Crawford (114 wRC+) is hitting well despite his imminent Tommy John surgery, though Jacoby Ellsbury (91 wRC+) has yet to really get it going since returning from his shoulder injury. The rest of the offense is filled out by the likes of Scott Podsednik (144 wRC+ in limited time), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (95 wRC+), Mike Aviles (77 wRC+), Nick Punto (60 wRC+), Ryan Lavarnway (-8 wRC+ in limited time), and Danny Valencia (-57 wRC+ in limited time). The always annoying Pedro Ciriaco (121 wRC+) will be, in fact, annoying. Because they’re carrying 13 pitchers, the Sox only have a three-man bench.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Franklin Morales
The Yankees have seen Morales a number of times this season, both as a starter and as a reliever. The 26-year-old southpaw has pitched to a 3.29 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 68.1 innings this season, with an excellent strikeout rate (9.22 K/9 and 24.6 K%) to go along with decent walk (3.56 BB/9 and 9.5 BB%) and ground ball (40.3%) numbers. Morales legitimately sits in the mid-90s with both his two and four-seamer, backing them up with a low-80s changeup and a mid-70s curveball. He has a rather significant platoon split — righties have gotten to him for a .317 wOBA, lefties just .218 — so it’s a good time to stack dem righties.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Saturday: RHP David Phelps vs. LHP Jon Lester
It’s been a very difficult year for Lester (5.20 ERA and 3.91 FIP), though he is coming off a one-run, six-inning, 12-strikeout performance against the Indians. His strikeout (7.90 K/9 and 20.5 K%) and ground ball (47.3%) percentages are his lowest since becoming a full-time starter five years ago, though his walk rate (2.69 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) is his best ever. Lester, 28, is mostly low-90s with the four-seamer and sinker these days, and he tends to fall in love with his upper-80s cutter at times. That’s been blamed for his struggles this season, but whether it’s actually true is another thing. A mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball are his offspeed weapons of choice. The Yankees and their fans have seen an awful lot of Lester through the years, both the good and bad versions.

Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Josh Beckett
The other half of Boston’s disappointing frontline starter duo, the 32-year-old Beckett has posted a 5.19 ERA (4.14 FIP) in 20 starts this year while missing time with back and thumb issues. His strikeout rate (6.53 K/9 and 17.0 K%) is a career-low and his ground ball rate (40.8%) continues to trend downward from his first few years in Boston. Beckett still does limit walks well (2.60 BB/9 and 17.0 BB%), so he does have that going for him. Thanks to a rather noticeable drop-off in velocity, he now sits in the upper-80s/low-90s with his two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter. His upper-80s changeup doesn’t have much separation from his fastball these days, which is why it’s been one of his least effective offerings. Beckett’s mid-70s curveball is still a knockout pitch, but he hasn’t done a good job of getting ahead in the count so he could put hitters away with it. Like Lester, we’ve seen everything this guy has to offer through the years.

The AL East hasn’t been kind to Mr. Melancon. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Bullpen Status
The Sox are carrying 13 pitchers but only seven of them are relievers because they’re currently rolling with a six-man rotation. Clay Buchholz threw eight innings yesterday, so closer and former Yankee Al Aceves (3.93 FIP) was the only pitcher used out of the bullpen. He only threw 15 pitches as well, so for all intents and purposes, Bobby V.’s relief corps is as fresh as can be.

Vicente Padilla (3.56 FIP) is currently on the DL, so there will be no Mark Teixeira-induced fireworks this weekend. For shame. Scott Atchison (2.77 FIP) and Rich Hill (3.02 FIP) are also the shelf at the moment. The setup onus belongs to the recently activated Andrew Bailey (0.1 IP so far) and the left-handed Andrew Miller (3.23 FIP). Craig Breslow (3.54 FIP) gives them another solid matchup lefty. The rest of the Boston bullpen is filled out by former Yankee Mark Melancon (5.60 FIP), former Rockie Clayton Mortensen (4.30 FIP), and former Alex Rodriguez punching bag Junichi Tazawa (2.50 FIP). Overall, the Red Sox’s bullpen has pitched to a 3.35 ERA (3.85 FIP) this season.

The Yankees are in decent but not great bullpen shape after yesterday’s late-inning debacle. Both David Robertson and Rafael Soriano are well-rested, and Derek Lowe should be good to go now four days removed from his 44-pitch, four-inning save. Everyone else is a little taxed though. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the full details and Over The Monster for the best independent Red Sox coverage around.

Mailbag: Melky, Soriano, Swisher, Felix, Garcia

Got seven questions for you this week, so consider this a jumbo-sized edition of the mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions and whatnot.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Countless people asked some variation of: Can/should the Yankees sign Melky Cabrera to a cheap one-year deal after the season following his suspension?

Sure, it’s worth exploring. Based on my last few days at MLBTR, the fans of the other 29 teams are wondering the same thing as well. I suppose the Yankees may have a leg up considering their history with Cabrera, plus the fact that his good buddy Robinson Cano plays here. Either way, I’m sure the club can make a competitive offer if they’re so inclined.

The real question is what kind of hitter do you expect him to be going forward? I don’t buy that testosterone alone turned him into an MVP caliber hitter, but I also don’t think this season’s performance — .346/.390/.516 (146 wRC+) — is a reasonable expectation going forward simply because I don’t believe anyone is a true talent .346 hitter. Not Melky, not Mike Trout, not Miguel Cabrera, not Derek Jeter. No one. If he’s more of a .310 hitter doing forward, that’s still really awesome and shouldn’t be considered a knock. If they can get him for one-year at like, $5-8M to shore up the outfield next season, sure that’s something they should seriously consider. Whether or not it’s actually realistic is another matter entirely.

Daniel asks: The Cubs are offering to turn Alfonso Soriano into a $3M/year player. Any interest in him as a RF solution next season?

This is an unequivocal no for me. Soriano is having a real nice .263/.320/.448 (112 wRC+) year with the bat, but he’s a 36-year-old one-dimensional player. If he’s not hitting homers, he has zero value. Soriano doesn’t walk, doesn’t hit for average, doesn’t steal bases anymore, and doesn’t play much defense either. He’s under contract through 2014 so you’re talking about a $6M commitment for a player that is basically a bad HR/FB% slump away from a forced retirement. Soriano would be like, my Plan F for right field next season.

Brett asks: Let’s say the Yankees don’t re-sign Nick Swisher this offseason and then think like you and let Cano walk after 2013. With Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson (Yankees sign him after Cano leaves) all two years older and currently not even performing that well, as well as a black hole offensively at catcher, do you really think the Yankees lineup will be good enough?

I spy a nice free agent payday. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Well that’s the thing, why are we assuming catcher is a black hole? If they let Cano and Swisher walk, the Yankees will have the opportunity to turn over the second base, right field, catcher, and DH positions in the next two offseason. If you think A-Rod is resigned to being a DH down the line, then you can bring in a new body for third base. That four of the nine lineup spots they have to work with. Plenty of room to add some offensive punch.

Bill asks: So with Swisher all but assuredly leaving next year, what do you think the chances are he ends up in Boston? The team needs some pop in right field and they need a good clubhouse guy, with everything that is going on in Boston right now. Think this is a possibility?

Absolutely. If for whatever reason the Yankees had declined his option last offseason, I think the Red Sox would have been the first team to call Swisher’s agent. Pretty much every contending team in need of a bat — the Rangers, Dodgers, Braves, Tigers, Giants, Reds, etc. — figures to have some interest because he’s versatile (corner outfield or first base) and a switch-hitter. Swisher could go 0-for-October and he’ll still have plenty of suitors on the free agent market after the winter.

Sal asks: Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where teams start structuring contracts so that players are paid appropriately in their peak years but the contract dollars are “tapered” in the end years so that they don’t over pay for a players decline?

No, definitely not. I’m sure the club would love it, but I highly doubt the players and agents would. I think it’s pretty normal to want to make more money the older you get, which is why most multi-year contracts include some kind of year-to-year raise. Another part of this is that most GMs won’t be around to see the end of the multi-year contracts they hand out, specifically the big six and seven-year ones. What do I care if I saddle the next GM with a back contract when I could win right now and enhance my reputation? It’s a good idea, but I don’t think the players and agents would go for it.

I found this floating around on Twitter and have no idea where it originated, but props to you good sir (or madam).

Tucker asks: This is a bit of a hypothetical, but would the Yankees even have the pieces to acquire Felix Hernandez if he were made available? Could the Rangers swoop in and nab him instead?

No, I don’t believe the Yankees have the pieces to acquire any kind of high-end talent like that right now. Not unless they’re willing to dangle Cano and the other club really values him despite being a year away from free agency. The lack of impact, near-MLB ready prospect really hurts them here.

The Rangers could certainly jump in and make a great offer for Felix if they wanted — if you’re Seattle, don’t you have to listen if Texas offers Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt? I have to think that would at least get their attention. The Yankees can’t put together any kind of offer like that right now, so they’re handcuffed on the trade market. As much as I’d love to see him in pinstripes, there’s just no realistic trade scenario for Justin Upton at the moment.

Craig asks: Do you think Freddy Garcia is now (or should be) in the post-season rotation?  Even if Andy Pettitte comes back?  I think I’d rather take my chances with him than Ivan Nova or Phil Hughes.

Right now, with both CC Sabathia and Pettitte on the shelf, yes Freddy would definitely be in postseason rotation. I’d probably have him start Game Two behind Hiroki Kuroda in that scenario, which is … yikes. If Sabathia and Pettitte come back, I would use Freddy as the fourth starter and stick Phil Hughes in the bullpen for October. I don’t see how they could trust Nova in the postseason given his current performance, but he does have about six weeks to figure things out.

Assuming David Phelps is headed back to the bullpen at some point, I’d rank the potential playoff starters are Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Garcia, Hughes, Nova. Just remove players and bump everyone else up as needed due to injury. I don’t think it’s out of the question that Phelps pitches his way ahead of Nova in the pecking order, but I wouldn’t count on it. I think he’ll run out of innings before that happens.

Nova, ‘pen hit hard as Yanks can’t finish sweep

The Yankees were going for the four-game sweep of the Rangers on Thursday, but they were unable to pull out the win even though the offense rallied to both tie the game and take the lead in the middle innings. Bullpens eh? They’ll break your heart.

“Maybe this ball will have my command.” (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Not So SuperNova

It’s one step forward and one step back with Ivan Nova, who followed up his strong effort against the Blue Jays with a total dud against the Rangers. His defense didn’t help much — Casey McGehee muffed a ground ball and Andruw Jones lost a ball in the sun — but he still allowed seven hits, four walks, and one hit batsmen in 5.2 innings. Three of those hits went for extra bases and three came with two strikes. Nova went to a two-strike count on ten of the 27 batters he faced, and four of those ten reached base. That’s pretty awful.

Last time out against Toronto, Nova stifled the Jays by throwing 46 curveballs and 13 sliders (out of 105 pitches, so  56.2% breaking balls) and locating them down and out of the zone. On Thursday he threw 26 curves and seven sliders (out of 103 pitches, so 32.0% breaking balls) and hung a few of them for base hits, most notably Josh Hamilton’s first inning double. Nova also slipped off the mound in the fourth and limped off the field, but he remained in the game and seemed fine, at least health-wise. I give Ivan major credit for pitching out of a bases loaded, no outs situation in the third, but otherwise this was another underwhelming start in a summer full of them. He allowed at least four runs for the fifth time in his last nine starts.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Tie Game And The Lead

Derek Holland held the Yankees to just one hit in the first five innings, but they struck for five runs in the sixth inning to first tie the game and then ultimately take the lead. Ichiro Suzuki got it all started with an infield single, then Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher plated a pair of runs with singles. Cleanup hitter Andruw Jones jumped all over a first pitch sinker for a game-tying two-run blast down the left field a line, a homer that was reviewed and eventually upheld. Mike Olt’s two-base error in right put Casey McGehee on second, and one batter later Russell Martin singled him in for the 5-4 lead.

The Yankees tacked on a sixth run on Mark Teixeira‘s fielder’s choice one inning later, but they could have had more since it was bases loaded with just one out. They also handcuffed themselves with a second inning bunt from Ichiro which, even if he was trying for a hit, was probably a bad play. I’m not quite sure how you can try to bunt for a hit against Adrian Beltre after not attempting it even once in four games against Miguel Cabrera a week ago. Unsurprisingly, Chris Stewart failed to get the run in. I also think it’s flat out inexcusable that Robinson Cano did not score from first on Ichiro’s double in the ninth. Center field Craig Gentry dove for the ball and knocked it away, but Robbie had to hold up at third because they stopped running hard after rounding second. There were two outs, just put your head down and run.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Unprotected Lead

The Yankees had a clear need for another relief pitcher in May, but they instead opted to wait for Joba Chamberlain to get healthy. Now that Joba’s healthy, they still need another reliever. The right-hander allowed Texas to take a two-run lead on Gentry’s two-out, two-strike single in the seventh, then allowed two more runs in the eighth. I’ve been saying it for months, we had no idea how well Joba would come back after two major injuries. He’s allowed six runs and 17 baserunners in six innings since returning and can’t be used in even medium-leverage spots because the command is not there. They’ll have to live with it though, because getting a decent reliever in a trade while at the end of the waiver priority line is damn near impossible.

Boone Logan also allowed a run by allowing base hits to two of the three men he faced, including a double to the left-handed hitting David Murphy. Clay Rapada also allowed a garbage time run in the ninth when he was facing a bunch of righties. With a one-run lead in the seventh, the best way to go may have been Logan for Hamilton, Joba for Adrian Beltre, Rapada for Murphy, and then David Robertson thereafter. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. The offense did a great job to battle back from a four-run hole to take the lead, but the bullpen really let the Yankees down on Thursday afternoon.

Defensive specialist. (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Leftovers

Joe Girardi had his pitchers intentionally walk Mitch Moreland not once, but twice. That’s just madness. Gentry followed up both with run-scoring plays. I get intentionally walking Hamilton in the eighth, but the free passes to guys like Moreland and Sean Rodriguez has to stop. They Yankees have been showing way too much respect to hitters like that.

The only players in the starting lineup with multiple hits were Jeter (two singles) and Ichiro (two singles and a double), though the only starters without a knock were McGehee and Stewart. Swisher singled and walked, so he was on-base twice. The various pinch-hitters off the bench went a combined 0-for-4 with a walk (Cano) and two strikeouts. Oh well, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some additional statistics, and ESPN the updated standings. The Orioles lost to the Red Sox (finally), so they remain six games back. I assume David Price and the Rays will be the Angels out on the West Coast, so they’ll be six back as well. The magic number to clinch the division is 39.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Rangers are leaving town and the Red Sox are on their way in. New York and Boston will play a three-game set this weekend that will have no impact on their race against each other. At 58-61, the Sox are 13 games back and closer to last place than third place. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch Friday’s series opener, when Phil Hughes matches up with Franklin Morales.

Almonte homers twice in Trenton win

OF Abe Almonte was placed on the DL and will miss 7-10 days with a left hamstring injury. He missed a bunch of time earlier this year with a right hamstring problem, and the last thing the speedster needs to develop is some kind of chronic hammy issues.

Triple-A Empire State (5-4 win over Pawtucket)
RF Chris Dickerson & 2B Corban Joseph: both 0-3, 2 BB — Dickerson got caught stealing … CoJo scored a run
SS Eduardo Nunez: 1-5, 1 E (fielding)
DH Brandon Laird: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HBP — left the game after taking a Daniel Bard fastball to the collarbone area, so yeah … Kevin Russo pinch-ran and did not come to the plate
C Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
LF Darnell McDonald: 0-4, 2 K
CF Melky Mesa: 2-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — third homer in 17 games since the promotion
1B Kosuke Fukudome: 0-2, 2 BB, 1 K — started in place on Ronnie Mustelier, who was a late scratch for an unknown reason
3B Ramiro Pena: 0-4, 1 K
LHP Justin Thomas: 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1/5 GB/FB — 59 of 85 pitches were strikes (66%) … allowed his first two homers of the season (60 IP) at any level, Majors or minors
RHP Chase Whitley: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3/3 GB/FB — 21 of 31 pitches were strikes (68%)
RHP Ryota Igarashi: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 16 of 26 pitches were strikes (62%) … recently outrighted off the 40-man roster

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

It’s lovely out in New York, but if you live somewhere else or are stuck inside tonight, use this as your open thread. The Mets are playing the Reds (Harvey vs. Bailey) and MLB Network will air a game as well. Who you see depends on where you live. Use this thread to talk about those games or anything else. Go nuts.

Kiley McDaniel scouts Ty Hensley

In an Insider-only piece at ESPN, former Yankees intern Kiley McDaniel provided an extended scouting report on first rounder Ty Hensley from his first pro outing. He said the right-hander looked completely healthy despite the shoulder “abnormality” that led to a below-slot signing bonus, while also noting that he still looked “like an 19-year-old power arm learning to harness his stuff.”

McDaniel clocked Hensley at 90-93 and said he was “hitting 95 mph with two-seam life.” His mid-70s curveball “flashed plus” and the report on his changeup was surprisingly positive. “Hensley also threw an 80-82 mph changeup that has a chance to be above-average — better than many of the top prep arms from his class that I scouted this year,” wrote McDaniel. “That may be the most encouraging thing, as Hensley’s challenge will be channeling pure power into a mix of power and finesse, and feel for a changeup at this age is a good indicator that he’ll be able to accomplish that. The Yankees will work with him to clean up his delivery, as he’s a heel-lander with a little noise in his motion, but the elements are here for a frontline starter if Hensley can make the necessary adjustments.”

Also check out McDaniel’s reports on OF Tyler Austin, OF Slade Heathcott, OF Mason Williams, C Gary Sanchez, and others in case you missed them. Hensley pitched for the Rookie Level GCL Yankees this afternoon, allowing three unearned runs on one hit and two hit batsmen in 2.2 innings. He struck out a pair and got four other outs on the ground.

Yankees outright Ryota Igarashi to Triple-A

The Yankees have outrighted right-hander Ryota Igarashi down to Triple-A. The move removes him off the 40-man roster, and by my unofficial count they now have one spot open. Igarashi, 33, appeared in two games with the Yankees and allowed four runs in three innings. At the end of the day, all this move means is that he will not rejoin the team as a September call-up.