Report: Betances draws the Game 162 start

After keeping us on pins and needles throughout the night, word leaked that the Yankees will start 23-year-old Dellin Betances tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays, Marc Topkin of The St. Petersburg Times reported. Betances, one of the Yanks’ top pitching prospects, made his Major League debut last week against the Rays but had a less-than-stellar outing. Showing signs of nerves and rust after a long layoff, the tall righty allowed two runs on four walks and a hit batter in just 0.2 innings. Betances, a New York native, split the season between AA and AAA where he sported a 10.1 K/9 IP but walked 5 per 9. While the Rays are trying to win the Wild Card or at least force a Game 163 against the Red Sox, the Yankees will showcase a player who figures to be a part of their future tonight.

Is there an advantage to the lineup flip-flop?

Yesterday Joe Girardi made a small lineup change that made many fans immensely happy. Robinson Cano, long thought of as an ideal No. 3 hitter, hit in that very spot, while Mark Teixeira, who has floundered at times this season, dropped back into Cano’s No. 5 spot. All parties seem to be on board with the switch. Teixeira himself even liked it, admitting that his left-handed swing needed work this off-season. The move certainly makes intuitive sense, but will that translate into tangible results?

One thing to keep in mind is that Cano, hitting mostly in the Nos. 4 and 5 spots this season, has hit with more runners on base than Teixeira, who has spent all but a few games at No. 3. Cano has also done a better job of driving in those runners, bringing home 21 percent of his 439 baserunners. Teixeira has driven in 17 percent of his 413 runners. So if Cano has seen more runners and has driven in more from his No. 5 spot, why move him?

Curtis Granderson helps put the issue in perspective. He has taken plenty of runners off base from the No. 2 hole, leaving fewer runners for Teixeira and Cano. Last year, batting mostly in the No. 5 spot, Cano came to bat with 470 runners on base, or 3.38 for every 5 PA. This year he’s down to 3.26 base runners per 5 PA. Teixeira is obviously more greatly affected, since he hits directly behind Granderson. In 2010 he saw 3.41 base runners per 5 PA, while this year he’s seen just 3.05 per 5 PA.

Of course, we can’t expect Granderson to continue his regular season home run pace in the postseason. That mitigates some of the baserunner issues, because Granderson won’t be taking them off base so frequently. In fact, as Granderson’s home run pace has somewhat slowed he’s taken more free passes. While his season walk rate is 12.4 percent, it has jumped to 14.3 percent in the last two months. That might give Cano a few additional opportunities with runners on base.

It does seem odd that the Yankees made this switch so late in the season. Cano has done fine work in the No. 5 hole. He has not only seen more runners on base than Teixeira in the No. 3 hole, but he has driven in a greater percentage of those runners. That would seem to be of importance come playoff time. But the Yankees can’t rely on Granderson’s homers as much, and that changes the equation slightly. It’s hard to predict where the runners will come from in the postseason, so it’s best for Girardi to set the order in the manner he sees as optimal.

As the numbers show, though, there’s not an enormous difference. Combine that with the unpredictable nature of the postseason (due to the small number of games), and it’s essentially a wash. Thankfully, all parties are on board with the move. That makes it a bit more palatable. We can only hope that it gives Cano just a few more opportunities to do what he’s done all season long.

Gary Sanchez ranked among top 20 Sally League prospects

Baseball America’s looked at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued today with the Low-A South Atlantic League. Gary Sanchez ranked  14th, the only Yankees farmhand to crack a rather stacked list. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, arguably the two best prospects in baseball, topped the list.

In the subscriber-only scouting report, Bill Ballew says “Sanchez’s bat speed and strength ranked among the best in the league, though his swing gets too long at times.” The biggest problem is his defense, “because he stabs at pitches instead of shifting his body.” Sanchez led the league with 26 passed balls in just 60 games behind the plate. “He’s had to adjust to a lot of things both on and off the field,”  said Charleston manager Aaron Ledesma, a gentle little reminder that Sanchez was demoted to Extended Spring Training for a few weeks in the middle of the season because of attitude problems.

The next top 20 list of interest to the Yankees is the High-A Florida State League, which will be posted on Monday. The Tampa Yankees were a pretty weak squad in terms of prospects this year, but it’s a solid bet that Brett Marshall will make an appearance. Jose Quintana and the Almontes (Zoilo and Abe) might sneak on, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The Best/Worst Day of the Year

There’s nothing better than pennant race baseball. The Yankees have already wrapped up their playoff spot and division title, and although we still don’t know who they’re going to play in the ALDS, we do know that Game One will start at 8:37pm ET on Friday night in Yankee Stadium. The last week of games has been relatively stress free, but that’s all going to change in two days.

Other teams are not so lucky though. The Yankees have been directly involved in the AL wildcard race over the last week and a half, a race that may or may not come to an end today. The Rays didn’t surge and catch the Red Sox as much as Boston blew their nine-game lead this month, and depending on today’s games, either one of those two teams will win the wildcard today or they’re going to play a Game 163 tomorrow. There is nothing more exciting than that, especially since we get to sit back and enjoy the game with no real rooting interest. Yeah, we all want the Sox to lose, but I can’t imagine many people will get all worked up over the game.

It’s not just the Sox and Rays either. In case you haven’t noticed, the Braves blew an eight-game wildcard lead over in the NL this month, and as of last night they’re tied with the Cardinals for the final playoff spot in the so-called Senior Circuit. Those two clubs are in the exact same situation as Boston and Tampa, someone could win the wildcard outright today, or they will end up playing a Game 163 tomorrow. Two Game 163’s? That would be amazing. There’s absolutely nothing better than playoff baseball, and make no mistake, these four teams are playing postseason games today.

* * *

There’s nothing worse than the final day of the season. The 162 games seem to go by a little quicker with each passing year, and by now memories of early season games have blurred together. Tough losses have been all but forgotten, exciting wins are now little more than afterthoughts. Every team in every season has ups and downs, it’s just the nature of the game, but all those highs and lows are going on hiatus now. They’re gone until the spring.

More than anything else, I’ll miss the routine. The daily routine of work, Yankees, sleep we all seem to live during the summer. Some of you might go to school, but all of us manage to squeeze a meal or two in there somewhere. Those are the three constants though, for six months of the year those are the three things life revolves around. And all of a sudden, the routine is gone. What am I supposed to do with myself from 7pm until I go to bed each night (yay MLB.tv!) during the winter? It’s legit depressing.

We Yankees fans got to experience a  whole lot of  good this year. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera made history. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia surprised everyone. Curtis Granderson made a run at the MVP. Ivan Nova came into his own and David Robertson punched a hole in his ceiling and went even higher. Jesus Montero added some late season excitement. The playoffs are their own kind of monster, this alternate baseball world where the season seems to hinge on every pitch. The regular season is different though. It’s long and monotonous, at times even boring, but there’s a certain comfort in that. Baseball is a way of life in the Axisa household, so today is very bittersweet. Bring on the playoffs, even thought they mean the end of the routine.

Yanks lose heartbreaker meaningless game to Rays

At any other point of the season, this would have been a really tough loss to swallow. Instead, it was no big deal because the Yankees are playing for nothing right now, except for not getting hurt. I do know one thing, Wednesday is going to be frickin’ awesome.

As Michael Kay would say: that was UUUGE. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Helping His Former Team

The Yankees were playing spoiler for the first six and a half innings, recovering from an early 2-0 hole to take a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh. Joe Girardi said before the game that his top three relievers were going to pitch in this game no matter what, their final tune-up before the playoffs begin on Friday. That meant former Ray Rafael Soriano in the seventh.

Like many other multi-run innings, this one started with a walk. Bossman Jr. took four wide ones, then stole second base to put the tying run in scoring position with no outs and the heart of the order up. Soriano was feeling generous, so he walked Evan Longoria too, putting two on with no outs. After throwing another ball to Matt Joyce, the seventh inning guy essentially saved Tampa’s season by catching way too much of the plate with a  pitch. Joyce hit it into orbit, it was obvious th e ball was  gone off the bat from where I was sitting, and the Trop went nuts when the one-run deficit turned into a two-run lead on one swing. It was actually a pretty awesome moment, the moment Matt Joyce became a True Ray™.

TrueRays™ are a thing, right? Or is that only reserved for the Yankees?

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

A High And A Low For Martin

What’s the best thing a player can do in an at-bat? Hit a homer. Russell Martin took care of that with a solo shot in the third inning, his first homer since that three grand slam game against Oakland on August 25th. It was also his 18th of the season, one behind the career high he set in 2007, when he came to plate 620 times. He has just 476 PA in 2011.

Now what’s the worst thing a player can do in an at-bat? Hit into a triple play. That’s exactly what Martin did his next time up, clanking into an around the horn 5-4-3 triple play with the bases loaded and (obviously) no one out. It was a rather aesthetically pleasing play, the Rays really did a nice job turning it. Of course,  Martin helped them out by stupidly sliding head first into first, slowing himself down. What’s the matter, a triple play wasn’t bad enough so you had to risk some broken fingers on the next to last day of the season? Playing smart > playing hard.

(J. Meric/Getty Images)

The End Of The  Line

Bartolo Colon‘s season came to an end in this game, long after we all figured he be released or hurt. He gave up just two runs in 5.1 IP, ending his season with exactly a 4.00 ERA in 164.1 IP. The three strikeouts put his season strikeout rate at 7.4 K/9, and the two walks putting his walk rate at 2.2 BB/9. Bart’s 3.34 K/BB ratio is the tenth best in the AL, which is amazing. The only way I see him making the playoff  roster is if there’s an injury, but damn yo, give this man some props. Colon’s been a godsend this season.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Soriano easily retired the next three batters he faced after the homer, so I assume the two baserunners and three-run dinger were intentional. That will make me feel better before Friday. David Robertson got two outs and his 100th  strikeout of the  season, then Mariano Rivera struck out the only runner he faced. This could be wrong, but someone here said that was the first time Rivera has entered a game with the Yankees losing in the eighth inning since Game  Six of the 2003 World Series. That’s unconfirmed, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Aside from Martin’s homer, the Yankees scored another run when Curtis Granderson grounded into a double play with men on the corners fifth, and again when Nick Swisher doubled with two on in the sixth. How Mark Teixiera didn’t score from second on a double, I’ll never know. I guess he thought it  had a chance to be caught, but that seems unlikely. It was a shot, I thought it had a chance to get out. The Yankees drew five walks (two by Alex Rodriguez) and struck out only four times (two by A-Rod), but one of the walks  was intentional to Jorge Posada immediately before Martin’s GITP. As soon as they turned it, you just knew they’d win. The narrative would not be denied.

There was very little to talk about after the game, hence the lack of postgame notes. Joe Girardi said Wednesday’s starter was still to be determined, but it won’t be a regular. Expect an inning or two of Phil Hughes and a little Boone Logan among various Triple-A arms. Otherwise, a  few Yankees  (Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Posada, Robertson … a few others as well) hung around to watch the end of the Red Sox game. Oh yeah, the Sox won, so Tampa and Boston remain tied for the wildcard heading into the final game of the season. That’s why Wednesday will be awesome.

The Tigers won and the Rangers are winning at the moment (follow that game here), so the Yankees are still on track to face Detroit in the ALDS. Assuming the Texas score doesn’t change, the only way the Yankees would play the Rangers in the ALDS is if the Rangers lose and the Tigers win on Wednesday. Anything else means Yanks-Tigers.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

Hard to believe it, but there’s just one regular season game left in the 2011 season. The Yankees and Rays will wrap the year up on Wednesday night,  when David Price starts the biggest game of his life against Johnny Wholestaff.

Mets block Yanks from hosting AAA team in Newark next season

Update (8:30pm): Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees offered the Mets $250k and a matching evergreen proposal for allowing them to use Newark, but  apparently that’s not enough. The matching evergreen proposal basically means the Yankees would allow the Mets to move one of their minor league teams into their territory (for one year) sometime in the future, extending the same courtesy they were asking of the Mets. Quarter of a million bucks though? I never thought someone could love Newark that much.

Original Post (3:30pm): Via Jerry Izenberg, the Mets used their territory rights to block the Yankees from housing the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees in Newark next season. Brian Cashman and Essex County exec Joseph DiVincenzo reached an agreement that would have allowed the team to play at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium in 2012 (home of the Newark Bears), but the Mets shot it down because “their organization would only do something like that with mutual and immediate reciprocity.” The Yankees made the Mets several offers, including at least one involving an undisclosed amount of cash, but still no dice.

PNC Field is undergoing major renovations, which will force the team to play at an alternate site next year. The deadline to submit a proposal for such a site was missed earlier this month, but league execs have established a timetable to ensure that this gets resolved in a timely manner. Ottawa, another potential home, appears to be off the table as well.

Game 161: FTL

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Bartolo Colon has faced the Rays three times this year, and he’s 0-3 in those starts. No Yankees pitcher has ever (ever!) lost four games to the Tampa Bay franchise in a single season, but Big Bart has a chance to  accomplish that tonight. Given where the team stands, it ‘s not really a big deal. It would be a big deal for the Rays and their wildcard chase though. Here’s the lineup…

Eduardo Nunez, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Mark Teixeira, 1B – oh by the way, new lineup
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

Bartolo Colon, SP

It’s a My9 game tonight, so it’s only fitting that it’s raining in St. Petersburg. Luckily this place has a roof. Game starts at 7pm ET, enjoy.