6/11-6/13 Series Preview: Atlanta Braves

The Braves retired #29 this weekend. (REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

The last time the Yankees visited Atlanta, Brian Cashman took a trip down to visit a team that was struggling to score runs and had lost five of their previous six games. Frankie Cervelli responded with a big solo homer and Cashman’s club went on a major second half run that resulted in a World Championship. Thankfully, the Yankees don’t need that kind of wake-up call at the moment.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Braves have been quite streaky of late, losing eight in a row at the end of May before following it up with eight wins in their last ten games. They lost yesterday but took two of three against the Blue Jays this weekend. Overall, the Braves are 34-26 with a +31 run differential, he third and fourth best marks in the NL, respectively.

Offense

(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

At 4.80 runs per game, the Braves are a top-five offense in baseball. Their 288 total runs are the third most in the NL and seventh most overall. The Yankees are seven runs back of Atlanta, though they have played one fewer game. It all starts at the top of the lineup with Michael Bourn (132 wRC+) and Martin Prado (140 wRC+), the best one-two lineup combination in baseball this season. The former has already set a career-high in homers (six) while the latter has set a career-high in steals (seven).

Brian McCann (95 wRC+) is having a down year by his standards but remains incredibly dangerous. Chipper Jones (132 wRC+) just returned from his latest DL stint, and those two tend to rotate in the three-hole. Dan Uggla (136 wRC+) pumps out 30+ homer seasons like clockwork (11 already this year) and handles cleanup duties. Youngsters Freddie Freeman (102 wRC+) and Jason Heyward (113 wRC+) add left-handed depth, so expect to see a lot of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada these next few days. Andrelton Simmons recently took over as the everyday shortstop and owns a 98 wRC+ in eight games.

Atlanta boasts a very strong bench/supporting cast, led by the best backup catcher in baseball: David Ross (111 wRC+). He gave McCann a rest yesterday and with three night games on the schedule, we might not see him this series. Juan Francisco (93 wRC+ vs. RHP) is the thump from the left side, Matt Diaz (130 wRC+) the thump from the right side. Former Yankee Eric Hinske is off to a slow start (69 wRC+ vs. RHP) but can still go deep at any time. Jack Wilson (-5 wRC+) is both the utility infielder and terrible. Here’s pretty much the only guy on the roster you don’t have to worry about.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Randall Delgado
The 46th best prospect in baseball coming into the season according to Baseball America, the 22-year-old Delgado has pitched to a respectable 4.26 ERA (4.07 FIP) in eleven starts so far. His strikeout rates (7.19 K/9 and 18.6 K/9) are solid and his ground ball rate (52.6%) is fantastic, though like most young pitchers he tends to walk a bunch of guys (4.40 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%). Delgado sits in the low-90s with both of his fastballs (two and four-seamer), and his top secondary offering is a low-80s changeup. He’ll also throw an upper-70s curveball on occasion. Although he’s coming off a gem (two hits and one run in 6.1 IP against the Marlins), Delgado has only completed six full innings three times this year.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Mike Minor
Minor looked like one of the best young pitchers in the game in Spring Training, but by fWAR (-0.4) he’s been the second worst pitcher in baseball in the regular season. His 6.57 ERA is backed up by an unsightly 5.51 FIP, mostly because he’s extremely homer prone — 2.00 HR/9. Considering he plays in a pitcher’s park in the NL, that’s pretty terrible. Minor’s strikeout (7.86 K/9 and 19.9 K%) and walk (3.71 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%) rates are good enough, though he is a fly ball guy (33.2%). A true four-pitch pitcher, the southpaw will pitch off his low-90s fastball with a mid-80s slider, a low-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball. Minor has recorded more than 15 outs just once in his last six starts. Kinda hard to believe.

Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Tim Hudson
Fresh off a complete game shutout of the Marlins, Hudson received a cortisone shot to alleviate pain in his left ankle and skipped his previous start. Well, they didn’t really skip it. They just pushed him back three days. The 36-year-old* sinkerballer has pitched very well after spending the first few weeks of the season on the shelf with back problems, posting a 3.83 ERA (3.13 FIP) in eight starts. Hudson is all about getting ground balls (57.4%) and limiting walks (2.50 BB/9 and 6.7 BB%), not striking dudes out (5.17 K/9 and 13.8 K%). His sinker is mostly upper-80s these days, and he’ll also mix in mid-to-high-80s cutters and four-seamers. He’ll throw a curveball roughly once every 12 pitches, but otherwise it’s all fastball. Believe it or not, Hudson hasn’t faced the Yankees since way back in 2006.

* Can you believe Tim Hudson is 36 already? I feel like he just came up with a Athletics. He’s going to be 37 next month. Crazy.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Bullpen Status
Like the pre-injury Yankees, Atlanta’s strength is their lights out bullpen. Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel (1.13 FIP) is a strikeout machine (14.48 K/9 and 41.1 K%) in the ninth inning, though setup man Jonny Venters (4.17 FIP) has seen his ground ball rate drop in a big way this year. Of course, it’s still at 56.3% after 72.5% (!) last season. He’s had some homer issues in recent weeks. Middle men Eric O’Flaherty (2.74 FIP vs. LHB) and Cristhian Martinez (1.95 FIP vs. LHB) are both hell on lefties, though the latter is a right-hander. Chad Durbin (5.73 FIP) and Livan Hernandez (4.68 FIP) are the garbage time guys.

The Blue Jays did the Yankees a favor by roughing up rookie right-hander Julio Teheran yesterday, forcing Livan (37 pitches) and Martinez (47 pitches) to make lengthy relief appearances. Durbin threw 19 pitches as well. The Braves demoted Teheran after yesterday’s game and called up right-handed reliever Cory Gearrin (1.72 FIP in Triple-A) for some added bullpen depth. Kimbrel, Venters, and O’Flaherty each had yesterday off but have pitched in three of the last five days. When push comes to shove in the late innings, manager Fredi Gonzalez will have his go-to guys available tonight.

The Yankees are going to need some length out of Nova tonight. Rafael Soriano, Logan, Cory Wade, and Rapada have all pitched in each of the last two games while Cody Eppley has either pitched or warmed up in four straight. Wade and Rapada have appeared in three of four as well. I suspect we’ll see David Phelps make his first appearance in nine days tonight. Hopefully he’s not rusty. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact reliever usage details. For the latest and greatest on the Braves, we recommend Capitol Avenue Club.

Fan Confidence Poll: June 11th, 2012

Record Last Week: 5-1 (32 RS, 15 RA)
Season Record: 34-25 (281 RS, 241 RA, 34-25 pythag. record), 0.5 games back in AL East
Opponents This Week: @ Braves (Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Nationals (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?
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Martin, Yanks walk off with Subway Series sweep


Source: FanGraphs

Sometimes a sweep is more than a sweep. When it’s the Red Sox or Rays or another contender, sweeps mean a little better than they usually do. When it’s the Mets? Forget it. The best. The Yankees securing bragging rights to the city with a come from behind walk-off win over the Amazin’s on Sunday, sweeping the three games to conclude an excellent homestand. The Yankees have won three in a row, six of seven, eight of ten, and 13 of 17. That’s pretty awesome. Let’s recap…

  • Botched: Andy Pettitte has been magnificent since un-retiring, but he had his first real disaster inning on Sunday. Scott Hairston started the second with a double, Vinny Rottino continued it with a ground ball single, then Robinson Cano extended it by botching a potential inning-ending double play. The Yankees instead got zero outs on the play. Pettitte then walked Omar Quintanilla — he hit a homer once, gotta pitch him like he’s Barry Bonds now — and allowed a two-run double down the right field line to Jordany Valdespin. The botched double play ball hurt, but Andy didn’t exactly help himself by leaving some pitches out over the plate.
  • Rally Killer: A three-run deficit that early in the game isn’t the end of the world, especially since Jon Niese was willing to give it back by putting the first two men on base in the bottom half. Of course, Nick Swisher snuffed out the rally with an ill-advised bunt attempt that resulted in a force out at third. The Yankees went on to score zero runs in the inning. It’s hard enough to beat the other team, but having to overcome your own stupidity is damn near impossible.
  • The Lead: Niese was mowing the Yankees down until the seventh, when Russell Martin hit a cheap two-run homer — hit the top of the wall, bounced straight up, and a fan grabbed it. Derek Jeter started the eighth inning rally with a infield double — yep, infield double — then Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez followed up with consecutive singles. A-Rod‘s go-ahead single was a bloop into the triangle, the exact kind of RISPBABIP luck they haven’t been getting in recent weeks. After about six innings of frustration, the Yankees had the lead.
  • Blown Save: That one-run lead lasted all of two batters. Rafael Soriano came out of the bullpen to allow back-to-back rockets to Lucas Duda and Ike Davis, putting the go-ahead run on second with no outs. A one-out single put men on the corners, at which point Joe Girardi pulled his backup backup closer in favor of Boone Logan. The matchup lefty escaped the jam with a strikeout and a ground ball. After the big comeback, the blow save was a big letdown.
  • The Russ Bus: That said, the Mets’ bullpen is so bad that a win seemed inevitable once they went to the bottom of the ninth tied. Sure enough, Jon Rauch hung a slider to Martin to lead off the inning, resulting in a non-cheapie homer to left field for the team’s first walk-off homer since September 2010. The game was over, the sweep was complete. Pretty great ending to a great series.
  • Leftovers: Martin is now hitting .319/.418/.681 since the start of the Royals’ series before the West Coast trip and is up to a 117 wRC+ for the season … the top five hitters in the order went a combined 9-for-19 and A-Rod was the only guy without multiple hits … the Yankees ground into three double plays and seven in the series … big ups to Clay Rapada and Cory Wade for two scoreless innings between Pettitte and Soriano … don’t forget Jayson Nix’s play to cut down the lead runner at third in the ninth, it was huge at the time … Pettitte finished with eight strikeouts in six innings, raising his season strikeout rate to 8.64 K/9 (24.7 K%).

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the advanced stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Rays swept the Marlins, so they remain tied atop the AL East with New York in the loss column. The Yankees are off to Atlanta for a three-game set with the Braves, starting Monday evening when Ivan Nova gets the ball against Randall Delgado.

Robertson begins rehab assignment in AAA loss

Triple-A Empire State (5-4 loss to Louisville)
LF Chris Dickerson: 0-4, 1 BB, 2 K
2B Corban Joseph: 0-5, 1 K — had a hit in every Triple-A game up until today
RF Ronnie Mustelier: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB — 14 homers in 96 games since signing (24 HR pace)
DH Jack Cust: 0-4, 1 BB, 2 K
1B Russell Branyan: 1-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 K — second straight game with a homer, four in the last five games
3B Brandon Laird: 1-1, 1 R, 1 BB — left the game after walking in the third inning for an unknown reason
3B-SS Doug Bernier: 1-1, 1 R, 1 BB
CF-3B Kevin Russo: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 K
SS Ramiro Pena: 2-2 — left the game with an injured foot after singling in the fourth
PR-CF Colin Curtis: 1-2, 1 2B
C Gus Molina: 0-3, 1 RBI
RHP D.J. Mitchell: 6 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 6/4 GB/FB — 62 of 94 pitches were strikes (66.0%) … four or more runs allowed in six of his last ten starts, so he’s not exactly making them think long and hard about a call-up
RHP David Robertson: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — eight of eleven pitches were strikes … had a little tiny bit more on him earlier
LHP Justin Thomas: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 14 of 19 pitches were strikes (73.7%)

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Sunday Night Open Thread

Definitely a fan of the three-game sweep, but a three-game sweep of the Mets is always a little extra special. Things didn’t look so good for most of the game really, but the Yankees got some fortunate bounces and some bloops finally blooped before Russell Martin hit the team’s first walk-off homer since September 2010. That’s six wins in seven games and 13 in 17 games. Pretty awesome.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is the Tigers at the Reds (Smyly vs. Bailey), and that’s all you’ve got as far as the major sports are concerned. Feel free to talk about whatever you like here, go nuts.

Update: Jorge Soler expected to agree to a contract “before tomorrow”

6:17pm: Joel Sherman confirms that the Yankees are “in deep” for Soler and have been told — along with other interested teams — that their best bid must be submitted today. A decision is likely to be made tomorrow.

10:54am: For what it’s worth, Peter Gammons says interested clubs believe this will drag out beyond tomorrow unless the Yankees decide to blow everyone else out of the water.

10:00am: Via George King and Mike Puma, free agent outfielder Jorge Soler is expected to agree to terms on a four-year contract sometime “before tomorrow.” The 20-year-old Cuban defector was officially declared a free agent earlier this month, and yesterday we heard that the Yankees were one of the clubs most aggressively pursuing him.

Soler will be subject to the spending restrictions implemented by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement come July 2nd, so it’s not a surprise to see him and his agent try to wrap up a contract as soon as possible. I’m very curious to see the size of the deal; a four-year pact probably means something like $15-20M. That’s a ton of money for a prospect — Soler’s not a finished product who can jump right into the bigs — and it really wouldn’t surprise me if the Yankees walked away. Then again it is just money though, and they have lots of it.

Pettitte’s hand bruised after barehand play, x-rays negative

Andy Pettitte has a bruise on his left hand after bare-handing a one-hopper in the sixth inning of this afternoon’s game. He remained in the game and retired the next two batters, though he was in noticeable discomfort. X-rays were negative and Pettitte expects to make his next start. Thanks to Thursday’s scheduled day off, he’ll get a little more rest than usual.