Andrew Brackman active for tonight’s game

This whole thing keeps getting weirder and weirder. We know that 2007 first rounder Andrew Brackman (along with some others) is with the big league team to work out with the coaching staff and what not, but now Chad Jennings is reporting that the Yanks have activated Brackman for tonight’s game. Not that I expect him to pitch (at all, the rest of the season), but Brian Cashman did give Joe Girardi the okay to use him.

Brackman was already on the 40-man roster, so no move had to be made. He’ll collect a few days service time but not enough to alter his arbitration or free agent clocks, and his paycheck probably won’t even change since his annual salary is presumably set by his big league contract. He’ll be easy to spot during batting practice and stuff, he’s the tall guy.

The question of the Game 2 starter

It wasn’t always like this. Earlier in the year it appeared that the Yankees had their strongest rotation in years, even with Javy Vazquez‘s troubled start. But then things started falling apart. A.J. Burnett pitched five times in June and allowed more runs, 29, than innings pitched, 23. The league got a grip on Phil Hughes‘s fastball. The situation got better as Javy Vazquez started pitching well, but then they got worse when he fell apart. Andy Pettitte getting hurt was just the last act in a complete rotation downturn.

The situation has improved lately, but the Yankees still have questions about all of their starters after CC Sabathia. Andy Pettitte helped ease some of those issues with a solid start on Sunday, and Phil Hughes continues to battle through starts even when his stuff or his command isn’t the sharpest. A.J. Burnett, too, has shown improvement of late. He might have shown even more improvement, too, if not for rain delays that shortened a couple of his recent starts. But as of now it appears that Sabathia and Pettitte are the clear choices to start Games 1 and 2.

Except that’s not what the Yankees are thinking. During interviews yesterday Girardi expressed a desire to repeat the 2009 playoff rotation, with Sabathia at the head and Burnett following him. The idea, I assume, is to break up the lefties. But given the composition of the rotation, that doesn’t seem like a great idea. If the Yankees want their best pitchers making the most appearances, they’ll ditch the idea of separating pitchers by handedness and just go with their best pitchers.

Sabathia and Pettitte, though they throw with the same hand, are not similar pitchers. This should make enough of a difference that their handedness should not matter. Put another way, what is more important: a theoretical advantage in splitting up starters, or a real advantage in having your best two pitchers not only throw the first two games, but also potential key games later in the series? With the way the ALDS is laid out, the Yankees could start Sabathia on short rest in Game 4 and go back to Pettitte on normal rest in a potential Game 5.

The second strange aspect of Girardi’s and Eiland’s desire to have Burnett start Game 2 is his potential for a blow-up. Moshe covered this topic earlier in the week. Why would the Yankees put themselves in a position where they might lose a game because their starter gives up five runs in the first? If the Yankees cannot be talked out of splitting up their lefties, it should be Hughes, and not Burnett, who gets the ball in Game 2. Hughes has had his struggles, but he has also shown the ability to battle through a lineup and keep his team in the game for five or six innings.

Starting with Sabathia and Pettitte also helps the Yankees remain flexible. If they head into Game 4 up two games to one, they can use either Hughes or Burnett, whoever didn’t start Game 3, and hold Sabathia for a potential Game 5. If they’re down two games to one they can throw Sabathia on short rest and still have Pettitte for Game 5. If they use Burnett in Game 2 then they’re basically committing to stick with Sabathia in a potential Game 5. Using Sabathia on three days’ rest might not seem ideal, but it might be a necessary tactic if the Yankees face elimination. Having him backed up by Pettitte in the final game makes the decision a bit easier.

I’m not aware of a study that examines the effects of starting back-to-back left-handers, but intuitively it doesn’t seem like a bad idea. It doesn’t sound right that hitters would somehow fare better against the second lefty just because they faced a pitcher of the same handedness in the previous game. I hope the Yankees don’t fall victim to the traditional thinking. They have two pitchers who have stood out for them. They should get the ball to start each series. It gives the team the best chance to win.

TBS strives for a better postseason broadcast

Mariano Rivera presides over a subway car in which seats resemble those found in baseball stadiums. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/TBS)

Three billion dollars is no small amount to pay for the rights to baseball games. For any media entity, an investment of that magnitude requires a commitment to the cause, and when two competing media companies throw that much money into one pot as FOX and TBS did in 2006 for MLB rights, the product aired must be of a superb quality.

Last year, as the Yankees marched to their 27th World Series title, TBS’ coverages wasn’t all that. Chip Caray was pilloried in the press, and TBS brass eventually removed him from the broadcast booth. For a game long accustomed to the subpar stylings of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck, the TBS fiasco was just business as usual, and it seemed that baseball would be relegated to an afterthought on the national stage.

But TBS this year is taking its commitment to the game seriously. As I detailed yesterday on Second Ave. Sagas, TBS and MLB have engaged in a groundbreaking advertisement campaign in the New York City subways to promote TBS’ postseason coverage. One of the 42nd St. shuttle trains will be fully branded with baseball superstars, and in-car video screens will show highlights from playoff games and promotions for upcoming contests. While the dollar totals for the deal haven’t been announced, the shuttle branding combined with the display ads represent an aggressive push by TBS to get casual fans interested in their baseball coverage.

“Postseason in New York is always a big moment for sports fans, and this is an opportunity to excite the local fan base and launch a campaign that highlights iconic players in local markets,” Christina Miller, a Turner Sports senior vice president for strategy, marketing and promotion, said.

David Wells has become a reliable fixture on TBS' baseball coverage. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/TBS)

Over at AOL’s Fanhouse, Andrew Johnson picks up on this theme as he explores how TBS is improving its October coverage. In its fourth season of playoff coverage and with Ernie Johnson’s replacing Chip Caray, TBS is striving to bring a better understanding and presentation of the game to the fans. “It’s really important that we know our roles,” Ron Darling said to AOL. “We’re really custodians of these great athletes and great teams that are gonna be chronicled forever and be on DVD forever, so we do feel a responsibility, with Turner doing these games, that we’re part of it. We’re part of history every year.”

Darling and John Smoltz will join Johnson in the booth. The color analysts in the studio will include David Wells, Cal Ripken and Dennis Eckersley. Their analysis might not stray into sabermetrics and advanced statistical viewpoints, but these are players who are both entertainers and baseball supporters. Eric Byrnes and Kevin Millar they are not.

This push by TBS to do better stands in stark contrast to FOX’s coverage which often seems begrudging at best and downright resentful at worst. FOX too has spent the billions, but they don’t listen to the loud groundswell of disgust for the quality of their broadcasts. They continue to turn to Buck and McCarver as the voices of baseball. They plug football nearly as often as they discuss baseball during the broadcasts, and they haven’t engaged in much advertising to promote their cause.

Baseball writing on the Internet has at times grown on the wings of Fire Joe Morgan, a site dedicated to, well, seeing the dismissal of ESPN’s lead baseball color commentary realized. We can’t bash on the bad coverage without giving a nod to the good, and while TBS still makes its mistakes, it’s doing more to promote the game than other outlets who pay the big bucks. As the Yanks will soon be appearing on TBS, we should sit back and appreciate.

Jorge Posada greets straphangers as they board the 42nd Street shuttle. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/TBS)

Baseball America’s Top 20 GCL Prospects

Baseball America started their annual look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league yesterday, and it continued today with the rookie level Gulf Coast League. Three Yankee farmhands made the cut (no subs. req’d), including Gary Sanchez who ranked as the circuit’s number one prospect. 2010 first rounder Cito Culver placed tenth and Ramon Flores 13th. If you’re a subscriber, you can read the scouting reports here.

Sanchez was noted as having “above-average power to all fields, and with a good approach for a young player, he projects to hit for average as well.” They also wrote the best report of his defense that I’ve seen, saying he “consistently generates 1.8-second pop times [that’s really good] and has the tools to be a solid receiver, but he’s still a work in progress defensively.” Culver projects as  a shortstop long-term thanks to “good instincts, plus range to both sides and an above-average arm.” Offensively, they say “he does have a knack for squaring up balls from both sides of the plate” with speed and a little bit of power. Flores is lauded for his sweet lefty swing and his developing power. Despite playing both corner outfield spots and first base this year, they project him best in right because of his “average speed and range to go with a strong, accurate arm.”

The series continues tomorrow, but the next list you have to worry about is the Short Season New York-Penn League one that comes out next Tuesday. The only Yankee prospects with a chance to make that list are Eduardo Sosa, Kelvin DeLeon, and Mikey O’Brien, but don’t be shocked if they get shut out. That team was an uninteresting as it gets this season.

The battle no one wants to win

Who wants to join D-Rob in the bullpen this October? (Photo Credit: Flickr user notladj)

With a lineup of All Stars (plus Brett Gardner) and the starting rotation all but set (not necessarily the order), the Yankees don’t have too many decisions to make before the the playoffs begin. The core setup crew is set, so the only thing left to sort out is the spare relievers and the bench. The bench isn’t too big of a deal since those regulars will (should) play every inning in October, but the bullpen isn’t necessarily that easy.

Jack Curry tweeted last night that the team intends to carry an 11-man pitching staff in the playoffs, which is fine. They could probably get away with ten, but there’s certainly no need for a dozen in a short series. Nine of those 11 spots are accounted for: CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Mariano Rivera, Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Boone Logan. That leaves five guys fighting for those final two spots: Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, Ivan Nova, Javy Vazquez, and Dustin Moseley. We should probably throw Royce Ring into that mix as well since a second lefty specialist would be far more useful than a second longman.

Joe Girardi‘s been riding Gaudin really hard the last two weeks (he’s appeared in six of the last twelve games), so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the righty is getting every opportunity to win one of those spots. Mitre has pitched twice in the past 26 days and as far as I know he didn’t even warm up in last night’s rainy game (in fairness, I suppose Girardi was holding him back in case he needs a longman tonight). One of those two times he pitched came in the last Sabathia-David Price game, and that was only after all the other bullpen options were used up. Moseley is far too hittable (10.7 H/9 career) and doesn’t miss nearly enough bats (4.3 K/9 this year) to warrant any kind of action in a playoff spot, so there’s no sense in even carrying him on the roster.

Javy, well at this point he shouldn’t be pitching any kind of meaningful innings. It’s not that he can’t handle the pressure or anything stupid like that, it’s just that his stuff has deteriorated so much that you can’t trust him to get outs with it. I know he’s pitched well in his few long relief outings late in the year, but I think there’s also too much of a stigma there to take him. That’s probably not fair to him, but it is what it is. The nothingball will be the scapegoat.

Given how well he’s pitched early in his outings, Nova’s going to get one of those last two bullpen spots almost by default, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s been extremely effective early in his outings (.563 OPS against the first time through the order, .731 the second, .952 the third) which suggests he could be effective in one or two inning relief stints. Perhaps he takes over the job as that trusty righty outside of the normal setup crew that Girardi is trying to force feed Gaudin. World Championship teams always have an unexpected reliever step up big in October (hellooo Damaso Marte), so maybe Nova’s that guy this year. We can dream.

In the end, I’d expect Nova and Gaudin to get those final two spots, though a case could be made for Ring as a second lefty (assuming he gets in some more games and pitches well over the next week-and-a-half, of course). Once the Yanks clinch a playoff spot, which will hopefully happen before everyone returns to work on Monday, don’t be surprised if they lift Nova from the rotation and have him pitch out of the bullpen two or three times in the final week of the season just to get acclimated to the role.

So far no one has really stepped up and grabbed one of those spots by the horns. They’re trying their best to give it to Gaudin, but he doesn’t seem to want it (13 baserunners, six runs, three homers in his last 5.2 IP). Mitre can’t even get into a regular season game, never mind a playoff spot, and every time Moseley pitches he shows why the Angels non-tendered him last season. In reality, whoever the Yanks ends up taking probably won’t see much action in the postseason and will be of little consequence, but stranger things have happened.

The importance of clinching this weekend

Last night, for what seems like the first time in a while, the Yankees’ magic number did not budge. It remains at a Ruthian three, and with Boston taking the night off it can only move down one tonight. It might not seem like a bit deal either way; there will be three more Yankees’ wins or Red Sox losses this season. But a win tonight does give the team an advantage heading into the final 10 days of the season. It means that just one win this weekend seals the playoff spot.

Winning the AL East does hold some significance. It means not only facing a theoretically weaker opponent in the ALDS, but it also means home field advantage in the first two rounds. Girardi has gone on record saying they want to win the East. As well they should. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of the big postseason picture. While home field advantage is nice, it’s not as nice as having a well rested crew.

Once the team clinches a playoff spot, Girardi can ease off his relievers for a bit. The top guys have been pressed into duty frequently in the past few weeks and have often been unavailable. Once they clinch up Girardi can throw them a couple of times to keep them sharp, but can generally give them a breather heading into what promises to be an intense month. The same goes for the starters. Clinching over the weekend means that they can rearrange the rotation to fit the playoff schematic. It also means that the playoff starters can go a short five in their final starts.

On offense, the assurance of a playoff spot means that banged up players can take a quick breather. This isn’t to say that the starters should sit regularly, but rather that they could get a day or two where they wouldn’t otherwise. The 29th in Toronto presents an opportunity, since there’s an off-day the next day. Sitting Swisher, Teixeira, and Posada that day makes sense, since it essentially gives them two straight days off. They’ll then have a three-game tune-up in Boston to get back into the swing of things before the ALDS begins.

Before they can think of any of this, they need to get that magic number from three to zero. With a series against Boston this weekend that moment should come soon enough. But a win tonight will go a long way. It means that just one win puts the playoff spot in the bag and allows the Yanks to maneuver as they see best fit in the season’s final week. That seems like a perfect interval. It’s not too long, but it’s still ample time to let some wounds heal and line up the rotation. That might cost the team the East, but at this point I’d far rather the Yanks head into the playoffs a healthy and rested team without home field than an exhausted one that gets an extra home game per series.

Yanks fall to Tampa after lengthy rain delay

After two somewhat tense but otherwise gratifying wins in the first two games of the series, Wednesday’s game against the Rays was a complete let down in pretty much every way. Tampa jumped out to an early lead, then a two hour and 11 minute rain delay interrupted the bottom of the third inning. Once the game resumed the Yanks just couldn’t seem to dig themselves out of a hole the bullpen kept digging, and the end result was just their second loss in the last six games.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Back-To-Back And There Goes The Ballgame

More than anything else, the most annoying part of this game was that every time the Yanks scored, the bullpen immediately gave back the runs if not more. Chad Gaudin came into the game for reasons unknown in the seventh inning after the Yanks closed the gap to 3-2, and he actually managed to get two quick ground outs from John Jaso and Ben Zobrist. Three pitches later, the Rays had two more runs thanks to back-to-back solo homers from Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria. Ho hum, as if we should have expected otherwise.

Crawford’s homer was the biggest WPA swing of the game for Tampa at +.139.

Fat Elvis Has Left The Building

About the only bright spot for the Yanks in this game was Lance Berkman getting his first homerun in pinstripes. Jeremy Hellickson left a 1-2 changeup up a bit, Berkman put a good swing on it and hit it out to right-center. It wasn’t a total cheapie, a few rows back, but it’s certainly not a ball that would have left all 30 parks. Anyway, I’m glad Lance got that out of the way. Hopefully a few more start to follow.

Garbage Pitchers In Non-Garbage Time

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

I understand that when the weather causes a delay, especially early in the game, it can be rather tough to navigate all those innings with the bullpen. That’s true even in September when there’s plenty of extra arms around. Joe Girardi turned to the southpaw Royce Ring after the delay because a bunch of lefties were due up, and he chipped in five rather uneventful outs before walking John Jaso. Not bad for a guy making his first big league appearance since August 1st, 2008.

Dustin Moseley relieved Ring and naturally got smacked around, his first action in ten days. Five of the first six men he faced picked up a hit (Ring’s inherited runner scored), and the only reason he escaped the sixth inning with just one run crossing the plate is because Mark Teixeira put on a nice little clinic at first. He threw a runner out at the plate on the groundout before turning a nifty 3-6-3 double play to end the inning.

Gaudin replaced Moseley, pitching for the sixth time in the last twelve games, and he of course gave up those two homers. His line in those six games: 5.2 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 3 HR. He doesn’t deserve to be on the postseason roster, but I bet you he is anyway. Jon Albaladejo relieved Gaudin and immediately walked the first two men he faced, the second of which he forced in a run. He then allowed another run in the ninth. I’m guessing the ten days’ worth of rust was an issue.

It’s not so much that they pitched poorly as a group (aside from Ring, really), you have to expect that with these guys, it’s that this game was still very winnable. It was 1-0 coming out of the rain delay and still just a one run game when Gaudin entered in the seventh. It just makes Girardi seem hypocritical to go with the garbage time relievers in a close game after he said “Our goal is to win the division” that afternoon. I have no trouble with him resting guys before the postseason, none at all, but the walk and the talk don’t match right now.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A.J. Burnett was generally okay in his three innings of work before the rain. The first inning run scored on a ground ball single between Robbie Cano and Mark Teixeira, a walk to move the runner into scoring position, a ground out to move the runner to third, and then a sac fly. He allowed a single in the second (another grounder) and a walk in the third, but that’s pretty much it. A.J. threw 51 pitches total, 33 for strikes. It was his second rain shortened outing in his last three starts and at least his third this season.

Aside from Berkman’s homer, the offense did a whole bunch of nothing. Alex Rodriguez drove in the other run with a bloop single to left and Derek Jeter extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a 2-for-4 effort. Tex took yet another 0-fer and is now seven for his last 57 (.129) with 14 strikeouts. I get that he’s nursing a broken toe and bruised hand (and he got hit by pitch in the back of the leg in this game), but there’s been way, way too many cold streaks from him this year. Hopefully he finishes strong and mashes in the playoffs.

The Red Sox managed to beat the Orioles, so the magic number to clinch the division remains at three. The division lead shrunk to one-and-a-half games with the loss.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Look at that thing, the game was so close until frickin’ Gaudin showed up. Sigh. Anyway, MLB.com has the box score, FanGraphs some other stuff.

Up Next

Series finale tomorrow night is a rematch of last week’s pitching duel. CC Sabathia takes on David Price at 7pm ET, except this time the Yanks’ bullpen is rested and ready to go. I think.