Nova & Grandy lead Yanks to win over Rays

Do you know how long it had been since the Yankees played their last normal, 7pm ET home game before Tuesday night? Eighteen days. Blame day games, blame rain delays, and blame a ten-day road trip for that, so it was nice to get back to that familiar routine. The familiar routine of weekday evenings in the Bronx and wins in the standings.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Number Two Starter

The Yankees have been searching for a viable number two starter since the day Cliff Lee agreed to return to Philadelphia, but apparently they had one right under their nose the whole time. Ivan Nova was really good in this one, holding the Rays scoreless through 7.2IP on 103 pitches. He didn’t completely shut them down (his only 1-2-3 inning was the first), but he scattered six hits (one double) and three walks while timing his three strikeouts well. Nova also pitched out of a bases loaded, no out situation in the seventh (shallow fly ball, double play).

Wins are dumb, but it’s worth noting that Nova has won his last dozen decisions, the most by a rookie since Larry Jansen in 1947. His season ERA is down to 3.62, his record up to 16-4. If you’d have said that Nova would have this kind of season back in March, I probably would have called you crazy. The kid is probably going to start Game Two of the ALDS next weekend, and he’s certainly earned it.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

OMG RISPFAIL WTF

It had been 18 days since the Yankees last played a 7pm ET game at home, and they celebrated by leaving 18 runners on base. Seriously. It’s the most runners a Rays opponent has ever stranded, and it’s by far the most the Yankees have stranded this year. The previous high was 15 on May 11th, but guess what? That was an eleven inning game. The previous high for a nine inning game was 13, which they did against the Cubs and also against the Red Sox a few weeks ago (Jesus Montero‘s first game, the one with Russell Martin‘s huge go-ahead double off Daniel Bard).  They left one man on base in the second, two men on base in the first, fourth, sixth, and eighth, and the bases loaded in the third, fifth, and seventh. Yikes.

Despite all that RISPFAIL, the Yankees did score five runs, three on Curtis Granderson‘s bases clearing double in the second. Eric Chavez singled in a run earlier that inning, and then Grandy singled in another run in the fifth. That wasn’t really a single though, Casey Kotchman bobbled the grounder and Cesar Ramos flubbed the relay. I’ll take it. Curtis is now 8-for-11 with three doubles, two homers, four walks, and two strikeouts in his last three games, so I think we can consider the slump over.

So smooth. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Leftovers

Aside from the Grandyman, four others had multiple hits: Derek Jeter (also a walk), Eric Chavez, Martin (also a walk), and Brett Gardner. Mark Teixeira singled and both Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher doubled, plus all three drew a walk as well. Alex Rodriguez was the only Yankee without a hit, but he walked twice.  Everyone got in on the action, solid offensive night aside from all those runners left on base. You know what they say though, I’d rather have ’em on and strand ’em than not have ’em on at all. They say that, right?

Anyway, the bullpen was a two-man show after Nova left. Boone Logan was brought in to face the lefty Matt Joyce, but the righty Brandon Guyer pinch-hit and popped out in foul territory to end the eighth. Luis Ayala worked a scoreless ninth. That’s all she wrote.

The Rays lost, obviously, so the lead on the wildcard spot increased to eight full games. Robert Andino and the Orioles came back against Jonathan Papelbon and the Red Sox, so the lead in the division climbed to six games (seven in the loss column). You’re welcome for keeping you ahead in the wildcard race, Boston.

The magic number to clinch a playoff spot is just two, the magic number to clinch the division is just three, and the magic number to clinch homefield advantage is just five. The first two could happen within the next 24 hours. Seriously.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs some more advanced stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

Let’s play two! These same two teams will play a doubleheader on Wednesday, with the scheduled starters being some combination of Phil Hughes, CC Sabathia, Jamie Shields, and Jeremy Hellickson. Game one starts a little after 1pm ET, and you can get there with RAB Tickets.

Triple-A Scranton Yanks still don’t have a home for 2012

Via Josh Leventhal, the deadline for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees to submit a proposal indicating where the team would like to play its 2012 home games came and went without a submission today. PNC Field will be undergoing extensive renovations, so the club will have to play at an alternative site next season. International League president Randy Mobley said the “league directors have established a timeline and process that will assure this matter is resolved in a timely manner.” Lehigh Valley and Rochester are said to be under consideration, and a few weeks ago we heard that Staten Island could be a possibility as well.

In other news, Leventhal says the sale of the franchise to the Yankees and Mandalay Sports for $14.6M had yet to be brought before the league, but the sale is expected to be approved. “If there were something in the early phases that would cause the league to blow it up, that would have already occurred,” said Mobley, referring to the sale.

Game 153: Win-win

You know what the best part of tonight’s game is? It’s that no matter what happens, it’ll be a pretty good outcome for the Yankees. A win drops the magic number for a playoff spot to just two, and a loss allows the Rays to (at least) keep pace with the Red Sox for the wildcard. I know Boston’s rotation looks ugly at the moment (and it is), but I have zero interest in facing John Lester/Josh Beckett/Erik Bedard six times in a seven game series with that offense and Daniel Bard/Jonathan Papelbon at the end of the game. I’d rather take my chances with Tampa’s rotation, Evan Longoria and some other dudes, and Joel Peralta/Kyle Farnsworth. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

Ivan Nova, SP

It’s a little rainy in the Tri-State Area, so you know what that means …My9! It’ll also be on MLB Network for you out of towners. The weather isn’t too bad though, they should be able to get all nine innings in. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET. Enjoy.

Girardi on Cervelli: ‘I’m not sure we’re going to have him’

Via Erik Boland, Joe Girardi indicated to reporters this afternoon that the team is unlikely to have Frankie Cervelli the rest of the way. “I’m not sure we’re going to have him,” said the skipper. Yesterday we heard that Cervelli had been concussion symptom free for three days, but they were still awaiting the results of an ImPACT test. The Yankees don’t absolutely need a backup catcher in the postseason, but it sure seems like Austin Romine would be the front-runner for that job right now.

Team official: ‘Nova is going to get Game Two’

Via Tim Kurkjian (Insider req’d), a Yankees team official said that Ivan Nova will get the ball in Game Two of the ALDS, and they “can’t see [A.J. Burnett] getting a start.” Now, obviously this is not an official announcement or anything, it’s just Kurkjian talking to one of his sources, and we don’t know how much pull that source has within the organization. It certainly passes the sniff test though, Nova’s pitched well in the second half and neither Bartolo Colon nor Freddy Garcia has really stepped up of late.

For what it’s worth, Nova lines up almost perfectly for that start. Even if tonight’s game gets rained out (not likely, but possible given how it looks outside), he’s still be lined up by starting tomorrow.

Sweating the small stuff

With their strong play in the first five months of the season, the Yankees appeared set heading into September. They had won 81 games and sat just 1.5 back of the Red Sox for the AL East lead. More importantly, they led Tampa Bay by 7.5 games for the AL Wild Card, a hefty margin with less than a month of baseball left on the schedule. The comfortable lead gave them a chance to ease off the accelerator and make sure their starters were healthy and rested come September 30th.

In September they’ve actually managed to outplay their pace to date. They’ve won 11 of 18 games, which is a better ratio than they managed from April through August. No team in the AL East has won more games this month. And, thanks to a Boston collapse, the Yankees have taken a commanding lead in the division. With just 10 games to go they’re six up on Boston in the loss column. Any combination of five wins and Boston losses will seal up the division and give the Yankees their 12th AL East crown in the last 16 years.

Even with their strong position, it feels as though the Yankees have a number of issues heading into the postseason. These concerns mainly involve the pitching; people have asked who pitches behind CC ever since Cliff Lee signed with Philadelphia. Even now, just 10 days away from ALDS Game 1, the question doesn’t have a sure answer (other than it not being A.J. Burnett). Yet even that question might be overblown. The Yankees starters this year have a 4.06 ERA, right around the mark of the playoff-bound Tigers, and ahead of the Red Sox. Their 3.92 FIP ranks sixth — and the Rangers are the only playoff-bound team ahead of them. Finally, their 3.79 xFIP ranks first in the league.

(And yes, the situation changes in the playoffs, when there’s a greater emphasis on the top of the rotation and the bottom of the rotation disappears. But the Yanks’ top four starters all have ERAs under 4.00, which makes their league ranking actually look a bit better.)

If the Yankees are looking so good, then why the quibbling over them? Why the needless arguments about minute aspects of what is currently the best team in the AL? I think Will Leitch of New York Magazine hits on the issue perfectly with this paragraph in his latest column:

This year has been monotonous, dull, and seemingly preordained, which is to say it has been the platonic ideal of a Yankees season. The last time the Yankees weren’t in first or second place in the AL East was April 8, when they were a game and a half behind the Blue Jays. The rest of the season, the team has been comfortably ensconced in playoff position, knowing, without much doubt, that they would be playing into October. There were a few bumps along the way, but minor ones, nothing to concern anyone. Some Yankees fans might grouse about the rotation, but all any fan can hope for his team is to secure a spot in the postseason, and the Yankees have had theirs secured for months. Most of the year has felt like one long twiddling of thumbs until the weather started getting cold and the games started mattering again.

In other words, the Yankees’ solid play throughout the season has caused a sort of restlessness among fans. We’ve seen Jeter’s 3,000th and Mariano’s 602nd, both of which make great moments. Really, they’re the definitive moments of the 2011 season. What this season lacks is drama. And when there’s no drama to follow on a day-to-day basis, the drama-seeker will tend to conjure it from nowhere. Hence the concerns about the rotation that fares well when compared to its peers. Hence the concern over the manager who, for the fourth straight year, has managed to keep his bullpen in good shape. Hence the concern — for some reason — for the lineup, which has outscored every team except Boston.

This isn’t to say that none of these areas are of concern to the Yankees in the playoffs. Certainly the rotation can present a concern, at least. But again, this has to be viewed in relation to the rest of the league — the Yankees do have opponents, after all. And yet by these measures the Yankees stack up very well against their playoff-bound brethren. They’re not guaranteed anything. No team is, nor will any team ever have a playoff guarantee. But in terms of the things they can control, the Yankees are in great shape.

Why sweat the small stuff, then? Answer: What else are fans going to do during a “monotonous, dull, and seemingly preordained” season? It can get annoying at times, sure; there’s only so much small stuff to sweat, and sweating it too hard gets obnoxious. But that’s far better than the alternative. Would anyone seriously like to switch places with the Red Sox now, just in the name of drama? No, thank you. October provides enough drama.

Bichette, Santana top Baseball America’s list of top 20 GCL prospects

The Rookie Level GCL Yankees won their league title and led the circuit in every significant offensive category (and by wide margin in most cases), so it’s no surprise that the Yankees are well represented in Baseball America’s list of the top 20 prospects in the GCL. Dante Bichette Jr. tops the list and Ravel Santana is right behind him at number two. Claudio Custodio and his great name is a little further down at number nine.

In the subscriber-only scouting reports, Ben Badler says Bichette “impressed GCL managers with his advanced approach at the plate, good bat speed and plus-plus power.” He notes that Dante Jr. lowered his hands as the season went on, helping him get ready to hit sooner. He was said to be fine at the hot corner, making “the routine plays, showing solid actions and a strong arm.” Santana is touted as a tools freak, with “a wiry build, good bat speed and plus power.” His best tools are his powerful arm and top of the line speed, which help make him a top notch defender in center. Custodio has a “solid hitting approach and a line-drive swing.” Because he doesn’t have much pop, he “doesn’t chase many pitches outside of the strike zone and focuses at getting on base to use his excellent speed.” He might end up at second base long-term.

The next top 20 list relevant to the Yankees is the Short Season NY-Penn League, which will be released on Friday. I’ll be stunned of Mason Williams doesn’t rank number one.