Thursday Night Open Thread

Ivan Nova spent yesterday talking to some kids at Riverbank State Park. (Stuart Ramson)

Just one more baseball-less night until the Yankees kick off the second half of their season against the Angels. Have you enjoyed the break? I sure have, it’s good to take a few days to clear your mind and recharge the baseball batteries. The second half is always a grind, they don’t call it the dog days of summer for nothing.

In case you missed it, we took some time to review the first half of the season over the last few days…

If you read the posts already, well go read them again. After that, use this as your open thread for the evening. There are no major sports on tonight, so relax and talk about whatever you like here. Go nuts.

Williams, Sanchez, and Austin crack Keith Law’s midseason top 50 prospects list

From left to right: Williams, Austin, Sanchez. (MiLB.com)

In an Insider-only piece, Keith Law published his midseason top 50 prospects list today. SS Jurickson Profar of the Rangers, who put on a show in the Futures Game by homering from the left side of the plate and singling from the right side, claimed the top spot to what should be no one’s surprise. RHP Dylan Bundy and SS Manny Machado, both of the Orioles, round out the top three. Some big things are happening in Baltimore.

The Yankees placed three players on the list, led by OF Mason Williams at #21. “He was recently promoted to High Class A after posting an .848 OPS in a half-season at Charleston,” wrote KLaw. “Williams earns a lot of raves from scouts between the tools and his general feel for the game, especially on defense.” Mason ranked 34th on Law’s preseason list, so he made a modest jump into the top 25. I’m not sure how much higher he can rank unless he taps into some hidden power at some point.

C Gary Sanchez wasn’t too far behind Williams at #28, and Law says he’s “improved markedly on defense to the point where you can picture him remaining behind the plate long term, and the bat should make him an MVP candidate if he does stay there.” Now that sure is good to hear, the defense has always been the long-term question with Sanchez. He doesn’t need to be a Gold Glover, just adequate. Law notes that Sanchez is primed for yet another jump up the rankings after making the leap from #55 in his preseason list.

The third Yankees farmhand to crack the top 50 is OF Tyler Austin at #45. “[He can] really hit, with a balanced swing and some pull power already, although when I caught him early this season, he was struggling a little to make adjustments to changing speeds, something that has improved in the last two-plus months,” said Law in his write-up. Austin was unranked in the preseason list and obviously made a huge jump thanks to his big full season league debut.

For comparison’s sake, Baseball America ranked Williams, Sanchez, and Austin as the 28th, 30th, and 39th best prospects in baseball in their recent midseason top 50 list, respectively. Good to see we have a bit of a consensus on where these three rank in terms of the bigger picture. LHP Manny Banuelos and several other injured pitchers were ineligible for Law’s list, but I confirmed with him that Manny would have cracked the top 50 if healthy. RHP Dellin Betances is healthy but obviously wasn’t close to the top 50, especially after ranking just 83rd before the season. Either way, three and potentially four top 50 guys is pretty darn good.

Second Half Needs

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Yankees have the best record in baseball and a sizable lead in the AL East, but the hardest part is yet to come. They have to maintain that lead in the second half because winning the division is of paramount importance thanks to the new playoff system. There is always room for improvement, and this year’s Yankees are no different. Here’s a quick look at some aspects of the team that need improvement in the second half.

More Production From The Middle of the Order
The Yankees have been a very well-rounded team this season, ranking fourth in position player production (16.5 fWAR), seventh in starting pitcher production (8.5 fWAR), and second in bullpen production (3.6 fWAR) among the 30 teams. Their offense has been the best in the game at 114 wRC+, but that has led to just 412 runs, the sixth most in the game. Blame all the struggles in runners in scoring position, and that’s why the Yankees need some of their middle of the order bats to perform better in the second half.

Specifically, they need more out of Mark Teixeira. Alex Rodriguez is at the point of his career where you can’t really expect him to improve his performance, but I’ll happily eat crow if he has a big finish to season. I would love to see it. Teixeira, on the other hand, has continued what is now a three-year slide into mediocrity. The batting average and OBP have basically held static with last year, but he’s on pace for 29 homers with a .223 ISO. Both would be his worst marks since his rookie season in 2003. Robinson Cano can’t do it all, Teixeira needs to start mashing some taters in the second half.

A Quality Reliever
Rafael Soriano has filled in admirably for the injured Mariano Rivera and David Robertson remains a highly effective setup man, but the Yankees are still short in the bullpen right now. The middle innings are the primary concern, especially following Cory Wade’s complete collapse. Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley have performed well but they’re specialists who shouldn’t face batters of the opposite hand, ditto the recently acquired Chad Qualls. That limits Joe Girardi‘s flexibility.

Joba Chamberlain started his minor league rehab assignment earlier this week and could be back next month, so maybe he’ll provide that extra bullpen depth. They could always go outside the organization and made a trade, but dealing for bullpen help is as risky is as it gets. Either way, the Yankees need to shore up their middle relief situation and take a bit of the load off Robertson and Soriano by adding a quality arm. Internal or external solution, it doesn’t matter. They need another quality reliever.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Something, Anything From Russell Martin
In terms of offensive production, the catching situation has been just brutal this season. Martin and Chris Stewart have combined for a 71 wRC+, which ranks 23rd among the 30 teams. The Yankees aren’t looking to trade for catching however, as Brian Cashman recently said: “We have our catching … I believe in Russell Martin, period.”

We know that Cashman and the Yankees tend to surprise us with deals and pickups, but if they’re going to stick with Martin and Stewart, fine. Martin needs to hit in that case. A .179/.300/.349 line (79 wRC+) doesn’t cut it from a starting position player even when you consider his position. The average AL catcher is hitting .241/.309/.388 (89 wRC+) this season and Russ isn’t even meeting that modest standard. Hopefully his .193 BABIP corrects in the second half — it almost certainly will somewhat to sheer luck — and the Yankees get at least league average production out of Martin going forward, preferably more.

Health!
This last one goes without saying. As strong as the bench and role players have been this season, the Yankees still need their core players to stay healthy in the second half. CC Sabathia is expected to come off the DL to start on Tuesday and obviously he’s one of the two most important players on the team. There’s a chance Brett Gardner will be back by the end of the month, adding some much needed speed and defense to the everyday lineup. Andy Pettitte‘s late-season return from a fractured ankle will be a huge lift as well.

Those three guys, plus Joba, are already hurt though. The players on the team that are healthy right now need to stay healthy, specifically guys like Soriano (history of elbow problems), A-Rod (four DL stints and two surgeries in the last four years), and valuable reserve Eric Chavez (pretty much everything). The AL East is so competitive these days that it’s not just about who has the best players, it’s about what has the best players and keeps them on the field the most.

Midseason Review: Incomplete Grades

During the next few days we’ll take some time to review the first half of the season and look at which Yankees are meeting expectations, exceeding expectations, and falling short of expectations. What else is the All-Star break good for?

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

It takes a total team effort to finish the first half with the best record in baseball, and the Yankees have already used 35 different players this season. Not all of them have made a significant contributions though, mostly because they simply haven’t had a chance to play all that much. I’m talking up-and-down relievers, miscellaneous fill-ins, and those who got injured.

Andy Pettitte
Blame Casey Kotchman. He hit the one-hop ground ball that fractured Pettitte’s left ankle on June 27th and will cause the left-hander to miss no fewer than two months. Prior to the injury, Andy’s return from retirement was a smashing success. He pitched to a 3.22 ERA (3.37 FIP) in 58.2 innings with ungodly peripherals: 9.05 K/9 (25.2 K%), 2.30 BB/9 (6.4 BB%), and 58.3% grounders. The strikeout and ground ball numbers are career bests by not small margins and the walk rate is more than half-a-walk better than his career average.

Obviously there are sample size issues with that, but what’s done is done. Pettitte pitched that well in his nine starts and the Yankees will miss him immensely in the second half. It’s unclear if he’ll come back with that kind of effectiveness — the injury was to his push-off leg — or if he’ll even come back period. Andy could decide that the rehab and getting back into playing shape is just too much. I wouldn’t bet on it, but you never know. It was a fluke injury, it happens, but it still put a major damper on the best story of the season.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Brett Gardner
The Yankees have gotten exactly nine games out of Gardner this year. He didn’t even start two of them, he came off the bench to play defense for exactly one inning each time. Those nine games include 34 plate appearances (.321/.424/.393 with two steals) and 14 defensive chances. That’s it, that’s all they’ve gotten out of Gardner in 2012.

An elbow injury suffered while making a sliding catch against the Twins is the culprit. It was diagnosed as a bone bruise and an elbow strain, and twice Gardner has suffered setbacks after working his way back in minor league rehab games. He’s not expected back until the end of this month at the earliest, over 100 games into the season. The Yankees have done just fine without Gardner in the lineup and in left field, but they sorely lack team speed and the defense can always use an upgrade. His absence has been notable.

D.J. Mitchell & Adam Warren
We figured we would see these two — and David Phelps as well — at some point this season, and it didn’t take all that long. Mitchell made his debut in relief in early-May and has thrown a total of 3.2 innings across two stints and three appearances with the big league club. He’s allowed one run, five hits, and one walk in that time. The Yankees are carrying him as a long reliever right now due to the Pettitte and CC Sabathia injuries, so he has a chance to stick around by simply pitching well and soaking up innings.

Warren’s introduction to the big leagues wasn’t nearly as kind. The White Sox tattooed him for six runs on eight hits and two walks in just 2.1 innings late last month, his only appearance for the team. The Yankees called him up as an emergency replacement for Sabathia and sent him back to Triple-A the next day. You only get one debut and it wasn’t a good one for Warren, but he’ll surely get another chance to help the team at some point.

Chad Qualls, Darnell McDonald & Ryota Igarashi
All three midseason additions, all three having minimum impact thus far. Qualls was acquired from the Phillies in a minor trade less than two weeks ago and has allowed one run in his three appearances so far. He’ll stick around as a sixth or seventh inning matchup guy for the time being. McDonald was claimed off waivers from the Red Sox last week and went hitless in four plate appearances against his former team last weekend. He’ll most likely be remembered for causing Curtis Granderson to drop a routine pop-up on Saturday night. Igarashi has made all of one appearance for the Yankees since being claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays earlier this year, allowing one run in one inning against the Mets. He’ll ride the Triple-A shuttle a few more times in the second half.

Poll: The Best Moment of the First Half

The woman over Andruw’s right shoulder. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The Yankees are in first place and as always, the first half featured a ton of memorable moments. Some were good were some were bad, but that’s the way it works baseball. With some help from my cohorts, we picked out five of most memorable moments of the last three moments and want you to decide which one was the best. Or the most memorable, whatever. The criteria isn’t strict, go off your personal preference. Here are those five moments in chronological order.

April 21st: The Comeback at Fenway Park (box score) (video)
When you’re down 7-0 after three innings and 9-0 after five innings, you just accept defeat. The Yankees are going to lose that day, so whatever. Shake it off and come back tomorrow. The Yankees didn’t accept defeat on this Saturday afternoon in Fenway Park, however. They rallied for eight runs in the sixth and seventh innings thanks to a pair of Mark Teixeira homers (solo shot and a three-run job) and a grand slam from Nick Swisher, a rally that most of America didn’t get to see because FOX cut away to show the end of Phil Humber’s perfect game. Swisher tied the game and gave the Yankees the lead with one swing, a two-run double to dead center off Al Aceves in the eight. Teixeira followed with a two-run double later in the inning and the rout was on. The Bombers scored 15 (!) unanswered runs in the span of three innings to turn a blowout loss into a blowout win.

May 13th: The Return of Andy Pettitte (box score) (video)
I remember doing a double take when I first heard the news. Andy was coming back, really? It seemed too good to be true. Sure enough, Pettitte signed a minor league deal with the Yankees in Spring Training, worked his way back through the minors, and then returned to the big league team against the Mariners in mid-May. His retirement was over. Andy didn’t pitch particularly well in his return — four runs on a pair of two-run homers with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) in 6.1 innings — but that really didn’t matter. He was back and everyone was thrilled. That he went on to have a dominant two months before suffering a fluke injury was just icing on the cake.

May 22nd: Dewayne Wise turns the season around (box score) (.gif)
It’s subtle, but it happened. The Yankees were struggling to score runs thanks to a never-ending stretch of RISPFAIL and they were down 2-1 to the Royals on this particular Tuesday night. Teixeira started a fifth inning rally with a weak ground ball single but hustled to second when Jeff Francoeur took his sweet time fielding the ball. Russell Martin took a pitch to the ribs to put men on first and second with no outs, and everyone was waiting to see how the Yankees would blow it. Wise took matters into his own hands, laying down a perfect bunt (in a 2-0 count!) for a hit to load the bases with no outs. Derek Jeter singled in the tying run and Curtis Granderson plated the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run with a ground ball. The win sent the Yankees on a five-game winning streak and they’ve since gone 31-12 to claim the best record in baseball. Wise’s bunt turned the season around, people.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

June 10th: Russell Martin walks off against the Mets (box score) (video)
There’s always something a little extra special about beating the Mets. Maybe it’s just me because I grew up in a family of Mets fans and the bragging rights are a big deal here, but taking a game — nevermind the season series — from that team in Flushing is always appreciated. The Yankees were down three-zip in the second inning on this Sunday afternoon after taking the first two games of the series, but they fought back to tie thanks to Martin’s two-run homer off the top of the walk and Teixeira’s single to center. Alex Rodriguez gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead with a bloop single in the eighth, but Rafael Soriano needed just seven pitches to give up two doubles and blow the lead in the top of the ninth. Thankfully, the game did not go on much longer. Jon Rauch hung a 3-2 slider to Martin leading off the bottom half of the inning, which the Yankees catcher whacked out to left field for a walk-off solo homer. It is their only walk-off hit of the season so far.

June 12th: A-Rod ties it up against Jonny Venters (box score) (video)
We don’t get a glimpse of the old A-Rod very often these days, but when we do, man is it glorious. The Yankees were getting completely manhandled by Mike Minor just two days after Martin’s walk-off, and they carried a 4-0 deficit into the eighth inning. Minor got a quick out but was lifted for setup man extraordinaire Jonny Venters after Jeter singled. Venters allowed a single to Granderson before walking Teixeira on five pitches to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate with one out. Alex took three straight balls and it seemed inevitable that he would draw a walk to force in a run, but he took a called strike before fouling off two more pitches. Venters’ seventh pitch of the at-bat was a slider that didn’t slide, and A-Rod hit a line drive just over the left field fence for a game-tying grand slam. Swisher gave the Yankees the lead two batters later with a two-run homer, but that grand slam is what we’ll all remember about this win.

* * *

Obvious there are other memorable moments — Wise’s non-catch, the ten-game winning streak — but these five really stood out. Vote in our poll below and if you think something else stood out in the first half, let us know in the comments.

What was the most memorable moment of the first half?
View Results

Gamel continues to mash in Charleston win

Triple-A All-Star Game (Pacific Coast League wins 3-0)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — half of his 14 pitches were strikes … pitched the eighth and was their only representative

Double-A Eastern League All-Star Game (Eastern Division wins 5-4, walk-off style)
PH-2B Kevin Mahoney: 1-3, 1 K — took over in the fifth … singled in the ninth as part of the game-winning rally
CF Melky Mesa: 0-4, 3 K — started and played the entire ninth … he batted ninth
RHP Brett Marshall: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 4/0 GB/FB — 12 of 21 pitches were strikes (57%) … he started the game for the Eastern Division squad
RHP Kelvin Perez: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB – 14 of 19 pitches were strikes (74%) … pitched the eighth

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

The Canos. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The 2012 All-Star festivities are finally over, which means no more complaining about snubs or undeserving starters or boos for Robinson Cano. I get it, the hometown fans — and in reality, only the hometown fans — wanted to see Billy Butler take his hacks in the Homerun Derby. I have no problem with booing Cano for not taking Butler but there is a line and the Kansas City fans crossed it when they started harassing Robinson’s family. I know Royals fans haven’t had much to cheer about for the last 25 years or so, but making everyone else feel as miserable as you are isn’t the solution. Especially when you’re on worldwide television. What’s done is done, and now Robbie will get a thunderous ovation when he comes to the plate this Friday. Thanks for giving us another reason to love him.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. The only real sports action on tonight is the Triple-A All-Star Game (7pm ET on MLB Network), so this is a pretty good chance to chip away at the Netflix queue or the book backlog or just get to bed a little earlier than usual. Enjoy these two baseball-less days and talk about whatever you want here. Go nuts.