4/30-5/2 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

After eight games and one rain delay against the beasts of the AL, the schedule lightens up a bit and the Yankees welcome the Orioles to the Bronx this evening. The Fightin’ Showalters played the Yankees tough earlier this month despite being swept, forcing them into a pair of extra-inning games.

What Have They Done Lately?

Believe it or not, the Orioles are on a roll right now. They scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth yesterday for a walk-off win against Bartolo Colon and the Athletics, their second straight win and sixth in their last seven games. Baltimore currently sits atop the AL East with a 14-8 record and a +13 run differential that ranks third in the league behind the Rangers and Yankees.


(J. Meric/Getty Images)

With 95 runs scored and an average of 4.32 runs per game, the Orioles rank 11th and 12th in the big leagues in offensive output, respectively. Their 99 wRC+ ranks 16th in the league and is exactly league average for all intents and purposes. They’ve been carried offensively by Adam Jones (166 wRC+) and Matt Wieters (152 wRC+), two young players that really stepped their game up in 2012. Wieters in particular has improved over the last season, jumping into the upper echelon of catchers.

Nolan Reimold (180 wRC+) missed a few games with a neck strain but is back just in time for this series. Chris Davis (153 wRC+) has been doing major damage so far, and he’s even managed to get his strikeout issues under control (22.7 K%). The always annoying Robert Andino (111 wRC+) is exactly that, always annoying. With him batting ninth, Baltimore has a nice 9-5 batting order with Andino, Reimold, J.J. Hardy (53 wRC+), Nick Markakis (93 wRC+), Jones, and Wieters.

The supporting cast hasn’t been all that great, with Mark Reynolds (35 wRC+) off to a slow start and the former Yankee DH platoon of Wilson Betemit (101 wRC+) and Nick Johnson (-49 wRC+) essentially cancelling each other out. None out outside of Jones will steal bases — he has four, the team has six total — but they will hit the ball out of the park. Baltimore ranks third in baseball with 30 dingers, with Reimold (five), Jones (six), and Wieters (six) doing most of the damage.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Jason Hammel
Back in the AL after three years with the Rockies, Hammel is off to great start this season. The former (Devil) Ray has allowed no more than two runs in any of his four starts, completing at least six innings three times. His strikeout (8.65 K/9 and 24.8 K%) and ground ball (61.8%) rates are way off his career norms (6.33 K/9, 16.1 K% and 45.5 GB%) while his usually low walk rate (2.77 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%) has remained the same. Hammel has changed his pitch selection a bit, possibly explained the improved performance. He’s relying on his low-to-mid-90s two-seamer (40.5%) and mid-80s slider (24.6%) more than ever before while mixing in the occasional four-seamer and curveball. I’m very interested to see the new version of Hammel and whether or not this improvement is real. We do have some tangible evidence that it might be.

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Brian Matusz
What an appropriate matchup. Two young phenoms who have pitched far below expectations and battled mysterious missing velocity disease last season. Like Hughes, Matusz’s velocity has returned but the performance is still awful. He’s allowed 17 runs in 20.2 IP this year with nearly as many walks (13) as strikeouts (14) and a 32.9% ground ball rate. He’s in the low-90s with his four-seamer and cutter, low-80s with the changeup and slider, and upper-70s with the curveball. The top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball as recently as two years ago, Matusz’s career has been derailed in a big way. The Yankees tagged him for four runs in four innings in his first start of the season a few weeks ago.

Wednesday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jake Arrieta
The de facto ace, Arrieta started the season well but got knocked around a bit in his last two starts. His strikeout (7.12 K/9 and 19.5 K%) and ground ball (37.9%) rates are in line with last season, though he has cut down on the walks in a big way (2.67 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%). That might have something to do with having bone chips removed from his elbow at the end of last season. Arrieta sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his four-seamer and sinker, backing them up with an upper-80s slider, upper-70s curveball, and mid-80s changeup. The changeup is just a show-me pitch, the two breaking balls are his go-to secondary offerings. The Yankees scored four runs in 6.2 IP off Arrieta a few weeks ago.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
Showalter has had to use his bullpen quite a bit this season, though the Orioles’ relief corps has gotten a bit of a breather in recent days. Righty specialist Darren O’Day (2.49 FIP) and setup man Pedro Strop (3.18 FIP) threw 17 and 23 pitches each yesterday, respectively. Former Yankee Luis Ayala (2.68 FIP) threw two innings and 28 pitches on Saturday, the only reliever they needed that day.

Closer Jim Johnson (3.73 FIP) is back with the team after a four-day stint in the hospital with food poisoning. He hasn’t pitched in a game since last Sunday. Right-handers Matt Lindstrom (1.91 FIP) and Kevin Gregg (7.54 FIP) haven’t pitched since Friday, and neither has lefty Troy Patton (4.05 FIP). He’s more of a multi-inning guy than a specialist. Overall, the Baltimore bullpen owns a 3.38 FIP, right behind the Yankees (3.23 FIP) and third best in the AL.

Despite Freddy Garcia’s five-out start on Saturday, the Yankees’ bullpen is in fine shape because CC Sabathia went eight innings yesterday. D.J. Mitchell was called up to take over as the long man after David Phelps was moved into the rotation. Garcia is now working out of the bullpen and is probably the only guy not available tonight. For the latest and greatest from B’more, we recommend Camden Crazies.

The Injured Outfield

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The Yankees have a bit of an outfield problem at the moment. Brett Gardner has been on the DL for nearly two weeks with a bone bruise and a right elbow strain, and yesterday Nick Swisher joined him in the infirmary with a low-grade left hamstring strain. The early word is that it will keep him on the shelf for “more than a few days” but not long enough to require a DL stint. It’s one of those in-between injuries, one that really throws a wrench into the current roster situation.

At the moment, the starting outfield is Curtis Granderson in center with Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones flanking him in the corners. The fourth outfielder is Eduardo Nunez by default, and he has 18.1 career innings in the outfield. The Yankees are left with a two-man bench for the time being, and one of the two is the backup catcher. Unless they unexpectedly release Freddy Garcia or demote the recently recalled D.J. Mitchell, there’s no obvious candidate on the pitching staff to go to Triple-A in favor of an extra position player.

“We won’t (add an outfielder) before tomorrow,” said Joe Girardi after yesterday’s game. “We’ll see how it goes. Gardy’s eligible to come back on Thursday. We’ll see how that goes. We could try to go through (without a call-up until then). We’ll see what happens and go from there.”

Gardner has swung in the cage in each of the last two days and could take batting practice as soon as today. I don’t know if a minor league rehab stint is necessary after such a short layoff, but basically everything has to go right between now and Thursday for the Yankees to get him back into the outfield after the minimum 15 days. It’s certainly possible, but planning for the best case scenario never seems like a smart thing to do.

If Swisher’s injury truly doesn’t require a DL stint, the best roster solution probably involves placing Garcia on the DL. They’re not going to release him after four starts, and frankly the Yankees should hold onto whatever pitching depth they have at the moment. Girardi did suggest that Freddy could be sent for medical tests following Saturday’s game due to his relative lack of velocity, and that alone would give them a reason to put him on the shelf. The Yankees could keep Garcia in the organization, keep Mitchell’s fresh arm in the bullpen, and keep Swisher off the DL while adding an extra position player to the roster. It’s a win-win (-win-win).

Having both Ibanez and Jones in the outfield at the same time for the next few days will bring back memories of the defensive disaster years when Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon roamed the corner outfield spots in the Bronx. It won’t be pretty, but hopefully it’s only temporary. Even if it is, the Yankees would really be rolling the dice with a two-man bench until Gardner comes off the DL. Brandon Laird makes sense as a temporary reinforcement since he’s already on the 40-man roster, can play both the infield and outfield corners, and can easily be optioned down later in the week. It’s just a matter of being willing to clear a 25-man roster spot.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 30th, 2012

Record Last Week: 3-3 (28 RS, 28 RA)
Season Record: 12-9 (118 RS, 101 RA, 12-9 pythag. record), 1.5 games back in AL East
Opponents This Week: vs. Orioles (three games, Mon. to Weds.), @ Royals (four games, Thurs. 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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Yanks take rubber game from Tigers behind CC

The toughest early-season stretch the schedule is officially in the rear-view mirror, as the Yankees took the rubber game of their series with the Tigers by the score of 6-2.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The Ace

The starting rotation has been a mess all season, but once every five days we know CC Sabathia is going to give the Yankees a ton of high-quality innings. On Sunday against the Tigers, he made just two mistakes — hanging sliders to Prince Fielder (solo homer) and Miguel Cabrera (run-scoring double) — in eight excellent innings, striking out eight and walking just two. The only other hits allowed were a first inning double and a sixth inning single, both by Brennan Boesch.

Sabathia dominated Detroit with essentially two pitches, shelving his changeup for most of the afternoon. Ninety-six of his 106 pitches were fastballs or sliders, the other eight were changeups and curveballs. He threw a first pitch strike to 18 of 30 batters and only went to six three-ball counts. Sabathia never threw more than 18 pitches in an inning and only thrice needed more than a dozen pitches in a single frame. The big left-hander was highly effective and highly efficient, continuing the trend he showed in the final innings against the Twins and last week against the Rangers. It was exactly the kind of outing the team needed.

All Of The Base Runners

It was pretty disheartening that the Yankees put 14 runners on base against Max Scherzer in his 4.2 innings — exactly half of the batters he faced — but only scored three runs. One of those runs came on a bases loaded walk by Curtis Granderson and another on an infield single by Alex Rodriguez, so they weren’t exactly tattooing him either. Through six innings they’d left 14 of 18 possible runners on base, including the bases loaded in the second, fifth, and sixth innings. Scherzer walked seven (!) and allowed seven hits, though six were singles and three didn’t even leave the infield. The game was uncomfortably close.

Snow-coned it ... until he dropped it.

Almost Amazing

The third run Scherzer allowed came on a Curtis Granderson solo homer into the Yankees’ bullpen, though it was nearly a great catch by Austin Jackson. He scaled the right-center field wall and had the ball snow-coned in his glove, but he just couldn’t hang on. Had he made the catch, it would have been a legit play of the year candidate. Here’s video. Pretty amazing … almost.

Break It Open

The Yankees did manage to break things open in the later innings, after Scherzer had been replaced by the rookie right-hander Luke Putkonen. A former rotation-mate of Adam Warren at North Carolina, Putkonen was making his big league debut in long relief and he managed to pitch out of two bases loaded situations in his first two innings. The bend but don’t break act last until the seventh inning, when Chris Stewart singled and Derek Jeter walked to open the frame before moving up on Granderson’s fly ball to the warning track.

The first insurance run came on an A-Rod ground out to third, though Stewart deserves credit for sliding under the tag at the plate after going on contact. The throw had him beat, but replays showed that his foot touched the base before Gerald Laird applied the tag. It was a pretty sweet slide. Robinson Cano plated Jeter with a sacrifice fly one batter later, then Andruw Jones snapped an 0-for-19 skid with a long homer to left in the eighth. It almost made the second deck.

Come back soon, Swish. (REUTERS/Adam Hunger)


Granderson should never bunt, especially not in the first inning. I don’t care if it was called from the bench or he did it on his own, that first inning sacrifice today was not a smart play. Scherzer walked the first batter he faced and is pretty homer prone, which plays right into Grandy’s strengths. Even bunting for a hit is a sketchy play in that spot.

David Robertson threw a scoreless ninth inning once Sabathia had done his thing, and 13 of his 14 pitches were strikes. That’s very un-David Robertson-like, but I approve. CC and Robertson combined to strike out ten and walk just two while their lineup drew nine walks against just five whiffs.

Everyone in the lineup reached base at least once except for Mark Teixeira. That includes Nick Swisher, who drew a walk before being taken out of the game with a low-grade hamstring strain. Jeter (two singles and two walks), Andruw (single, homer, walk), and Eric Chavez (two singles and walk) all reached base at least three times.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

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

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees welcome the Orioles to the Bronx for a three-game set starting Monday night. Hiroki Kuroda gets the start against Jason Hammel. Check out RAB Tickets for some ticket deals.

Marshall strong in Trenton loss

Dan Brewer was activated off the DL, but no corresponding move was needed because Double-A Trenton had an open roster spot.

Triple-A Empire State (8-2 win over Lehigh Valley)
LF Kevin Russo: 0-1, 2 R, 3 BB, 1 SB, 1 HBP — 11 BB and 9 K in 18 games
2B Doug Bernier, 3B Jayson Nix & RF Colin Curtis: all 1-4, 1 R — Bernier walked and struck out twice … Nix drove in two and struck out … Curtis doubled, plated two, walked, and struck out twice
CF Dewayne Wise: 1-3, 2 R, 2 BB — has slowed down just a bit of late, but he’s in line for a call-up if the big league outfield situation gets any more dire
DH Jack Cust: 1-4, 1 RBI, 2 K
1B Brandon Laird: 3-5, 1 R, 1 K
C Craig Tatum: 1-3, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K
SS Ramiro Pena: 1-4, 2 K
LHP Mike O’Connor: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 8/1 GB/FB — 48 of 70 pitches were strikes (68.6%) … nice spot start in place of D.J. Mitchell, who was called up this morning
SwP Pat Venditte: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 26 of 35 pitches were strikes (74.3%)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 17 pitches, 12 strikes (70.6%)

[Read more…]

Sunday Night Open Thread

Almost awesome. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

After nine games against the Red Sox, Rangers, and Tigers, the Yankees come away with a 5-3 record and one rain out. Not too shabby considering the mostly terrible starting pitching. Thankfully the schedule lightens up over the next few weeks, which will hopefully allow the Yankees to fatten up their win total before the second half.

Here is your open thread for the night. The ESPN Sunday Game is in Texas for the Rangers and Rays (Holland vs. Price), plus there’s also NHL and NBA action on various networks. Use this thread to talk about whatever’s on your mind. Go nuts.