Yanks to buy AAA affiliate, stay in Scranton

The AAA Yankee affiliate will stay in the Scranton area for years to come, the Yankees said late last week. At a press conference in Scranton on Friday, Randy Levine announced the team’s intentions to exercise its option to purchase the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre franchise and keep the team in Scranton. “Let me say it on the record,” Levine said. “The New York Yankees are in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, intend to be in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, love being in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and want to remain in Scranton/Barre.”

Although the stadium needs to be significantly upgraded or replaced, club officials like having the team so close to the city and plan to work with Scranton to help fund a new stadium. Levine said the team is ready to pay “above-market rent for many, many years” to trigger a series of matching funds for a new facility from the Lackawanna County Stadium Authority. Just a two-and-a-half hour drive from the Bronx, Scranton is an ideal place for the Yanks’ AAA club.

When Yankee hats become outlawed, only outlaws wear Yankee hats

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the Times piece on Yankee hats. In what seems to be a semi-regular article, Manny Fernandez notes that descriptions of suspected perps often include one particular item: “dozens of men and women who have robbed, beaten, stabbed and shot at their fellow New Yorkers have done so while wearing Yankees caps or clothing.”

He notes that it is “not surprising that Yankees attire is worn by both those who abide by the law and those who break it. The Yankees are one of the most famous franchises in sports, and their merchandise is widely available and hugely popular.” But now criminologists, fans and sports marketers are trying to figure out why. He posits that “some attributing the trend to the popularity of the caps among gangsta rappers and others wondering whether criminals are identifying with the team’s aura of money, power and success.”

Me? I think Yankee hats are popular because, well, millions of New Yorkers wear them. With record-setting attendance figures, a string of winning seasons, a World Series championship and high TV ratings, the Yanks have never been as popular as they are today, and people in New York — both those who are law-abiding and those are not — support the team. The Yankees have made the Yankee hat as famous as they can, and The Times is searching for trends where there are none to be found.

From the bench, pressing all the wrong buttons

We've all been scratching our heads lately. Credit: AP Photo/LM Otero

The last 10 games have not been kind to Joe Girardi and his Yankees. The team is 2-8 over its last 10 games and has lost three games in the standings to the now-first place Tampa Bay Rays and four to the Boston Red Sox. With 16 games left in the year, their playoff spot remains secure, but everything that could have gone wrong for the Yanks has lately. I can’t help but level some of the blame at Joe Girardi.

For the last three years, Joe Girardi has been a fine manager. He’s not an exceptionally great strategic leader, but he’s succeeded where later-years Joe Torre could not. He’s managed to take advantage of a full bullpen of arms and doesn’t burn out his best relievers. He keeps his veterans happy and, outside of a few hiccups with injuries in 2008, he has placated the New York media as well. Although the Cubs job will be open this winter, the Yankees have shown every indication that they want Joe Girardi back, and despite my current frustration with him, he ought to be managing this team come March 31, 2011.

Lately, though, as the Yanks have played through a stretch of some of the most unlucky and uninspired baseball we’ve seen since 1994, Girardi’s decisions have become easier and easier to question. He had Francisco Cervelli sacrifice bunt on a 3-0 pitch with a runner on second and no one out and later defended the move by noting that he wanted to “move up the runner.” He had Curtis Granderson, batting .270/.342/.495 over his last 231 plate appearances, sacrifice against right-hander with on a 2-0 count with a runner on first and Colin Curtis up next. These moves aren’t just bad in hindsight; they’re just flat-out bad.

Beyond that, his roster management has suffered lately as well. Since the Yanks expanded the bench, Girardi hasn’t been able to figure out which buttons to press, and he appears to be suffering from the paradox of choice. With too many players available, he isn’t making a good use of any of them. The way Girardi approached the eighth inning last night is a prime example of this problem.

With the Yanks down by a run, they had Robinson Cano, Lance Berkman and Jorge Posada due up with Austin Kearns and Colin Curtis to follow. When a lefty on the mound, Cano reached on an infield hit, and Girardi went to Marcus Thames, the team’s biggest power threat off the bench. The Rays immediately brought in a right-hander to counter Thames, and Girardi, who didn’t want Berkman facing a lefty, got burned. Thames struck out, and after Jorge Posada walked, the two bottom-of-the-order hitters couldn’t do anything. After Kearns struck out, Girardi inexplicably allowed Colin Curtis to hit for himself, and the inning ended with a groundout. While Juan Miranda isn’t much of an offensive upgrade, against Grant Balfour and with Greg Golson on the bench, it was the obvious move to make, and it’s one Girardi hasn’t been making lately.

The other questionable move came an inning earlier. Phil Hughes started the 7th with a low pitch count and got two quick and efficient outs. Once Matt Joyce reached though, the decision to let Hughes face Dan Johnson again is a questionable one made even worse when Johnson deposited his second two-run home run into the right field seats. With Boone Logan unavailable, the Yanks could have gone to Royce Ring, but that lefty hasn’t seen Major League action since 2008. Girardi could have gone with Joba Chamberlain who doesn’t give up many home runs and has been dominant of late. Instead, he rolled the dice and let Hughes face Johnson. As with so many of Girardi’s moves lately, this one cost the Yanks. For the last ten days, many moves he’s made, defensible or not, just haven’t worked out.

Girardi’s comments to the media, as Ken Davidoff wrote this week, make it clear that he’s managing with an eye toward October. He wants to keep his bullpen strong and healthy. He wants to make sure Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher, his banged-up Yankees, are feeling OK for the playoffs. Brian Cashman, too, supports this approach. “I want a team ready to play to its maximum potential in October,” the Yanks’ GM said. “I want to win the division, without question, but if I have injury problems. I don’t want guys playing with ailments that linger into October.”

Yet, I want to see the Yanks reel off a week of solid play. Let’s wrap up that playoff spot, and then rest everyone. Right now, the Yanks aren’t playing with urgency, and they aren’t being managed with much either. Maybe that’s just the reality of a six-game lead with 16 left, but the Yanks are going to have to win a few more games to get to October, and winning is something of which we’ve seen very little lately.

Help is on the way

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

It’s nearly impossible to look at anything in a positive light given how awful the last week-and-a-half have gone for the Yankees, but if there’s any good news, it’s this: Help is on the way. A trio of maybe not frontline players, but highly productive secondary pieces are returning from various injuries very soon, and that could be the boost the Yanks need to get out of this hideous slump.

Right now, the one return that is set in stone is that of Andy Pettitte, who is scheduled to start on Sunday in Baltimore. He’s been out since mid-July with a groin injury, and it’s pretty amazing how the rotation really started to fall apart once he went down. Of course, Pettitte’s injury had nothing to do with the deterioration of Javy Vazquez‘s stuff or A.J. Burnett‘s consistent inconsistency, but it certainly factored into Dustin Moseley making seven starts with a 5.03 ERA and .853 OPS against. If nothing else, Pettitte’s return will stabilize at least one rotation spot and push guys like Moseley and Vazquez into lesser roles, always a good thing.

Pettitte’s return will help the rotation, but two outfielders are due back from injuries soon as well. Both Nick Swisher (knee) and Brett Gardner (wrist) received cortisone shots earlier in the week and are expected to be back sometime this weekend. There’s no concrete return date for either, but the Yanks played it extra cautiously and gave each player ample rest with the idea of having them back for the Orioles series.

The return of Swisher and Gardner means no more Austin Kearns and Colin Curtis, which will be music to everyone’s ears. Even if Swish and Gardy come back and struggle a little bit, 75% of them is still greater than the production the Yanks are getting out of their left and rightfielders right now. They lengthen the lineup and at the very least will put together better at-bats even if the end results are the same. Both will take pitches, foul balls off and make pitchers work, something Kearns and Curtis fail to do basically each time up these days. The automatic outs will be gone at long last.

It’s going to take a whole lot more than the return of these three players to right the Yankees’ ship, but it’s certainly going to help expedite the process. Or so I hope. The players that are and have been healthy certainly need to improve their production with men on base when they have a chance to tack on runs, and the other starters (except CC Sabathia) need to be more efficient and give the team length. Pettitte, Swish, and Gardy aren’t going to come out of a phone booth with their Superman outfits on and cure all of the team’s ills, but that’s three above-average players the Yanks will have at their disposal that they don’t right now.

Bad timing killing the Yanks

The Yankees have been in a strange kind of slump. They’re putting men on base, but aren’t bringing them around to score. That’s both a good and a bad thing. It’s good, because they’re putting themselves in a position to score runs. It’s bad, because they’re not capitalizing on those opportunities. But it’s good again, because we know that in many ways the Yankees’ offensive woes involve luck. That is, when you put 13 runners on base in a game more often than not you’re going to score more than two or three runs. Sometimes you won’t. That’s how the game works. But you’re going to have a lot harder time scoring more than two or three runs if you’re putting only five or six guys on per game.

Since the current slump started on September 5, the Yankees have had little trouble getting guys on base and into scoring position. On Sunday against Cliff Lee and on Monday against David Price they did run into issues getting men on base, but against those two it’s understandable. They’ve already roughed both of them up earlier in the season, so it’s not as if they can’t beat them. But this time around, as will happen from time to time, they faltered. Otherwise they’ve been subject to two damning factors. First is the obvious lack of timely hits. Second is the lack of the longball.

Date H + BB RISP Runs
9/5 14 3 for 12 3
9/6 9 1 for 7 3
9/7 9 2 for 11 2
9/8 10 1 for 4 3
9/10 22 3 for 17 5
9/11 21 3 for 13 6
9/12 5 1 for 3 1
9/13 7 0 for 4 0
9/14 19 2 for 12 8
9/15 15 2 for 9 3

These numbers, as you can imagine, don’t add up well. Since the fifth they’ve been 18 for 92 with runners in scoring position, a .196 batting average. Before this skid they were hitting .265 with runners in scoring position. If they hit to their season average they go 24 for 92, and those extra six hits make us a lot happier. It also means they would have left fewer than 97 men on base in those 10 games.

Also killing the Yanks was the lack of the longball in these 10 games. They hit just six, and that looks much better because of the three they hit on Tuesday. That’s one every 68 PA. Previous they have hit a homer every 31 PA. If they hit homers at their season pace they hit 13 homers in the past 10 games and again we’re a lot happier fans.

The Yankees are slumping. There is no doubt about it. Thankfully, it’s easy to put their struggles in perspective. They’ve put tons of men on base, but haven’t driven them in with hits and haven’t cleared the bases with a homer very often. Given what we saw from the first 136 games of the season I don’t think that this should cause any panic. Every team goes through stretches like this. Once Swisher and Gardner return to the lineup we’ll see them turn it around. Best of all, the recovery could come at the exact right time.

Dan Johnson 4, Yankees 3 as Rays take over AL East lead

We all hoped that Tuesday’s thrilling win would be the start of better days, but all it did was delay yet another crushing defeat. Phil Hughes came out of the gate strong but lost the game on a pair of mistake pitches, and the offense failed to capitalize on many early opportunities before it was too little, too late. It’s like that win didn’t even happen, we’re all miserable again.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Biggest Mistake: Dan Johnson? Again?!?!

For six-plus innings, Hughes pitched a pretty good game. He was perfect into the fifth, and even though Dan Johnson took him deep for a two-run go-ahead homer in that frame, that was pretty all the Rays managed against him until the seventh inning. I think we all would have signed up for that before the game without thinking twice.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The problem was that they let Johnson beat them again. Hughes started that seventh inning with a very manageable pitch count of 85, and he even retired Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria – two legitimate MVP candidates – without incident for two quick outs. Matt Joyce, who hit that three-run homer off Hughes in his last start at The Trop, singled with two outs to bring up that Johnson guy again. Plain and simple, it was a mistake pitch. Jorge Posada set up outside, the 2-1 cutter drifted back in over the plate and you know what happened next. Johnson had his second two-run go-ahead homer of the game, the deciding blow in the Yanks’ latest demoralizing defeat.

A game and situation like this is ripe for second guessing, but I have no idea what the right move is there. Do you bring in the recently called up Royce Ring – who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues in two years – to face the three lefties in the late innings of a one-run game? Do you go to Joba Chamberlain with Hughes approaching 100 pitches? What about another reliever entirely? All I know is that you can’t let Dan freaking Johnson beat you twice in a game, period. If Hughes gets the final out of the inning and preserves the lead, we’re all talking about how great he looked, but here we are wondering how it could get any worse.

Putting Those Ford Edge Commercials To Some Good Use

Derek Jeter has done more great things for the Yankees over the years than I care to count, but tonight’s might have been his Mona Lisa. Well, that’s a gross exaggeration, but it was rather hilariously awesome in it’s own strange way.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Down by one following Johnson’s first homer, Jeter came to the plate with one out in the top of the seventh looking to do whatever he could to reach base. That’s exactly what he did, though he sort of bent the rules. Chad Qualls‘ first pitch sinker ran back in too far and hit Jeter square on the wrist/forearm, and the Yankee captain went down clutching his arm in immediate pain. At least that’s what everyone though. The replay showed that the ball instead hit the handle of his bat, and that it was all just one hell of an acting job. Jeter was awarded first base before Joe Maddon argued and got tossed, and one batter later Curtis Granderson hit a go-ahead homer that put the Yanks back on top.

I had a feeling that the baseball gods wouldn’t let this one stand up, and sure enough it didn’t. I was just hoping they’d bend the rules for Derek like they have so many times before. To his credit (I guess), Jeter was very honest about it after the game. When asked where the pitch hit him, he said flatly “the bat.” This entire situation would be a lot bigger and more controversial if the Yanks won, and I’m certain Derek would have been willing to face that criticism and controversy head-on in exchange for the W.

WTF Get Those Men In

The Yanks have now dropped five of their last six games and eight of ten, and one common theme seems to be squandered chances. They put 15 men on base and stranded 10 of them (three scored, one double play, and Austin Kearns got thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double) in this game. None were worse than Lance Berkman’s inning ending double play in the first, eliminating a bases loaded, one out situation that could have put Tampa to bed before Hughes even took the mound. Instead, just frustration.

During this ten game suckfest, they Yanks have stranded 85 of 106 total baserunners, or 80.2%. The MLB average is 72.1%, so this can’t last forever, right? Right?!? It really has been like Murphy’s Law on crack lately, anything that can go wrong does and then some.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

I can’t wait for Nick Swisher and/or Brett Gardner to get healthy, because I’m not sure how much more of Austin Kearns I can take. He’s now six for his last 45 (.133) with 19 strikeouts, six of which came in the last two games. The man is a fine platoon player, but the wheels came completely off once he got pressed into everyday duty.

For the second straight game, Colin Curtis was left in to bat for himself in big spot. This time it was with men on first and second and two outs in the eighth after Marcus Thames curiously pinch hit for Berkman earlier in the inning. Given how awful the bottom of the order had looked for the last two or three games, isn’t Berkman hitting righthanded against Randy Choate with Thames available to pinch hit for either Kearns or Curtis a better option that what happened? I’m just amazed at how often the big spots found the holes in the 8-9 spots.

Four perfect outs from Joba, including two strikeouts. At least that’s good.

The loss puts Tampa up by half-a-game in the AL East, the Red Sox are now six games back of the Yanks for the Wild Card with 16 left to play for both clubs. For you worry warts out there, Boston would need to go 11-5 the rest of the way just to tie and force a Game 163 if the Yanks go 5-11. Yeah it could happen, but I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m definitely bummed out though, I don’t want you think we’re happy about the way things are going. Be pissed off, it’s normal.

WPA Graph & Box Score

It was so promising for a while. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs a bunch of other cool stuff.

Up Next

Hooray for off days. The Yankees have been playing like absolute crap for the last week-and-a-half and will get torn to shreds in the media tomorrow, and for most part the deserve it. Hopefully they can regroup tomorrow and finish the season strong, because I’m not sure how much more of this crap I can take.

When they do resume play, it’ll be in Baltimore with A.J. Burnett on the mound against the imminently beatable Kevin Millwood on Friday. Two of three this weekend is like, the absolute bare minimum.

Trenton drops Game Two of Championship Series

Double-A Trenton (6-4 loss to Altoona) the best-of-five championship series is knotted up at one … Adam Warren gets the ball in Game Three tomorrow
Austin Krum, CF: 3 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
Justin Snyder, 3B: 1 for 5, 1 RBI
Dan Brewer, RF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, , 1 BB, 1 SB – hitting .389 in the playoffs
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 K – what is that, three homers in the playoffs? might just be two
Marcos Vechionacci, 1B: 1 for 4, 3 K
Rene Rivera, DH & Matt Cusick, 2B: both 0 for 4 – Rivera K’ed twice … Cusick scored a run & K’ed
Damon Sublett, LF: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K
Luis Nunez, SS: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB
Dellin Betances: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 7 K, 1 WP, 1 Balk, 8-2 GB/FB, 1 E (fielding) – 52 of 87 pitches were strikes (59.8%) … worst start of the year? worst start of the year … also, apparently he couldn’t field his position to save his life
Wilkins Arias: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K
Josh Schmidt: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 0-2 GB/FB

High-A Tampa beat Charlotte on Monday to win the Florida State League Championship, their second consecutive league title.

Low-A Charleston, Short Season Staten Island, and the Rookie GCL Yanks are done. None of the three qualified for the postseason. Triple-A Scranton‘s season ended when they lost to Columbus in the first round of the International League playoffs.