The Yankees announced this afternoon that CC Sabathia is the team’s nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Derek Jeter won the award back in 2009, and you can participate in the voting right here.
Following a frustrating four-game losing streak (frustrating because they didn’t hit, the one thing they do better than anything else), the Yankees appear to have righted the ship and have won two in a row, the second against the great Felix Hernandez. Aside from various injuries, everything seems to be going pretty well in Yankeeland, but the same can’t be said for their biggest rivals.
The Red Sox, in case you haven’t heard, have lost five games in a row. While that was happening, the Rays won five in a row, so their deficit in the wildcard race dropped from eight games to three in less than a week. Suddenly the upcoming four-game series between these two clubs at Fenway Park this weekend has a whole lotta meaning, even though it was little more than an afterthought a week ago. The Sox have 16 games left, Tampa just 15. There is little in baseball more exciting than a late season comeback, as long as you aren’t the team being comeback’d on.
Boston’s problems are almost entirely pitching related. Their opponents have scored six or more runs eight times in their last ten games, and five or more runs ten times in their last 13 games. Their starting rotation at the moment is Jon Lester, John Lackey, Andrew Miller, Tim Wakefield, and Kyle Weiland, which is pretty awful outside of Lester. Legitimately Triple-A caliber. Josh Beckett will apparently be back from his ankle sprain sometime this week, so that will definitely help. Clay Buchholz may or may not return this season, but if he does, it sounds like he’ll do so as a reliever. Who really knows what’s up with Erik Bedard? Not I. As Yankees fans, you can’t not enjoy watching this unfold. Oh, and the irony. I thought the Yankees were the team with the pitching problems?
Cool Standings says the Rays have just a 13.2% chance to make the postseason, but that’s up from 0.6% just six days ago. The Red Sox went from a 99.4% chance to make to the postseason to 86.7% during that time. They’re still in good shape, but there are definite reasons for the Fenway faithful to be concerned. This is more than a slump, there are very real issues. The Yankees, meanwhile, now have an 88.0% chance to win the AL East and a 99.4% chance to make the postseason. The only thing we have worry about is health and the number two starter in the ALDS. The Yankees aren’t perfect, but they’re the best team in the AL, hands down.
As a Yankees fan, I’m obligated to loathe the Red Sox. It’s very, very easy to root for the Rays at the moment, because we all want to see a Boston collapse. And frankly, Tampa is a pretty fun team to watch. That said, if the Rays are going to pull off this comeback, the Yankees will be involved. They have seven games left with Tampa, including the final three of the season. These aren’t isolated races, the Rays’ pursuit of the Red Sox will impact the Yankees and their ability to keep Boston at bay in the East. Obviously priority number one for New York is getting into the playoffs, they can’t worry about who is trying to catch who. If they rest players down the stretch, it will be to improve their chances in October, not help the Rays.
In all likelihood, the Red Sox will hold off Tampa and make the postseason. They do have seven games left with the Orioles, after all. Tampa had a huge mountain to climb just to get where they are now, and they still have a long way to go. It’s going to be fun to watch over the next two weeks, and come on, what Yankees fan isn’t enjoying this right now?
As the off-season wound down, the Yankees had only a few needs they could fill on the free agent market. The starting lineup was penciled in, the bullpen was full, and the starting pitching options were exhausted. All they needed to complete the 2011 roster was a reliable fourth outfielder, preferably one who could mash lefties. Throughout the off-season one name stood out as a reasonable option: Andruw Jones. And so in early February the Yankees landed their man on a reasonable one-year contract. That appeared to complete the Yankees’ off-season team building.
Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t get off on the best foot. While Jones homered in his first game as a Yankee, he generally hit poorly in the first half: .195/.278/.356 in 97 PA. Worse, he was taking starts away from Brett Gardner, who was putting together a quality first half (.265/.348/.394 at the break, and .317/.404/.463 in June). That left a sour taste in many Yankees’ fans mouths. What use was a fourth outfielder who 1) doesn’t play defense particularly well, 2) hasn’t hit better than a possible minor league replacement, and 3) is taking at-bats away from a more productive player on both sides of the ball?
At the break something changed. According to Jones, it was a call from his mom that got the wheels turning. It appeared to pay immediate dividends, as Jones hit two home runs in his first game of the second half. Since then he’s been to the plate 99 times and has hit .288/.424/.600. That includes 17 walks, which is only six fewer than Mark Teixeira in 147 fewer PA. He’s also belted seven homers, some of which were absolute monster shots (the one in Minnesota stands out in memory).
Jones got so hot after the break that he’s taken on more than a platoon role lately. With Gardner slumping and Swisher on the shelf, Jones has started eight of 11 games in September. While his production has waned a bit as a result, he’s still providing a level of value with his walks. They have allowed him to maintain a .344 OBP despite a .160 average this month. That’s not a skill that many fourth outfielders possess. He also hasn’t been a liability in the field. He might not be Gardner or even Swisher out there, but he’s not dragging down the team on defense.
And so we take this opportunity to appreciate the contributions Jones has made this season. He has torn through the second half and has been a big part of the reason why the Yankees are in a comfortable position right now. He might have been something of a liability in the first half, but he’s certainly repaid the Yankees lately.
Thanks to various injuries, the Yankees used four different catchers in a span of 24 hours this weekend. On Saturday night, it was Russell Martin starting before Jorge Posada came in as an injury replacement. Sunday afternoon it was Jesus Montero with the starting assignment and Austin Romine doing the defensive replacement thing. Four catchers in two days, and not a single one of them was Frankie Cervelli.
The Yankees regular backup backstop is in New York, where tests confirmed a concussion as the result of a pair of home plate collisions on Thursday. The first collision with Nick Markakis was clearly the more devastating of the two; he led with the shoulder and caught Frankie right in the head. The picture above tells the entire story. Brain injuries and concussions are no joke, especially when we’re talking about multiple occurrences. Cervelli had at least three concussions from 2005-2010, the last one coming when he was hit in the head by pitch in Spring Training last season. This latest incident makes it at least four concussions in seven seasons.
With just 16 games left in the season, there’s a non-zero chance that we won’t see Frankie again until 2012. Head injuries are serious business and the Yankees will take every precaution, just like they have with Cervelli (and Posada) in the past. That leaves the team in a little bit of a bind, because they don’t have an obvious backup catcher to replace the King of the Fist Pumps. Posada caught his first game in almost a year this weekend, and it was only because it was an emergency. Montero was pulled for a defensive replacement, not exactly a ringing endorsement of his catching skills. Romine has fewer than 50 innings of catching experience above Double-A. None are ideal fits.
Thankfully, the schedule kinda helps the Yankees here, because they have such a big lead on a postseason spot and only a handful of games left to play. Montero and Romine can split catching duties for the next week or two and it won’t be that big of a deal, assuming Martin makes it back from his bruised thumb in a somewhat timely fashion. The Yankees shouldn’t rush him back, obviously, but as far as we know, it’s not anything more serious than a bruise and a cracked nail. Going into the postseason, you’d count on Martin catching every inning of every game, no doubt about it. There’s fewer off days this year but still enough to make catching everyday possible. That leaves Cervelli’s now vacant roster spot up in the air.
Barring something unforeseen, Montero figures to make the postseason roster at this point. He’d step right into Frankie’s roster spot, meaning that Cervelli’s latest concussion may have saved Posada’s playoff job. For all intents and purposes, the Yankees have been phasing Jorge out in the second half, but he could still serve as a pinch-hitter against right-handers and an emergency catcher in October. Montero would be the other emergency catcher, even if means losing the DH in a given game. I don’t think it’s out of the question that the Yankees could go into the postseason without a true backup catcher on the roster, which would be kinda neat and unconventional.
The x-factor here is Joe Girardi, who seems to love having a defense-first backup catcher (not that Cervelli was a Gold Glover back there). That could open the door for Romine to win a spot on the postseason bench, meaning the Yankees may end up taking only one of Montero or Posada. That is unless they decide against a pinch-running specialist like Chris Dickerson or Greg Golson. Or perhaps they go with a ten-man pitching staff, which would be a minor miracle. There’s a lot of variables in play here, and there are 16 games left to sort them all out. The key is Martin, if that thumb heals well and he can catch a full workload in October, it opens a lot of roster construction doors for the postseason.
Nothing gets the bitter taste of a four-game losing streak out of your mouth like a winning streak, and the Yankees are officially on a winning streak after topping the Mariners on Monday. Sure, it’s only a little two-gamer, but a winning streak is a winning streak.
Getting To The King
Coming into this game, the Yankees had scored a total of eight runs in their last 49 innings against Felix Hernandez. They scored six runs in six innings off him tonight. The driving force behind the offense? How about Chris Dickerson. In his third big league start of the season, Dickerson singled Brett Gardner to third before he came around to score on Derek Jeter‘s groundout, then an inning later he
capped killed a five-run rally with a long two-run homer to right. It was no cheapie, there was no doubt it was gone, and it even looked like it had a chance at the second deck. Chris Dickerson, of course.
Before that, the Yankees scored three runs on a Mark Teixeira solo homer, an Eric Chavez sacrifice fly, and a Gardner double. At one point between the third and fourth innings, the Yankees had seven hits in the span of eleven batters (four extra base hits) against Felix. Two of the four outs scored runs as well. We saw some signs of life from the offense on Sunday, and the bats continued to wake up against arguably the best pitcher in the world. Sometimes it takes a bit piece like Dickerson having a huge game off the bench to get things going, baseball’s weird like that. Six runs and nine hits off Hernandez is pretty much the best of best case scenarios.
It was a pretty typical start for Phil Hughes, meaning quite a bit of baserunners (eight), a ton of foul balls (25 out of 99 pitches) … and a quality start. Believe it or not, seven of his eleven starts since coming off the DL have qualified for the ol’ quality start, meaning six innings or more and three runs or less. Don’t ask me how, but it’s true. Quality starts aren’t a good predictor of future success, but they are games the Yankees can win, I know that much. Chances are Phil’s line would look quite a bit worse against a better team, but I feel like I say that after each one of his starts.
All the stuff we’ve talked about all season still stands, Hughes needs to get his command right, he needs to be more efficient, and he needs to fully incorporate a third pitch. A show-me changeup won’t cut it. It did tonight, luckily.
The Yankees really blew things open in the seventh, when Robinson Cano shot an opposite field double over the left fielder’s head with the bases loaded. It came on the tenth pitch of the at-bat, after he fouled off balls four, five, six, and seven. You know Robbie though, it just works. The man is hitting .471/.429/1.235* this season with the bases loaded. That’ll work.
* Since I know several of you will ask, his OBP is lower than his AVG because of sacrifice flies. They count as plate appearances (and towards OBP) but not at-bats (and towards AVG). One of baseball’s many weird statistical quirks.
In his first career start behind the plate, Austin Romine picked up his first career base hit, a legitimate line drove single to right off Danny Cortes. There’s a pretty decent chance that that will be the last first-hit ball Gene Monahan ever marks up. The longtime trainer is retiring after the season, and every other non-pitcher on the active roster has already picked up their first hit.
As for the rest of the offense … Jeter had one hit, Curtis Granderson had two hits (breaking out of his slump?), Tex had a single to go with the homer (breaking out of his slump?), Cano had three hits, Swisher one hit, Gardner two hits (breaking out of his slump?), Dickerson the two hits, and Romine the one hit. The Yankees did not draw a single walk, only the fourth time they’ve done that in 146 games this season. Boston has done it three times, the only club with fewer no walk games.
After teasing us by warming up both Andrew Brackman and Dellin Betances, Joe Girardi went with Scott Proctor (two runs in two innings) and Luis Ayala (one inning) to run out the clock after Hughes exited. I don’t even know why they bother calling these kids up, Girardi never uses them. Did the same thing last year. They’re better off keeping them in the minors and saving the service time. Seriously. I suppose the good news is that Boone Logan warmed up at one point, so his dead arm must be a thing of the past.
Also, where were the replacements once the score got out of hand? I mean, Swisher’s been battling elbow tendinitis, couldn’t he have gotten a few innings off with an eight (eventually six) run lead? Granderson could use some time off his feet, no? Nothing wrong with giving Jeter a few innings off, right? Oh well, what’s done is done.
The Rays won again, this time beating the Orioles. They picked up half-a-game on the idle Red Sox, and are now just three back of Boston for the wildcard. The Yankees remain seven games up on Tampa for the wildcard, and they moved to four games ahead of the Sox for the AL East lead. That’s the largest lead they’ve had all season. If they go 8-8 in their final 16 games, Boston has to go 12-4 to tie (the Sox would win the division in that scenario by virtue of winning the season series). The magic number to clinch a playoff spot is just ten.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Game two of this three-game series will be played on Tuesday night, when A.J. Burnett gives it a go against the lefty Charlie Furbush.
Short Season Staten Island (9-2 win over Auburn) SI leads the best-of-three Championship Series one game to none … game two is tomorrow in Staten Island
Mason Williams, CF: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – led the game off with a double, then came around to score on a ground ball and a sac fly
Cito Culver, SS: 1 for 6, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
Ben Gamel, RF: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
Tyler Austin, 3B: 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 E (fielding)
Reymond Nunez, 1B: 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K
Casey Stevenson, DH: 3 for 5, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 K – broke it open with an RBI single in the ninth
Zach Wilson, LF: 1 for 3, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Angelo Gumbs, 2B: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 K – gave them a 2-1 lead with a solo homer in the fifth
Nick McCoy, C: 1 for 3, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K
Taylor Morton, RHP: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 3-6 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) – not the best Game One start, but it could have been worse
Wilton Rodriguez, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-0 GB/FB – stranded the two runners he inherited from Morton
Zach Arneson, RHP: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1-0 GB/FB
Phil Wetherell, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB
Branden Pinder, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-0 GB/FB – came out after they broke it open in the ninth, save some of those bullets for tomorrow
Ben Paullus, RHP: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K – nice and FIPy
Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all failed to qualify to the postseason. The Rookie GCL Yankees have already won their league title.
A week and a half ago, Jesus Montero made his big league debut. The Yankees didn’t exactly baby him; his first game was in Fenway Park with Jon Lester on the bump. Montero responded by scoring the game-winning run, and he’s gone on to play well in his limited action. Although we saw Austin Romine catch yesterday, he gets his first career start tonight. His assignment? Felix Hernandez, in a park that is unkind to right-handed hitters like himself. Welcome to the big leagues kid, here’s Felix. Fun fun fun. Here’s the starting nine…
Phil Hughes, RHP
The game is scheduled to start a little after 10pm ET, and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.