Sunday Night Open Thread

You know what’s great about this afternoon’s win? What Ivan Nova did to the Twins is basically what the Twins wish their pitchers would do each time out. Pitch to contact and get quick outs when you can, then reach back for the strikeouts when you need them. Good stuff from the kid, who’s certainly got the flashy stats (namely wins) to make a serious run at the Rookie of the Year Award.

Anywhere, that’s a video of an outfielder turning a triple play after the ball hits him in the head (h/t Ian Casselberry), and this is your open thread. The ESPN Sunday Night game features two teams in the middle of a heated race for a playoff spot the Cardinals and Cubs, and not even the pitching matchup is interesting: Jake Westbrook vs. Rodrigo Lopez. Yuck. That what they get for slaving to big market teams and rivalries. Talk about whatever you want right here, anything goes.

Yankees’ offense amongst expansion era elite

Last week at Over The Monster, former Baseball Prospectus writer Marc Normandin noted that the Red Sox staking a serious claim to being to being the best offense of the expansion era. The case is compelling. At the time, the Red Sox were second only to the 1976 Reds in TAv and were tied for second with the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers in wRC+. Normandin also noted that the Sox were going to be cutting some dead weight from their lineup, which made sense at the time but didn’t happen once Youkilis and Ortiz got hurt. Since that point, the Yankees themselves have moved up the charts and may in fact beat out the Sox for best offense in 2011 and one of the best offenses of the expansion era.

As of Friday, the Red sox had played 123 games and scored 653 runs, an average of 5.31 runs per game. The Yankees had played one fewer game than the Sox, but had scored seven more runs, giving them a league-leading total of 660 runs and an average of 5.41 a game. If they both continue on their current pace, the Sox should score 860 runs while the Yankees will score 876. The below chart contains this data, as well as their respective TAv and wRC+ scores.

Offense since expansion era as of 8/19/11.

As you can see, the Red Sox lead the Yankees by 2 hundreths of a point in TAv. The Yankees mark of .286 leaves them within striking distance of the 1982 Brewers, while the 1976 Reds are likely out of reach for both teams. In wRC+ the Yankees lead Boston by one point, and their mark of 119 is good enough for third since the start of the expansion era, an impressive feat. Their wOBA is .351, a mark higher than any other team in baseball.

There’s upside in the Yankee offense down the stretch. The team is supposed to get Rodriguez back today, and he’s obviously a huge boost. Personally, I expect Rodriguez to be fresh from all the time off and able to hit for more power than he did earlier in the season now that he’s had his troublesome knee repaired. His defense may suffer a bit in the first few weeks as he works to regain quickness and begins to trust his knee more and more, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him go on an offensive tear over the next five weeks. Yet, as the team rolls into September and gets closer to clinching a playoff spot, it’s possible that some of the lesser talented offensive players, whether they’re bench players or September callups, will get more and more playing time. As a result, I wouldn’t expect the team to finish markedly below or above their current marks. The 2011 Yankees likely won’t be the greatest offensive force since the dawn of the expansion era, but they may rank in the top 5, and they may be just as good or better than the 2009 Yankees. Last I recall that team did OK for itself come October.

Game 125: A-Rod’s Back

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Oh Alex, how I’ve missed you. With all due to respect to Eduardo Nunez and Eric Chavez (and even Brandon Laird), it’s oh so great to see Alex Rodriguez‘s name back in the lineup. The third baseman and cleanup hitter was activated off the disabled list this afternoon, and returns to the lineup in the series finale against the Twins. Here’s the glorious, glorious lineup…

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

Ivan Nova, SP

Today’s game starts a little after 2pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and TBS nationally. Enjoy.

Twins bomb Burnett as Yanks fall 9-4

The Yankee rotation seemed to find watching A.J. just as arduous as the rest of us did. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Over the past two seasons, my expectations for A.J. Burnett have slowly diminished. Even on his best days, I find his pitching process torturous. His stuff, which was much better when he was younger, should play better, but his inability to command even his fastball makes for games that slog on. When I watch him on TV, I try to keep myself busy lest I start to find things to throw through the television.

Tonight was A.J. night on my own six-game road trip. It was something I couldn’t avoid, and I was prepared for the worst. I even found myself defending A.J. While walking around Target Field before the game started, I found myself getting defensive as Twins fans dismissed Burnett. “Don’t worry; A.J. sucks,” one fan said to a friend. Now, it might be OK for me to think that about Burnett, but when fans of another team say the same thing about a Yankee, I take it personally. Unfortunately, Burnett’s performance couldn’t settle my silent indignation.

In what was his shortest outing of the season, A.J. Burnett recorded just five outs against a punchless Twins’ lineup. When Joe Girardi pulled an irate A.J. from the game, the right-hander had faced 12 batters and seven of them scored. He walked three, gave up five hits and threw two wild pitches as the Yanks fell by a score of 9-4. With the Red Sox loss in Kansas City, the Yanks maintained their slim half-game lead in the AL East, but the post-game questions focused squarely on A.J. Burnett.

What is an A.J. game with a controversy anyway? This tale begins with a pitch to Joe Mauer that was a close one but called a ball. With two runs in and the Yanks down 4-0, A.J. thew a pitch to Mauer that just missed. Mauer walked, and A.J. was yanked. Eventually, Luis Ayala allowed all three of his inherited runners to score, and the Yanks were down 7-0 against the Twins before the third inning.

The rest of the game was a formality. The Yanks plated a few runs but never had a rally in them. Aaron Laffey made his debut and gave up a pair of runs over three innings of work. He wasn’t particularly impressive against lefties, and he wasn’t particularly awful. As waiver acquisition go, I can’t imagine he’ll be a key part of the Yanks’ October push.

The story that developed during the second inning and after the game though has sparked some debate. When Girardi lifted Burnett, he was caught on camera saying, “This is f**king bulls**t” toward Joe Girardi. Was he talking of his early hook? Of the home plate ump’s strike zone? Burnett left the field and went into the clubhouse, and Joe Girardi followed suit. A few seconds later, both came back out.

During the post-game scrum in the clubhouse, the reporters wanted to know about Burnett, and Joe Girardi didn’t want to talk about it. He grew terse on TV with Jack Curry and wanted no part in this discussion. In fact, he was as angry as he has been during his three years with the team. “I didn’t say anything back to him,” Girardi said. “You can write what you want, you can say what you want, but he was pissed. He thought he struck out Joe Mauer.”

The Mauer at-bat would be the story. Girardi says Burnett was upset about the Mauer at-bat and went into the clubhouse to review the video. The manager and his mercurial right-hander did not exchange words in the recesses of Target Field, and the two professed their admiration for each other. “Me and AJ have mutual respect for each other,” Girardi said. “I cheer for this guy, he cheers for me and we cheer for the team.”

Burnett echoed Girardi’s explanation, and Russell Martin did too. The Yanks’ catcher said he told the departing pitcher that the Mauer pitch was a good one. Burnett reacted to Martin’s statement with anger because he wanted to have a better outing. Frustration, though, was the word of the day. Girardi was frustrated with something — the reporters grilling him, his right-hander who is now 9-10 with a 4.96 ERA, the pitch to Mauer — and Burnett too was frustrated. Whether it was with Girardi or the strike zone or his inability to harness his stuff, it doesn’t really matter.

The Yankee outfielders compared hat styles during the pitching change in the second inning. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

For now, the bigger concerns are about A.J.’s role in the rotation. He will pitch on Friday against the Orioles, Girardi said tonight. The club will stick with the six-man rotation through next weekend as they need a sixth starter for the double header. Still, the Yanks’ manager wants to see something better from A.J. “We need him to pitch like he’s capable of pitching,” he said. “The last few starts he has struggled but we have to get him back on track.”

After that, though, it’s anyone’s guess. A few weeks ago, Brian Cashman told everyone to smoke “the objective pipe” when it comes to Burnett, but even objectively, he isn’t pitching like one of the top five hurlers on the Yankees. His numbers are in fact worse at this point this year than they were last year. He is, however, one of the top five most highly paid pitchers on the club, and that contract seems to loom large. No one wants a $16.5 million long man in the bullpen who doesn’t hold the faith of his manager and pitching coach.

For now, Burnett got a vote of confidence from his manager tonight, albeit a lukewarm one, and the Yanks will send A.J. out there every five days. “When you’re struggling,” Girardi said, “the only thing you can do is keeping working. It’s not like there’s some magical potion you can take.”

Wins at the upper levels, losses at the lower levels

Sorry folks, but I only have time for bullet points this weekend…

  • Triple-A Scranton (win). Jesus Montero had a hit, and Jorge Vazquez had three. One was a double, one went over the fence. D.J. Mitchell threw six strong innings, allowing two runs.
  • Double-A Trenton Game One (win). Corban Joseph had two singles, Zoilo Almonte doubled once, and Yadil Mujica doubled twice. Jeff Marquez allowed two runs in six innings in his latest rehab start.
  • Double-A Trenton Game Two is still being played. Here’s the box score.
  • High-A Tampa (win). Abe Almonte and Ronnier Mustelier (can we can just call him Ronnie?) each had two hits and one of Ronnie’s was a double. DeAngelo Mack had three hits including a homer. Brett Marshall gave up two runs in five innings and Dan Burawa chipped in two scoreless.
  • Low-A Charleston (loss). Ramon Flores went hitless, but Kelvin DeLeon doubled. Shane Greene got rocked, six runs in seven innings rocked.
  • Short Season Staten Island (loss). Mason Williams (one double) and Ben Gamel (two doubles) both had a pair of hits, but no one else in the lineup did anything of note. John Brebbia and Branden Pinder combined to throw three perfect innings to highlight the pitching staff.
  • Rookie GCL Yankees (loss). Claudio Custodio, Isaias Tejeda, and Matt Duran all had two hits, and one of Duran’s was a double. Dante Bichette Jr., took a rare 0-for-5. Reynaldo Polanco allowed two homers (three runs) in two innings, and Mark Prior struck out a pair of batters in a perfect inning of relief.

Game 124: Saturday Night

Pitch well A.J., not in the mood for your crap. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Man, I despise weekend night games. They just feel so unnatural, almost like it’s a weekday, and that sucks. Anyway, here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Andruw Jones, DH
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Brett Gardner, LF

A.J. Burnett, SP

First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET and can be seen on YES locally or MLB Network nationally.

Alex Rodriguez Update: A-Rod ran the bases, did the whole workout routine today, but he obviously has not been activated. Joe Girardi said it’s “very possible” that Alex will play tomorrow, but he wants to see how he feels when he shows up to the park first. The Yankees are off on Monday, I’m guessing they’ll wait until Tuesday to activate him.