Yanks top Royals, crickets for third straight win

Slugfests are always fun, only because there’s maybe two or three teams that can really hang with the Yankees in games like this. The Royals have a sneaky good offense, but the difference in this game was that one rookie pitcher completely imploded while the other was just touch better than that.

Robbie Goes BOOM!!!

This game was a classic back-and-forth affair; the Yankees responded with runs pretty much every time the Royals pushed a few across, and the Royals threatened every time the Yankees scored some runs. Robinson Cano singled in his team’s first run on a breaking ball at his eyes in the third, then two batters later Russell Martin drove in two more to give the Yankees a short-lived 3-2 lead. Kansas City answered right back with three off Ivan Nova (more on him in a bit), but the Yankees were not fooled by rookie southpaw Danny Duffy the second and third time through the order.

The five-run fourth inning started innocently enough, with a Brett Gardner drag bunt single to the second baseman. Derek Jeter tied the game on a double down the line and into left (he look, he pulled the ball!), and for some reason Curtis Granderson and his 33 homeruns squared around to bunt. The Royals bailed him out though, because catcher Salvador Perez threw to third but Jeter slide in behind (or maybe under, I didn’t see the replay) the tag. That put men at the corners with none out. Mark Teixeira singled in the go-ahead run after taking what looked like strike three, bringing Cano to the plate. This is where it got interesting.

Before the at-bat started, Royals manager Ned Yost went out to the mound but not to take out his struggling starter out, but to give home plate ump Kerwin Danley a mouthful about the non-strike three to Teixeira. He got tossed, but Duffy remained in the game. The first pitch to Cano was a fastball in the dirt for a ball, then came a high curveball that Robbie fouled off. The 1-1 pitch was a curve in the dirt, the 2-1 pitch a fastball down and away from the zone. Three balls and one strike is a total hitter’s count, but Cano just fouled off the 92 fastball to run the count full. Five pitches into the encounter, these two weren’t even halfway done yet.

Fastball, foul. Fastball, foul. Fastball, foul. Slider, foul. Slider, foul. Fastball, foul. Seven straight foul balls followed the 3-1 count, and it was clear that the Royals’ battery had no idea what to do next. They threw fastballs in the zone, out of the zone, sliders in the dirt, basically everything in the arsenal.The 12th and final pitch of the at-bat was a slider that hung up and in the zone, and Cano put his best Home Run Derby Champion swing on it for a three-run homer. The Yankees had taken an 8-5 lead and there will still no outs in the inning, but Duffy was on his way out of the game before Robinson even touched home plate. It was a no-doubter off the bat and a fantastic plate appearance, backing a young and overmatched pitcher into a corner until he mistake pitched his way out of it.

(Photo via Ben Kabak)

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served … With A Better Start Than This?

Ivan Nova has faced the Royals twice in 2011, and they’re the two worst starts of his career. This game wasn’t quite as bad in the start in May, but yeah, nine runs and seven runs in 5.1 IP is pretty awful. Kansas City tagged him for two runs in the first, three runs in the third, and two more runs in the sixth, and frankly he’s lucky he held them to that. There were a lot of pitches left up in the zone and a lot of hitter’s counts, and through the magic of hindsight I can say that Nova was left in an inning too long. Trying to squeeze another inning out of him wasn’t the wisest decision given how rested the middle relievers are. Oh well, didn’t come back to hurt them, though it almost did.

Nova threw a total 87 pitches, only 20 of which weren’t fastballs. Four of his seven swings and misses came on the heat, two on curves, and one a change. The 8-5 GB/FB is still pretty good but not what we’re used to seeing from Nova. With a Game Score of just 23, it was in fact the second worst start of his career, better than just that start against KC in May (Game Score of 15). He was due for a stinker, so I’m glad he got it out of the way on a night when his offense nearly hung double digits on the scoreboard.

Tablesetters

Jeter was technically the leadoff hitter tonight, but Eduardo Nunez and Gardner did a fine job of getting on base at the bottom of the order and ahead of the big bats. Both had two hits, all singles except for Gardner’s two-out triple in the seventh. Jeter singled him in for a rather big insurance run. The top four hitters in the lineup combined to go 6-for-18 with one walk and a hit-by-pitch, and seven of those eight baserunners came around to score.

Everyone in the lineup reached base exactly twice except for Andruw Jones, who got hit by a pitch before giving way to pinch-hitter Jorge Posada, who walked. So the DH spot got on base two times anyway. The Yankees had half a dozen hits in their dozen at-bats with men in scoring position. The top and the bottom of the order did the majority of the heavy lifted, but all nine (really ten) guys contributed in this one.

(Photo via Ben Kabak)

Leftovers

Remember WWWMW™? That’s always fun. Mariano Rivera threw a perfect ninth inning for the second straight day, this one with two strikeouts and a ground out. Pretty much vintage Rivera right there. There’s never a reason to worry about the guy, how many times do we have to tell you?

The entire bullpen was perfect, 11 up and 11 down. Boone Logan got three outs with some help from a great diving stop by Tex, then Rafael Soriano recorded two outs before David Robertson chipped in a perfect eighth. Soriano, Robertson, and Mo have each appeared in the last two games, and I’m willing to bet Rivera gets Wednesday’s game off. No reason to push him at this point of the season. Figure some Cory Wade action in the seventh with the other two sliding up an inning. Yay assigned innings!

Holy hell, how annoying were the crickets? Apparently enough people complained about them that the YES booth had to acknowledge that yeah, they were making the broadcast unbearable. Thankfully they’re only in Kansas City for one more night.

The Red Sox split a double header with the Rays on Tuesday (Tampa got complete games from Jamie Shields and Jeff Niemann, how about that?), which means the Yankees lead the AL East by half a game. They also lead by 39 runs in run differential (+180 vs. +141), but they don’t care give out division titles based on that. Anyway, the Yankees control their own destiny from here on out, as long as they lose the same number of games as Boston (or fewer, of course) the rest of the way, they’ll win the division. Pretty neat huh?

Oh by the way, the Yankees have now faced a pitcher they’d never seen before 18 times this season, and guess what their record is in those games. Hint: it’s 14-4. Didn’t see that coming, did ya?

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs some nerdy stuff, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

Bartolo Colon will look to wrap up the sweep against Bruce Chen on Wednesday night, when he happily say goodbye to the crickets. Hooray for that.

A-Rod continues rehab in SWB loss

Austin Romine has been activated off the disabled list, so hooray for that. R.J. Baker hit the phantom DL to make room on the roster. Scott Proctor has been added to the Triple-A roster and Greg Smith was released to accommodate him. Meanwhile, Penn League Report continued to count down their list of the top 30 prospects in the NY-Penn League today, with numbers 21-25. Personal fave Bryan Mitchell ranked 22nd, and the report reaffirms everything we already know: great stuff, hella inconsistent.

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 loss to Durham)
Alex Rodriguez, 3B: 1 for 3 – hit a line drive off the wall in his first at-bat, one of those “he hit it so hard it was only a single” jobs … flew out to deep left-center in his second at-bat … popped up to second the third time up … he fielded one ground ball in his six innings, and all he had to do was step on third for the force out to end the inning, so no throw … he also failed to make the catch on a foul pop-up after over-running the ball … the Yankees supposedly want him to play two full nine-inning games before bringing him back, so I guess he’ll he here until at least Thursday
Kevin Russo, 2B: 0 for 4
Chris Dickerson, CF & Doug Bernier, SS: both 1 for 3 – Dickerson walked, stole two bases, and committed a fielding error … Bernier doubled and struck out
Terry Tiffee, 1B: 0 for 1 – took over for A-Rod
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 K – batted behind A-Rod, which is hopefully something we’ll see in the Bronx relatively soon
Mike Lamb, DH: 0 for 3, 1 HBP
Brandon Laird, 1B-3B: 0 for 4
Jordan Parraz, RF: 2 for 4, 1 2B – .296/.369/.445 this year … sneaky good
Greg Golson, LF: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP
Adam Warren, RHP: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 2 HB, 5-3 GB/FB – 58 of 101 pitches were strikes (57.4%) … sat 92-93 on the gun
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – seven pitches, five strikes … lots of rain outs and stuff lately, plus David Phelps is coming back, he just needed to get some work in
George Kontos, RHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0-2 GB/FB – all ten pitches he threw were strikes
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0-2 GB/FB – seven of nine pitches were strikes
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 2-0 GB/FB – nine pitches, five strikes

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Yankees claim Raul Valdes off waivers from St. Louis

Via Bryan Hoch and Erik Boland, the Yankees have claimed lefty reliever Raul Valdes off waivers from the Cardinals. Jeff Marquez has been 60-day DL’ed to clear up a 40-man roster spot.

Valdes, 33, had been designated for assignment earlier this week when St. Louis signed Arthur Rhodes. You might have seen him pitch with the Mets last year, his first taste of the big leagues after spending a bunch of time in various independent leagues. His splits against left-handed batters are terrible (.327/.377/.602 against in 107 PA), which isn’t all that surprising as a high-80’s fastball/mid-70’s curveball guy. Valdes definitely has minor league options left, so I expect him to go to Triple-A.

Game 120: Revenge

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

A little more than three months ago, the Royals tattooed Ivan Nova for ten hits and eight runs in just three innings of work, easily the worst start of his young career and one of just eight starts in the majors with that many hits and runs allowed in three or fewer innings this season. Nova’s been pitching very well since coming back up from Triple-A starts ago, so here’s his chance to exact some revenge against the team that embarrassed him back in May. 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

Ivan Nova, SP

It’s another 8pm ET start because of the Midwest game, and My9 will have the broadcast. Enjoy.

Freddy to test finger in bullpen session

Via Erik Boland, the bandage is off Freddy Garcia’s cut index finger, and the big right-hander will test the digit out in a bullpen session today or tomorrow. Apparently it only gives him trouble when he throws his splitter, which is by far his most important pitch. Plus if it’s not healed all the way, he could end up tearing the cut back open and missing even more time. That would be bad.

The League Average Derek Jeter

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

On the afternoon of June 13th, Derek Jeter limped off the field in the fifth inning of an eventual loss to the Indians. The Cap’n had flown out to right to open the frame, but he appeared to hurt something coming out of the box and was replaced in the next half inning by Eduardo Nunez. At the time, Jeter was hitting .260/.324/.325 in 296 plate appearances, and the calf strain he suffered on the play would keep him on the shelf for just about three weeks.

Nunez filled in capably while Jeter was on the shelf, adding the kind of life and electricity to the shortstop position that the Yankees haven’t had since 2009. The Yankees went 14-5 in Derek’s absence, going from 2.5 games back in the AL East to 1.5 up. As great as Jeter has been for the Yankees, there was definitely a sense of dread immediately before his return, because we all knew that not only would his unproductive bat be back in the lineup every day, it would be in the leadoff spot getting more plate appearances than everyone else. We all knew this, except we were all wrong.

Since coming off the disabled list on Independence Day against the same Indians he faced on the day of his injury, Jeter has hit .326/.382/.457 in 154 plate appearances with the same number of extra base hits (12) as he had before the injury in almost half the trips to the plate. That has raised his season line to .283/.344/.370, a performance that is exactly league average in terms of wRC+. That’s a top eight mark among full-time big league shortstops, an indication of how much Jeter has turned his season around and how weak the position is around the league. A 100 wRC+ at an up-the-middle position is pretty damn good.

“Staying back,” said Jeter after last night’s three hit (including a triple) effort. “Stay back better and obviously you’re going to drive balls more. That’s what I’ve been doing since I’ve been back, so I just want it to continue.” Derek has been driving the ball with much more authority since coming back, as the increased rate of extra base hits suggests. As we tend to do with stuff like this, let’s turn to the spray charts. First, it’s pre-DL Jeter

Almost everything he hit in the air went the other way or to center field. I count what, ten balls pulled into left (hits + outs)? That’s out of 231 balls in play. The majority of his hits came on balls right back up the middle or filleted through the right side (remember, the points indicate where the defender fielded the ball, not where it landed). Now let’s look at the post-DL spray chart

This one is much more spread out. The majority of his balls in play are still to center and right, that’s just the kind of hitter he is and always has been, but there’s also way more balls pulled into left. I count 12 balls hit to the outfield on the pull side, including one right to the warning track and one actually over the fence. That’s 12 balls to left in 115 balls in play after the DL stint versus ten in 231 before. It could be small sample size noise, but give how he’s been actually driving the ball these last few weeks, I’m guessing there’s something more to it than just coincidence.

Of course, we have to acknowledge that Jeter still does the vast majority of his damage against lefties (.500/.538/.750 in 39 PA) and is mediocre at best against righties (.265/.327/.353 in 115 PA). That’s a similar split to his pre-DL performance (.299/.405/.403 vs. LHP and .246/.294/.297 vs. RHP) and last year as well (.321/.391/.481 vs. LHP and .216/.316/.317 vs. RHP). At his age, I think we’re just going to have to accept the platoon split, which is made somewhat more tolerable because the best starters in the AL East are generally southpaws.

“You can get a lot more work in when you don’t have to play games,” said Jeter shortly after coming off the DL, referring to the work he did to stay back on the ball with rehabbing the calf. “So I sort of look at it as a blessing in disguise, I hope. I’ve felt good since I’ve been back.” The Cap’n has been performing to his career averages for about six weeks now, bringing his overall season performance to the league average, which is both encouraging and refreshing.