Later tonight, when Darrell Rasner faces off against A.J. Burnett (gulp), Hideki Matsui should return to the lineup for the first time in two months. Hideki hasn’t played June 22, and by all accounts, he’ll need knee surgery this year. With Matsui returning, though, I have to wonder how the Yanks plan on using him.
On the season, Matsui had been quietly having a great season before he hurt his knee. While his power was down a bit — he has just 7 home runs in 69 games — his triple-slash numbers are .323/.404/.458.
But Matsui has excelled in a few situations this year when the rest of the team has not. In 78 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Matsui is hitting .338/.449/.462. In clutch situations, he’s been stellar as well. If the Yanks are to make a run for October over the last six weeks of the season, they sure could use a bat like Matsui’s in the lineup.
There’s one catch: Where should the Yankees play Matsui? As far as I can tell, the Yanks’ lineup is full, and inserting Matsui into the order could weaken the team.
Right now, the Yanks’ outfield consists of some combination of Xavier Nady, Brett Gardner, Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu. In the DH slot, they use the odd man out of the outfield — usually Damon or Nady — or Jason Giambi with Wilson Betemit stepping in at first. The Yanks aren’t about to sit Xavier Nady and his +171 OPS. Damon’s been a stellar offense force, and even Jason Giambi has managed to turn in a good season. Bobby Abreu leads the team in RBIs.
Meanwhile, Matsui can only DH. So how will Joe Girardi manage this one? I’m guessing that Jason Giambi will play first and Matsui will DH. Brett Gardner will perhaps be the odd man out, but the Yanks seem committed to playing him. Plus, the defense suffers significantly with Damon in center.
Right now, I’m basically just thinking out loud, but if the Yanks want to insert Matsui in the lineup, the outfield would generally be Nady-Damon-Abreu. That’s not my ideal lineup, but with Matsui returning, it will do.
Of course, we’re being a bit premature. No one knows how Matsui’s knee will hold up, and the Yanks probably won’t push it too much. Damon is better suited to the DH/OF role he’s inhabited for much of the year, and Brett Gardner has, in his most recent call-up, shown the promise and ability we thought he would the first time around.
Considering the way the Yanks have been going, having too much offense would be a welcome problem, and we’ll see, starting tonight, how Girardi and his coaches handle it. As long as Hideki hits, it almost doesn’t matter.
Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off day.
Double-A Trenton (8-2 win over Reading)
Reegie Corona: 2 for 5, 1 R, 2 K
Frankie Cervelli & Austin Jackson: both 1 for 4, 2 RBI – Cervelli was hit by a pitch … Ajax doubled, drew a walk, scored 2 runs & K’ed
Chris Malec: 3 for 5, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
Colin Curtis: 1 for 5, 1 K – 7 for his last 39 (.179)
PJ Pilittere: 0 for 4, 1 RBI
Edwar Gonzalez & Kevin Russo: both 2 for 4, 2 R – Edwar hit a solo jack giving him 6 homers in his last 7 games
James Cooper: 1 for 3, 1R, 1 BB
Victor Zambrano: 5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 3-6 GB/FB – can they trade him for Scott Kazmir yet?
Johnny Nunez: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 2-0 GB/FB
Jose Valdez: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3-2 GB/FB
Lisa Kennelly of The Star-Ledger spoke with Brian Cashman today, and the Yanks’ GM was quick to explain Phil Hughes’ less-than-stellar outing last night. According to Cashman, Hughes had a bug, and that’s why he tired quickly as the game wore on. Sounds like the Phil Hughes apologists have infiltrated even the highest levels of the Yankee organization, eh? · (16) ·
Once upon a time, Derek Jeter was the Yankee Golden Boy. In 2000, he captured both the World Series and All Star Game MVP to complement his fourth World Series ring in five professional seasons, and it seemed as though many more would be on the horizon.
Well, over the last eight seasons, by and large, Derek during the regular season has not disappointed. He is six hits shy of 2500 and has a lifetime batting line of .316/.387/.459. While the World Series title to complete the hand of rings has eluded him, that’s more a reflection of the team than of Derek. The Yanks, after all, have made the playoffs every year of his career.
But lately, something’s happened with Derek. The New York media, once the biggest fans of the Yanks’ media-savvy — and don’t forget attractive — young short stop, have come to regard him with a skeptical eye. It’s a prime example of “What have you done for me lately?”
Case in point: This year, Derek, who entered 2008 amid MVP expectations, is having a very quiet year. While a 4-for-4 day yesterday moved his triple slash numbers upward, he’s hitting a very un-Jeterian .295/.356/.404 on the year. His power is well below his career norms, and he’s hit into 19 double plays already this year. Playing his age 34 season, Derek has turned in a singles hitter — one very expensive singles hitter.
And therein lies the rub. As a recent column in The Publication That Must Not Be Named opined, the Yanks could very well be facing a future without Derek Jeter as soon as 2011. His contract, which now pays him over $21 million a year, is up in 2010, and if Derek continues the decline brought about, whether we like it or not, by his age, the Yanks will have a short stop on their hands who can’t really field the position and won’t be the hitter he once was.
Of course, there’s a flipside. There’s always a flipside in baseball. Derek Jeter is the Yankees. He’s been their captain for a long time, and while A-Rod is more or less the face of the franchise these day, the team is still Derek’s. The Steinbrenners, as iYankees remind us, also plan to take care of Jeter once this deal is up, and I don’t think Hank meant in the Tony Soprano sense of the word.
So this is what I leave you with on an off-day in August prior to a vital six-game road trip: What do you do with Derek Jeter? The Red Sox are about to unceremoniously dump their captain, but Derek’s line is far cry from Jason Varitek’s pitiful .215/.305/.339 effort this year.
Should the Yanks re-sign Derek and prime fans for a potential run at 4000 hits? Should he be their short stop? Should he move? And how much should a 36-year-old Derek Jeter earn? I’d hate to be in Brian Cashman‘s, Hank Steinbrener’s or Hal Steinbrenner’s shoes when it’s time to pull the trigger on this move in two years?
According to MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, the Yanks are planning to start either Carl Pavano or Phil Hughes this Saturday in Baltimore against the Orioles. Yes, you’ve read that correctly: Carl Pavano may pitch for the Yankees during a pennant race. Right now, I’d say Pavano gets the start. He had a better rehab outing yesterday than Hughes did, and the Yanks are going to be very careful with their pitching prospect. Pavano also has the added motivation of pitching for a contract. This could get rather entertaining. · (51) ·
So the August 15th signing deadline came and went, but sadly a whole bunch of nothing went on in Yankeeland. The Yanks didn’t sign their first or second round pick, and made up for it only by signing their sandwich pick, a LHP who may or may not have elbow issues. It takes about five years before you can accurately judge a draft class, but so far this looks like the weakest crop of Damon Oppenheimer’s impressive tenure as Scouting Director.
That said, the Yanks did add some nice talent and solid organizational depth, with six players jumping right into my Top 30. Overall the system is down quite a bit from this time last year, partly due to the graduation of Joba & IPK, but mostly because of trades, injury and general ineffectiveness. Here’s my pre-draft list, and keep in mind that the prospects I ranked 16 through like, 28 are pretty interchangeable. Fun starts after the jump.
I’ll let Neil do the talking, via metroblog:
It says something about how the Yankees’ season is going that the biggest excitement at the stadium came when the team tried to ban fans from bringing sunscreen through the gates. Anyone who complained was pointed to the concession stands, which offered tiny one-ounce tubes for a whopping $5.
The club ultimately backed off, but the kerfuffle could foreshadow a bigger battle to come. Currently, neither the Mets nor Yanks restrict fans from bringing outside food or drink (aside from alcohol) into their ballparks. While the Mets say this won’t change next year, Yankees management has repeatedly ducked the question.
Why next year? Because that’s when the Yankees open their new stadium, with its 100-foot-wide “Great Hall” that will be jam-packed with places to stuff your face at ballpark prices. This, more than anything, is why the Steinbrenners demanded (and got) two city parks to create space for their new baseball palace, and it defeats the purpose if fans turn up their nose at ballpark food in favor of takeout pastrami sandwiches from the Court Deli up the block…
This may seem like trivial stuff, but it could end up deciding whether many New Yorkers are priced out of attending ballgames. Both the Yanks and Mets, after all, have already built new stadiums with thousands less seats than their old ones, figuring that the resulting ticket scarcity will allow them to sell fewer seats at higher prices than the old ones.
As deMause notes, there is a certain level of historical precedent for a potential decision involving stadium food. The Pirates and Eagles have both tried, unsuccessfully and with much fan opposition, to ban outside food inside their respective stadiums. deMause also chides the city for falling, in its stadium lease agreement, to force the Yankees to allow outside food in, but that point is moot.
This is, on its surface, a very basic populist issue with deep economics overtones. The Yankees will want their patrons to spend reams of money inside the stadium, and the easiest way to do that is through artificially-inflated food prices. As with any ticketed event, Yankee fans are a captive audience. When the vendors sell water for $4.75 and beer for $9, fans can’t go to the stadium down the street to price-shop. They’re stuck with whatever they can get once they fork over their tickets at the gate.
By allowing food in, teams are undermining their potential revenue streams, but they’re also acknowledging tacitly that happy fans are better fans. I’d rather order a pastrami sandwich from any number of New York City delis than eat a lukewarm and wilted boiled hot dog for $5. I’d rather bring in my $1.25 20-ounce water than pay out of the nose for a bottle. The Yankees would rather reap ridiculous profits on their concessions.
This issue — which will come to a head (or not) early next year — will pit the fans against the team. Fans won’t be happy if they can’t bring in food, and they’re continue to see the cost — beyond just the ticket value — of going to a Yankee game skyrocket beyond the level of affordability. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Yanks opt to pursue this route. I hope I’m wrong.
The Yankees have 38 games to play and a five-game gap separating them from an October berth. If the Yankees are going to make the postseason, they’re going to have it earn it. Over their last 38 games, the Bombers play the Orioles six times, the Tigers once and the Mariners three times. Their other 28 games are all against teams with winning records (Toronto, Boston, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Chicago) , and 19 of those are against teams currently holding playoff spots. Just 16 of these final 38 games are at home, and the Yanks start September with a road trip to, in this order, Detroit, Tampa, Seattle and Anaheim. That brutal trip will make or break the season. · (26) ·
As the Yanks enjoy a day off prior to a trip up to America’s Hat, I’m sure more than a few of them are thinking, “Why can’t we do that everyday?”
Today’s final — a 15-6 drubbing of the Royals — belies the early-inning struggles. Before Johnny Damon had a chance to step up to the plate, Mike Mussina had given up three runs, and it seemed like it was going to be one of those one-and-done starts for Moose. But, as he’s done a few times this season, Mussina bore down. He can taste 20 wins, and he knew he’d have to stop the bleeding early on to give the Yankee bats a chance to get back in it.
Well, the Yankee bats — missing for much of the season — weren’t about to let him down. The lineup turned over in the bottom of the first, and before Brian Bannister could catch his breath, the Yanks — behind a three-run home run from A-Rod and yet another blast by Xavier Nady — were up 6-3. Mussina pitched into and out of trouble in the second, and the Yanks went back to work.
Single. Walk. Walk. Grand Slam. There goes Bannister with a line of 1 IP and 10 ER. Bannister’s ERA went up by 0.60 runs today, and on August 17, that’s a tough act to accomplish.
The rest of the game would play out fairly painlessly. After that first inning, Mussina would give up no more runs and just two hits in the second. He’s now, unbelievably, 16-7 on the season and could, if the Yanks keep him on regular rest despite off days, have nine shots to win four games. Twenty is well within reach.
Offensively, the Yanks really needed a day like today. Derek Jeter went 4 for 4 to push his average up to .295. It’s the closest he’s been to .300 since May 22. A-Rod, 3 for 3, reached base all five times up and drove in five. His game-tying three-run home run in the 1st came amidst a renewed attention to his struggles this year with runners in scoring position. Brett Gardner went 2 for 5 and is now 5 for 14 since replacing Melky Cabrera in center field.
Up in Boston, the Red Sox were creamed by the Blue Jays, and commentators are wondering if Josh Beckett is injured. That Wild Card deficit is down to five games, and the Yanks are beginning to instill hope and faith in their supporters. We’ll find out soon whether this is just another round of false hope or if the Yanks are going to mount an improbable run. Here’s to hoping for the latter.
Long time RAB reader and commentor Adam Puzio (aka Lancer) was down in Allentown today to check out Phil Hughes and the Triple-A Scranton Yanks take on the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, and he was kind enough to take a whole bunch of pictures. As you can see, Phil’s rockin’ his new specs on the mound, but considering the results, maybe they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. You can check out of the pics on Adam’s server.