Open Thread: Rest and relax

It's baseball. Smile. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees are off tonight, so I hope that you’re taking advantage of this opportunity to rest and escape from the stress of baseball for a day. I know I am. This season won’t get any easier, but remember, this is supposed to be fun. You can’t treat every game as life and death, otherwise you’ll die a lot of times.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing the Marlins, and MLB Network will bring you tonight’s Cliff Lee-Francisco Liriano matchup at 8pm ET. That should be fun. The Colts and Packers are also on ESPN in preseason NFL action. Talk about whatever, just be cool.

Oh, if you have any mailbag questions, send them in via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

In the news: Metro-North stop, Gov. Paterson’s tickets

As the Yanks enjoy an off-day this evening, we’re going full steam ahead with some notes on Yankee-related news. We start in the Bronx with Metro-North. Now in its second season of use, the new Metro-North stop has been dubbed a success. Ridership is up this year over last, and the station is seeing an average of 3219 customers for weekday games and 3819 for weekend contests. As the cops have been closing streets around the stadium after the game and making driving more difficult, seeing ridership creep upwards at this new stop is a welcome development. I have more on the Metro-North station at Second Ave. Sagas.

Meanwhile, Gov. David Paterson is learning the hard way that baseball and politics do not often mix. New York’s beleaguered lame-duck governor has faced a series of ethics inquiries into his staff’s requesting five tickets to Game 1 of the World Series for free. Over at the Biz of Baseball, Jordan Kobritz offers up a summary of the scandal and highlights how the state’s Public Integrity Commission has recommended that Paterson pay a fine of $96,375 for both the ticket request and his subsequent denials concerning his office’s role in the affair. The case has since been referred to the Albany DA’s office, and Paterson could face criminal charges for his role in this matter.

Rotation concerns are nothing new

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The date is August 26th and the Yankees seemingly have one sure thing in their starting rotation. CC Sabathia has been nothing short of brilliant for months, A.J. Burnett has pitched to an ERA north of six for a month now, age appears to be catching up with Andy Pettitte, the 24-year-old phenom in his first full season as a starter in the AL East is starting to show signs of fatigue down the stretch, and the various journeyman dreck filling out the back of the rotation inspires confidence in no one. It’s a scary thing when a team built to win year after year suddenly starts to show cracks in the most vital part of the roster.

And here’s the kicker: that was last year.

Last year’s rotation was led by Sabathia, who as I said was absolutely money. There are zero concerns about him in any shape or form, and everyone involved feels extremely comfortable trotting him out there in Games One, Four, and Seven in a playoff series. Any negative you can drum up about CC is nothing more than nitpicking.

Burnett, as always, is a wildcard. Last year at this time he was coming off a nine run, five inning outing against the Red Sox in Fenway, his third clunker against the Yanks’ biggest rival in four starts. He was in the middle of a stretch that extended into mid-September and saw him post a 6.14 ERA with a .273/.347/.445 batting line against in nine starts, including a 6.32 ERA, .293/.370/.447 ledger that August. Is that really all that different than the 6.08 ERA and .288/.362/.490 line against Burnett has put up this month? No one really feels 100% comfortable with A.J. on the bump today, and guess what, no one did last year either.

Pettitte had been solid most of last summer, coming into this date with a rock solid 4.25 ERA on the season, though that was on the way up after he allowed at least six runs in four of his last 11 starts. This year he’s on the disabled list with a groin injury that, as Brian Cashman likes to say, isn’t career ending. He’ll be back in mid-September and more likely than not resume being the same pitcher he’s been for the last decade-and-a-half.

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Phil Hughes, meanwhile, has assumed the role of Joba Chamberlain, the young kid with a big time bullpen background thrust into the rotation for a full big league season for the first time. He got smacked around last night and hasn’t recorded an out after the 6th inning since before the All Star break. But Joba … do we even have to relive that late season nightmare? Last time at this year he had allowed at least four runs in each of his last four starts, and had pitched to a five-plus ERA for the better part of two months. Once the Joba Rules took over in September, things only got worse. Thankfully, the Yanks have learned from that and aren’t planning to jerk Phil around in the same way.

I find myself doing this all the time, saying that this year’s team doesn’t make me feel as confident as last year’s, but you know what? That’s a load of crap. The only reason we feel that way is because we know what happened at the end of last season. There’s no mystery. It’s like seeing a horror movie for the second time; while everyone else jumps and screams at the scary parts, you sit there and try to act tough like it didn’t scare you even though you knew what was coming. It’s a false sense of security brought on by the power of hindsight.

Just take a quick look at the archives, late last August there were injury concerns about both Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez, complaints about Joba using his slider too much (much like Hughes and his fastball this year), rumors of the Yanks pursuing Brad freaking Penny, and talk about all the games they had left against teams with better than .500 records in September. It’s the same story this year, just with different a different cast of characters. We were no more confident then than we are right now; it’s the (mostly MSM driven) shock factor, where every little thing that goes wrong late in the year is shoved down our throats as a potentially fatal flaw.

Example: I’ve seen plenty of people talk about not being able to use just three starters in the playoffs like last year and act as if it’s a big problem, yet no one seems to remember that – hello! – the other team has to use their fourth starter too. Go ahead, give me Tommy Hunter in a playoff game, or Kevin Slowey, or Jeff Niemann, or Edwin Jackson. I’ll take my chances with this club against those pitchers eight days a week and twice on Sundays.

This year’s starting rotation is a bit of a wreck at the moment, but frankly it’s in better shape than last year’s because they have a ton more options. Offense and individual players slump all the time and we accept it as part of the game, yet we don’t afford the same luxury to the starting pitching. Dustin Moseley has been better than either Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin was late last year, Hughes has been demonstrably better than Joba was last year, and they still have Javy Vazquez in reserve. He might figure it out and contribute down the stretch, he might (probably) not. And who was 2009’s Ivan Nova? Exactly. The rotation won’t sink the Yankees because the core of the team is extremely strong, and that’s what will carry them to where they need to go.

Exactly one year ago today the Yanks’ record stood at 79-47 with a +113 run differential, pretty damn close to their 78-49 record and +164 run differential this year. Well, the run differential isn’t all that close, last year’s team would finish the season at +162, worse than the current team’s with 30-something games to play. Of course the 2009 club had the luxury of a six game lead in the division on this date, but the fact that they’re tied atop the AL East today isn’t their fault. The Rays are much, much improved and have forced their way the picture. The Yanks didn’t let them in.

Remember, it’s never, ever as bad as it seems, and we’ve been here before. Just last year, in fact.

Guest Post: Winning without A-Rod

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The following is a guest post that comes from regular RAB commenter tommiesmithjohncarlos, and recaps all of the Yankees’ wins without Alex Rodriguez in the lineup. There have been a bunch of them, and regardless of what some may thing, the team is not better off without him.

We’ve already heard a few times how the Yankees were 12-0 (ZOMG!!!) in the games Alex Rodriguez has missed this year from various corners of the MSM and blogosphere. While we’re all smart enough to know that the team isn’t really better without Alex, I was curious to see how we were able to do so well without him nonetheless. So let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

The (now 15) games ARod hasn’t played in so far:

#24, May 2: A 12-3 hometown beatdown of Mark Buerhle/Tony Peña and the White Sox.
Lineup: Jeter-Johnson-Tex-Swish-Cano-Sado-Thames-Gardner-Peña.
Gardner had a second inning RBI single and a 4th inning solo homer; Cano hit a three-run shot in the 5th to break it open (5-0) and chase Buerhle. Swish hit a two-run shot an inning later to make it 7-0, then starting with Sado the team went double-groundout-walk-ROE-walk-double-double to plate five more runs. Hughes left after 7 frames with a 12-0 lead.

#48, May 28: An 8-2 hometown beatdown of Fausto Carmona/Tony Sipp and the Indians.
Lineup: Jeter-Granderson-Tex-Cano-Swisher-Miranda-Gardner-Peña-Moeller.
Swisher hit a two-run blast in the second and Miranda/Gardner chipped in with a bases-loaded walk and sac fly in the 6th, but it was still just 4-2 Yankees when we finally got Carmona out after 6 innings. Tony Sipp promptly loaded the bases (walking Tex, sounds familiar) to face Robbie, who hit a predictable grand slam. Game over, Hughes wins again.

#61, June 11: Andy beats Brett Myers and the Astros in an interleague tilt at YS3, 4-3.
Lineup: Jeter-Granderson-Tex-Cano-Swisher-Posada-Cervelli-Peña-Russo.
We jump on Myers in the bottom of the first with a groundout-double-walk-single-bases loaded walk-strikeout-single to plate three. Swish had the RBI BB and Cervelli hit a patented BABIP single to plate the second and third runs. In the fifth, Kevin Russo singles, steals second and scores on a Tex single to add a needed insurance run.

#62, June 12: A 9-3 hometown beatdown of the ‘Stros, this time Wandy Rodriguez who gives up 8 runs.
Lineup: Jeter-Swisher-Tex-Cano-Posada-Thames-Cervelli-Granderson-Russo.
Jeter and Hunter Pence trade leadoff solo shots in the 1st and 2nd, and it’s 2-2 in the third when Wandy gives up an RBI single to Swisher and then walks Tex and gives up a single to Cano to load the bases for Posada. I think you can guess what happens. Three innings later he issues leadoff walks to Cervelli and Granderson, chasing him from the game and summoning Jeff Fulchino, who gives up a three-run shot to Jeter for the 7th/8th/9th runs of the game.

#63, June 13: We finish the home sweep of the lowly ex-Colt .45s with a 9-5 romp over Brian Moehler and Gustavo Chacin.
Lineup: Jeter-Granderson-Tex-Cano-Swisher-Posada-Gardner-Huffman-Peña.
Hughes gives up a first inning sac fly, but Robbie ties the game in the 4th with a solo shot. A strikeout and three walks later, Ramiro Peña knocks in a run on a sac-fly (but I thought we never hit those?!?!), but Huffman ends the rally getting thrown out stretching at third. The reprieve is brief, however; after retiring Jeter to open the fifth, Moehler walks Granderson and gets Jorge to pop-up for out #2. Chacin comes in for the lefty-lefty matchup and pulls a Phil Coke, walking both Cano and Swisher to load the bases. Casey Daigle comes in to put out the electrical fire, but Jorge Posada pees all over it instead and the 3-1 lead becomes a 7-1 lead with one swing (Ed. Note: You probably remember this as the worst single pitch in baseball history. Total meatball). Hughes improves to 9-1 on the year in another slugfest.

#64, June 15: The Sabathia-Halladay duel of aces at YS3 turns out to be a cakewalk 8-3 victory.
Lineup: Jeter-Granderson-Tex-Cano-Swisher-Posada-Gardner-Cervelli-Peña.
Swish-Sado-Gardner kick it off in the second with a single-walk-GritTriple™ to plate two runs. Granderson hits a solo shot to open the next inning; after Tex flies out, Cano doubles and Swish knocks him in with a homer of his own and it’s 5-0. CC gives three back with a string of singles the very next inning, but a Tex solo shot in the fifth pushes it back to 6-3. Two innings later, Halladay is lifted for Antonio Bastardo who gets Cano and Swisher to ground out and fly out… which would have been more impressive if those two outs weren’t sandwiched between two HBPs (Tex and Sado) and a walk to Gardner to load the bases. Bastardo is replaced by David Herndon, who is no match for Frankie Cervelli’s BABIP magic single that plates two more runs.

#109, August 7: CC hiccups, but recovers to shut down the now-dead Boston Red Sox in a 5-2 home win.
Lineup: Jeter-Swisher-Tex-Cano-Posada-Berkman-Granderson-Gardner-Peña.
Victor Martinez homers to open the 2nd, and Beltre-Lowell hit consecutive doubles to put CC in an 0-2 hole early. That’s all they’d get, though: the big fella retires 20 of the next 24 Red Sox to step to the plate, giving up only a single in the third, and ROE in the 5th ,a single in the 6th and a walk in the seventh (erased on a GIDP). In the bottom of the second, the Yankees erase Boston’s lead when Lance Berkman walks and then scores on Granderson’s triple, who scores himself on a Peña groundout. Lackey then gives up four straight singles (Swish-Tex-Cano-Posada) to score two more in the 5th; in the 6th, Granderson hits a leadoff single, steals second and advances to third on the airmailed throw, and Peña’s gets him home from third again (on a single this time). Mo works a perfect ninth (as usual).

#119, August 17: CC outduels another ace – this time Justin Verlander – in a 6-2 home victory.
Lineup: Gardner-Jeter-Tex-Cano-Swisher-Posada-Thames-Granderson-Peña
The Austin Jackson leadoff solo shot is probably fresh in your memory. As is Verlander giving up a single-walk-flyout-walk-single-walk to the first six batters he faced to give that lead right back, then giving up a solo shot to Granderson in the bottom of the second. It stayed at 3-1 until Daniel Schlereth gave up a double-single combo to Gardner and Jeter (sandwiched around 3 Ks) to add a tack-on run in the 6th, then served up a leadoff homer to Cano in the 7th. And guess what, another Ramiro Peña sac fly for the 6th run a few batters later, imagine that. Somebody knows how to play smallball… CC goes 7 full, striking out 9, and the Yanks control the game start-to-finish.

#120, August 18: Moseley is kinda meh, but Bonderman is utterly bleh in a 9-5 Yankees home win.
Lineup: Gardner-Jeter-Tex-Cano-Swisher-Posada-Granderson-Kearns-Peña
Gardner opens the game with a HBP; a Jeter K later, Tex and Cano kick off the scoring with back to back bombs. Miggy the great hits two solo bombs of his own in the 2nd and 4th innings to narrow it to 3-2, but Kearns-Peña-Gardner go walk-triple-double (yes, a Ramiro triple, he’s an offensive juggernaut) to plate two insurance runs and Gardner scores the 6th run on a pair of errors by Cabrera and Ramon Santiago. Granderson adds a solo shot in the 5th, and after Tex-Swish-Cano load the bases with a single-GR double-IBB (with a Cano flyout and a Granderson K mixed in), Kearns knocks in two more with the second ground rule double of the inning to make it 9-4. Joba/Logan/Wood/Gaudin/Robertson/Rivera all come in to relieve Moseley to close out the win. Four holds, son, FOUR HOLDS!!!

#121, August 19: At YS3, Hughes bests Porcello in the First Round Phenom Matchup™, 11-5.
Lineup: Gardner-Jeter-Tex-Cano-Swisher-Posada-Granderson-Kearns-Peña
A Cabrera two-run shot in the first puts the Yanks in an early hole, but Tex and Cano start the party in the 4th with a single-single-single-flyout-single-flyout run; Swish and Granderson get the RBIs. That 2-2 tie becomes 11-2 in the 6th, as Porcello, Schlereth, Robbie Weinhardt and Eddie Bonine combine to do the following: walk to Tex, double by Cano, walk to Swisher, double by Posada – new pitcher – walk to Granderson – new pitcher – double by Kearns, groundout by Peña, passed ball walk by Gardner (followed by a stolen base), triple by Jeter – new pitcher – groundout by Tex, 2-run homer by Cano, single by Swisher, and finally a groundout by Jorge to end the frame. BOOM. Back up the truck.

#123, August 21: The team bounces back from King Felix’s gem to pound Seattle 9-5 at YS3.
Lineup: Jeter-Swisher-Teixeira-Cano-Thames-Posada-Kearns-Granderson-Nuñez
Javy Vazquez only made it 3 innings, giving up four runs (three via solo homer to Russell Branyan and Ichiro… twice). But the Yankees matched those 4 runs in the second inning, with Jeter and Tex hitting a single and a double, getting knocked in on Robbie’s single; one batter later, Posada dumped one over the wall to bring himself and Cano home. Jason Vargas kept it at 4-4 until the seventh, when Kearns-Granderson-Nuñez-Jeter-Swisher-Teixeira hit four straight singles followed by a walk and a sac fly to plate three more runs and knock the starter out. The next inning, Posada, Gardner and Granderson reached on a walk-single ROE, scoring a run, and then Ramiro “Mr. Sac Fly” Peña did his thing again to knock in Gardner from third and make it 9-4. Win, baby.

#124, August 22: CC dominates and the intentional walk haunts the M’s again in a 10-0 home romp.
Lineup: Jeter-Swisher-Teixeira-Cano-Thames-Posada-Kearns-Gardner-Nuñez
Austin Kearns’s solo homer in the 4th was a nice appetizer. An inning later, after a walk and a single to Jeter and Swish, Tex got IBB’d to load the bases for the cleanup hitter (again) and Cano smacked a granny (again). Seriously, we have been coming to this same party for the last twelve years, and in no way is that depressing. That 5-0 lead would have been more than enough for The Big Stoppa, but in the 6th Jeter chipped in with a sac fly and two walks later Cano knocked in two more with a single, then the next inning Posada hit a solo shot and an inning after that “Big Game” Ramiro Peña singled and scored on a Marcus Thames baseknock. 10 runs for the Yanks versus only 9 total baserunners (only two of whom even reached third base safely) allowed by CC, Wood, and Joba. That’s a beatdown.

#125, August 23: The Ivanova/Jose Bitchtista Game. I think we remember that. 2-3 L in Canadia.
Lineup: Gardner-Swisher-Tex-Cano-Posada-Granderson-Nuñez-Peña-Cervelli.

#126, August 24: Tuesday. Fun Fact: We scored as many runs as “Rzepczynski” has in his last name. 11-5 W up north.
Lineup: Jeter-Swisher-Tex-Cano-Thames-Posada-Kearns-Granderson-Nuñez.

#127, August 25: Yesterday

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Summary: We went 12-0 in the first 12 games ARod missed, all of which were at home, BTW. We then lost the Bitchtista game, rebounded the next day, and then lost last night. We scored a ton of runs in almost every game, because ARod or no ARod, we’re good at scoring a ton of runs.

Really good.

The lesson here is this team is so packed with awesome goodness that we can afford to miss ARod for a few games and always put a studly lineup out there and back it up with top-shelf pitching. (Oh, and it helps to have the bench scrubs kick in a few timely BABIP singles or sac flies and make the void ARod vacated remain productive.)

The league should fear us. Deep and thick, baby.

A welcome day of rest

And on the 21st day, they rested. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees, with the American League’s fourth oldest roster at an average age of 29.1 years, enjoy their first day off since August 5th today. Their just completed stretch of 20 games in 20 days took them from home in the Bronx to the sweltering heat in Texas and Kansas City then back to the Bronx before a trip through customs to Toronto. They went just 11-9 during that stretch, though they did outscore their opponents 103 to 73, which says they should have actually gone 13-7. Blowouts against the Tigers, Mariners, and Blue Jays skew the run differential a bit.

Usually off days are hell on fans, and it’s not that this one isn’t, but I’m actually looking forward to no Yankee baseball tonight. Derek Jeter gets another day to rest his sore leg as does Nick Swisher. Al Aceves, Andy Pettitte, Damaso Marte, Lance Berkman, and Alex Rodriguez come another day closer to returning from the disabled list without a game getting crossed off the schedule. The bullpen, overworked for the last week or so, gets a bit of a breather and Joe Girardi can go into this weekend’s series against the White Sox capable of using the relievers he wants to use rather the guys he can use because of their recent workload.

Robbie Cano, who’s started 124 of the team’s 127 games (all in the field, too), gets some time to rest his legs. Yeah, he’s in his physical prime at 27-years-old, but that doesn’t mean he’s free of fatigue. The same goes for 30-year-old Mark Teixiera, who’s started 118 of those 127 games at first base and another seven as designated hitter. Brett Gardner has already spoken about tiring himself out in the early going, so this gives him time to recoup. Jorge Posada is in perpetual need of days off. This day gives everyone on the roster, young or old, a day away from the physical grind that is being a Major League Baseball player and playing 20 games in 20 days.

More than just physically, this day off also affords the team a bit of a mental break. I can’t speak for the players themselves, but just watching a fan I can feel the stress of these games, the highs and lows and more often than not the mind-numbing monotony. I’m sure whatever the players deal with is about a million times worse. No matter how good or bad, how hot or cold, every team needs time away from the game everyone once in a while just to clear their heads.

I usually hate days off because I tend to find my loser self looking for something to do whenever the Yanks don’t play, but this 24 hour break is more than welcome. It’s not quite as refreshing as the All Star break, but having a day to recharge the batteries after such a long stretch of games is always appreciated. Hopefully the Yanks take advantage and come out swinging tomorrow. Their next three series are against non-contenders before the September schedule is full of tough games, so this day off couldn’t be coming at more perfect time.

For Hughes, an outing most foul

Hughes gears up for a curveball (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

As the first inning of last night’s game unfolded, one of the quirks of Phil Hughes‘ 2010 campaign came to the forefront. The Toronto Blue Jays’ hitters were fouling off pitch after pitch from the Yanks’ young right-hander, and the Jays’ offense simply wore down Hughes.

When Phil’s night ended rather abruptly with two outs in the fourth inning, he had thrown 102 pitches, and they weren’t half bad. The Pitch f/x gun — seemingly a few miles an hour too fast in Toronto — had him averaging 93 and touching 95 last night while he added in 25 curve balls and just a pair of change-ups. Of the 102 pitches he threw, he induced a whopping 19 swing-and-misses, but Blue Jays’ batters knocked out 25 foul balls. Out of the 66 strikes he threw, 39 percent of them were fouls, and Hughes was forced to make mistakes.

The real problem though came with two strikes. Despite the six strike outs, Hughes had problems putting the Blue Jays’ hitters away. Of the 26 foul balls, 13 of them came with two strikes, and 11 of those 13 came in the first two innings of the game. Fred Lewis’ at-bat to start the Toronto half of the first was indicative of Hughes’ problems. Lewis fouled off the first pitch, took the second for a ball and then fouled off the third. Ahead 1-2, Hughes couldn’t get Lewis, a Punch-and-Judy hitter who would, at worst, hit a double, out. Another ball, two fouls and a fourth ball — all fastballs — led to a leadoff walk, and Lewis would come around to score.

Similar sequences would repeat for the 3.2 innings of Hughes’ start. The first-inning Vernon Wells at-bat went foul, foul, foul, ball, foul, ball, triple. Vernon Wells may not be the hitter he once was, but show him enough low-to-mid 90s fastballs and he’ll tee off on it. The second-inning Aaron Hill at-bat, in which Hughes walked a guy with a .276 on-base percentage, went ball, foul, foul, foul, foul, ball, foul, ball, foul, foul, ball. It’s a little bit of a problem.

For Hughes, this foul ball epidemic has been a season-long concern. Prior to his start last night, his 34 percent foul ball strikes percentage — the number of foul balls divided the number of total strikes — was tops in the Majors and seven points above league average. At the same time, his strikes looking percentage sits at 24 percent, and he’s last out of all Major League starters to qualify for the ERA title.

The numbers are all well and good, but the trick lies in figuring out what they mean for Phil Hughes. First, it’s clear that he has a live fastball. It’s marked at 1.19 runs above average per 100 pitches. He can throw it for strikes, and he can blow it by hitters. But he also suffers at the bats of Major Leaguers who are particularly adept at making contact with fastballs. Where Hughes suffers and where the foul ball problem comes into play is with the deuce. His curve ball this year is rated at -1.75 runs below average per 100 pitches, and last night’s game did nothing to solve that problem. He can’t seem to throw the curve ball for strikes — hence the low called strike rate — and when it does land in the strike zone, it gets hit hard.

For the Yankees and for Hughes, 24 and rounding out his first season as a full-time big league starter, this strike problem is an envious one to have. In a nutshell, Phil Hughes is throwing too many strikes with his fastball, and he will have to develop better breaking pitches and a more reliable change-up. The need for an outpitch is a drum I’ve beaten many times this year, and last night’s outing showed us why. The Yankees have seemingly been stymied of late by pitchers with average-to-great change-ups, and if Phil Hughes can find consistency with his curveball and a slow pitch to match, his ability to get the fastball into the strike zone will do wonders for his long-term success.

Hughes exits early in 6-3 loss to Jays

At long last, the Yankees were able to come to the park on Wednesday and look forward to their first off-day in close to three weeks. They had gone 11-8 in the first 19 games of this 20 games in 20 days stretch, and their attempt to make it a dozen wins fell short when the offense was stymied by a lefthander that wouldn’t beat himself with walks or give in and throw fastballs in fastball counts. It’s never fun going into an off day with the bitter taste of defeat in your mouth, but that’s what the boys will have to do after this one.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

Cy Cecil

It’s like clockwork. If the opposing starter features good offspeed stuff, the Yanks seem to be completely incapable of a) working the count, or b) putting together prolonged rallies. The only real damage they did in this game came when Marcus Thames (Mr. Thames to you) connected on a sinker that didn’t sink, sending it deep to left for a two run homer in the 4th. But that was it against Brett Cecil.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

The 24-year-old southpaw faced the Yanks two prior times this season, and much like those two outings, he took the ball deep into the game and keep the Bombers off balance by mixing his pitches like a seasoned vet. Cecil’s 106 pitches were broken down into 47 four-seam fastballs, 24 sliders, 18 sinkers, 12 changeups, and five curveballs. He needed 16 pitches to navigate the 1st inning and then another 20 for the 2nd, but after that he settled in and clicked on the cruise control. A total of 54 pitches were thrown from the 3rd through 7th innings, and just three of the final 17 men he faced managed to reach base. The Yanks made just four outs in the air against him, with the other 19 coming either on strike three or a ground out.

Cecil has now made three starts against the Yanks this year, and his composite line is 22 IP, 16 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 9 BB, 15 K, 33 GB, 20 FB. That’s a 1.64 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. Against everyone else, he’s posted a 4.21 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. One of these days the Yanks will figure him out, but it certainly wasn’t happening Wednesday night.

Worst Start Of The Season

In a season full of strong outings and encouraging development, Phil Hughes had his worst start of 2010 in this one, giving up five runs and failing to complete five innings for the first time all year. His five walks tied a career high, and his numbers of pitches per inning went 27, 21, 26, and 28, and of course he only recorded two outs in the fourth. The velocity was fine (averaged 93.7, topped out at 95.9) and he struck out plenty of batters (six, including a whopping 19 swings and misses), but there’s more to life than just that.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

The problem tonight was the same as it’s been basically all summer: Hughes had trouble putting batters away. He got two strikes on 18 of the 22 batters he faced, and yet a dozen of those batters still reached base. In fact, the first ten Jays that reached base all had two strikes on them. We bitch and moan about more curveballs (Hughes actually threw 25 tonight) and more changeups but the solution isn’t that simple, and we have to remember that this isn’t a problem unique to Phil. A ton of 24-year-old’s working on their first full season as a starter in the AL East go through this, and it’s something that should improve with time and experience.

The end result was Phil’s worst start of the season, which is actually pretty damn amazing since we’re now in late August. Hughes has now thrown 39 innings more than last year and 72.2 more than he did in 2008, so there’s a decent chance that fatigue is becoming a factor. I’m sure (hopeful) the team has a plan on place to give him a little bit of a breather in September, they’re going to need him to be effective right down to the bitter end.

Leftovers

I guess if there was a silver lining in this one, it was Javy Vazquez‘s work in relief. He threw 55 pitches across 4.1 inning, allowing just two hits (one an Aaron Hill solo homer) and a walk while striking out a pair. His velocity bumped 90 mph, but I’m not going to deem him cured after 13 outs in low leverage long relief work. The Jays made some loud outs against him, including at least two to the warning that I thought were out off the bat, so Javy’s still got plenty of work ahead of him.

You know, I didn’t even think the pitch that Vernon Wells hit for his homer was all that bad(right). PitchFX clocked it at 92.9 mph and it was up and well out of the zone, almost at Well’s eye-level, really. He just straight up muscled it out. Frustrating? Yes. Massive pitching and game calling fail? Nah. Dems the breaks.

Even though they combined to reach base just two times, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson managed to see 49 pitches between the two of them, which is exactly what you want to see from the top two hitters in your lineup. Jeter worked a ten pitch walk to put the tying run on base with two outs in the 9th, but Grandy made the final out of the game on a fly ball to deep center. Dems the breaks.

Mark Teixeira managed to make five outs on six total pitches in his first three trips to the plate, killing potential rallies by clanking into a pair of double plays. Again, dems the breaks.

Austin Kearns drew a pair of walks, Brett Gardner reached base three times, and even Eduardo Nunez got in on the action with a pair of single, so the bottom third of the order certainly isn’t to blame for the offensive ineptitude. In addition to the homer, Mr. Thames also singled and is now hitting .309/.401/.493 on the season. Love it.

Not sure I like the roof opening after the top of the first. Granderson knocked one about 400 ft to dead center as the second batter of the game; would it have gone out with the roof open? We’ll never know, but it seems kinda sketchy to do it mid-inning.

Are you ready for the mother of all nitpicks? Why did it take Kearns four (!!!) pitches to take second base on a defensive indifference with two outs in the 9th inning? You’ve got to go on the first pitch to eliminate that force at second as soon as possible. The other team isn’t even going to bother to try to throw you out in that spot.

If you’re curious about the biggest WPA swings in this game, they were Thames’ homers (+.103) and Tex’s GIDP with two on and one out in the 5th (-.092). Nothing crazy.

The Yankees are now just 5-7 against the Jays this season (2-4 in Toronto), and that absolutely has to improve down the stretch. They still have six more games to play against these guys. Thankfully the Rays got creamed by the Angels while the Red Sox split a doubleheader against the Mariners, so the Yanks remain tied with Tampa for the AL East crown while holding a five-and-a-half game lead on the Wild Card spot.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

For the first time since August 5th, the Yankees will enjoy a day off on Thursday. They’ll then head to the Windy City to take on the White Sox for three games, starting with A.J. Burnett vs. Freddy Garcia.