Game 140: Don’t get swept

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

This isn’t how it was supposed to play out. CC was supposed to play the stopper and end the skid at two games. That would take the pressure off the rookie in the series finale. But CC was off from the start last night and the offense couldn’t pick him up. That leaves the streak ending to rookie Ivan Nova.

Through his first three starts Nova has proved useful. He has yet to complete six innings, but he has done a good job through the first five or so. His worst start came last time out, his second time facing Toronto within 11 days. I like his chances better against an Orioles team he hasn’t yet faced. If he can give the Yanks five innings and change while allowing two or fewer runs they should be able to end the skid.

The Orioles send out Brad Bergesen, who is having a rough sophomore season. This will be his second time facing the Yankees this season. Last time they met the Yankees’ offense put a beating on Bergesen, scoring six runs before the end of the third inning. He’s been a bit better since Buck Showalter took over, a 2.81 ERA in his last six starts. Yet he’s still allowed five home runs in that span, leaving him with a 4.33 FIP. The Yanks can help start that statistical correction this afternoon.

We still don’t have the A-lineup, and since the Yanks face the lefty C.J. Wilson on Friday we might not see it then, either. But one of these days, right?

Lineup:

1. Brett Gardner, LF
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Mark Teixeira, DH
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Lance Berkman, 1B
8. Curtis Granderson, CF
9. Francisco Cervelli, C

And on the mound, number forty-seven, Ivan Nova.

Hughes to get a breather this time around

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The last few weeks have been rough for Phil Hughes. Toronto knocked him around twice, and while he pitched well enough against Oakland he had to leave after five innings because he had thrown 98 pitches. He has had trouble putting away hitters once he has two strikes on them, often running the count full or allowing a number of foul balls that run up his pitch count. Something will have to change if Hughes is going to help this team in the postseason.

Fatigue has become a concern for Hughes. He flatly denies it, but since when do players admit non-obvious physical issues? At 155.1 innings Hughes has now pitched 50 more innings than last season, 55.2 innings more than 2008, 45 more than 2007, and 9.1 more than 2006. A 9.1-inning increase over his previous high might not seem like a lot, but that was a different time. Not only was it four years ago, but it was also a season split between A+ and AA. It’s tough to compare that to a full year in the major league rotation.

Given the limits the Yankees have placed on his innings and the struggles he has faced of late, skipping a start was inevitable. This morning Brian Costello noticed that Dustin Moseley was listed as Sunday’s starter, following A.J. Burnett and Javy Vazquez. Later in the morning Joe Girardi announced that Hughes will start Wednesday against Tampa Bay. That certainly makes for an interesting series down in Texas, but it also makes sense if Hughes is feeling fatigued. Not only does it give him a 10-day breather, but it also keeps him out of an afternoon game in the Texas heat.

Ten days might seem like a long time between starts, and I’m sure it will be difficult for Hughes, who has started basically every fifth day this season, to cope with the change in routine. There is a chance, though, that he gets in some work between now and then. Girardi mentioned the possibility of getting him an inning out of the pen, which sounds like an excellent idea. It would be ideal on Friday, since that’s five days after his previous start and four days before his next. That, I think, could possibly instill a sense of rhythm while keeping him somewhat fresh. But that’s more spitballing than anything.

With the pitching staff a big question mark after CC Sabathia, the decision to skip Hughes must have been a difficult one. While he has struggled in some ways, he has also helped limit the damage in many starts where he doesn’t have his best stuff. He has been the second best pitcher on the staff for much of the past few months, which is more a commentary on Burnett, Vazquez, etc. than it is praise of Hughes. The Yanks are going to need him in the postseason, so taking action now seems like the right idea. We can only hope that the rest gets Hughes back on track for his last three or so starts of the season, and then the postseason.

Spending the Steinbrenners’ dollars on the field

Over the past few weeks, those who follow the Yankees — from the beat writers to the bloggers and everyone in between — has grown concerned with the team’s dollars. From the perspective of a well-run organization, the Yankees are bleeding cash. They’re spending millions on A-Rod for far too many years; they are doling out checks to A.J. Burnett that his pitching can’t cash. They’re going to re-up with Derek Jeter for many millions more than he would get on the open market, and they seemingly want Cliff Lee as this winter’s shiny new toy.

It doesn’t take an economist to understand that the dollars behind these deals are tremendous, but we can see in all of its Spreadsheet-y goodness just how many bucks the Yankees have committed already. Via Cots, we learn that prior to this winter’s anticipated spending spree, the Yankees already have $107 million on the books for 2012, $94 million in 2013 and $73 million in 2014, the season after the free agencies of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. The Yankees may have a budget, but don’t expect that number to shrink below its current $213 million level any time soon.

But the real question is the one with which I opened this post: Should we be concerned? If we were looking for the next Moneyball, the next financially-constrained team to exploit an inefficient market, we might be worried that the Yankees aren’t fulfilling that criteria. We aren’t, however, engaged in that chase. Instead, we root for the Yankees and accept them for what they are: a financial behemoth that has the spending power and market ability to tower over the baseball landscape. What good is playing in New York City if you can’t take advantage of the fact that you’re playing in New York City?

Apparently, though, a few folks are worried. In the wake of the release of the MLB financial documents, some Yankee writers decided that, in light of Derek Jeter’s and Mariano Rivera‘s contract extension and Andy Pettitte‘s willingness to go year-to-year, Cliff Lee would not be a good investment. The Yankees might have — GASP — a $240 million payroll in order to compensate for the fact that their long-term aging players aren’t living up to their peak numbers.

Yet, the idea that the Yankees would raise their payroll by 10 percent over the next few years is hardly a revolutionary one. In fact, the Bombers’ payroll has risen by over 10 percent since 2007 and by nearly 100 percent since 2000. If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost believe the Yankees are printing money at will behind the marble of their new stadium in the Bronx.

In fact, that’s what Phil Birnbaum at Sabermetric Research says the Yankees are doing. Even though the Yankees claim they’re running a barely profitable business, Birnbaum delves into the figures publicly available and posits that, by delving up the business and selling off certain aspects of Yankee Baseball — including the TV rights — the Steinbrenner family is running a highly profitable venture, and the millions that reap can either be reinvested into the team or taken as a dividend outside of the revenue sharing scheme baseball has in place. If the Steinbrenners want to put a team getting paid $240 million onto the field, the only thing stopping them would probably be pressure from Major League Baseball.

So maybe all of this hand-wringing over Derek Jeter’s worth, value and contract prospects are for naught. Maybe the Steinbrenners don’t really care that they’re saying they’ll “take care” of Jeter because it’s small beans compared to the overall revenue picture. They can still provide for Jeter, sign Cliff Lee and perhaps even put together a decently-stocked benched next year. It is, after all, only money.

Yanks drop second straight to Orioles

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

From the very start it didn’t look like the Yanks had much of a shot in this one. The first five batters reached base safely, resulting in three Orioles runs. Sabathia came back to retire the next seven straight, but he served up a few more meatballs before leaving the game with one out in the seventh. The offense had a few chances to make it a game, but they continually failed to deliver. The result was an uninspiring game and the Yankees’ third straight loss.

Sometimes the ace just doesn’t have it. The Yankees needed Sabathia to play the stopper last, so the timing couldn’t have been worse. But even if he pitched a little better the Yanks would have had a tough time winning this one. They put nine runners on base and batted 11 times with a runner in scoring position, but produced just two runs. The Orioles, on the other hand, went 6 for 13 with RISP. This was, essentially, the exact opposite of what I’d expected coming into the evening.

We could recap the highs and lows of the game, but there weren’t many highs and the lows were frustrating enough that I don’t mind glossing over them. Suffice it to say that this was not the best way to spend three hours of my Tuesday evening. But I did, because more often than not I’m rewarded. Just not this night.

The Yankees now turn to the rookie to stanch the bleeding. Ivan Nova takes the mound needing to deliver the final game of the series. It’s a tall order for a rook, even when facing a last-place team. These aren’t April’s Orioles.

Tampa takes Game One thanks to pitching staff

High-A Tampa (3-0 win over Dunedin) Tampa leads the best-of-three series 1-0
Ray Kruml, CF & Jose Pirela, 2B: both 0 for 4, 1 K
Bradley Suttle, 3B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K – .293/.369/.469 after the All Star break
Myron Leslie, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 2B
Addison Maruszak, SS: 0 for 2, 1 BB
Zoilo Almonte, RF: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K – singled in Suttle for the first run of the game … I remember him getting some big hits for Staten Island last year in their playoff drive
Trent Lockwood, DH: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
Mitch Abeita, C: 0 for 1, 2 BB, 1 K
Jack Rye, LF: 0 for 3, 2 K
Shaeffer Hall: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 7-4 GB/FB – very nice job
Ryan Flannery: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1 HB, 1-2 GB/FB – same thing he’s been doing all season, locking down the late innings
Chase Whitley: 1 IP, zeroes, 3 K
Jon Ortiz: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – kick ass job by the bullpen tonight

Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton were both off. Their playoff series against Columbus and New Hampshire, respectively, start tomorrow. D.J. Mitchell goes for SWB, Dellin Betances for the Thunder.

Low-A Charleston, Short Season Staten Island, and the Rookie GCL Yanks are done. None of the three qualified for the postseason.

Game 139: CC goes for 20

He owns a Cy Young Award, an ALCS MVP Award, and most importantly a World Series ring, but yet CC Sabathia doesn’t have a single 20 win season to his credit. The big guy has won 19 three times (including this year and last), but that two-oh carries a certain level of prestige around baseball, something that all pitchers hope to achieve. Tonight, CC gets his first of what should be five cracks at his 20th win of the season.

We all know that wins are a meaningless stat because they don’t tell you anything about how the guy actually pitched, they just tell you that his lineup scored more runs than he allowed, but I think we can all get behind Sabathia here. I want him to get those 20 wins because he deserves it, because he’s been everything the Yanks hoped he would be when they signed him and then some. The guy is 100% about the team, but just this once I want it to be about him, as a thank you.

Here’s the lineup, with A-Rod getting a routine day off…

Gardner, LF
Jeter, SS
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Berkman, DH
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Pena, 3B

And on the bump, it’s Carsten Sabathia.

For the first time what seems like an eternity, the Yankees will play at night and under the lights. This one starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

(h/t to T-Dubs for the graphic)

What does a balanced schedule mean, anyway?

Joe Maddon would like an easier path to the playoffs for his Tampa Bay Rays. Or at least that’s the sense I got after reading his comments on the unbalanced schedule this past weekend.

Last night, before the Rays got shellacked by the Boston Red Sox, Joe Maddon spoke with reporters about the 2010 season, and he opined on the challenging path to the playoffs. Since the Rays are suffering from the bad luck of playing in the American League, they’ve had to face the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays 52 times this season, and Maddon says these teams are wearing down his club. His solution? A “balanced” schedule, whatever that means.

“I’m saying yes,” he said, answering the question of whether or not it’s been tough to reach the playoffs this year than in 2008. “Because of the [rise] of Toronto and now Baltimore, tThis is definitely a reason to argue in favor of a more balanced schedule. We wouldn’t have to see these teams as often.”

Maddon then had the audacity to complain about the remainder of his team’s games this year. The Rays have to face the Yanks, Blue Jays and Orioles, and somehow, this is, in his words, a “form of baseball masochism.” For what its worth, 15 of the Rays’ final 25 games are against teams over .500 while the Yanks play 19 of their final 24 against winning teams. Maddon attempted to clarify, “It not just about not playing the Red Sox as many times or the Yankees as many times. It’s about not playing anybody that amount of times.”

Since the dawn of the three-division league and the advent of Interleague Play, the idea of a balanced schedule as long eluded Major League Baseball. That’s because it’s tough to pinpoint what exactly a balanced schedule is. Under the current 162-game iteration, teams play their intradivision rivals more than they do teams in their league but in other divisions. For example, the Yankees play the Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles 18 times apiece this year, and while Tampa Bay may bemoan that tough slate, it’s one that impacts all four of its division rivals. That attention on the division isn’t the problem.

For Maddon and those who dislike this unevenness, the interdivision games and interleague contests are the real problems. The Yanks, for instance, played the AL Central-leading Twins just six times this year while the Rays drew them in eight games. The Yanks face Oakland and Seattle ten times each while Tampa Bay plays those two teams just nine times each. In a division that could be decided by as little as a game or two, every edge matters.

Over the course of a long season, the unbalanced schedule inevitable and unsurprisingly balances out. Based upon team records as of today, the Yanks’ opponents have a combined .496 winning percentage, and the Rays’ opponents have a combined .501 winning percentage. (The Red Sox, because they play both Tampa Bay and the Yanks 18 times each and the Braves six times, suffer from a schedule with a .508 winning percentage.) The numbers show that Tampa Bay’s opponents are a combined 1234-1241 while the Yanks’ are a combined 1220-1258. Over the course of a 162-game season, the difference between a .496 team and a .501 team is 0.8 wins. Maddon is crying over spilt milk.

If MLB truly wanted a balanced schedule, they would have to figure out what exactly that means. Does it mean each team plays every other team the same amount of times? Does it mean the combined weighted winning percentage of one team’s opponents must equal that of every other’s? Does it mean eliminating Interleague Play and restoring a system where the Yanks would play division rivals 13 times and the other AL teams 12 times? Whatever the answer, the schedule still rarely be perfectly even.

Barring a collapse, both Tampa Bay and the Yankees will make the playoffs this year, and Maddon’s criticism focuses more on the fact that it’s now tough for Tampa Bay to secure home-field advantage than anything else. The real issue is how the Rays will be the AL’s second-best team but will have to settle for the fourth seed in the playoffs. That, and not the unbalanced schedule, doesn’t make sense.