Mark Teixeira‘s season ended unceremoniously two nights ago when his right hamstring popped, but that was just the latest in a long line of the injuries the Yankee first baseman was dealing with. He’s been playing through a broken toe since Vin Mazzaro hit him with a pitch on August 31st, and he also received a cortisone shot in September after bruising his hand diving for a ball not long before that. Well, we can now add a swollen right knee to the list according to Marc Carig, and who knows how that happened. I don’t remember seeing Tex get hit by a pitch or fouling a ball off the knee, but I could very easily be wrong. For what it’s worth, he thinks that overcompensating for the toe injury led to the knee and hammy issues. One thing I do know for sure is that Teixeira really needs the time off this winter, dude took an absolute beating at the end of the year.
The gang at Baseball America is in the process of posting their draft report cards for each of the 30 teams, and yesterday they hit the Yankees. It’s a subscriber only piece, but I can tell you that they do say scouting director Damon Oppenheimer’s latest effort is a “high-risk/high-reward class with up-the-middle athletes such as [Cito] Culver, [Angelo] Gumbs and [Mason] Williams. With strong pitching at the top of the farm system, the Yankees gambled on prep talent, so it will take time to see if it pans out.”
As for some of the individual categories, Ben Gamel (10th rounder) was dubbed the best pure hitter, Williams (4th) the fastest runner, Gumbs (2nd) the best athlete, and Culver (1st) the best defensive player. Tommy Kahnle (5th) and Conor Mullee (24th) are each said to have the best fastball at 93-95 and touching 98. Chase Whitley‘s (15th) changeup is the best offspeed offering, and both he and Kahnle are the closest to having an impact in the big leagues. Unsigned righty Josh Dezse (25th) was hitting 95 this summer, but he’s heading to Ohio State and was best prospect the Yankees failed to sign. It’s a class heavy on potential and risk, but the Yanks needed this kind of infusion of upside and power arms. Hopefully a few of these guys pan out.
In the ALDS the Rays made the Rangers look like a beatable team. Sure, they had Cliff Lee ready to go twice in a series, but on offense the team didn’t look like much of a powerhouse. The main reason was that the Rays held down Josh Hamilton. The MLB WAR and wOBA leader went just 2 for 20 with two walks and no extra base hits in the series. This was cause for concern, because Hamilton was coming off a fairly serious rib injury. If the Yankees could similarly reduce Hamilton’s impact, they would have a much greater chance of winning the series.
It didn’t take more than one at-bat for Hamilton to show that his ALDS slump was nothing more than that. He took CC Sabathia deep to establish a 3-0 lead. For the series he is now 6 for 19 with four homers, a double, and five walks. That has helped his team claim a 3-2 edge in the series. While much of Hamilton’s turnaround is simply regression, there does seem to be another factor at play.
At ESPN 1040, Tommy Rancel, also of Rays blog The Process Report, explains the differences in how the Rays and the Yankees have approached Hamilton. During the regular season Hamilton fared best against fastballs and changeups. Throughout the ALDS the Rays attacked him with mostly curveballs. Of the 75 pitches he saw in those five games, 24 were curveballs — more than any other pitch. They threw him just 17 four-seamers and 13 two-seamers, while mixing in 15 changes. That seemed to work well, as not only did Hamilton not get on base, but he also struck out plenty.
The Yankees have apparently not learned from the Rays success. They have thrown Hamilton a four-seamer in 44 of 92 pitches. Almost all of these fastballs have come over the outer half of the plate, if they cross the plate at all. They have worked in plenty of curveballs and have had considerably success — Hamilton has swung and missed at 4 of 19 curves. But they haven’t worked in nearly enough other pitches. Instead they’re buttering Hamilton’s bread with fastballs.
This is Phil Hughes‘s most difficult task in Game 6. The season is in his hands. If he is to succeed he must hold Hamilton in check. That means breaking out the curveball often. There’s a chance that won’t work, but it’s better than continuing to go back with what we know doesn’t work. Josh Hamilton destroys fastballs. Stop throwing them to him so often.
Yeah yeah yeah, I know I’ve been slacking off big time with DotF lately. So sue me, playoff baseball is more important (and exciting). Anyway, let’s get you caught up on what’s been happening in the Arizona Fall League over the last few days…
Phoenix Desert Dogs (6-3 loss to Peoria on Monday)
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 PB – they stole three bases in three tries off him
Brandon Laird, LF: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 E (fielding) – first error in the outfield
Jose Pirela, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 K, 2 E (fielding, throwing)
Manny Banuelos: 4 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 6-5 GB/FB – 36 of 59 pitches were strikes (61.0%) … PitchFX had him topping out right around 94
Craig Heyer: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 6-0 GB/FB – 15 of 25 pitches were strikes (60%) … love the grounders
Phoenix Desert Dogs (7-3 win over Peoria on Tuesday)
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 4, 3 RBI – no one attempted to steal off him in this game
Brandon Laird, LF: 0 for 4 – threw a runner out at third
Ryan Pope: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 19 of 29 pitches were strikes (65.5%)
George Kontos: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 15 of 22 pitches were strikes (68.2%)
Phoenix Desert Dogs (9-5 loss to Peoria on Wednesday)
Brandon Laird, LF: 1 for 5, 2 RBI, 2 K
Jose Pirela, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 K, 1 SB
Also, just so you don’t miss it, Jim Callis fielded a question about the best offensive prospect left in the minors in this week’s Ask BA. Callis went with Jesus Montero over guys like Mike Trout (Angels), Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Will Myers (all three Royals), saying there “isn’t a minor leaguer who can match [Montero’s] ability to hit for average and power.” He added that Bryce Harper, the first overall pick in this last year’s draft, has more power than Montero, but “but isn’t as polished or pure a hitter.” Sounds pretty good, eh?
Via Marc Carig, the Yankees have sent minor leaguers Andy Shive and Matt Cusick to Cleveland as players to be named later in the Kerry Wood trade. Shive had some sleeper potential as a relief potential, but he hasn’t really pitched much since having Tommy John surgery and will be 25-years-old in a few weeks without ever getting out of A-ball. Cusick, a 24-year-old utility infielder was the guy the Yanks got from Houston for LaTroy Hawkins a few years ago, and his best asset is probably his versatility. The Indians might have some use for him, but the Yanks definitely didn’t. No big loss at all.
When the Yankees extended their season by taking Game Five yesterday, they did so thanks to the performances of their star players. Robbie Cano hit his fourth homer of the ALCS, Alex Rodriguez doubled to set-up a rally and drew two walks, Jorge Posada drove in the first run of the game and then came around to score, CC Sabathia provided six hard-fought innings, and Mariano Rivera was there to close things out in the ninth. The team’s best players were their best players in the most important game of the season, but let’s not understate the contributions they received from their deadline pickups.
Mark Teixeira‘s season came to an abrupt end in Game Four when his right hamstring popped running down to first, so Lance Berkman is now stepping in as the Yanks’ full-time first baseman. I don’t know about you, but I’d have called you crazy if you woulda told me in April that Berkman would be the team’s everyday first baseman in the ALCS. Does not compute.
Anyway, Fat Elvis dusted off his first baseman’s mitt and took to the field for just the eighth time in forty games as a Yankee. I know he had some adventurous plays down in Tampa early on and even had that nasty spill yesterday, but overall Berkman is a solid defensive first baseman (his +13.1 UZR over the last three years is basically identical to Tex’s, for what it’s worth) capable of making all the routine plays plus a little more. He won’t make the flashy plays or the throws that Teixeira can, but it’s not like the Yankees had to resort to trotting Jason Giambi out there in the postseason.
Despite batting righthanded, by far his weaker side this season (.236 wOBA), Puma managed to contribute some offensively in Game Five, drawing a walk and driving in a run with a well-struck sac fly. His approach was rather simple; he just took everything not in his happy zone, which resulted in 22 pitches seen in just four plate appearances. The potential was there for zero offensive contribution, but Berkman’s been a great hitter for a long time and he found a way to chip in anything he could from his weak side. That’s all you could ask for from your backup first baseman.
After the Yanks had built up their lead and gotten all they could out of Sabathia, they handed the ball over to another July 31st pickup in Kerry Wood. The Yankee bullpen, a strength the entire second half, had faltered in a big way during Games Three and Four, allowing 11 runs and 16 baserunners in just five innings of work, but Wood was not involved in that disaster. The first batter he faced, the pesky Elvis Andrus, reached base on his eleventyith infield hit of the series, but some pitches and pickoff throws later, Wood caught him straying too far off second. Kerry had one pickoff since the 2006 season, but Andrus was his second of the ALCS. Lucky? Yes. Do you need luck to dig out of the three games to one hole? Also yes.
Wood went to work against the heart of Texas’ order with the Andrus pickoff mixed in. He struck out both Michael Young and Josh Hamilton to end the seventh, and then came out to retire Vlad Guerrero, David Murphy, and Ian Kinsler in order in the eighth. David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan were horrifically ineffective during the past two games, but Wood stepped up in the must-win situation and give his club two big innings to bridge the gap between Sabathia and Mariano Rivera.
Berkman and Wood were ideal deadline pickups for many reasons off-the-field, such as low cost to acquire and short commitment, but on-the-field they made perfect sense. Both are veteran players with playoff (and in Berkman’s case, World Series) experience, but more importantly they bought into their role. Berkman’s a hero in Houston, where he played every single day and hit in the middle of the order for the last decade or so. With the Yankees, he was just a platoon designated hitter now pressed into a more important role. Wood was saving games for a last place team in Cleveland, and saves equal money on the free agent market. He joined the Yanks as just another cog in their deep bullpen, but emerged as someone much more important than that.
When the Yanks acquired these two guys at the deadline, none of us expected them to be this important with the season on the line. If you’re going to lose a player of Mark Teixeira’s caliber to injury, Lance Berkman’s a pretty damn good replacement to have. Should the regular relievers falter, having a hard-throwing strikeout machine like Kerry Wood to back them up is more than you could ask for. Neither player will be with the Yanks next season, but right now they’re doing everything asked of them and then some to help this team try to win a World Championship, and we appreciate that.