No A-Rod, no problem

I'm amazed he was able to hit all those homers with such a skinny barrel. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Two days ago we heard quite a bit from the mainstream media types about the Yankees and their 12-0 record without Alex Rodriguez, which while fun and quirky, is indicative of nothing. The “they’re better off without him” cracks made the rounds, and after the last two games against the Blue Jays the sans A-Rod record sits at 13-1 this season. They’ve scored 8.1 runs per game without their cleanup hitter compared to just 5.0 with him, a function of small sample size than anything else.

For all intents and purposes, Alex has been out since August 16th with a calf issue (let’s just ignore that one at-bat cameo last week for simplicity’s sake), and yet the Yankees have hit .284/.377/.519 as a team in the eight games since. Prior to his injury, the team boasted a .268/.347/.435 batting line, still very good in this age of suppressed offense. Mediocre opposing pitchers have as much to do with that as the Yanks’ hitters, but that ruins the narrative.

So who has picked up the slack in A-Rod’s stead? Well, pretty much everyone. Robbie Cano, the fill-in cleanup hitter, has hit .333/.459/.800 with four frickin’ homers in those eight games while Mark Teixeira has picked it up to the tune of a .367/.444/.667 batting line with a pair of homers. It’s been clear for months now that those two represent the future core of the Yankee offense, and they seem to have gotten a head start on things with Alex on the mend.

Even in his somewhat diminished state, it takes several players to replace Alex Rodriguez in the lineup, and so far the complementary bats have been up to the task, if not more. The damage done by the new 3-4 hitters has been maximized because Derek Jeter has reached base 11 times and Nick Swisher has made it to first safely at least once in each of those eight games without Alex. Jorge Posada has clubbed three homers in the last four games, Curtis Granderson three in the eight games, and the mash-up of Austin Kearns and Marcus Thames has hit .289/.357/.500 with the extra playing time.

Similar to the concept of bullpen chaining, losing your cleanup hitter doesn’t necessarily impact the middle of your lineup as much as it does the bottom of it. A-Rod went down, and a very capable hitter in Cano moved up a spot, as did everyone else hitting below him. Taking Alex’s place at the hot corner has been the combination of Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez, who have assumed the ninth spot in the lineup, where Brett Gardner and his .280/.378/.377 batting line are usually found. Those two have combined to hit just .236/.250/.353 during the last eight games, ineptitude only made bearable by the increased production of everyone else.

So far, the Yankees have done a rather remarkable job with A-Rod on the shelf, a job that has kept them tied atop the AL East and in firm grasp of a playoff spot. Their third baseman is able to come off the disabled list on September 6th, and although we haven’t gotten any indication that he will come off the DL following the minimum 15 days, we’re all hopeful that will happen. The Yankees kick off a three game set against the Orioles that day before heading into a stretch where they play 13 of 16 games against the Rangers, Rays, and Red Sox. They’re going to need their third baseman and cleanup hitter then, and with any luck, the rest will help get him back to MVP form.

Curtis Granderson answers the call

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Personality wise, it’s tough to dislike Curtis Granderson. He comes across as a smart, affable guy who truly enjoys what he’s doing. But when it comes to the Yankees, the fans base their reactions mostly on performance. A guy can say all the right things at the right times, but if he doesn’t perform on the field he’s not going to get a warm reception. That’s what Granderson found out this year.

At the beginning it looked like Granderson would it in just fine. He homered in his first at-bat as a Yankee, and he followed that up two nights later with a game-winning homer off Jon Papelbon. Is there any better way to ingratiate yourself to Yankees fans? Unfortunately for Granderson, he used up that good will pretty quickly. By the time he hit the DL on May 2 he was hitting a paltry .225/.311/.375. He faced a doubly whammy, too, because the guy the Yankeees traded for him, Austin Jackson, was off to an otherworldly start.

Still, I wanted to give Granderson more time. All players slump, but those who slump early in the season look all the worse for it. If a 4 for 30 slump comes at the beginning of the season a player’s numbers will look horrible, and it will take him a while to climb out of it (just ask 2004 Derek Jeter). But if he has already built up numbers and then goes on a 4 for 30 slide his numbers won’t look quite as bad. So, thinking it was just poor timing, I waited for Granderson to produce.

It didn’t happen.

On August 10 I had enough. Granderson had to sit against lefties. With Austin Kearns on board the idea was much more palatable. Against lefties the Yankees would have an outfield of Kearns, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher, which sounds pretty good. Granderson could still get in his work against righties, against whom he wasn’t hitting atrociously. Then, during the off-season, like Swisher last year, Granderson could work with Kevin Long in an attempt to get back on track. It turns out they were 13 steps ahead of me.*

*As they should be.

Granderson didn’t start the night I made my grand proclamation. Nor did he start the next night. The reason: he and Long were working to refine his swing. It was hard to argue with the logic. The Yankees were facing two lefties, C.J. Wilson and Cliff Lee, so why not take that time to try and get Granderson right? After two days of tweaks the Yankees sent Granderson back out into the starting lineup against the lefty Bruce Chen. He went 2 for 3 with a double and a walk on the night. Since then it’s been a nice ride.

I note it in the recap often, but I thought Granderson deserved an entire post here, if for no other reason to serve as my own mea culpa. Since he sat out those games in Texas he’s been on an absolute tear, going 14 for 44 (.318) with six walks (.420 OBP) and six extra base hits (.651). That has raised his season line from .239/.306/.415 on August 10 to .250/.321/.445 after last night. That’s not a pretty line, but as you can see it’s a stark improvement over where he’s been. It’s also at least a little comforting that two of his three hits last night, including the homer, came off a lefty.

Granderson currently sits in a pontoon boat next to Mark Teixeira‘s battleship. Both got off to poor starts, and both streaked and slumped afterward. It will lead to lower than expected production from both. But right now, on August 25, that matters little. The only important thing is how these guys perform from this point forward. If Granderson can keep up some semblance of the production he’s showed in the past few weeks he can certainly be a big part of the Yankees’ pennant run. Hats off to him and Long for getting everything straight. The Yankees might yet see their expected return on this trade.

Yanks play homerun derby in Toronto, win 11-5

There’s not much better than turning the tables on a division rival the day after they hand you a loss and show you up in the process. The Yankees returned to Rogers Centre with a plan to put Monday’s loss behind them, and that plan involved hitting several baseballs far, far away. Order was restored to the universe with a big win, and the Yanks moved that much closer to securing themselves a postseason berth.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

Bombs Away

When you rack up just shy of a dozen runs, there’s really no such thing as that one big hit. Sure, WPA says it was Marcus Thames‘ two run homer to make it five-love in the 3rd, but I think we’re slighting the rest of the offense if we just automatically dub that the biggest hit. I prefer to spread the love around whenever possible.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

Certainly we can’t forget Mark Teixeira‘s single back through the box in the 1st inning to plate the Yanks’ first run, nor can we ignore his solo shot to make it three-zip Yanks in the 3rd. Then there’s Jorge Posada‘s two run shot two batters later and his run scoring single in the 6th, and of course you have Derek Jeter‘s first outside-the-park homerun since June 12th in that same inning (he has hit one inside-the-parker in the interim). I can’t pick a favorite, can you?

More than the homers or the rest of the offensive explosion, what I enjoyed most is that the Yanks actually listened to me. I used the game thread to ask the team to pay the Jays back for Monday’s loss and Jose Bautista’s antics not by plunking the game’s leading homerun hitter or anything like that, but by pounding them into submission. I wanted runs, runs, and more runs, and they delivered. Toronto won the first game and had a nice little feel good moment doing so, but the Yankees reminded them who was in charge in this game. That’s what first place clubs do to fourth place clubs.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

Mos(el)eying Along

The Yanks’ rotation has suddenly turned into a hodgepodge of mediocrity behind CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, and at the forefront of that mediocrity is Dustin Moseley. The sinkerballing righthander has been essentially replacement level during his four starts prior to this one, but he was a bit better this time out. His six relatively unspectacular innings featured five hits (all singles), four walks, four strikeouts, two runs, seven ground ball outs, and 97 total pitches just (50 strikes).

Moseley’s biggest jam of the night came in the 4th inning, when Toronto put runners at the corners with no outs and managed to push across just a single run. Like I said, it was a fine outing, and I guess my biggest complaint is that he walked the leadoff man in the 5th (with a six run lead) and 6th (nine run lead) innings, which is a big no-no. Just throw strikes in those spots dude, I’d rather give up a solo homer than start a potentially big inning without making the batter take the bat off his shoulders. No offense to Dustin, but I sure hope Andy Pettitte gets healthy soon.

Leftovers

Nick Swisher‘s 1st inning double was a thing of beauty. Fell into a quick 0-2 count, then waited back on a breaking ball and drove it the other way for a ground rule double. He never did that kind of stuff last year. His improvement as a hitter has been pretty fun to watch, not that he was bad before. Unfortunately Swish had to leave the game after fouling a ball off his left leg, but it doesn’t sound serious at all.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

Love the hard-nosed play by Marcus Thames, running over catcher John Buck in the 2nd inning. He knocked the ball loose, but managed to miss the plate despite flying right over it. Oh well, still respect him for going in hard. He’s tough, he used to be in the National Guard. Marcus went 3-for-4 with the walk, pumping his season line up to .313/.399/.463. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.

One night after an 0-for-3, three strikeout game, Curtis Granderson was all over the place in this one. He made a great running catch deep in the right-centerfield gap in the very 1st inning, then walked, singled, and homered off lefties in his first three trips to the plate. The homer was a three run shot on a first pitch slider of all things, not exactly a pitch you usually see hit for power. He also singled later in the game. Since remaking his swing with hitting coach Kevin Long in Texas, the Grandyman is hitting .326/.420/.698. That’ll do.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

Oh, and on top of that, Grandy threw a runner out at the plate. Brett Gardner did the same on Monday, as did Nick Swisher on Sunday. I can only assume Austin Kearns will get in on the action tomorrow.

Oddly enough, the only two players in the starting lineup who didn’t get in the hit column were Robbie Cano and Kearns. Cano’s simply been one of the best hitters on the planet this year, and Kearns starting the night with an 11 game hit streak. Both guys drew walks and eventually came around to score, so not all was lost.

Chad Gaudin had actually been pitching pretty well this month (8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8 K) before this game, though he promptly allowed a trio of runs in two innings of work. If he’s going to have a meltdown, I guess this is the kind of game to do it in. Meanwhile, how can you not love Kerry Wood? What a great pickup.

Jays’ starter Marc Rzepczynski lasted just three innings in this one, the first time the Yanks have knocked a pitcher out of a game that early (without the help of injury) since getting to Fausto Carmona on July 28th. He allowed three homers, all coming in that 3rd inning of work.

The Red Sox were rained out, so the Yanks’ cushion on a playoff spot stands at six full games.

WPA Graph & Box Score

I love it when these things flatline for about five innings in the Yanks’ favor. MLB.com has your tradition box score, FanGraphs your nontraditional box score.

Up Next

The Yanks will try to win their third straight series Wednesday night when they send Phil Hughes to the mound against southpaw Brett Cecil. For the second night in a row, both starters will have the exact same season ERA (3.90) heading into the game.

Mitchell, Betances debut with their new teams

Make sure you check out Rebecca’s photos from last night’s Short Season Staten Island game.

Triple-A Scranton (5-4 win over Rochester) faced a personal fave, who was the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 draft
Kevin Russo, SS: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K
Greg Golson, CF, Juan Miranda, 1B & Colin Curtis, RF: all 1 for 4 – Golson scored a run … Miranda doubled, drove in two & K’ed twice … Curtis K’ed
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 2 for 4, 1 R
Brandon Laird, 3B: 0 for 4, 1 R – eight for his last 40 (.200) with 11 K
Chad Huffman, LF: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Eric Bruntlett, 2B: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 RBI
D.J. Mitchell: 5.2 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 7-6 GB/FB – 61 of 97 pitches were strikes (62.9%) … not terrible, not great for a AAA debut
Royce Ring: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 0-1 GB/FB – just one of his three pitches was a strike
Romulo Sanchez: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 18 of 29 pitches were strikes (62.1%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 WP – 13 of his 20 pitches were strikes … 79 K & 55 baserunners in 61 IP

[Read more…]

Rumor de la nuit: Hiroki Kuroda

As the August 31st trade deadline draws near, teams — especially those out of contention — are placing most of their rosters on waivers, and the Dodgers are no exception. According to Ken Rosethal, the Dodgers have placed starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda on waivers, and the Yankees are going to be interested. Kuroda is owed approximately $2.7 million through the end of 2010 and will be free agent, most likely Type B, once the season is over. Said a so-called rival executive to Rosenthal, “I guarantee the Yankees are all over it.”

With Javier Vazquez out of the rotation for now, A.J. Burnett struggling to find consistency and Ivan Nova and Dustin Moseley question marks, Kuroda would be an intriguing option for the Yanks down the stretch. Since making his debut in 2008, Kuroda, now 35, has gotten better with experience. This year, he’s turning in his finest season in the Majors, and despite an 8-11 mark, he has a 3.48 ERA/3.36 FIP with a K/9 IP of 7.2 and a K/BB rate of 3.11. Opponents are hitting .254/.303/.367 off of him, and he would be a fine option to give the Yanks’ length down the stretch.

The question though of course concerns the Yanks’ placement in the waiver line. Because they’re not in the Dodgers’ league and have the best record in the AL, the Yanks have the lowest preference for a claim. With the knowledge that the Yanks are interested, the Red Sox or Rays could attempt to block the claim, but they then run the risk of getting stuck with Kuroda’s not-insignificant contract. Anyway, this is one rumor that may have some legs.

Swisher leaves game with apparent leg injury

Update (10:26pm): Girardi said after the game that it was just soreness and not that big of a deal. I bet Swish gets tomorrow off just so he can have two full days off (counting Thursday’s off day) to recoup.

9:19pm: Nick Swisher left tonight’s game after fouling a ball off his left leg just above the knee in the 7th inning. He initially walked it off to continue the at-bat, but Joe Girardi went out and got him after two more pitches. They had to yank him just to make sure they got ice on the injured area before the swelled up. Hopefully it’s nothing serious and he’ll be back out there in a day or two.

Game 126: Payback

Alex approves. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Blue Jays got the best of the Yankees last night, with Jose Bautista getting revenge for an alleged pitch thrown at his head by homering late in the game to break a tie. Now it’s time for the Yanks to get some payback of their own.

I’m not talking about plunking Bautista or anything, let him puff his chest out and think he’s shown everyone he’s the man. He’s going to be playing golf in October one way or the other. I want to win, and not just win, but win big. Bludgeon them right from the start and show no mercy. Remind Bautista and the rest of his teammates that they’re nothing but fourth place afterthoughts in the game’s toughest division, and even though they won the battle yesterday, they were always doomed to lose the war.

Here’s the starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Thames, DH
Posada, C
Kearns, LF
Granderson, CF
Nunez, 3B

And on the the bump, it’s Dustin Moseley.

This one’s scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on good ol’ My9. Enjoy.