Granderson homers twice as Yanks extend AL East lead

Depending on your point of view, the Yankees and Rays started the biggest series of the season on Monday evening. It’s critical in the AL East race, but rather unimportant in the race for a playoff spot. After a classy and emotional tribute to George M. Steinbrenner III and the unveiling of a small, unassuming monument* in his honor in Monument Park, the two AL East powerhouses met for the fourth time in eight days. Much like last series in Tampa, it was a close game that went back and forth, except this time the Yanks blew it open late and held on for a much needed win.

*yeah right (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Biggest Hit: Granderson Part One

One thing that’s been lost among the recent RISP failure is the power outage plaguing the Yankee lineup. They had hit just ten homers in the 13 game slump, and eight of those came in the last five games. Curtis Granderson obviously came to park with the intention of fixing that, even if he had to do it singlehandedly.

The score remained tied at zero through the first two innings and one batter before Frankie Cervelli laced a single back through the middle in the third. Derek Jeter grounded out to third to move Cervelli up into scoring position, setting the stage for another RISP FAIL. Instead of getting the run in, Grandy did one better. He drove Cervelli and himself in with a two run homer into the Yankee bullpen. Those two runs increased the Yanks’ chances of winnings by close to 19%, though it’s never that easy these days.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Honorable Mention: Granderson Part Deux

As they’re wont to do these days, the Yanks blew their once comfortable four run lead in the middle innings and were faced with the task of pushing across a few runs to avoid another demoralizing loss. Brett Gardner, Cervelli and Jeter led off the bottom of the sixth with consecutive singles, scoring one run and getting the Yanks back on top. But Granderson wasn’t satisfied with that, nor was he satisfied with shortening his swing up and trying to hit a sac fly to get the man in from third. No, he got greedy.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Joe Maddon mercifully lifted Matt Garza after Jeter’s single, bringing in the fastball heavy Grant Balfour. His first three offerings were (yep) heaters that led to a 2-1 count. The fourth fastball never made it to the catcher. Grandy jumped all over the high pitch and yanked it right off the rightfield foul pole, high enough that he probably was going to land in the upper deck. If not, it was going to come damn close. The Yanks had their four run lead back, and Curtis proved once again that he’s a bad, bad man.

The Grandy Man is now hitting .274/.369/.578 with 11 homers in 149 plate appearances since reworking his swing with Kevin Long in Texas last month. Extrapolated out over 162 games, it’s a 49 homerun pace. That’ll do.

Biggest Out: Longo’s GIDP

Ivan Nova‘s starts have become all too predictable. The young righthander starts out strong, very strong in fact, and then suddenly loses it later in the outing when the lineup turns over for a second time. After a meaningless Carl Crawford single in the first, Nova retired 13 of the next 14 men he faced, the last six on a total of 13 pitches. And then the sixth inning happened.

Yanks were up four-zip, then bam, Jason Bartlett singles to left to lead off the inning. John Jaso follows that up with a walk, and Ben Zobrist completed the trifecta by loading the bases with no one out on a single. Here it comes, the game-tying grand slam and the same sad story that’s played out over the last week and a half. No, Tampa decided to drag things out.

The first run came in on a catcher’s interference, putting Crawford on first and forcing Bartlett in. Now a granny gives the Rays the lead. Quite the opposite happened though, as Evan Longoria got caught out in front on a changeup and bounced the ball to Alex Rodriguez at third, who started your standard 5-4-3 double play. A run came in to score and Zobrist moved up to third, but those two outs cut the Rays chances of winning by 14%.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Wait, He’s Bringing In Gaudin?

Another game, another questionable bullpen move by Joe Girardi. Boone Logan relieved Nova after the Longoria GIDP to face three straight lefties, but that’s not the questionable move. Logan failed to retire any of the three men he was brought in to face, which is rather awful since his job description is rather simple and straightforward (get the damn lefties out). With another run in and the lead down to one, Girardi went to one of his three trusted setup men to escape the bases loaded, two out jam. Wait, no he didn’t.

Out from the bullpen came Chad Gaudin. The same Chad Gaudin that had pitched in five of the last ten games and four of the last eight. The same Chad Gaudin that basically no one not named Joe Girardi has confidence in. Sure enough we walked B.J. Upton to force in the tying run before escaping the inning after damn near walking in another run. That’s exactly what you like to see, the team’s worst reliever pitching in the highest leveraged spot of the game.

The move to Gaudin would have been tolerable if the regular setup crew was unavailable of working in yesterday’s game, but no. There was David Robertson out for the seventh, and then Kerry Wood for part of the seventh and the entire eighth. If they’re giving Gaudin a chance to prove himself before the playoffs, fine, but wouldn’t it make sense to let D-Rob or Wood escape the sixth and have Gaudin start fresh in the seventh? Girardi and the Yanks are just lucky they got away with it this time.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Leftovers

Like I said, it was another meltdown for Nova the third time through the order. It happens like clockwork, and it’s what will prevent the Yanks from giving the kid a spot in their postseason rotation barring an emergency. Perhaps he’s going to his offspeed stuff too early and needs to save some tricks before using them all up early. I dunno what it is, but that’s something Nova will absolutely have to improve upon if he wants to be a starter in this league long-term.

Jeter had a pair of hits, including a ground rule double deep into the rightfield corner and the go-ahead single back through the box. Cervelli managed to go 3-for-4 from the nine-spot, so the 9-1 hitters combined to reach base five times.

I nominate Haley Swindell to sing God Bless America at every Yankee game. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The Yanks scored eight runs, so you’d assume that the 3-4-5 hitters would be a big part of it, right? Wrong. Mark Teixeira, A-Rod, and Robbie Cano combined to go hitless in 13 at-bats, with Alex driving in a run on a sac fly and Cano drawing a walk. Not going to win many games when those three do that, but this was one of the exceptions.

Nick Swisher is starting to get back in a groove after his knee injury related hiatus; he went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks. Strangely enough, four Yankees (Jeter, Lance Berkman, Gardner, Cervelli) saw exactly 15 pitches each on the day.

Mariano Rivera allowed a run on a ground rule double that landed on the foul line and bloop single over Tex’s head, so he was hardly knocked around. He’s still not right though; the command’s just a little off. Don’t worry, he’ll find it before you know it. I suspect he, Robertson, and Wood will be unavailable on Tuesday after working in each of the last two games. Looks like Joba Chamberlain‘s going to have his work cut out for him in the second game of the series.

The win pushes the division lead to one-and-a-half games over the Rays, and the Red Sox loss drops the magic number down to just five. It’s looking inevitable that the Yanks will simultaneously clinch a playoff spot and eliminate Boston from postseason contention when the two clubs meet this weekend.

WPA Graph & Box Score

The first thing that came to mind when I saw this graph was “oh no you don’t!” Get it? Like the Rays were trying to come back and the Yanks said “oh no you don’t!” Eh, eh? Oh screw you guys. Here’s the box score, nerd score, and video.

Up Next

Same two teams again at the usual 7:05pm ET start time on Tuesday. Phil Hughes gets the ball against changeup guru Jamie Shields.

Yankees recall Andrew Brackman (UPDATE: No they don’t)

12:22am: False alarm. Brackman himself confirmed to Josh Norris that he has not been called up, and as far as he knows the team has no intentions of promoting him this month either. Damn, that was exciting for a while.

10:54pm: Mark Feinsand says the team has denied the report and Brackman has not been called up. So much for that.

10:36pm: Via The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Yankees have recalled 2007 first rounder Andrew Brackman and will have him available tomorrow. Brackman, an Ohio native, threw 140.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this year, posting an 8.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. I wouldn’t expect him to pitch any since he’s close to 40 innings over last year’s total, but he’ll have a chance to soak everything in and see what goes on around the big league team. Considering everyone that called him a bust last year, this must feel rather good for the kid.

(FWIW, Moshe had it first)

Game 150: For George

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

It’s been more than two months since George M. Steinbrenner III passed away, but that certainly doesn’t mean he’s been out of our minds. We’re reminded every day of the impact he had on this organization, of his drive to win and succeed, of his often overbearing personality and unrealistic expectations. We had to take the bad with the good, but it’s all part of what made George the finest owner in sports history.

The Yankees will dedicate a new monument in Monument Park to the Boss’ memory tonight, the first new monument in more than a decade. Events like this tend to be followed by the most memorable of games, so expect the unexpected. Here’s the starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Berkman, DH
Gardner, LF
Cervelli, C

And on the bump, it’s Ivan Nova. Jon Lane has more on the pitching matchup, so check it out.

The ceremony is schedule to begin right at 7pm ET, with the game starting about a half-hour later. All of the pregame stuff will be on YES, but I’m willing to bet you’ll be out of luck if you’re watching on MLB.tv. Enjoy.

The Greatest Pitch In Baseball History

Okay, I may be exaggerating there, but I think we can all agreed that Mariano Rivera‘s cutter is the most devastating pitch of his generation. Albert Lyu at FanGraphs broke the pitch down today, looking at how Mo uses in to start an at-bat, when behind or ahead in the count, and with two strikes. Unsurprisingly, he’s pretty good at working the corners regardless of situation. Make sure you check it out, some great stuff in there.

‘I’m burning, I’m burning, I’m burning the bench’

I always feel a bit guilty second-guessing the Yankees when they can hand the ball over to Mariano. Joe Girardi had his lead going into the ninth inning last night, and Rivera, unusually oh-so-good with his location, missed with a cutter. Luke Scott made the right kind of contact, and the Yanks’ one-run lead had vanished. Before that pitch, we could come to grips with Joba’s four-pitch outing, and Boone Logan‘s inability to get Corey Patterson out. After that, it all fell apart.

As we know all too well, the Yanks lost in the 11th inning when David Robertson could get an out in his second inning of work. Because Joba threw only four pitches and because the other bullpen options included Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Jonathan Albaladejo and Romulo Sanchez, Robertson was Girardi’s best choice, and the move just didn’t work out. That’s baseball for you. What happened in the top of the inning though was an illustration in poor roster management.

The sequence went like this: Alex Rodriguez, pinch hitting for Greg Golson who had earlier replaced Austin Kearns, walked. Eduardo Nuñez ran and advanced to third on a throwing error. Ramiro Peña, who had been at the plate with Nuñez on third, was removed for Marcus Thames who struck out. Then, Mark Teixeira pinch hit for Brett Gardner and was immediately intentionally walked. So too was Jeter, and then Lance Berkman had to come to the plate to face a lefty. He bounced into a double play, and the Yanks, 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position, had squandered a prime situation. They had a runner on third with no one out, and the bases loaded with one out only to see the inning end with nary a run.

For someone who usually manages by the book, these moves don’t hold up to a close examination. The first line to consider is Mike Gonzalez’s. The Orioles’ lefty has, for 2010, a reverse split. Leties are 10 for 29 against him while righties are 7 for 46 with 18 strike outs. Even over the last three years, lefties have fared slightly better against Gonzalez than righties have. Yet, Girardi took out his lefty — on-base machine Brett Gardner — who doesn’t exhibit significant splits to use Mark Teixeira. In a vacuum, that’s a defensible move even if the intentional walk was the most obvious of intentional walks.

A game, though, isn’t played in a vacuum. Since Lance Berkman isn’t nearly the same hitter from the right side as he is from the left and because Gonzalez is better against righties, Girardi’s decision to use Teixeira for Gardner and not to save him for Berkman came back to haunt the Yankees in a bad way. Girardi, in other words, managed to burn through seven players for three lineup spots, and the moves simply did not maximize the Yanks’ available resources or deploy them at the right time. We saw Girardi fall victim to this problem in Texas, and to a lesser extent, we saw it again yesterday.

For most of the year, Girardi handles the roster well. He might sacrifice bunt more often than we’d like; he might have leaned a bit too heavily on Francisco Cervelli out of the necessity of it this year. But by and large, he’s a steady manager. Yet, with the expanded rosters, he’s been too clever by half, and he starts to run through bench players with no regard for strategy. In the grand scheme of the season, the Yanks won’t rue losing yesterday’s game; their playoff spot is very secure. But we saw a glimpse of a Joe Girardi who did not have good grasp on the implications of his move and seemed to act without thinking. It was very un-Girardi-like.

Metro-North fire impacting service to Yankee Stadium

A late-morning fire at the 138th St. Lift Bridge that spans the Harlem River had shuttered all Metro-North service to and from Grand Central. As of twenty minutes ago, however, commuter trains are again servicing Manhattan but with 15-minute residual delays. For Yankee Stadium-bound customers, trains will be operating on or close to schedule prior to this evening’s game, but fans are advised to leave extra travel time to and from the game tonight.

RISP FAIL: The Culprits

The one constant through this recent stretch of poor play has been the Yankees’ complete inability to get runners in and tack on those important insurance runs. It burned them yet again yesterday, and since this 4-9 stretch started on Sept. 5th, the Yanks have left 115 runners on base. That’s 8.8 runners per game, or over 1,425 runners per 162 games. Last season they stranded a total of 1,238 runners, and before this stretch they were on pace to strand just 1,198 batters this season. It’s an obvious problem.

It takes a team effort for an offense to struggle this bad with men in scoring position, so we can’t pin it on one or two players no matter how much we want to. Lance Berkman and his pair of GIDP’s yesterday is hardly the root of the problem, it’s just a microcosm of how things have been going. Here’s a quick look at the regulars (sorry, Colin Curtis) and how they’ve performed with men on second and/or third during this stretch of suckiness (click to enlarge) …

As you can see, the only guys pulling their weight in these spots have been A-Rod and Cano. Everyone else has, putting it kindly, come up short. The good news is that if you take out the disaster that is Austin Kearns (who only played regularly because of injury), the regulars have only struck out 11 times in 110 plate appearances with men in scoring position during this stretch, a 10.0% strikeout rate that’s far, far better than the 18.1% league average with RISP.

Putting the ball in play hasn’t been the problem whatsoever, the hits just aren’t dropping in. It’s not a sign of being “unclutch” or anything like that, it’s just dumb luck. Baseball can be cruel like that. At some point things will get back to the way they should be and were for the vast majority of the season and these balls are going to start finding the grass. It’s inevitable.

As a team, the Yanks have hit just .197 with a .315 on-base percentage (somewhat inflated by five intentional walks and two hit by pitches) and a .098 ISO since that magic Sept. 5th date. That’s just an unsustainably bad pace. Even the Mariners, who are in danger of having the worst offensive season in the expansion era (seriously), have hit .230 with a .320 OBP and a .109 ISO with RISP this year.  Before this stretch, Joe Girardi‘s boy hit .265 with a .366 OBP and a .171 ISO with RISP on the season, and it’s only a batter of time before they return to that level. The Yankees are simply too talented to keep performing this poorly for an extended period of time.

And you know what, there’s one other thing to keep in mind here. We’re talking about an incredibly small sample of data. 118 plate appearances is nothing, and neither is 13 games. That’s just about 8% of the season, and no one should be rushing to make conclusions based on that amount of data. But given the time of year and the division race, things have a tendency to get blown out of proportion. Yes, this lack of getting the man in completely sucks and it’s frustrating as hell, but it won’t last and it’s certainly not some fatal flaw that is just now being exposed. It happens, and it’ll pass hopefully sooner rather than later.

* * *

And as far as this squeeze bunt/suicide squeeze stuff, please, just stop it. It’s not a high-percentage play like most make it out to be, in fact it’s quite the opposite. It takes a perfect bunt to execute; not a good bunt, not a very good bunt, a perfect bunt. If it’s too close to the catcher, the runner coming in from third is toast. Same thing if it’s too close to the pitcher, first baseman, or third baseman. And if it happens to go foul, then you’re done, because the element of surprise is gone. Good teams never ever ever pull these kinds of plays, they rely on their players to hit the ball and get the run in. Smallball simply isn’t a long-term winning strategy, plain and simple. Go ahead and tell me the last time a smallball team won a World Championship. I’ll wait.