ALCS Game Two: Yankees @ Rangers

The best and worst thing about baseball is that you play every day. With a quick turn around following last night’s monumental come-from-behind win, the Yankees will get a chance to go right back out and continue to pile on again the Rangers. Of course Texas will have a chance to forget about last night’s disaster and get themselves headed in the right direction this afternoon as well. Either way, hooray baseball.

Guaranteed to go back to New York and face Cliff Lee with the series no worse than tied in Game Three, the Yanks will hand the ball off to Phil Hughes today. His track record in Arlington is impressive (15.1IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 13 K) but that means nothing. It’s two starts and one relief appearance spread across four seasons. Indicative of nothing. As we saw last night with CC Sabathia, the key for Hughes is going to be getting ahead in the count, because if he falls behind and is forced to throw fastballs over the plate, the Rangers will rip him to shreds.

Colby Lewis gets the ball for Texas coming off a strong year after returning from Japan. The Yanks have faced him before but it was like, eight years ago, so it doesn’t matter. He can miss bats with four pitches (8.8 K/9), but the Rays showed that he’s beatable in the ALDS. A patient Yankee team will force him to throw the ball in the zone if he’s not getting the calls on the corners. Like Game One, the idea is to wait him out and go to work on the lolpen.

I’d link you to the appropriate FanGraphs previews like I usually do, but I guess we aren’t getting them today. For shame. Here’s the lineups…

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

Phil Hughes, SP (18-8, 4.19 ERA)

Rangers
1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Ian Kinsler, 2B
7. David Murphy, LF
8. Bengie Molina, C
9. Mitch Moreland, 1B

Colby Lewis, SP (12-13, 3.72 ERA)

First pitch is scheduled for 4:00pm ET, and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.

Olney: Royals intend to listen to offers for Greinke

With a hat tip to MLBTR, Buster Olney reports that the Royals plan on listening to trade offers for 2009 Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke this offseason. They have a boatload of prospects coming up through the system, but Greinke can be a free agent after 2012 and the time tables don’t match up. He’s under contract for $13.5M in each of the next two seasons.

The Yankees are going to be on the lookout for at least one starting pitcher this offseason, perhaps two, so expect them to get their names thrown into the Greinke ring regardless of what happens with Cliff Lee. A lot will be made of Greinke’s battle with social anxiety disorder by people that don’t really understand what it is, especially after some of his past comments (“New York, I still might have trouble in New York. I probably would. But I think almost everyone does.”), but the fact of the matter is that no one knows how he’ll handle it until he’s actually put in that situation. We’ll have more on Greinke in the offseason, I’m sure of it, but if you’re going to take a gamble on a guy with anxiety disorder, wouldn’t you want to do with someone as young (27 next week) and amazingly awesome (19.6 fWAR since 2008, more than CC Sabathia and behind only Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, and Lee) as Zack Greinke?

We got lucky

When the Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee trade fell through, the worst case scenario was that Lee would come back to haunt the Yankees in the playoffs.  While that certainly could happen now, I’m here to tell you that even if the Rangers beat the Yankees spearheaded by two complete game shutouts from Lee, we should be happy the trade didn’t go through.  As good as Lee is, the future of the Yankees is better off with both Montero and a great chance at getting Lee than being left without either of them in 2011.

Would Lee have been easier to sign this offseason had the trade gone through?  Maybe yes, maybe no, I really can’t say.  I would venture to guess that there is no major difference, even if Lee came to the Yankees and absolutely loved it, there’s no way he was taking a penny less to stay in the pinstripes.  What would have happened, however, if he had a brief time in the Bronx and it didn’t go well?  What if his wife was harassed at the park?  What if he bombed in the playoffs and got killed in the press and booed off the mound?  Considering just how awesome he is, these are pretty unlikely, but worth thinking about nonetheless. If Lee had a 4 month stint in New York that was a disaster (or even 2 bad starts that spun the whole experiment as a disaster), wouldn’t the chances of him being in a Yankee uniform in 2011 be even worse?

As it is, Lee can be sold on New York from afar.  He will likely be offered the most money.  He can talk to former teammate and friend CC Sabathia about how great things are here (and of course CC could feel differently if he bombed in the 2009 playoffs).  I think the odds are great that Lee signs with the Yankees, and I think the odds would have been great at resigning him had they traded for him, though I don’t necessarily think those odds would be increased.  Because of that, I’d much rather go into 2011 with a guarantee that Montero is in the organization and hope that they sign Lee than go into 2011 without Montero and still not be guaranteed at re-signing Lee.  Before anyone goes there, the Type A pick the Yankees would have gotten for Lee (had they traded for him and he walked) wouldn’t be close to a replacement for Montero.

Often when we think about the Lee trade that wasn’t, we forget that the Yankees were trading for Cliff Lee the pending free agent.  Just like there is no guarantee now they’ll sign him after the season, there’s no guarantee that had the trade been complete they would have resigned him.  Can you imagine if Jesus Montero, the Yankees best hitting prospect since Derek Jeter had been traded for a 4 month rental?  That would have been a disaster, even with the increased 2010 World Series odds.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good (see wonderboy Theo Epstein with Vazquez, Contreras and Pavano), and I think Cashman got lucky that the Mariners backed out of this trade.  Down the line, whether Lee ends up in pinstripes or not, not trading for Cliff Lee will be a blessing for the Yankees.

Yanks grab victory from the jaws of defeat with late rally to take Game One

There are wins, there are big wins, and there are wins that remind everyone who the team to beat is. The Yankees were staring at a five run deficit in the late innings of Game One with no answer for C.J. Wilson, but they’re the defending champs for a reason. Some stellar bullpen work and an eighth inning rally later, Mr. Sinatra was letting to rip with New York, New York.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Let’s do this chronologically…

Gardner Slides In Safe

Every game winning rally has to start somewhere, and in Game One it started with a weak groundball to first to lead off the eighth. Brett Gardner hustled down the line and pulled a page out of the Melky Cabrera playbook. sliding head first into the bag. His hand slipped in under Wilson’s foot and that was it, the Yankees had their foots in the door.

Derek Goes Down The Line

Robbie Cano had gotten his team to within grand slam distance with a solo homer in the seventh, but Jeter pulled them even closer in the eighth. He yanked a double down the leftfield line, driving in Gardner to make it a 5-2 game in Texas’ favor. The tying run was on deck, and the line had put in motion. The hit improved the Yanks’ chances of winning by 6.9%.

Swish & Tex Take Ball Four

Jeter’s double ended @str8edgeracer‘s night, and Ron Washington handled the ball over to the ageless Darren Oliver. Oliver had a great season and it stood to reason that he could record three outs before giving up three runs. Turns out he could even get one out, instead walking Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira on 13 total pitches, loading the bases for last year’s playoff hero.

Honorable Mention: A-Rod Hits One Through Michael Young

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

There’s no substitute for hitting the ball hard, and few do it better than Alex Rodriguez. He wasted no time jumping all over sidearmer Darren O’Day’s first pitch following the walks to Swish and Tex, grounding it sharply to Young at third. The ball ate him right up, coming closer to hitting him in the face than settling into his mitt. Jeter and Swish came around to score, Tex moved to second, and the score was suddenly 5-4 with still no outs in the inning. The WPA swing on this one registered at +.166.

Biggest Hit: Texas Is Now Aware

After the three time MVP brought the Yanks to within one, the possible 2010 MVP stepped to the plate facing yet another new pitcher. This time Washington gave the ball to funky southpaw Clay Rapada, who promptly laid a first pitch fastball right over the plate. Cano did what he’s been doing all season, lacing the ball back up the box for a single, a single that drove in Teixeira and tied the game.

Texas’ lead evaporated just like that, before a single out was recorded in the inning. This was the biggest hit of the game in terms of the WPA swing, checking in at +.266. Wowza.

Mr. Thames To You

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

I told you Marcus Thames would be important in this series, and he wasted no time proving me right. After Cano’s single tied the game, the Yanks’ designated lefty masher dug in against (yet another new pitcher) Derek Holland with a chance to give his team the lead, but he had to work for it. The first pitch was a fastball for a strike, the second a fastball for a ball. Thames swung and missed at a slider in the dirt, and Holland tried to get him to bite on it again but to no avail. The sixth pitch of the at-bat, a 2-2 fastball on the inner third was the one that sealed the Rangers’ fate. The pitch broke his bat, but Thames got enough of it to bloop it into shallow left and allow A-Rod to cross the plate as the go-ahead run. The comeback was complete, and then some.

In a season of big hits for Marcus, it gets no bigger than this one right here. Believe it or not, the WPA swing was just +.066, but we all know how big it really was. The numbers will never truly express the emotional high.

Not So Good, Very Bad CC

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Given the outcome, it’s easy to forget that CC Sabathia was pretty terrible in this one. His command was non-existent, his breaking ball did more ball than break, and it was a chore right from the get-go. CC allowed the first three batters to reach base and eventually come around to score on a Josh Hamilton homer (in an 0-2 count, no less. It was an awful pitch, a cement mixer slider that just spun out over the plate and did nothing. It wasn’t until a runner got thrown out at the plate trying to score on a wild pitch that the first inning ended. Yeah, it was ugly.

The final line was 4 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 1 WP with one balk. It’s entirely possible that the nine day layoff screwed him up (one start in the last 17 days), but that’s no excuse. CC has to be better than that and he knows it. Thankfully the rest of his team bailed him out.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Unsung hero: Dustin freaking Moseley. How about that guy? Two perfect innings, four strikeouts, and 21 strikes out of 27 total pitches all against the meat of Texas’ lineup. All told, the bullpen allowed just one hit and two walks in five scoreless innings or work, striking out six. The lone hit was a ten hopper just passed the outstretch arm of a diving Robbie Cano to lead off the ninth. The Yankees swing-and-miss bullpen has been a great asset all season, and it showed why again tonight.

At one point the top four hitters in the Yankee lineup were a combined 0-for-12 with three strikeouts. After that they went 3-for-4 with a pair of walks. Everyone in the lineup reached base at least once except Jorge Posada, who lined out to left and hit a ball to the track in that eighth inning.

Nick Swisher … stop effing bunting. That bunt attempt in the ninth following Jeter’s leadoff double had to come from (or at least be endorsed by) the dugout (he made three attempts to bunt and no one told him stop), so stop telling Swish to bunt Joe Girardi. He predictably popped it up in foul territory, failing to advance the runner. Jeter never came around to score, but thankfully the Yanks didn’t need him too.

Just as a quick aside: how the hell does Neftali Feliz not get in this game in the eighth? Ron Washington used five (!!!) relievers that inning and not one was his All Star closer. He was managing to the save stat, which is as stupid as it gets. I do thank him for that, however. Texas has still never won a playoff game in their home ballpark.

WPA Graph & Box Score

This what crushing the hearts of Rangers fans everywhere looks like. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs some other neat stuff.

Up Next

Phil Hughes gets the ball in Game Two later this afternoon. Colby Lewis goes for Texas. That one’s got a 4:07pm ET start time.

Yankees steal Game One with late rally

Best team ever? Best team ever. More to come … eventually.

ALCS Game One: Yankees @ Rangers

Six long days after the Yankees dispatched the Twins with ease in the ALDS, the ALCS is finally ready to get underway. For comparison’s sake, just five years ago the White Sox and Angels were already playing Game Four of the ALCS on this date. Something has to happen with all of these off days, two between the LDS and LCS even if it goes the full five games is just too much. It’s baseball, these guys are used to playing every day. Anyway, the wait is over and the Yankees are four wins away from their second consecutive World Series.

Unlike the Yanks, the Rangers aren’t able to send their ace to the mound in the Game One. Cliff Lee had to take care of business in Game Five of the ALDS just to get them here, and he’ll be on the shelf until Game Three on Monday. Getting the ball in his place is another very good lefty, the former closer C.J. Wilson. He described himself as a lesser version of Lee in a press conference of last series, and it’s true. He’ll throw any of his four pitches at any time, all of which are solid but not knockout offerings like Lee, and his command isn’t on the same level either. Then again, whose is? He will walk himself into trouble, so pay attention to his pitch count and the quality of the at-bats early on. If the Yanks are working deep counts the first time through the order, they’re going to do some serious damage the next time around.

CC Sabathia gets the ball for New York, just as planned. He last pitched nine days ago, and overall has thrown just six innings and 111 pitches in the last 17 days. He adjusted his routine from the last long layoff, throwing an extra bullpen as well as another flat ground session. CC said he was too strong against the Twins in Game One of the ALDS, leading to command issues that hindered him all start. Hopefully the extra work in the interim helped him stay sharp. Again, watch the at-bats early. If Sabathia has quick innings and avoids deep counts early on, he’ll be on cruise control soon enough.

Make sure you check out Joe’s preview at FanGraphs, ditto Jeff Zimmerman’s for Texas. Here are the lineups…

Yankees
1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robbie Cano, 2B
6. Marcus Thames, DH
7. Jorge Posada, C
8. Curtis Granderson, CF
9. Brett Gardner, LF

CC Sabathia, SP (21-7, 3.18 ERA)

Rangers
1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, LF
6. Ian Kinsler, 2B
7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
8. Matt Treanor, C
9. Jorge Cantu, 1B

C.J. Wilson, SP (15-8, 3.35 ERA)

First pitch is scheduled for 8:00pm ET and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.