Gardner gets cortisone shot after MRI reveals inflammation in wrist

Banged up leftfielder Brett Gardner received a cortisone shot in his right wrist today after an MRI revealed some inflammation but no structural damage. “I couldn’t have picked up a bat today,” said the leftfielder, who is out of the lineup for a second straight game.

Gardner has been experiencing discomfort in the wrist since getting hit by a pitch in the Dodgers series (yes, that long ago), though it started to flare up a bit more in Texas this past weekend. There’s still no timetable for his return (though it’s not expected to be long), and in case you’re wondering, he’s hitting just .229 with a .099 ISO since said hit by pitch. Chances are the two are not mutually exclusive.

The Big Man leads off a small series

CC delivers. Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Despite a recent 1-6 run of uninspired baseball, the Yanks’ odds of making the playoffs have dropped a whopping 1.48 percent, according to Baseball Prospectus’ postseason odds report. Perhaps watching the club leave 32 runners on base over two games made us want to strangle baby animals out of frustration, but it has done little to lessen the likelihood of October baseball in the Bronx.

Coming from me, the complaints about meaningless September baseball are hardly new. While the Rockies are trying to reach Rocktober and the Padres are trying to stave off a last-season collapse, Yankee baseball games don’t carry much weight. The team is playing for the right to play, at most, two extra home games over the course of the first two rounds of the playoffs, and the lack of urgency has made the team a bit complacent on the field.

Lately, a theme of “It doesn’t matter” has emerged from both sides of the AL East coin. RJ Anderson at the excellent Process Report broke down the playoff scenarios last week and noted that the Wild Card team could benefit from not winning the division, and Moshe Mandel noted that facing the Rangers with home-field advantage or the Twins without are nearly equivalent. Neither opponent will be easy to beat, but the Yanks would be the favored team in either match-up.

Still, as fans, it pains us to watch the Yanks struggle as they have. We’ve seen games where the team can’t get a hit with runners in scoring position, and we’ve watched starting pitchers struggle to make it through 12 outs, let alone 15 or even 18. We’ve seen Joe Girardi hand the ball over to volatile relievers far too often for the Yanks to feel good about their starting pitching, and we’ve seen relievers fail as relievers inevitably do.

Today, though, hope comes in the form of one Carsten Charles Sabathia. The Yanks’ ace is 19-6 on the season with a 3.14 ERA. Because of his win total, he’s emerged as a quasi-legitimate Cy Young contender, and he’s the guy the Yanks want on the mound amidst a stretch of poor play. Even when he struggled against the Orioles last week, Sabathia gives the Yanks length, and that’s what the team needs today.

Against the Rays this season, Sabathia has been superb. He’s 1-1 but with a 2.53 ERA in 21.2 innings. He has yet to surrender a home run to Tampa Bay, and the team is hitting just .221/.299/.273 against the Big Man with nine walks and 14 strike outs. Sabathia, oh so good at throwing that change, can neutralize Tampa Bay’s big lefty hitters and gets the ball tonight as the Yanks look to hold on to first place.

Opposing him will be another Cy Young contender, David Price. The Rays’ lefty is 17-6 with a 2.87 ERA in 178.2 innings. This is the Yanks’ third shot at Price, and they’ve battered him around a bit this year. He’s just 1-1 against the Bombers with a whopping 7.11 ERA in 14 innings. I’d take those results again tonight.

Despite what many in the print media who need to sell papers are saying, this isn’t a particularly big series. The Yankees and Rays are both bound for October, and if the two best teams advance to the ALCS, they’ll face off in that huge seven-game set. This week, though, bragging rights and fan pride are on the line, and the guy I want to have the ball gets it. Now let’s see ‘em win.

Building a bench to plug a DH hole

Vlad gives it his all. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Vladimir Guerrero played no small role in torturing the Yankees this past weekend. The one hitter the Yanks never signed but should have twice, Vlad knocked out six hits in 13 at-bats and even walked once for a cool .500 OBP. He swung at pitches at which he had no business swinging, but it’s always worked for him. Making just $6.5 million, he’s hitting .305/.348/.503 with 26 home runs, and the Yanks could have had him for $1 million more than Nick Johnson is making.

Johnson, of course, was the Yanks’ choice for the DH spot. With three free agent options — Guerrero, Matsui, Johnson — for that empty hole, the Yanks went with the youngest guy coming off a season in which he played 133 games and got on base 42.6 percent of the time. For $5.5 million, it seemed like the best choice, but Johnson played all of 24 games before coming down with a wrist injury. He won’t be back in 2011.

For the Yankees, though, the designated hitter spot hasn’t been a problem this year. Led by Marcus Thames, A-Rod and, to a lesser extent, Jorge Posada, the team’s DHs are hitting a combined .263/.348/.459 with 23 home runs in 583 plate appearances. Their sOPS+ — the overall OPS relative to the league split — is 114.

In fact, Nick Johnson’s injury allowed the Yankee braintrust to exploit the DH spot as they seem to prefer. Without a full-time designated hitter, the slot became one of rest. The DH hole allowed the Yanks to keep Jorge Posada, banged up and bruised all season, in the lineup more frequently than they could have. It allowed them to give A-Rod’s balky legs some time off the turf. It allowed them to ride a very hot Marcus Thames during the team’s recent eight-game winning streak.

Yet, that rotating DH spot has a residual impact on the rest of the lineup, and through it, we can see the weaknesses in the Yanks’ current roster construction. When, for instance, Alex Rodriguez DHs, someone else has to play third base, and that someone else — Ramiro Peña, Eduardo Nuñez, Kevin Russo — isn’t a very good hitter. In fact, Yankee third basemen are hitting .252/.316/.418 this season with an sOPS+ of 95. A-Rod’s contribution to that is a 116, which just goes to show how bad the rest of the team’s third base options are offensively.

The same problem arises behind the plate. Jorge Posada as a catcher has a .906 OPS and a 156 sOPS+. Francisco Cervelli, a fine player if used properly, has an sOPS+of 96 and nearly 300 plate appearances behind the plate. Against right-handers, in particularly, Cervelli is an offensive liablity, but he’s been pressed into service because Jorge Posada is 39.

For now, this imbalance brought about by the rotating DH is a problem that should plague the Yankees only in 2010. In fact, because of Jesus Montero‘s development and Jorge Posada’s contract, the Yanks have the DH situation largely in hand next year. Montero ought to be the primary catcher with Posada as the primary DH. Francisco Cervelli, then, will serve as the late-inning defensive replacement for Montero who can also start against left-handers when need be.

That three-headed DH/catcher platoon solves half of the problem. The Yankees still need to keep an eye on their bench for 2011, and they should go into and play out the season with a back-up infielder better than Ramiro Peña (and his third base sOPS+ of 12) available to them. Who that will be remains to be seen, but the Yanks have the money to spend on the bench.

Had Brian Cashman used his crystal ball to sign Vladimir Guerrero to a one-year deal ten months ago, we would be pleasantly thrilled with his production. But that was then, and this is now. If they play their cards right, they won’t have a DH problem come 2011.

Slumping nothing new for the Yankees

After watching the Yankees for the past week I understand why football is such a popular sport. Each team plays once a week and there are only sixteen games before the playoffs. A few surprises occur each year, but for the most part the strong teams win and the weak teams wilt. A loss, especially to a weaker team, might sting, but there is a six-day recovery period during which the pain subsides. Even more beneficially to the psyche, you can tune in on Sunday, forget about football for the next six days, read a notes column and the injury report the following Sunday, and then enjoy the next game. None of this is true for baseball.

As Earl Weaver said, “This ain’t a football game; we do this every day.” Playing every day makes for great entertainment. It means that nearly every night from April through October we have something to watch. Yet because baseball happens every day it is much more prone to random outcomes. Dave Cameron explained this in July after the Dan Haren trade. While a season as a whole might end somewhere close to expectations, the day-to-day events will fluctuate. I recommend Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for a more thorough explanation. He discusses it in the context of the stock market, but it applies directly to a baseball season.

This all leads to the way the Yankees have played for the past week. Starting two weeks ago the Yankees rattled off eight straight wins. If not for a walk-off home run last Wednesday they would have followed it with seven straight losses. Thanks to Nick Swisher the Yanks have only lost six of their last seven, but that one win is little more than a consolation. The Yankees are playing like crap, and things won’t get easier this week. Something has to change — though that’s always the case when a good team slumps.

The past week has taken a particularly significant emotional toll on the fans because of a few factors. It starts with the Orioles, a team the Yanks certainly should beat, and it continues onto the Rangers, a team the Yankees could face in the first round of the playoffs. It certainly has something to do with the nature of the losses, four of which were by a single run and two of which resulted in walk-offs. It also concerns the depth of the slump. To this point the Yankees have not lost six of seven. They have lost five of seven as recently as July 30 through August 6 and back in May they lose five of six. But six of seven and a three-game sweep? That’s uncharted territory for the 2010 Yankees.

Thankfully, the Yanks could take a few positives even from a swept series. On Friday and Saturday they scored 11 runs combined, or 5.5 runs per game, which is a tick above their season average of 5.34 per game. They might have left a combined 32 runners on base and gone 6 for 30 with runners in scoring position, but that means that they were getting men on base an into scoring position in the first place. If they keep doing that they’ll eventually drive home more runs. But last weekend they caught a few bad breaks in those situations.

On Saturday A.J. Burnett pitched better than he has in a month. The curveball wasn’t all there, but his fastballs worked just fine. He generated between seven and 10 swinging strikes — Baseball-Reference, PitchFX, and ESPN all have different numbers — and recorded six strikeouts in four innings before rain forced him from the game. The seven base runners were no picnic, but the four hits he allowed came on just eight balls in play. In other words, with a little more command he would have been phenomenal. If he can find that little bit between now and October he’ll make the playoff rotation decision quite a bit easier.

And, of course, there was Derek Jeter. On Friday night he went 1 for 7, dropping his OPS to a season-low .693 and his AVG to a season-low .260. In one of those AB he fouled a pitch off his knee, which made it easier for Joe Girardi to hold him out of the lineup on Saturday. On Sunday he came back with a fury, seeing 27 of Cliff Lee’s 108 pitches and going 1 for 2 with an RBI double and two walks. No matter what happens in the final few weeks 2010 will be the worst season of Jeter’s career. But if he can revert to 2009 Jeter for the next month and a half all will be forgiven.

Any time a team gets swept amid a 1-6 skid it’s easy to dwell on the negative. The Yankees suffered from bad bullpen outings and untimely hitting, but those are things they showed that they can do over the long haul. As was the case with previous slumps, they’ll bust out of this one in short order. It’s easy to forget that when they’re in the middle of it. There is no week-long recovery period after a tough loss. Instead they go out and play the next day. When the slide continues it can become a frustrating experience. But when they break out of it the feeling is pure joy. I think we’re in for a happy few weeks ahead.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 13th, 2010

Record Last Week: 1-5 (20 RS, 29 RA)
Season Record: 87-56 (763 RS, 589 RA, 90-53 Pythag. record), 0.5 games up
Schedule This Week: @ Rays (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Orioles (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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Yankees two-hit in Texas

It was bound to happen at some point. After avoiding it for the first five-plus months of the season the Yankees were swept in a three game series this weekend. None of the games was particularly inspiring. They were in all of them and scored their season-average number of runs across the first two games, but bullpen woes meant that no lead was safe. Moseley took one on the nose in this one, though he pitched as well as the Yankees could have expected. Cliff Lee made it all moot, though, as he had trouble with just one Yankees hitter in his eight-plus-inning, one-run auditionperformance.

Best photo of Jeter available (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Rather than dwell on the team’s poor hitting in this one, let’s look at the one bright spot. Derek Jeter came to the plate four times and had four excellent at-bats. The rest of the team had maybe one among them. In those four plate appearances Jeter saw 27 pitches, or just a hair under quarter the number Lee threw all game. That’s all the more impressive considering his third PA, a double that drove in the Yankees’ lone run, lasted just one pitch. The first and last were nine pitches and resulted in walks. The second lasted eight pitches and ended with a ground out.

Jeter went 1 for 2 with two walks and an RBI double against Lee. The rest of the lineup went 1 for 25 with one walk. This might not be Jeter’s finest season, but yesterday he looked like an All-Star while the rest of the team tripped and stumbled towards the end of the series. If he starts looking like this more often it could lend some consistency to the offense down the stretch and into the playoffs.

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Dustin Moseley deserves some credit, too. He has thrown just 10 pitches since August 30, but he kept the Yankees in this one. Through six he was downright excellent, almost matching Cliff Lee frame for frame.

Moseley through 6: 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K
C, Lee through 6: 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K

That all changed in the seventh, of course. Moseley had thrown just 79 pitches through six, and Girardi “loved the way he was throwing the baseball.” But his first seven pitches resulted in a walk, and considering his like workload in the past two weeks a move might have made sense there. Moseley did get the next two guys, but thanks to a smart tag-up at first by Ian Kinsler the Rangers were able to capitalize on a single. A stolen base and another single ended the day for Moseley.

The Yanks now fly to Tampa and try to escape this week-long funk. They’ll have their best guy give it a go tomorrow night, but it will be ace against ace.

Tampa unable to clinch FSL title in Game Three

High-A Tampa (2-1 loss to Charlotte) Tampa leads the best-of-five series two games to one … I believe Craig Heyer will get the ball in Game Four tomorrow evening
Ray Kruml, CF: 2 for 4, 1 SB
Jose Pirela, 2B: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K – he’s done a nice job of getting on base in the postseason
Bradley Suttle, 3B: 0 for , 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
Myron Leslie, 1B: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K
Addison Maruszak, SS, Zoilo Almonte, RF & Jack Rye, LF: all 0 for 4 – Maruszak & Almonte each K’ed twice, Rye once … Maruszak missed a catch for an error
Trent Lockwood, DH:  1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K
Mitch Abeita, C: 1 for 4, 3 K - still hitting a cool .400 in the playoffs
Anderson Feliz, PR: 0 for 0, 1 CS – pinch ran for Abeita, then got caught stealing for the second out in the ninth inning … that’s bad
Shaeffer Hall: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 11-5 GB/FB – what more could you ask?
Preston Claiborne: 2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 4-2 GB/FB

Triple-A Scranton‘s season is over. They lost to Columbus in the first round of the International League playoffs.

Double-A Trenton swept New Hampshire in their best-of-five series to advance to the Eastern League Championship Series. They’ll take on Altoona when the series starts on Tuesday, and they’re going to have a rehabbing Andy Pettitte on the mound in that game.

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