Swisher’s homer powers Yanks to sweep of O’s

The Yankees had all of four extra-inning wins in 2011, and they got halfway to that total over the last two nights. Despite a depleted bullpen, they pulled their season record even at 3-3 with a 6-4 win in ten innings on Wednesday.

(REUTERS/Patrick Smith)

Battlin’

In the first inning, CC Sabathia looked sharp. He retired the side in order with two strikeouts, but then came the 38-pitch second inning. The Yankees took a two-zip lead two batters into the game on Curtis Granderson‘s homer, but Sabathia gave it back in the second on Robert Andino’s two-strike single. His pitch count sat at 74 after just three innings, and things weren’t looking good given the thin relief corps. The Orioles took a one-run lead on Mark Reynolds‘ two-run double in the fifth, when Sabathia was closing on the century mark. He managed to throw a perfect sixth inning and finished the night with 112 pitches.

Anecdotally, it seemed like Sabathia struggled most when he had to pitch from the stretch. He seemed to be fine from the windup, locating his fastball and slider well, but with men on base he was just … off. That said, most pitchers are out of a game like this in the second or third inning. Even when Sabathia’s bad, he still goes six innings. The guy doesn’t get enough credit for keeping the Yankees in the game on his off-nights, like these first two starts of 2012. By the way, this was the 62nd straight start in which CC went at least five innings.

The Big Hit

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Yankees have been pretty awful with runners in scoring position so far this season, but on Wednesday night they seemed to get over the hump. They went 4-for-10 with men on second and/or third overall, the biggest blow being Nick Swisher‘s two-run homer off Kevin Gregg with two outs in the tenth inning. He struck out looking with a man on third and one out in the eighth, so he did well to redeem himself.

Granderson had two of those four hits, including his homer in the first and game-tying opposite single in the seventh. Brett Gardner dunked in a bloop single that loaded the bases but did not score a run given it’s bloopiness. The Swisher homer wi” get most of the attention and rightfully so, but the Yankees did a pretty good job of turning base runners into runs in this game, or at least a better job than they had been doing.

Binderball

The first six games of the season have featured some adventurous calls by Joe Girardi, but I think the intentional walk to Nick Markakis in the ninth inning of this game has been the worst. The O’s had runners on first and second with two outs, and Rafael Soriano was instructed to walk Markakis and pitch to Adam Jones. It forced a runner over to third, meaning a walk, wild pitch, passed ball, hit-by-pitch, whatever would have ended the game.

Naturally, the move worked. Soriano blew Jones away on four pitches, getting him to swing and miss at three explosive fastballs. That doesn’t mean the intentional walk was the right call though, it was a bad move that luckily led to good results. Never put the winning run on third base, there’s just so much that can go wrong. After all those years of bad bunt calls, it looks like this is the year of the intentional walk.

So this happened.

Leftovers

Tonight’s unsung hero? My vote goes to Boone Logan, who replaced Sabathia and retired all five men he faced, including four right-handed batters. Soriano got four outs including the Jones strikeout, and Mariano Rivera threw his usual scoreless inning for his second save in as many days. Over the last two games, the bullpen has thrown 11.1 scoreless innings with just four hits, four walks, and 16 strikeouts. Just can’t say enough about how great those guys have been early on.

Eduardo Nunez really is amazing. He pinch-ran for Alex Rodriguez late in the game, then had a Johnny Damon moment by stealing two bases on one play as the ball got away from the defender. Nunez then nearly threw a ball away an inning later, and in the tenth inning he got picked off first following a one-out single. To be fair, replays showed it was a bad call and he was actually safe. Still, this dude is a human blooper reel.

Derek Jeter led off the game with the double, his fifth leadoff hit in their six games. The Cap’n has been the Yankees’ best hitter early on, and he’s been putting the pressure on right at the top of the first inning. Very nice to see. Every player in the starting lineup reached base at least once except for Robinson Cano, who took an 0-for-5. Jeter (double and walk), Granderson (homer and single), Mark Teixeira (single and double), and Raul Ibanez (two walks) each reached base twice.

We’ve heard an awful lot about the shift this last week because of the Rays, and the Yankees had the shift on Reynolds in the second inning. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they kept feeding him soft stuff away. That doesn’t work, those pitches are going to be slapped the other way not pulled. The shift isn’t just about positioning, you have to pitch to it as well. The Yankees are terrible at that.

Someone really, really needs to get on Sabathia about sticking his bare hand out at bats in play. He took a one-hopper off his left hand in the second and although he was fine, we really could have done without the scare.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stats, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are off on Thursday, then they’ll open the home portion of their schedule against the Angels on Friday afternoon. It’ll be Hiroki Kuroda against Ervin Santana, and Jorge Posada is going to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. If you want to attend, check out RAB Tickets.

Campos throws five hitless in Charleston win

David Adams is still out with a stiff neck, and now Rob Lyerly is dealing with an arm problem. The Yankees also released Mitch Abeita and signed a first baseman by the name of Edwin Beard. He spent some time in the organization before being released last May, but now he’s back.

Also, Manny Banuelos and Ramon Flores are the second youngest players in the Triple-A International League and High-A Florida State League, respectively. Not too shabby.

Triple-A Empire State (12-3 loss to Buffalo)
CF Chris Dickerson: 0-3, 1 K — replaced by Ray Kruml after sliding into the wall
C Frankie Cervelli: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — just his second hit of the year
1B Steve Pearce: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K — Yadil Mujica replaced him later in the game
DH Jack Cust: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K
LF Dewayne Wise: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 K — they’ve hit two homers as a team this year, and Wise has both of them
3B-1B Brandon Laird: 2-4, 1 K, 1 E (throwing)
RF Colin Curtis: 0-4, 1 K
SS Ramiro Pena: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
2B Doug Bernier: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K
RHP Dellin Betances: 3.1 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 6 BB, 3 K, 3/3 GB/FB — just 44 of 89 pitches were strikes (49.4%) … he also gave up three homers, so yeah, disaster outing
RHP Jason Bulger: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1/2 GB/FB — just 18 of 40 pitches were strikes (45%)
LHP Mike O’Connor: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1/4 GB/FB — 28 of 44 pitches were strikes (63.6%)
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K — 11 of 17 pitches were strikes (64.7%) [Read more…]

Game Six: For The Sweep

Adam Jones sees you getting arrested. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Yankees have already (and unfortunately) experienced getting swept this season, and now it’s time to turn the tables and do the sweeping. Last night’s extra-innings win was anything but routine, and it really took a toll on the bullpen. CC Sabathia is going to have to soak up some innings tonight, preferably nine or so. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
Russell Martin
LF Brett Gardner

LHP CC Sabathia

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Update (7:05pm ET): The first rain delay of the year! It doesn’t appear that it will be a lengthy delay, so the tarp might not be on the field all that long.

Update (7:14pm): The tarp is already coming off the field, so we’ll have baseball soon.

Posada set to make ceremonial stadium visit

When the Yankees return home on Friday to open the Bronx-based part of the 2012 season, they’ll bring with them a familiar face. The newly-retired Jorge Posada will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game. Posada, you may recall, was a part of five World Series teams, played in five All Star Games and has a strong case for a spot on a wall in Cooperstown. Depending upon how generous the Yanks are with uniform numbers, his could earn a spot in Monument Park as well.

The club also announced today that a star of the Broadway musical Newsies will sing the national anthem while a star of Jesus Christ Superstar will perform “God Bless America” in the seventh inning. I guess those Nederlander ties still run deep. The pre-game festivities will start at 12:40 so plan accordingly if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to attend Opening Day in the House that George Built.

No speed in the early going

Nothing on bases, so far. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Yankees have scored at least five runs in four of their five games, including six runs in two of their three losses. The one exception was a shutout. Despite the complete lack of hitting with runners in scoring position — .189/.333/.321 in 70 PA — the Yankees have still scored the seventh most runs in baseball. They’ve hit four homers and roughly a billion balls to the warning track, and more than a few of those will leave the yard once the weather starts to warm up.

The other element of the offense, the speed element, really hasn’t been on display just yet. The Yankees stole the fourth most bases in baseball last year but only have three in the early going. One of those three was Raul Ibanez after he took off in a full count last night, and that’s an anomaly. Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez have the other two steals. Baseball Reference says the Yankees have run in just four of their 89 stolen base chances this year (4.5%), roughly half of last year’s rate.

We’re only five games into the season, so it’s hard to get worked up over the lack of running. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a very big part of the lack of stolen base attempts has to do with the opposition. Jose Molina and Matt Wieters are two of the three best catchers in baseball when it comes to throwing out base runners, and the Yankees have yet to play anyone other than the Rays and Orioles. Another factor in the whole lack of speed thing has been Gardner’s playing time. He’s only started three of the five games because of the platoon situation, so more of him will result in more steals.

The Yankees aren’t a club that relies on the stolen base, so the lack of speed has hardly been noticed so far. The offense still isn’t clicking on all cylinders — either with the bat or the legs — and it’s tough to watch at times despite the consistent run scoring (minus the shutout). A little more Gardner and a little more Eduardo Nunez will get the running game in gear and open things up for the bats. This early in the season, the lack of speed is hardly a concern.

RISP woes be gone

In the first five games of the 2012 season we’ve seen two things in abundance. First, we’ve seen rough starting pitching performances. But that’s just one turn through the rotation, so it’s a non-issue at the moment. The other is failure with runners in scoring position. The Yankees have been in 70 such situations, and have scored just 20 runs. That’s not encouraging, even early in the season.

The Yankees have faced more situations with men in scoring position than any other team, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. In one way it certainly is; they’re giving themselves plenty of opportunities. But one of the reasons they have so many opportunities is exactly because they fail to cash in those opportunities. After all, if they single with a man on second, the following PA does not come with a man in scoring position. If the batter at the plate is retired and there are fewer than two outs, however, the next PA does come with a man in scoring position. That is to say that this is a two-way street.

What I find most odd about the Yankees’ RISP woes this season is that the process seems to be there. They’re getting on base plenty — their .357 team OBP ranks third in the AL — so they’re setting themselves up to score a ton of runs. Even further, they’re putting together good at-bats when they do have RISP situations. It might not seem like that, since they’re failing so often. But they’re seeing a lot of pitches and working deep counts. Here’s how many pitches per PA they’ve seen in RISP situations in each game.

Note: these are hand calculated.

4/6: 4.29
4/7: 4.22
4/8: 3.86
4/9: 3.86
4/10: 3.76

This is against their team average of 3.95 P/PA, so it’s pretty close overall. At the same time, they’ve seen some success when swinging early in the count. With runners in scoring position they’ve put the first pitch in play nine times. Five of those have resulted in RBI. It’s a bit frustrating, sure, when both Jeter and Swisher put the first pitch in play and kill a perfectly good rally. But overall they’ve had some success doing that. In the PA where they didn’t drive home runs, they’re seeing 4.29 pitches per PA, or a third of a pitch more per PA than their season average.

The process, then, seems to be there. It’s just a matter of time before they start to come through in these situations. It’s frustrating for sure. No one wants to sit through these opportunities and see them score no runs. Soon enough, though, we should see plenty of activity when there are ducks on the pond. Remember, even though they were somewhat frustrating last year their BA with RISP in 2011 ranked 5th in the AL, and their OPS ranked first. The hits will drop.

One turn through the rotation

(REUTERS/Patrick Smith)

Starting pitching was supposed to be a strength after this offseason’s moves, or at least starting pitching depth was supposed to be a strength. The season is just five games old — 3.1% of the 162-game schedule — but the first turn through the rotation hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Ivan Nova was the only starter to turn in a respectable outing, holding the Orioles to two runs over seven innings despite allowing ten hits. Here’s what the rotation has done overall…

28 IP, 35 H, 19 R, 16 ER, 12 BB, 24 K, 6 HR, 37.5 GB%

That all adds up to a 5.14 ERA (and a 5.14 FIP!), and I suppose the good news is that the performance can only improve from here. The Yankees starters simply have to be better, and not just for the sake of the team. CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda are safe, but Michael Pineda and Andy Pettitte are on the way. Jobs are on the line and if the guys currently in the rotation don’t step up their game, they’re going to wind up in the bullpen or Triple-A. I guess that’s where all the pitching depth comes in handy.

The Yankees need Sabathia to pitch well tonight just to save the bullpen, but I’m sure they would also like their ace to turn in a gem and set an  example for the rest of the staff. Five games is in no way indicative of what’s to come in the next 157 games, but right now the only part of the roster that seems to be clicking is the bullpen. The offense will surely get going in due time, but the starting rotation needs to get its act together pretty soon.