Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(From Flickr user charliekwalker via Creative Commons.)

For the second time in three years, the Red Sox have dominated the Yankees in the first half. In 2009 it was 8-0, but this year the Yankees managed to squeak out a win in the first half, going 1-8 against their closest rivals. Last time around the Yankees closed the gap and finished 9-9 against the Sox. They have nine second half games to turn it around again, and it starts with three at Fenway Park this weekend.

What Have the Red Sox Done Lately?

The Red Sox, as anyone who pays attention to Bob Lorenz’s in-game updates knows, just split a four-game series with Cleveland. Before that they took two of three from the White Sox and Royals, leaving them 6-4 in their last ten. It’s hardly a poor mark; only nine teams are at that or better in their last 10. But the Yankees are 8-2 in that span, and have caught the Red Sox in the AL East race. That’s always interesting, because it means one team will leave the series on top. There will be no ties.

Red Sox on Offense

(From Flickr user firebrandal via Creative Commons.)

As a team the Red Sox lead the AL in basically every offensive category: BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, wOBA, etc. The Yankees are close behind, but Boston has held the edge since mid- to late-May, and has run with it. Only lately have the Yankees started to make up ground, as their recent play against the White Sox leaves them just eight runs behind the Sox for most in the majors.

There are 19 major leaguers with a wRC+ of 145 or better, and four of them are Red Sox: Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and David Ortiz. Ellsbury is the big surprise there, returning from an injury riddled 2009 to produce numbers the likes of which no one thought him capable. His 18 home runs is just two shy of his entire career combined, his OBP is at its highest level by about 20 points, and he’s still stealing bases along the way. A lot of this is BABIP fueled: his .344 mark is about 20 points higher than his career average. But if you watch him play, it makes sense. The dude is hitting everything on a line.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The media has recently brought up the notion of Adrian Gonzalez for MVP. That works, if your definition of MVP is, best player on a contending team. That’s not to take away from the season Gonzalez has produced. He’s created more runs than any player in the league — except Jose Bautista, of course, and he’s far enough ahead that it’s tough to not consider him the MVP. In any case, Gonzalez has been a dominant force in the middle of the Sox order, dismantling pitchers and spurring scoring frenzies. No doubt you’ll hear that one of the “keys” for the Yankees is to neutralize Gonzalez. Yep. Key to the game: don’t let the other team hit. Got it.

After a somewhat slow start, Pedroia has vaulted himself to the top of almost every offensive number among second basemen. The conversion really happened after April, and in 384 PA since then he’s hit .331/.418/.526. He’s also currently on not only a five-game hit streak, but a five-game multi-hit streak. It’s been that kinda season for Pedroia, who, after fading a bit in the second baseman conversation after an injury plagued 2010, has regained his throne in his return.

The problem with the Sox offense for the Yankees, as it has been for so many years, is that it shows few weaknesses. The above guys are just a small listing of the guys who can do some damage. There’s obviously Ortiz, who has put together a monster contract year. But there’s also Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is hitting .300/.366/.558 since June 1, Carl Crawford, who can still be a pest, Josh Reddick, a rookie on a hot streak, and of course Kevin Youkilis. As with the Yankees lineup, there is no break for the pitcher.

Red Sox on the Mound

Photo credit: Charles Riedel/AP

Friday: LHP Jon Lester. After years of failing against him, the Yankees have finally broken through against Lester this season — relatively, at least. They’ve faced him twice, scoring seven times in 12 innings while picking up 13 hits. Before that he pretty well dominated them, especially in 2010, when he held them to six runs in 25.1 innings. After a quick trip to the disabled list he’s been back to his old self, allowing just three runs in 13.1 innings. Last time out was particularly good, as he struck out eight while allowing two runs in eight innings. Then again, that was against the White Sox, and we all saw this week how they hit. But don’t let that undersell you on Lester. He’s still one of the best in the game, and he always seems to bring his best when facing the Yankees.

Saturday: RHP John Lackey. Last year began poorly for Lackey, but it got somewhat better as the year progressed. After the All-Star break he had a 3.97 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 15 starts, after having a 4.78 ERA in 18 first-half starts. This year he started off poorly, allowing 15 runs in his first two starts. Things got something better, but they’ve gone up and down since then. He’s even spent some time on the DL with elbow issues. In his last two starts, against Kansas City and Cleveland, he’s allowed nine runs in 12.1 innings, raising his season ERA to 6.23. His peripherals look pretty bad, too, as he has a 4.72 FIP, 4.21 SIERA, and 4.51 xFIP to go along with the inflated ERA.

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

Sunday: RHP Josh Beckett. There was a time, as recently as last year, when the Yankees simply killed Beckett. Sure, he’d have a dominant start against them here and there, but for the most part the Yanks had as much success against him as they have any other ace-type pitcher. This year, however, he has been nothing but dominant against the Yankees, facing them three times and allowing just two runs in 21 innings, including two starts where he allowed no runs. He’s kept up that dominance, too, allowing zero or one run in a start 11 times out of 21 starts. His 2.20 ERA is behind only Jered Weaver in the AL, though his 3.23 FIP and 3.57 xFIP place him a degree lower.

Bullpen: The Red Sox bullpen ranks fifth in the AL with a 3.53 ERA, though they’re second with a 3.39 FIP. (The Yankees lead in both categories.) Jonathan Papelbon has had a quality bounce-back year, and his peripherals are much stronger than his results. Daniel Bard enjoys another dominant year in set-up, while the Sox have also gotten quality performances out of Matt Albers. The rest have stumbled, to some degree or another, but still represent one of the stronger bullpens in the league.

Recommended Red Sox Reading: Over The Monster.

Mailbag: Garcia, Gardner, D-Rob, Pujols, CC

In this week’s edition of the RAB Mailbag, we’re going to focus on some future issues/hypotheticals, not necessarily things going on with the Yankees right now. If you want to send in a question, make sure you use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Brandon asks: With Freddy Garcia having a great season he has put himself in position to be a Type-B free agent, do you see the Yankees offering him arbitration?

Garcia currently projects as a Type-B free agent and is pretty safe, I think we’re too deep into the season for him to pitch his way out of that ranking. Although his base salary is just $1.5M, he’s got another $3.6M in incentives in his contract, which are based on the number of starts he makes. For the sake of argument, let’s just say he makes the 30 starts needed to earn all that cash (he’s got 19 starts right now) so his base salary going into a potential arbitration case would be $5.1M.

That’s nothing given Freddy’s performance, and I figure a winning arbitration case would net him a $8-9M or so salary next year. I’d rather give him another low base salary, incentive-laden deal, but I don’t think that salary is so outrageous that they can’t risk an arbitration offer. There’s always a possible handshake agreements as well, like we saw with Javy Vazquez last year. Gun to my head, yeah I think they’ll offer arbitration as long as he stays healthy.

Shaun asks: When is Brett Gardner arb eligible? What do you think he will get first time through? Same question for Robertson. Thanks!

Both guys are arbitration eligible for the first time after this season. I’ll do a more in-depth analysis during the offseason in my hilariously inaccurate Arbitration Case series, but neither guy will make big bucks next year. Brett Gardner’s primary value is his defense, which is still way undervalued in arbitration because no one’s going to bother explaining the advanced metrics to the arbiters. Robertson is just a non-closing reliever, which is about the worst demographic you can be in if you want to make big money as a big leaguer. I figure Gardner is in line for $2.5M or so (about what Michael Bourn got his first time through arbitration), Robertson about $1.5M (a notch below what Joba Chamberlain got, when he had a season as a starter under his belt), but those are just early estimations.

Planks asks: Not feasible for the Yankees considering Teixeira is at 1b for a long time, but if Pujols expresses strong interest in joining the Yankees this offseason, what contract would you offer? What do you think he will get from the Cards?

Well if he expressed a strong interest in coming to New York, I would assume he’d be amiable to a discount. The thing about Albert Pujols is that he’s having a down year by his standards, “just” a .370 wOBA when his career average is .431. That’s a significant drop-off, plus he is 31 (will be 32 by Opening Day 2012) and has had on-and-off elbow trouble for a few years. It’s going to take a huge commitment to sign him, so you have to at least consider the possibility that this year isn’t a fluke and the sign of decline. I don’t think that’s the case, but the possibly can’t be ignored.

Yankee Stadium is way more hitter friendly than Busch Stadium, though Pujols is one of those guys were park factors don’t matter too much. He’s a great hitter anywhere and has the power to hit the ball out of any park. Does six years and $183M sound reasonable? That’s $27M per season with a $5M signing bonus and a $10M buyout of a seventh year option worth whatever amount ($30M? $35M?). I’m sure Pujols and his agent are thinking Alex Rodriguez money, but the Yankees know the pitfalls of a contract that huge first hand. I’m sure St. Louis would top that offer with a smile on their face, but I wouldn’t offer more in my amateur opinion.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Sam asks: Should CC be getting MVP consideration? Where would be be without the big guy?

I’m not one of those guys think that pitchers should be ineligible for the MVP just because they “have their own award” in the Cy Young, and in fact nothing in the MVP voting criteria explicitly says to omit pitchers. I’m also not one of those guys that thinks there’s a difference between “most valuable” and “best.” The best player in the league should win the MVP because he’s the most valuable to his team. Whether or not the team is in contention is irrelevant to me, Jose Bautista shouldn’t be punished because his teammates stink, which is something completely out of his control. Anyway, that’s my two cents.

I don’t like to look at WAR for MVP voting because a) I don’t love it for pitchers (especially relievers), and b) I don’t like the way a one-year sample of defensive numbers are used, so the fact that Sabathia is so high on the WAR leaderboard means little to me. Position players play every day and overall I think an elite position player contributes more to his team than an elite starting pitcher. Sabathia certainly deserves some MVP consideration, but I don’t think I’d have him among the ten names on my ballot. Among pitchers alone, I’d definitely have Justin Verlander ahead of him, and I’d probably have Jered Weaver ahead of him too. CC’s been phenomenal, no doubt about it, but I think some others are more deserving.

Jimmy asks: It’s been very quiet so far this season, but how long before the CC opt out debate becomes a huge story?

There’s not much of a debate, he’s going to opt-out because it’s the smart thing to do. It’ll be a huge story after the season once he actually says the magic words, but it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Everyone knows it’s coming and the Yankees will deal with it then. Nothing else they can do, and there’s no sense worrying about it.

Tyler asks: Which minor leaguers are Rule 5 eligible after this season? Who do you think will be added to the 40-man?

College players drafted in 2008 and high school players drafted in 2007 are the newly eligible players this year (I have no idea about international free agents), so that includes three important players for the Yankees: Austin Romine, D.J. Mitchell, and David Phelps. All three are no-brainers, they have to be protected. I’m not the biggest Mitchell fan, but he definitely has value and there’s no reason to give him away. George Kontos (a 2006 draftee) is probably worth protecting this time around as well.

David Adams is on the fence, but I think he’s worth protecting as long as his recovery from the foot/ankle injury continues to go well. True middle infielders that can hit are exactly the kinds of guys you keep. The interesting case will be Pat Venditte, though I think the Yankees will leave him off the 40-man roster and some team will grab him for a Spring Training look-see.

Johnny asks: Dante Jr. has been insanely hot with the bat lately. However, do you discount his stats because the GCL hardly has any 2011 draftees playing yet? The level of competition right now is way below where it will be in 2-3 weeks right? Or is it safe to get excited about Dante Jr?

The further you get away from the big leagues, the less the stats matter. Baseball history is littered with guys that tore up the GCL but didn’t hit anywhere else (check out Tony Blanco’s GCL numbers). That said, you’d much rather see a kid tear that league up than struggle, just for piece of mind. If Dante Bichette Jr. started his career hitting like, .200/.250/.350 with 75 strikeouts and ten walks in 50 games, then yeah that’s a reason to worry. Strong performance means less that poor performance, if that makes sense.

Full season leagues are the first big test, that’s when you can really begin to pay attention to performance. It’s the first time these kids are playing every single day for months on end, grinding through long bus trips and crummy hotels and nagging injuries. It’s a tough transition and you’d be surprised at how many players can’t handle it. Great GCL numbers are nice to see, but ultimately they shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion. I won’t rank Bichette any higher on my next prospect list because of what he’s done over the last few weeks. The scouting report always comes first.

Yanks finish off sweep as Nova dominates ChiSox

This game, much like the entire series, was a good old fashioned ass whoopin’. The Yankees finished off the four-game sweep of the White Sox in Chicago with a 7-2 win on Thursday night, sending them to Boston with a seven-game winning streak.

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Ivan Nova, Stud

If Nova was pitching for his spot in the rotation, he did everything he needed to do to keep his job and then some. He allowed one run in the third on an infield single, stolen base, single and sacrifice fly), but he was practically untouchable the rest of the game. Ten ChiSox hitters went down on strike three, a new career high in strikeouts by three. Nova also generated a career-high 16 swings and misses, which is one fewer than he had in the entire month of May. Chicago had just six hits off him the entire game, two each by Paul Konerko and Brent Morel, and not a single one for extra bases. By Game Score (73), it was the best start of his career (the start against the Red earlier this year was a 72).

PitchFX had Nova’s fastball topping out just north of 96 but mostly sitting around 92, though the key was his slider. That’s the pitch they wanted him to work on in the minors, and a lot of his strikeouts came on that very pitch. Don’t Bring In The Lefty did a PitchFX breakdown of Nova’s arsenal after the game, so check that out. He pounded the zone (70 of 102 pitches were strikes, 68.6%), and nine of his 13 non-strikeout outs came on the infield (eight ground balls). Just five of the 27 batters he faced hit the ball out of the infield. Five! Joe Girardi said after the game that they’ll continue to talk about their rotation situation, but it’s pretty obvious right now that they can’t not start Nova. He’s simply pitching too well.


Robinson Cano, Strong

Much like they did the last few days, the Yankees broke the ice and scored the first run in this game. It came courtesy of a Robinson Cano home run, a first-pitch fastball from Phil Humber that he drove the other way and into the bullpen in the second inning. If you just watched the flight of the ball without knowing who hit it, you’d swear a right-handed batter yanked it down the line. I love opposite-field homers; they show the ability to sit back on a pitch and explode through it late, plus brute strength. Hitting a ball that hard to the opposite field can’t be taught, but then against Robbie does a lot of things with the bat you can’t teach.


The Lead

As good as Nova was, Phil Humber was matching him through the first five innings. Brett Gardner led off the sixth with a double into right, then he moved to third on Derek Jeter‘s sacrifice bunt. I know I bitch and moan about bunts quite a bit, but sheesh. One of the fastest runners in the game was already in scoring position with no outs in the inning. Swing the damn bat.

Anyway, Curtis Granderson clanked a curveball along the foul line to first base after Jeter’s bunt, and Gardner broke for home. Adam Dunn fielded the ball and stepped on first for the force out before throwing home. It was a great throw, right on the money and easy for A.J. Pierzynski to handle, but Gardner simply outran it and slid in as the go-ahead run. The small ball act worked in this instance, but let’s not make a habit of it, mmmkay? Especially in a situation like this, Gardner on second with none out. He’s scoring on any single to the outfield; no need to give up an out.

Tacking On

The way Nova was pitching, that one-run lead was enough, but they played it safe and tacked a few more on anyway. Jorge Posada singled in Cano in the seventh, then Martin plated Nick Swisher as the next batter with a sac fly. That made a 2-1 game much more comfortable at 4-1, but they didn’t stop there. Martin jumped all over a Brian Bruney meatball in the top of the ninth, clobbering a three-run homer into left-center field to officially put it out of reach. It was his second homer of the series after going more than a month without one.

In the face.


Nova handed the ball off to David Robertson with two outs in the seventh, and he got Juan Pierre to line out to left. Hector Noesi finished things off in the ninth, though he did give up Dunn’s 11th homer of the season. I really couldn’t care about that. It’s a garbage time shot and Noesi challenged a struggling hitter in a 2-2 count. Fine by me. The Yankee pitching staff did not walk a single batter in the entire four-game series; you have to go back to Nick Markakis’ third inning walk against Freddy Garcia on Sunday for the last time a Yankees’ pitcher but a man on base via ball four. It’s a span of 39 innings, the third longest walk-less streak since 1919. The 2002 Yankees went 54 IP, the 1965 Dodgers 42.1 IP. That’s pretty incredible, especially since A.J. Burnett started once of these games.

Eric Chavez picked up two more hits, including one off the very top of the wall in right field. A little more wind and it would have been his second homer of the season and second in as many days. Cano had two hits while Gardner, Swisher, Posada, and Martin had one apiece. Jeter drew a walk, as did Cano and Swish. Mark Teixeira (0-for-4 with two strikeouts) was the only Yankee not to reach base in the game.

Jeter made a baserunning mistake in the eighth inning, something he never does. He was on second with one out, then froze when Teixeira hit a ground ball to third. Morel looked towards first for the force out, but instead threw to second and the tag was applied before Jeter was able to slide back in. You very rarely see the Cap’n make a mistake on the bases, so I’m glad he got it out of his system in a game the Yankees were leading by three (at the time).

And since we’re talking about baserunning, I have to mention this because it’s driving me nuts: sliding headfirst in first has become an epidemic with this team. Gardner’s been doing it pretty regularly for a few weeks, and Martin tried it in the fifth inning of this game. I guess they’re not going to be happy until someone breaks a few fingers or a wrist. Just run through the base please, it’s not worth the injury, not at this point of the season with the Yankees having such a big lead on a playoff berth.

Anyway, I’m convinced the White Sox won’t win more than 20 games the rest of the season (they have 52 left). They’ve completely checked out as though they’d rather be doing anything other than playing baseball. I’d hate to be a fan of that team given how awful they’ve looked. The Yankees, meanwhile, have won seven straight and eleven of their last 14. The Red Sox lost to the Indians, so the two AL East rivals will start the weekend series with identical 68-42 records, though the Yankees have a substantial edge in run differential (+173 to +138).

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other neat stuff, and ESPN the updated standings.

Up Next

Off to Boston for three games against the Red Sox, which should be a blast with both clubs sitting atop the division. Bartolo Colon will start the series off against Jon Lester on Friday night. If you want to head to Fenway for any of the three games this weekend, RAB Tickets can get you there.

Phelps returns to mound in GCL loss

Some news and notes…

  • Austin Romine went for an MRI on his strained back, and last night Double-A Trenton manager Tony Franklin described the injury as “a situation where it might take some time.” The Yankees will obviously play it safe, and since the minor league season ends in about a month, there’s a non-zero chance this could end Romine’s season.
  • Ray Kruml (foot) has been placed on the disabled list. Austin Krum and DeAngelo Mack were demoted to Trenton and High-A Tampa, respectively. R.J. Baker was activated off the phantom DL.
  • Eric Wordekemper has been placed on the DL to make room on the roster for Chris Dickerson, who apparently took his sweet time getting to Scranton. I’m guessing this is a phantom DL stint for Wordy.
  • Mark Prior is scheduled to pitch for the Rookie Level GCL Yankees on Friday, so I guess that line drive off his forearm wasn’t too bad.

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 loss to Louisville)
Kevin Russo, 3B & Brandon Laird, 1B: both 1 for 4 – Laird struck out twice
Greg Golson, CF & Jordan Parraz, RF: both 0 for 4 – Golson struck out and threw a runner out at third … Parraz got picked off first
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 PB – he’s 13 for his last 38 (.342) with two doubles and three homers
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI – fourth homer in his last ten games … the HBP got him in the leg
Dan Brewer, LF: 0 for 3, 2 K
Luis Nunez, 2B: 2 for 3, 1 K
Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 2
Adam Warren, RHP: 7.1 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 3-11 GB/FB – 70 of 102 pitches were strikes (68.6%) … he was right around 92 tonight
J.C. Romero, LHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 13 of 23 pitches were strikes (56.5%) … I thought maybe they’d call him up for the Red Sox series, but I guess not
Buddy Carlyle, RHP: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 0-1 GB/FB – threw just two pitches, both strikes

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Game 110: For The Sweep

(AP/Charlie Neibergall)

The Yankees have outscored the White Sox 27-9 during the first three games of the series, and it sure would be nice to finish off the four-game sweep (on the road!) to extend the winning streak to seven. Get it done, fellas. Here’s the lineup, same as last night…

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C

Ivan Nova, SP

Little known fact: MLB rules explicitly state that the Yankees are not allowed getaway days, which is why this game starts at 8:10pm ET. I know, totally not fair. Anyway, YES has the broadcast. Enjoy.

CC Sabathia: Packing on the pounds (again)

A whole lot was made of CC Sabathia‘s weight loss earlier this year, as the big left-hander shed 30 lbs. during the offseason and reported to camp at 290 lbs. for the first time in what I imagine is years. He’s gained some of weight back during the season though, something CC readily admitted to George King. “I gained ten back but I feel good, feel strong,” said Sabathia. “This [winter] I will get under 290. It’s easier to work out in the offseason than it is during the season. During the season I have to make sure I stay strong and feel good.” Given how well he’s pitching, I couldn’t care less how much the guy weighs. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working.

Heyman: MLB unlikely to suspend A-Rod

Via Jon Heyman, MLB is unlikely to suspend Alex Rodriguez for all this gambling nonsense, which should surprise no one. Keith Law did a good job of tearing this whole thing to shreds in his chat today, so allow me to copy and paste: “Absolute waste of everyone’s time. Shame on MLB for pandering to the lowest common denominator in both the media (a large segment of which has long had it in for A-Rod) and the fans. They have NO cause to suspend him, and if they try, they will lose the subsequent grievance in embarrassing fashion. And as you pointed out, the inherent message that MLB cares more about whether and with whom you play ‘illegal’ poker than it does about whether you drive drunk and endanger your life and the lives of others is even MORE embarrassing.”

Aside: I present to you this article. Feel free to ridicule, point and laugh, etc.