In a few minutes, the Yankees and the Blue Jays were square off in a key three-game set north of the border. For the Blue Jays, just two games behind the Yankees, this is their opportunity to make a move or play spoiler. The Yankees, as we know, just need to keep winning.
Tonight, though, the Yankees will have to earn it. They’re tossing Darrell Rasner, 5-9 with a 5.18 ERA, against A.J. Burnett. Now, Burnett’s start tonight is something of an audition. On the season, he’s a very respectable 15-9, but his ERA stands at 4.67, a full 0.79 higher than his career line. But against the Yanks this year, he’s 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA in 14.1 innings.
This start is an audition because A.J. Burnett has one of those opt-out clauses in his contract, and nearly everyone watching thinks he’s going to exercise that clause. When Burnett records the first out of the third inning today, he will have reached a three-year innings pitched high, and potential suitors will look at his health and success against the AL’s perennial contenders as they determine whether or not to offer the flame-throwing right-hander a contract.
Today’s game also marks the return of Hideki Matsui. The injured Yankee has been out since the end of June with knee problems. While Matsui will need knee surgery at some point in the near future, he will attempt to play for as long as he can. Matsui was hitting .323/.404/.458 through 69 games prior to his injury. The Yanks sent Justin Christian down to make move for Matsui.
Darrell Rasner P (5-9, 5.18)
Over the last few weeks, Xavier Nady has been a godsend for the Yankees. Twenty one games into his Yankee tenure, Nady is hitting .312/.391/.649 with 7 HR and 18 RBI. His 9.9 VORP in just 87 plate appearances allowed the Yankees to dispatch Melky Cabrera back to AAA. But for all of this success this year, Nady is far exceeding his career .282/.339/.463. It’s possible that Nady could emerge as a Paul O’Neill-like player who really comes into his own; it’s possible Nady’s season is simply a fluke. But to tell what Nady’s season means for the future, SG at RLYW ran the numbers and determined that Nady’s improved offense could be a good sign of things to come. · (35) ·
The USA Olympic baseball team clinched a berth in the medal round thanks to this morning’s 4-2 win over Chinese Taipei, which pushed their record to 4-2. Korea (6-0), Cuba (5-1) and Japan (4-2) also clinched spots in the medal round. Each team still has one game remaining in the preliminaries before starting the Semifinals on Friday. Stephen Strasburg lines for tomorrow’s start against Japan, meaning Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson will be on the mound for the semifinals and finals (if they make it), respectively. · (24) ·
Baseball America has just released its ever-popular Best Tools list, and while the entire lists are for subscribers only, we’ve got the Yankees and where they fall:
- As expected, A-Rod pops up the most: He’s been voted the AL’s best hitter and second best power hitter. He’s also got the third best infield arm, according to the folks who participated in the pool.
- Bobby Abreu earned himself the second best strike zone judgment award, sitting just behind Kevin Youkilis.
- Derek Jeter is the AL’s third best hit-and-run artist and the third-best defensive short stop. Make of that what you will.
- Robinson Cano is the league’s third best defensive second baseman.
- Jose Molina was voted the third best defensive catcher, falling one spot behind current Yankee Ivan Rodriguez.
- Joba Chamberlain has the AL’s third best fastball, behind the Mariners’ Brandon Morrow and the Tigers’ Joel Zumaya.
- Mike Mussina’s control is third-best in the junior circuit.
- Andy Pettitte still has the league’s best pick-off move.
- And finally, Mariano Rivera is the league’s best reliever. Bet you never saw that one coming.
The Yankees clearly have the tools, according to those who play and watch the games. Too bad they don’t yet have the wins to go along with it.
Are the Yankees and MetLife running out of people to pull the Yankee Stadium countdown clock lever? Maybe so because now, they’re turning to the fans. The Yankees and Countdown Clock sponsor MetLife have teamed up for a contest in which one lucky fan will win the chance to pull the countdown lever on Saturday, September 13. The winner will also receive four tickets to the game, a chance to meet Joe Girardi and on-field access during batting practice. That day, the clock will go from nine to eight. I guess Yogi Berra, owner of the retired number eight, won’t pull the lever yet again this year.
Who am I kidding? I’m totally entering this contest. · (17) ·
Later tonight, when Darrell Rasner faces off against A.J. Burnett (gulp), Hideki Matsui should return to the lineup for the first time in two months. Hideki hasn’t played June 22, and by all accounts, he’ll need knee surgery this year. With Matsui returning, though, I have to wonder how the Yanks plan on using him.
On the season, Matsui had been quietly having a great season before he hurt his knee. While his power was down a bit — he has just 7 home runs in 69 games — his triple-slash numbers are .323/.404/.458.
But Matsui has excelled in a few situations this year when the rest of the team has not. In 78 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Matsui is hitting .338/.449/.462. In clutch situations, he’s been stellar as well. If the Yanks are to make a run for October over the last six weeks of the season, they sure could use a bat like Matsui’s in the lineup.
There’s one catch: Where should the Yankees play Matsui? As far as I can tell, the Yanks’ lineup is full, and inserting Matsui into the order could weaken the team.
Right now, the Yanks’ outfield consists of some combination of Xavier Nady, Brett Gardner, Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu. In the DH slot, they use the odd man out of the outfield — usually Damon or Nady — or Jason Giambi with Wilson Betemit stepping in at first. The Yanks aren’t about to sit Xavier Nady and his +171 OPS. Damon’s been a stellar offense force, and even Jason Giambi has managed to turn in a good season. Bobby Abreu leads the team in RBIs.
Meanwhile, Matsui can only DH. So how will Joe Girardi manage this one? I’m guessing that Jason Giambi will play first and Matsui will DH. Brett Gardner will perhaps be the odd man out, but the Yanks seem committed to playing him. Plus, the defense suffers significantly with Damon in center.
Right now, I’m basically just thinking out loud, but if the Yanks want to insert Matsui in the lineup, the outfield would generally be Nady-Damon-Abreu. That’s not my ideal lineup, but with Matsui returning, it will do.
Of course, we’re being a bit premature. No one knows how Matsui’s knee will hold up, and the Yanks probably won’t push it too much. Damon is better suited to the DH/OF role he’s inhabited for much of the year, and Brett Gardner has, in his most recent call-up, shown the promise and ability we thought he would the first time around.
Considering the way the Yanks have been going, having too much offense would be a welcome problem, and we’ll see, starting tonight, how Girardi and his coaches handle it. As long as Hideki hits, it almost doesn’t matter.
Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off day.
Double-A Trenton (8-2 win over Reading)
Reegie Corona: 2 for 5, 1 R, 2 K
Frankie Cervelli & Austin Jackson: both 1 for 4, 2 RBI – Cervelli was hit by a pitch … Ajax doubled, drew a walk, scored 2 runs & K’ed
Chris Malec: 3 for 5, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
Colin Curtis: 1 for 5, 1 K – 7 for his last 39 (.179)
PJ Pilittere: 0 for 4, 1 RBI
Edwar Gonzalez & Kevin Russo: both 2 for 4, 2 R – Edwar hit a solo jack giving him 6 homers in his last 7 games
James Cooper: 1 for 3, 1R, 1 BB
Victor Zambrano: 5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 3-6 GB/FB – can they trade him for Scott Kazmir yet?
Johnny Nunez: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 2-0 GB/FB
Jose Valdez: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3-2 GB/FB
Lisa Kennelly of The Star-Ledger spoke with Brian Cashman today, and the Yanks’ GM was quick to explain Phil Hughes’ less-than-stellar outing last night. According to Cashman, Hughes had a bug, and that’s why he tired quickly as the game wore on. Sounds like the Phil Hughes apologists have infiltrated even the highest levels of the Yankee organization, eh? · (16) ·
Once upon a time, Derek Jeter was the Yankee Golden Boy. In 2000, he captured both the World Series and All Star Game MVP to complement his fourth World Series ring in five professional seasons, and it seemed as though many more would be on the horizon.
Well, over the last eight seasons, by and large, Derek during the regular season has not disappointed. He is six hits shy of 2500 and has a lifetime batting line of .316/.387/.459. While the World Series title to complete the hand of rings has eluded him, that’s more a reflection of the team than of Derek. The Yanks, after all, have made the playoffs every year of his career.
But lately, something’s happened with Derek. The New York media, once the biggest fans of the Yanks’ media-savvy — and don’t forget attractive — young short stop, have come to regard him with a skeptical eye. It’s a prime example of “What have you done for me lately?”
Case in point: This year, Derek, who entered 2008 amid MVP expectations, is having a very quiet year. While a 4-for-4 day yesterday moved his triple slash numbers upward, he’s hitting a very un-Jeterian .295/.356/.404 on the year. His power is well below his career norms, and he’s hit into 19 double plays already this year. Playing his age 34 season, Derek has turned in a singles hitter — one very expensive singles hitter.
And therein lies the rub. As a recent column in The Publication That Must Not Be Named opined, the Yanks could very well be facing a future without Derek Jeter as soon as 2011. His contract, which now pays him over $21 million a year, is up in 2010, and if Derek continues the decline brought about, whether we like it or not, by his age, the Yanks will have a short stop on their hands who can’t really field the position and won’t be the hitter he once was.
Of course, there’s a flipside. There’s always a flipside in baseball. Derek Jeter is the Yankees. He’s been their captain for a long time, and while A-Rod is more or less the face of the franchise these day, the team is still Derek’s. The Steinbrenners, as iYankees remind us, also plan to take care of Jeter once this deal is up, and I don’t think Hank meant in the Tony Soprano sense of the word.
So this is what I leave you with on an off-day in August prior to a vital six-game road trip: What do you do with Derek Jeter? The Red Sox are about to unceremoniously dump their captain, but Derek’s line is far cry from Jason Varitek’s pitiful .215/.305/.339 effort this year.
Should the Yanks re-sign Derek and prime fans for a potential run at 4000 hits? Should he be their short stop? Should he move? And how much should a 36-year-old Derek Jeter earn? I’d hate to be in Brian Cashman‘s, Hank Steinbrener’s or Hal Steinbrenner’s shoes when it’s time to pull the trigger on this move in two years?