Burnett melts down as Yanks lose sixth straight

Score some runs early, cough them up when the starting pitcher melts down in the middle innings. We might as well have watched a replay of Sunday night’s game. The Rays scored more than five runs at home for the first time all season en route to handing the Yankees their sixth consecutive loss on Monday, the longest losing streak of the Joe Girardi era.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Burnett Coughs It Up

Good A.J. was around early on. Burnett stormed through the first five innings of the game on just 59 pitches, the only real blemish a solo homer by Johnny Damon. Meh, fourth inning solo shots happen, nothing to get to worked up over. Given his success at Tropicana Field (11 starts, 2.09 ERA, 3.24 FIP) and Tampa’s early season struggles at home (.223/.287/.391 in 22 games), I started to feel a little good about this one. Oh how wrong I was.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

John Jaso (.290 wOBA) doubled into the right field corner to lead off the sixth. Sam Fuld (.291 wOBA) followed that up by looping his third career homer over the fence in right to cut the lead to 5-3. Alright fine, that sucks but the game is still very winnable. Ben Zobrist and Johnny Damon followed with a pair of outs, so the Yankees were still in fine shape. Then Evan Longoria reaches on an infield single. Then he moves to second on a wild pitch. Then Matt Joyce singles him in. Then Joyce goes to second on another wild pitch. Then B.J. Upton yanks one into the left field seats for a go-ahead two run homer. All with two outs. Bye lead, nice knowing you.

Part of me understands leaving Burnett in because hey, his pitch count was still low (just 88 even after Upton’s homer) and the bullpen was short because of Rafael Soriano‘s barking elbow and David Robertson having thrown 30-something pitches the night before, but the other part of me says you have to cut A.J.’s meltdowns off before they have a chance to blossom. My perfect 20-20 hindsight says he should have been lifted after Longoria reached base, once the tying run was at the plate. As it usually is with Burnett, the early innings were too good to be true.

For my next trick... (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The Best Player In The American League*

We’re running out of things to say about Curtis Granderson. His three-run homer off David Price in the the fifth inning was his 14th of the season, two more than any MLBer not named Jose Bautista, and already his seventh off a left-hander. Keep in mind that he’d never hit more than five homers off lefties in any season of his career until this one, and it’s only May 17th. Grandy leads the team in almost every significant category, and it’s not hyperbole to call him the best all-around player in the AL* right now.

Five & Fly

The Yankees pushed five runs across in the first five innings of this game, getting to Price for all of them. What happens next? Just one Yankee reached base the rest of the game, a span of 15 batters. Eduardo Nunez had the best at-bat of that stretch, a ten-pitch battle with Joel Peralta to lead off the seventh. He didn’t reach base, but getting ten pitches out of Peralta when Joe Maddon was obviously ready to use him for two innings was pretty big. But, of course, the next two batters were retired on three total pitches and Peralta cruised through the heart of the order in the eighth on ten pitches.

For years, decades even, the Yankees’ mantra has been wear down the opposing starter and go to town on the weak middle relief. For whatever reason, that just isn’t happening this season. Coming into this game, the Bombers had a 135 OPS+ in the first three innings, a 114 OPS+ in the middle three, and just a 106 OPS+ in the final three. Yes, 106 is still better than average, but that’s not what the Yankees do. They’re supposed to come to life against the relievers, not tail off. Tonight was just a microcosm of the season; out came the starter and away went the bats.

We all need a hug, Frankie. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)


Shall we recap the non-Granderson offense? We shall. Derek Jeter went 0-for-3 with a walk and now has five singles, two walks, and a hit-by-pitch since his two homer game over a week ago. Mark Teixeira went hitless in four at-bats and has six singles in 32 plate appearances over the last week or so. Alex Rodriguez went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and has seven hits in his last ten games. Robinson Cano singled twice, but saw a total of nine pitches in four at-bats. His 3.16 pitches seen per plate appearance ranks 188th out of 191 qualified batters. Nick Swisher singled and has actually hit in eight of his last nine games, but none of those games feature multiple hits. Russell Martin‘s two hits mean he’s reached base eight times in the last five games, so that’s cool. Eduardo Nunez’s single drove in the first two runs of the games, so that was pretty cool too. He later committed a throwing error, which is to be expected.

I saw some questioning the decision to pinch-hit Brett Gardner for Andruw Jones in the ninth, citing Andruw’s career numbers against Farnsworth (5-for-17 with two homers), but those numbers almost all come from their Braves-Cubs days. They’ve squared off a total of three times since 2004, and Jones hasn’t reached base against him since 2003. Gardner’s been the second best hitter on the team lately, so I say go with the hot hand.

I have this new throwing program. You probably haven't heard of it. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Boy, it sure was fun watching Tampa’s $4.15M setup man/closer combo retire all nine men they faced in a one run game while the Yankees’ $10M setup guy sat on the sidelines with a sore elbow, having not had a clean inning since Opening Day, wasn’t it? The next multi-year deal given to a non-Mariano Rivera reliever that works out will be the first.

The six game losing streak is, like I said, the longest of the Girardi era, and the Yankees’ longest streak since dropping seven in a row in April 2007. They’ve also lost ten of their last 13 games, and if you want to go back to last year, the Yanks are just 51-49 in their last hundred games (56-53 if you count the postseason). It’s not all Cliff Lee’s fault, folks.

As for the happy news, it was great to see Ken Singleton back in the booth, though of course we all pass along our condolences to his family again. Missed ya, Kenny.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Can you fall up a cliff? MLB.com has your box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

It’s just a two game series, so these two teams will wrap things upon Tuesday when Ivan Nova takes on Jamie Shields. If you decide to take a mental health day away from baseball, I wouldn’t blame you.

* Non-Bautista Division. That guy is on another planet.

Soriano’s elbow still barking, going to see doctor tomorrow

Via Marc Carig, Rafael Soriano had his bullpen session cut short this afternoon and will go see the team doctor tomorrow after continuing to experience pain/soreness/stiffness/inflammation/whatever in his twice-surgically repaired elbow. Meanwhile, he also threw the offense under the bus after the game and said he may take a week or two off at the behest of senior vice president Felix Lopez.

A disabled list stint seems inevitable, but be honest, how many of you will miss him?

Flores, Sanchez go deep again in Charleston loss

Jess Todd’s tenure in the Yankees’ organization is over, he was claimed off waivers by St. Louis today. He was designated for assignment last week to make room on the roster for Amaury Sanit. Thanks for the 1.2 innings and 21 pitches, Jess.

Meanwhile, Kevin Goldstein wrote about Jesus Montero today (no BP subs. req’d), and basically said that calling him now would be the wrong move because there would be too much pressure on him to immediately produce. I agree to a certain extent, but the kid could come up in the middle of September with the Yankees twenty games up in the division and the pressure will still be there. At some point you just have to close your eyes and jump in, otherwise they’ll be waiting forever to call him up.

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. I’m not sure when they’re going to make this game up, but they don’t go back to Pawtucket until the second-to-last series of the year in September.

Double-A Trenton had a scheduled off day.

High-A Tampa (8-4 win over Palm Beach)
Abe Almonte, CF: 3 for 5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K – seven for his last 12 (.583) with two doubles
Walt Ibarra, SS: 2 for 5, 1 2B, 1 K
Rob Lyerly, 3B: 2 for 4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding) – 12 for his last 21 (.571)
Luke Murton, DH & Neil Medchill, LF: both 1 for 4 – Murton drove in two … Medchill doubled, walked, and struck out
Kyle Higashioka, C: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 1 PB, 1 E (throwing)
Taylor Grote, RF: 0 for 5, 4 K – oof … at least he threw a runner out at the plate
Kelvin Castro, 2B: 4 for 4, 3 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB – got picked off first … great day, he’s quietly having
Kevin Mahoney, 1B: 4 for 5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Josh Romanski, LHP: 7 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 8-7 GB/FB – hooray for pitching deep into the game
Chase Whitley, RHP: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 1-3 GB/FB

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Posada told Yankees he wanted out

Via Bill Madden, Jorge Posada told Brian Cashman that he not only wanted out of Saturday night’s lineup after being demoted to ninth in the lineup, he also wanted out of the Yankees as well. “It was just something said in the heat of anger and frustration,” said one of Madden’s sources. “He didn’t want out, and doesn’t want out. He was just frustrated and said a lot of things.” Posada apologized and this is all in the past now, but sheesh, Jorge was pissed, eh?

Game 39: Home Away From Home

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Maybe changing cities will change the Yankees’ fortunes. Tampa is pretty much the team’s second home anyway, so there will certainly be plenty of people in the stands at The Trop cheering on the road team this evening. Of course, they’ll also be booing if the Yankees don’t get their act together. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Andruw Jones, LF
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, 3B – maybe they can use the pitcher as a relay man, otherwise who knows where the throws will end up

A.J. Burnett, SP

Kind of a weird start time tonight, this one is scheduled to begin at 6:40pm ET. Eh, whatever. YES has the call, enjoy.

This week’s annotated box score

Another ESPN Sunday Night broadcast means another Yankees’ related annotated box score from the great Sam Miller. This week’s edition includes 20-80 scale fighting grades for the those involved in the Slade Heathcott brawl, as well as a look at the greatest hitters ever to bat ninth. Hint: The Yankees put someone in the top eight of that list this weekend, and it wasn’t Jorge Posada. As always, it’s well worth the click and read.

Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Mike Carlson/AP)

The Yankees conclude their first tour of the AL East with a series against the Rays. In a way the Yankees couldn’t head down to Tampa at a better time. They could certainly use an escape from New York, and, well, it’s hard to imagine them playing any worse. If you’re going to turn things around, might as well do it against the team that leads the division.

What the Rays Have Done Lately

At 23-17 the Rays currently lead the East, but that doesn’t quite describe how they’ve played lately. They started the season 0-6 and 1-8, so it’s been quite a run back from the bottom. The best part for them, perhaps, is that the wins didn’t come in one burst — that is, it’s not as though they got lucky for a stretch. They have two five-game winning streaks, a four-gamer, and a pair of three-game ones. That’s enough to help smooth over a rough start. Though, to put an arbitrary end point on it, they are 3-3 in their last six, including 0-2 during the weekend. So there’s that.

Rays on Offense

(Chris O'Meara/AP)

While the Rays have scored runs at about a league average clip, they have seen some standout performances. For instance, Ben Zobrist is back into beast mode, hitting .288/.369/.568 on the season. To make things even crazier, since April 24 he’s hitting .394/.471/.718. He might not be as good as he was in 2009, but he’s also better than he showed in 2010.

Helping out, especially when they missed Evan Longoria for a few weeks, has been Matt Joyce. He’s currently at .368/.424/.615, and since April 28th that’s .463/.508/.870 in 63 PA. If that weren’t scary enough, Longoria is now back, and he hasn’t missed a beat. In his 52 PA since returning he’s hitting .295/.404/.568. That gives the Rays a powerful punch in the middle of the lineup. Even Casey Kotchman has helped out, hitting .341/.411/.424 (29 hits, 24 singles) in his 95 PA.

Yet for all the hot hitters the Rays have, they have little else going for them. John Jaso’s OBP is under .300, which is a problem, because Jaso’s sole value is in his ability to get on base. Reid Brignac’s batting average is not only below the Mendoza Line, but his OBP is approaching it, too. Sam Fuld has cooled down from his torrid start, while Johnny Damon still hasn’t gotten much going. Don’t be fooled by B.J. Upton’s line, though. He’s at .311/.354/.557 in his last 65 PA, and he’s probably a bit better than his overall line indicates. Tough stretches — Upton went 8 for 53 at one point — look worse on the stat line at this time of year.

Rays on the Mound

(Chris O'Meara/AP)

Monday, LHP David Price. While Price has no complete games this year, he has completed at least eight innings on four occasions, and has been generally awesome in those outings. This includes his previous two, when he took down Toronto and then Cleveland, combining to pitch 16.2 innings and allowing just three runs while striking out 17 and walking none. In fact, avoiding the walk has been the biggest change for Price this year. He has just nine of them in 57.2 IP, which is 1.4 per nine. Last year he walked 3.4 per nine.

The bad news is that doesn’t mix well with the Yankees, a patient team. The good news is that when they’ve faced pitchers whose weaknesses are their strengths, they’ve faltered. Maybe there’s reversal of fortune potential here?

(Amy Sancetta/AP)

Tuesday, RHP James Shields. If I’ve grown sick of one sight this season, it’s the Yankees swinging over off-speed and breaking pitches. It’s not as though this is something new, though. Last year they did that a lot, against Shields in particular. The one game that comes to mind is August 1, 2010, when he struck out 11 Yankees in 7.1 IP. There was also his 6.1 IP, 8 K game in September. On the bright side, the Yanks did knock him around most of the other times they faced him, so he’s not unbeatable.

As with Price, Shields has avoided walking batters this year, just 13 in 60.2 IP. His strikeout rate has settled somewhere between last year’s and his career, and he’s actually getting more ground balls and, therefore, allowing fewer home runs. He has also completed two games this year and has gone into the eighth on three other occasions. While Price is the ace of the staff, Shields isn’t far behind with the way he’s currently.

Bullpen: Looking at the Rays bullpen in the aggregate, they have a slightly lower ERA, but higher FIP and xFIP, than the Yankees. Of course, they’ve pitched 14 fewer innings, which wouldn’t be a huge margin if the Yankees hadn’t played fewer games. While things have certainly gone well so far, forgive me if I don’t have a ton of confidence in a bullpen helmed by Kyle Farnsworth. It might not be the worst in the league, but part of the reason it’s so good is that the rotation has made it less necessary. That’s the mark of some great bullpen work, really.

Recommended Rays Reading: The Process Report and DRays Bay.