Injuries just a small part of the problem

"We stink." (Photo Credit: Henny Ray Abrams, AP)

Just 4-8 in their last dozen games, the Yankees have hit their first real skid of the 2010 season. We all knew it was going to happen at some point, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. Considering the opponents (Red Sox and Rays, among others) and the fact that the majority of those games were played at home, and yeah, it’s frustrating. All of the recent injuries provide a built-in excuse, because what team wouldn’t be weakened by losing their starting catcher, two starting outfielders, and starting designated hitter?

Of course, the injuries aren’t everything. Every team has injuries, it’s part of the game. The Rays don’t have J.P. Howell or Kelly Shoppach, Boston’s missing Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, it happens. In fact, even without Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Johnson in the lineup, the Yankees still managed to score 47 runs during the seven game homestand. And that’s with Mark Teixeira enduring an 0-for-14 stretch. When you score nearly seven runs per game, you should win.

Instead, the pitching staff wasn’t able to hold up it’s end of the bargain, allowing 45 runs during that stretch. Most of that blame goes to the bullpen, which has allowed 20 runs in the last five games (16.1 IP). That’s not quite Arizona Diamondbacks bad, but it’s bad. Even more damning is that most of those runs were charged to Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera, who are supposed to be rocks at the end of games. Maybe it’s not damning, maybe that’s too harsh, because it’s certainly reasonable to expect those two to perform better over a 162 game season. Remember, if they did their jobs on Sunday and Tuesday, it’s a 5-2 homestand instead of a 3-4 homestand.

(Devil’s Advocate: If Jonathan Papelbon does his job on Monday, it’s a 2-5 homestand)

The starters, so dominant early in the season, were just mediocre the last time through the rotation. Sergio Mitre (5 IP, 1 R) and CC Sabathia (7 IP, 1 R) did their jobs, but Phil Hughes (5 IP, 5 R), A.J. Burnett (6.2 IP, 6 R), and Andy Pettitte (5 IP, 7 R) were simply not good enough to win. The defense didn’t help much either, as Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Marcus Thames all contributed significant misplays during the recent schnied. The Yanks still have a sub-4.00 team ERA (3.93, to be exact) and have allowed the fourth fewest runs in the league this season, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell that by watching them over the last week or so.

Whenever the Yankees play (and more importantly, lose to) the Rays, we’re always subjected to that usual schtick about them being younger and more athletic and holding track meets on the bases and what not, and of course it’s true. The Rays are a special team, they make everyone look old. It’s not something unique to the Yanks. If the pitching had done it’s job, limiting Tampa to even just five runs a game, the series plays out much differently.

Injuries are certainly taking a toll on the Yanks’ roster, but not let’s not fall into the trap of using that as a scapegoat. The players that are healthy, specifically the pitching staff, haven’t been up to par of late. It’s not a fatal flaw or anything, it’s just a rut. It happens to every team, and it’ll happen to the Yankees again at some point this summer. They’re too talented to pitch as poorly as they did during this homestand for a prolonged stretch of time. The good news is that 16 of their next 22 games come against last place teams, so the ship could be righted in very short order.

Just don’t use the injuries as an excuse for their recent poor play, it’s lazy and a total cop-out.

Rays offense dooms Yanks again

A bright spot | Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

The O’Neill Rule has failed. The Yankees bats were not, in fact, enlivened by the 9th inning rally on Wednesday. In fact, a number of the team’s hitters, including A-Rod, looked considerably worse at the plate than they did in Wednesday’s loss. They took advantage of Rays’ mistakes, but never conjured a rally of their own. The Rays, on the other hand, continued to pound Yankees’ pitching. The injury riddled lineup just couldn’t hang.

Defining moment: Yanks fail to capitalize in the third

The Yanks came into the game needing a win, so to see the Rays put across three in the first was pretty deflating. They came back for a couple in the second, and then appeared poised to assert themselves in the third. Randy Winn opened with a single, and you just can’t waste opportunities like that. And so the Yankees went to work.

Derek Jeter laid down a beauty of a bunt that easily advanced Winn to second. That, however, wasn’t the ultimate aim. With Evan Longoria playing back, Jeter’s intention, I’m sure, was to put himself on base, too. Once the ball got past James Shields that was assured. Brett Gardner followed with a bunt of his own, this one a bit more predictable. Shields fielded this one, but likely wouldn’t have gotten Gardner even if he made a good throw. He didn’t, though, and the ball rolled into foul territory in right, allowing Winn to score. All the sudden, a deflated feeling turned into joy. The Yankees had tied the game.

Not only did the Yanks get a new life, they also got an opportunity to break open the game. Runners stood on second and third with none out, and the Yankees had their 3-4-5 hitters coming to the plate. In the most painful fashion, Shields dispatched of them. Mark Teixeira tapped a weak one right back to the pitcher. Alex Rodriguez struck out on a pitch that Dioner Navarro had to block. Robinson Cano waved at strike three well outside the zone.

While they had tied the game, the failure to score even one run in that situation again brought the deflated feeling.

Andy Pettitte: Not sharp

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

It was clear, right from the first batter, that Andy Pettitte was going to battle through this one. Four batters later he had a runner on first with none out and a 3-0 deficit. He threw 28 pitches in the inning, 13 of which were out of the zone. I’m pretty sure Cervelli had to move his glove on every pitch, though I might just be imagining that.

Overall Pettitte thew 103 pitches, 101 of which came before the sixth. In that inning he threw just two pitches, both cutters to Carlos Pena, who slammed the second one into the Yankees’ bullpen to give the Rays a 7-4 lead. Again, deflating. Two runs is one thing. Once they tack on that third run, though, well, I’m not sure if it’s just psychological, but it seems like a much tougher hole to dig out of.

It looked like Pettitte had settled down a bit after the first, but he slipped again in the fifth. Gabe Kapler singled with one out, and for some reason Pettitte payed a bit too much attention to him at first, throwing over four times during Jason Bartlett’s at-bat. That one ended with a seven-pitch walk, which set up Carl Crawford to knock home Kapler with a single and give the Rays the lead. A Ben Zobrist sac fly put them two ahead.

I thought that would be it for Pettitte, but apparently Girardi wanted Pettitte to face the lefty Pena. In his career Pena is a markedly worse hitter against lefties, though he’s been equally bad regardless of handedness this year. Anyway, it was a decent move that backfired.

Sheilds’s change perplexes Yanks hitters

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

James Shields continued his high-strikeout ways by sitting down seven Yankees, six of them swinging. Five of those came on changeups. What’s strange is that, so far as I can tell, Shields did not generate any swings and misses except for a strikeout pitch. He threw it 24 times, his most utilized secondary pitch, and made only one mistake. That was Juan Miranda‘s second-inning homer.

In the past few years Shields has proven himself to be a very good pitcher who doesn’t appear dominant. He induced just six swinging strikes in his 7.1 innings, which matches his number of swinging strikeouts. That’s amazingly efficient. The Yanks did get to him in some ways — he did allow eight hits — but one of them came because B.J. Upton couldn’t find a fly ball. Four runs in 7.1 innings from Shields is not bad. But he still looked good.

Another rally falls short

For the second straight night the Yanks posted a rally in the ninth that fell short. Derek Jeter drove in two with a picturesque double into the gap, but that just wasn’t enough. lt’s encouraging that they were able to bring the tying run to the plate, but it just wasn’t enough.

WPA Graph and box score

The peak at the beginning makes this one even more depressing.

More at FanGraphs. Here’s the box score.

Up Next

It’s back on the road, but not really, for three games at Citi Field this weekend. Javy Vazquez vs. the lefty Hisanori Takahashi.

Adams, Romine & Laird power Trenton to another win

Jack Rye has been placed on the temporary inactive list, which means he’ll only be out for a few days. Might be going to a wedding or something this weekend. Meanwhile, the Yanks signed catcher Rene Rivera for Triple-A depth following the injury to Jorge Posada and Chad Moeller’s subsequent call up. He was playing in an independent league, and last appeared in the big leagues way back in 2006.

Triple-A Scranton‘s game was suspended in the 4th inning due to rain. They’ll finish it off tomorrow, but here’s the box score. Big story: Ivan Nova left the game in the 3rd inning after getting hit by a comebacker off the bat of Pedro Alvarez. Not sure how serious the injury is, he might have left as a precaution for all we know. It’s something to watch for, though.

[Read more…]

Game 41: Splitting ain’t bad

Photo credit: Henry Ray Abrams/AP

If the Yankees can work a win tonight and split the short series with the Rays, they’ll own an 8-5 record (.615) against their two biggest AL East rivals. That would be a huge coup at this point in the season, especially because 1) the team is far from its healthiest, and 2) they don’t meet either opponent for over a month. Thankfully, they have a few things going for them.

Last night’s rally bodes well for today. For those unfamiliar, this comes from Paul O’Neill, who during one game a few years ago said something I found peculiar. The Yanks were getting killed by the Sox, 9-1 entering the ninth. Keith Foulke came on for some garbage innings, and the Yanks went to town on him. Kevin Reese lef off with a single, and although the next two hitters made outs, the Yanks did manage a rally. A-Rod hit a two-run shot to make it 9-3. This is what prompted O’Neill’s comment. He said that when a team’s getting blown out and comes back to score a few in the ninth, they’re bound to make noise the next day.

Sure enough, after two more runs made it a 9-5 final, the Yanks came back and scored seven the very next day, winning despite a Scott Proctor meltdown. A-Rod hit another homer that day. That fascinated me. I’ve made it a point to keep track of these occurrences, and every single instance since then has confirmed the theory. If the Yanks have been getting blown out and end up scoring runs in the ninth, they’ve invariably come back to win the next game.

Do I believe this is an immutable law? No. But it is an interesting phenomenon. Ken Singleton said something similar last night. It doesn’t guarantee victory in any way. It’s just an interesting notation I’ve made during the past three-plus seasons.

* I’m also pretty sure that if you search through game threads, you’ll see me mention this from time to time. This is definitely not the first time I’ve mentioned and explained the O’Neill Rule in the game thread.

The Yanks will have to do it against James Shields, who has been something else lately. In his last four starts he has pitched 29 innings and has struck out 38 to just two walks. He’s allowed just seven extra base hits during those starts, only two of which have been homers. Of course, all four of those starts have come against the Mariners and Athletics. He faced the Yankees earlier this year, lasting 5.1 innings and allowing two runs. The Yanks jacked up his pitch count, though, getting him to 103 before Joe Maddon removed him.

Andy Pettitte takes the ball for the Yanks, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The Rays have had plenty of problems with lefties this season. They’re facing not only a very good lefty, but also the AL’s ERA leader at 1.79. Pettitte has been the stopper in years past, and it would be huge if he could hold the losing streak to two games.

Nick Swisher‘s back, which is great news, especially since a righty is on the mound. Thames took batting practice, and while he’s not in the lineup it doesn’t look like he’s DL-bound.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Brett Gardner, CF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Juan Miranda, DH
8. Francisco Cervelli, C
9. Randy Winn, LF

And on the mound, number forty-six, Andy Pettitte. Number forty-six.

Yankees recall Russo, option Melancon

Well we could see this one coming a mile away, it was just a question of who would be called up. Kevin Russo is your newest bench player, promoted in favor of Greg Golson and Chad Huffman. As you know, he’s capable of playing pretty much everywhere in the field, and at the very least works the count well offensively. Mark Melancon was sent back down to make room on the roster, which was obviously going to happen following yesterday’s 37 pitch outing.One of these days he’ll stick, I’m sure of it.

The moves get the Yanks down to seven relievers and four bench players, though the availability of Nick Swisher (wrist) and Marcus Thames (ankle) is still up in the air. Hooray for normalcy.

Moeller could help Jorge transition back

For a player who spends half the game squatting, any kind of leg injury can be devastating. After recovering from a shoulder injury he sustained in 2008, Jorge Posada has suffered a few leg injuries, the latest a microfracture on his right toe that could keep him out for a month. The Yankees say that the three to four week timeframe is when they’ll once again have Posada available, though the man himself says he’ll be back before that. In any case, it could be a rough transition back to catcher.

As Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus (sub. required) says in his latest Under The Knife, the toe problem “tends to heal pretty cleanly,” so the Yanks needn’t worry about a prolonged recovery period. The problem they might encounter relates to Posada’s ability to catch right away. While a catcher’s squat is most readily associated with knee problems, it also puts tremendous pressure on the foot, especially the toes. That could push back Jorge’s timeline a little bit.

Photo credit: Julie Jacobson/AP

As we learned this afternoon, the Yankees will recall Chad Moeller to fill in as backup catcher. While some clamored for Jesus Montero to fill the spot, that just isn’t in the cards. Donnie Collins makes that case very well, though it takes little more than common sense to know that the Yankees won’t promote a 20-year-old who has struggled at AAA, who was recently benched for not hustling, and who is not ready to play defense at the major league level. The Yankees signed Moeller to play an emergency role, and that emergency has occurred. Yet his presence might help the lineup even after Posada’s return.

When Nick Johnson hit the DL with wrist troubles, the Yankees had a few options. They could have recalled Juan Miranda from AAA to platoon with Marcus Thames at DH. That’s what they ultimately did, but it was not the only option. The other was to add Moeller to the 40-man roster and use him as the backup catcher while Posada takes reps at DH against right-handed pitchers. At the time Posada was nursing a calf injury, so time at DH would have afforded him time to heal fully and move back behind the plate, where is bat is of more value, when he was completely ready.

The Yankees could use Moeller in a similar capacity once Posada returns from the disabled list. Since, as Carroll notes, Posada could still have trouble hitting right-handed, he would still serve as a DH against right-handed pitching, while Marcus Thames would still get reps against lefties. Posada would still be putting pressure on the toe when he runs the bases, but that won’t be nearly the level of pressure he’d place on it by hitting right-handed and catching.

The only downside is that it means Chad Moeller has to play at least once a week, and that the Yankees become more dependent on Francisco Cervelli‘s maintenance of otherworldly numbers. The alternatives, though, aren’t attractive either. They cannot afford to rush back Posada, but they also can’t live for very long without his bat in the lineup. Keeping Moeller around would help solve both problems simultaneously. It’s not efficient to carry two no-field DHs (just ask the Mariners), but it might be all the Yankees can do at this point.

Yankees recall Chad Moeller, shift Nick Johnson to 60-day DL

Via Jack Curry, the Yankees have recalled catcher Chad Moeller from Triple-A Scranton to help carry the load while Jorge Posada is out with a hairline fracture in a his foot. Nick Johnson was shifted to the 60-day disabled list to free up a spot on the 40-man roster. The 35-year-old Moeller was signed to a minor league deal at the end of Spring Training to mentor top prospect Jesus Montero in Scranton, and he’s hit just .207-.233-.310 in limited playing this year.

You probably remember Moeller from his 2008 stint with the team, when he hit .231-.311-.330 in 103 plate appearances. Frankie Cervelli figures to get the majority of the playing time behind the plate now, and I assume P.J. Pilittere will take Moeller’s spot in SWB.