Game 68: Chi-Town

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Ever since the Chien-Ming Wang debacle of 2008, interleague play in NL parks has scared the crap out of me. I’m an anti-anti-DH guy anyway, if it was up to me all the 30 teams would use a designated hitter. Pitchers are paid to pitch, not hit, so why are we focusing on what they can’t do by letting them bat? Anyway, the Yankees will spend the next six days in (very hitter friendly) NL parks, so hopefully the guys on the mound don’t do anything with the stick beyond the old sacrifice bunt. Here’s the starting nine…

Nick Swisher, RF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Brett Gardner, LF
Freddy Garcia, SP

First pitch is scheduled for 2:20pm ET and can be seen on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

RAB Live Chat

Series Preview: Chicago Cubs

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Only interleague play could bring these two storied franchises together, though they’re historic for very different reasons. The Yankees have won more World Championships than anyone else while the Cubs have gone more than a century since their last title. Wrigley Field is a homer friendly place, so we could be in for some very high scoring games as the NL park portion of the Yankees’ interleague scheduled begins.

What Have The Cubs Done Lately?

The Cubs are gonna Cub. Yesterday’s 12-7 win over Zack Greinke and the Brewers was their third win in four games, but just their fifth win in their last 17 games and their 19th win in their last 50 games. At 28-40, Chicago’s north siders are ten games back in the NL Central and their -66 run differential is second worst in all of baseball. Talk of a fire sale has been met with “who would take those contracts?” responses. The looks like that World Series drought will extend to 104 years this season.

Cubs On Offense

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The Cubbies’ lineup changes by the day but it’s anchored by a handful of stalwarts. Kosuke Fukudome is not the player they thought they were getting with that four year, $48M deal, but you know what? A .301/.409/.419 batting line is fine work from a leadoff guy. Superstar in training Starlin Castro sports a .312/.342/.426 batting line, which is damn impressive for a kid that turned 21 in Spring Training. Yankee killer Carlos Pena is hitting just .211/.355/.402 on the year, but you know he’ll have two or three homers by time the series ends. It’s just the way it is, he kills them. Aramis Ramirez is the other middle of the order mainstay, though he’s at .275/.327/.408 on the season. That’s not the Aramis we’re used to seeing. Former Yankee Alfonso Soriano is at .275/.300/.538, though he’s hit just one homer since hitting eleven in the first month of the season.

Those guys are the core, everyone else just fills in around them. Geovany Soto missed a big chunk of the season due to injury, and he’s at just .220/.307/.384 on the year. My fantasy team weeps. You’ll hear many references about Darwin Barney being a winner and playing the game the right way and all of that this weekend, but his .294/.321/.359 batting line lacks substance and he was just placed on the disabled list anyway.. Jeff Baker is fresh off the disabled list with a .347/.366/.480 line, then you’ve got bit pieces Blake DeWitt (.273/.286/.400), Reed Johnson (.362/.423/.652 in limited time), Lou Montanez (.281/.303/.344 in very limited time), Tony Campana (.239/.255/.283 in very limited time), and D.J. LeMahieu (.294/.294/.294 in extremely limited time). Manager Mike Quade fashions a lineup of those guys around Fukudome, Castro, Soriano, Aramis, and Pena.

Overall, the Cubs are limping along with a .264/.319/.390 batting line as a team, pretty much middle of the pack among the 30 clubs. They don’t steal many bases (Campana has seven, Castro six) and they’re near the bottom of the NL in sacrifice bunts, so they don’t do the small ball thing very well. Essentially, Chicago is a power and patience team without much power or patience. Castro’s a bonafide stud, but the rest of the offense is a bunch of square pegs jammed into round holes.

Cubs On The Mound

Friday, LHP Doug Davis: Signed to a minor league deal after the season started, Davis has made just six starts so far this year. He’s always struck out a fair amount of guys thanks to his big breaking curveball, and he continues to do so this year (8.38 K/9) despite a sky high walk rate (5.59 BB/9). Davis is a typical finesse lefty that throws both a cutter and four seamer in the low-80’s with that curveball as well as a changeup. He’s one of those guys that can be frustrating because he throws junk and keeps hitters off balance, though the Yankees have to patient and let him work himself into trouble, because he will do it if given the opportunity.

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Saturday, RHP Ryan Dempster: Chicago’s Opening Day starter, Dempster was absolutely brutal early in the year, like eight homers allowed with a 7.63 ERA in his first five starts brutal. He’s settled down since then and looks much more like himself, striking out 8.47 and walking just 2.87 batters per nine innings pitching with a 4.31 ERA in his last ten starts. Dempster will throw strikes and get ground balls with a true five pitch mix. His two and four seam fastballs sit in the low-90’s, his put away slider hums in around the mid-80’s, and he’ll also show a low-80’s changeup and a high-80’s splitter. He’s surrendered two earned runs or fewer in seven of his last nine starts and will be the toughest assignment of the weekend (on paper).

Sunday, RHP Randy Wells: Wells has made four starts since coming off the disabled list (forearm), though he’s allowed 15 runs and put 28 men on base in 18 IP during that time. He’s usually a ground ball guy (46+% grounder rate last three years) but it’s just not happening this season (35.1% grounders), maybe because his fastball velocity fell off a cliff. Wells will usually work with low-90’s four and two-seamers, plus low-80’s sliders and changeup, but for whatever reason it just hasn’t worked for him. Keep an eye on his location, if he’s spotting his stuff down in the zone, he’ll do alright. Anything at the thigh or above will get crushed.

Bullpen: Remember our old pal Kerry Wood? He did a bang up job for the Yankees down the stretch last year before taking that well below market deal to return to the team that drafted him, and guess what? He’s on the disabled list, which is his home away from home. Thankfully it’s just a blister this time and nothing serious. Wood’s injury puts the setup onus on Jeff Samardzija (41 K but 26 BB in 37.2 IP) and the tremendously underrated Sean Marshall (32 K and nine walks in 32.1 IP). He’s a lefty capable of getting anyone out, but the good news is that he threw two innings and 33 pitches last night, so he might not be available today.

The rest of the bullpen seems to be one big revolving door. The only mainstay is lefty specialist John Grabow, who does the job against same side batters but is prone to meltdowns. Rodrigo Lopez (6.57 ERA in 12.1 IP) is the recently acquired long man, former (unsigned) Yankees draft pick Chris Carpenter (seven batters faced, two hits and a walk) the recently called up flamethrower without a defined role. James Russell (5.30 ERA in 37.1) is the swingman with some spots starts under his belt. Oh, I guess I should mention Carlos Marmol. The closer has actually cut his walk rate from 6.0 BB/9 last year to 4.4 BB/9 this year, but his strikeout rate has plummeted from 16.0 K/9 last year to 11.6 this year. More than half of the 400-something batters he’s faced over the last two years failed to put the ball in play, but that’s who he is. Marmol’s just a freak, and I mean that in a good way. His slider might be the best in the game, but damn does he make it interesting. Fun to watch though.

Recommended Cubs Reading: The Cub Reporter

Ticket Info: If you’re in Chicago this weekend and want to catch a game or three, make sure you check out RAB Tickets. After the jump is a graphic from the wonderful people at TiqIQ with some pricing info.

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The Obligatory J.C. Romero Post

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The Yankees are in a perpetual search for left-handed bullpen help, so anytime someone with a smidgen of big league success to their credit hits the market, you can be sure Brian Cashman & Co. will show interest. The Phillies designated J.C. Romero for assignment yesterday, so he’s the next name to enter the LOOGY sweepstakes. I like the pros and cons breakdown we’ve been using in the Scouting The Trade Market series, so let’s roll with that…

The Pros

  • Being left-handed and breathing qualifies as a plus in this game all by itself, but believe it or not Romero has handled lefties very well this year. You figure he would have performed poorly since they cut him. Romero held same side batters to a .208/.321/.208 batting line in 29 plate appearances, striking out eight. Lefties also have an 81.3% ground ball rate against him this year, which is ridiculous. Since the start of last year, he’s held left-handers to a .215/.317/.262 line with as many strikeouts (28) as total bases in 126 plate appearances.
  • Romero’s contract will pay him just $1.35M this season, after which he’ll be a free agent. That’s nothing, the Yankees could pickup the pro-rated portion of that up and not blink an eye.
  • The Phillies have already devalued him with the DFA, so they’re forced to trade, release, or waive him within ten days. They essentially stuck an “O.B.O.” on the sticker price.
  • He’s got pennant race, playoff, and World Series experience with the Phillies … yadda yadda yadda.

The Cons

  • Romero’s fastball velocity is down noticeably, which may have something to do with the torn flexor tendon in his left elbow that required surgery and kept him on the shelf from late-July 2009 to late-April 2010. He also missed time with a calf issue this year and has a PED suspension in the not too distant past.
  • He’s completely unusably against right-handed pitchers. They’ve got a .297/.435/.432 batting line against Romero this year with six unintentional walks and two strikeouts in 46 plate appearances, and it’s .303/.446/.552 in 103 plate appearances since the start of last season. His career splits aren’t as drastic, but the point stands, can’t use him against righties.
  • Romero does not project as a Type-A or B free agent, so the Yankees wouldn’t get a draft pick if he were to leave after the season, assuming they offered arbitration.

They say you can’t predict baseball, but the Yankees interest in Romero is as predictable as it gets. There’s no chance he’d get to them off waivers since every team but the Red Sox would have a chance at him before they do, so forget that idea. It’s trade or bust. Some similar pitchers that have been traded recently include David Purcey (twice) and Will Ohman, both of whom returned fringy prospects a little on the older side. Think Lance Pendleton or Greg Golson. I’m not saying that’s who the Yankees should offer, it’s just an example of what it’s taken to acquire similar players in the recent past. I’m not the biggest Romero fan in the world, but there’s little reason for the Yankees not to pursue him.

Gardner gets pie as Yankees finish sweep

Is there a better way to end a ten game homestand than with a walk-off win? I don’t think so. The Yankees got their brains beat in by the Red Sox in the first three games a week ago, but they finished with six wins in the final seven games against a pair of first place teams. Successful homestand? Successful homestand.

Hooray for pie.

Brett Gardner, Not A Platoon Guy

Despite a .364 OBP against lefties this year and a .333/.414/.504 batting line since April 23rd, Joe Girardi decided to sit Brett Gardner in favor of Andruw Jones against Texas’ left-handed starters on Wednesday and Thursday. Jones went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk before Gardner took over for defense late in a tie game on Thursday, but the regular left fielder did a lot more than play defense. With the score tied at two in the 12th inning, Gardner came to the plate with Curtis Granderson (bloop single) on second and Robinson Cano (phantom hit-by-pitch, I think it just hit the knob of the bat) on first with one out. Lefty Michael Kirkman went to his fastball, and Gardner yanked a ground ball through the 3.5 hole to score Grandy for the walk-off win.

Gardner also singled in his first at-bat, that one also off Kirkman. So he came off the bench for defense and ended up with two hits, including the game winner. It’s pretty obvious that if Girardi wants to platoon Andruw, he has to do it with Jorge Posada as the DH. Gardner has to play every game, period. He’s simply too good (on both offense and defense) to platoon right now.

Brian Gordon’s Big Day

Not bad, Brian.

Three days ago, I had no idea that Brian Gordon even existed. Yet there he was Thursday afternoon, starting for the Yankees against the defending AL Champion Rangers. Five innings into the game, Yankee Stadium was chanting his name as he tried to wiggle out of a bases loaded, one out jam. I can’t imagine how that must have felt for the 32-year-old.

The actual results are mixed. I would have signed up for two runs in 5.1 IP in a heartbeat, but Gordon did put a dozen men on base in that time. He gave up seven hits, walked three (one was intentional), and hit two batters, though he got some help from a pair of double plays and Russell Martin throwing out two would-be basestealers. The Rangers put three men on base against him the first time through the order, then four men the second time through the order, and then five men the third time through the order. Gordon’s fastball sat 88-90 and his go to pitch was a slow, slooooow curveball that he got a little predictable with. If he was ahead in the count, you were getting the curve down and away.

I thought Gordon did a fine job of limiting the damage in the fifth, when he allowed his only two runs but escaped a second and third with no outs situation by allowing just one run. Taylor Teagarden walked to leadoff the inning, and a hit-and-run by Endy Chavez moved him up to second. It would have been a routine ground ball double play if Eduardo Nunez wasn’t going to cover second, but he did a good job to recover and keep the ball on the infield and Teagarden at second. Ian Kinsler blooped in a double to score a run and setup the second and third situation, but Gordon recovered to strike out Elvis Andrus. An intentional walk to Josh Hamilton (more on that later) loaded the bases, then Michael Young popped out for the second out. Gordon was almost out of it, but he lost the handle on a curveball and hit Beltre (in a two strike count) to force in a run. Mitch Moreland ended the inning with a routine fly ball. All things considered, it was a fine job.

The Rangers are a strong offensive team despite their recent struggles, and Gordon handled the start about as well as we could have expected. I think he did enough to earn another look (Girardi confirmed that we will start again in five days), but if nothing else he looks like he could be a serviceable reliever with that fastball-curveball combo. That would solve the problem of having to go through a lineup multiple times, and he certainly has experience in that role (he didn’t start until mid-April). We’ll see.

Blown Chances

The last time the Yankees played a day game after clinching a series win, they blew some early opportunities against Carlos Carrasco before going quietly and taking the loss. This game had a similar feel to it. Two outs on the bases (more on that later) killed a potential first inning rally before it even had a chance to start, then Ramiro Pena stranded two runners on base in the second inning, then Cano and Jones struck out to strand runners at second and third in the third. The ninth inning was the icing on the blown opportunity cake; a single, sac bunt, and two walks loaded the bases with two outs, but Granderson struck out (after being in a 3-1 count) and Mark Teixeira grounded out to send the game to extras. The two best hitters on the team couldn’t get it done. The next inning ended when Adrian Beltre turned a Posada line drive into a double play because Gardner was running on the pitch. Of course. At least they came away with the win.

IBB 4 Life

I’m not a big fan of the intentional walk, except in extreme situations. Something about free baserunners doesn’t sit well with me. Intentionally walking Hamilton to a) loaded the bases with one out, and b) put men on first and second with no outs don’t qualify as extreme situations to me. I mean, Young has killed the Yankees all season, absolutely killed them (came into this game hitting .400/.455/.600 against them this year), why put more runners on base in front of him. Yeah, the (literally) free passes worked in the sense that Hamilton did not come around to score, but the hit-by-pitch to Beltre forced in a run because the reigning AL MVP was put on first. Sometimes bad process leads to good results, like today.

So nice to have a catcher than can throw.

Leftovers

It’s Cory Wade‘s world, we’re all just living in it. After just two days on the roster, he already has three times as many 1-2-3 innings as Rafael Soriano. Wade sat down all three men he faced on Wednesday and all six he faced in this game, ending his outing by striking out Hamilton, who swung and missed at three changeups. Gorgeous. All told, the Yankees’ bullpen allowed two hits and a walk in 6.2 IP. Hector Noesi did a great job bridging the gap between Gordon and the regular late-game duo of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera.

Martin looked a million times better today than he did when he started on Sunday. He was moving around and running much more freely it seemed, and he answered the call when the Rangers tested him with some stolen bases attempts. Russ also singled in the first run of the game, and had another single plus a walk, so it was an all-around good return to the lineup for him. Tex took a big fat 0-for-6, which is never fun. Nick Swisher had a hit and a walk from the leadoff spot, Granderson had three hits, Cano two hits and a walk, and Posada a double (his first extra base hit off a lefty this year, and it drove in the tying run in the sixth). Eduamiro Penunez combined to go 0-for-6 with a walk and a sac bunt, though Alex Rodriguez pinch-hit for Ramiro Pena in the ninth only to be intentionally walked. Nunez had both the walk and the bunt.

The Yankees made a pair of outs on the bases in the very first inning, including the first out at third base when Swish over-slid the bag going first-to-third on a Granderson single. Grandy got caught stealing to end the inning shortly thereafter. Sigh.

In nine games against the Yankees this year, the Rangers managed to give up 22 homers, including shots by Pena, Nunez, Frankie Cervelli (a grand slam), and Derek Jeter (two!). Now that’s impressive. Texas is now 2-8 in their last ten games while the Yankees are 18-9 since that ugly six game losing streak no one seems to remember.

WPA Graph & Box Score

So much leverage, so little time. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

Time to hit the road and visit the Chicago Cubs as the NL park leg of interleague play begins. Freddy Garcia gets the ball against Doug Davis in another afternoon game on Friday, this one at 2:20pm ET. The Cubbies play a lot of home games during the day, in case you’re not familiar with the other side of the baseball world.