Scherzer shuts Yanks down to even up ALDS

The best-of-five is now a best-of-three, and the Tigers have homefield advantage. The Yankees late rally came up short in Game Two on Sunday, but that’s better than going down without a fight (O’Neill Theory!). The 5-3 loss sends these two teams to Detroit with the series tied at one.

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)mmm

The Ninth Inning

We’ll start at the end of the game, because that’s really the only part of the game that got Yankees fans off their feet. Down 5-1 to start the frame, Nick Swisher hit a solo homer on Jose Valverde’s very first pitch. Pretty good start. Jorge Posada worked the count full then hit a triple (!!!) to almost dead center. It was a legit triple too, over the head of Austin Jackson and off the wall. No one fell down, nothing like that. The Yankees had one run in with a man on third with no outs already, so they were definitely in business.

Russell Martin came to the plate, and his at-bat really defined the Yankees brand of offense. Martin saw eight pitches total, including a) two fouls on tough fastballs just off the outside corner, and b) a take of a similar pitch for a ball to put men on the corners with none out after the walk. You can point to his batting average all you want, but at-bats like that are part of makes him so valuable. Martin stood his ground and fought off tough pitcher’s pitchers until he got something to hit. When he didn’t get something to hit, he took his base and brought the tying run to the plate. Just a monster at-bat, I can’t say enough about it.

That brought Andruw Jones to the plate, who took over in left after Eric Chavez pinch-hit for Brett Gardner earlier in the game. We’ll talk more about that decision later on, don’t worry. A fastball hitter against a fastball pitcher, Andrew ripped a line drove to right that Don Kelly caught for the first out. Very hard hit ball, just not in the right spot. Posada scored to make it a 5-3 game, but there was one out. The second out came one batter later, when Jeter swung through an inside fastball for strike three. The Cap’n also ended the fifth and seventh innings, both times with two men on base.

The Yankees were down to two outs, but they had the right guy at the plate. Curtis Granderson crushes fastballs and hit the second most homers in all of baseball this year, and one swing of the bat could have tied the game. He got ahead in the count 2-0, but fouled the third pitch back. Alex Avila should have made the catch near the Tigers dugout, but he slipped on the Yankees logo in the on-deck circle and the ball fell harmlessly. It was a huge break, giving the Yankees more life when they had no business having it. Three pitches later, Granderson was on first base via a walk, representing the tying run. That brought Robinson Cano to the plate, who is exactly who we all wanted to see up in that spot.

Already 29 pitches into what was supposed to be an easy outing, Valverde was one mistake away from losing the game. He went after Cano with the hard stuff, and Robinson was pretty late on a few of them. The first pitch was a called strike and it might have been his best one to hit, the next three fouled off. With the rain starting to come down, Valverde went to the splitter and got Cano to ground out weakly to second. Inning over, game over. The Yankees fought hard to put themselves in a position to win, but it wasn’t meant to be. On the bright side, Valverde had to throw 34 high stress pitches, which could have an impact in the next game or even the one after that.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Freddy Sez: Why Am I Pitching To Miggy?

Freddy Garcia’s afternoon didn’t start all that well, but there’s really no shame in giving up a two-run homer to Miguel Cabrera. He’s one of the best hitters in the world, and it was a bit of a Yankee Stadium special to boot. Bad job letting Magglio Ordonez (3-for-3 in the game, really?) be on base when Miggy did his thing. It was a bad start, but that’s all it was. Garcia retired 13 of the next 14 men he faced, taking the ball into the sixth inning without breaking a sweat. Okay, that last part probably isn’t true. I’m sure Sweaty Freddy was sweating.

Anyway, things unraveled in that sixth inning, all thanks to an error by Jeter. Austin Jackson hit a grounder to short, but the throw was in the dirt and Mark Teixeira was unable to make the scoop. The leadoff man was on and the heart of the order was looming, but the bullpen was not yet doing anything. Ordonez picked up his third hit after that, putting men on the corners with none out. Now it was a real mess, but in stayed Garcia. It was the right move for at least one batter, because Delmon Young struck out to setup a potential rally-ending double play. The problem? Cabrera was due up.

Why Garcia was allowed to pitch to him, I’ll never quite understand. The Walk Bonds Chart says to not walk him in that spot, but if they didn’t want to intentionally load the bases, that’s at least a spot for a strikeout reliever. Instead, Miggy hooked a hanging changeup back up the middle, scoring Jackson from third to increase his team’s lead to three-zip. Still in there, Garcia then allowed a single to Victor Martinez to make it four-zip. That ended his day, and Boone Logan managed to escape the inning with two strikeouts.

In between the first inning homer and the sixth inning, error-induced rally, Freddy pitched really well. Four runs in 5.1 IP doesn’t really do his performance justice; he walked zero and whiffed six guys, getting nine of his remaining eleven outs on the ground. It’s the postseason, I think Joe Girardi should have been a little more liberal with the bullpen in that spot. Freddy gets some applause from me, he gave the Yankees a chance to win.

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Where’s The Offense?

Freddy gave the Yankees a chance to win, but the offense definitely did not. Max Scherzer, he of the 5.23 ERA on the road this season, took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Cano broke it up with a bloop single to left with one out. It tied the longest no-hit bid against the Yankees in playoff history, matching the 5.1 IP that Paul Abbot and Norm Charlton held New York hitless in Game Four of the 2001 ALDS. They were late on Scherzer’s fastball and behind on his offspeed pitches, which is why they hit basically nothing hard.

Granderson got them on the board with a solo homer to leadoff the eighth, but it wasn’t until that ninth inning that the Yankees mustered any kind of quality rally. Everything else seemed to die before it even got going. Scherzer was very good (just two hits and four walks in six innings), but the offense didn’t exactly put up much of a fight. After throwing 27 pitches in the first inning, the Tigers’ right-hander needed just 36 over the next three innings.

Girardi’s Decisions

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

Lots of talk about two moves made by Girardi in this one. First, he pinch-hit Chavez for Gardner in that seventh inning, only to watch Joaquin Benoit strike him out on three pitches. I liked the move, but apparently I’m in the extreme minority. The Yankees hadn’t put a damn thing together all game, so I figured the change of pace was worth a shot with the most powerless hitter on the team at the plate. I didn’t expect a homer, just something more than Gardner looking at some fastballs down the middle before rolling over for a ground out. Yes, I know Benoit has good numbers against lefties because of his changeup and all that, but we’re talking about one at-bat. The past X number of lefties not getting hits does not make it less likely that Player Y will get a hit next time up.

The second decision was using Luis Ayala in the ninth, which is completely indefensible. I don’t like to talk in absolutes, but this was clearly the wrong move as soon as he jogged out of the bullpen. Ayala was completely ineffective in Game One and also in the final game of the regular season, and sure enough he allowed a run that seems pretty big considering how the ninth inning played out. Girardi talked about being able to use his top relievers for three days in a row before the game, well where were they? He managed that inning like it was some meaningless regular season game, not the playoffs.

No good vibes from Andy's first pitch, unfortunately. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Leftovers

It’s pretty obvious that Alex Rodriguez can’t bat cleanup tomorrow. He went 0-for-3 with a walk in this game and is 0-for-8 in the series, and he just hasn’t been right since the knee and thumb problems. Bat Teixeira cleanup, move A-Rod to fifth, that’s it. Otherwise Detroit will pitch around Cano all series and not pay for it. Also, you gotta love the boos coming back. Alex is such an easy target, everyone just piles on and uses him as an outlet for their frustration. Jeter (-.206 WPA, by far the worst in the game) plays a major role in the death of three rallies and commits an error that leads to a multi-run inning, but hey, let’s boo A-Rod!

Ayala was pretty awful, but Logan did his job to escape that sixth inning. He did balk the two runners over before getting his two strikeouts though, a gentle little reminder that it’s never easy with Boone. Cory Wade threw 37 pitches across two scoreless innings to kinda keep things in order. You can argue that someone better, Rafael Soriano or David Robertson maybe, should have been pitching those innings, but I don’t have the energy to argue it anymore.

Granderson, Cano, Swisher, and Posada were the only Yankees with hits. You know what the first three did already, and Jorge added a single back up to the middle to his ninth inning triple. Granderson, Cano, A-Rod, Swisher, Posada, and Martin all drew walks as well, and Russ even took a pitch to the hands to reach base. Jeter, Teixeira, and the Gardner/Chavez/Jones spot did not reach base. Unlike Game One, Cano came to the plate just once with men on base, and that was the game-ending at-bat. In fairness, Granderson did hit a homerun in front of him in one of the four baserunner-less at-bats.

Gardner slid head first into first base (again), so naturally he was out. That’s an epidemic with this team, it goes back to Melky Cabrera, but no one seems to care. The entire organization seems to think that it actually helps you get to the base faster. One of these days someone will break a wrist, maybe even someone important like Martin, and I guess that’s what it’ll take wake everyone up, or least someone with some pull in the organization.

Box Score & WPA Graph

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stuff.

Up Next

Like I said, it’s a best-of-three series now, and both teams have their ace going on Monday. CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander will each make their second start of the series following the Game One rain suspension,  and although it’s not a true “must win” for either team, it sure is a game neither can afford to lose with A.J. Burnett and Rick Porcello lined up for Game Four.

Open Thread: A Look Back At 2011

Our own Hannah Ehrlich put that video together over the last week or so, looking back at the last six months of Yankees baseball. It’s basically the greatest thing ever. You should watch it, then tell her how awesome it (and she) is.

Once you’ve done that, use this as your open thread. The late LDS game is the Cardinals at the Phillies (Lee vs. Carpenter, 8:37pm ET on TBS), and the late football game is the Jets at the Ravens (8:20pm ET on NBC). Talk about that, or whatever else you want here. Anything goes.

NLDS Game Thread: Diamondbacks @ Brewers

The Brewers took Game One yesterday in part because Ian Kennedy was left in one batter too long, but mostly because Yovani Gallardo was that damn good (8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K). Daniel Hudson will look to even the series against Zack Greinke, who is starting on three days rest. The game starts at 5:07pm ET and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.

ALDS Game Two: Tigers @ Yankees

Five years ago, the Yankees beat the Tigers in Game One of the ALDS. They lost the next three though. The Yankees took Game One of this year’s ALDS against  Detroit, and now they have to avoid the same problems that did them in back in 2006. That would be a shaky bullpen behind a banged up starting rotation and a lineup that mustered just six runs after the first game.

Robinson Cano and Ivan Nova set the pace last night. Cano did damage every time he stepped to the plate and Nova tossed up zero after zero. Today’s starter, Freddy Garcia, brings a completely different look to the table. He’ll try to lull the Tigers’ hitters to sleep with offspeed stuff, much like Mike Mussina tried to do after Chien-Ming Wang five years ago.

Andy Pettitte is throwing out the first pitch, like he’s done in countless Game Twos before. Here are the lineups…

Detroit Tigers
Austin Jackson, CF
Magglio Ordonez,  RF
Delmon Young, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Alex Avila, C
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Wilson Betemit, 3B
Ramon Santiago, 2B

Max Scherzer, SP

New York Yankees
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

Freddy Garcia, SP

The weather in New York is gorgeous, a little chilly but a big blue sky. The game starts at 3:07pm ET and can be seen on TNT (not TBS). Remember, we’re trying to win a ring around here.

2011 ALDS: Previewing Max Scherzer

(Duane Burleson, AP)

When we previewed Doug Fister yesterday, I mentioned that he had a pretty loose connection to the Yankees. Max Scherzer’s connection to New York is much more ironclad. The 27-year-old right-hander was one of the seven players involved in the three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, though he went from the Diamondbacks to the Tigers. Scherzer will be charged with getting his team back in the series this afternoon following their Game One loss.

Performance

Scherzer started the year as Detroit’s number two starter behind Justin Verlander, but he basically pitched his way out of that role by posting a 4.90 ERA (~4.40 FIP) through his first 18 starts. That’s part of the reason why went out and traded for Fister. Scherzer finished well, pitching to a 3.89 ERA (~3.80 FIP) in his final 15 starts.

Always a high strikeout guy, Scherzer’s strikeout rate decreased for the third straight season, down to a still stellar 8.03 K/9. He’s gotten the walks under control (2.58 BB/9) but is a fly ball guy (40.3% grounders). I guess the best way to describe Scherzer is enigmatic; he had 20 starts of two runs or less, but also nine with five runs or more.

Pitch Selection

(via Texas Leaguers and FanGraphs)

Scherzer is basically two two-pitch pitchers. He’ll rely on the fastball and slider against righties, and then the fastball and changeup against lefties. All three offerings have been essentially average this year (not much difference between ±0.5 runs from average per 100 pitches and zero), but the pure velocity of his fastball and the ten mile an hour separation between the heat and soft stuff make him tough to handle. Some deception in his delivery, courtesy of one of the most violent head whacks you’ll ever see, helps his cause. Scherzer is definitely one of those guys with better stuff than results, but power repertoires always seem to play up this time of year.

Pitching Pattern

(via FanGraphs)

It’s all fastball, all the time. Even when he’s ahead in the count, there’s still better than a 50-50 chance that Scherzer will go to his heat. I guess when you throw that hard, you should be proud of your fastball. [/Flaherty’d] Scherzer has been quite a bit better at home than on the road, and I’m guessing that’s at least part of the reason why they scheduled him to pitch Game Three in Detroit. The weather threw a wrench into that, so perhaps the Yankees benefit. The good news is that they were the third best fastball hitting team in baseball this year, so Scherzer plays right to their strengths.

Nova, Cano lead Yanks to Game One win

More than 24 hours after starting, Game One of the ALDS is officially in the books. The Yankees rode two of their best young homegrown players to a blowout win over the Tigers, giving them a one game to none lead in the best-of-five series.

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Before The Rain

As you know, this game really started on Friday night. The Yankees and Tigers got just an inning and a half in before rain forced the game to be suspended until Saturday, throwing a wrench into everyone’s pitching plans. CC Sabathia struck out four in his two innings of work, the only blemish a Yankee Stadium special solo homer from Delmon Young. Justin Verlander walked two and allowed a run without letting a ball out of the infield in his inning. It’s a shame, it looked like CC was on and Verlander was struggling. Alas, the skies opened up and we’ll see these two aces in Game Three on Monday.

He hit that one to Alburquerque. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Have Yourself A Night, Robinson

Just before the playoffs, the Yankees decided to switch up their lineup just a little bit, installing Robinson Cano as the number three hitter against righties while Mark Teixiera slid down to fifth. One game into the playoffs, the move has been a smashing success.

The score was still tied at one in the bottom of the fifth, and Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter combined for two quick outs. Two outs is the perfect time for a go-ahead rally, so Curtis Granderson did the honors of singling to right to extend the inning. Doug Fister, who we’ll talk about in a little while, caught just enough of the plate with a 1-1 fastball, and Cano smashed it out to left. I thought it was gone off the bat, but the ball hit off the table top of the left field wall and bounced back into the field of play. Umpires reviewed the play and (correctly) ruled it a double, but Granderson scored from first anyway. Cano had given the Yankees a 2-1 lead, and he wasn’t close to being done.

Just one inning later, the Yankees really had something cooking. Gardner singled in a pair of runs after Tex doubled (to the opposite field!), Jorge Posada walked, and Russell Martin moved them up with a ground ball. Jeter singled to put runners on the corners, stole second uncontested to put men at second and third, then Granderson drew a walk to load the bases. That was the end of Fister’s day, and in came strikeout machine Al Alburquerque. Alburquerque misses a ton of bats with his slider, but Cano doesn’t miss many sliders when they hang up in the zone. Robbie hit a no-doubt grand slam into the second deck to right, blowing the game open and giving the Yankees a nice seven-run cushion. In 43.1 regular season innings, Alburquerque allowed zero homeruns. That changed two pitches into his postseason career.

Cano added another run-scoring double in the eighth, stretching the lead to 9-1 and allowing him to finish the day 3-for-5 with two doubles and the salami. It was the Yankees first postseason grand slam since Ricky Ledee victimized Rod Beck of the Red Sox in Game Four of the 1999 ALCS. Cano’s six runs driven in are a new Yankees LDS record, and the most by someone wearing pinstripes since Hideki Matsui went off on the Phillies in Game Six of the 2009 World Series. I think he’ll be just fine hitting third, just fine.

Super Duper Nova

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

It technically wasn’t a start, but who cares? Ivan Nova was absolute money in “relief” of Sabathia, taking the ball to start the third inning and leading the Yankees right to the ninth. He ran into one real jam in the fifth (more on that in a bit), but otherwise did not allow more than one runner on base in an inning until things were all but decided in the ninth. New York’s number two starter struck out five and it seemed like every one came in a big spot, and he got six other outs on the ground.

The two runs Nova allowed came when he was out of the game, otherwise known as garbage time. A Delmon line drive to the foot in the ninth seemed to slow him a bit, but there’s no shame in that. Nova came up huge against a pitcher that came into the game with much more hype, and he’s the reason the Yankees have a one-game lead in the series right now. Cano’s contributions were obviously huge, but Nova really carried the team on his back.

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

This Ain’t The AL Central, Doug

The Yankees are now 3-0 in the three games they faced Verlander this year, but this isn’t about him. It’s about the job the Yankees did against Fister, who the MSM would have liked you to believe was second coming of Roy Halladay because of his September performance. He allowed the first two batters he faced to reach base, but then retired eleven men in the row. The Yankees showed no mercy the second and third time thought the order; seven of the next ten men they sent to the plate reached base. Fister’s final line was six runs on seven hits and two walks in just 4.2 IP, the first time he allowed more than two runs in an outing since August 14th, his third start as a Tigers. It’s almost like facing seven AL Central teams in your last eight regular season outings can skew your performance.

Cano was obviously the highlight on offense, but this was a total team effort. Gardner’s two-run single in the fifth (in an 0-2 count, no less) was big because it gave the Yankees some breathing room before Cano broke it open. Granderson reached base three times in five plate appearances (the single and two walks), and he saw a total of 30 pitches. That’s huge. Jeter had a pair of hits, and the five through nine hitters all had one hit. Teixeira and Posada added walks. Alex Rodriguez was the only Yankees not to reach base, going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and the RBI groundout on Friday.

(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Leftovers

Underrated moment sure to be forgotten because of the blowout: Alex Avila getting thrown out at the plate fifth inning. Nova started to show some kinks in the armor that inning, allowing a walk and two straight singles. Avila chugged around third on the second single, but Jeter’s relay throw from Granderson to home was picture perfect. Martin had plenty of time to apply the tag, the second out of what would be a scoreless inning. If that run scores, all of a sudden the Tigers are up one with men on the corners and just one out. Who knows what happens then.

Gotta mention Posada’s latest stupid baserunning blunder. The Yankees had runners on second and third with no outs against Fister in the second inning, and for whatever reason, Posada broke for home on Gardner’s ground ball to third. He got hung up on the bases and was tagged out. The out completely changed the inning, because instead of second and third with one out, it was first and second with one out. Yes, Fister balked the runners over, but Derek Jeter was already behind in the count by then. Didn’t come back to hurt, but good grief.

In my series preview, I said that the only way to contain the great Miguel Cabrera was by keeping runners off base in front of him. Miggy went 0-for-3 with a walk, but more importantly, he came to the plate just once with men on base, and that wasn’t until the game was all but decided in the ninth inning. Cano, his three-hole hitter counterpart, had runners on base in four of his five plate appearances. Story of the game right there.

Unfortunately, Mariano Rivera was pressed into action when Luis Ayala couldn’t record the final two outs of the game after Nova exited. He only threw three pitches (a strikeout, of course), but these two clubs will play three games in the next three days. Wasting some of those bullets with a six-run lead, even if the bases were loaded, is not inconsequential*.

* Just be clear, I’m not complaining about Mo being used, just that Ayala was so awful that Rivera had to be used. This one’s on Luis.

With 50,940 fans in attendance, this was the largest paid attendance in New Yankee Stadium history, regular season or playoffs. I’m guessing the suspension had something to do with that, I’m sure a few people hit up the secondary market Saturday morning.

Box Score & WPA Graph

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats.

Up Next

Sunday was supposed to be an off day, but these two teams will play Game Two of the series because of the rain. That one starts at 3:07pm ET, and will feature Freddy Garcia and Max Scherzer.