Series Preview: Texas Rangers

(Photo Credit: Flickr user katieslusarski via Creative Commons license)

For the third and final time this season, the Yankees will get a chance to exact some revenge against the team that ended their season last October. Sure, a bunch of regular season wins won’t ever make up for an ALCS loss, but it’s all we have right now. The Yankees have already won four of six games against the Rangers this year, taking two of three at home in April before doing the same in Texas in May. What does the June series have in store?

What Have The Rangers Done Lately?

The first time these two teams met, the Rangers were arguably the hottest team in baseball. The second time they met, the Rangers were stuck in a crazy tailspin. This time around, Texas is sort of in between a hot streak and a slump, winning just two of their last seven games but also winning ten of their last 16. Their lead in the division is just 1.5 games over the Mariners, but their run differential is third best in the league and 38 runs better than anyone else in the AL West.

Rangers On Offense

That's a weird place to rest. (Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

The Yankees got lucky the first two times they played Texas this year because Josh Hamilton was on the disabled list for both series, but now he’s not. His .363 wOBA is nothing special and he’s hitting a 2011 Robinson Cano-esque .268/.307/.512 since coming off the DL last month, but you know what? I don’t care. Hamilton is still one of the best players in the world and can absolutely mash anything no matter how poorly he’s performed over the last month. He’s a game changer on the same level as Miggy Cabrera or Adrian Gonzalez or Jose Bautista; he impacts the game just by standing in the on-deck circle.

Nelson Cruz was also on the shelf the last time these two clubs met, and he’s hit just .241/.259/.590 since coming back. He’s also struck out a dozen times in his last 30 at-bats, a rate that would make Mark Reynolds blush. Michael Young is actually batting cleanup these days, and he destroyed the Yankees in their six games this season (.435/.480/.696). He’s cooled off considerably of late (.241/.288/.315 in his last 118 PA), but I can’t imagine he’ll be an easy out. Hamilton, Young, and Cruz occupy the three, four, and six lineup spots, respectively, while Adrian Beltre slots in at the five-hole. He’s hit a gaudy .293/.353/.496 since the last time these two teams met, so that’s one lefty and three dangerous right-handed batters right in the middle of the lineup. I guess that’s better than four lefties given Yankee Stadium‘s dimensions.

Atop the order is Ian Kinsler, who has one hit in eight at-bats since coming back from paternity leave on Saturday. His .349 OBP and .166 ISO are fine numbers, but he doesn’t hit for average at all (just .231). Elvis Andrus is coming into the series pretty hot (.327/.364/.442 in his last 13 games), but manager Ron Washington pulled him off the field on Sunday for a lack of effort. Mitch Moreland (.396/.433/.566 in his last 15 games) and Yorvit Torrealba (.367/.375/.467 this month) are coming into the series hot while David Murphy (.211/.269/.284 in his last 30 games) most certainly isn’t. The new center field platoon of Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry has been hot (.286/.435/.596 in 64 PA) and cold (.235/.361/.294) in limited playing time, respectively. The Rangers’ .334 team wOBA is a distant third to the Red Sox (.352) and Yankees (.349) in the AL.

Rangers On The Mound

Tuesday, RHP Alexi Ogando: We’re all waiting for this two pitch (fastball, slider) reliever turned starter to regress, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Ogando’s 3.57 FIP (2.10 ERA) is propped up by a stellar walk rate (1.99 BB/9) and decent strikeout (6.64 K/9) and homer rates (0.89 HR/9). Of course a .210 BABIP and a 8.1% HR/FB ratio (just 36.5% grounders too) help matters, as does an 88.2% strand rate. Don’t get me wrong, Ogando’s been very good for Texas this year, just not as good as his ERA suggests. The Yankees hung five runs off him in 6.1 IP back in April, though a blister kept him out of the May series.

Wednesday, LHP Derek Holland: A personal fave, Holland is the opposite of Ogando in that he’s been better (4.05 FIP) than his ERA (4.41) would lead you to believe. He gave up five runs in 7.1 IP against New York back in April, then four runs in three innings (five walks) in May, so I’m sure he’s hoping the third time is a charm. Holland is a fastball-changeup guy with two usable breaking balls (both curve and slider), and he gets a good amount of strikeouts (7.71 K/9) and ground balls (46.9%) while limiting walks (3.20 BB/9). He’s just inconsistent like most young starters.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user mjl816 via Creative Commons license)

Thursday, LHP C.J. Wilson: As good as Wilson was last season, he’s been even better this year. His upped his strikeout rate a bit (7.78 K/9) while shaving a full walk off his walk rate (3.09 BB/9), though he’s paying for a decreased ground ball rate (46.4%) with more homers (0.75 HR/9). Still, a 3.47 FIP (3.04 ERA) is excellent. Wilson is a (rare) legitimate six pitch pitcher, using three low-90’s fastballs (two-seamer, four-seamer, cutter), a changeup, a curveball, and a slider at least 10.0% of the time each. The Yankees haven’t seen Wilson yet this year, though they did put 18 men on base and score nine runs off him in a dozen ALCS innings last autumn.

Bullpen: With some help from yesterday’s off day, the Rangers’ bullpen is pretty well rested. Neftali Feliz has seemingly gotten over his control problems to post six straight walk-free outings, though he’s still been touched for five hits and two runs in 6.1 IP during that time while striking out four. Feliz is righting the ship, but a guy with his stuff really should miss more bats (8.3% whiff rate). Darren Oliver (3.12 FIP), Mark Lowe (3.60), and Arthur Rhodes (5.96) handle the majority of the setup duties.

Derek Jeter punching bag Dave Bush (4.81 FIP) handles the majority of the long relief work, and southpaw Michael Kirkman (5.10) fills in the gaps. The new addition since the last time the Yankees saw Texas is Japanese import Yoshinori Tateyama, a 35-year-old righty with the traditional Japanese hesitation in his delivery even though he’s more of a sidearmer. He’s struck out eight and walked none in 10.2 IP since being called up, using his fastball-curveball combination in low-leverage situations. The Rangers’ bullpen has an MLB worst 4.90 FIP, more than a quarter of a run higher than anyone else. With any luck, the Yankees will see lots of these guys these next three days.

Recommend Rangers Reading: Baseball Time In Arlington and Lone Star Ball

Time to pull the DL trigger

Captain down.

A few hours before the Yankees lost Derek Jeter to a Grade I calf strain last night, they had to scratch Russell Martin from the starting lineup due to continued stiffness in his back. He originally suffered the injury weightlifting early last week and missed four straight games. After coming back on Sunday and looking extremely sluggish (particularly at the plate), he again had to sit on Monday due to the back. Clearly, something is not right.

As the starting catcher, it goes without saying that Martin is an important part of the team. Even though his offense has tailed off as the season has progressed, he’s still done a fine job behind the plate and offers defensive value. So why did the Yankees risk further injury by sending him out there on Sunday if he wasn’t 100%? I suppose Frankie Cervelli needed a day off after catching four straight (including a day game after a night game), and we know they don’t want Jorge Posada behind the plate for reasons that go beyond his bad defense. If Martin’s back was fine Sunday before acting up again on Monday, well then that’s an even bigger problem than just lingering soreness.

As for Jeter, a Grade I calf strain is the lowest possible grade, but that doesn’t mean he won’t miss time. Based on the five minutes I spent googling “grade i calf strain” last night, it could take anywhere from seven days to three weeks for this thing to heal. Of course Jeter is a world class athlete and those guys tend to recover quickly thanks to good genes, but he will also be 37 in less than two weeks and plays a position where his legs and explosiveness are pretty important. It’s not like he’s hiding at first base or DH or something. Remember, Alex Rodriguez had a stiff calf late last year and eventually hit the disabled list after sitting out three games and coming back for one (he didn’t even make the full game, really). That wasn’t even classified as a strain either, and for all intents and purposes A-Rod is a similar age and plays a similar position to Jeter. It’s not a perfect comparison, but it’s certainly not outrageous.

If Jeter and Martin continue to sit out with his minor ailments, the Yankees are forcing themselves to play with a two man bench consisting of two outfielders: Chris Dickerson and Andruw Jones. Jones throws right-handed, so maybe they plan on having him fake an infield spot in an emergency. Furthermore, the NL leg of interleague play is coming up, and playing six straight games (three at the Cubs, three at the Reds) with a three man bench consisting of Dickerson, Jones, and Posada (who won’t be in the lineup as the DH, obviously) is straight up silly. Roster spots are like outs in a game, they’re precious because there are a finite amount of them, and using even one poorly puts you at a disadvantage. Using two to carry injured players that may not get healthy in a timely fashion is just poor roster construction.

As much as I want to see the Yankees call up Jesus Montero, I honestly don’t care who comes up as long as they do what’s best and stick Martin and/or Jeter on the disabled list if needed. Had they put Martin on the disabled list when he first hurt his back, he’d be a week away from returning now. Instead Sunday’s game restarted his clock. I have no interest in watching this team play with a short bench just to nurse along some injuries that could possibly take fewer than 15 days. to heal Call up Gus Molina, call up Ramiro Pena, call up Brandon Laird, call up whoever, just get these two important players healthy. I’d much rather see them miss two weeks now than two months later, and I’m sure the Yankees would as well.

Yanks can’t finish sweep, fall 1-0 to Tribe

It’s tough to get riled up about winning three games of a four game series (against a first place team, no less), but there’s just something about games like this that are … stupid. I really don’t know of any other way to describe it, it was just a stupid loss.

No sac fly for you, Alex.

Blown Chances

After pounding Cleveland pitching all weekend long, the Yankees looked to be on their way to doing the exact same thing in the first inning on Monday night. Derek Jeter singled on Carlos Carrasco’s second pitch, Curtis Granderson singled on the sixth pitch, and Mark Teixeira walked on the 12th pitch. Teams have scored an average of 2.25 runs per inning when they have the bases loaded and none out, and I’m certain that number is higher when the 4-5 hitters are due up. The Yankees instead got absolutely nothing.

Alex Rodriguez flew out to center for the first out, not deep enough to score Jeter from third even though Michael Brantley took his sweet time getting rid of the ball. Robinson Cano went down swinging after a seven pitch at-bat, then Nick Swisher ended the inning on a ground ball back up the middle that Asdrubal Cabrera made a nice, but hardly spectacular player on. Fine, that kind of stuff happens once in a while. Carrasco wasn’t fooling anyone and the Yankees had scored fewer than four runs just once in their last seven games, so you figured they’d get to him soon.

Sure enough, Jorge Posada led off the second inning with a single and then Brett Gardner walked to put men on first and second with no outs. Teams are scoring an average 1.42 runs in those situations this year, but the Yankees again got nothing. Frankie Cervelli failed to get a bunt down, instead striking out. I suppose that’s better than grounding into a double play, but thanks for nothing Frankie. Jeter grounded into a fielder’s choice for the second out, and Granderson ended the inning with a lazy fly ball. Five men left on base in two innings.

Tex led off the third with a walk and Cano singled two batters later to put men on first and second with one out (0.89 runs score on average in those spots). Carrasco then seemed to settle down, getting Swish to ground into an inning ending double play and going on to retire 13 of the final 14 men he faced. After needing 45 pitches to get the first six outs, Carrasco used just 55 to record the next 15. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, he’s a guy the Yankees had never seen before, after all. (rolls eyes)

Nope.

Good A.J. Gets No Reward

For the second time this year and the third time in his Yankees’ career, A.J. Burnett allowed just one run in 7.2+ innings and got saddled with a loss. He struck out a season high eight, walked just one, allowed five hits, got eight ground ball outs, and coaxed 16 swings and misses out of the opposition, his second highest total of the season. The one run came on a single after Michael Brantley’s line drive was just off the end of Swisher’s glove for a triple into the gap. It seems like whenever Burnett actually pitches well, the Yankees just don’t score him any runs. It’s ridiculous, the guy deserved better than what he got Monday night.

Stupid Play Of The Game

Brett Gardner worked a full count to lead off the seventh … then bunted at ball four only to send it foul for strike three. Seriously, he could be the greatest bunter in the history of baseball and it would still be a dumb play. There’s just no way to justify it whatsoever. Girardi should have yanked him from the game for the complete lack of common sense and understanding of the game situation alone.

Because losing the game wasn't enough.

Leftovers

Jeter left the game after the fifth inning with a Grade I calf strain. As we saw with A-Rod late last year, calves can be tricky. If they aren’t healed properly, they’re very easy to re-injure given how much you use them in everyday life, nevermind in baseball. Jeter’s one hit brought him to 2,994 for his career, but it sure sounds like Derek’s pursuit of 3,000 could be on hold for a while.

Not only did Cervelli fail to get that bunt down in the second inning, he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and has just one hit in his last 14 trips to the plate. His season line is down to a punchless .191/.250/.298. As for some good news, Cano went 2-for-4 in the game and is quietly hitting .322/.375/.559 over his last 15 games. That’s much more like it, Robbie.

The Indians have won just two of their last eleven games, and both were 1-0 scores in Carrasco starts. Go figure. The Yankees, meanwhile, can not put together winning streaks longer than three games to save their lives. They’ve done it just once this year, a four gamer during the west coast trip. Otherwise they have just five separate three game winning streaks in 64 games played, and that includes the four gamer. That seems low and it is compared to last year when they had seven winning streaks of at least three games (including a four gamer, a five gamer, and two six gamers) in their first 64 games.

WPA Graph & Box Score

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

 

Up Next

Oh well, the series was still an overall success. Now the Yankees will welcome the Texas Rangers to the Bronx for the second and final time this season. CC Sabathia will open the series Tuesday night against Alexi Ogando.

Jeter has Grade I strain of right calf

Update (10:50pm): The MRI showed a Grade I strain of the calf, which is the lowest grade strain there is. They’ll determine the next step tomorrow, but I have a hard time believing he’ll avoid the disabled list.

Update (10:08pm): Joe Girardi said after the game that the Yankees are sending Jeter for an MRI, which is a bit of a no-brainer. “Obviously we’re worried about him,” said the skipper, who mentioned that Jeter is unlikely to play tomorrow even if the MRI comes back clean.

Update (9:03pm): Jeter left the game with a sore right calf. That’s all we know right now, though I assume they’ll do some tests to make sure “sore” isn’t really “strain.”

Original Post (8:46pm): Derek Jeter left tonight’s game with an apparent leg injury after flying out to lead off the fifth inning. He just pulled up lame on his way to first, and was then seen slamming his helmet as he walked into the clubhouse with trainer Steve Donohue. The chase for 3,000 might be put on hold. More to come.

Montero homers and Brackman gives the bullpen a try in SWB win

In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees signed a pair of arms to minor league deals. In other signing news, outfielder Cody Grice (this year’s 12th round pick) has signed for $52,500 and will report to Short Season Staten Island when the season starts later this week. I’m sure some other draftees have signed as well, just haven’t seen any confirmation of any of them yet.

David Phelps was supposed to start for Triple-A Scranton tonight, but the Yankees held him back in case they need him to start on Thursday. Brian Cashman described it as “preserving all options.”

Triple-A Scranton (8-3 win over Syracuse)
Austin Krum, LF: 0 for 4, 2 R, 2 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP – he’s got a ~.255 OBP with SWB, which is certainly not leadoff man material
Ramiro Pena, SS: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB – the homer was an opposite field bomb off a rehabbing big leaguer … he also got robbed of a third hit on a nice defensive place
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 or 5, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K
Brandon Laird, 3B: 1 for 5
Jordan Parraz, RF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 SB
Kevin Russo, 2B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 K – got picked off first
Greg Golson, CF: 2 for 3 R, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – threw a runner out at the plate … 11 for his last 28 (.393) with four doubles and a homer
Gus Molina, DH: 2 for 4, 1 R, 2 RBI
George Kontos, RHP: 4 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 3-3 GB/FB – 33 of 48 pitches were strikes (68.8%) … fine spot start
Andrew Brackman, RHP: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HB, 0-2 GB/FB – just 21 of 45 pitches were strikes (46.7%) … it’s unlikely this is just a “it’s a bullpen game and it’s his throw day so use him” thing, he was lined up to start today, but they essentially used an off day to skip him and go to Phelps … so apparently this is the start of a bullpen experiment for Mr. Brackman, hopefully the following appearances go better than this, because there are certainly bullpen spots to be had with the big league team
Cory Wade, RHP: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 13 of 17 pitches were strikes (76.5%) … he stranded all three runners he inherited from Brackman by getting a GIDP
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 19 of 33 pitches were strikes (57.6%) … he had 12 strikeouts all years coming into the game

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2011 Draft: John Sickels’ Yankees Review

John Sickels at Minor League Ball is reviewing each team’s draft haul, and today he got to the Yankees. He is a rare fan of the Dante Bichette Jr. pick and also likes 13th rounder Justin James as a sleeper. “The rest of the class was focused on raw high school kids with power potential and signability issues, plus some college pitchers who look like bullpen contributors,” said Sickels in his overall recap. Make sure you heck it out, he provides mini-scouting reports on each of the team’s top ten selections.

Yankees sign Greg Smith and Cory Wade

The Yankees have signed left-hander Greg Smith and right-hander Cory Wade to minor league deals and assigned them to Triple-A Scranton. Dan Brewer and Buddy Carlyle were placed on the disabled list to make room on the roster. Smith was part of the Dan Haren (to Arizona) and Matt Holliday (to Oakland) trades, but he’s just a fill-in starter for SWB while most of their rotation is in the big league bullpen. I liked him as a prospect once upon a time (I was hoping the Yankees would get him in the second Randy Johnson trade), but that was a while ago.

Wade is actually interesting and could be useful to the big league team. He had a very nice year for the Dodgers in 2008 (3.78 FIP in 71.1 IP), but Joe Torre’s workload was just too much and he had shoulder surgery in 2009. Wade resumed pitching late last year and caught on with the Rays after being non-tendered, striking out 8.34 while walking just 1.47 per nine in 36.2 relief innings with their Triple-A affiliate before being released over the weekend (he told them he was going to use his opt-out clause, so they let him go early). He is a little homer prone, but Wade is a three pitch reliever (fastball, curve, change) and is only 28. He’s certainly more useful than the Carlyles and Amaury Sanits of the world.