Game 158: FTW

Say a prayer, Joe. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Nathan Denette)

It’s obvious that the fact that the Yankees have yet to clinch a playoff spot with five games remaining in the season is starting to wear on Joe Girardi and the front office. They’re pulling out all the stops to make sure that they go home with a win tonight, including starting CC Sabathia despite throwing his schedule off for the playoffs. All I know is that this better work, otherwise it might get ugly in Yankeeland. Far uglier than it already is.

Here’s the lineup…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Berkman, DH
Granderson, CF
Gardner, LF

And on the bump, it’s Cy Sabathia.

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET, and this one can be seen on My9 locally or MLB Network nationally. Is it just me, or have the Yanks been on national television a whole lot lately? Meh, whatever. Try to enjoy the game.

Robbie Cano vs. sliders

The maturation of Robbie Cano into a legitimate MVP candidate has certainly been one of the most exciting parts of the 2010 season, and FanGraphs’ Albert Lyu took a look at why it’s happening. Despite being just one walk shy of tying his free pass total from 2008 and 2009 combined, Cano is actually swinging at more pitches both in and out of the strike zone this season, which caught me by surprise. He’s swinging and missing a bit more often, but the root of his success comes from his ability to hit the slider. By working deeper counts, Cano has gotten pitchers to go to their breaking stuff more often, and he’s simply murdering the soft stuff this season. Make sure you check it out, there are colorful graphs. And it’s interesting.

Minor League Notes: Montero, Adams, Joseph

I’m not sure any of us are up to talking about the big league team right now given their general awfulness, so let’s instead focus on the minor leagues for a little bit. We have some new information on the injury and winter ball front, so now’s as good a time as any to round it all up. Unless it says otherwise, it comes from Josh Norris’ Twitter account.

  • Jose Pirela has taken Corban Joseph’s place in the Arizona Fall League. CoJo missed Double-A Trenton’s playoff run with some kind of wrist injury, and there were rumblings that he would need surgery to fix whatever’s bothering him. Obviously it’s enough of an issue to keep him away from the AzFL. Pirela hit just .252/.329/.364 this season, but his 57 walks were the third most in the system this season behind Austin Krum (64) and Joseph (58).
  • Remember, Manny Banuelos is going to the AzFL as well. There are still only five Yankee farmhands listed on the Phoenix Desert Dogs roster (one of whom is CoJo), but ManBan brings them up to the minimum six. It’s possible that they will send a seventh player, but they aren’t required to. Chances are it wouldn’t be a substantial prospect anyway.
  • David Adams’ broken foot/ankle has finally healed and he’s started doing actual baseball work. He wasn’t listed on the Instructional League roster, but he’s probably not ready for full blown workouts and stuff. Adams suffered the injury on a slide trying to break up a double play in May, and he didn’t play the rest of the season because the fracture wasn’t immediately diagnosed.
  • Jesus Montero, meanwhile, is leaning towards going home for the winter and playing in the Venezuelan Winter League. He played in the VWL last season but not much and not very well, hitting just .115 with three walks and four strikeouts in nine games. He was coming off the finger injury however, and they play for keeps down there. It’s not about development, it’s about winning, so if you’re not producing you won’t play. Hopefully that’s not an issue this season.
  • The rosters for the various winter leagues in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic have yet to be released in full, so we have to wait a little while longer to see who’s playing where. The AzFL season starts on October 13th, the other leagues at different points throughout the winter.

The shortsightedness of starting Sabathia

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Joe Girardi announced after last night’s game that CC Sabathia will in fact make tonight’s start on his normal turn rather than be pushed back to Friday, which would have set him up perfectly to start Game One of the ALDS on normal rest. Instead, the Yanks are prioritizing their magic number of one over setting up the playoff rotation. There’s almost no other way to view this move as anything but panic and shockingly bad decision making.

Like I said, the magic number is one. All the Yankees have to do to finally clinch that damn playoff spot is win one of their last five regular season games or have the Red Sox lose one their six remaining games. There’s no need to pray for a miracle here, no need to go out and make such shortsighted decisions. I know that everyone on the team has maintained that they still have their eyes on the division and home field advantage, but get real. The Rays hold a virtual one-and-a-half game lead (because of the tie breaker) and time has simply run out on that front. This recent 6-14 stretch has ruined any AL East crown aspirations.

So what happens now is that Sabathia starts tonight’s game, then has a full eight days off before starting Game One of the ALDS next Wednesday. They could do something ridiculous like have him throw 40-50 pitches on Sunday as a tune-up, but who knows if or how that will work. That’s why starting him tonight is so asinine. Instead of starting him Friday and getting the eight day’s rest out of the way early they’re doing it backwards and rolling the dice that the long layoff won’t effect their ace too much. That seems like a mighty big risk to take given the importance of next Wednesday’s start.

There’s no question that Sabathia could use a little extra rest before the playoffs, everyone can, it’s just a matter of when he gets it. He’s two outs away from last year’s total of 230 regular season innings with one start left. Because of their enormous division lead, the Yanks were able to give all of their starters extra days off last September, with CC’s last four starts coming on no fewer than five day’s rest. There has been no such luxury this year, with just one of his last four starts coming on more than the usual four day’s rest. After 266.1 combined innings (regular season and playoffs) last year, the Yanks have been unable to give their ace a little bit of a breather down the stretch. There’s nothing they can do about it now, they just have to hope for the best next Wednesday.

The alternative to Sabathia tonight would be Javy Vazquez, who hasn’t had a good start in what feels like months. Even if he were to lose they’d still be able to fall back on Andy Pettitte tomorrow to clinch that playoff spot, or Phil Hughes over the weekend. Like I said, all it takes is one win or one Red Sox loss the rest of the way to lock up that playoff berth. If the worst case plays out the and the two teams need to play a Game 163 to determine the Wild Card, well then the Yankees have far, far bigger problems that setting up their playoff rotation.

Who knows, maybe Sabathia went to Girardi and rest of the decision makers and demanded the ball for tonight’s game. He’s proven to be a rather dogged competitor that always puts the team first, but that’s a situation where the parents have to take the lollipop away from the kid. They have to do what’s best for the team rather than meet CC’s wants, and in this case the most important thing for the Yankees is to get their playoff rotation in order. Starting him tonight does the exact opposite.

The Yanks have been playing like garbage for close to three weeks now and like a .500 team for two months, and it’s turned up the heat in the kitchen a little bit. They still have a 99.8% chance of making the playoffs, and get that final 0.2% seems to have consumed the decision making. Girardi’s managerial style has flip flopped between resting players for the long haul and slamming his foot on the pedal to win this month, but this is a scenario where he and everyone else involved needs to lay back and look at the big picture. The lack of … I almost want to call it planning and foresight, is stunning.

A lot of things have gone wrong over the last few weeks, particularly with the starting pitching. Vazquez lost his job to a rookie that struggles to complete five innings, A.J. Burnett has been historically bad, and Andy Pettitte’s return from a groin injury has been half good, half awful. They have one sure thing in the starting rotation right now, and that’s CC Sabathia, but they sure are doing one hell of job in trying to screw that up too.

ALDS/ALCS tickets on sale tomorrow morning

The Yankees announced today that tickets for ALDS and ALCS home games at Yankee Stadium will go on sale to the general public tomorrow morning — Wednesday, September 29 — at 10 a.m. The tickets will be available for sale online at Yankees.com and via Ticketmaster at (877) 469-9849. The Yankees Clubhouse Shops and Ticketmaster outlets will not be selling tickets.

While the team hasn’t said how many tickets are available, numbers are expected to be limited, and thus, the team is instituting a cap on the number of tickets per game anyone can buy. In fact, people expecting to buy tickets for both series will have to use different Ticketmaster accounts and charge cards. The Yankees say those buying tickets will be limited to two tickets to one ALDS game or two tickets to one game of the ALCS. Anyone exceeding those limits will have their tickets canceled without notification from Ticketmaster or the team.

Furthermore, Ticketmaster is going to sock buyers with fees. ALDS tickets will not be held at Will Call, and buyers must use the “print-at-home” option. World Series tickets, if the Yanks make it, will go on sale at a later date, and the team urges fans to check out its postseason information page for policies on refunds and the playoff schedule.

* * *

On a personal note, I don’t expect much from this presale. Most of the reasonably priced seats have gone to season ticket holders in the various presales, and only the more expensive seats generally remain for this public sale. Last year, however, I took my chances and bought a standing room-only seat for Game 2 of the ALDS. My spot was on the 200 level past third base, and I had a blast that night. Various fans would stop by to chat and my fellow standees were die-hard fans as into the game as anyone. That it ended on a Mark Teixeira walk-off after Alex Rodriguez‘s dramatic ninth inning home run was the icing on the cake.

So the lesson is to be creative. That ticket cost me $25 with a few bucks tacked on for service fees. It was well worth it.

Baseball America’s Top 20 New York-Penn League Prospects

Baseball America’s look at the top prospects in each of the various minor leagues continued today with the short season New York-Penn League, and I bring bad news: the Yankees were shut out. Yep, not a single Staten Island Yankee was able to crack the top 20, and this really shouldn’t be a surprise. The team went very high school heavy early in the draft and their top picks from 2009 skipped right over SI. The only players on the team that can even be considered prospects are Eduardo Sosa, Kelvin DeLeon, and Mikey O’Brien, but none of those guys are standouts. Late adds like Cito Culver and Gary Sanchez weren’t eligible for the list since they spend so little time with the team.

The Low-A South Atlantic League list will be revealed on Thursday, and the Yanks won’t be shut out of that one. Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy, and Jose Ramirez are all very strong prospects and should place somewhere.

For A.J., the 2010 clock is running out

A.J.

Once upon a time, A.J. Burnett was having a very good 2010 season. Through May 6 — six starts — Burnett was 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA and a 2.85 FIP. His strike out totals — just 28 in 40.2 innings — were down, but he was keeping both runners off base and the ball in the park. Just one of the first 164 batters to face him homered.

Since then, Burnett has, with the exception of a few good starts in July, been utterly abysmal. He’s 6-15 over his last 26 starts, and he’s averaging just over 5.1 innings per start. After last night’s 2.1-inning, seven-run fiasco, his ERA over those 140 innings is 6.30, and he’s allowed 23 home runs and 64 walks while striking out just 111 guys. Opponents have an OPS against him of approximately .860. In other words, A.J. Burnett’s opponents are putting up better offensive numbers than Mark Teixeira.

Clearly, the Yankees have an A.J. problem, but what that problem is, as Jack Curry said last night on the YES Network, no one knows. “The Yankees haven’t been able to figure A.J. Burnett out,” he said during the postgame show, “so I’m not going to be able to figure him out.”

Through some of the tools available to us, we can see that A.J.’s results haven’t been so poor. His fastball velocity is down a little over a mile per hour which by itself shouldn’t create these problems, but the Pitch f/x data says his heater is too flat while his breaking pitches aren’t moving as much as they had in the past. But as Jack Curry said, figuring out the why and how of it should net someone a Major League consulting job.

After the game, Burnett’s comments boarded on flippant, but I can’t hold his statements against him. This is a professional athlete, 33 years old, struggling through his worst stretch of play. He can either be defiant, depressed or in denial, and right now, he appears to be suffering through a mixture of the three. “You have to get caught up in it,” Burnett said. “It’s a big game, a big night, but the way my season’s been, I’m not going to let it affect me. I’ve been through way worse than tonight.”

Today, tomorrow, next week, the question will focus around the American League Division Series. Because of the schedule, the Yankees do not need four starters. They can run out their Game 1 starter on three days’ rest for Game 4 and throw their Game 2 starter in Game 5 on full rest. Between Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett, someone will be the odd man out. “I would expect to start in the postseason,” Burnett said last night. “I just want the ball. Whatever Joe decides, it’s Joe’s decision.”

Enter denial. As the Yanks’ pitching stands today, A.J. Burnett will not and should not get the ball during the ALDS. While it’s true that regular season success (or failure) doesn’t predict post-season results, Burnett has done nothing to earn a key October start. Last night, he couldn’t locate his fastball and left his breaking pitches up over the plate. When he fell into hitter’s counts, the Blue Jays’ sluggers made him pay. On the other hand, Phil Hughes was nothing short of spectacular on Sunday night, and if the decision comes down to handing the bill to one of them to stave off elimination, Hughes is my guy.

That said, Burnett will probably have to pitch this October if the Yankees are to advance to the World Series. The ALCS schedule returns to the familiar 2-3-2 format this year without an extra off-day, and unless the Yanks are willing to run CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hughes out there on three days’ rest for an entire seven-game set, Burnett will have to make an appearance. Maybe he could dominate the Twins in the ALDS as he did last year; maybe he could shut down Tampa Bay. My confidence in him though is at a low, and while Game 2 of the 2009 World Series will go down in Yankee lore, A.J. Burnett cannot coast on that legacy any longer.

Going forward, the Yankees will have to assess Burnett’s future. They still owe him $49.5 million over the next three years, and he won’t be traded unless the Yanks eat a significant portion of that deal. Based on his 2010 season alone, he’s nothing better than a fifth starter, and as like the rest of us, he’ll be a year older next year. I shudder to think what that future might bring, but if it involves April 2010 A.J. Burnett, count me in. Everything else has been one long, vivid nightmare.