Series Preview: New York Mets

"Hey Jose, isn't it weird how this one rain cloud follows us everywhere?" (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Has the Subway Series lost some of its luster over the years? Maybe as the quality of the competition has dropped (zing!), but I still enjoy these games because I know and am related to a lot of Mets’ fans, and it’s always fun to rub it in. Believe you me, they still hear about Luis Castillo’s dropped pop-up on the holidays. I’m not sure if there will be anything that memorable at Yankee Stadium this weekend, but are you putting to past them?

What Have The Mets Done Lately?

Quite a bit of winning, actually. The Amazin’s have won two in a row, three of four, six of eight, and nine of 13, and they’ve also thrown two straight shutouts. The last run allowed by a Mets’ pitcher was on an RBI single by Marlins’ reliever Burke Badenhop in the 11th inning of Monday’s game. Go figure. They’ve won four of their last five series, and have outscored opponents 47-36 in the process. The Mets are coming in hot and feeling good about themselves, no doubt about it.

Mets On Offense

Won't be seeing either of these two this weekend. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)

Could you imagine if the Yankees lost Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez at the same time? That’s basically what has happened to the Mets, who will be without Ike Davis (ankle) and David Wright (stress fracture in his back) for the next few weeks. That’s not just a straight first base and third base comparison, the position stuff is actually just a coincidence. Davis (.397 wOBA) and Wright (.346 wOBA) have been the Mets’ second and fourth best hitters this season, respectively, like Tex and A-Rod have been for the Yankees. You don’t replace guys of that caliber, you just hope to survive.

Luckily for them, the Mets still have the resurgent Carlos Beltran, who’s hit .277/.368/.539 on the season and .286/.388/.643 this month. Like Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers or Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, this is the guy the Yankees can’t let beat them this weekend. He’s easily their biggest bat the moment. Jose Reyes is doing a fine job from the leadoff spot (.317/.373/.468 with a league leading 16 steals), but Jason Bay just has not hit as a Met. Last year’s disaster (.336 wOBA and injuries) has been followed by .238/.330/.357 batting line this season, and that’s after yesterday’s 3-for-4 effort. I still don’t feel comfortable when he’s at the plate though, he hurt the Yankees too many times while with the Red Sox. Those are the guys you know about, so let’s talk about everyone else.

Former Yankees’ draft pick Justin Turner (unsigned 29th rounder in 2005) was called up when Davis got hurt and played some second before moving to third once Wright got hurt. He’s hitting .333/.393/.490 in 18 games and is making plays all over infield, so he’s my early pick for the guy that annoys the crap out everyone all series with curiously long at-bats and timely hits and great defense. Daniel Murphy eventually took over at second but has since moved to first, and he’s hitting .233/.298/.367 after a wretched .167/.234/.228 stretch during his last 18 games. Jason Pridie is playing center for the injured Angel Pagan, and he’ll probably be best remembered as the third guy the Twins received in the Matt Garza-Delmon Young swap despite his respectable .235/.325/.441 line. The punchless Ruben Tejada (.500/.571/.500 in all of seven plate appearances) is the second baseman, and Josh Thole (.221/.300/.260) splits time behind the plate with Ronny Paulino (.313/.405/.344).

I have no idea who is going to DH for the Mets this weekend, but they’ve already indicated that it won’t be Beltran despite his grenade with the pin pulled knees. Their best bench bats are my boy Scott Hairston (.244/.309/.327) and a pair of recent call-ups in Nick Evans and Fernando Martinez. You might actually see Bay serve as the DH with one of those three in left field. I guess we’ll find out tonight.

Mets On the Mound

Dickeyface! (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Friday, RHP R.A. Dickey: The Yankees have seen as many knuckleballs as any team in the league thanks to Tim Wakefield, but not all knuckleballs are created equal. The UCL-less wonder actually throws two of them, a hard one and a soft one that he uses to disrupt timing. He also throws a helluva lot more fastballs than Wakefield ever did, about one for every five pitches and it hums in around 82-84. Dickey has not pitched as well this year as he did last mostly because a) his walk rate shot back up to his career norms (3.16 BB/9 this year after 2.17 last year), b) some bad BABIP luck (.328), and c) far fewer swings and misses (6.8% after 8.4%). That said, his 4.52 FIP is probably more indicative of his true talent than his 5.08 ERA. Dickey is coming off three straight disaster starts, I’m talking 16 runs in 18.1 innings with a .350/.381/.500 batting line against. Also: Dickeyface!

Saturday, LHP Chris Capuano: Chris Young is out for the rest of the season with yet another shoulder issue, but Capuano has held up pretty well so far. His ugly ERA (4.78) is BABIP-inflated (.340) and masks some solid peripherals (4.03 FIP). He’s struck out 7.06 men per nine (11.2% swings and misses) while unintentionally walking just 2.91 per nine and getting a ground ball 43.8% of the time. Capuano has crushed lefties (.255/.305/.291) and gotten crushed by righties (.315/.380/.532) with his upper-80’s fastball, low-80’s slider, and upper-70’s changeup mix, splits in line with his career norms but a little on the extreme side at the moment. He’s coming off three pretty good starts (six runs in 18 IP total) and is a pretty safe bet for six innings if the Yankees right-handed bats do not do their jobs.

Sunday, RHP Mike Pelfrey: Has anyone figured out what Pelfrey is yet? He’s supposedly a sinkerballer but he doesn’t get a ton of ground balls (44% this year, 49% career) and he certainly doesn’t strike anyone out (4.38 K/9 this season, 5.06 career). The walk numbers aren’t anything special (3.28 BB/9 both this year and career) and his platoon split isn’t huge (.292/.370/.461 vs. RHB career, .283/.333/.487 vs, LHB). Pelfrey has some Jon Garland in him, in that he throws a ton of innings every year and has gotten labeled as a ground ball pitcher without actually being one. Anyway, he’s coming off three fine starts (three runs or less and 6.2 IP or more in each) and is going throw low-90’s fastball after low-90’s fastball (both four and two-seamers) with the occasional split and slider thrown in for effect. The Yankees have seen plenty of him in the Subway Series throughout the years, though haven’t really seen the “new” version of Dickey and have faced Capuano just once, many years ago.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Bullpen: Francisco Rodriguez is having a very typical Francisco Rodriguez year as the closer (lots of walks, lots of strikeouts), but his ERA is a shiny 0.83 thanks to a 93.8% strand rate. He’s putting nearly three runners on base for every two innings pitched. K-Rod has thrown in each of the last two days and in six of last eight, so his availability tonight is very much up in the air and who really knows for the rest of the weekend.

Like the Yankees, the Mets have a former closer working the eighth inning, except Jason Isringhausen has actually been pretty solid for new manager Terry Collins (3.56 ERA in 14 IP). He had yesterday off but has pitched in three of the last five days, and at 38 years old with an elbow that’s undergone two Tommy John surgeries, who knows what kind of restrictions he’ll have this weekend. Tim Byrdak is a lefty specialist in every sense of the term (.231/.259/.385 vs. LHB this season), and former Rockie Taylor Buchholz is the secret weapon. He’s struck out 9.97 batters per nine while walking just 2.91 per nine in 21.2 middle relief innings this season. He’s their David Robertson, and he’s nice and fresh after having four days off.

The rest of the relief corps consists of second lefty Michael O’Connor (just 4.2 IP since being recalled, though he’s another LOOGY), third lefty Pat Misch (just four innings since being recalled, but he can throw multiple innings if needed), and surprising Rule 5 Draft pick Pedro Beato. The young right-hander grew up in Brooklyn and was just activated off the disabled list (elbow trouble), and before the injury he pitched to a 0.00 ERA (2.27 FIP) in 17 IP thanks to a 5.29 K/9, 1.29 BB/9, and 42.4% ground ball rate. Pretty good for a kid that skipped right over Triple-A. Beato has worked mostly lower leverage situations, and we hope to see a lot of him late in the game when the Yankees have the lead.

Recommended Mets Reading: Amazin’ Avenue and MetsBlog

Mailbag: Aceves, Farm System, Texeira, Maholm

Six questions today, covering topics from the farm system to potential draft picks to trade targets. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go if you want to send in any questions…

Aceves is the good looking one. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Matthew asks: The success of Al Aceves in Boston got me thinking about how he got away from the Yanks. Shouldn’t he have had an option left? Did the Yanks let him go simply for the sake of a 40-man slot? Thanks!

Aceves had two minor league options left. He’s been good but not great for the Red Sox (2.60 ERA but a 5.34 FIP), though the longer he stays healthy, the more his non-tender looks like a total blunder on the Yankees’ part. Maybe the medical staff didn’t evaluate his back properly, maybe Brian Cashman misread his willingness to sign a minor league deal, maybe Randy Levine stepped in, we don’t know. I do know that it wasn’t a 40-man roster issue, he was non-tendered in early December when the Yankees had something like eight spots open.

Mo asks: What would you rate the farm system up to this point this year? I feel like its sucking in comparison to last year’s great run…

It was going to be tough to repeat last year’s success, almost everything went right in 2010. This year is much more normal, in that some things are going right (Ramon Flores, pre-brawl Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy), some are going wrong (Adam Warren‘s walks, Jesus Montero‘s lack of power, High-A Tampa’s everything), and some guys have gotten hurt (Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances with the blisters, Graham Stoneburner’s neck). It feels like a down year compared to last season, but there isn’t an overwhelming amount of injuries or guys have down years, so overall it’s been pretty positive. An average year, really. That said, we’re seven weeks into the minor league season, so it’s tough for things to change much in one direction or the other. It’s still a top ten system.

Drew asks: Now that Kanekoa Texeira has been DFA’d, I think the Yankees should pick him up, I know the K/9 is down and his BB/9 are up but man does he throw hard. I think Rothschild could fix him. Agree?

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Heh, to say the strikeout rate is down would be an understatement, he hasn’t struck out any of 35 batters he’s faced this season. Texeira doesn’t throw that hard, PitchFX has him at 89-91 this year, which is down a little from last year. I’m sure most of you remember that he was in the Yankees organization for a while, coming over from the White Sox in the Nick Swisher trade before the Mariners took him in last year’s Rule 5 Draft. He ended up in Kansas City on a waiver claim last summer.

Anyway, he’s a sinker-slider guy that gets ground balls but not an absurd amount of them (51.9% career), and lefties hit him pretty hard. Texeira’s a fine up-and-down kind of reliever, better use of a 40-man roster spot than Amaury Sanit, but he’s not much more than that. Maybe Rothschild could fix him, but I’m not sure what he could do.

Matt asks: I was just wondering what you thought about Kyle Winkler. Most mock drafts and draft boards I’ve seen him at about 40, and he is probably rising. He’s so close to the Yankees that it’s possible that he drops, so what do you think?

Winkler, a right-hander at Texas Christian, has stepped in as the staff ace following Matt Purke’s struggles, and has struck out 96 while walking just 13 in 85.1 IP this year (1.48 ERA). The stuff is legit (sits 91-94 with the fastball, low-80’s slider, and a changeup) and he commands it well, and pretty much the only knock is his size (listed at 5-foot-11, 205 lbs.). Winkler is expected to go somewhere in the sandwich round or early second round, and he seems like Damon Oppenheimer’s kind of guy because he’s got command and pitched well in the Cape Cod League a few summers ago. He wouldn’t be a bad pick for the Yankees with their first selection (51st overall), but I’m not much of a college righty kind of guy unless we’re talking about the truly elite.

Matt asks: Andrew Brackman is not off to the best of starts down in Scranton. He’s already 25 so isn’t this almost a make or break year for him? Can you see him in a relief role?

I wouldn’t call it a make or break year, not at all. At the end of the day, who really cares how old a guy is when he debuts as long as he’s contributing positively? They don’t check I.D.’s on the mound, as the old saying goes. Brackman’s struggled this year (6.00 FIP), no doubt about it, but if he keeps struggling then they can option him back to the minors next year and keep working on it. He won’t run out of options until 2013 at the earliest. There would have be a lot of improvement over the next month or two for Brackman to be a relief option at this point, he’s got to show he’s move beyond the struggles and there are also some guys ahead of him on the relief pitcher call-up depth chart.

Yeah, Maholm is the guy that struck out Billy Crystal a few years ago. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Bryan asks: What are the chances the Yanks pursue Paul Maholm if the Pirates make him available? He’s got a pretty good ground ball rate at 52% and also has a good xFIP at 3.77. Would he be worth a crack for the right price?

I’ve never really been much of a Maholm fan at all because he doesn’t miss any bats (6.23 K/9 this year is a career high by a decent margin) and his walk rates aren’t anything special (3.67 BB/9 this year, 3.08 career). Starting pitchers with sub-2.00 K/BB ratios in the American League have a hard time being anything better than average, historically. Then again, average doesn’t mean bad and he could probably help the Yankees. Maholm is in the last year of his contract ($5.75M salary with a $9.75M option for 2012 will be bought out for $750,000) and could give some innings, but I would hope the Yankees don’t bend over backwards to acquire him. They need another high-end pitcher, not another back-end filler type.

Also, while ground balls are preferable because they don’t turn into homeruns, we have to remember that the Yankees’ infield defense isn’t all that great. Mark Teixeira is fine at first, but Derek Jeter has the range of a potted plant, Alex Rodriguez is comfortably below average, and Robinson Cano has been playing with his defensive head up his ass this year.

Stephan asks: Tim Norton-seems like he’s legit. I’ve seen a little about him and his rehab around the web, but what are your thoughts? He’s gotta get a promotion soon(ish) right?

He’s legit in that he’s a potential relief option, but he’s no future closer or anything great like that. Norton’s an older guy (turns 28 on Monday) that was slowed by some major arm issues, but he’s obviously healthy now and doing a fine job of missing bats (14.5 K/9) and throwing strikes (2.9 BB/9) in Double-A. NoMaas interviewed him a few weeks ago, and I recommend reading for info about his stuff, back story, etc. It’s going to take more than 51 dominant innings (dating back to last season) for Norton to really start forcing the organization’s hand, but he’s definitely put himself on the map. A promotion to Triple-A will certainly be in the cards at some point this summer.

Yankees pummel O’s, win third straight

Boy did the Yankees need a game like this. The bullpen was taxed, the offense was pressing, and the fans were frustrated, but a plethora of early runs and eight easy innings from CC Sabathia led a stress-free blowout win. The Orioles’ are the best medicine apparently, and New York has now won three in a row.

Swish got in on the fun. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Offense Offense Offense

After scoring four runs in 15 innings the night before, the Yankees came out of the gate on Thursday and scored five runs in the first inning. The inning went double, triple (run scores), ground out (run scores), strikeout, hit by pitch, walk, wild pitch (runners move up), walk, double (three runs score), strikeout. Nick Swisher‘s three-run opposite field double just out of the reach of Felix Pie was the big blow, his first hit with two outs and runners in scoring position all season.

The Yankees didn’t get their first single of the night until Robinson Cano led off the fifth with a shot back up the middle, when the score was already nine-zip and the game was essentially over. Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter hit back-to-back triples, two of three three-baggers on the night. Even Eduardo Nunez chipped in a two-run homer, a sure sign that the rapture is coming this weekend.

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Cruise Control

Am I the only one that kinda wishes the Yankees didn’t “waste” a Sabathia start in a game in which they scored 13 runs? Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely appreciative of the big guy’s eight scoreless innings (seven hits, season-high nine strikeouts), but in a perfect world some scrubby pitcher would have started this game while CC went tomorrow, when the Yankees are unlikely to score so many runs. Ah well, I guess I shouldn’t look a gift (work)horse in the mouth.

Sabathia cruised right along all game long, retiring ten of eleven early on and only twice allowing the Orioles to have two men on base at the same time. One of those instances was the first, after he intentionally plunked Nick Markakis in retaliation for Cano getting hit in the knee in the top of the frame. One hundred and nine pitches (84 strikes!), 18 of 24 outs either on the ground or via strike three, and a bullpen spared. Vintage CC, exactly what they needed.

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Leftovers

Both benches were warned after Sabathia hit Markakis, but there was no further incident the rest of the game. Cano was seen with an icepack on his knee in the dugout pretty much all game long, but he looked fine at the plate and stayed in until garbage time. I figure the beanball matter is settled, hitting their best-ish player and kicking the crap out of them on the scoreboard works for me.

Amaury Sanit has to be on his way back to Triple-A Scranton, right? Don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for his bullpen saving effort against the Royals last week, but he’s pretty awful, has been for two years now. Get Ryan Pope up here for tomorrow, please.

Every starter had a hit except for Alex Rodriguez, who instead walked. Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, Swisher, and Gardner all had multiple hits, and both Cano and Jorge Posada walked and picked up a hit. Mark Teixeira had just one hit, but it was a doozy, a two-run homer in the middle innings. Posada looked fine at first base defensively, but he wasn’t tested with any tough plays, so he gets an incomplete grade for tonight’s effort.

That’s pretty much all there is to say about this game. Funny how the more runs they score and the better Sabathia is, the less there is to write. Yankees gonna Yankee, I guess.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Heh, it’s funny Baltimore’s little ninth inning rally wasn’t even a blip on the radar. MLB.com has the box and video, FanGraphs the nerd.

Up Next

The Yankees head back home to Bronx to kick off the 2011 edition of the Subway Series on Friday night. The Mets come across town and will start R.A. Dickey against Freddy Garcia.

Trenton comes out on top after 16 innings

Update: The Low-A Charleston game is over and has been added to the post.

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. Apparently they made the announcement on Twitter and Facebook, but didn’t bother to tell the people in the stands or those waiting in line to get into the park until later. Brutal. Anyway, they’re going to make this up as part of a July 5th doubleheader.

Double-A Trenton (9-6 win over Erie in 16 freaking innings)
Austin Krum, LF: 3 for 7, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 SB - 26 K, 25 BB in 39 games
Corban Joseph, 2B & Ray Kruml, RF: 1 for 6, 1 R, 1 K – CoJo walked and swiped a bag … Kruml doubled and drove in a run
Austin Romine, C: 2 for 7, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K – 16 innings behind the plate is pretty rough
Bradley Suttle, 3B: 1 for 6, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 K – still just three for his last 39 (.077)
Cody Johnson, DH: 1 for 7, 1 R, 1 2B, 4 K – 56 K in 29 games
Melky Mesa, CF: 2 for 7, 2 R, 1 RBI, 3 K, 1 SB – 15 for his last 37 (.405) with five doubles, a triple, and a homer
Jose Pirela, SS: 2 for 6, 1 2B, 3 K
Addison Maruszak, 1B: 1 for 7, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 4 K
Shaeffer Hall, LHP: 5 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 2 K, 5-5 GB/FB – picked a runner off first … he’d walked four batters in 42 IP all year coming into this game
Pat Venditte, SHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
Tim Norton, RHP: 2 IP, zeroes, 3 K, 1-0 GB/FB
Cory Arbiso, RHP: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-2 GB/FB
The Ghost of Kei Igawa, LHP: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 3-6 GB/FB – I think he was scheduled to start on Saturday, so we’ll have to see what happens now
Fernando Hernandez, RHP: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0-1 GB/FB

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2011 Draft: MLB.com’s Top 50 Prospects

MLB.com released their list of the top 50 draft prospects yesterday, and the list is free to see as always. You get detailed scouting reports for all players and video for most, which is why MLB.com’s list has always been my favorite. No offense to Baseball America or Keith Law or Perfect Game or whoever else, but free scouting reports and video won’t be topped at this time of year. Make sure you click on through, great way to lose an hour.