We got lucky

When the Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee trade fell through, the worst case scenario was that Lee would come back to haunt the Yankees in the playoffs.  While that certainly could happen now, I’m here to tell you that even if the Rangers beat the Yankees spearheaded by two complete game shutouts from Lee, we should be happy the trade didn’t go through.  As good as Lee is, the future of the Yankees is better off with both Montero and a great chance at getting Lee than being left without either of them in 2011.

Would Lee have been easier to sign this offseason had the trade gone through?  Maybe yes, maybe no, I really can’t say.  I would venture to guess that there is no major difference, even if Lee came to the Yankees and absolutely loved it, there’s no way he was taking a penny less to stay in the pinstripes.  What would have happened, however, if he had a brief time in the Bronx and it didn’t go well?  What if his wife was harassed at the park?  What if he bombed in the playoffs and got killed in the press and booed off the mound?  Considering just how awesome he is, these are pretty unlikely, but worth thinking about nonetheless. If Lee had a 4 month stint in New York that was a disaster (or even 2 bad starts that spun the whole experiment as a disaster), wouldn’t the chances of him being in a Yankee uniform in 2011 be even worse?

As it is, Lee can be sold on New York from afar.  He will likely be offered the most money.  He can talk to former teammate and friend CC Sabathia about how great things are here (and of course CC could feel differently if he bombed in the 2009 playoffs).  I think the odds are great that Lee signs with the Yankees, and I think the odds would have been great at resigning him had they traded for him, though I don’t necessarily think those odds would be increased.  Because of that, I’d much rather go into 2011 with a guarantee that Montero is in the organization and hope that they sign Lee than go into 2011 without Montero and still not be guaranteed at re-signing Lee.  Before anyone goes there, the Type A pick the Yankees would have gotten for Lee (had they traded for him and he walked) wouldn’t be close to a replacement for Montero.

Often when we think about the Lee trade that wasn’t, we forget that the Yankees were trading for Cliff Lee the pending free agent.  Just like there is no guarantee now they’ll sign him after the season, there’s no guarantee that had the trade been complete they would have resigned him.  Can you imagine if Jesus Montero, the Yankees best hitting prospect since Derek Jeter had been traded for a 4 month rental?  That would have been a disaster, even with the increased 2010 World Series odds.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good (see wonderboy Theo Epstein with Vazquez, Contreras and Pavano), and I think Cashman got lucky that the Mariners backed out of this trade.  Down the line, whether Lee ends up in pinstripes or not, not trading for Cliff Lee will be a blessing for the Yankees.

Yanks grab victory from the jaws of defeat with late rally to take Game One

There are wins, there are big wins, and there are wins that remind everyone who the team to beat is. The Yankees were staring at a five run deficit in the late innings of Game One with no answer for C.J. Wilson, but they’re the defending champs for a reason. Some stellar bullpen work and an eighth inning rally later, Mr. Sinatra was letting to rip with New York, New York.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Let’s do this chronologically…

Gardner Slides In Safe

Every game winning rally has to start somewhere, and in Game One it started with a weak groundball to first to lead off the eighth. Brett Gardner hustled down the line and pulled a page out of the Melky Cabrera playbook. sliding head first into the bag. His hand slipped in under Wilson’s foot and that was it, the Yankees had their foots in the door.

Derek Goes Down The Line

Robbie Cano had gotten his team to within grand slam distance with a solo homer in the seventh, but Jeter pulled them even closer in the eighth. He yanked a double down the leftfield line, driving in Gardner to make it a 5-2 game in Texas’ favor. The tying run was on deck, and the line had put in motion. The hit improved the Yanks’ chances of winning by 6.9%.

Swish & Tex Take Ball Four

Jeter’s double ended @str8edgeracer‘s night, and Ron Washington handled the ball over to the ageless Darren Oliver. Oliver had a great season and it stood to reason that he could record three outs before giving up three runs. Turns out he could even get one out, instead walking Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira on 13 total pitches, loading the bases for last year’s playoff hero.

Honorable Mention: A-Rod Hits One Through Michael Young

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

There’s no substitute for hitting the ball hard, and few do it better than Alex Rodriguez. He wasted no time jumping all over sidearmer Darren O’Day’s first pitch following the walks to Swish and Tex, grounding it sharply to Young at third. The ball ate him right up, coming closer to hitting him in the face than settling into his mitt. Jeter and Swish came around to score, Tex moved to second, and the score was suddenly 5-4 with still no outs in the inning. The WPA swing on this one registered at +.166.

Biggest Hit: Texas Is Now Aware

After the three time MVP brought the Yanks to within one, the possible 2010 MVP stepped to the plate facing yet another new pitcher. This time Washington gave the ball to funky southpaw Clay Rapada, who promptly laid a first pitch fastball right over the plate. Cano did what he’s been doing all season, lacing the ball back up the box for a single, a single that drove in Teixeira and tied the game.

Texas’ lead evaporated just like that, before a single out was recorded in the inning. This was the biggest hit of the game in terms of the WPA swing, checking in at +.266. Wowza.

Mr. Thames To You

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

I told you Marcus Thames would be important in this series, and he wasted no time proving me right. After Cano’s single tied the game, the Yanks’ designated lefty masher dug in against (yet another new pitcher) Derek Holland with a chance to give his team the lead, but he had to work for it. The first pitch was a fastball for a strike, the second a fastball for a ball. Thames swung and missed at a slider in the dirt, and Holland tried to get him to bite on it again but to no avail. The sixth pitch of the at-bat, a 2-2 fastball on the inner third was the one that sealed the Rangers’ fate. The pitch broke his bat, but Thames got enough of it to bloop it into shallow left and allow A-Rod to cross the plate as the go-ahead run. The comeback was complete, and then some.

In a season of big hits for Marcus, it gets no bigger than this one right here. Believe it or not, the WPA swing was just +.066, but we all know how big it really was. The numbers will never truly express the emotional high.

Not So Good, Very Bad CC

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Given the outcome, it’s easy to forget that CC Sabathia was pretty terrible in this one. His command was non-existent, his breaking ball did more ball than break, and it was a chore right from the get-go. CC allowed the first three batters to reach base and eventually come around to score on a Josh Hamilton homer (in an 0-2 count, no less. It was an awful pitch, a cement mixer slider that just spun out over the plate and did nothing. It wasn’t until a runner got thrown out at the plate trying to score on a wild pitch that the first inning ended. Yeah, it was ugly.

The final line was 4 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 1 WP with one balk. It’s entirely possible that the nine day layoff screwed him up (one start in the last 17 days), but that’s no excuse. CC has to be better than that and he knows it. Thankfully the rest of his team bailed him out.


(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Unsung hero: Dustin freaking Moseley. How about that guy? Two perfect innings, four strikeouts, and 21 strikes out of 27 total pitches all against the meat of Texas’ lineup. All told, the bullpen allowed just one hit and two walks in five scoreless innings or work, striking out six. The lone hit was a ten hopper just passed the outstretch arm of a diving Robbie Cano to lead off the ninth. The Yankees swing-and-miss bullpen has been a great asset all season, and it showed why again tonight.

At one point the top four hitters in the Yankee lineup were a combined 0-for-12 with three strikeouts. After that they went 3-for-4 with a pair of walks. Everyone in the lineup reached base at least once except Jorge Posada, who lined out to left and hit a ball to the track in that eighth inning.

Nick Swisher … stop effing bunting. That bunt attempt in the ninth following Jeter’s leadoff double had to come from (or at least be endorsed by) the dugout (he made three attempts to bunt and no one told him stop), so stop telling Swish to bunt Joe Girardi. He predictably popped it up in foul territory, failing to advance the runner. Jeter never came around to score, but thankfully the Yanks didn’t need him too.

Just as a quick aside: how the hell does Neftali Feliz not get in this game in the eighth? Ron Washington used five (!!!) relievers that inning and not one was his All Star closer. He was managing to the save stat, which is as stupid as it gets. I do thank him for that, however. Texas has still never won a playoff game in their home ballpark.

WPA Graph & Box Score

This what crushing the hearts of Rangers fans everywhere looks like. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs some other neat stuff.

Up Next

Phil Hughes gets the ball in Game Two later this afternoon. Colby Lewis goes for Texas. That one’s got a 4:07pm ET start time.

ALCS Game One: Yankees @ Rangers

Six long days after the Yankees dispatched the Twins with ease in the ALDS, the ALCS is finally ready to get underway. For comparison’s sake, just five years ago the White Sox and Angels were already playing Game Four of the ALCS on this date. Something has to happen with all of these off days, two between the LDS and LCS even if it goes the full five games is just too much. It’s baseball, these guys are used to playing every day. Anyway, the wait is over and the Yankees are four wins away from their second consecutive World Series.

Unlike the Yanks, the Rangers aren’t able to send their ace to the mound in the Game One. Cliff Lee had to take care of business in Game Five of the ALDS just to get them here, and he’ll be on the shelf until Game Three on Monday. Getting the ball in his place is another very good lefty, the former closer C.J. Wilson. He described himself as a lesser version of Lee in a press conference of last series, and it’s true. He’ll throw any of his four pitches at any time, all of which are solid but not knockout offerings like Lee, and his command isn’t on the same level either. Then again, whose is? He will walk himself into trouble, so pay attention to his pitch count and the quality of the at-bats early on. If the Yanks are working deep counts the first time through the order, they’re going to do some serious damage the next time around.

CC Sabathia gets the ball for New York, just as planned. He last pitched nine days ago, and overall has thrown just six innings and 111 pitches in the last 17 days. He adjusted his routine from the last long layoff, throwing an extra bullpen as well as another flat ground session. CC said he was too strong against the Twins in Game One of the ALDS, leading to command issues that hindered him all start. Hopefully the extra work in the interim helped him stay sharp. Again, watch the at-bats early. If Sabathia has quick innings and avoids deep counts early on, he’ll be on cruise control soon enough.

Make sure you check out Joe’s preview at FanGraphs, ditto Jeff Zimmerman’s for Texas. Here are the lineups…

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robbie Cano, 2B
6. Marcus Thames, DH
7. Jorge Posada, C
8. Curtis Granderson, CF
9. Brett Gardner, LF

CC Sabathia, SP (21-7, 3.18 ERA)

1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, LF
6. Ian Kinsler, 2B
7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
8. Matt Treanor, C
9. Jorge Cantu, 1B

C.J. Wilson, SP (15-8, 3.35 ERA)

First pitch is scheduled for 8:00pm ET and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.

Rangers will attempt Death By LOOGY in ALCS

Earlier today the Rangers made a pair of small changes to their playoff roster, dropping righty Dustin Nippert and infielder Esteban German in favor of lefty relievers Michael Kirkman and Clay Rapada. Their bullpen is now seven men deep, with four lefties (Kirkman, Rapada, Darren Oliver, and Derek Holland) and just three righties (Neftali Feliz, Darren O’Day, and Alexi Ogando). Apparently Ron Washington’s plan is to LOOGY the Yankees to death in the ALCS.

Have a shutdown lefty reliever or two is a great weapon in postseason play, but four? It would make sense if the Yanks had a lefty lineup, but on most days they’re split up evenly with three righties, three lefties, and three switch hitters. When Lance Berkman starts at designated hitter, then it’s four switch hitters and two righties. Still, Robbie Cano and Brett Gardner don’t have significant platoon splits, and while Curtis Granderson does, he has improved in that area over the last few months. I’m not sure I get it, but hey, if four of their seven best relievers are lefties, so be it.

More than anything, I’m guess I’m just preemptively annoyed at all the inevitable pitching changes and additional commercial breaks. Grumble grumble.

Hello, Texas. We’ve met before, haven’t we?

Ben Shpigel doesn’t think we should remember the eight games the Yankees and Rangers played against each other this season. Because three of them were in April and three were in September when the Yanks’ regulars weren’t playing, the games, he said in The Times earlier this week, don’t tell us much about the impending ALCS match-up.

As Shpigel notes of the September series, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes did not make a start while Nick Swisher had a bum knee, Jorge Posada a concussion and Brett Gardner a sore hand. The Yankees were left short-handed, and Joe Girardi kept giving the ball, infuriatingly enough, to Chad Gaudin. Meanwhile, Mariano Rivera managed to blow a game by hitting Jeff Francoeur with a pitch. It was Bizarro Baseball down in Arlington.

Yet, here we are on the precipice of the ALCS, and these two teams did indeed face each other eight times this year. The Yankees won four out of the first five match-ups before the Rangers subjected the Bombers to the club’s first three-game sweep on the road this year. The clubs played four consecutive one-run games in August and September, and although the players don’t want to read too much into the season series, we’ll take a look at it anyway.

In April, CC shut down the Rangers. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

April 16, 2010: Yankees 5, Rangers 1 (in 6 innings) (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: CC Sabathia
LP: C.J. Wilson
HR: None

The season series started out with a whimper as the Yankees rolled over the Rangers in a rain-shortened game. The best part about this game was a gem Mike penned in our recap: “It’s so easy to like Cervelli with his big doofy helmet and all out hustle and infectious energy, so it was fun to see him single in a run after Granderson’s fielder’s choice.” Fun note: At the time, Nelson Cruz was the AL leader in HR, RBI, slugging and OPS, and little did we realize that these two pitchers would eventually match up against each other in the first game of the American League Championship Series.

April 17, 2010: Yankees 7, Rangers 3 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: A.J. Burnett
LP: Scott Feldman
HR: Nelson Cruz, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez

The second game saw the Yanks behind a solid A.J. Burnett leap out to a quick 5-0 lead they would never give up. After a few weeks of futility, Alex Rodriguez launched his first home run of the season against his former team, and the only bad part of this game was Alfredo Aceves‘ 0.1-inning, three-earned run appearance. The Yankees were rolling.

April 18, 2010: Yankees 5, Rangers 2 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Andy Pettitte
LP: Rich Harden
SV: Mariano Rivera
HR: Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada

Entering this game, Mark Teixeira was batting .100 with an OPS barely above .400, but he took advantage of an ineffective Rich Harden in the third inning. His solo shot was also his first of the season, and it took came against his former teammates. Andy Pettitte went eight strong for his second win of the season as the Yanks wrapped up a tidy three-game sweep of the Rangers in the Bronx. Texas would, of course, return the favor in Arlington a few months later, but these two teams would go nearly four months between meetings.

August 10, 2010: Rangers 4, Yankees 3 (in 10 innings) (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Neftali Feliz
LP: Mariano Rivera
HR: Alex Rodriguez, David Murphy

This game marked a string of five games against the Rangers that were, by and large, not very much fun. A.J. Burnett, mired in a terrible slump, threw seven innings of three-run ball, but C.J. Wilson held his own. The Yanks rallied off of Frank Francisco to tie the game on an a-bomb from A-Rod, but Mariano Rivera gave up the game in the 10th. The Yanks went just 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on.

August 11, 2010: Yankees 7, Rangers 6 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Kerry Wood
LP: Neftali Feliz
SV: Mariano Rivera
HR: Marcus Thames, Michael Young

The Bombers rebounding from their extra-inning loss with a thrilling game against Cliff Lee. While the southpaw struck out 11, the Yanks touched him up for four runs in just 6.1 innings. Staked to a 6-1 lead, Lee and the Rangers bullpen coughed it up. The Yanks scored twice in the seventh, once in the eight and twice in the ninth against closer Neftali Feliz to grab the game. Rivera made it exciting when Elvis Andrus tripled to lead off the inning, but Mo retired Michael Young, Josh Hamilton and Vlad to escape that jam.

Yuck. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

September 10, 2010: Rangers 6, Yankees 5 (in 13 innings) (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Scott Feldman
LP: Chad Gaudin
HR: Nelson Cruz (2)

September 11, 2010: Rangers 7, Yankees 6 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Alexi Ogando
LP: Mariano Rivera
HR: None

It’s quite possible that no two games over the course of the Yankee season were as irksome as this pair. The Yanks went 25 for 87 with 18 walks over 21 innings. That’s the equivalent of a .287 batting average and a whopping .421 on-base percentage. But just five of their 25 hits went for extra bases, and the Bombers left a whopping 32 men on base. On Friday night, the Yanks went 3 for 17 with runners in scoring position and left 18 men on base. On Saturday, the team went 3 for 13 with 14 runners on base. Somehow, Chad Gaudin managed to pitch poorly in both games. No one wants to see that happen again.

September 12, 2010: Rangers 4, Yankees 1 (Box Score) (RAB Recap)
WP: Cliff Lee
LP: Dustin Moseley
SV: Neftali Feliz
HR: None

Cliff Lee faced Dustin Moseley, and the Yanks managed just two hits. No one was surprised.