Dan Johnson 4, Yankees 3 as Rays take over AL East lead

We all hoped that Tuesday’s thrilling win would be the start of better days, but all it did was delay yet another crushing defeat. Phil Hughes came out of the gate strong but lost the game on a pair of mistake pitches, and the offense failed to capitalize on many early opportunities before it was too little, too late. It’s like that win didn’t even happen, we’re all miserable again.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Biggest Mistake: Dan Johnson? Again?!?!

For six-plus innings, Hughes pitched a pretty good game. He was perfect into the fifth, and even though Dan Johnson took him deep for a two-run go-ahead homer in that frame, that was pretty all the Rays managed against him until the seventh inning. I think we all would have signed up for that before the game without thinking twice.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The problem was that they let Johnson beat them again. Hughes started that seventh inning with a very manageable pitch count of 85, and he even retired Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria – two legitimate MVP candidates – without incident for two quick outs. Matt Joyce, who hit that three-run homer off Hughes in his last start at The Trop, singled with two outs to bring up that Johnson guy again. Plain and simple, it was a mistake pitch. Jorge Posada set up outside, the 2-1 cutter drifted back in over the plate and you know what happened next. Johnson had his second two-run go-ahead homer of the game, the deciding blow in the Yanks’ latest demoralizing defeat.

A game and situation like this is ripe for second guessing, but I have no idea what the right move is there. Do you bring in the recently called up Royce Ring – who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues in two years – to face the three lefties in the late innings of a one-run game? Do you go to Joba Chamberlain with Hughes approaching 100 pitches? What about another reliever entirely? All I know is that you can’t let Dan freaking Johnson beat you twice in a game, period. If Hughes gets the final out of the inning and preserves the lead, we’re all talking about how great he looked, but here we are wondering how it could get any worse.

Putting Those Ford Edge Commercials To Some Good Use

Derek Jeter has done more great things for the Yankees over the years than I care to count, but tonight’s might have been his Mona Lisa. Well, that’s a gross exaggeration, but it was rather hilariously awesome in it’s own strange way.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Down by one following Johnson’s first homer, Jeter came to the plate with one out in the top of the seventh looking to do whatever he could to reach base. That’s exactly what he did, though he sort of bent the rules. Chad Qualls’ first pitch sinker ran back in too far and hit Jeter square on the wrist/forearm, and the Yankee captain went down clutching his arm in immediate pain. At least that’s what everyone though. The replay showed that the ball instead hit the handle of his bat, and that it was all just one hell of an acting job. Jeter was awarded first base before Joe Maddon argued and got tossed, and one batter later Curtis Granderson hit a go-ahead homer that put the Yanks back on top.

I had a feeling that the baseball gods wouldn’t let this one stand up, and sure enough it didn’t. I was just hoping they’d bend the rules for Derek like they have so many times before. To his credit (I guess), Jeter was very honest about it after the game. When asked where the pitch hit him, he said flatly “the bat.” This entire situation would be a lot bigger and more controversial if the Yanks won, and I’m certain Derek would have been willing to face that criticism and controversy head-on in exchange for the W.

WTF Get Those Men In

The Yanks have now dropped five of their last six games and eight of ten, and one common theme seems to be squandered chances. They put 15 men on base and stranded 10 of them (three scored, one double play, and Austin Kearns got thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double) in this game. None were worse than Lance Berkman’s inning ending double play in the first, eliminating a bases loaded, one out situation that could have put Tampa to bed before Hughes even took the mound. Instead, just frustration.

During this ten game suckfest, they Yanks have stranded 85 of 106 total baserunners, or 80.2%. The MLB average is 72.1%, so this can’t last forever, right? Right?!? It really has been like Murphy’s Law on crack lately, anything that can go wrong does and then some.


(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

I can’t wait for Nick Swisher and/or Brett Gardner to get healthy, because I’m not sure how much more of Austin Kearns I can take. He’s now six for his last 45 (.133) with 19 strikeouts, six of which came in the last two games. The man is a fine platoon player, but the wheels came completely off once he got pressed into everyday duty.

For the second straight game, Colin Curtis was left in to bat for himself in big spot. This time it was with men on first and second and two outs in the eighth after Marcus Thames curiously pinch hit for Berkman earlier in the inning. Given how awful the bottom of the order had looked for the last two or three games, isn’t Berkman hitting righthanded against Randy Choate with Thames available to pinch hit for either Kearns or Curtis a better option that what happened? I’m just amazed at how often the big spots found the holes in the 8-9 spots.

Four perfect outs from Joba, including two strikeouts. At least that’s good.

The loss puts Tampa up by half-a-game in the AL East, the Red Sox are now six games back of the Yanks for the Wild Card with 16 left to play for both clubs. For you worry warts out there, Boston would need to go 11-5 the rest of the way just to tie and force a Game 163 if the Yanks go 5-11. Yeah it could happen, but I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m definitely bummed out though, I don’t want you think we’re happy about the way things are going. Be pissed off, it’s normal.

WPA Graph & Box Score

It was so promising for a while. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs a bunch of other cool stuff.

Up Next

Hooray for off days. The Yankees have been playing like absolute crap for the last week-and-a-half and will get torn to shreds in the media tomorrow, and for most part the deserve it. Hopefully they can regroup tomorrow and finish the season strong, because I’m not sure how much more of this crap I can take.

When they do resume play, it’ll be in Baltimore with A.J. Burnett on the mound against the imminently beatable Kevin Millwood on Friday. Two of three this weekend is like, the absolute bare minimum.

Trenton drops Game Two of Championship Series

Double-A Trenton (6-4 loss to Altoona) the best-of-five championship series is knotted up at one … Adam Warren gets the ball in Game Three tomorrow
Austin Krum, CF: 3 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
Justin Snyder, 3B: 1 for 5, 1 RBI
Dan Brewer, RF: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, , 1 BB, 1 SB – hitting .389 in the playoffs
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 K – what is that, three homers in the playoffs? might just be two
Marcos Vechionacci, 1B: 1 for 4, 3 K
Rene Rivera, DH & Matt Cusick, 2B: both 0 for 4 – Rivera K’ed twice … Cusick scored a run & K’ed
Damon Sublett, LF: 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K
Luis Nunez, SS: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB
Dellin Betances: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 7 K, 1 WP, 1 Balk, 8-2 GB/FB, 1 E (fielding) – 52 of 87 pitches were strikes (59.8%) … worst start of the year? worst start of the year … also, apparently he couldn’t field his position to save his life
Wilkins Arias: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K
Josh Schmidt: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 0-2 GB/FB

High-A Tampa beat Charlotte on Monday to win the Florida State League Championship, their second consecutive league title.

Low-A Charleston, Short Season Staten Island, and the Rookie GCL Yanks are done. None of the three qualified for the postseason. Triple-A Scranton‘s season ended when they lost to Columbus in the first round of the International League playoffs.

Game 146: Momentum

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Last night’s victory was anything but easy, but Jorge Posada‘s late homer and Greg Golson’s huge, huge outfield assist have the Yankees feeling good about themselves and momentum squarely in their corner. Of course, that and $2.25 will get them on the subway. Or will it not? I can’t keep up with the fare hikes anymore. But I digress.

Tonight’s start is probably the biggest of Phil Hughes‘ young career, a game in which his team needs him to provide not just bulk innings, but high quality innings. The Rays are throwing Jamie Shields, and in the unlikely event that one of the Yankees will see this, HE’S GOING TO THROW A CHANGEUP. I can’t stress that enough.

First place in the line (at least until next week), and it sure would be nice to go into the off day with a little bit of breathing room, no matter how small. Here’s tonight’s lineup…

Jeter, SS
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Berkman, DH – .491 OBP since August 8th, the best in baseball
Posada, C
Kearns, LF
Curtis, RF – wow, I figured Golson would start tonight just because of that throw

And on the bump, it’s St. Philip of Hughes.

Another 7pm-ish ET start tonight, with the game available on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Goldstein praises Yanks’ minor league pitching depth

The 2010 season has been a banner year for the Yankees’ farm system, especially on the pitching side. Numerous players broke out and several others continued on their development path to the big leagues while very few took a step back. Kevin Goldstein rounded up the system’s pitching depth in an Insider-only piece at ESPN today, chronicling not just two of three players that distinguished themselves this season, but nine of them. The big names like Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos clearly draw the most attention, but KG makes sure to throw some love at Brett Marshall, Adam Warren, and plenty of others. Make sure you check it out, it’s a great read.

Pettitte to start in Baltimore on Sunday

It’s not terribly surprising, but it’s good to know that Andy Pettitte‘s return to the starting rotation will officially happen this coming Sunday in Baltimore, the team announced. He will be limited to 90 pitches. Andy has been out since July 18th due to a groin strain, and his absence has been extremely noticeable. It’s good to be getting him back.

Meanwhile, the team also announced that A.J. Burnett will start Friday’s game and CC Sabathia will go on Saturday. Both Javy Vazquez and Dustin Moseley have been bounced from the rotation and will work in long relief. At this time last year, the Yanks were giving all of their guys extra days of rest in preparation for the playoffs, but there’s no such plan this year. Sabathia will start on his usual four days rest despite tomorrow’s off day, and that lines him up for a rematch with David Price next Thursday.

Yankees recall Royce Ring, designate Chad Huffman for assignment

Joe Girardi finally has his second lefty reliever. Royce Ring was recalled from Triple-A Scranton today, with Chad Huffman getting the axe to make room on the 40-man roster.

Ring, 29, spent the year working out of SWB’s bullpen, where he held lefty batters to a .202 batting average against. He struck out 26 and walked just seven in 24 innings of work. Boone Logan is likely unavailable today after working in four of the last five days, so at least now they’ll have someone to match up with Carlos Pena, Matt Joyce, et al in the late innings. The move may also mean that Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner are doing well following their cortisone shots, since Huffman likely would have been insurance should either miss more time.

Hughes’ biggest start of the year

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Phil Hughes‘ first full season as a big league starter has certainly had it’s share of ups-and-down. He came out of the gate and was arguably the best pitcher in the league through his first six starts thanks to a 1.38 ERA, 2.51 FIP, and .214 wOBA against. The next 11 starts didn’t go so well (5.51 ERA, 4.63 FIP, .355 wOBA against), but the six after that did (3.63 ERA, 4.18 FIP, .285 wOBA against). The overall body of work (4.26 ERA, 4.21 FIP, .311 wOBA against) is pretty good for a kid that started the season as a 23-year-old in the AL East, but tonight the Yankees need better than pretty good. They need Hughes to be at his absolute best.

The last two games have been quite possibly the most stressful, exciting, depressing, and emotional games we’ve seen not just this year, but over the last two or three years as well. Add in the fact that the Yanks had lost six of seven games coming into this series against the Rays, and well, everyone’s patience was starting to wear a little thin. The disappointment felt during Monday’s lost was wiped away by the pure joy of last night’s thrilling (and for a while, painful) victory. A win tonight not only keeps the Yanks out of second place in the division, but it also allows them to feel pretty good about themselves going into tomorrow’s off day and the weekend series in Baltimore. Considering how awful things have been going, that’s a pretty significant moral victory.

Hughes, of course, had his last start skipped in an effort to control his ever-increasing workload, though he did make a one inning relief appearance in Texas as sort of a tune-up. His 156.1 IP this year are 44.2 more than he threw last season, 56.2 more than 2008, 40.1 more than 2007, and 10.1 more than he threw in 2006, his previous career high. Not only are we talking about uncharted territory in terms of overall workload, but it’s been four seasons since Hughes was even close to this many innings, so it’s clear to see why the Yanks are being careful.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of being skipped is unpredictability, which is something young starters come with anyway. For all intents and purposes, the Yanks have had Hughes skip a start twice already this season, and both times he struggled immediately afterward. His June 24th start was easy to pass on because it conveniently fell on an off-day, and he then went 11 days between starts due to the All Star Break. Perhaps not coincidentally, Hughes struggled following each skip (six earned runs allowed each time), but it’s not like he was setting the world on fire at that point of the season anyway. Correlation does not equal causation, but we can’t completely ignore the possibility that the skips and the struggles are related.

Regardless of innings, starts being skipped, all that stuff, Phil Hughes has to be in top form this evening. The bullpen continues to be worn down after back-to-back extra inning affairs and a five game stretch in which the starters threw just 28.1 of 48.1 total innings. Kerry Wood is bound to unavailable after working in four of the last five days, and the same should be true for Boone Logan, the only lefty in Joe Girardi‘s bullpen. David Robertson warmed up four freaking times before finally getting in yesterday’s game, and even Mariano Rivera‘s recent workload has gotten up there. The last thing Hughes can rely on tonight is having a fresh bullpen to bail him out.

There’s a lot of pressure on the kid tonight to deliver not just bulk innings, but quality innings. Efficiency most certainly has not been his strong suit over his last 15-20 starts or so, but tonight would be a fantastic time for him to buck that trend. Hughes ascent to a top-of-the-rotation starter is something that will take years to happen, but that’s the kind of effort they need on this day. They need length and more than just a chance to win the game. It’s arguably the biggest start of Hughes’ young career, so let’s all hope he’s up to the task.