NLDS Game Thread: Reds @ Phillies

As a reward for getting no hit by Roy Halladay, the Reds now get to face Roy Oswalt. Sounds like fun. Bronson Arroyo (hah!) goes for Cincy. Good luck with that. This one starts at 6:07pm ET and can be seen on TBS.

Beyond the game, use this as your open thread to talk about whatever.

Link Dump: Brown, Berkman, Lee

Running out the clock on the work day, aren’t you? Here’s some links to help pass the time…

Yankees Sign Breland Brown

Via Baseball America’s minor league transactions, the Yankees have signed outfielder Breland Brown to a minor league deal. Based on what I can find, the 25-year-old hasn’t played in affiliated ball and has just been bouncing around between independent leagues for the last few years. It’s just a minor league depth move, but if nothing else, Brown has a pretty active Twitter account. He’s even got some pics of his contract posted there.

Blast From The Past: Lance Berkman

In honor of his big game yesterday, Baseball America posted a scouting report of Lance Berkman from 1999, when he was the Astros top prospect. Most people don’t realize how dominant of a player he was at Rice, when he hit .431 with a 1.032 slugging percentage during his draft year, scoring 109 runs with 41 homers and 134 runs batted in in a whopping 68 games. Amazing, he was only the second Rice player taken that year before first overall pick Matt Anderson. Anyway, my favorite part of the retro scouting report was when they talked about Puma’s big league debut depending on the status of … wait for it … Derek Bell. Too funny.

Cliff Lee Wants CC Sabathia Money

This one is completely unsurprising, but MLBTR passes along a report indicating that Lee will seek something like the $161M the Yankees gave Sabathia two years ago. There’s no doubt that Lee is every bit as good, if not better than CC was when he hit free agency, but his track record isn’t nearly as long and he’s also two years older. Shooting for Sabathia money is just good business on their part, but I expect him to sign for something well below that.

A better zone and better pitches for Pettitte in W

When the Yanks named Andy Pettitte their Game 2 starter, the club seemed to be rolling the dice. Despite Pettitte’s voluminous postseason success, the lefty was just three Major League starts removed from a two-month stint on the disabled list due to a groin injury, and in one of those starts, a stiff back prevented him from located his pitches. All in all, Pettitte had thrown 7.1 innings over his last two starts with an ERA of 11.05 and had allowed 19 hits while laboring through 163 pitches.

Pettitte more than silenced the doubters last night. He went seven strong innings against the Twins and needed just 88 pitches to do it. He allowed just two runs on a five hits and a walk and struck out four. As the game wore on, he seemed to find a groove, and at one point, the southpaw retired 12 Twins in a row. It was vintage Andy Pettitte. So how did he get there?

After his Saturday start against the Red Sox last weekend, it seemed as though Pettitte could have used a few more times. While watching the game, I thought he looked healthy, but he seemed to be missing his spots by just a little. Considering his two-month layoff, I wasn’t surprised. After all, pitchers generally say that during the build-up to the season, their command comes back later than velocity. But when I dug deeper into the game, it seemed that home plate ump Mike Winters and not Andy Pettitte was responsible for the struggles. Take a look at the called strike zone from Saturday:

Based on the Pitch f/x data, Pettitte threw nine pitches in the strike zone that were called balls and another was a borderline pitch that went the way of the hitter. Generally, Pettitte wasn’t getting the call on low cutters, and because Pettitte so heavily leans on those low cutters, his approach suffers if the ump isn’t calling a strike a strike.

Now, based on the narrative around last night’s game, it’s tough to believe that Hunter Wendelstedt was calling a better zone than Winters did, but for Andy Pettitte, the strike zone was at least fair. While Carl Pavano somehow threw pitches out of the zone that were called strikes (and one pitch right on the edge of the zone called a ball), Pettitte seemed to get a much truer strike zone this week. Take a look at the called zone:

Wendelstedt apparently missed five pitches and didn’t give Andy the benefit of the doubt on two others. In that sense then, Pettitte was able to use the edges of the strike zone far more effectively this week than last. He also induced more swings on his cutter, a sign of improving pitches as he builds up strength from his injury. The full strike zone plot helps us to see how Pettitte was able to fool the Twins’ hitters.

Last night, Twins’ hitters swung and missed at five Pettitte cutters that were below the zone and another right on the edge. Against the Red Sox, Pettitte couldn’t drop the cutter into the zone, let alone below it, and Boston hitters were laying off the low pitches as Winters called a generous zone. Pettitte made Wendelstedt work for him last night, and Andy’s cutter had a greater down-and-in sweep to it last night. As the Twins’ hitters saw his pitches spin, they started to swing and miss.

As the playoffs progress, it’s easy to forget how the regular season can impact players today, but for Andy, last night was a bit step forward. It was just his fourth start back from injury, and it was by far the strongest he’s looked since returning to the rotation. His velocity is there; his command is there; his effectiveness is there. For a Yankee club looking to play deep into October, that’s news nearly as good as their 2-0 series lead.

Baseball America’s Eastern League Top 20 Prospects

Baseball America posted their list of the top 20 prospects in the Double-A Eastern League today, and four Yankee farmhands made the list: Andrew Brackman at #5, Brandon Laird at #11, Hector Noesi at #16, and Austin Romine at #20. Brackman trailed only Domonic Brown (Phillies), Zach Britton (Orioles), Kyle Drabek (Blue Jays), and Brandon Belt (Giants). Manny Banuelos didn’t have enough innings to qualify, and David Adams’ injury took him out of contention.

In the subscriber only scouting reports, they note that Brackman got better as the season went along, with his fastball going “from 89-92 mph to 93-95 in the middle innings of August starts.” They also say he can drop his curve in for strikes or bury it in the dirt for swings-and-misses, but the changeup needs work. Laird is said to have a knack for getting the fat part of the bat on the ball, an aggressive approach, and good power. He’s “adequate at third, with enough arm and solid hands but below-average range and speed,” and could end up at first.

Noesi’s best pitch is the old number one, a fastball that he manipulates by “adding and subtracting velocity from it, putting it where he wants despite its solid life and showing the ability to pitch to both sides of the plate.” They have his two-seamer at 88-92, and the four seamer up to 96. His changeup is a fringe pitch, but he also throws a slider and curve, with the latter showing more promise. As for Romine, whose stock took a hit after a rough second half, “he still has four average or better tools and the chance to succeed Jorge Posada as the Yankees’ catcher.” He has a strong but slightly inaccurate arm and overall profiles as a strong defender. Offensively, they say his “swing gets long and he’s not selective to fully tap into his plus raw power, but scouts project him as an average home run hitter.” They do note his ability to use the entire field.

The last list Yankee fans have to worry about is the Triple-A International League, which comes out on Tuesday. Jesus Montero is a lock for a top three or four spot, and chances are Ivan Nova will make the cut as well. Personal fave Eduardo Nunez will likely make an appearance as well.

Heathcott goes under the knife, out until February

According to his Facebook status, 2009 first rounder Slade Heathcott is having surgery on some unknown body part for some unknown reason. It’s worth noting that he did go under the knife to repair a torn ACL in high school, and he also missed a bunch a time after injuring his shoulder diving for a ball in the outfield. Hopefully it’s nothing major and has nothing to do with the knee again; the last thing you want a speedy centerfielder type to develop is knee problems. It’s unclear if he’ll be ready for Spring Training.

Baseball America recently ranked Heathcott as the 18th best prospect in the Low-A South Atlantic League, where they noted his all-out style of play. I’m jumping way ahead of myself, but it would be a shame if that keeps leading to injuries.

Update: According to one of Heathcott’s comments on FB, he’s out until at least February. So it wasn’t too serious. Hopefully he can start he season on time.

(h/t Andy in Sunny Daytona)

Pettitte, Berkman lead Yanks to Game Two win

We here at RAB tend to be a pretty analytical in our coverage of the Yankees, typically ignoring intangibles for cold hard facts like those represented in statistics. By definition intangibles can not be measured, so to guess at their value and impact seems foolhardy at best. But at this point, I don’t think there’s any way we can deny that the Yankees are in the heads of the Minnesota Twins. No matter what the Twinkies try to do, whether they play small ball or long ball or who they start, they just can’t seem to beat the guys from New York. That was the case again on Thursday, when the Yanks stuck to their mantra of wearing down the opposing starter down and capitalizing in the later innings.

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Biggest Hit: Berkman Parties Like It’s 2006

Every team needs some unheralded players to step up in the postseason, but in most cases Lance Berkman wouldn’t qualify as that guy. He’s a career .296/.409/.545 hitter with 327 homers, five All Star appearances, and four top five finishes in the MVP voting to his credit. But in a lineup as deep and dangerous as the the one the Yanks’ trot out there every night, Berkman is just a platoon designated hitter that bats eighth. Pretty crazy.

The score was tied at two into the seventh inning, but the most overrated player in the baseball history*, a.k.a. Jorge Posada, worked a six pitch walk to lead things off. It seemed like a logical time to pinch run, but Joe Girardi stayed with his stalwart backstop, and Berkman made sure it was a moot point. Carl Pavano pounded Lance with hard stuff, using sinkers and cutters and regular old four-seamers to get the count even at 2-2 before going to something soft. Just as he did earlier in the game (more on that in a bit), Berkman got a hold of Pavano’s changeup down in the zone and rocketed it out to left-center and over Denard Span’s head.

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Of course, like everything else these days, the at-bat was filled with controversy. Home plate ump Hunter Wendelstedt was calling a wide zone all night, but Pavano’s 1-2 sinker to Berkman appeared to catch the inside corner of the plate for what should have been strike three. Wendelstedt called it a ball, and one pitch later the Yanks’ DH doubled in Posada for the go-ahead run. Let’s not understate Posada’s baserunning here; he chugged around from first on the play. It’s wasn’t even two outs either, so he didn’t get a head start. It was all hustle.

Ron Gardenhire got tossed for arguing the non-strike call after the double, but it did no good. I’m sure there was a lot of frustration boiling over. Anyway, too bad, I have no sympathy after the zone Pavano was working with all evening (see below), and Berkman’s double gave the Yankees a lead they would not surrender. The WPA of this sucker was .192 in favor of the good guys.

* Not really

Honorable Mention: Lance, A Lot

Puma hit just one homerun in 123 plate appearances with the Yanks after the trade, but he wasted no time making his mark on the postseason. The Twins took a one-zip lead in the second on a Danny Valencia sacrifice fly, but the Yanks’ third baseman replied with a sac fly of his own in the fourth. One inning later, the Bombers took their first lead of the night when Berkman launched a Carl Pavano 2-0 changeup to the opposite field and into the second (deeper) bullpen. It was a total golf shot, a ball at the shins that he just muscled out to the opposite field. Most teams are lucky to have a third place hitter that can do that. Berkman was hitting eighth for the Yankees tonight. The WPA of this one checked in at .135.

Biggest Outs: Pettitte Escapes The First

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

For the last few weeks, all we heard about was how the Yankees had no pitching behind CC Sabathia. It was as if they were starting Dustin Moseley and Ivan Nova in Games Two and Three, not Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. Sure, Pettitte’s final two starts of the season weren’t textbook, but people were treating the guy like he just escaped from the glue factory.

Game Two started much like Game One, with Span singling to lead off the bottom of the first. On Wednesday the Twins did the Yanks a favor by sacrifice bunting him to second, but they learned their lesson and let Orlando Hudson swing away this time around. Pettitte jumped ahead with fastball on the outer black, then did exactly what he planned to do with his second pitch cutter in on the hands. It jammed Hudson, who tapped it back to Andy who started the 1-6-3 twin killing.

Joe Mauer struck out four pitches later and the inning was over after just 16 pitches, but that double play was huge. Minnesota had a chance to not necessarily break things open that early in the game, but they could have built Pettitte’s pitch count up and maybe even scratch out a run or two. Instead they got nothing, letting the Yankee lefthander off the hook. This was completely subjective on my part as far as being the biggest outs, by the way. WPA says Delmon Young’s ninth inning double play was the biggest defensive play by the Yankees, checking in at .094.

The Andy We All Know And Love

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Pettitte’s last two regular season starts lasted all of 7.1 innings combined, and he got smacked around for 19 hits and ten runs in that span. You never would have been able to tell that by how he performed in this game, when he stifled the Twins over seven innings. He surrendered just five hits and a walk while striking out four. He allowed a run in the second after loading the bases thanks to some weak singles and a walk, but that was pretty much all Minnesota got for the night.

Andy retired a dozen in a row from the second through the sixth, a streak that was broken up by Hudson’s game tying solo homer. Pettitte rebounded to end the inning as well as tack on another, handing the ball over to the bullpen with a lead and three measly outs to get before Mariano Rivera came into play.

The 38-year-old lefty was clearly the star of the night for the Yankees, regardless of Berkman’s heroics with the bat. All those questions about the rotation after Sabathia seem pretty silly right now, at least for one night. It was Pettitte’s 19th career postseason win, easily the most of all time. Not enough can be said about his night, he was simply masterful.

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

The Brian Cashman All-Stars

Fat Elvis wasn’t the only new Yankee to do some damage. No, in fact it was a banner night for Cashman’s latest pickups.

Curtis Granderson, a night after his huge go-ahead triple, picked up three hits including one that drove in an all important insurance run in the top of the ninth. He also scored the first run after reaching on a boomed double off the right-centerfield wall. Setup man Kerry Wood … holy schnikees. He brought the pain in the eighth, striking out J.J. Hardy with one of his trademark knee-buckling curveballs, retiring Span on a weak tapper to the mound, and punching out Hudson with some high gas. It was straight up domination, homes.

Hunter Wendelstedt’s Strike LOL Zone

Look at this disaster…

That’s a look at the strike zone from the catcher’s view. The green squares are balls for the Twins, red squares called strikes. The Yanks are the triangles, green for balls, red for the called strikes. Sure looks like Minny got the benefit of the outside corner to lefties, doesn’t it? What a mess, I can’t wait for the robots.


(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Ho hum, Mariano Rivera gave up a leadoff broken bat bloop single to Mauer in the ninth, but he then atoned by coaxing an absolute tailor made double ball out of Young. A few pitches later, Jim Thome popped out to the left side for the final out for the second consecutive night. Facing five batters on Wednesday had no ill-effects on The Sandman. Just another day at the office.

In a nice reversal of fortune, the Yanks went 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position, though they did strand the bases loaded in the seventh after Alex Rodriguez and Robbie Cano had chances to put this one to bed early. No harm, no foul I guess.

For the second night in the row, every Yankee in the starting lineup reached base at least once, with Grandy, Mark Teixeira, Berkman, and Brett Gardner doing so multiple times each. Nick Swisher doubled but also grounded into a double play with men on the corners in the fourth with the score tied. That the biggest out(s) made by a Yankee batter at -.138 WPA.

Believe it or not, the Twins have scored first the last eight (!!!) times these two clubs have met in the playoffs, dating back to 2004. The Yankees are 8-0 in those games. Unreal. They now have a commanding two games to none lead in the best-of-five series without enjoying the luxury of a home game yet.

WPA Graph & Box Score

No comeback for you! has the box score and video, FanGraphs some other neat stuff.

Up Next

These two clubs will use tomorrow to travel back to New York before resuming the series Saturday night. Hughes gets the ball against former U.S. Olympian Brian Duensing.