A good road trip gone bad

Well that trip sucked. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

“That’s a game that we need to win,” said an agitated Joe Girardi following yesterday’s loss. “It’s not what we wanted, and we need to play better. We need to go home and play well. Start winning series. Tying series is not good enough. We need to start winning series.”

As surprising as it may be, the Yankees haven’t won a series since going to Cleveland at the end of July. They’ve since been beaten in three game sets by the Rays and Blue Jays while splitting against the Red Sox, Rangers, and Royals, so Girardi’s absolutely right. The Yanks aren’t going to be able to coast the rest of the way at a .500 clip in this division, so winning series is absolutely imperitave.

As ugly as the end of last week’s road trip was, let’s not forget how close the games actually were. The Yanks lost three of the six games in Texas and Kansas City, and all three of them were decided by just one run. The opening game against the Rangers went into extra innings after the Yanks tied the game on an Alex Rodriguez homerun in the 8th, but they only lost on a rare Mariano Rivera meltdown. Except it wasn’t much of a meltdown. Michael Young barely beat out Derek Jeter‘s throw to lead off the 10th inning on an infield single, and Josh Hamilton followed that up with a seeing eye single through the right side that was just beyond the reach of a diving Robinson Cano. A-Rod helped record the first out when he managed to get to Vlad Guerrero’s would-be seeing eye single, and the only hard hit ball in the inning was David Murphy’s eventual game winning single to shallow right.

The second loss of the road trip was that rain game against the Royals, when Billy Butler hit the go-ahead homerun off the bottom of the foul pole in the 5th inning before a two-plus hour long rain delay. If the umps don’t let them play for 29 minutes between delays and instead keep the tarp on the field, things may have played out differently. Yesterday’s loss is fresh in everyone’s head, a 1-0 defeat when A.J. Burnett threw eight strong innings and allowed the lone run to score only after a two-base throwing error by the great Frankie Cervelli. Frustrating losses, all three of them for sure, but hardly season halting defeats that exposed fatal flaws. In fact, if you go back to the Red Sox series, the Yankees last four losses have been by one run*. That game against Jon Lester is the one where Brett Gardner seemingly refused to try to steal second after pinch-running for A-Rod in the bottom of the 8th until it was too late.

* Perhaps all this one-run business is just a statistical correction. After playing just 12 one-run games in the first half (basically one out of every seven games), the Yanks have already played ten one-run games in the second half (one out of every three games).

So that’s four straight losses in which the Yankees were no more than one swing away from tying the game, if not taking the lead. On the bright side, keep in mind that with the exception of Mo’s meltdown, the bullpen allowed just six hits in 13.2 innings while striking out 13 during the road trip. Derek Jeter reached base nine times in four games. A-Rod hit four homers and was within maybe three feet of a fifth. Curtis Granderson was demonstrably better at hitting the ball to the opposite field with authority after working with Kevin Long. Lance Berkman, Marcus Thames, and Austin Kearns reached base a combined 19 times during the trip.

The Yankees absolutely had to do better than split a four game series with the Royals when Zack Greinke never touched the mound, no one is arguing that. They didn’t, so we have to move on. The Tigers are coming into the Bronx to start a four game set tonight, and they’re a whopping 9-22 since the All Star break. Justin Verlander starts tomorrow but matches up against CC Sabathia. Jose Valverde is day-to-day with a strained oblique and Phil Coke – Phil Coke! – is Detroit’s de facto closer. Miguel Cabrera is a hitting marvel, but Carlos Guillen (.174 wOBA), Brennan Boesch (.146), Austin Jackson (.255), and Johnny Damon (.260) have all been dreadful this month.

Point being, the Yanks have a chance to turn things right around with this seven game homestand that will bring the woeful Mariners to town after the Tigers depart. We fans can sit and let the frustrations of last week fester, but the players and coaching staff are looking ahead and looking forward to getting this train back on track.

Report: 27th round pick Martin Viramontes returning to school

Via Aaron Fitt, Yankees’ 27th round pick Martin Viramontes is returning to Loyola Marymount for his junior season. Draft eligible as a redshirt sophomore, Viramontes features a big time power arm and is capable of running his fastball up to 96 with a curveball and split-change hybrid. Mechanical issues and a 2009 elbow injury have caused him to be consistently inconsistent over the last two seasons, hurting his stock. A Scott Boras client and top 200 draft prospect, Viramontes was always a long-shot to sign.

In 29.1 innings with the Orleans Firebirds of the Cape Cod League this summer, Viramontes allowed just nine hits, but he walked 18 (and hit a batter) while striking out 19. Nice gamble to take that late in the draft, but it’s not the end of the world that he’s going back to school.

The signing deadline is midnight tonight, and you can see all the Yanks’ signed picks here.

Derek Jeter rebounding from rock bottom

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Every player experiences streaks and slumps during a season. Even players heralded for their consistency, such as Albert Pujols, experience slumps here and there. It feels like the Yankees 2010 season has not only contained streaks and slumps, but has been defined by them. Perhaps no player on the team has embodied this feeling quite like Derek Jeter.

Jeter started off the season hot, hitting .330/.354/.521 in April, which staved off questions regarding his approach. He walked just three times that first month, often swinging at the first pitch and making a quick out. The majority of his balls in play were put on the ground, and it seemed like everything he hit was a grounder towards short. But with largely positive results it was difficult to question the approach. We know that it doesn’t work for most players, but maybe Jeter had figured something out after spending the 2009 season in the leadoff spot.

Then came the slump. After a 6 for 12 series against Chicago Jeter’s production crashed. In his next 106 PA he went 22 for 99 (.222) with five walks and seven extra base hits. It dropped his line all the way to .279/.321/.413. In many ways it felt like his luck evening out, rather than him getting especially unlucky. He maintained the same approach, attacking pitches early in at-bats, but instead of grounding to short he was chopping more balls towards second. That can create the perception that his bat was slower, never a good sign for a 36-year-old shortstop.

Insane groundball rate

During that stretch Jeter hit rock bottom. On May 22 he went 0 for 4 against the Mets, lowing his season line to .267/.313/.385. It was hard to imagine his season getting any worse, but at the same time he made it difficult to imagine wholesale improvement. He was and still is Derek Jeter, of course, and his track record speaks for itself. But his approach was so different than in years past that he put his recovery somewhat in doubt. Of course, as often happens after a player hits rock bottom, he made a swift recovery, going 19 for his next 38 with five extra base hits.

If only that uptick had lasted...

This article would be far less interesting had Jeter sustained his recovery. It would have been the typical instance of a fanbase freaking out over a veteran player slumping early in the season, which makes his season numbers look all the worse. But again Jeter slumped. His numbers dropped all the way through the All-Star break, after which he hit some sort of bottom — not quite rock bottom, but close. After an 0 for 4 night in an ugly loss to the Angels on July 20 Jeter had a line of .268/.332/.380. While he kept his on-base higher than his previous low-point, his power had fallen off precipitously. That’s not too important for a leadoff hitter, but the complete power outage has to be somewhat concerning.

See? A little recovery.

Thankfully, we’re again seeing recovery, though this one has lasted a bit longer than the previous one. Since that 0 for 4 night against Anaheim Jeter has gone 35 for 107 with eight extra base hits and eight walks, which amounts to a .318/.371/.421 line. That’s more in line with reasonable expectations for Jeter’s season. It’s not yet safe to say that he can maintain this for the rest of the season. As we’ve seen, he can hit a slump at any time. But for the past month or so his approach has seemed more Jeter-like than during the first few months. If he keeps it up I think we’ll have little to say about him the rest of the way.

Investing In The Future

Based on the number of questions I get related to the topic in our weekly chats, there’s a ton of people out there interested in minor league economics. I can’t answer those questions, but thankfully Mike Ashmore did in his latest and truly greatest. Speaking with players and execs, Mike hit on everything from how much these guys make to what the Yankees provide for them to housing and healthy food and off-season jobs, the whole nine. It’s a great, great read, and even though it’s long as hell, I give it my absolute highest recommendation. Make sure you check it out.

Fan Confidence Poll: August 16th, 2010

Record Last Week: 3-4 (26 RS, 23 RA)
Season Record: 72-45 (617 RS, 475 RA, 73-44 Pythag. record), one game up
Schedule This Week: vs. Tigers (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), vs. Mariners (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:109}

Yanks can’t solve Bullington, fall 1-0 to Royals

We’ve seen this movie before, the one where the Yankees are unable to solve a pitcher they’ve never seen before. Righthander Bryan Bullington did the honors today, treating the Yankees like he did the opposition during his career at Ball State, the one that landed him a $4,000,000 signing bonus as the first overall pick in the 2002 draft.

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Shut Down

It’s one thing to struggle offensively when you strand baserunners and hit a few balls hard but right at people, but it’s another thing all together when your struggle offensively because you can’t get anyone on base or hit a ball with any authority. Those are the frustrating games, the ones that have fans questioning the team’s effort (which, of course, is nonsense, every team has games like this), and naturally that’s what happened to the Yanks on Sunday.

Bullington, about two weeks shy of his 30th birthday, had a fairly simple game plan in this one, but it worked to perfection. Using a steady diet of sinkers early in the count and a sweepy slider as his put away pitch, he carved right through the Yanks A- lineup with relative ease. He threw nine pitches in the 1st inning, seven in the 2nd, 15 in the 3rd, and another 11 in the 4th without allowing a runner to reach base.

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

The Yanks didn’t put a man on until Robbie Cano singled on a ground ball through the right side with one out in the fourth, but he was quickly erased when Lance Berkman grounded into an inning ending double ball. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Berkman got hurt on the play. That was a 17 pitch inning for Bullington, his high water mark on the day. Brett Gardner singled on a ground ball through the left side with one out the next inning but got thrown out trying to steal, so that was another quick and painless inning on 16 pitches. A seven pitch 7th and a 15 pitch 8th inning later, Bullington was out of the game having limited the Yanks to those two ground ball singles and a walk, never allowing a runner to go so far as second base.

Even though Bullington finished the game with a modest 9-9 GB/FB ratio, the only time the Yanks even seemed to put a charge in the ball came early on, when Nick Swisher and Alex Rodriguez sent balls to the warning track for outs, eerily similar to first few innings of last night’s game. Of the 25 batters Kansas City’s starter faced, 12 were dispatched on three pitches or less. Twelve! Bullington earned his first career win, showing everyone what the Pirates thought they were getting eight years ago.

One Was Enough

You never expect a first inning run to stand up against the vaunted Yankee offense, but that’s exactly what happened in this one. A.J. Burnett, very wild with his fastball in the early going, allowed a single to Willie Bloomquist with one out in the 1st inning, but a poor throw by Frankie Cervelli on a stolen base attempt allowed Bloomquist to move all the way to third. I’m telling you, if a team ever tries to steal centerfield, the Yanks got that covered with Cervelli and Jorge Posada.

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Billy Butler followed that up with a single to plate the lone run of the game, and even though Kansas City threatened on a hit by pitch and a walk to open up the 2nd, Burnett quickly settled down and not only escaped the inning unscathed, he went on to retire ten of the next 11 batters he faced, and 18 of the final 22 overall. He found his curve, was able to locate his fastball, and even dropped in a few changeups for good measure. It’s the phenomenon that is A.J. Burnett, it just comes and goes without warning.

Burnett spared the bullpen with the eight inning complete game, limiting the Royals to just four singles and that one run. It’s as tough of tough losses come, because he was absolutely in command for the final six-plus innings. This was the Yanks’ third complete game of the season (naturally, CC Sabathia has the other two), but none of them have lasted nine innings and the Yanks have lost two of them. Go figure.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher, a.k.a. the one-two hitters that are supposed to set the table for everyone else, saw a total of 17 pitches in their seven plate appearances. Throw in Mark Teixeira and the top three hitters saw a grand total of 28 pitches in ten plate appearances. I’m all for jumping on a pitch that you think you can do something with, but damn, that sucks.

Not only did Cervelli throw the ball into center on that first inning stolen base attempt, he also hesitated to go after the ball as he backed up first base in the 6th inning, then made a poor throw to second to try to get Gregor Blanco. Blanco ended up on third. Not exactly a banner day for a guy that’s here for his defensive reputation.

A-Rod hit another ball hard and to the track, a good sign. He’s been working with hitting coach Kevin Long on clearing his hips that last few days, and so far the result has been some balls driven into left-center. Love it.

Marcus Thames took over for Berkman after he left with his injury, and worked an eight pitch walk off Bullington. It was easily the Yanks’ best at-bat of the day. I assume he’ll get the majority of the playing time at designated hitter while Berkman’s on the mend.

Brett Gardner was caught stealing just once in his first 18 attempts. He’s now been caught five times in his last 21 attempts. Still a 76.2% success rate, but seriously, he’s got to do a little better than that. In his defense, Gardner got a bad jump on his attempt in this game, and it still took a perfect throw to get him.

Three errors today (two by Cervelli on the throws, one by Cano), just two hits. I can’t imagine many teams have won games when they had more errors than hits throughout history.

The Rays beat the Orioles but the Rangers dropped the Red Sox, so the Yanks lead in the division shrinks to one while their lead in the Wild Card standings remains at six.

WPA Graph & Box Score

This game never felt as close at the graph says it was. MLB.com has your traditional box score, FanGraphs the non-traditional box score.

Up Next

Following six games in the sweltering heat of Texas and Kansas City, the Yankees will return home tomorrow for a seven game homestand against a pair of teams that are a combined 29 games under .500. Javy Vazquez and his dead arm will take on the flamethrowing Max Scherzer Monday evening.

Noesi, Stoneburner dominate in wins

Josh Norris chatted with Nardi Contreras briefly, who talked about who might be going to the Arizona Fall League this year. We’re still waiting for part two of the interview, but check it out anyway.

Triple-A Scranton (7-4 loss to Toledo)
Kevin Russo, LF-2B: 3 for 5, 2 R – 14 for his last 42 (.333)
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 0 for 0 – left the game after fouling a ball of his face in the very 1st inning
Greg Golson, PH-RF: 2 for 5, 2 2B, 1 K – 13 for his last 39 with four doubled, a triple & three homers
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 5, 1 RBI, 1 K – 15 for his last 35 (.429)
Juan Miranda, 1B, Jorge Vazquez, DH, Brandon Laird, 3B & Eric Bruntlett, 2B-SS: all 1 for 4 – Miranda K’ed … JoVa drove in a run & K’ed … Laird K’ed twice … Bruntlett hit a solo jack & K’ed twice
Colin Curtis, CF: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – three homers in his last nine games after hitting just one in his first 59 games
Chad Huffman, RF-LF: 0 for 4, 2 K
Lance Pendleton: 5 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 2-6 GB/FB – 55 of 91 pitches were strikes (60.4%)
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-3 GB/FB – 24 of 35 pitches were strikes (68.6%)
Amaury Sanit: 1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 1-1 GB/FB – 15 of 22 pitches were strikes (68.2%)

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