Fan Confidence Poll: April 12th, 2010

Record Last Week: 4-1 (29 RS, 19 RA)
Season Record: 4-2 (36 RS, 26 RA), 1.0 game back
Opponents This Week: Monday OFF, vs. Angels (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Rangers (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.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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A.J., Jorge pace Yanks to series win in Tampa

Over the last year, we’ve often talked about Jorge Posada and A.J. Burnett as though they were the Yankees’ version of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. Yesterday in Tampa, though, the two silenced the battery doubters as Burnett escaped a shaky first inning to shut down the Rays, and Jorge Posada’s two-run home run gave the Yanks a lead they would never surrender. When the dust settled, the Yanks walked away with a 7-3 victory over Tampa, their second straight series win to open the season and a nifty 4-2 road trip to begin their World Championship defense.

Good A.J. arrives

A.J. delivers. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

One day after CC Sabathia flirted with a no-hitter, Jason Bartlett made sure that the Yanks and A.J. Burnett wouldn’t worry about baseball history and pitch counts. He singled to start the game, stole second and then scored on a Carl Crawford hit. The Rays were set up, and Burnett’s pitches seemed flat. Shades of Bad A.J. started to creep into the game.

But then, Ben Zobrist game the Yankees a gift. With the Rays’ win probability pushing 70 percent after a Crawford stolen base, one of the game’s better and more versatile hitters, laid down a sacrifice bunt. Burnett fielded the ball and fired to Mark Teixeira for the first out of the inning. Although a second run would score on a Carlos Peña ground-out, Zobrist’s decision to bunt cost the Rays a chance at that crooked number, and it gave Burnett a badly-needed out.

After that first inning, he and Jorge went to work. Although the strike-out pitch wasn’t working, Burnett kept the Rays off base and off balance. Overall, he went seven innings for his first W of the season and allowed just six hits and two earned runs. He walked three and strike out only one but stayed effectively wild. For a start, at least, Burnett and Posada were able to overcome their philosophical life differences and work together for a Yankee win.

Hip Hip Jorge! (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Biggest Hit: Jorge Posada’s Home Run

As the sixth inning rolled around, the Yanks found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-1 game. James Shields had pitched well to that point, but as they do so well, the Yanks had worn him down. After an A-Rod fly ball and a Robinson Cano double, Shields was at 103 pitches, and Joe Maddon went to his bullpen. Strangely enough, with Jorge Posada up, Maddon went to Randy Choate, a lefty, and Posada was able to bat from his strong side.

Posada didn’t disappoint. He took a 1-1, 86-mph fastball over the fence in left-center field, and the Yanks had their 3-2 lead. After the A-Rod out to start the inning, the Rays’ win probability was at 69.1 percent. When Jorge’s blast settled into the seats, Tampa’s win expectancy was down to 37.3 percent. The home run was good for .254 WPA points, and the Yanks never looked back. Curtis Granderson scored on a wild pitch a few batters later, and the Yanks’ bats went to work.

Almost the Biggest Non-Out

With the Yanks clinging to a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth, the Rays, aided by their stadium, mounted a threat, and it appeared as though A.J. Burnett would give back the lead the Yanks had just secured. After two quick outs in the inning, Zobrist singled, and Evan Longoria hit a towering pop up that seemed to go foul. As the Yanks settled under the ball, it struck a speaker high up in the catwalk in the Trop and landed in fair territory. No one knew what to do.

The umpires conferred and made the wrong call. As both the Yanks’ and Rays’ TV announcers eventually explained, the ball struck a speaker in foul territory and should have been ruled a foul ball. Either the umpires didn’t know the rules or didn’t see the play. All of a sudden, Tampa had the tying run on first, and their big bats up.

Meanwhile, Burnett on the mound had to throw more pitchers to dangerous hitters. He avoided home plate against Carlos Peña as though it were infected and had to stare down B.J. Upton with two outs and the bases loaded. Upton swung at the first pitch and lifted a lazy pop-up to Mark Teixeira. Threat over. Tampa’s hopes over.

Things That Made Me Smile

This week made me smile. This is my first chance to tackle the game story this season, and I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen from the Yanks so far. They score runs in bunches and have a solid lineup from top to bottom. The outfield, in particular, has been a source of production. Curtis Granderson has played stellar center field defense. Today, he started a good old 8-3 double play, stole a base and scored on a wild pitch. He’s hitting .348/.423/.652 and will get a huge ovation on Tuesday afternoon.

And then we have Nick Swisher. After three bad at-bats, he felt his lumber was too light and switched to a heavy bat to slow down his swing. The result? A home run. He’s off to a great start with a triple-slash line of .333/.450/.571 and gives the Yanks great depth at the bottom of the order.

WPA Graph

Up Next

The Yanks have a day off tonight as they head back to the Bronx. Instead, they’ll host the annual Welcome Home dinner and gear up for a 1:05 Tuesday afternoon special against their ALCS opponent Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The team will get its World Series rings during the home opener, and Hideki Matsui will make his triumphant return to the Bronx.

Phelps dazzles in Double-A debut

In case you missed it, Manny Banuelos missed his scheduled start today.

Triple-A Scranton (4-1 loss to Buffalo)
Kevin Russo, 3B & Juan Miranda, 1B: both 0 for 3 – Russo was hit by a pitch … Miranda drew a walk & K’ed
Eduardo Nunez, SS, Jon Weber, LF & Jesus Montero, DH: all 1 for 4, 1 K – Nunez doubled
David Winfree, RF: 3 for 4, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 K – went from hitting .250 to .375 just like that
Colin Curtis, CF, Chad Moeller, C & Reegie Corona, SS: all 0 for 4 – Curtis drove in a run with a ground ball … Moeller & Corona K’ed
Jason Hirsh: 4.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 5-6 GB/FB – 47 of 74 pitches were strikes (63.5%) … gave up all three runs in the first … allowed just two singles & a walk the rest of the way
Royce Ring: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 5-0 GB/FB – 15 of 26 pitches were strikes (57.7%)
Amaury Sanit: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-3 GB/FB – 16 of 20 pitches were strikes (80%)

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Time to come home

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Four wins after three games in Boston and another three in Tampa? I’ll take it every time. Now it’s time for the boys to take a day to relax, then come back to the Bronx to get their World Series rings. I can’t wait.

Here’s your open thread for the night. The NHL season is over, save for a few miscellaneous games still going on, but the Knicks are still playing out their schedule and are in action as we speak. You know the drill, so have at it.

Banuelos scratched from first start

Via Josh Norris, Yankees’ top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos was scratched from today’s start for High-A Tampa for an unknown reason. I suspect it’s injury-related, but that doesn’t mean it’s something serious. He could have the flu or something. A promotion to Double-A to take Chris Garcia’s rotation spot would be a) absurdly aggressive, and b) completely unnecessary since Trenton has Lance Pendleton (second in the system last year with 26 starts and 149 IP) in the bullpen. Hopefully it’s nothing major and he’ll be able to make his next start.

Game 6: Two series, two rubber games

The Yankees will try to get back to a .667 win percentage today in their second consecutive rubber series. The first one, on Wednesday evening against the Red Sox, was quite the contest. I wouldn’t mind seeing the two pitchers, A.J. Burnett and James Shields, exchange scoreless innings for a while.

Sheilds got his third consecutive Opening Day nod this past Monday, allowing three runs on nine hits and two walks against the Orioles. Yet the only runs came from solo home runs. The Rays came back and won the game with a bottom of the ninth rally off new Orioles closer Mike Gonzalez.

During his career Shields has gotten hit hard by the Yankees, allowing 37 runs, 36 earned, over 54 innings. A lot of that comes from 2006 adn 2007, when he allowed 27 earned runs over 28.1 innings. He recovered to pitch very well against the Yanks in 2008, though that was the year their offense kinda tanked. Shields made only one start against the Yanks last year, lasting 5.1 innings and allowing five runs on nine hits, including two home runs.

Last year A.J. Burnett made his second start of the season against the Rays, and it looked a bit like Sabathia’s start yesterday. He took a no-hitter into the seventh, but lost it immediately on a Carl Crawford leadoff single. After not managing a hit for six innings the Rays started the frame with three straight. Burnett recovered, though, getting the next two before Jose Molina picked off Carlos Pena at first. Burnett finished the gem by retiring the side in order in the eighth.

During his career Burnett has faced the Rays 21 times, posting a 2.77 ERA over 149.2 innings. The majority of those innings, of course, came when the Rays were perpetually in the AL East cellar. Last year, though, he pitched 32 innings against them, allowing nine runs, seven earned, on 22 hits and nine walks. Even better, the Rays managed just one home run in that span. It’s a Burnett rarity, but his WHIP was actually below 1.00 against them. Imagine that.

With Posada back in the lineup the Yanks are at full strength. It would be nice to pick up a rubber game W before heading back for the home opener on Tuesday.

Lineup:

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

And on the mound, number thirty-four, A.J. Burnett

Sabathia steals the show as Yanks’ pound Rays

Fresh off a drubbing at the hands of the Rays last night, the Yankees returned to the field this afternoon looking to get back in the win column. Joe Girardi handed the ball off to his ace, and CC Sabathia didn’t disappoint.

Photo Credit: Mike Carlson, AP

Si Si

Forget big hits and big outs, the story of Saturday’s game is clear. Coming off an outing in which he gave up five runs in 5.1 innings, Sabathia wasn’t about to be shown up by David Price, another fire-balling lefty who dominated the Yankees Friday night for close to eight innings. Less than 24 hours later on Saturday afternoon, CC was quite literally large and in charge.

The 4th inning ended just the like the three before it, with three outs recorded and no one reaching base. It was too early to start to starting thinking about a date with perfection, but it was apparent Sabathia had it all working. Evan Longoria walked to leadoff the 5th, and it wasn’t until the 7th inning that the Rays were able to muster another baserunner.

CC absolutely dominated the Rays across seven-plus innings, taking a no-hitter into the 8th and never allowing more than one batter to reach base in any inning. Just 69 of his 111 pitches were strikes, but home plate Wally Bell had a pretty tight strike zone. Apparently he didn’t get the memo from Joe West about speeding up the game. Fourteen of those 69 strikes came when Tampa batters swung and missed, a whopping 20.3%.

Joe Maddon’s lineup was stacked with righthanders, but Sabathia mowed through them with a fastball that topped out at 96 and a changeup that shined like justice. Kelly Shoppach, CC’s former catcher in Cleveland, broke up the no-hit bid with a 0-1 single in the 8th, which prompted Joe Girardi to go and get his starter without hesitation. Sabathia had thrown 111 pitches, most of them with little or no stress, but throwing that many pitches this early in the year isn’t exactly ideal. Girardi said Shoppach was going to be CC’s last batter one way or the other, but that’s something every manager says after their starter loses a no-hitter late in the game.

If true, I think he was just taking mercy on those poor Tampa hitters. They were simply no match for the Yankee ace.

Photo Credit: Mike Carlson, AP

Biggest Hit: Robinson Cano‘s two run homer

When you win by a score of 10-0, none of the hits are really all that big. In terms of WPA, it was Robbie Cano‘s two run shot off of Wade Davis that opened the scoring in the 4th inning. We had ourselves a good old fashioned pitching duel up to that point, but once Cano went deep, the Yankees never looked back.

Frankly, the biggest hit of the afternoon didn’t even come off the bat of a Yankee. It was Shoppach’s knock that ended CC’s chance at history.

Biggest Out: B.J. Upton’s fly out

Sabathia was in control all night, and there really wasn’t a moment where a hit would have swung the momentum into Tampa’s favor. B.J. Upton flew out harmlessly to end the 5th inning with Longoria on third, which was the biggest threat the Rays could mount against the Yanks’ ace. Still, the score was 4-0 in favor of the good guys at the time.

Things that made me smile

Photo Credit: Mike Carlson, AP

How about that defense? Mark Teixeira preserved the no-no with a diving grab of Jason Bartlett’s line drive to end the 5th, then A-Rod did him one better by making a diving grab of his own on a B.J. Upton line drive in the 7th, throwing out the speedy centerfielder with a few strides to spare. That’s the moment when the no-hit talk really got serious. The team was playing superb defense behind Sabathia, which is what you need to hold a big league team to zero hits over the course of a game.

Tex and A-Rod also did some good things with the stick as well. The Yanks’ first baseman broke out of a 0-for-17 slump by picking up a trio of hits, while A-Rod picked up his 1,000th knock in pinstripes. Part of me still feels like he just got here.

And what about this Brett Gardner character? He ever so quietly went 2-for-4 with a walk, two runs scored, two driven in, and his third stolen base on the season. The 27 total pitches he saw were more than any other player on the field, and he’s hitting a cool .385-.467-.385 in three starts and one appearance as a defensive replacement. Forget this Marcus Thames against lefthanders nonsense, let’s see what Brett The Jet can do with a full-time job.

Frankie Cervelli taking inside pitches. That exaggerated bend at the waist he does while throwing his open hands in the air gets me every time.

WPA Graph

Make sure you check out the individual player breakdowns at FanGraphs’ box score.

Next Up

These two teams are right back at it tomorrow afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 1:40pm ET, and it’ll be nationally broadcast on TBS if you’re outside the NY market. A.J. Burnett will try to one up Sabathia, getting the ball against Jamie Shields. Good luck with that.