Cervelli & Teixeira lead the way as Yanks pummel Sox again

Even though the Yankees won on Friday, it was a frustrating win. Josh Beckett pitched with a reckless abandon that directly led to Robbie Cano‘s injury, while Nick Johnson also went down for the count. They rolled into Fenway on Saturday afternoon looking not just for a little revenge, but for another win, which would give them six in a row and their second series win over the Red Sox in an as many tries. Four hours of baseball plus a rain delay later, they got that win. They got that win and then some.

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

Biggest Hit: You Got Cerv’d

The first four innings of this game went back and forth because no one really decided to take control. The Yanks were certainly getting men on base against Clay Buchholz – 14 baserunners in his five innings, in fact – but their lead stood at just one, at least until Frankie Cervelli stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the 5th.

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

The Red Sox righthander threw a first pitch changeup to the young catcher, just like he did the inning before. And just like the inning before, Cervelli took the pitch low for a ball. In the 4th, Buchholz followed up with a flat 90 mph slider that stayed up, which Cervelli dunked into center for a single. He wouldn’t make the same mistake this inning, but his 94 mph heater was over the plate and Cervelli once again singled to center. Two runs crossed the plate before Randy Winn was tagged out in a run down between second and third, and the Yankees had a three run lead they would never relinquish.

Biggest Out: Beltre gets doubled up

Right at the start of the game, Mark Teixeira killed a two on, no out rally in the first, but all is forgiven since he more than made up for it later in the game (more on that in a bit). An inning later, Adrian Beltre did almost exactly the same thing. Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell reached with singles before J.D. Drew went down swinging, so Beltre had a chance to give Boston an early lead, something they probably could have used after Friday night’s messy loss.

CC Sabathia started him out with a  sinker away for a ball, but his next pitch – a changeup – got the corner for a strike, He tried to get the free swinging Beltre by doubling up on the change, but he wouldn’t bite. The fourth pitch of the at-bat actually wasn’t all that good, a sinker left out over the plate and about knee high. Thankfully, Boston’s third baseman chopped it into the ground, leading to a garden variety and inning ending 6-4-3 double play.

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

Revenge

We didn’t know when it was going to happen or who it was going to happen to, but everyone had a pretty good idea that a Yankee pitcher was going to plunk a Red Sox batter as retaliation for Beckett’s recklessness on Friday. Turns out that Sabathia took matters into his own hands, drilling Dustin Pedroia in the behind with a first pitch fastball that registered at 98 mph on PitchFX. He’s probably not going to be able to sit on that side for a week, but Boston’s second baseman knew what was up and just put his head down and ran to first. It was about as orderly as a revenge beaning could be. Well, except for what followed.

Sabathia had already allowed a homer to minor league legend Darnell McDonald earlier in the inning, and his command was less than stellar on the day already. Victor Martinez, his former teammate in Cleveland, dug in, and after taking a first pitch fastball for a strike, he sat back and watched CC throw three straight balls. Taking all the way on 3-1, V-Mart let a hittable changeup go by for a strike, then fouled off a sinker with the count full. The next pitch was probably Sabathia’s worst of the game, a 94 mph fastball belt high and over the plate, which Martinez turned around and launched clear over the Green Monster. The Red Sox had taken the lead, and Joe Buck was yelling that the Red Sox have been “fired up” by the hit by pitch.

I don’t have a problem with sticking up for your teammates, but I did have a bit of a problem with the timing. It was a one run game and the middle of the order was coming up. You’ve just gotta be smarter than that, and wait until later on when the game isn’t so up for grabs. And you know what? If the opportunity doesn’t come to retaliate later in the game, then so be it. That makes it the next pitcher’s job whenever he gets a chance. Sabathia threw 17 pitches in the inning after hitting Pedroia, which essentially meant the bullpen was going to have to work an extra inning later in the game. Granted, it wasn’t factor in this one because of the weather, but that doesn’t make it okay.

Believe it not, V-Mart’s bomb was the biggest WPA swing of the game, improving Boston’s chances of winning by 20.6%.

The Frankie & Mark Show

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

With four regulars either on the disabled list or limited due to injury, the Yankees’ lineup looked a little less formidable than usual. Thankfully, Teixeira and Cervelli made that a moot point.

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

The Yanks’ first baseman went 4-for-6 on the day, with three of those four leaving the yard. His first homer was a solo shot off Buchholz in the 5th, breaking a 3-3 and giving the Yankees a lead they would never give back. The second came off Ramon Ramirez, the first batter he faced, and was another solo jack that wrapped around the Pesky Pole to push the Yanks even further out in front. The third homer probably shouldn’t count since it came off a 79 mph fastball from outfielder turned pitcher Jon Van Every in the 9th inning of a nine run game. Either way, it was the first three run homer by a Yankee since Alex Rodriguez worked over Bartolo Colon back in 2005, and only the second three homer game by a Yankee in Fenway Park. The first one belongs to some guy named Lou Gehrig.

Not to be outdone, Cervelli had the finest game of his young career, going 3-for-4 with five runs driven in, all on singles punched right back up the middle. Hitting coach Kevin Long was probably thrilled to see that. Ever since Jorge Posada went down with his calf injury, the Yanks’ backup backstop has gone 9-for-14 with two walks and just one strikeout, and he’s hitting a cool .429-.500-.500 on the season.

They’re Calling For The Tarp When?!

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

The weather report this weekend has been anything but good, with rain threatening the first two games of the series. The two sides were able to play uninterrupted on Friday, but Saturday was different story. Dark clouds rolled in sometime in the 4th inning, and soon enough the groundskeepers had to turn the lights in. With the Yankees clinging to a three run lead and monsoon conditions imminent, Sabathia went to the mound in the bottom of the 5th needing three outs to make the game official and qualify for a win before the skies opened up.

CC needed seven pitches to retire McDonald, then walked Marco Scutaro on eight pitches before Pedroia popped out on three pitches. Needing one more out, it looked like he would be able to make this one official before the rain became a factor. Instead, V-Mart fouled off a 2-2 pitch to extend the at-bat, and before Sabathia was able to deliver another pitch, someone turned the rain switch on as if they were filming the sequel to The Truman Show. It just started pouring. CC never got a chance to retire Martinez because the umps signaled for the tarp almost immediately. With two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the 5th. One out from an official game. It was the ultimate WTF moment, and even though it didn’t have much of an impact in the grand scheme of things, we would have felt a little more comfortable during the rain delay knowing this game was official.

Another One Bites The Dust

It’s almost comical at this point. The Yankees have had seven prominent players go down with injuries in the last seven days, and on Saturday they made it 8-for-8. Pitching in relief of Sabathia following the rain, Al Aceves retired V-Mart to end the 5th before going back out to work the 6th. While facing Jeremy Hermida with two outs and two on, The Mexican Gangster came up lame after throwing a first pitch curveball for a strike, and immediately began limping in front of the mound.

Based on his awkward landing and his reaction afterward, everyone figured Aceves had injured his leg somehow. Whether it was a hamstring or a knee or an ankle, who knew. He left the game immediately, and after the game we learned that he was dealing with a stiff lower back, the same issue he had in Spring Training. It’ll keep him out of action for a few days, but thankfully he won’t need to the visit the disabled list.

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola, AP

Various Moments Of Joy

I covered most of them above, but I just want to expand on Tex for a little bit. The Yankees have played just seven games in May, but their first baseman already has more hits (12), homers (3), RBI (11), and total bases (23) than he did in the entire month of April (11, 2, 9, 21, respectively). Today’s effort increased his batting average by 26 points, his on-base percentage by 15 points, and his slugging percentage by … wait for this … 101 points! Teixeira finally crawled over the Mendoza line, and hitting .207-.343-.396 on the season.

The Yankees drew ten walks today, and struck out just four times. They put 27 men on base total, scored 14 runs, and still left nine men on base. And they didn’t even have Nick Johnson, Jorge Posada, and Curtis Granderson in the lineup. That’s amazing.

How about that moment of silence for Ernie Harwell and Robin Roberts in the 3rd? Nevermind escaping the nonsense of Buck and Tim McCarver, it was nice to hear nothing but the sounds of the game as if you were at the park. Truly epic.

And last, but certainly not least, congrats to Kevin Russo for making his Major League debut. First Yankee to make his big league debut in 2010.

Things That Made Me Want To Throw My Remote

Not much to complain about that I already haven’t above, but good grief, how about Joe Girardi matching up with Damaso Marte against a lefty in the 8th inning of a nine run game? Come on now, that’s ridiculous.

Randy Winn getting thrown out at the plate in the 4th. The Yanks had two men on with no outs after V-Mart gave the Sox the lead, and that out at home was a big blow at the time. They only went on to score one run in the inning, and even though it didn’t matter in the end, making the first out at home is a major no-no.

WPA Graph

“Oh look, they’re trying to put up a fight.” “Let’s stop that.” “Oh wait look again, now they’re trying to make a comeback.” “Crush them.”

Individual player breakdowns are available at FanGraphs’ box score.

Next Up

With the series already in the bag, the Yankees will try for the sweep tomorrow night on ESPN. A.J. Burnett gets the ball against Jon Lester, first pitch set for 8:05pm ET.

Trenton walks off with a win as Romine’s streak comes to an end

Mike Ashmore has a full transcript of Nardi Contreras’ chat with reporters yesterday, so don’t miss it. It’s a must read. Also, Justin Snyder’s been bumped up to SWB.

Triple-A Scranton (4-2 win over Durham)
Greg Golson, CF & Reegie Corona, 2B: both 1 for 5, 2 K – Golson threw a runner out at second … Corona scored a run
Eduardo Nunez, SS & Chad Huffman, DH: both 0 for 3, 1 BB, 2 K – Nunez got caught stealing
Juan Miranda, 1B: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K – good to see him back … he took a pitch off the elbow a few days ago & missed a couple of games … have to imagine he’ll get a chance to fill in for Nick Johnson, even if it’s just a platoon role
David Winfree, RF & Robby Hammock, 3B: both 2 for 4 – Winfree hit a bomb & drove in three
Jon Weber, LF: 0 for 4, 2 K
P.J. Pilittere, C: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K, 1 CS, 1 PB – still no definitive reason on why Jesus Montero was lifted from yesterday’s game … anything you see is just speculation at this point
Jason Hirsh: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 5 K, 6-4 GB/FB, 1 E (throwing) – just 58 of 105 pitches were strikes (55.2%) … just one of those days
Zack Segovia: 2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3-2 GB/FB – 20 of 27 pitches were strikes (74.1%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1-0 GB/FB – 11 of his 13 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Aceves pulled with stiff lower back

Update by Mike (8:46pm): Aceves will be out for two or three days, which isn’t all that bad. Phew.

7:24: Aceves exited with a stiff lower back. He’s had back problems before, as recently as Spring Training.

6:51pm: The injury bug continues to bite the Yankees. While pitching in the bottom of the sixth, Alfredo Aceves finished his delivery awkwardly and injured himself. The team has yet to announce what happened, but Joe Girardi and the trainers pulled the versatile reliever without hesitation. We’ll update this post as news comes in.

Open Thread: Pray for rain

Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer, AP

Well that was an ordeal. The Yanks and Sox just completed a game that took roughly four hours to play, not including the hour-plus rain delay smacked in the middle. We’ll have our regular recap up later tonight, but thank goodness that mess is over with.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the rest of the night. There’s NBA and NHL playoff action on, plus some late baseball games if your on the west coast or something. It’s Saturday though, go out and do something you’ll forget in the morning.

Game 29: Just stay healthy

"No way bro, I think you could pass for 6-foot." (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

Update (6:07pm): The game is set to resume at 6:20pm ET, and the broadcast is going to shift over to FX.

* * *

The Yankees’ roster has taken a pretty big hit in the form of seven small hits over the last week, as player after player after player succumbs to some kind of injury. Reinforcements have been called up from Triple-A and sent back down in favor of even more reinforcements. Throughout this chaos, there’s been one constant: winning.

The Yankees have won seven of their last eight games, and that’s because of the pitching. The four non-Javy Vazquez starters are a combined 16-1 with a 2.16 ERA over 23 starts, and they’re taking the ball deep into games. Believe it or not, the highest ERA (NJVD) belongs to today’s starter, CC Sabathia with a 2.74. I know if I signed a guy to a $161MM contract, I’d expect more than just the fourth highest ERA on my pitching staff.

Now that my lame attempt at humor is out of the way, here’s today lineup…

Jeter, SS
Gardner, CF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, DH
Swisher, RF
Winn, LF
Cervelli, C – fourth game in a row & his 8th start in the last 14 games … oh to be young again
Pena, 2B

And on the mound, Carsten Charles Sabathia.

The weather is Boston isn’t pretty, but it looks like there’s enough of a window to get this one in. First pitch is scheduled for 3:10pm ET and will be broadcast nationally on FOX. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: In case you’ve missed our earlier coverage, Kevin Russo has replaced Nick Johnson on the active roster, and Johnson may be out for a while. We anticipate a few more changes over the next few days as the Yanks will look to shore up the DH spot once Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada are both up to speed. Posada expects to DH tomorrow when the weather in Boston has cleared, and earlier today, Joe ran down some potential moves the Yanks could make this week.

Johnson to miss several weeks with inflammation

Via Marc Carig, an MRI revealed tendon inflammation in Nick Johnson‘s right wrist. He received a cortisone shot, and is expected to miss several weeks according to GM Brian Cashman. Hopefully several weeks translates into two to four, and not say, six to eight. Once Juan Miranda heals up (he took a pitch off the elbow a few days ago, and hasn’t played since), I expect that he’ll come up for his first extended look at the big league level.

Looking Ahead: Cliff Lee

If the byline looks a bit unfamiliar, that’s because we’ve brought aboard a couple of guys to help out on weekends. Welcome JMK from Mystique and Aura and also the RAB comments.

Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP

It’s never too early to speculate on whom the Yankees will target during the free agency period. Popular logic suggests Cliff Lee will be among the bigger names this winter, and for good reason. With only three rotation spots filled next year – who can tell what role Joba Chamberlain will find himself in next year or Pettitte’s retirement status or if Javy figures it out and returns – Lee might just fit the bill as the perfect #2 starter in 2011.

With the extensions of Josh Beckett, Matt Cain, Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez, the next best options in the FA pool are Brandon Webb, Ben Sheets and Javy Vazquez. With fewer elite pitchers entering free agency these days than ever, the chance to lock up one of the best pitchers to be available for the foreseeable future, coupled with the likely impending need in the rotation, seem to indicate that Lee in pinstripes next year is as good a guess as any.

Though Mr. Lee is undoubtedly one of the best pitchers in the game right now and the Yankees are likely to have a spot needing to be filled, he’s not without questions. The Arkansas native has only really been an “elite” starting pitcher since 2008; he’d also likely sign somewhere around the range of a 4 or 5-year, $80-100 million contract, which at the tail end would mean the Yankees’ top 3 starters will be in their mid-30’s, all making around $20 million each. That’s generally something you’d like to avoid, particularly as many of the key members of the team are already on the wrong side of 30, with long contracts limiting flexibility.

His injury history, too, isn’t spectacular, though nothing suggests chronic problems or elbow concerns. His eye-popping numbers of late are also a bit skewed by his high LOB%, which is very unlikely to sustain itself. They’ll level off at around 70% (they’re currently in the high 70’s), which will increase his ERA. His strikeout rate, while good, isn’t fantastic, either.

Now, for the good news — Cliff Lee is really, really, really good. I can’t stress that enough. I was even reaching looking to find noticeable flaws in Lee’s game. Cliff Lee may not be Nolan Ryan, but his strikeout rate — around 7 per 9 — doesn’t make him John Lannan. It’s not a concern. And despite some of the minute issues I may have, he’s easily the top free agent available and I think has demonstrated that he’s likely to be worth every penny, provided he’s blessed with good health.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s hard not to like AJ Burnett, but his Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde act makes him a better fit as a #3 starter. You’d really prefer more consistency out of your #2 starter, especially on a team that makes the playoffs as often as the Yankees. In contrast to Burnett, Cliff Lee doesn’t have such eccentricities. In 2008 and 2009 Lee threw up a combined 13.8 WAR and he was amazingly consistent as well, throwing 10 complete games within that span and generally suffocating opposing offenses. For a sense of perspective, Roy Halladay has a WAR of 14.7 within the same time period. Clearly Halladay is a better pitcher with a longer track record, but the age, similarities in performance and stuff, and likely contract demands make the two a fairly good comp. Again, he’s really good.

On top of that, just like Halladay, the Yankees have also expressed interest in acquiring the 31-year-old lefty before, at the trade deadline in 2009. When asked to surrender Joba or Hughes and more, the Yankees understandably balked. Now, with Hughes seemingly firmly entrenched in the rotation and Lee almost certain to test the market, the strategy to not surrender prized young arms seems to have been the right one.

To boot, Lee is likely to age well as he starts to leave his peak. With a repertoire of four pitches – the best is said to be a nasty circle changeup – all of which are refined options he can command well, he shouldn’t have much trouble adjusting, even if his fastball drops a bit. I also haven’t seen worries about his pitching mechanics, although they’re a bit unorthodox. Larry LaRue, beat writer for The News Tribune had a little preview on Lee’s arsenal earlier this year.

“As for pitches. Lee relies on a fastball that sits around 89-92. He’s doesn’t throw exceptionally hard, but his fastball moves and when he’s right he can keep put it on the corners whenever he wants. Lee also throws a cut fastball that is usually around 85-87. It rides in on right-hander hitters and if he’s throwing it well you’ll see him break plenty of bats. Lee also has a curveball that’s more of an overhand variety. It isn’t quite as nasty as Erik Bedard’s curveball, but Lee’s can be effective, particularly to lefties.

And of course there’s the changeup which Adam Moore called “filthy” and “borderline unfair.” It’s a circle change (you can see the grip in the photo at the top) that has plenty of downward movement. And because of Lee’s simple and consistent mechanics and arm motion, it’s nearly impossible to pick up early. You will see several guys making that lunging swing for balls tonight. But it isn’t just about swings and misses with that pitch. You’ll often see plenty of swings where guys are out on their front foot and rolling over on the change up for easy ground balls.”

I’ve talked about how different Lee has been since his masterful Cy Young season in 2008, but how did he improve so much from earlier? Is it even sustainable or are we likely to see him fall back to his awful, injury-plagued 2007 or his good and mediocre years that preceded it? The team’s been burned before by throwing big money on long deals to inconsistent guys past 30. Considering the construction of the team and the money at stake, this isn’t a guy you can whiff on. So is Lee just a flash in the pan likely to drop off a few years into the deal or implode entirely?

Having looked at the data, I think he’s the real deal. His GB rate improved from the mid 30’s to the low-to-mid 40’s, and he also saw his HR/FB rate drop from the range of 8-12% to 5-6% the last few seasons. Much of this can be attributed to the addition of the cut fastball, better velocity on his 4-seamer and a curveball that is effective against lefties. He’s been able to elicit more swings on balls outside the zone over the past few years than earlier in his career, a harbinger moving forward. In fact, even in his mediocre-to-good seasons in the mid-00’s, he was close to or below average in O-Swing %. That’s definitely something he’s put behind him, which is even more impressive considering his walk rates are microscopic these days. Don’t get me wrong — ideally you’d like more than two seasons on which to hold your hat on, but his peripherals are trending positively and he hasn’t had flukey BABip luck in that span.

Obviously there are a myriad of factors that could make this potential pairing more or less likely to happen. Maybe Javy turns it around, dominates and re-signs at the conclusion of the season. The team could also place “the starter in the bullpen” Joba back in the rotation, filling a potential hole. Maybe Andy comes back again. Hell, at this rate Phil Hughes might become a #2 starter by the end of the year, negating some of the need for a big FA starting pitching acquisition. The M’s could also fall out of the AL West race and end up trading Lee; who knows, he may even sign a long-term deal if the suitor is right. The Yankees could instead target Carl Crawford and fill left field for years. (I’d be highly surprised if the team could retain Jeter, Rivera and sign Lee and Crawford in the same off-season.)

Basically, there are too many variables to play out. But in the end, Cliff Lee, even depite a relatively short track record as an elite pitcher on the wrong side of 30, with some injury hiccups, and likely to have big contract demands, should be the guy to sign next year if he keeps this up and he’s available.