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Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

We’re starting to get into repeat mode here in the end of April, as the Yankees are starting to play some clubs for the second time in 2011. They played the Orioles for the second time last weekend, and this weekend it’s the Toronto Blue Jays. The two teams split a two-game set in Toronto about a week-and-a-half ago, and surely you remember that Mariano Rivera blown save in the first game.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

Unlike the last few teams the Yankees have played, the Blue Jays are coming in hot. They just took three of four from the Rangers in Arlington, outscoring the defending AL Champs 27-16. Although they’re just 8-12 since a 4-1 start, Toronto is coming to the Bronx with some momentum and feeling pretty good about themselves.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Blue Jays on Offense

Jose Bautista! Seriously, he’s the only everyday player on the team with a wOBA better than a .334. Of course he leads all of baseball at .542, and right now he’s getting on base more than 52% of the time. His eight homers and .360 batting average are the best in the AL. However, it’s worth noting that in the seventh inning of yesterday’s game, Bautista took a 93 mph Pedro Strop fastball to his left wrist, sending him to the ground in obvious pain. He remained in the game and drew five pitch walk in the ninth, and as far as I know he’ll be in the lineup this weekend. Fastballs to the wrist are never good though.

Aside from Bautista, both Juan Rivera (ten for his last 26 with two homers, six walks, and three strikeouts) and Adam Lind (12 for his last 38 with two doubles and three homers) are coming into the series hot. Nobody else is though. That’s generally what happens the rest of the lineup is filled by guys like John McDonald (.303 wOBA), Mike McCoy (.281 wOBA), Corey Patterson (.318 wOBA), Edwin Encarnacion (.293 wOBA), Jayson Nix (two for his last 16), and Yunel Escobar (.192/.192/.269 since April 16th). Travis Snider was just sent to the minors in favor of former first rounder David Cooper, who had a .459 wOBA in Triple-A. Toronto’s 21st best prospect (according to Baseball America) will probably make his big league debut at some point this weekend.

Blue Jays on the Mound

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Friday: Ricky Romero, LHP: It’s a tough assignment right off the bat, as Toronto is running their ace out there later tonight. Romero has pitched as well as pretty much anyone in the AL so far, striking out more than a batter per inning while walking fewer than three men per nine and generating a ground ball on more than half of his balls in play. He gives the Jays length, pitching into the seventh inning in four of his five starts and completing seven innings three times. Ricky does it with four pitches, but one out of every three is a low-90’s two-seamer to get those grounders. A low-90’s four-seamer and a mid-80’s changeup are his two other primary weapons, and every once in a while he’ll break out a loopy, 70-something mile-an-hour curve. Romero is quietly ascending into the category of the game’s elite starters, so this will be a tough game.

Saturday: Kyle Drabek, RHP: The Yankees faced Drabek during their series in Toronto last week, roughing him up for six hits, four walks, and four runs in 5.1 IP. He held the Rangers to three runs over six innings last time out, though the scouting report hasn’t changed since last week. The kid will work himself into trouble with walks, but he has swing-and-miss stuff with his high-octane fastball and curve. Patience.

Sunday: Jesse Litsch, RHP: This is Brett Cecil’s spot, but the certified Yankees Killerâ„¢ was demoted to Triple-A after his start against New York last week because he’s dealing with the same problems as Phil Hughes: loss of velocity, loss of control, unexplained dead arm, yadda yadda yadda. About the only interesting thing about Litsch is that he’s a ginger, but aside from that he’s a generic right-hander with 88-90 mph fastballs (two and four-seamers, cutter), a mid-80’s slider, a low-80’s changeup, and the occasional low-80’s curveball. He doesn’t miss many bats, doesn’t walk too many or too few, gets an okay amount of grounders, stuff like that. Litsch has made six career starts against the Yankees, so the They Haven’t Seen Himâ„¢ rule doesn’t apply. No offense to the guy, but Jesse Litsch is pretty boring.

Bullpen: Same story as the last time these two clubs played, so there’s not much to add. Jon Rauch is still closing, Frank Francisco is setting up, and Marc Rzepczynski is still handling the lefties.

Recommended Blue Jays Reading: Drunk Jays Fans, Ghostrunner on First, and Tao of Stieb.

Mailbag: Sizemore, Posada, Maxwell, K-Rod

Extra long edition of the RAB Mailbag this week, so I tried to keep the answers as short as possible. I figure short answers and more questions if better than long answers and fewer questions. Anyway, if you want to send in a question, just use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Mike asks: I know that starting pitching will be a priority but if Cleveland makes Grady Sizemore available this year should we go after him? What would he cost in terms of prospects?

Sizemore has been ridiculously good since coming off the disabled list (.390/.432/.878), but there are a few problems: 1) it’s a small sample, will it last?, b) Cleveland is actually good right now, I doubt they’re looking to sell right now, and c) you have to assume you’re only getting him for the rest of the year since his club option for 2012 becomes a player option if traded. He’s great and would be an upgrade over Brett Gardner in left, but the cost is likely to be greater than the return. Believe it or not, I’d rather rent Carlos Beltran than Sizemore, since the cost figures to be much lower.

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Yankee bats come alive, drop ChiSox 12-3

It can be tough to salvage a split of a four-game series after dropping the first two, but the Yankees had the right guy on the hill to do just that on Thursday. As it turned out, the offense made the pitching matchup a non-factor rather quickly, and the Yankees coasted to arguably their easiest win of the season.

Happy Swish is back. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Big Inning

After scoring a total of five runs (three on one swing) during the first three games of the series, it was painfully obvious that the Yankees were in a collective offensive funk. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. Not only did they hang a 12-spot on the ChiSox in this game, they scored six runs in a fifth inning that featured three Chicago pitchers and nine Yankees batters before an out was recorded. It went down like this…

  1. Brett Gardner solo homer (his third of the year)
  2. Eduardo Nunez double
  3. Curtis Granderson triple (one run scored)
  4. Nick Swisher single (one run scored)
  5. Robinson Cano single
  6. Alex Rodriguez double (one run scored)
  7. Eric Chavez intentionally walked (to load the bases with no outs!)
  8. Russell Martin single (one run scored)
  9. Jorge Posada walk (one run scored)
  10. Gardner strikeout
  11. Nunez pop out
  12. Granderson strikeout

The first four batters of the inning combined to hit for the cycle, which is pretty cool. Tony Pena, the second ChiSox pitcher, left the inning with elbow discomfort, so the Yankees literally did some damage to him. Everyone is happy with that inning, whether you like homers, patience, solid singles with men on base, hits with runners in scoring position, you name it. That big inning put New York up by eight runs, taking the stress off for the night.

Changeup! (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Cruisin’

Lost in the offensive outburst was another gem of a start from CC Sabathia. The big guy gave his team seven strong and efficient innings, allowing just three unearned runs thanks more in part to some sloppy defense behind him than poor pitching on his part. He struck out six and walked one, boosting his season K/BB ratio to 3.27. It had been sub-3.00 in his first two season with the Yankees. Only twice did Sabathia need more than 15 pitches in an inning (23 pitch second, 19 pitch seventh), and he actually picked up some velocity as the game went along. I feel bad not writing more about his effort, but when he pitches well, there’s not much to say. Great job, CC.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Signs of Life

A few slumping players started to come around in this one. Nick Swisher ended a career high 0-for-19 stretch by going 3-for-4 with a walk and his first homer of the year. Brett Gardner went 2-for-3 with a walk, the homer, and a stolen base. Both Eduardo Nunez and Gustavo Molina picked up their first hits of the season as well. In fact, the bottom two hitters in the lineup combined to reach base six times and score six runs. The only guy that didn’t break out was Posada, who took an eyesore of an 0-for-4, though he did draw that bases loaded walk. His BABIP is down to .0698.

Leftovers

All in all, it was a great night and a great win in Yankeeland. Anytime Lance Pendleton can get two innings of work without me getting stressed out, something went right. I guess the two biggest complaints were on the defensive side of the ball. Eduardo Nunez committed a pair of errors, booting the first ground ball of the game and then throwing away another ball later on, leading to the three inherited runners. He’s had throwing problems not just dating back to last year, these go back to A-ball. Eric Chavez showed his inexperience playing first base by ranging too far to his right on two occasions, leaving first base unmanned. Thankfully the score rendered the four combined gaffs irrelevant.

I DON'T KNOW WHAT WE'RE YELLING ABOUT!!!!! (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Yankees’ starting pitchers in the last six games: 43.1 IP, 30 H, 9 R, 6 ER, 9 BB, 32 K, 58 GB, 41 FB. That’s a 1.25 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP. Sabathia started this string of great pitching last weekend in Baltimore, and he kept the train going on Thursday. Al Leiter said stuff like this is contagious, meaning no one in the rotation wants to be the guy that throws the first stinker. So yeah, keep it up fellas.

Edwin Jackson not only walked five of the 20 batters he faced, but he also ran a three-ball count on three other batters. Of his 91 pitches, just 49 (or 53.8%) were strikes. The Yankees wore him right down then took care of business against the soft underbelly of the bullpen. That’s how they roll.

I’ll be completely honest: I’m surprised that the Yankees managed to keep Adam Dunn in the yard during a four-game series. You’d think he would have lifted at least on ball into the jet stream and into the right field seats at some point. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, just a little surprised.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Boring, just the way I like it. MLB.com has your box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has everything else.

Up Next

Goodbye White Sox, hello Blue Jays. The AL East rivals come to town for a three game weekend series starting Friday night, when Freddy Garcia takes on Ricky Romero. If you want to head up to the Bronx to catch the game, check out all the dirt cheap tickets still available on the secondary market via RAB Tickets.

Millwood bombed, Montero returns in SWB loss

Update: The Low-A Charleston game is finally over and has been added to the post.

Triple-A Scranton (6-3 loss to Charlotte) brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth against an old buddy
Greg Golson, CF: 2 for 5, 1 RBI, 1 K – five for his last 15 (.333)
Frankie Cervelli, C: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K – gotta figure he’ll be back soon
Jesus Montero, DH: 0 for 5, 4 K – tough day, but after that injury, he gets a free pass for the next few games
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K – got a nice little nine game hit streak going
Chris Dickerson, CF: 1 for 4, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 SB
Justin Maxwell, LF: 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB – what, no homer?
Kevin Russo, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B
Ramiro Pena, SS: 1 for 2, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB – that’s his second homer of the year, doubled the number he had in the big leagues over the last two years
Doug Bernier, 2B: 1 for 3, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K
Kevin Millwood, RHP: 2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 0-1 GB/FB – 30 of 54 pitches were strikes (55.6%) … he needed to impress in this game to be considered for a call-up, and he didn’t do it, so that’s probably the end of Millwood’s Yankee career … I’d be surprised if the Yankees bring him up before his opt-out date on Sunday
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 WP, 1 HB, 7-6 GB/FB – 58 of 103 pitches were strikes (56.3%)

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