Yanks fall behind, can’t catch up to Mets

Before last night’s game, the Mets had never held a lead during a game against the Yankees at Citi Field. Of course, that consisted of just four games to date. It wouldn’t last forever, but it was a bit disappointing to see the streak end in the first inning. The Mets put together a two-out rally, and then did the same in the third. In fact, all of the Mets runs came with two outs, the first three coming in bases empty, two-out situations.

Biggest Hits: Wright up the middle

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

It felt like the Yanks and Mets played the first inning twice last night. They both started off the same way, with Jose Reyes flying out and Luis Castillo grounding out. Then came a Jason Bay hit, a double in the first and a single in the third. It didn’t make much of a difference, because in both innings Ike Davis drew a 3-2 walk, putting runners on first and second with two outs.

David Wright came through for the Mets in both instances. In the first Hughes got ahead 1-2, but then threw a ball outside before coming back with a cutter. That was at the knees but was over the middle of the plate, and Wright shot it up the middle for an RBI single. The Mets got another run when Angel Pagan singled, but the Yanks caught a break when Francisco Cervelli threw out Wright, who was trying to sneak into third on the throw home.

In the third Wright saw just two fastballs, the second of which was belt high and caught way too much of the plate. Again up the middle, again the Mets picked up a run. It looked like Hughes was sticking with the strategy of high fastballs there, but just missed with the pitch. With the cutter, I’m not sure what he was doing. As friend of RAB Fire Jerry Manuel noted, going with the cutter played to Wright’s strengths. Later, in the fifth, Hughes set up Wright with a first-pitch curveball for a strike, and then attacked him with fastballs high, eventually getting him to swing through strike three.

Wasted Opportunites: Gardner and Teixeira

Kevin Russo didn't waste his opportunity | Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

The Yanks had a few opportunities in the late innings to get right back into the game, but in both fell a little short. The first came in the seventh, when the Yanks set themselves up right away. Kevin Russo, leading off after subbing for Winn in a double switch during the sixth, singled up the middle, and Derek Jeter followed by taking all five pitches he saw and walking to first. Gardner advanced them on a ground ball, which gave the Yanks the exact opportunity they needed. Two chances with with two men in scoring position and their two best hitters coming to the plate.

Mark Teixeira worked a long at-bat off Jenrry Mejia, going down 0-2 pretty quickly but extending it another five pitches. Unfortunately, he swung through the last one, a 97 mph fastball low and away. Tex has looked bad at the plate since the Rays series started, and it has only gotten worse in the past two days.

“For as good as I felt for two weeks there, I feel the exact opposite now,” said Teixeira. “I can’t get any worse right now.” He tried to elaborate a bit, saying, “I’m stuck between too aggressive and too patient.” He said that he’d cut down on his pregame swings, and perhaps his weight lifting, in hopes of turning things around.

Joe Girardi saw it, too. “It seems like he’s been having a hard time staying back.” He later added, “It seems like he’s not picking up the ball at times.”

In the eighth the Yankees finally struck. Kevin Russo drew a bases loaded walk after going down 0-2, and then Jeter brought in a run with a grounder. That last one hurt a bit, as it was the second out of the inning. Still, with a runner on third the team had a chance to bring it within one. Brett Gardner had the task of driving him in, and he did not succeed. A grounder to third ended the inning, leaving the Yankees still down two runs.

The Yanks had chances, but just couldn’t get anything going. Part of that is the top of the order 0 for 13. In fact, that’s a pretty big part of it.

“It’s no doubt that we’re struggling in those situations,” said Girardi.

Hughes brings the strikeouts, but still not sharp

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

While Phil Hughes looked better last night than he did in his previous start, he still wasn’t as sharp as we’d seen him in earlier efforts. As mentioned above, he caught the plate a few too many times, especially to David Wright, and that caused him trouble with the top of the lineup. He also had trouble finishing off some hitters, walking three of them — Ike Davis twice. When you walk or strike out 10 of the 27 batters you face, your pitch count will certainly climb quickly. Hughes ended with 117, a season high, 88 of which were strikes.

“I threw strikes, but not good strikes,” said Hughes.

Girardi agreed. “It’s not quite making your pitch.”

Hughes’s undoing came in the sixth. He and Angel Pagan were locked in a battle, with Pagan fouling off six of the first eight pitches. Hughes came back with a fastball on the ninth, only 91 mph and a bit outside. Pagan reached for it, though, and sliced it down the left field line. Randy Winn should have had it — he admitted as such after the game — and it fell for a double. Hughes got the next two hitters, but couldn’t retire pinch hitter Alex Cora, who grounded one between Teixeira and Cano, giving the Mets a 4-1 lead.

Winn took full responsibility for the play, saying in no uncertain terms that it was his fault. It stayed straight where he thought it would hook, which explains the misplay. Still, it was a costly error for a player whose primary value to the Yankees is his defensive play in the outfield corners.

WPA graph and box score

Not good when the line stays that far away from your side.

More at FanGraphs. Traditional box at MLB.com.

Up Next

It’s the New York Lefties, CC and Johan, to close the series tomorrow night on ESPN at 8.

Adams hurt as Granderson begins rehab stint

Triple-A Scranton (5-0 loss to Louisville)
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 4, 1 K
Curtis Granderson, DH: 0 for 4 – three grounders & a pop up (source: the internet)
Eduardo Nunez, SS, Jesus Montero, C, Reid Gorecki, LF, Reegie Corona, 2B & Matt Cusick, 3B: all 0 for 3 – Nunez committed a fielding error … Montero K’ed once, Gorecki twice
Jon Weber, RF: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 E (fielding)
Chad Huffman, 1B: 1 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K
Dustin Moseley: 6 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 11-4 GB/FB – 59 of 90 pitches were strikes (65.6%)
Kevin Whelan: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – just six of his 14 pitches were strikes (42.9%)
Zack Segovia: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 12 of his 19 pitches were strikes (63.2%)

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Game 43: Top pitching prospects, matured

In 2007, Baseball America ranked Phil Hughes the No. 4 prospect in baseball. He wasn’t the only New York prospect to make the list. Mike Pelfrey, his opponent tonight, was ranked No. 20. Both had ups and downs during the early years of their careers, but they have both become important parts of their teams’ pitching staffs. Tonight does not necessarily represent a test of any sort for either pitcher, but it’s certainly event when two touted young pitchers face each other.

Pelfrey broke out two years ago, when he threw 200.2 innings for the 2008 Mets. After a bit of a setback in 2009, including an increase in his home run and walk rates, Pelfrey has come on strong this year. He currently has a 3.02 ERA, and has thrown only one poor start, a six-run affair against Philly that came after he had allowed two earned runs in all of April. He’s struck out a few more batters than he has in the past, which likely has something to do with his splitter. He’s also a ground ball guy.

Phil Hughes is coming off his worst start of the season. He lasted only five innings against the Red Sox and allowed five runs, though, as I noted after the game, he seemed just a little off. Mike also followed up with a look at how Hughes attacked the Red Sox hitters. Even with the poor performance his ERA still sits at just 2.25. This is his first start on the road during interleague play.

During his pregame media session Joe Girardi mostly answered questions about Mariano Rivera. He said what he’s been saying for the past few days, the it’s about location for Mo, and he’s been catching a bit too much of the plate. “He gets into long counts at times,” Girardi added. He said that if the velocity were down that it would be a concern, but it is not. In fact, he added, Mo hit 94 on the gun at points this year. Baseball Info Solutions has him at right around the level he was last year, as does PitchFX. Girardi added that the flank issue that caused Mo to miss a few games earlier is completely gone.

The only other concern, he said, is if Mo can’t go back to back days. That might get tested tonight if the Yanks take a slim lead into the bottom of the ninth.

The other main topic was interleague play. He talked about the injury potential for pitchers, noting Brad Penny’s trip to the DL following his grand slam last night. That comes for an NL pitcher. It’s even tougher for AL pitchers, obviously, because they don’t regularly take BP. “We’re not going to do a simulated game,” Girardi said, “because you’re afraid that they’re going to get hurt.” It really is a tough situation for AL pitchers, and the Yanks know that first hand.

Finally, an update on Javy Vazquez. His index finger is still swollen, but better than yesterday. They won’t know anything until he throws his bullpen session, which should come on Monday. The main thing, Girardi said, is that he can grip the ball. From there everything should be fine.

Lineup:

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Brett Gardner, CF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Francisco Cervelli, C
8. Randy Winn, LF
9. Phil Hughes, P

Subway Series to decide the fate of the Empire State Building

Via LoHud, the winner of this weekend’s series between the Yankees and Mets will have the Empire State Building lit up in their team colors in what has to be the biggest set of bragging rights ever (both literally and figuratively). For the time being, the city’s largest building will sport blue and white lights on the north and south sides, and blue and orange on the east and west sides. Get a good look Mets’ fans, that’ll be gone in two days.

A belated DotF

Apologies for the tardiness, but loyal reader Andrew Brotherton put together a makeshift DotF of last night’s game for us…

Scranton beats Indy 10-7
Golson 2-3 with a 3 runs, a double and 2 walks with 1 rbi
Nunez 1-6 with 1 rbi
Weber 1-4 with a double and 2 walks with 1 rbi
Montero 3-5 with 2 runs and 1 walk
Gorecki 1-3 with 2 runs, a double, and 2 walks with 2 ks
Cusick 2-4 with 1 run, 1 double, 3 rbis, and 1 walk
Nova got hit around lasting only 2 innings and allowing 5 runs on 5 hits all earned with 2 walks.
Igawa got the win but still allowed 3 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, but 4 strikeouts
Albaladejo got the save with 2 innings allowing 1 hit and striking out 2.
Former Yankees: Anthony Claggett walked 6 in 1 inning, Steven Jackson with 1 k, and Jose Tabata 0-2 with 2 runs, 1 rbi, and 2 walks.

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Late and close, some haven’t delivered

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens (AP)

It’s difficult to come up with too many criticisms of an offense that’s put up a .363 wOBA – best in all of baseball – which is all the more amazing considering the team has seen a number of starters miss significant time due to injury. Unfortunately, as we saw in last night’s game and in Tampa, the team, even with a high-scoring offense, seems to strand runners in critical situations. A team with great on-base skills and featuring some of the top hitters in baseball will see a lot of situations with men in scoring position. Of course, the more opportunities the team has with runners in scoring position, the more often we’ll see them fail. It’s just a numbers game. But considering the talk of how last year’s team “was so clutch”, it might be interesting to see how the players on this year’s roster are doing.

In 2009, the team hit .272/.370/.433 with RISP. They overall hit well with bases occupied, almost regardless of how many outs there were, and .316/.403/.542 in late and close situations also looks great.

In 2010, with runners in scoring position, the team is hitting .279/.380/.458. Hmm…well that overall doesn’t seem to be a problem. Ok, what about 2 outs and RiSP? .286/.381/.418. Again, it’s not that. Well gee whiz, that’s pretty good. What about high-leverage situations? .283/.370/.473. The numbers say the 2010 Yankees are a fairly balanced offensive team. They hit well in tie games, ahead and behind. They hit with bases loaded, they hit well with no outs, kill teams the second and third time through the lineup, hit with RiSP and actually do well in what are considered “high leverage” situations. So maybe this whole notion that the team just isn’t “clutch” without Matsui and Smooth Johnny is frankly, bull crap.

But wait.

Look again and you’ll find the team seems to have issues with runners on second and third and in late and close situations. The team, with men on second and third, are hitting only .184/.353/.237 this year, with Posada, Jeter, A-Rod having hit one run in (via sac fly) combined over 17 plate appearances. And although the team is bashing pitchers in innings 4-6, too many players are dropping like flies in innings 7-9. Derek Jeter, Winn, Swisher and Teixiera have all had varying struggles in those innings. Add the Bullpen Adventures and you see a nasty witches brew in the cauldron.

The second issue is in “late and close” situations, where the team is hitting .223/.315/.392. When we’re in the 7th-9th and it’s close, Swisher, Winn and Teixiera have just killed their team’s chances of coming out ahead. Teix is hitting a paltry .056/.150/.056, Winn checks in at .125/.125/.125 and Swisher is staring at .143/.143/.143. In fact, if not for Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada and Marcus “The river giveth, the river taketh” Thames, the team would be entirely dreadful across the board in such situations.

As we can see, Randy Winn – possibly the most hated Yankee on the roster (high five, Boone!) – has struggled enormously. It seems that every time a key situation is brewing late in the game, he’s up. And the rally is over after he’s late on an average fastball. Well, the numbers seem to bear it out. On the year, Winn is striking out 25% of his at bats but over 30% of his PA’s late in the game.

Nick Swisher is hitting very well in high-leverage situations at .450/.500/.900(!), but isn’t doing so when it’s late and the game is on the line. He’s hitting .238/.304/.310 in innings 7-9 and has struck out in 5 of his 14 late and close PA’s. Jeter, whom I’m sure we’re all hoping is just greatly slumping and not declining as a player, is hitting .180/.212/.300 in innings 7-9 and .222/.263/.444 late and clutch.Teixiera might be the most interesting player to study. His slow starts have been well documented. But this start in particular is fairly awful and he just hasn’t been there when called upon. Your #4 hitter can only be so futile for so long in those spots before it costs the team ball games.

Luckily, possibly other than Winn, the talent level suggests these players will certainly be hitting well in no time. There’s no magic “clutch” concoction we can give these players. As they compile more plate appearances in such situations, they’ll start to produce. The 2009 team wasn’t some amazing mix of heart, guts and clutch-itity that separated them from all teams before and after them. They hit well enough to be called “the comeback kids” and had some good fortune (which some might call an anomaly). That’s it. Less than 20 plate appearances (in some cases) is by no means a good number by which we should judge a player’s aptitude in any given situation. All this says is that thus far, the team has had some players slumping at the most inopportune of times. It happens to every team. As we move closer to the dog days of summer, we should expect some of those numbers to improve. And for a team currently featuring a number of AAA players and bench players in their starting lineup due to injury, that’s a scary spot for the rest of the league.

Bleich likely headed for shoulder surgery

Via Tim Bontemps, Double-A lefthander Jeremy Bleich is likely headed for shoulder surgery after being placed on the disabled list a few days ago. “I don’t know,” said farm director Mark Newman, who was downcast when delivering the news. “We’re getting some information back from the doctors … he had more tests (yesterday).” Bleich, the team’s 7th best prospect coming into the season, has dealt with elbow injuries in the past, but this is his first shoulder issue.

The Stanford alum was the team’s highest signed draft pick in 2008, but he’s struggled mightily since being promoted to Double-A Trenton last season. He had a 26-28 K/BB ratio in 41.1 IP this season, though he did allow fewer than a hit per inning.