Yanks ‘drop’ a heartbreaker as pen, Thames falter

Everything King Midas touched turned to gold, and tonight, the Yanks’ King Midas had his golden touch early on. Even without his best stuff, CC Sabathia held the Red Sox to just one run — a solo home run by Kevin Youkilis &mdash and the Yanks were cruising with a 5-1 lead. But then, after 112 pitches, King Midas exited stage left, and everything he had touched turned to dust. Once that perfect storm of bad plays, bad calls and bad pitching settled, the Yankees were on the wrong side of a 7-6 game. Tonight, there would be no pie.

AP Photo Kathy Willens

Goat Number One: Joba Chamberlain

Tasked with retiring the top three hitters in the Red Sox’s lineup, Joba Chamberlain utterly and spectacularly failed at his job. Although a dubious throwing error by Alex Rodriguez opened the flood gates, Joba couldn’t get through the 8th unscathed for the second straight appearance. With a 5-1 lead, he allowed a single, a double and another single following the error before recording an out.

With a runner on second, David Ortiz hit a booming fly ball that, three years ago, would have been a home run, and only Ortiz’s classes at the Hanley Ramirez School of Hustle resulted in an out at second base. While Joba had his second out, the damage was done. The Red Sox had tied the game, and the Yanks — who hadn’t taken advantage of a bases loaded, one out situation in the sixth — needed to pick themselves up from the letdown of another bad bullpen appearance.

We can wring our hands over the pen’s utter inability to get outs. Yankee relievers have allowed 12 earned runs and 15 runs overall in the team’s last three games. All but four of those have been charged to Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain.

We can wring our hands over Joba. He threw first-pitch strikes to just two of the seven hitters he faced tonight and couldn’t find the zone tonight. When he entered the game, the team’s win expectancy stood at 95.9 percent; when he left, that figure had dwindled down to 61.4. With that performance tonight, Joba is your official Goat of the Game.

AP Photo Kathy Willens

Goat Number Two: Marcus Thames

As a commenter with the amusing handle Jerkface said, “It was the best of Thames, it was the worst of Thames.” One night after delivering the Yanks their first walk-off win of the season, Marcus Thames showed us why he’s just a bench player filling in only in case of emergency.

With one out in the 9th and Darnell McDonald on first, Marcu Scutaro lofted a lazy fly ball into the no-man’s land behind second base in right field. Out raced Robinson Cano, in raced Marcus Thames. The right fielder called for the ball, glanced at Cano for position….and pulled a Luis Castillo. Thames twisted his glove around, and the ball bounced off of him. It was an epic error.

After the game, Thames talked to reporters with tears in his eyes. He said that he lost the ball for a second as he checked Cano’s flight and couldn’t recover in time to catch it. Had he done so, the Red Sox would have had a man on first with two outs instead of first and second with one out.

Goat Number Three: The Men in Blue

I hate to blame the umpires. I really do. After all, the Yankees’ players are the ones who have to do their jobs. Brett Gardner has to do more than bounce to second base with a drawn-in infield and bases loaded with one out in the sixth. Joba Chamberlain has to do anything better. Marcus Thames has to catch the ball. Mariano Rivera has to make his pitches. But tonight, the umpires did nothing to help either team.

For the Yankees, two plays loom large. The first was the ground ball off the bat of Scutaro in the 8th. A-Rod had to rush the throw, and it sailed low to Mark Teixeira. The Yanks’ first baseman stretched, appeared to keep his spikes on the bag, caught it and fell. Scutaro was called safe, and no one really put up a fight. The reply seemed to show an out, but we could forgive the umps for this one. The crew had missed a call at second base when Francisco Cervelli threw behind the runner to nab J.D. Drew, but those things happen.

The truly inexcusable call though came in the 9th on a two-strike pitch to Darnell McDonald. Replays showed how the ball cut the plate at the knees and how McDonald swung, but both the first base and home plate umpires refused to call strikes. Just look at the positioning of that thing on the Pitch F/x graph. Had McDonald been rung up, the Yanks would have had two outs on the Red Sox with no one on base.

Still, we can scapegoat the umps until the cows come home, but the Yanks have to get the job done. They didn’t.

Annoyances

Where to begin? Where to begin? How about Randy Winn’s positioning on Jeremy Hermida’s double over his head? Was the bench expected a shallow pop-up? Did Rob Thompson position him improperly? What happened to no-doubles defense? And can someone please stop telling Joba to throw 3-2 sliders? David Ortiz can’t get around on a 95-mph fastball, and Joba has to hang a breaking ball to him instead.

Let’s also question the Yanks’ ability to put a roster together right now. The team has a 13-man bullpen, and apparently, a one-man bench. If neither Jorge Posada nor Nick Swisher were available to pinch hit in the 9th, only Ramiro Pena was a viable bench player. Meanwhile, with the team’s decision to send down Greg Golson for Mark Melancon earlier in the day, they had eight relievers in the pen. Tonight was the night they needed Golson the most, and he was on a plane back to Scranton. How infuriating.

Do I consider Francisco Cervelli’s bunt attempt an annoyance? Some do, but I’m not sure I’m in the camp. In a very small sample, Cervelli has been a clutch contact hitter with runners on base. Behind him were Marcus Thames, a fastball hitter with strike out tendencies, Juan Miranda just up from AAA and Randy Winn. The Yanks opted to play for just one run and asked Cervelli to bunt. As The Honorable Congressman Mondesi noted, the successful bunt increased their one-run probability from 0.634 to 0.670 but dropped the win expectancy from 46.5 percent to 42.8. If anything, that’s a minor annoyance.

Finally, I have an irrational dislike of Randy Winn made worse by the fact that I just knew he would strike out to end the game. He made a terrible play in the top of the 9th and went 0 for 4 with three strike outs. He’s hitting .196/.293/.294 on the season, and I have to believe that, when Swisher and Granderson are both healthy, Winn’s days with the Yanks will be numbered. That was one off-season experiment that hasn’t quite worked out the way it was planned.

The Big Picture

Anyway, despite tonight’s maddening game and the team’s bullpen struggles, the Yanks are 25-14 with a +71 run differential. They’re three games behind a very hot Tampa team that has enjoyed a very easy schedule early on. Later tonight, A.J. Burnett and Wade Davis square off in a battle of AL East powerhouses, and the Red Sox head home to face Minnesota right where they were when they came to New York: in fourth place and at .500. I hated this game, but I’m loving the season so far.

WPA Graph

Just look at that up-and-down 9th inning. This is what a heartbreaking loss looks like on paper.

The official ‘vent while I write the recap’ thread

The official Yankees blame chart. (Click to enlarge. This one comes to us via The Girl Who Loves Andy Pettitte)

I’m still steaming over this loss for so many reasons, and the recap will be slow in coming. In the meantime, feel free to use this space to vent about the game. Bash Marcus Thames, Randy Winn, the now-ineffective Joba Chamberlain or the umps. But just let it all out here. In short order, the recap will magically appear instead of this text in a new thread. This one’s too fun to discard. Zen baseball went out the window tonight.

Phelps strong, but not strong enough as Trenton’s winning streak ends at ten

Here’s the latest on the all the roster machinations. Keith Law posted an updated list of the top 25 prospects in the game, removing players who are in the bigs to stay even if they haven’t exhausted their rookie status yet (Jason Heyward, Justin Smoak, Wade Davis, etc.). Jesus Montero comes in at number nine after ranking tenth before the season. However, two players ranked above him in the preseason are no longer eligible, so in the grand scheme of things KLaw dropped him one spot.

Triple-A Scranton (3-0 loss to Indianapolis)
Kevin Russo, 3B: 0 for 4, 3 K
Reegie Corona, 2B, David Winfree, RF, Chad Huffman, 1B & Reid Gorecki, CF: all 0 for 3 – Corona walked & K’ed … Huffman K’ed once, Gorecki twice
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 4, 2 K
Jon Weber, LF: 0 for 2, 1 BB
Jesus Montero, DH: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K – he’s DH’ed in four of his last eight games
Chad Moeller, C: 1 for 3, 1 2B
Jason Hirsh: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 8-7 GB/FB – 70 of his 111 pitches were strikes (63.1%)
Royce Ring: 1.1 IP, zeroes, 4-0 GB/FB – 14 of 21 pitches were strikes (66.7%) … I’d say he was effective

[Read more…]

Yankees recall Melancon, option Golson

Via Bryan Hoch, the Yankees have recalled righty reliever Mark Melancon prior to tonight’s game. Greg Golson goes down in his place. The Yanks are now carrying 13 pitchers, so presumably Melancon’s time with the big league team is presumably limited. Maybe if we cross our fingers and wish really really hard, he’ll stick around and Boone Logan will be optioned back down. I’m not going to hold my breath though.

Game 39 Back for more

Photo Credit: Julie Jacobson, AP

So, last night was fun, eh? Ben and I both left the Stadium last night with sore throats and tired legs from screaming like madmen and jumping around like lunatics. But it was totally worth it. Nothing like watching the Red Sox fans that were gloating in the top of the 9th inning walk down the tunnel with their tails between their legs fifteen minutes later.

Anyway, I’m not sure how likely they are to play tonight, but here’s the lineup anyway…

Jeter, SS
Gardner, CF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Cervelli, C
Thames, RF
Miranda, DH
Winn, LF

And on the mound, Carsten Sabathia.

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, but it’s been raining all day. It looks like there’s a window to get this one in, but who knows with weather forecasts. If they do in fact start playing, it’ll be a mad dash to get the lead before the 5th inning ends. The game is on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally.

Should the game be delayed or postponed or whatever, use this as your open thread for the night. You’ve got NBA and NHL playoff action on, plus the Mets are in Atlanta. Enjoy.

Update (6:34pm): No surprise here, but the game has been delayed. No word yet on the start time.

Update (7:11pm): Tentative start time in 8pm ET.

Tampa area high school named after The Boss

Although his appearances at Yankee games are limited mostly to Spring Training and the World Series these days, George Steinbrenner was on hand this weekend for the dedication of George M. Steinbrenner High School. Although he didn’t speak at the ceremony, he sat front row with his wife Joan and sons Hank and Hal, and received standing ovations from the crowd and school officials. Most know him as the brash owner of the Yanks, but The Boss pumps thousands of dollars into the community each year through donations and what not, often with zero fanfare. I’m happy to see him recognized for it.

What ails the captain

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

As a group of 17-year-old Red Sox fans sitting behind me last night started chanting “Yankees suck,” Derek Jeter struck out against Daniel Bard on a 97-mph fastball that was probably ball four. In a fit of disgust, I posted to Twitter a sarcastic rant, “Remember when Derek Jeter was good? Yeah, me too.”

Admittedly, that comment was borne out of my disgust with the 9-7 Boston lead, the state of the Yanks’ bullpen and the team’s inability to push more than two runs across the plate after the first inning. At the same time, though, Derek Jeter has now been to the plate 176 times this year and is sporting an OPS of .709, .135 points below his career mark, and those small sample size excuses are turning into larger sample sizes from which we can derive some insight.

So what’s happening with Jeter? Well, for starters, his batting average on balls in play is well below his career mark. His BABIP is currently .286 while his career mark is an impressive .358. Bad luck could explain, in part, why Jeter is hitting just .268/.313/.396 through his first 36 games of the season.

Yet, BABIP doesn’t tell the entire story. If we drill down on Jeter’s plate tendencies this season, a few alarming trends emerge. Since 2002, Jeter has swung at just 19.8 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. This year, however, Jeter has swung at 33.3 percent of all pitches out of the strike zone. His overall contact rates have remained constant, but he’s definitely chasing more pitches out of the zone.

As he flails at pitches low and outside, his batted balls are suffering as a result. His line drive rate is down from his career mark of 20.5 to 13.9 percent this year. His ground ball rates have spiked to 68.1 percent, well above his career mark of 56.2 percent.

For Jeter, slow starts are nothing new. As Joe explored a week ago, Jeter suffered through a slump in 2009, and his awful beginning in 2004 is fresh on our minds. But here, we’re seeing a player who is close to 36 and has long relied on a high BABIP to sustain his excellence suffering through a bad spell of pitch recognition and contact rates. The trends are alarming.

It may very well be too early to grow too worried about the captain. Jeter has always managed to escape his slow starts in the past, but age isn’t on his side. As his plate appearances creep up toward 200 and beyond, Jeter’s slow start will look a little worse. The Yanks can afford to have a lead-off hitter with a .313 on-base percentage for only so long, and of course, his contract situation looms large. With 25 victories, second most in all of baseball, the Yanks can seemingly bury their problems, but Jeter deserves a close look this year. His start has been, needless to say, less than ideal.