Game 67: Round 2. FIGHT!

Whether by Expo or by D-Back, Javy knows dominating the Mets. Photo credits: Ryan Remlorz/AP, Roy Dabner/AP

Tonight starts the pitching rematch of the May series between the Yanks and the Mets. We covered a lot of this in the series preview. The Mets are rolling after beating up on the Orioles and Indians. The Yanks are just a few games removed from such domination, but have since met the Phillies, who took two of three. The Yanks look to recover against their crosstown rivals. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not sure if I can stomach losses to the Phillies and the Mets back to back.

Oh, and he can beat them by Brave or by Yank, too. Photo credits: John Bazemore/AP, Frank Franklin II/AP

The Yanks had trouble last time off Hansori Takahashi, but we know the anecdotal history of the Yanks facing lefties they’ve never before seen. They’ll look to reverse that (again, anecdotal) trend.

I looks like Girardi’s giving Granderson a day off against the lefty. That’s fine, but I just hope Granderson plays against Santana on Sunday. If the Yanks want him to ever hit lefties he’s going to actually have to stand in against them.


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

And on the mound, number thirty-one, Javier Vazquez.

Series Preview: Mets (38-28) at Yankees (41-25)

It’s tough to run comparisons of AL and NL teams. Not only do the have a different number of teams in the league, but there’s also the DH to consider. For instance, should the Yanks have the advantage on defense because they’re not only in a higher league percentile, but because they have to face nine hitters rather than eight hitters and a pitcher? I’d say yes, but because the Mets’ raw number was lower I gave it to them. It might even be best to ignore the Edge category.

Last time the Yankees and Mets met, things didn’t go so well. The Yanks had trouble scoring runs all series — at least until the ninth inning. Even then their rallies came up well short and they ended up dropping two of three. They get a complete rematch this weekend, complete with pitching matchups.

Yanks on offense

The Yanks had no trouble scoring runs in the games leading up to the Mets series. They had, in fact, scored six or more in each of their previous four games. Against the Mets that magic kind of went away, though, and extended into the Minnesota series. From there the offense picked it back up.

It looked like they had really hit their stride on Tuesday when they rocked Roy Halladay. But they managed just four runs in the next two games, including just one last night. The Phillies pitchers did a good job of getting ahead in the count, and that apparently threw the Yanks off their game. That hasn’t dropped the Yanks from their percha top the AL in runs per game, but they have dropped behind the Red Sox in terms of wOBA.

Mets on offense

It took injuries and ineffectiveness to get the job done, but the Mets have a good lineup going right now. The injury to Luis Castillo has forced Jerry Manuel into sane decision making, as he’s moved Angel Pagan into the No. 2 spot. Jose Reyes remains at leadoff and has improved from his understandable early season slump. David Wright, Jason Bay, and Ike Davis form the middle of the order, and despite a general lack of power in that area they do form a formidable troika.

Castillo’s absence, however, has been a net negative. His replacement, 20-year-old Ruben Tejada, sits on an OBP below .300. I’m sure Alex Cora will get a start or two in his place this weekend against one of the righties. I also suspect Chris Carter will DH. He joins Rod Barajas in the bottom part of the order. They both join Marcus Thames in the We Don’t Hit The Ball Often But When We Do It Goes Really Far Club.

Pitching matchups

We’re looking at the exact same pitching matchups as last time. Hopefully the Yanks bats have better success the second time around, and that the Yanks pitchers make more adjustments facing the Mets for the second time. Unfortunately, the Mets have the reverse hopes.

Friday: Hisanori Takahashi (3.48 ERA, 3.27 FIP) vs. Javier Vazquez (5.43 ERA, 5.35 FIP)

Last time this battle was a pitchers’ duel for the ages. The Yanks managed just two runs, but thanks to some stellar pitching by Vazquez that was enough. Since then Takahashi has gone on to post excellent numbers. He’s striking out 8.61 per nine innings and walking 3.31. His biggest advantage comes from the home run, just four allowed in 54.1 innings. Considering his fly ball tendencies, this should correct itself at some point. There might be no better place than Yankee Stadium for that to happen.

Javier Vazquez took a huge step forward in his recovery last time against the Mets. He allowed just one hit through six innings and was going strong until he bunted one off his finger. We’ll just say that the injury affected his grip the next time out, when he got rocked by Minnesota. Since then he’s been nothing short of excellent, carving up lineup after lineup. With the offense struggling the Yanks could use another big night out of Javy. If he limits the homers to the solo variety he should be fine.

Saturday: Mike Pelfrey (2.39 ERA, 3.29 FIP) vs. Phil Hughes (3.11 ERA, 2.90 FIP)

With Johan Santana not exactly being his old dominant self, Mike Pelfrey has taken the reigns. He has been nothing short of excellent this season, improving his strikeout numbers while using his curve/sinker to keep the ball in the park. That, combined with a very high strand rate, has kept his ERA nice and low. He’s done an excellent job in high leverage situations, inducing plenty of ground balls. That’s how you strand runners. He has allowed just five hits in 42 high leverage situations.

The season started out well for Hughes, but he’s faced struggles of late. There’s nothing wrong with that, but his team won’t be able to score nine runs behind him every time like they did last Sunday against Houston. This actually represents a big test for Phil. Last time out he couldn’t finish off the Mets. They kept fouling off his cutter and pounding his other pitches. His ability to slip those pitches by the Mets will be the difference this time around.

Sunday: Johan Santana ( 3.13 ERA, 3.81 FIP) vs. CC Sabathia (4.00 ERA, 4.24 FIP)

Santana’s strikeouts are down, his walks are up slightly, yet he’s still posting good numbers. This is partly because of a very low home run rate. In the past Santana had a high-ish home run rate, but they were mostly of the solo variety. This year he’s allowing fewer despite a steady fly ball rate. It’s Santana, so I wouldn’t predict a correction necessarily. But it’s tough to keep up a 5.5 percent HR/FB ratio, especially when you’re allowing a lot of balls in play. That’s been Santana this year.

The Yanks’ own lefty ace has faced his own struggles. His strikeouts are still a little down, but it took him a while to get into a groove last year. He’s keeping the ball on the ground a bit more, though, which will be even nicer if he maintains it while raising his strikeout rate. Homers have been the culprit for Sabathia, as 12.8 percent of his fly balls have left the park. A correction there would go a long way towards his return to acedom. For what it’s worth, he hasn’t allowed a homer in either of his last two starts.

RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Just a reminder, my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 4:05pm ET today. I’ll be arguing with a Mets’ fan about the Subway Series, so chances are it’ll get heated and I’ll drop an eff-bomb or two. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.

RAB Live Chat

2010 Draft: Yankees sign first rounder Cito Culver

Via Sweeny Murti, the Yankees have signed first round pick Cito Culver. The team has confirmed the deal. He shortstop from Irondequoit High School in Rochester will head to Tampa soon, and join the rookie level Gulf Coast League squad when their season begins next week. Buster Olney says the deal is for slot money, which Marc Carig reports is $954,000.

The Yanks reportedly reached an agreement with Culver earlier this week, but had to wait until he graduated from high school on the 20th to make it official. I suspect he actually graduated today, and it’s just the ceremony that will take place this Sunday. It’s nice to have a first rounder signed early, the last time the Yanks did that was 2005. Welcome to the family, Cito.

Some scoring distribution inefficiencies

The Yankees, as we know, are in first place. They lead the league in runs scored and are third in runs allowed. This makes for an excellent combination that should allow the Yankees to keep up their winnings ways throughout the summer. In fact, because of a few inefficiencies that have cropped up early in the season, we might even expect more winning from the Yankees in 2010.

One thing that stands out so far this season is how the Yankees have fared when scoring or allowing six runs. When they’ve scored six or more runs they’re just 4-4. That seems like an awfully low record for sigh a high-run-scoring environment. In 2009 teams that scored six runs had a .725 win percentage. The 2009 Yankees had a .786 win percentage, 11-3, when scoring six runs. Yet when the Yankees have allowed six runs this season they’re 0-6. No one expects a winning record when allowing six runs, but in 2009 the Yankees were 5-8 in those games. They stand to pick up a few games on both ends of the six-run spectrum.

As a testament to the improved pitching staff, the Yankees are 33-2 when the staff allows three or fewer runs. That’s not just an improvement in record, but also an improvement of occurrence. It means that in 35 of the team’s 66 games, or 53 percent of their games, they’ve held their opponent to a level where their offense should give them the game. The Yanks only held their opponent to three or fewer runs in 45 percent of games in 2009, and went 67-6. The offense comes into play when the pitching staff allows more runs. When allowing four, five, six, or seven runs the Yankees are 7-15, .318, this season. Last year they were 32-32 in those games.

The distribution of these games will change, I think, because it seems that the offense has been just a bit inconsistent so far. They’re only a tenth of a run per game behind last year’s pace, while the pitching staff is better than a half run per game better this year. These overall results should eventually even out and give the Yankees a better breakdown. They’ll eventually score more runs when the pitching staff gives up a bunch. At the same time, the staff appears improved over last year, which should also give the Yankees more wins in low-scoring games.

The lack of walk-off wins might be concerning, but I think blown leads in the middle innings has had a greater effect. This year the Yankees are 33-5 when leading after six innings. Last year they were 66-4. They’re quite excellent when leading after seven or eight, so it looks like this middle-inning lead changes have not favored them to this point. And yes, the comebacks have been concerning. They’re just 3-18 when trailing after six. Last year they were 16-52. Yet they’re still scoring late, averaging 2.11 runs from innings seven through nine compared to 2.21 last year. The problem, it seems, is that this year’s comeback attempts have been futile while last year’s resulted in whipped cream pies.

In a way it’s unfair to compare the 2010 team to the 2009 team. They have a number of different players, and while the 2009 team was special, the 2010 team, because of the improved pitching staff, has a chance to be better. They’ve run into some oddities early in the season, though they did last year too. I think many of those will even out — they’ll win some games when allowing six runs and will win more than half the game in which they score six. It’s a good thing we’re just two-fifths of the way through the season. Plenty can happen from now until October.

Amidst some uninspired games, a tie for first place

The standings say first place, but do the results?

After beating Roy Halladay on Tuesday night, I figured the Yankees would have an easy go of it against the Phillies. Yet, the team’s offense could not oblige. The A.J. Burnett/Jamie Moyer mismatch came out the wrong way, and although Andy Pettitte threw seven strong innings, Kyle Kendrick made himself out to be an NL Cy Young award contender. By all accounts, it was a trap series.

As the usual post-game reaction unfolded on Twitter, Mark Feinsand of the Daily News let slip an interesting comment. Constrained by the medium’s 140-character limit, he said, “Tampa Bay has lost, so the Yankees will remain in a first-place tie if they lose. Not that they deserve it – or that it matters on June 17.” It seemed to be an overreaction at first by someone in the media who knows that the Yanks are under pressure to steamroll their way to the AL crown ever year, and the fans grew defensive. Yet, after some back-and-forth with Feinsand, I began to understand what he’s saying.

In essence, no team has played “deserving” baseball yet this year. Through that phrase, Feinsand didn’t mean that the Yankees were a bad team; he simply meant that they’ve not been an impressive team yet. They haven’t made a statement against teams they will need to beat to reach the World Series. With the best record in baseball, they’re not a bad club, but they haven’t shown the ability to dominate as the club did during its second-half run in 2009.

The Yanks have seemingly reached first with the highest win total by beating up on the little guys. In their 25 games against teams currently under .500, the Yanks are a whopping 20-5. As the Mets learned last weekend, it’s good to play the Orioles. Against teams that are currently over .500, the Yankees are just 21-20. Comparatively, the Tampa Bay Rays, co-leaders of the AL East, are 17-13 against teams currently over .500 and just 24-12 against teams under .500. The good teams will, as the Yanks have done, beat up the bad teams, but the great teams should also beat up the good teams.

But the question isn’t actually one about deserving first place. Rather, the question is a little more meta than that. Should we, on June 18th, care that the Yankees aren’t playing particularly well against good teams? Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer is no. Last year’s World Series championship Yankees went 51-24 against teams under .500 and an impressive 52-35 against teams that finished over .500. Getting there was the hard part.

As Joe detailed in a post on a similar topic in mid-August, the Yankees were just 24-29 against teams that were, at that point, over .500 and 40-13 vs. teams under .500. (Some of the teams that were over .500 in August ended the season below .500, and thus, the team’s total losses vs. .500 teams actually declined from August to October.) Joe noted that of the nine previous World Series winners, only four had winning regular season records against .500 teams. The Wall Street Journal had inspired Joe’s post, and the relevant piece of information remains so today: “The typical profile of a World Series champion in recent times is a club that cleans up on the weak and breaks even against everyone else.”

Right now, the 2010 Yankees fit that profile to a tee. They’re playing .512 baseball against the good teams and .800 baseball against the bottom-feeders. If those trends keep up, the Yankees should have a date with the dance in October, and at that point, as we know, all bets are off. The current club may suffer from bullpen problems, and it may have a weak bench. But today, they deserve a share of first place.