No fearing the Texas two-step

Trying to pick a favorable playoff opponent is a fool’s errand. Prefer Detroit? Then prepare to face Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and a bullpen that has led the team to a 72-0 record when leading after 7 innings. Prefer Los Angeles? They have perhaps the best starting pitching troika in the American League in Weaver, Haren and Santana. If Texas is your cup of tea, then you’ll have to contend with groundball artist C.J. Wilson and the potent Rangers’ offense. There’s no easy first round opponent for the Yankees this year. The Twins will be sitting at home.

Despite all that, one has to imagine that the Yankees would represent the worst-case scenario in the ALDS for the Texas Rangers. Not only will the Rangers likely be facing the Yankees in New York for the first two games, instead of hosting the Red Sox or Rays, but the Yankees would also be able to blunt one of the Rangers’ biggest advantages:┬átheir two strong left-handed starters. As it stands, the likely ALDS starters for the Rangers are C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. Wilson and Holland have been tough this year, but there’s reason to think that the Yankees can handle left-handed starting pitching with ease this October. After all, they’ve dominated left-handed pitching all year.

Should the Yankees choose to start Andruw Jones over Brett Gardner against a left-handed starter in the ALDS, seven of their nine hitters will have compiled an OPS of over .850 against left-handed pitchers this season. The two that miss the cut are Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez is currently in the middle of a curious slump against left-handed pitching. Despite a career average of .947 OPS against left-handers, he’s currently batting .783 against them this year after a .755 mark in 2010. If he’s even a modicum of his former self in the playoffs, then the Yankees attack on left-handed starters will be potent.

The reason for this strength against lefties is comprised of several factors. For one, the left-handed batters have shown the ability to hit lefties consistently well. Curtis Granderson in particular stands out. Once nearly a platoon player, Granderson punishes lefties and righties with nearly equal pleasure. Robinson Cano does the same. There’s also Jesus Montero, perhaps the greatest source of offensive upside in the Yankees’ lineup. Projecting his performance is nearly impossible, but he has a minor league track record and a small major league performance to drool over. Finally there’s Andruw Jones, long the abuser of left-handed starters. Should the Yankees choose to sacrifice Gardner’s speed and defense for Jones’ offense then they’ll truly be formidable at the plate. Their two main focal points of weakness would be┬áRussell Martin, a defensive stalwart, and Alex Rodriguez, possibly the greatest hitter of all time. Everything else is gravy.

This isn’t to guarantee a win against Wilson or Holland; they’re still very tough pitchers. But it does show that facing Wilson and Holland twice in the first three games of the American League Division Series would give give the Yankees a nice platoon advantage. At the end of the day, it’s hard to know who to cheer for as a first-round opponent. In 2006 I wanted the Tigers in the first-round, and we all remember how that turned out. Yet, should the Yankees draw Texas I won’t fear them like before. This time there’s no Cliff Lee, and this time the team will field an offense capable of bludgeoning starting pitchers, righties and lefties alike. This team may have a few questions about the rotation, but the offense couldn’t be much better.

Yanks drop opener to Jays on Molina walk-off hit

The Yankees are back from the west coast, but perhaps the offense and CC Sabathia‘s command decided to stay behind and enjoy the nice weather for a few extra days. Let’s recap…

  • How many more six-inning, 120-pitch outings are the Yankees going to let CC Sabathia throw before they cut the crap with this six-man rotation? This was basically the fourth start in a row he’s done that. Don’t get me wrong, I was in favor of the six-man rotation … back in August. We’re in mid-September now, well beyond its expiration date. Sabathia gave up another ten hits (fifth time he’s done that in his last ten starts) and walked another four batters (second start in a row), and once again the story of his game was his command, or lack thereof. His velocity is more than fine and he’s still piling up the strikeouts (eight), but he’s throwing way too much pitches. They need to get him back on normal rest, like right now. There’s not much schedule left, they can’t let this go on any longer.
  • After Sabathia exited, the bullpen usage was textbook. Rafael Soriano struck out the side in the seventh, David Robertson wiggled out of a jam in the eighth, and a reliever not named Mariano Rivera gave up the walk-off hit in the ninth. Tie game on the road, gotta save that closer for the save spot, you know. Cory Wade served up the walk-off hit for a second game in a row, but not before Boone Logan failed to get out the lefty he was brought in to face (double by Adam Lind). Logan’s been quite good at that this year, giving up extra base hits to lefties. At least Jose Molina got the game-winning hit, not some other Blue Jay jerk. I can’t hate on Molina, he’s a championship Yankee.
  • The offense was basically Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez. Swisher doubled in Cano in the first and then singled him home in the seventh. Chavez clubbed a two-run homer to dead center in the fourth. The Yankees had just five hits after picking up just four (in twelve innings) in the last game. Cano, Swisher, and Chavez combined to go 5-for-12 while everyone else in the lineup went 0-for-19 with two walks (Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner). That’s it. It looked like the offense was getting back to being itself during the first two games in Seattle, but I guess not.
  • The Red Sox beat the Rays, so the lead in the division dropped to 3.5 games (four in the loss column) while the lead in the wildcard remained at 7.5 games. The magic number to clinch a playoff spot dropped to just six. Here’s the box score, here’s the FanGraphs stats, and here’s the standings.

The second game of this three-game set will be played Saturday afternoon at 1:07pmET, when Bartolo Colon takes on the rookie Henderson Alvarez.

Game 149: Home Stretch

No Ricky Romero this weekend, thankfully. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Here we are, the home stretch. There’s only 14 games and 13 days left in the season, and exactly two weeks from today, CC Sabathia will be doing exactly what he’ll be doing tonight: starting for the Yankees. The stakes will be much higher in two weeks though, that will be Game One of the ALDS. Here’s the starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

CC Sabathia, SP

Hooray for a 7pm ET start! The game will be on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy. Oh, and go Rays.

Still no A-Rod in Yanks lineup

Alex Rodriguez is not in tonight’s lineup against the Blue Jays, presumably because his sprained left thumb is still bothering him. Either that, or Joe Girardi is putting way too much stock into Alex being 1-for-15 against tonight’s starter, Dustin McGowan. McGowan’s been on the shelf for the last three years with shoulder trouble, the 1-for-15 is irrelevant.

Anyway, Girardi said earlier in the week that the plan was the give Alex a little extra time of in Seattle with the off day, but that he would do regular fielding drills and some sort of swinging to see how the thumb feels. Apparently it doesn’t feel good enough yet. It’s been six days since A-Rod was supposed to be out “three or four days.” Robinson Cano, meanwhile, is in the lineup after getting hit by that pitch on Wednesday night.

Series Preview: Yankees at Blue Jays

It might not feel that way, but the Yankees and Blue Jays just locked horns two weeks ago. The Yanks swept them handily as part of their six-game winning streak. Things have been a bit tumultuous lately, which leaves that memory further back in our minds.

What Have the Jays Done Lately?

Since dropping all three games to the Yanks two weeks ago, the Blue Jays have been on a mini tear. They went 6-3, including 4-2 against the Red Sox. For that Yankees fans have many thanks. But that’s about all we have. The last thing the Yankees need is to flub a series when the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the AL East are locking horns.

Jays on Offense

The Jays are in essentially the same position offensively as they were the last time the two sides met. At that point, 12 games ago, they had a 103 wRC+, which ranked fifth in the AL. They currently have a 102 wRC+, which still ranks fifth in the AL — though they’re a bit further behind the Tigers this time, for obvious reasons. They’re also at the same place power-wise, with a .168 ISO. But the Rangers pulled further ahead of them in the past two weeks.

Yes, Jose Bautista still leads the Jays offense. That’s not changing now, or does it figure to change in the near future. Since the Yankees series, in which he went 3 for 11 with three singles, he’s gone 6 for 29 with a double and two homers. That puts him at 42 on the year, three ahead of Curtis Granderson. It does appear that Bautista will walk away with the crown for a second straight year.

Again, not much has changed since the last time the Jays played the Yanks, so it’s more of the same story. Yunel Escobar continues to hit and walk in the leadoff spot, while Brett Lawrie continues to impress. He does have a bruised knee, which he suffered during Wednesday’s game, but with a day off yesterday he could be back tonight. Edwin Encarnacion is the other guy in the lineup who can cause some damage, while Eric Thames has heated up of late.

(Also be on the lookout for Adam Loewen, whom you might remember pitching for the Orioles years ago. He’s reemerged as an outfielder for the Jays, and is 5 for his first 14 with a homer.)

One thing to consider about the Jays offense is that they’re very top heavy. Lawrie has just 149 PA, yet he has the second most runs above average on the team. That’s a counting stat, so he’s managed to outpace everyone but Bautista in what amounts to less than a quarter of a full season. That they continue to bat Adam Lind and his .295 OBP in the middle of the order further illustrates their less than impressive offensive achievements.

Blue Jays on the Mound

There will be no Ricky Romero this series, as he tossed eight innings against the Sox on Wednesday. Here’s how it’ll break down.

Friday: LHP Brett Cecil (vs. CC Sabathia). Remember the days when Cecil killed the Yankees? If not, don’t worry; it wasn’t a long stretch. In 2010 he had a few choice outings against the Yanks, holding them to four runs in 22 IP, covering three starts. In his four starts since then he’s tossed 22.2 innings and allowed 16 runs. When he faced them on September fourth he lasted six innings and threw just 84 pitches, but he allowed two homers and five runs total. The Yanks took that game easily. Last time out he was a degree better, going 7.2 and allowing just two runs, one earned, while striking out nine. But that was against the Orioles. The Yankees have a veritable gauntlet of a lineup against lefties, so tonight should not be so easy for young Cecil.

Update by Mike (3:10pm): The Blue Jays just announced that Cecil has been scratched from tonight’s start. Apparently he cut a finger while cleaning out a blender. Dustin McGowan will start instead.

Saturday: RHP Henderzon Alvarez (vs. Bartolo Colon). On Saturday Alvarez makes his eighth major league start, but his first against the Yankees. We’ve seen the Yankees falter against guys they see for the first time, but that’s just a narrative. It’s not representative of any particular deficiency. That is, it just happens sometimes. Alvarez does have some strengths, his greatest being his low walk rate. In 88 AA innings this year he walked just 1.74 per nine, and in his 43.2 MLB innings he’s walked 1.44 per nine. That, combined with a fair home run rate, has led to quality component ERAs (3.87 FIP, 3.43 xFIP) to go along with his 3.09 ERA. He doesn’t strike out man, though he has induced a good number of ground balls so far. That could play up well against the Yankees. In other words, if they do falter against him it won’t be solely because they haven’t seen him before.

Sunday: RHP Dustin McGowan (vs. Freddy Garcia). On Sunday McGowan made his first start since 2008. It was a long road back from a number of shoulder issues, but he’s finally completed the journey. Unfortunately, his return has not gone so well. The Jays threw him to the wolves in his first overall appearance, which came in relief against the Sox. He allowed three runs in four inning then. Against the Orioles he lasted just three innings while allowing four runs on five walks. The last time he faced the Yankees — June 5th, 2008 — he allowed five runs in 5.1 innings. Of course, only four of the starters from that game are still on the Yankees roster: Jeter, Posada, A-Rod, and Cano. The two players who homered off him, Jason Giambi and Wilson Betemit, are long gone.

Bullpen: The Jays do have a few weapons in their pen, but overall they’re lackluster this year, with a 3.88 ERA and 4.05 FIP. Those might not sound like bad numbers, but they both rank 10th in the American League. Casey Janssen has been the leader, with a 2.02 ERA and 2.39 FIP. Frank Francisco and his 1.32 HR/9 remain in the closer’s role.

The RAB Radio Show: September 16, 2011

We’ve got a pennant chase going on, and it has consumed The RAB Radio Show.

  • Mike and I look at the Rays’ actual chances of deposing the Red Sox.
  • The playoff picture is taking shape: With Detroit on a tear it could be an ALCS rematch in the first round.
  • We briefly discuss the playoff rotation. It’s unlikely that anything in the next two weeks changes the Yanks’ plans, absent an injury. Freddy Garcia’s sharpness is the only possible exception here.
  • The ideal way that the Rays-Sox series plays out, and how it affects the Yanks’ magic numbers.

Podcast run time 48:33

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  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

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Make sure you scroll down for this week’s Looking Back, Looking Forward. Went up a little late today, don’t want anyone to miss it.