Yanks down Sox to widen AL East lead

Celebrating a win. Credit: AP Photo, Frank Franklin II

Despite two second-inning runs from the Red Sox, CC Sabathia and the Yankees cruised to an easy 5-2 win over Boston on Saturday evening. Filling in for the injured Alex Rodriguez, Ramiro Peña drove in two runs, and Curtis Granderson went 2 for 4 with a pair of runs scored. Sabathia pitched eight strong innings, and Mariano Rivera got the save. As the Rays lost to the Blue Jays 17-11, the Yanks’ AL East lead now stands at 1.5 games.

Things I Liked

Curtis Granderson was on base twice and scored twice. The biggest knock against Granderson this season is his .312 OBP. With a triple, he showed yesterday that he can hit for gap power, and with the stolen base, he showed that, if he can get on base, he can make something happen. He hasn’t done enough of either this year but has shown signs of snapping out of it.

As much as I criticize Ramiro Peña for waving a wet noodle at the plate, he got the job done twice on Saturday. He knocked in a run on a ground ball after Brett Gardner struck out with a runner on third and later singled with the infield in to extend the Yanks’ lead. He might be hitting .208 but has a respectable 13 RBI in 96 ABs.

CC Sabathia hadn’t given up a home run since June 3 when Victor Martinez took him deep to lead off the second inning. After back-to-back doubles made it 2-0 Boston, the big man seemed to be in trouble. He bore down though and stymied the Sox for seven more innings. He’s now 14-5 on the season and is every bit the stopper the Yankees had hoped he would be. This victory was the 150th of his career.

Things I Did Not Like

Brett Gardner is 1 for his last 22 with 10 strike outs. He’s gotten on base just three times in his last 24 plate appearances. Perhaps a day off would be in order.

Lance Berkman should take his frustration out on the baseball, not the Yanks’ All Star third baseman’s calf. X-Rays were negative, but A-Rod isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play on Sunday.

Box Score

Take a gander at the ESPN box. Get your info from Fangraphs.

Up Next

A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett face off in a rematch of last year’s 15-inning classic at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Montero homers in bullet-point DotF

Fangraphs/River Ave. Blues event + Yankees/Red Sox + beer = late and bullet-point DotF. Let’s hit up the highlights.

  • While the Yankees downed the Red Sox last night, Scranton beat the PawSox 6-1. Jesus Montero went 1 for 3 with a solo home run, a walk and a strike out. Juan Miranda chipped in a three-run shot. David Phelps went 6.2 innings for the win, and he gave up no runs on 5 hits and struck out 6.
  • Jenrry Mejia and the Binghamton Mets downed Trenton 5-1. Adam Warren struck out 8 in 5 innings but also gave up 5 runs — 4 earned — on 6 hits and a walk. No one did much of anything of note offensively.
  • Tampa beat St. Lucie 6-4 as Dellin Betances improved to 7-1. He didn’t have his best command last night, allowing 3 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks in 5 innings of work, but he struck out 5 as well.
  • Charleston played a pair yesterday against Savannah. They won the first game 7-0 as Sean Black through a seven-inning complete-game four-hitter. Slade Heathcott went 1 for 3 with a walk and a strike out. J.R. Murphy knocked in three with a triple. Savannah won the second game 4-1, and Heathcott went 0 for 2 with a pair of strike outs.
  • Staten Island lost to Williamsport 11-9.
  • The GCL Yanks dropped a 4-3 contest to the GCL Pirates. Cito Culver and Gary Sanchez went a combined 0-for-8 with 3 strike outs. The team made only three errors yesterday.

Game 109: Big Stoppa

(AP Photo/Jeff Zelevansky)

It’s no secret that the Yankees are stuck in a little bit of a rut right now. They’ve lost three of their last four games and four of their last six, but the good news is that they’re still atop the AL East, even if it’s just a half-game lead. It’s better than the alternative.

The good news is that the Yankees have their ace on the mound this afternoon, as CC Sabathia looks to get off his own personal schneid. He’s allowed 36 hits and 14 walks in four starts since the All Star break, spanning just 27 innings. For whatever reason he’s battled his command, but this is right around the same time that he hit his stride last year. Hopefully we’re in for an encore performance. He’ll be opposed by John Lackey, who thankfully does not throw a changeup. His swinging strike percentage (6.1%) is worse than Jamie Moyer’s (6.2%), believe it or not.

Here’s the starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Berkman, DH
Granderson, CF
Gardner, CF
Pena, 3B

And on the mound, it’s CC Sabathia.

Unfortunately this game will be airing on FOX, and I believe the Yankees’ record on FOX games is somewhere in the neighborhood of 0-1,569,485 through the years. Anyway, first pitch is set for a little after 4pm ET. Enjoy the game.

Vazquez suffering through dead-arm period

During his start last night against the Red Sox, Javier Vazquez raised some eyebrows when his first-inning fastballs were sitting at 81-85 miles per hour. Today, reports ESPN’s Andrew Marchand, the Yankees say Vazquez is suffering through a dead-arm period. Pitching coach Dave Eiland says the Yanks will curtail Vazquez’s work between starts, and the right-hander says he feels ok. Still, the Yanks noticed the big dip in velocity yesterday and will probably send Vazquez for more tests just to make sure nothing is wrong structurally.

A-Rod hit by line drive in batting practice

Update Part Deux; The x-rays came back negative. And exhale.

Update: Alex is out of the lineup, Ramiro Pena takes his place. The initial diagnosis is a lower left leg contusion, and he’s off to get x-rays. Sigh.

Alex Rodriguez limped off the field during the batting practice this afternoon after taking a Lance Berkman line drive to his shin. He was able to walk off the field under his own power, but obviously this is a concern. No update yet, but stay tuned.

The great Francisco Cervelli rant

Oops. Photo Credit: AP Photo, Frank Franklin II

Francisco Cervelli isn’t supposed to be here, enjoying this much playing time. The weakest of the Yankees’ deep organizational corps of catcher, Cervelli has somehow caught 539 of the Yanks’ 958.1 innings this year. He isn’t hitting, and as a defensive specialist, his fielding has let him and the Yankees down. As a dinky pop up bounced off his glove and three unearned runs cost the Yanks the game last night, I had to wonder what exactly Cervelli was doing with so much playing time on a team with a $213 million payroll.

I don’t hold a grudge against Francisco Cervelli, the person. He’s a 24-year-old kid from Venezuela who clearly loves playing baseball as a career. He’s enthusiastic to a fault, and for a few weeks, he had a penchant for big hits. But he’s nothing more than a back-up catcher, but because Jorge Posada is a fragile 38, Cervelli has become the de facto starter, earning 56 percent of the team’s playing time and accruing far too many at-bats.

Coming up through the Yanks’ system, Cervelli never cracked the Yanks’ top 20 lists. The 2008 Baseball America Prospect Handbook has him at 23 and cites his “above average catch-and-throw skills.” After playing for Tampa, he had “impressed scouts with his toughness and ability to grind through the season.” Last year, he moved up to 21st and again, Baseball America praised his defense. “His defense is first-rate,” the book says, with a plus arm and above-average receiving and blocking skills.” His bat would never play as anything better than a back-up.

This year, half of this prediction is true. After his 1-for-3 performance last night, Cervelli is hitting .255/.328/.317 with absolutely no power. (Since the arbitrary date of May 18, he’s hitting under .200 with a .500 OPS in over 170 plate appearances.) His offensive value has him at 5.3 runs below average. As a back-up catcher, we could tolerate 100-150 plate appearances of Francisco Cervelli, but he’s now at 239 PAs. His playing time is in no danger of lessening any time soon.

The bigger problem right now is that Cervelli’s defensive prowess has fallen off the face of the earth. The botched pop-up last night was his seventh error of the season, and only Jason Kendall, with 300 more innings, has a higher error totals. The Yanks’ catchers now lead the AL with 13 errors on the year. He has allowed two passed balls while pitchers have thrown 22 wild pitches with him behind the dish. He’s also thrown out only seven of 44 would-be basestealers, and while much of that rests with the Yanks’ pitchers’ inability to hold runners on, Cervelli’s arm just hasn’t been as strong or as accurate as billed. That 16 percent rate is worst among all AL catchers with at least 300 innings caught. He’s fidgety behind the plate, and often lets his enthusiasm get in the way of framing pitchers and receiving the ball. Last night, he jumped up on a few pitches and may have cost the Yanks’ hurlers some called strikes.

In terms of overall value, Cervelli is still contributing positively to the team. Before last night, his WAR sat 0.5, but just a few weeks ago, he was a one-win player. As his numbers decline further, that total will continue to drop. Based on his strong April, he should be able to pull in a 0 or positive WAR value, but it’s not going to be much when the dust settles.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have turned to Cervelli on a regular basis this year. Due to age and nagging injuries, Jorge Posada just hasn’t been able to play much. He couldn’t — or Girardi didn’t want him to — catch last night, a night after an off day following a day game. At most, he’ll catch two of four games against the Red Sox, and the Yankees will replace Jorge’s bat — 10.6 runs above average — with Cervelli for a swing of nearly 15 runs. He has become the Melky Cabrera of 2010, an adequate bench player overrated by many and granted too much playing time.

With the Yankees’ financial clout, they shouldn’t be rolling out near-replacement players at any position. Even though there is a benefit to developing cost-controlled young players, the final piece of that equation concerns those players’ qualities. They must be good cost-controlled young players, and right now, Francisco Cervelli does not fit the bill. If the Yankees cannot trust Jorge Posada to catch three out of four games against the Red Sox, the team absolutely needs someone better than Cervelli, and right now, that’s not going to happen.

So what, then, were the Yankees to do? The list of free agent catchers following the 2009 season was sparse. The team wasn’t going to bring back Jose Molina. The Ivan Rodriguez Experience was one no one wanted to relive, and he — along with Rod Barajas, Benjie Molina and Gregg Zaun — wanted to start. They could have thrown good money after so-so players, but they went with Cervelli instead. It is a decision that’s backfired.

As the season plays out, I’ll have to come to terms with Cervelli. Despite last night’s game, when he didn’t take charge of a pop-up and his pitcher couldn’t take charge, Cervelli isn’t going to make or break a season. But with Jesus Montero knocking on the door, the Yankees aren’t going to stick with Cervelli much beyond October. He’s a constant reminder that the team still hasn’t yet figured out how to put together an adequate bench, and his ample playing time is a constant reminder that the Yankees buried their collective heads in the sand over Jorge Posada’s age and potential health problems. They didn’t plan accordingly, and we’re stuck with Cervelli.