Posada powers Yanks to sweep of lowly Astros

Following a down stretch in May, everyone associated with the team was looking forward to this 16-game stretch that just ended today. All but three of those 16 games were played against teams with sub-.500 records, and the Yanks capitalized by going 12-4. They started that stretch with a 4.5 game deficit in the AL East, and ended it Sunday tied for first with the Rays. Sweeping the Astros was merely the second best part of the win.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Ain’t Life Grand?

Prior to yesterday’s game, Jorge Posada had just four singles in 37 plate appearances since returning from the disabled list, but Wandy Rodriguez was able to cure what ailed him. He reached base three times in four plate appearances, including a 3rd inning grand slam that seemed to lift the weight of Posada’s struggles off everyone’s shoulders. Starting behind the plate for the first time in just about a month, Posada put on an encore performance every bit as grand as the day before.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

The Yankees had already staked themselves to a two run lead with a Robbie Cano solo shot and a Ramiro Pena (Ramiro Pena!) two run single in the 4th, erasing Carlos Lee’s 1st inning sac fly that temporarily gave the Astros the lead. Houston starter Brian Moehler looked very much deserving of the 6.12 ERA he started the day with, walking the second batter of the 5th inning before giving way to Gustavo Chacin, who walked two more guys to load the bases. Posada stepped to the plate with a chance to break things open, and new pitcher Casey Daigle  promptly started him off with two straight balls.

It’s easy to see why the Astros have the third worst record and run differential in baseball; their pitchers just keep working themselves into trouble. After putting nine men on base via a walk or hit by pitch in the first two games of the series, Houston’s pitchers walked ten Yankees on Sunday and hit another, and that doesn’t include the non-call on Mark Teixeira‘s hit by pitch in the 1st inning. When you give anyone – but especially good teams – free baserunners, you’re going to lose. End of story.

Daigle’s third pitch to Posada was an absolute meatball, an 87 mph fastball right out over the plate in a 2-0 count. It was such a terrible pitch, I decided to screen cap it:

They might as well have put the ball on a tee. Daigle had last appeared in the big leagues back in 2006 before the Astros summoned him from the minors a few weeks ago, and it’s no surprise why. It was a terrible pitch in a terrible location to a great hitter in a terrible situation. Posada put the ball into the people for his second salami in as many days, making him just the third player in franchise history to hit four run homers in back-to-back games. Babe Ruth did it twice, Bill Dickey once. It’s been that long.

A single or even another walk would have sufficed, but a grand slam is always appreciated. It put the Yankees up by six, and showed everyone that the demise of Jorge Posada has been greatly exaggerated. He again reached base three times in four plate appearances today, and his season batting line is an amazing .288-.395-.544.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Hughes Can’t Finish The 6th

With a steady rain coming down, Phil Hughes stood on the mound with two outs in the 6th with a man on first and his pitch count at a very manageable 92. Geoff Blum, he of the 56 OPS+, represented the final out of the frame, but Hughes fell behind in the count before Blum doubled to center. He had battled back to even the count at 2-2, but the Astros’ first baseman (of the day) spoiled a 92 mph high fastball before picking up the hit. Granderson dove for the ball and made a valiant effort, but it was just off the end of his glove and the inning continued.

That’s okay, the ground was wet and Granderson probably catches that standing up in friendlier conditions. It happens. The next batter was shortstop Tommy Manzella and his 47 OPS+, so Hughes was hardly in trouble. Manzella managed to foul off five fastballs as part of a ten pitch at-bat before slapping a ground ball off Derek Jeter‘s glove in the 5.5 hole for a single. Two runs came across to score, cutting the lead to a still comfortable four.

Former Yankee Kevin Cash, another guy with a terrible OPS+ (39) was up next, and he jumped all over a hanging 0-1 cutter and sent it into the leftfield corner for a two run homer to bring the Astros into two. Three below average hitters, each progressively worse than the guy before him, but Hughes couldn’t get any of them out and for all intents and purposes let Houston back in the game. Yes, the homer was the only ball more well-struck than well-placed, but it’s shouldn’t take ten pitches to put away guys Tommy Manzella.

Hughes threw just 18 curveballs today, only seven for strikes, so it’s clear the pitch wasn’t cooperating. If he manages to put either Blum or Manzella away, we’re talking about a stellar 6 IP, 1 R outing as opposed to a mediocre 5.2 IP, 5 R outing, but such is the life of a young starter. The Yanks’ phenom has now allowed 40 baserunners and 20 runs (4.95 ERA) in his last six starts (36.1 IP), with four of those starts coming against sub-.500 teams.

Phil Hughes probably wasn’t going to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA in the AL East all season, we understand that, but he’s noticeably had trouble putting guys away lately. The season is old enough for the book to get out, and throwing fastballs and cutters 85% of the time doesn’t seem to be as effective as it was a month or so ago.

Miscellany

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Big ups to Chad Huffman (right) on many career firsts. With his family in the stands, he recorded his first hit (a pure hustle infield single after working the count from 0-2 to 3-2), his first walk (again with the count full), and his first strikeout (but he reached when the ball got away from the catcher) in his first start in his first game. Huffman saw 23 pitches on the day, more than Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, or Nick Swisher. Congrats, yo.

Cano’s homer was the 100th of his career, but I’m more impressed by his two walks. They were his 18th and 19th free passes this year, putting him on pace for 49. His career high is 39 (back in 2007), and last year he drew just 30 walks. Maturation is a wonderful thing.

How about Ramiro Pena’s bases loaded, two out single? It’s a line drive in the box score, but it was simply a well-placed blooper between the charging rightfielder and the retreating second baseman. The kid is now six-for-nine with the bases juiced in his career, and if you’ve learned anything from this site, it’s that there’s no such thing as too small a sample size (I may or may not be kidding).

Home plate ump Ted Barrett was simply atrocious in this game. First there was Teixeira’s hit by pitch non-call in the first, then there was this sorry excuse for a strike zone. Swisher struck out on pitches in the other batter’s box twice. Robots, people. Robots.

Tex committed his first error of the season on a hard hit ground ball by Michael Bourn, and his first since last October. It was a play we’ve seen Tex make literally hundreds of times, but I thought he rushed it a bit, perhaps trying to turn two with the speedy Bourn running.

Damaso Marte struck out the only batter he faced to end the 6th. Bet you didn’t know that since April 25th, Marte’s allowed a grand total of two singles and two doubles. Six total bases allowed in the last 49 days. Six.

Remember when it looked like Mariano Rivera was toast last month? Me neither.

WPA Graph & Box Score

It’s been an entire series of these, which I approve of. MLB.com has the box, FanGraphs the nerd.

Up Next

The first place Yankees will enjoy a scheduled off day tomorrow before welcoming the team they beat in the 2009 World Series to the Bronx for a three game set starting Tuesday. The Phillies are sending Roy Halladay to the mound (just can’t get away from that guy, huh?), the Yanks CC Sabathia. That should be a blast.

Noesi goes the distance in Trenton win

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 win over Indianapolis)
Reid Gorecki, RF: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 K – threw a runner out at third
Colin Curtis, DH: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K – still just five for his last 37 (.135)
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 3 for 4, 1 RBI, 1 SB – eight for his last 15 (.533)
Juan Miranda, 1B: 2 for 4
Jorge Vazquez, 3B: 0 for 3, 1 RBI – drove in a run with a GIDP in his first Triple-A at-bat
Jesus Montero, C, David Winfree, LF & Reegie Corona, 2B: all 0 for 3, 1 K – Winfree threw a runner out at first
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 3, 2 K
Tim Redding: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 5-7 GB/FB – 59 of his 92 pitches were strikes (64.1%)
Royce Ring: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HB – 12 of his 18 pitches were strikes
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1-1 GB/FB – just eight of his 15 pitches were strikes (53.3%)
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-0 GB/FB – all six pitches he threw were strikes

[Read more…]

Open Thread: You wouldn’t like it when I’m angry

"OMFG u moron." (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

I don’t think we’ve ever seen Mark Teixeira get as fired up as he did during the first inning today, on that hit by pitch non-call in the 1st. It doesn’t matter though, because the Yankees won the game and wrapped up a stretch of 16 games in which they went 12-4. That’s exactly what they had to do, and because the Rays lost to the Marlins, the Yanks are now tied for first in the AL East. Good times.

Here’s your open thread for the evening. The White Sox take on the Cubs in the ESPN Sunday Night Game (Gavin Floyd vs. Ted Lilly), and you’ve also got Game Five of NBA Finals as well. That series is tied at two. Chat about whatever you want here, just be cool.

Posada leaves game with soreness in right foot

Update (6:26pm): For what it’s worth, Posada said “soreness” was the wrong word, and that he was just fatigued. That was his first attempt at catching nine innings in a month, so that’s understandable.

5:06pm: Via Marc Carig, Jorge Posada left today’s game in the 9th inning with soreness in his right foot, though it’s on a different part of the foot than the hairline fracture that landed him on a disabled list in the first place. Today was Posada’s first time behind the plate since May 16th, so it’s a shame he couldn’t get through a full nine innings. I’m sure the Yankees will be extra careful with him, and tomorrow’s off day will give him a little bonus rest.

Aceves feels no pain during throwing session

Via LoHud, hobbled reliever Al Aceves threw off flat ground today and felt no pain in his lower back. “Nothing hurt,” he said. “Everything was normal.” Aceves has been on the disabled list since early May with a bulging disc in his back, and he received an epidural after suffering a setback last month. He threw for about eight minutes at 60% effort, and believes he could throw again tomorrow. Of course, it all depends on how the back feels in the morning.

Hopefully this is the first step back for Aceves; his absence has really made his importance to the team obvious. We knew he was important before, but good grief.

Game 63: Sweep the ‘Stros

Closer entrances have gone too far. (Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP)

The series win is already in the bag, but today is a big day in Yankeeland regardless. Jorge Posada is starting behind the plate for the first time since coming off the disabled list, and for the first time overall since May 16th. Frankie Cervelli is a fine player, but I think it was abundantly obvious over the last four weeks that he’s not much more than a backup at this point in time. There’s a chance he’ll be more in the future, but that time is not now.

Assuming Posada catches nine innings this afternoon without incident, the team will monitor how his foot reacts tomorrow, and then give him a two or three more starts behind the plate before feeling comfortable enough to let Chad Moeller go. The last thing they want to do is cut Moeller only to have Posada’s foot react in an unexpected way. Let’s all hope he passes this test with flying colors.

Aside from that, just sit back and watch Phil Hughes do his thing against on of the worst offenses in the game. This should be a treat.

Here is your lineup…

Jeter, SS
Granderson, CF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, DH
Posada, C
Gardner, LF
Huffman, RF – big league debut
Pena, 3B

And on the mound, St. Phil.

The game is set to begin at 1:05pm ET, and you can catch it on YES as (almost) always. Enjoy.

Mike Lowell in pinstripes?

So the word in Boston is that Mike Lowell is on the outs, and could be gone within a week.  Since he made his displeasure with his semi-platoon with David Ortiz known on May 19th, he has been buried on Terry Francona’s bench.  While some of that can be attributed to  Ortiz’ resurgence at the plate, he has been struggling lately, yet Lowell hasn’t gotten much of a chance to contribute.  In 11 games in June, Ortiz has a .158/.333/.316 line with 1 HR.  Considering Ortiz is also hitting just .217/.315/.326 vs. LHP on the year, they surely could have found more at-bats for Lowell, no?

I bring this all on up on the slight chance that the Sox just release Lowell in the next 10 days or so.  I assume, by eating the rest of Lowell’s contract, the Sox will be able to find a trade partner.  In the offseason, before failing a physical, the Sox had agreed to trade Lowell to Texas for intriguing catcher Max Ramirez.  I expect a trade soon, while the Sox will likely get less of a return, they are in more dire need to rid themselves of a potential problem.

But………………

If the Sox can’t work out a trade, and Lowell is soon released, how would Lowell look in pinstripes, returning to his original organization?  Is there room for him in New York?  Would he be happy with the playing time?  Would he even consider crossing to the other side of the rivalry?  My answers are yes, yes, and yes.

The recent injury to Alex Rodriguez, however minor, has shown what a huge hole is created when he is out of the lineup.  While Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada and Nick Johnson have all missed time this year, there were sufficient backups in place which allowed the Yankees to tread water at those positions.  At third base, it’s a different story.  Not only is A-Rod better than the aforementioned trio, his backups are worse.  Ramiro Pena simply cannot hit at the major league level.  Kevin Russo has shown nothing with the bat and has seen limited time at 3rd base.  If A-Rod were to even go on the 15 day DL, it would be a huge blow to the Yankees.

If A-Rod remains healthy, is there a role for Lowell as a DH?  While Lowell is (or was) being used in Boston as a DH against LHP, in his career he has OPS’d .797 against righthanders, so he doesn’t exactly have Marcus Thames type splits.  That .797 OPS of course came primarily as a strong fielding 3rd baseman, and not a DH, so there was a ton of value in that type of offensive production.  Could you bring in Lowell as a backup at the corners, and give him 60-70% of the at-bats at DH?  You could still work Posada in at DH, and have Thames (or now Huffman) DH against lefties.  If you are comfortable with Ramiro Pena in the OF, you can send Kevin Russo to Scranton.  If you are comfortable with Russo at SS, you can send Pena down.  If bringing in Lowell would provide enough of an upgrade, you can make it work roster-wise.

To address my second and third yes votes above, why would Lowell be happy as a part-time player in New York if he’s not happy in Boston?  Lowell, frankly, has been bitter since soon after resigning with the Sox after the 2007 World Series.  He took a hometown discount as the Phillies were offering him a longer deal, but Lowell wanted to stay with the Sox and took fewer years and total dollars.  It wasn’t long before the rumors started about the Sox acquiring new players that would have pushed Lowell out of his starting role.  This displeasure was strongly evident when the Sox made the hard push to sign Mark Teixeira after the 2008 season, which would have moved Kevin Youkilis to 3B, and Lowell on the trade block.  Lowell was pissed.  After winning the World Series MVP and taking a hometown discount, he felt he deserved better.  Lowell’s feelings were only compounded this offseason when the Sox signed Adrian Beltre (after many Adrian Gonzalez rumors) to play 3rd, pushing Lowell to the bench.  This, a nearly two-year-old chip on his shoulder, just might be enough for Lowell to not only accept a reduced role for another team, but also to do it for the Yankees, just to spite the Red Sox.

There are a lot more questions than answers, and at the end of the day I don’t think the Sox will cut Lowell knowing that he could end up in pinstripes.  We don’t know whether Lowell can play even a passable 3rd base anymore.  He was terrible in 2009, but was struggling with a major hip injury.  We don’t know how much is left in his bat; in 2008 and 2009 he was about league average, and he has just 74 ABs this year.  We don’t know if he would consider a part-time role — or any role — with the Yankees.  If the Yankees had the opportunity to get Lowell for the minimum, I think it’s something they would have to look into, and see if they can catch lightning in a bottle.  If not, they can cut him themselves, no harm, no foul.

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