Game 82: Three Sheets to the wind

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

Ben Sheets, a personal fave, has not been good for the A’s this year, let my fantasy team tell you. His 4.98 ERA is backed by a 4.95 FIP, 4.53 xFIP, and 4.58 tRA. The strikeouts are down, the walks are up, and the fastball velocity is down, which is not a good mix at all. Safe to say that Oakland isn’t getting what they thought they would when they signed him to that $10M deal before the season. But hey, at least he’s stayed healthy.

Here’s the lineup…

Gardner, LF
Jeter, SS
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, DH
Granderson, CF
Cervelli, C
Curtis, RF

And on the mound, Vazquez. Javy Vazquez.

The 1-2 of Gardner and Jeter isn’t permanent. Joe Girardi is just using Swisher to break up the lefties at the bottom of the order while Jorge Posada is out with his bum ring finger. Anyway, game starts at 10:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy it, if you’re staying up.

Pettitte replaces Buchholz on All Star Game roster

Via Bryan Hoch, Andy Pettitte has replaced Clay Buchholz on the AL All Star Game roster because the latter has been placed on the disabled list with a hamstring issue. Joe Girardi had no say on this move since Buchholz was elected to the game by the player’s vote. The next highest vote getter simply took his spot, and it happened to be Pettitte. Girardi will have to name a replacement for CC Sabathia, who is scheduled to pitch on Sunday and is therefor ineligible to play in the game.

Pettitte makes seven Yankee All Stars, the most of any team. This will be his third trip to the mid-summer classic, and his first since 2001. Hard to believe that Pettitte has more top five finishes in the Cy Young voting than All Star Game appearances.

Aceves suffers another setback, Sanchez shifted to bullpen

Via Bryan Hoch, sorely missed reliever Al Aceves had a setback while throwing his bullpen session in Tampa today. He’s heading back to New York for even more tests. The epidurals are obviously not doing the trick, so it’s looking more and more likely that Ace will need to have surgery to fix that bulging disc in his back. Shame, getting him back and healthy was the best bullpen help the Yankees could have hoped for in the second half.

In what I am sure is completely related news, Romulo Sanchez was scratched from his start for Triple-A Scranton tonight, and has been moved to the bullpen to prepare him for his future as a big league reliever. Jason Hirsh takes his spot in SWB’s rotation. If it’s just a coincidence that the Romulo news broke right after the Aceves news, then that’s one hell of a coincidence.

Open Thread: Out west, yet again

Don't worry Alex, they still love you in Oakland. (Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP)

The season is 81 games old, and the Yankees are making their third trip to the West Coast already. It’s nice to get it out of the way early, because the last thing tired bodies and a team in a division race needs in September is six hour flights and jet lag. It’s just these damn 10pm ET starts. Do you realize that between those four day games over the weekend and this road trip and the All Star break, the Yankees are going to go 14 days between 7pm ET starts? That’s nuts. Eh, so be it. Like I said, good to get these trips out of the way now.

Until tonight’s game thread rolls along, use this sucker as your open thread. The Mets are home against the Reds (Harang Travis Wood vs. Pelfrey), and the Braves and Phillies are on ESPN (Lowe vs. Halladay). Anything goes, have fun.

Yankee scouts watching Lee, but so what?

Over the next several weeks (including today), you’re going to hear a lot talk of about who has scouts watching who and what not, leading to trade speculation. Let me tell you right now that it doesn’t mean anything. The Yankees have their scouts watching Cliff Lee because a) they have to face him again in a few days, and b) because they’re going to have interest in him as a free agent after the season. They had people at basically every single one of CC Sabathia‘s starts in 2008 not because they were going to trade for him in the middle of the summer, but because they knew they were going to be major players for his services that winter and wanted to see what they were getting themselves into.

So yes, it’s a great narrative and it’s exciting to hear, but don’t read much into who the Yankees have scouts watching, at least not when it’s a guy like Cliff Lee. Chances are it’s just routine coverage.

Link Dump: Send Swish!, Brackman, Mariano

Apparently everyone in America has the day off except me, so here’s some links…

Send Swish!

One day into the Final Vote balloting, Nick Swisher is in the lead for the AL’s final All Star roster spot. Kevin Youkilis isn’t far behind him though, so we all have to make sure we go out and support Swish. The ballot can be found here, and you can vote as much as you want, there’s no limit. The polls close at 4pm ET this Thursday, and you can always click our little Send Swish! button on the sidebar to go to the ballot.

Mike Ashmore Chats With Andrew Brackman

Friend of RAB Mike Ashmore chatted with 2007 first round pick Andrew Brackman recently, and posted the results for all to see. The entire Q&A is worth the read, but I found the info about adjusting his mechanics and trying to add a changeup the most interesting. Brackman’s comments about basketball were interesting as well; he’s aware that he probably didn’t have a shot at the NBA, but going overseas was a very real possibility for him. Never considered that, though I’m not much of a basketball guy.

Getting Dominated By Mariano Rivera, Interactively

We’re probably the last site on the internet to link to this, but better late than never. The New York Times ran a great little video over the weekend about Mariano Rivera and what makes his cutter so effective. You’ve probably seen it already, but it’s definitely worth another watch or two. The accompanying article is worth the read as well.

The RAB Mailbag

Don’t forget to send in your mailbag questions throughout the week. Things seemed to go well and we got a lot of positive feedback to last week’s post, so it’s definitely something we’ll do again. Just email us via the links, or use the Submit A Tip box under The Montero Watch.

Halfway through, a status report

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

As soon as Robbie Cano crossed the plate after Marcus Thames blooped that broken bat single into center the 10th inning yesterday, the Yankees’ 2010 season was officially halfway complete. They simultaneously became the first team to 50 wins this season, the first time they’ve won that many games in the first half in more than half a decade. With the game’s best record, second best run differential, second most runs scored, and the third fewest runs allowed in the league, everything seems to be going well for the defending World Champs.

Of course, it’s really not. There are very real issues with the current Yankees squad that have been masked by rather spectacular starting pitching, timely hitting, and the great Mariano Rivera. Let’s take a look at what needs to stay the same, and what needs to change to make the Yanks even more dangerous in the second half.

What Needs To Stay The Same (Or At Least Not Fall Off Too Much)

Overall, the Yanks’ starting pitching has been fantastic. As a group, they boast a 3.93 ERA and a 4.25 xFIP, the fourth and third best marks in the league, respectively. The quintet of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Javy Vazquez, and Phil Hughes has started all but two of the team’s first 81 games, and when one pitcher hit a rough patch – say Vazquez in April or Burnett in June – the other guys picked them up.

It was unrealistic for Hughes to maintain the 2.71 ERA he had in his first 11 starts over the full season, but if he remains static at his current 4.02 xFIP level, he’ll be the best fifth starter in the game. Burnett is going to have his ups and downs, ditto Vazquez, so it’ll be important for Sabathia and Pettitte to really lead the staff. They need to be the guys that when you go to the park, you know you’re going to get a quality outing. Health, as always, is the biggest thing. If these five can made say, 70 starts in the final 81 games, the Yanks are golden.

Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong, AP

As fantastic as Robbie Cano was in the first half (.411 wOBA, second in MLB with 4.5 WAR), he needs to continue to perform in the second half. Even a dip back to last season’s .370 wOBA for 81 games will hurt a lineup that featured far too many underachieving stars in the first half. Same deal with Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner. Swish has to continue to be a middle-of-the-order producer from the two-spot, and Gardner needs to be the second leadoff man in the bottom third of the lineup. All three of these guys have performed better than expected, and the Yanks’ need them to keep it up.

Finally, and quite obviously, Mariano Rivera needs to continue to be the rock at the end of games. There’s absolutely no reason to expect he won’t be.

What Needs To Improve

The bullpen. Aside from Mo, the only reliever who’s consistently done his job this year is Damaso Marte vs. lefthanded batters (.154/.209./282 against, more than 28% strikeouts). David Robertson was rock solid for about eight weeks in May and June, though hit a little hiccup this past week. Joba Chamberlain … I don’t even know where to start with him. Those three are going to be the primary setup crew going forward, and they need to be better, plain and simple.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Chan Ho Park is going to be cut loose at some point this month, ditto Chad Gaudin, and it’s hard not to believe that GM Brian Cashman will go outside of the organization at some point to add another bullpen arm. There’s plenty of inventory to put lipstick on the pig, such as Jon Albaladejo, Romulo Sanchez, Dustin Moseley, Boone Logan, and Sergio Mitre, but those guys shouldn’t be counted on as high leverage relievers. At least not yet.

Some of the stars need to start producing like stars. Derek Jeter‘s .348 OBP and .338 wOBA are the worst full season marks of his career. Mark Teixeira, although hot of late (.332/.421/.589 in his last 24 games), has still underperformed as a whole and needs to produce like the MVP candidate he’s expected to be in the second half. Ditto Alex Rodriguez, who has been straight mashin’ of late like Tex (.273/.346/.636 in his last 12 games). These three are the Yankees’ best players, and they need to be their best players the rest of the season.

Curtis Granderson needs to pick it up as well. He’s certainly had a knack for the timely homerun, which is always appreciated, but his overall performance (.313 wOBA) has been Melky Cabrera-esque. The injury didn’t help and it’s good that the team doesn’t need him to be anything more than a threat in the bottom third of the order, but he still hasn’t performed as expected. By no means is this a declaration that the trade is a failure, that’s just silly 227 plate appearances into his Yankee career, it’s just a little reminder that hey, he’s kinda sucked.

Oh, and then there’s the bench. It’s horrendous. Marcus Thames coming off the disabled list should not be such a huge upgrade. Ramiro Pena is a black hole with the bat, Kevin Russo has disappeared off the face of the Earth, and Colin Curtis simply can’t be your most dangerous lefthanded pinch hitter. I fully expect the Yanks’ to acquire not just one, but two bench pieces before the trade deadline like they did last summer.

Health. Health health health. A healthy Al Aceves deepens the bullpen. The healthy Jorge Posada improves the offense. A healthy Nick Johnson lengthens the lineup. The Yankees can’t really count on any of these things (especially the first and last ones), but anything from those guys is icing on the cake. Really, it’s all about not losing anyone else to injury.

No team is perfect, and remember that the Yanks are still ahead of last year’s pace by two full games. The bullpen and bench are the only areas of the team in real need of an overhaul, the rest of the improvements should come from guys simply performing like they have in the past and staying health. The common refrain is that this is the worst first place team ever, to which I say: How quickly we forget the 2004-2006 teams.