Game 145: Time to get things right

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the Yankees need a win tonight. Not just to reclaim first place or anything like that, just for their friggin’ sanity. Losing can wear on people, and getting back in that win column is pretty much the only cure. I know we fans need it as well, because losing freaking sucks, especially so close to the end of the season when everything’s magnified.

What more is there to say, really? The Yanks need the offense to get its collective head out of its ass, they could use a starter not named CC Sabathia to step up with a big performance, and a fully rested bullpen wouldn’t hurt either. I’m getting tired of saying the same thing day after day, so please Yankees, do me a favor and win the freaking game tonight.

Here’s the starting nine…

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

And on the bump, it’s the rookie Ivan Nova.

The game starts a little after 7pm ET, and can be seen on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy it.

Teixeira playing through a broken toe

The hits just keep on comin’ for the walking wounded. As George King reported today, Yanks’ first baseman Mark Teixeira has been playing with a broken toe since a Vin Mazzaro slider hit him on the right foot on August 31. “Every step I take it stings,’’ Teixeira, channeling Sting, said. “It’s worse on defense because I have to move side to side and shuffle.’’

Since the injury, Teixeira is just 9 for 43 (.209) with no home runs and five RBIs. At this point, the toe won’t fully heal until the off-season. The Yanks and Teixeira will have to simply manage the pain to ensure that the slugger can generate power as he bats. Teixeira joins Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner as regular Yankees dealing with late-season aches and pains, and the team will be leaning ever more heavily on A-Rod, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and the pitching staff for the next few weeks.

Swisher gets cortisone shot in left knee

Nick Swisher received a cortisone shot in his left knee today after an MRI reveal some inflammation. There’s not timetable for his return, but these things usually don’t take very long to kick in. Swish’s knee has been barking since he fouled a ball off it against the Blue Jays back in Toronto, and even though there’s no structural damage or anything broken, it just hasn’t been getting any better. He is not in the lineup for a third straight day.

Extra roster spots going to waste

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Friday and Saturday we watched in almost disbelief as Rangers’ manager Ron Washington made pitching change after pitching change at a comical rate. He had extra arms available because of September call-ups, and dammit, he was going to use them. Last night though, we watched Joe Girardi be handcuffed by a short bullpen, one that added just one arm when rosters expanded this month.

What’s the bullpen situation going to look like tonight? You have to figure Kerry Wood will be unavailable (pitched in three of the last four games), ditto Boone Logan (also appeared in three of the last four). Chad Gaudin’s a definite no-no after throwing 31 pitches in two-thirds of an inning last night, his third appearance in the last four games. So that leaves Girardi with Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Jon Albaladejo, and Sergio Mitre. What happens if rookie Ivan Nova gets knocked out in the second inning? What happens if the game goes extras again? There’s no extra bodies around to soak up meaningless innings, which forces the core guys to work more than they should. Given the great lengths that Girardi goes to to rest his team, you’d think seats in the bullpen would be a premium because of all the extra arms.

Obviously, Romulo Sanchez’s poorly timed elbow injury hurt the September pitching situation a bit, but that’s life. Teams have to deal with injuries all the time. But to only have one extra arm in Jon Albaladejo, a short reliever at that, at this point in the season seems like a rather terrible use of the roster. And this goes beyond the pitching as well, I don’t want to keep jumping all over the bullpen. With Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher nursing injuries for quite some time now, why isn’t Chad Huffman with the team? Yeah, Greg Golson and Colin Curtis are up, but what’s the harm in calling up Huffman just for depth? He doesn’t have to play, but it sure would be nice to have him just in case.

You can add players  in September to make life easier on the regulars, so why aren’t the Yankees doing it? Yes, the 40-man roster situation presents a bit of a problem, but that’s a pretty lame excuse. I understand not wanting to call up someone like Andrew Brackman or Hector Noesi, an actual prospect, but every team has dead weight on the 40-man, the Yankees included. Reegie Corona can’t hit a lick (.259/.333/.344 in 2,959 minor league plate appearances) and is made completely expendable by Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena, so he can be taken off the 40-man in favor of someone like say, Royce Ring, who would give Girardi the basic September right of a second lefthander out of the bullpen.

The newly acquired Steve Garrison is another guy that could be removed from the 40-man roster in favor of a player that’s more useful to the big league team right now. Think about how the Yanks acquired Garrison for a second; the Padres designated him for assignment and they claimed him off waivers. Since the Yanks had the best record in baseball at the time, they were the last team that could have claimed him, so literally every other team passed on Garrison first. Chances are they’ll do the same less than a week later, no? That 40-man spot could be better used on someone that help the team right now, down the stretch, even in a limited capacity.

Roster spots are precious, like outs in a game, but September makes everyone’s life a little bit easier given the ability to call up extra players. The Yankees really aren’t taking advantage of those extra spots right now, certainly not on the pitching side of things, and it’s come back to bite them a bit recently. When your starting rotation is full of one ace and bunch of question marks, getting some extra arms seems like common sense. Considering how far ahead they are in the race for a playoff spot and all the players nursing injuries, the Yanks seem to be really dropping the ball when it comes to maximizing the roster this month.

Knowing your team and the situation

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Last night’s game provided more blogging topics than we know what to do with, from the bullpen machinations to the stellar starting pitching to yes, Curtis Granderson‘s bunt. Sacrifice bunting (hey, bunting for a hit is cool in my book) is a topic I’ve beat to death on Twitter and for the most part on the site as well, yet my pleas fall on deaf ears. Joe Girardi continues to employ the move ad nauseum with almost complete disregard of the game situation, and with the team struggling so much it’s just another thing to second guess.

It’s not so much about the actual bunt, the idea of sacrificing one of three outs in the inning to advance the baserunner an extra 90 feet, but what appears to be a lack of understand of what the hell is going on at the moment. Girardi appears to have a blind faith in the strategy despite watching it backfire numerous times in the last few weeks, and last night’s situation really looked like the tipping point.

Balfour’s first two pitches to Granderson were fastballs out of the zone both up and away, putting the count at two balls and no strikes. So let’s think about the situation for a sec. Grandy is a dead fastball hitter, and has been worth three runs above average against the pitch this season. For his career, he’s 58.1 runs above average or 0.75 runs per 100 fastballs seen. Balfour is fastball heavy pitcher, throwing it 77.1% of the time this year. Furthermore, he’s hasn’t thrown a non-fastball on 2-0 since 2007 according to FanGraphs’ splits. Three freaking seasons of nothing but 2-0 fastballs.

It’s a fastball hitter in a fastball count with a fastball pitcher in the mound. It’s a match made in baseball heaven. The player who executes the best in that situation (most likely) wins, but certainly you couldn’t ask for Granderson to be up in a better spot. Sure enough, Balfour threw a 2-0 fastball at 91 mph, and you know what happened. Granderson laid down a rather gorgeous sac bunt, getting Kearns into scoring position exactly as Girardi planned. In terms of WPA, the bunt actually increased the Yanks’ chances of winning by 2.6%, but the WPA swing lacks come context. Bunting was the wrong move not only because it took the bat out of Granderson’s hands in a situation where could have done some real damage, but it passed the baton to Colin Curtis, one of the very last guys on the roster you’d want up in that spot.

Again, I’m not so upset about the actual bunt, I’ve accepted it as part of the game, but rather the complete lack of understanding the situation and blindly following “the book.” This also goes back to Frankie Cervelli‘s bunt on a 3-0 count (!!!) in the Texas series. I mean, come on, taking a pitch and potentially get an extra baserunner (with one fewer out) for Marcus Thames and Nick Swisher would increase the Yanks’ chances of winning exponentially over moving the speedy Eduardo Nunez – who was already in scoring position – to third. Again, we have what appears to be a complete lack of understand the situation, or perhaps it’s just an unwillingness to adjust.

The Yankees, as presently constructed, are not some smallball team. Are they struggling to score some runs right now? Sure, but that doesn’t mean you overhaul the system. They have a .350 OBP and a .347 wOBA as a team, both the best in baseball. Their .170 ISO is third best in the game, and their raw homerun total of 174 is also third best. This is a team built around getting players on base and hitting for power, and it has been for at least a decade-and-a-half now. All of a sudden, now with a slumping offense (.218/.313/.287 over the last eight games) the plan is change up the strategy? I don’t get it. Stick with what got you there and what your players know. Don’t take them out of their element and try to force things. That only leads to more struggles.

This eight game stretch has made the Yankees look about as bad as they have at any point in the last two or three years, and naturally Joe Girardi’s decision making is going to be at the forefront of the blame. Bullpen moves are in their own little world of second guessing, but offensive strategies like bunting and giving away outs are easy to break down and criticize. There seems to be a disconnect between what the Yankees actually are and what Girardi either a) thinks they are, or b) wants them to be. He has to know the situation and his personnel way better than he’s shown over the last few weeks, and really the last three seasons. Remember, this bunting nonsense is not unique to September 2010.

Remembering the slump of 2009

Seven of eight. Four straight. The Yanks are on some kind of skid right now. They have, thankfully, built up a nice enough record that their playoff spot is not in jeopardy at the moment. If they continue to play like this the situation could change, but the odds of that aren’t very high. Good teams slump, but it’s rare to see them go into complete collapse. Those are anomalistic situations.

This current skid immediately brings to mind a stretch of games from last year. The Yankees made us forget about the first half of the season by going on a magnificent run after the All-Star break. Remember, though, that the Yanks were five games back of first place in mid-June. Things were not going well. They were losing to teams that they should have beaten, and even when they won it was less than inspiring.

It started, of course, in Boston. The Yankees dropped three straight to the Red Sox before coming home for a round of interleague games agains the Mets and Nationals. While the Yanks went 3-3 in those, if not for a Luis Castillo dropped pop-up it would have been a 2-4. Then they headed down to Florida and dropped two of three to the Marlins before dropping the opening game of the Atlanta series. That left the Yankees 4-9 in a 13-game stretch, when they just as easily could have been 3-10. There is a good chance we could see the Yankees with a 3-10 or a 4- record in the 13-game stretch that follows their eight-game winning streak.

As happens with most good teams, the Yankees recovered from that skid. They rattled off seven straight wins and went 13-2 in their next 15 games. Losing three straight to Anaheim before the break stung a bit, but even with those they were 13-5 following their slide. It’s easy to forget moments like this in the throes of a losing streak. But they happen to every team, every season. The Yankees will come out of this. It might not happen tonight, but it will happen.

The curious bullpen moves from Joe Girardi

Last night’s game was the kind that ignites a fan base, but not in a good way. It wasn’t so much the offensive futility; David Price, after all, is among the league’s top pitchers, and the Tampa Bay bullpen, especially at the back end, can take care of business. Rather, it was the manager who drew the fans’ ire. Joe Girardi had a number of tough decisions to make last night, and on the surface it looked like he botched each one. But in any game as complex as baseball there’s always at least one more layer, and often more, to the decision making process.

As RJ Anderson wrote this morning, Joe Maddon made all the right moves. He rode his starter for eight innings and then went to the best arm in his bullpen, closer Rafael Soriano. After Soriano pitched a scoreless inning he went to his second best guy, Joaquin Benoit. When the game went to the 11th he went with the next best option, Grant Balfour. Those moves deserve praise, because they were the right moves. But they were also the obvious moves. Maddon had everyone available, so there was no reason to not do this.

Girardi, on the other hand, had limits to the moves he could make. As we learned after the game, David Robertson was unavailable after having thrown 36 pitches on Saturday. It also appeared that Girardi wanted to give Mariano Rivera a day off, though he would have brought him in to close the game if it came to that — in other words, he wasn’t bringing in Sergio Mitre to preserve an extra innings lead. These are understandable decisions. Joba Chamberlain, too, was unavailable, though that’s a bit more curious a situation. The Yankees are apparently concerned that he’s getting up there in appearances, which was part of the reason why they held him out. But he was unavailable in any case, which made the late-game decisions that much tougher.

After Sabathia exited Girardi went to his best available reliever, Kerry Wood, who used just 11 pitches to strike out two Rays and complete a 1-2-3 inning. Here is where Girardi’s decisions become curious. Robertson, Joba, and Mo were not options. Jonathan Albalaedjo wasn’t much of an option to begin with, and probably wasn’t available after having pitched in the last two games, including 26 pitches on Sunday. That left just Boone Logan, Chad Gaudin, and Mitre, unless Girardi wanted to completely change the rotation game plan.

This is curious because of Wood’s light workload during the previous inning. He didn’t pitch on Sunday, but he threw only 21 pitches during his two innings on Friday and Saturday. The Yankees have a better idea of what Wood can handle than I do, but given the bullpen limitations does does seem like Girardi could have stuck with him for another inning as to delay the necessity of using his two worst bullpen arms. I’m not sure if it was Wood’s workload or if it was the desire to match-up lefty-lefty against Carlos Pena, but Girardi went to Boone Logan to start the 10th.

Despite his early-season troubles, Logan has been one of the better arms in the Yankees bullpen since his latest recall. Like Wood he pitched both Friday and Saturday, but in those stints he threw just 14 pitches. He hasn’t thrown more than 10 pitches since September 6. In other words, it would seem he was well rested. Yet Girardi stuck with him for just one batter. That one did work out — he struck out Pena — but I just don’t understand why he didn’t stick with him. Instead he went to Chad Gaudin, who is pretty much worse than Logan on every level.

The move seemed to work, since Gaudin held the Rays scoreless. But it wasn’t perfect. Guadin loaded the bases and needed 31 pitches to record the inning’s final two outs. This, I guess, meant that he couldn’t go another inning. That’s also a bit odd for a guy who has gone two innings as recently as September 7 — though Gaudin needed only 18 pitches to record those six outs. In any case, that necessitated Sergio Mitre’s appearance. Game over. Even if Brignac hadn’t homered I’m sure the Rays would have mustered a run. Mitre hadn’t pitched since the fifth, and hasn’t gotten consistent work all season. That’s often death for a sinkerballer.

Once the game went into extras the Yankees were at a distinct disadvantage. Two of their best bullpen arms weren’t available at all, and their best overall was essentially unavailable. Meanwhile, the Rays had all hands on deck, meaning they could keep going with the best guy available. The Rays had a distinct advantage from the 10th inning on, and they predictably won the game. A few of Girardi’s bullpen moves were odd, but they weren’t what killed the Yankees last night. Maybe the game would have gone a bit longer had Logan pitched a scoreless 10th and Gaudin was able to pull the rabbit out of his hat an inning later. But none of that is guaranteed. The Yankees played a few men short and it ended up being the difference.

NOTE: Any small ball decisions are not part of this post. Mike will cover them later today, so please hold your comments.