Rangers pound Hughes to tie ALCS at one

Coming off Friday’s thrilling come-from-behind win, the Yankees had every reason to feel good about themselves when they showed up to the park for Game Two on Saturday. The Rangers, on the other hand, had every reason to doubt themselves, but to their credit they put it all in the rear-view mirror and jumped all over the Yanks to tie the ALCS at one in blowout fashion.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

A Hughes Disappointment

Two games, two terrible performances by Yankee starting pitchers. The bullpen and offense was able to bail CC Sabathia out in Game One, but no such luck for Phil Hughes in Game Two. Texas forced the issue in the very first inning, with Josh Hamilton and Elvis Andrus combining to literally steal a run (more on that in a bit) while Hughes struck out the side. He looked strong in the first inning, very strong in fact, but boy were we wrong.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Rangers scored another two runs in the second, the first on a David Murphy solo homer, the other on a Michael Young double down the rightfield line following singles by Mitch Moreland and Andrus. The two runs were actually the two largest WPA swings of the game, with Murphy’s homer coming in at +.092 for Texas, Young’s double +.083. A three run deficit in the second inning isn’t the end of the world, the Yanks proved that in Game One, but Hughes’ pitch count was already over 40 and the Rangers’ batters were making nothing but solid contact.

Texas added another pair of runs in the third when three of the first four batters of the inning – Nelson Cruz, Murphy, and Bengie Molina – doubled. Hughes managed to escape that inning and throw a scoreless fourth, but Joe Girardi curiously sent him back out for the fifth with his pitch count approaching 90. Cruz led off the inning with a double and Ian Kinsler followed with a triple, and that was it for young Mr. Hughes.

The final line is ugly (4 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 WP) but even more infuriating was Hughes’ inability to put batters away with two strikes. Seven (seven!) of Texas’ ten hits off Phil came with two strikes, and he allowed runners to reach scoring position in every inning but the fourth. The Rangers fouled off more than a quarter of his 88 pitches, unsurprising when 68 of those pitches were fastballs. Hughes was absolutely dreadful, worse than Sabathia was the day before. He gave his team basically no chance to win.

Stranded

In the face. IN THE FAAAAAAAAACE. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It didn’t feel like it when the game was in progress, but the Yankees had a few opportunities to push some runs and just didn’t get it done. They left two runners on in the second, third, sixth, seventh, and ninth, plus one runner in both the fifth and eighth innings. Of the seven (!!!) walks issued by Rangers’ pitchers, zero came around to score. All told, the Yanks left a dozen runners on base and had just one hit in eleven at-bats with runners in scoring position, a single by Lance Berkman who got thrown out foolishly trying to stretch it into a double. They had opportunities, but just couldn’t cash them in.

Robbie Cano Is BOOM!

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

It wasn’t all bad for the Yanks’ offense; Robbie Cano was a one man wrecking crew all afternoon. He ripped a line drive in his first at-bat that Nelson Cruz against the wall, then doubled over Josh Hamilton’s head his next time up (he came around to score the Yanks’ first run of the game), then capped it off solo homer into the second deck in his third trip to the plate (the only other run they’d score). Cano also made the final out of the game, a rocket to the opposite field that Cruz somehow managed to catch on the run on the warning track. I tweeted that if the game was played at Yankee Stadium, Cano would have had three homers, and that was only semi-hyperbolic. Those first three balls were just crushed.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Two stupid mistakes on the Rangers’ first run, when Andrus stole home on Hamilton’s attempted steal of second: Jorge Posada actually throwing through to second with the speedy runner on third, then Cano not tagging Hamilton for the out. The run probably would have scored anyway, but at the least inning would have been over. Hamilton was intentionally trying to get in a run down, take the free out. Still, that’s a Little League play. Posada has to get his head out of his ass.

No excuses, but I’m not sure why Hughes was sent back out for the fifth. Yes he had just thrown a very good fourth inning, but he was clearly laboring and the bullpen was full of rested relievers with the day off tomorrow. He allowed the double and triple before giving way to Joba Chamberlain, who nearly escaped the jam with a pair of strikeouts before Moreland slapped a grounder through the left side. I thought Joba looked extremely good, with a fastball that bumped 96 and a slider that garnered two swings-and-misses for strikeouts.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

In fact, the entire bullpen as a whole was strong yet again. They combined to throw four innings, allowed just two hits, walked three (one on purpose), and struck out six. Sergio Mitre even made an appearance, his first in 13 days. If nothing else, Joba, David Robertson, and Boone Logan were able to get some tune-up work in after the long layoff.

Every Yankee in the starting lineup reached base at least once except for Brett Gardner, who went 0-for-2 before being lifted for a pinch hitter. Curtis Granderson saw 27 pitches in just four trips to the plate. They also forced rookie closer Neftali Feliz to throw 30 pitches in the ninth (just 16 strikes), which has to put a little doubt in every Rangers’ fan mind should he pitch in an actual high leverage situation this series.

I’m not going to make a big deal out of it because it’s a cop out, but Tony Randazzo’s strike zone was awful. Here’s the scatter plot if you don’t believe me. The green markers are balls, the red called strikes.

One last thing to remember: splitting the first two games on the road is generally considered a success. Things seem worse than they really are because Sabathia and Hughes were awful, but those kinds of efforts are the exception for those two, not the norm. The Yanks grabbed homefield advantage from Texas and now head home to play the next three in Yankee Stadium. Short of winning both games in Arlington, this is the best situation they could have hoped for.

WPA Graph & Box Score

No comeback this time. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs all that other stuff.

Up Next

It’s a best-of-five series now, but the two teams will take Sunday off before resuming play at 8:00pm ET on Monday. Andy Pettitte goes against Cliff Lee in a matchup of lefties.

Open Thread: Giants @ Phillies

WTF. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

This afternoon’s game sucked, but splitting the first two games on the road in a best-of-seven series isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. The one thing the Yankees absolutely need to improve upon is the starting pitching; what CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes did in the first two games simply won’t cut it. I don’t know about you, but I’m confident in Andy Pettitte‘s ability to fix that in Game Three.

Anyway, the Giants and Phillies kick off their League Championship Series tonight, and in fact the game is already underway on FOX. I understand my fellow fans with Cablevision can’t watch the game because of The Dolans’ or FOX’s or both’s greed, so I express my condolences. It’s Saturday night though, go out and have some fun instead. Either way, use this thread to talk about the game or whatever else you want.

ALCS Game Two: Yankees @ Rangers

The best and worst thing about baseball is that you play every day. With a quick turn around following last night’s monumental come-from-behind win, the Yankees will get a chance to go right back out and continue to pile on again the Rangers. Of course Texas will have a chance to forget about last night’s disaster and get themselves headed in the right direction this afternoon as well. Either way, hooray baseball.

Guaranteed to go back to New York and face Cliff Lee with the series no worse than tied in Game Three, the Yanks will hand the ball off to Phil Hughes today. His track record in Arlington is impressive (15.1IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 13 K) but that means nothing. It’s two starts and one relief appearance spread across four seasons. Indicative of nothing. As we saw last night with CC Sabathia, the key for Hughes is going to be getting ahead in the count, because if he falls behind and is forced to throw fastballs over the plate, the Rangers will rip him to shreds.

Colby Lewis gets the ball for Texas coming off a strong year after returning from Japan. The Yanks have faced him before but it was like, eight years ago, so it doesn’t matter. He can miss bats with four pitches (8.8 K/9), but the Rays showed that he’s beatable in the ALDS. A patient Yankee team will force him to throw the ball in the zone if he’s not getting the calls on the corners. Like Game One, the idea is to wait him out and go to work on the lolpen.

I’d link you to the appropriate FanGraphs previews like I usually do, but I guess we aren’t getting them today. For shame. Here’s the lineups…

Yankees
1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Curtis Granderson, CF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robbie Cano, 2B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Jorge Posada, C
8. Lance Berkman, DH
9. Brett Gardner, LF

Phil Hughes, SP (18-8, 4.19 ERA)

Rangers
1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. Michael Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, RF
6. Ian Kinsler, 2B
7. David Murphy, LF
8. Bengie Molina, C
9. Mitch Moreland, 1B

Colby Lewis, SP (12-13, 3.72 ERA)

First pitch is scheduled for 4:00pm ET, and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.

Olney: Royals intend to listen to offers for Greinke

With a hat tip to MLBTR, Buster Olney reports that the Royals plan on listening to trade offers for 2009 Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke this offseason. They have a boatload of prospects coming up through the system, but Greinke can be a free agent after 2012 and the time tables don’t match up. He’s under contract for $13.5M in each of the next two seasons.

The Yankees are going to be on the lookout for at least one starting pitcher this offseason, perhaps two, so expect them to get their names thrown into the Greinke ring regardless of what happens with Cliff Lee. A lot will be made of Greinke’s battle with social anxiety disorder by people that don’t really understand what it is, especially after some of his past comments (“New York, I still might have trouble in New York. I probably would. But I think almost everyone does.”), but the fact of the matter is that no one knows how he’ll handle it until he’s actually put in that situation. We’ll have more on Greinke in the offseason, I’m sure of it, but if you’re going to take a gamble on a guy with anxiety disorder, wouldn’t you want to do with someone as young (27 next week) and amazingly awesome (19.6 fWAR since 2008, more than CC Sabathia and behind only Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, and Lee) as Zack Greinke?

We got lucky

When the Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee trade fell through, the worst case scenario was that Lee would come back to haunt the Yankees in the playoffs.  While that certainly could happen now, I’m here to tell you that even if the Rangers beat the Yankees spearheaded by two complete game shutouts from Lee, we should be happy the trade didn’t go through.  As good as Lee is, the future of the Yankees is better off with both Montero and a great chance at getting Lee than being left without either of them in 2011.

Would Lee have been easier to sign this offseason had the trade gone through?  Maybe yes, maybe no, I really can’t say.  I would venture to guess that there is no major difference, even if Lee came to the Yankees and absolutely loved it, there’s no way he was taking a penny less to stay in the pinstripes.  What would have happened, however, if he had a brief time in the Bronx and it didn’t go well?  What if his wife was harassed at the park?  What if he bombed in the playoffs and got killed in the press and booed off the mound?  Considering just how awesome he is, these are pretty unlikely, but worth thinking about nonetheless. If Lee had a 4 month stint in New York that was a disaster (or even 2 bad starts that spun the whole experiment as a disaster), wouldn’t the chances of him being in a Yankee uniform in 2011 be even worse?

As it is, Lee can be sold on New York from afar.  He will likely be offered the most money.  He can talk to former teammate and friend CC Sabathia about how great things are here (and of course CC could feel differently if he bombed in the 2009 playoffs).  I think the odds are great that Lee signs with the Yankees, and I think the odds would have been great at resigning him had they traded for him, though I don’t necessarily think those odds would be increased.  Because of that, I’d much rather go into 2011 with a guarantee that Montero is in the organization and hope that they sign Lee than go into 2011 without Montero and still not be guaranteed at re-signing Lee.  Before anyone goes there, the Type A pick the Yankees would have gotten for Lee (had they traded for him and he walked) wouldn’t be close to a replacement for Montero.

Often when we think about the Lee trade that wasn’t, we forget that the Yankees were trading for Cliff Lee the pending free agent.  Just like there is no guarantee now they’ll sign him after the season, there’s no guarantee that had the trade been complete they would have resigned him.  Can you imagine if Jesus Montero, the Yankees best hitting prospect since Derek Jeter had been traded for a 4 month rental?  That would have been a disaster, even with the increased 2010 World Series odds.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good (see wonderboy Theo Epstein with Vazquez, Contreras and Pavano), and I think Cashman got lucky that the Mariners backed out of this trade.  Down the line, whether Lee ends up in pinstripes or not, not trading for Cliff Lee will be a blessing for the Yankees.

Yanks grab victory from the jaws of defeat with late rally to take Game One

There are wins, there are big wins, and there are wins that remind everyone who the team to beat is. The Yankees were staring at a five run deficit in the late innings of Game One with no answer for C.J. Wilson, but they’re the defending champs for a reason. Some stellar bullpen work and an eighth inning rally later, Mr. Sinatra was letting to rip with New York, New York.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Let’s do this chronologically…

Gardner Slides In Safe

Every game winning rally has to start somewhere, and in Game One it started with a weak groundball to first to lead off the eighth. Brett Gardner hustled down the line and pulled a page out of the Melky Cabrera playbook. sliding head first into the bag. His hand slipped in under Wilson’s foot and that was it, the Yankees had their foots in the door.

Derek Goes Down The Line

Robbie Cano had gotten his team to within grand slam distance with a solo homer in the seventh, but Jeter pulled them even closer in the eighth. He yanked a double down the leftfield line, driving in Gardner to make it a 5-2 game in Texas’ favor. The tying run was on deck, and the line had put in motion. The hit improved the Yanks’ chances of winning by 6.9%.

Swish & Tex Take Ball Four

Jeter’s double ended @str8edgeracer‘s night, and Ron Washington handled the ball over to the ageless Darren Oliver. Oliver had a great season and it stood to reason that he could record three outs before giving up three runs. Turns out he could even get one out, instead walking Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira on 13 total pitches, loading the bases for last year’s playoff hero.

Honorable Mention: A-Rod Hits One Through Michael Young

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

There’s no substitute for hitting the ball hard, and few do it better than Alex Rodriguez. He wasted no time jumping all over sidearmer Darren O’Day’s first pitch following the walks to Swish and Tex, grounding it sharply to Young at third. The ball ate him right up, coming closer to hitting him in the face than settling into his mitt. Jeter and Swish came around to score, Tex moved to second, and the score was suddenly 5-4 with still no outs in the inning. The WPA swing on this one registered at +.166.

Biggest Hit: Texas Is Now Aware

After the three time MVP brought the Yanks to within one, the possible 2010 MVP stepped to the plate facing yet another new pitcher. This time Washington gave the ball to funky southpaw Clay Rapada, who promptly laid a first pitch fastball right over the plate. Cano did what he’s been doing all season, lacing the ball back up the box for a single, a single that drove in Teixeira and tied the game.

Texas’ lead evaporated just like that, before a single out was recorded in the inning. This was the biggest hit of the game in terms of the WPA swing, checking in at +.266. Wowza.

Mr. Thames To You

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

I told you Marcus Thames would be important in this series, and he wasted no time proving me right. After Cano’s single tied the game, the Yanks’ designated lefty masher dug in against (yet another new pitcher) Derek Holland with a chance to give his team the lead, but he had to work for it. The first pitch was a fastball for a strike, the second a fastball for a ball. Thames swung and missed at a slider in the dirt, and Holland tried to get him to bite on it again but to no avail. The sixth pitch of the at-bat, a 2-2 fastball on the inner third was the one that sealed the Rangers’ fate. The pitch broke his bat, but Thames got enough of it to bloop it into shallow left and allow A-Rod to cross the plate as the go-ahead run. The comeback was complete, and then some.

In a season of big hits for Marcus, it gets no bigger than this one right here. Believe it or not, the WPA swing was just +.066, but we all know how big it really was. The numbers will never truly express the emotional high.

Not So Good, Very Bad CC

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Given the outcome, it’s easy to forget that CC Sabathia was pretty terrible in this one. His command was non-existent, his breaking ball did more ball than break, and it was a chore right from the get-go. CC allowed the first three batters to reach base and eventually come around to score on a Josh Hamilton homer (in an 0-2 count, no less. It was an awful pitch, a cement mixer slider that just spun out over the plate and did nothing. It wasn’t until a runner got thrown out at the plate trying to score on a wild pitch that the first inning ended. Yeah, it was ugly.

The final line was 4 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 1 WP with one balk. It’s entirely possible that the nine day layoff screwed him up (one start in the last 17 days), but that’s no excuse. CC has to be better than that and he knows it. Thankfully the rest of his team bailed him out.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Unsung hero: Dustin freaking Moseley. How about that guy? Two perfect innings, four strikeouts, and 21 strikes out of 27 total pitches all against the meat of Texas’ lineup. All told, the bullpen allowed just one hit and two walks in five scoreless innings or work, striking out six. The lone hit was a ten hopper just passed the outstretch arm of a diving Robbie Cano to lead off the ninth. The Yankees swing-and-miss bullpen has been a great asset all season, and it showed why again tonight.

At one point the top four hitters in the Yankee lineup were a combined 0-for-12 with three strikeouts. After that they went 3-for-4 with a pair of walks. Everyone in the lineup reached base at least once except Jorge Posada, who lined out to left and hit a ball to the track in that eighth inning.

Nick Swisher … stop effing bunting. That bunt attempt in the ninth following Jeter’s leadoff double had to come from (or at least be endorsed by) the dugout (he made three attempts to bunt and no one told him stop), so stop telling Swish to bunt Joe Girardi. He predictably popped it up in foul territory, failing to advance the runner. Jeter never came around to score, but thankfully the Yanks didn’t need him too.

Just as a quick aside: how the hell does Neftali Feliz not get in this game in the eighth? Ron Washington used five (!!!) relievers that inning and not one was his All Star closer. He was managing to the save stat, which is as stupid as it gets. I do thank him for that, however. Texas has still never won a playoff game in their home ballpark.

WPA Graph & Box Score

This what crushing the hearts of Rangers fans everywhere looks like. MLB.com has the box score and video, FanGraphs some other neat stuff.

Up Next

Phil Hughes gets the ball in Game Two later this afternoon. Colby Lewis goes for Texas. That one’s got a 4:07pm ET start time.