Laird draws some walks in Surprise losses

The Yanks pulled Austin Romine from the Arizona Fall League after he sustained a minor injury. They opted not to send someone to replace him, so the Rangers sent Taylor Teagarden.

AzFL Surprise (2-1 loss to Peoria Javelinas on Monday) three runs total in an AzFL game? wtf?
Colin Curtis: 3 for 5, 1 K – OPS’ing over 1.200
Brandon Laird: 1 for 2, 1 BB, 1 HBP
Grant Duff: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 6 of 11 pitches were strikes (54.5%)

AzFL Surprise (7-6 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday)
Brandon Laird: 0 for 3, 2 BB, 1 K

Open Thread: For those Yankee fans in Philly

Much to my surprise, it turns out there are actually some Yankee fans outside of the small municipality of New York. Yeah, I know. Who knew, right?

Well anyway, apparently some of these fans are colonizing down in Philadelphia, and are looking to get together to watch the World Series games. One emailer mentioned that he and about 15 others were meeting up at The Fieldhouse in Reading Terminal Market (linky), but this thread is a place for you guys in Philly to talk it out and figure out if/when/where you’ll meet it up.

Once you guys agree on a place to meet up, shoot me an email via the link in the far right sidebar, and I’ll toss up a post letting the masses know.

Otherwise, use this puppy as your open thread for the night. No baseball, no football, no hockey, no preseason basketball. Nada. I guess you could always catch up on some work or something. Anyway, anything goes, just be nice.

Yanks add Hinske, Bruney for WS

Update by Mike (6:17pm): Bruney’s on, Cervelli’s off.

The Yankees have until 10 a.m. tomorrow to announce their World Series roster, but early indications are that the team plans to change things up from the ALCS. Jack Curry reported earlier today via Twitter that the team has added Eric Hinske to the World Series roster in lieu of Freddy Guzman. Clearly, with action heading to the NL parks, Hinske had to be activated. The Yankees don’t need Freddy Guzman around, and it’s debatable if they even did in the first place. With pitchers hitting this weekend, the Yankees will use Hinske’s bat off the bench. He can pinch hit as needed and could even spell Nick Swisher in right field. This move was a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, according to a report in The Post this morning, Yankee brass are considering adding Brian Bruney to the World Series roster. I’m a bit bearish on Bruney right now. He hasn’t pitched in a game since Oct. 2, and throwing simulated appearances in Tampa pales in comparison to pitching in games. If the Yanks want to add him, however, they easily could do so by dropping a third catcher. After A.J. Burnett‘s showing in Anaheim last week, the Yanks probably don’t need to have Jose Molina caddy for their number two starter. Additionally, Burnett may have to start in Philadelphia, and the Yanks cannot afford to have a pitcher and Jose Molina in the same lineup. Therefore, the Yanks could drop either Molina or Francisco Cervelli and add Brian Bruney. We’ll know for sure by the morning.

The RAB World Series prediction thread, hosted by Jay-Z

With just under 30 hours under the Yankees and the Phillies start the Fall Classic, anticipation is in the air. The Yankees are just four wins away from their first World Series title since I was in high school, and the match up against the Phillies promises to be a compelling one.

As we await tomorrow night’s 7:57 first pitch, everyone and their uncles are getting in on the World Series prediction party. My favorite though is definitely this bit from a Jay-Z interview. Here’s what Shawn Carter had to say:

I actually predicted the Yankees in six with the Angels, so I think I?m like Jigga the Greek. I?m gonna say, Phillies are a bit tougher than the Angels. I?m gonna take Yankees in seven. Dramatic A-Rod walk-off at the end of the game redeeming him for all the time the papers and the media vilified him. Is that specific enough?

Personally, I’d rather not see the Yankees and Phillies go to seven games. I don’t think my baseball-loving heart could take Jigga the Greek’s prediction coming true. An A-Rod walk off would be quite dramatic, but that would mean the Yanks would either be down or losing Game 7 of the World Series.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball is a less disinterested crystal-ball gazer. Jimmy Rollins today predicted the Phillies in five, and the Yanks basically laughed in his face. I couldn’t care less about what he says, basically, because that’s not what’s going to happen,” Mariano Rivera said. “What he says and what’s going to happen is far from that. You know what I mean?” Indeed, I do know what you mean, Mo.

I’ll open up this thread, then, with my prediction. I say Yanks in six. I think the World Series plays out quite similarly to the ALCS. The Yanks will enjoy success in the new ballpark, but the Phillies will win a pair in Citizens Bank. If all goes according to plan, CC Sabathia should take home another postseason MVP award. But that’s hardly the definitive word. What do you think?

Who will win the World Series and in how many games?
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World Series Preview: Phillies Infield

We’ve previewed the Yankees along with their opponents through the ALDS and ALCS. Instead of re-re-rehashing all of that, we’re going to stick with just the opponents this time.

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz

Yankees fans do not have fond memories of Carlos Ruiz. When the Phillies came to town in May he went 6 for 8 with 3 RBI. Two of those RBI came in the second inning of the first game, when he hit a home run off A.J. Burnett. The other, a double in the 11th inning in Sunday’s game, broke a 3-3 tie and gave the Phillies the series. It was especially frustrating because Ruiz had never slugged above .400 in his career (in seasons with over 100 PA).

Ruiz went on to have a career year at age 30, hitting .255/.355/.425. After losing time to an oblique injury earlier in the year, Ruiz took over the full-time role in the second half and rewarded the team with a .276/.375/.487 line after the break. His emergence as an offensive weapon makes the Phillies lineup that much tougher.

The postseason apparently brings out the best in Ruiz. After going 1 for 14 in last year’s NLDS, he went 5 for 16 in the NLCS, followed by a World Series in which he went 6 for 16 with four walks, two doubles, and a home run. He’s continued his postseason run this year, going 9 for 26 with a double, a homer, and seven walks in the first two rounds, most of which came in the NLCS (5 for 13, 1 2B, 1 HR, 5 BB). In 96 postseason plate appearance, Ruiz has struck out just four times.

The Yanks had to deal with Jeff Mathis in the ALCS, and will face no less pesky a foe in Ruiz for the World Series. He’s no Posada with the bat normally, but it seems like October is a completely different season for him. He’ll hit eighth, possibly ninth in the Bronx, which could create a tough stretch when Philly rolls over the lineup.

Fun fact: Like Posada, Ruiz was a second baseman, but the Phillies converted him to a catcher once they signed him because they didn’t like his mobility at second.

First base: Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard’s name is recognizable to even the most casual fan. His story since breaking into the majors is remarkable. Replacing an injured Jim Thome, he hit 22 home runs in just 348 plate appearances, earning him the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year award. The next season, his first full one in the majors, he hit 58 home runs and drove in 149 runs, leading the NL in both, on his way to an MVP award.

The path to the majors wasn’t easy for Howard. The Phillies drafted him in the fifth round in 2001 and he hit pretty well in his first two minor league seasons, racking up 27 homers and 122 RBI in 773 plate appearances in Short Season A and Low A. The concern seemed to be his strikeouts, 200 in that span. Still, with a quality batting average and OBP, and with developing power skills, it appeared that Howard could move quickly through the Phillies’ system.

But after the 2002 season, the Phillies signed Jim Thome to a six-year, $85 million contract. That seemingly blocked Howard. Further hurting him was Thome’s debut season in Philadelphia, wherein he led the NL in homers with 57 (and also strikeouts with 182). Howard, meanwhile, found his power stroke, hitting 23 homers and 32 doubles in 553 plate appearances in Advanced A, and an overall .304/.374/.514 batting line. It’s a wonder why they never promoted him in-season — he was already 23 years old in Advanced A.

Howard would shine again in 2004, tearing apart AA with 37 homers and 18 doubles in 433 PA, and subsequently hammering AAA pitching before getting a September call-up. He then started 2005 destroying the ball in AAA, with 16 homers and 19 doubles in 257 PA. He came up for a stretch in May and hit poorly, but once Jim Thome hit the DL at the end of June, the first-base job was Howard’s. He so fully convinced the Phillies of his greatness that they traded Thome to the White Sox after the season.

If Howard has a weakness, it’s his inability to hit left-handed pitching. While he dominated righties this season, he hit lefties horribly, posting a .207/.298/.356 line in 252 plate appearances. The Yankees will have CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte starting three to five games in the series, which should help out against Howard. A.J. Burnett’s curve is also a weapon against lefties. Then there are Damaso Marte and Phil Coke in the bullpen. Expect them to face Howard in almost every late-inning bullpen situation.

Fun fact: The first basemen in this series each led his league in RBI.

Second base: Chase Utley

Compared to his last two seasons, 2009 was a down year for Chase Utley. Even so, he put up the second best offensive numbers of any MLB second baseman and No. 1, Ben Zobrist, played other positions. He’s the best second baseman in the MLB, and even in a season during which he recovered from hip surgery he posted ridiculous numbers: .282/.397/.508. Even a down year for Utley is a monster.

A 2000 first round pick by the Phillies out of UCLA, Utley had high expectations attached to him and for the most part met them. He posted a .827 OPS in the New York Penn League after the 2000 draft, but then dropped a bit next year to a .746 OPS in Advanced A. That was mostly on his poor batting average, .257. He had a similar mark upon a promotion to AAA in 2002, but raised his OBP and SLG to get his OPS above .800. Unfortunately, the Phillies had just traded for another second baseman, Placido Polanco.

Polanco was just a stopgap, or at least that’s how it seemed. The Phillies got him, along with Bud Smith (of no-hitter fame) and Mike Timlin, for Scott Rolen before the trade deadline in 2002. He played well for the Phillies in 2003 and 2004, while Utley continued to dominate AAA. In 2003 his OPS was .907, and in 2004 it was .880. Yet when Polanco became a free agent after the 2004 season, the Phillies re-signed him. It seems like quite the absurd decision in hindsight.

Utley made his own case in 2005, though, hitting .302/.378/.532 in April and May, forcing the Phillies to trade Polanco on June 8. From 2005 through 2009 Utley has posted an OPS above .900 every season, peaking in 2007 with a .332/.410/.566 line that earned him just eighth place in the MVP voting. Having Ryan Howard as a teammate certainly doesn’t help his case, but Utley might be even more valuable than Howard — after all, Utley’s 7.7 WAR topped Howard’s 4.9.

Not only is Utley an excellent hitter, certainly the best among second basemen over the past three years, he is also one of the best defenders, if not the best. His 8.8 UZR/150 topped every other second baseman in the league (second was, guess who, Polanco), and which is his third straight year leading the majors in the stat. The combination of power bat and slick fielding puts Utley on a level rivaled only by Zobrist — and the latter still has to prove that 2009 wasn’t a fluke.

After a monster first round of the playoffs against the Rockies — 6 for 14 with a homer and four walks — Utley dropped off against the Dodgers. He was just 4 for 19 in the NLCS with no extra base hits and has many wondering whether his foot is still bothering him. He fouled a pitch off it in early September.

Robinson Cano is a fine second baseman. UZR doesn’t treat him well, but he hits as well as almost any other second baseman. He just doesn’t compare to Utley. Which is no shame, really — no second baseman compares to Utley.

Fun fact: Utley has led the NL in HBP for the past three years.

Third base: Pedro Feliz

Like Utley, Pedro Feliz is an excellent defender. In fact, most of his 1.2 WAR comes from his defense at third base, where he posted a 14.3 UZR/150 in 2009, tops in the NL. That compensates for his bat, which can be described as balsa wood at best. He posted a .302 wOBA in 2009 and OPS’d around .700 for the fourth straight year.

There’s not much more to say about Feliz other than he’s a great defender who doesn’t hit well at all. He provided some power with his bat earlier in his career, but he last hit 20 home runs in 2007, the year before he became a Phillie. He’s hit 14 and 12 with the Phillies while keeping his OBP around .300. Again, without his glove he’d be a pretty worthless player, but his glove does add significant value, especially because he’s surrounded by such prolific hitters.

The only upshot of Feliz’s playoff run this season is that three of his five hits have gone for extra bases (one of each type). Still, he is just 5 for 31 over the first two rounds, walking just twice. For the Phillies’ sake he’d better save quite a few runs with his glove in the World Series, because otherwise it makes little sense to continue playing him. His bat is that bad.

Fun fact: Feliz’s .308 OBP this season was the highest of any year in his entire major league career. He topped that mark only twice in the minors. once at .310, the other .337, but that was in a league where Bubba Crosby hit .361/.410/.635 one season.

Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins had a disappointing 2009, his worst season since 2002. After winning the MVP in 2007, Rollins has dropped off in each of the past two years. In 2009 he hit just .250/.296/.432, and even though he had 31 stolen bases in 39 attempts, he still managed a wOBA of just .316. But the regular season doesn’t matter much at this point, right? We know Rollins’ true talent level, and if he picks it up in the playoffs all is forgiven.

Yet this postseason, as in almost all of his postseason series, Rollins has been a disappointment. After an excellent 2008 NLDS in which he went 5 for 16 with two doubles and a homer, Rollins has been horrible in the postseason. In the four series since then he is just 18 for 84 (.214) with one home run and five doubles. His only postseason triple came in the 2007 NLDS loss to the Rockies. Despite his speed, Rollins hasn’t stolen a postseason base since the 2008 NLCS. This is mainly because he has failed to reach base in general, just 21 times in 90 plate appearances over the past four postseason series.

Like the players who surround him, Rollins is good with the glove. He posted a 2.3 UZR/150 this season, which isn’t great but is certainly solid. It seems he took a step backward from last season, when he led the majors in UZR/150. Even if we disregard comparisons of UZR from year to year because of how it scales, we can still recognize a drop-off when a guy goes from tops in the league to 13th.

Against the Yankees this season, Rollins went 3 for 13 with two walks and a home run. That home run, though, hurt particularly badly. He hit it off A.J. Burnett on the first pitch in the first game of the series. It set the tone for a bad Yankees loss.

Fun fact: I thought about trying to connect Rollins to his friend CC Sabathia since they grew up near each other, but there’s an even better connection. Rollins’s cousin is Tony Tarasco, who was parked under a Derek Jeter fly ball in the 1996 ALCS when a young Jeff Maier reached over and brought it in.

Edges

Just so we’re not completely leaving out comparisons, here’s how I think the teams stack up.

First base: Even, leaning towards Phillies. Howard has trouble with lefties, which hurts him, but has been as hot as it gets this postseason. That can all turn around, though, for both him and for Teixeira, who has been cold (save for a few big hits).

Second base: Phillies. I love Cano, but unless Utley’s foot is really bothering him, the Philes have a clear edge at second.

Third base: Yankees. Feliz might get to everything hit on the ground in his direction, but that can’t make up for the canyon that separates his bat from A-Rod‘s. Alex has also played fine defense this postseason.

Shortstop: Yankees. No explanation needed.

Eiland a big part of pitching success

When good players fail, fans tend to blame the coaches. Since the team can’t fire the players, the coaching staff is the next logical target. When the Yankees struggled earlier this season, fans laid the blame on two coaches in particular. First was the obvious one, manager Joe Girardi. The manager always takes the blame when a team, good or bad, fails. It’s to be expected.

The other target was pitching coach Dave Eiland. Brian Cashman had spent $243 million over the off-season to improve the pitching staff, and they were not performing anywhere near expectations. After the Red Sox completed a two-game sweep of the Yanks in early May, the staff had a 5.86 ERA in 233.1 innings, striking out 189 to 113 walks. They’d also surrendered 32 homers, many of which came at the new Stadium. Eiland was also an easy target in this situation.

Eiland, whom the Yankees hired after he retired from playing in 2002, didn’t help himself out with the media. His staff had improved since the Red Sox series, lowering its ERA more than a full run by June 8. But then the Yankees ran into the Red Sox again and faced yet another three-game sweep. The middle game, a 6-5 loss, featured another poor performance from Chien-Ming Wang. “I can’t go stand behind the mound with him during the game,” said Eiland, seemingly throwing his pitcher under the bus.

That’s not what Eiland meant — or at least not what I think he meant upon further consideration. At the time, it sounded like he was trying to deflect the blame he had been receiving all season. But after watching Wang struggled through another month before succumbing to a shoulder injury, it’s clear what Eiland meant. You can work with a guy every day to help him get back in form, but if he’s not executing when it counts, there’s little else you can do. Eiland understood this and he tried to explain it to everyone, but his words didn’t work at the time.

The Yankees staff performed well for the rest of the season, and the criticism of Eiland dwindled. Even with two pitchers, A.J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlain, struggling in August, fans didn’t point to Eiland. Instead they put the blame where it belonged: with the pitchers themselves. Eiland can help them prepare for games, but if they can’t find the strike zone, or if their best pitches don’t have any bite, there’s not much he can do from the bench, other than walk to the mound once an inning. But something tells me he won’t explain it that way to the media.

How do we know that Eiland is the right man for the job? His colleagues speak highly of him, as Marc Topkin writes in the St. Petersburg Times (hat tip Pinto). This ranges from GM Brian Cashman to farm director Mark Newman, from manager Joe Girardi to the pitchers he coaches. Perhaps the most endearing remarks from from his players. When describing Eiland’s skills as a listener, Andy Pettitte, with whom Eiland pitched at AAA Columbus in 1994, describes him as, “Almost like a wife.”

One of this year’s notably struggling pitchers, Joba Chamberlain, is equally impressed with Eiland. “He’s not afraid to kick you in the behind. And he means it when he comes at you.” The two will try to figure out what went wrong with 2009 and correct it for 2010. It seems that at the very least, Chamberlain is receptive to Eiland, which could help the pitcher in the future. I’m sure both have noticed this (Eiland is reputedly big on video), and hopefully they can get Chamberlain back on track during Spring Training.

Why is Eiland a good pitching coach? Ask the people around him and you’ll get a few different answers, ranging from his having to “fight for everything he got” (Girardi) to simple that, “He had it” (Newman). Ask Eiland, though, and he’ll tell you that it’s because he wasn’t that good a pitcher himself.

“In reality, I gave it all I could,” Eiland said. “I threw 87-89 miles an hour, but I thought I had a pretty good feel for pitching and for my delivery. I had to be almost perfect when I pitched to be successful. I didn’t have that God-given talent, the 90-plus mph fastball, things like that. But I felt like I had everything else.”

It’s easy for fans to blame coaching staffs when results don’t meet expectations. This goes especially when good players struggle. Fans criticized Eiland when the pitching staff wasn’t doing well, but those times are behind us. The staff picked it up as the season rolled along, and has shined in the playoffs. Eiland deserves part of the credit for that.

Our son returns to the Bronx

Just in case a World Series match-up with our I-95 neighbors to the south isn’t fun enough, the Phillies announced today that Pedro Martinez will start Game 2 of the World Series in the Bronx. Pedro last made an October start in the Bronx in 2004 when chants of “Who’s Your Daddy?” filled the air. I’m expecting a similar scene on Thursday night.