Yanks battle back to beat the Rangers

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Sometimes a game feels like two games. Sometimes that’s because of the action. Other times it’s because of the length. Last night’s was both. The Rangers did all their damage in the first five innings, while the Yanks brought the drama in the final four. The game time was three hours, 45 minutes, which added to the dual-game feel. But two games or one, the Yanks came away with the victory and extended their lead in the AL East.

Biggest Hit: The Captain ties it

With so many important points in the game it’s tough to pick just one that stands out as the most important. But if we have to, it’s going to be the hit that ties the game in the ninth. That came off the bat of Derek Jeter. Though he had plenty of help setting up the situation.

After pitching two innings in Tuesday’s game, Neftali Feliz got the call to hold the Rangers’ one-run lead in the ninth. Lance Berkman got the first crack at him and put together his best at-bat to date as a Yankee. Feliz threw nothing but fastballs, but Berkman stayed on them. He fouled off the first, took the second, and then swung through the third. From there he took two out of the zone, fouled off two, and then finally took the last one for ball four. It was quite the effort by Berkman, and it resulted in the tying run heading to first base.

That tying run wouldn’t be Berkman, though, but rather Curtis Granderson. That changes the game in two ways. First, it gives the Yanks considerably more speed on the bases. Second, it can distract the pitcher. To the latter point, Feliz threw over to first five times, one before each of the first five pitches. Before the sixth, in a 2-2 count to Brett Gardner, Feliz declined to throw over. Instead he threw his 14th straight fastball. Gardner dunked it into left for a base hit.

This set up Jeter well, but not perfectly. The tying and go-ahead runs were on base, and they were the fastest guys on the team. It didn’t take long for the situation to become perfect. On the second pitch, Feliz’s 16th straight fastball, the ball sailed away, above Bengie Molina’s head and to the backstop. It bounced right back to Molina, but even a perfect throw couldn’t get Granderson. The double play possibility was off, leaving Jeter with even more wiggle room.

He used every bit of it on the next pitch, Feliz’s 17th straight fastball, as he chopped it towards the middle. With the infield drawn it it squeezed through and got into center, which allowed Granderson to score the tying run. Gardner held up for a moment to make sure the ball got through. Had he been going on contact I’m confident he would have scored the go-ahead run right there.

Feliz finally went to the slider against Nick Swisher. Unsurprisingly it worked out, as Swisher went down swinging again. For those who like the phrase, that was the Golden Sombrero for him. But, after having thrown two innings on Tuesday and 20 pitches in last night’s game, Feliz was done. The game was left to a lesser pitcher from the Rangers’ bullpen. I’m not sure what was less surprising, Swisher’s strikeout or the Rangers’ bullpen giving the Yanks the lead.

MVP: Marcus Thames

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Jeter might have been the hero with the tying run, but Marcus Thames did everything he could to help his team win the game. Normally he’d get a slot in the Miscellany section, but for his 3 for 5 night, which included a homer and the go-ahead single, he gets his own little section.

Thames’s homer in the eighth was what made me think the Yanks could come back. Frank Francisco is prone to the meltdown, and Thames’s leadoff homer made it seem like one was imminent. And it was. Austin Kearns bailed him out by missing a 3-1 meatball, which is a shame. But make no mistake: the Yanks had designs on this game in the eighth, and Marcus Thames led the charge. It’s fitting, then, that he drove home Gardner with a sharp groundball single.

Good things happen when Thames gets to hit but doesn’t have to play the field.

Ninth inning Leverage Index

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Mariano Rivera remains the same on the mound no matter the situation. Whether it’s the bottom of the order with a three-run lead or it’s the top of the order with his team ahead just one run, Mariano stands there like Seneca, poised and stoical. In the ninth inning last night he not only had to protect a lead of a single run, but had to face the top of the Rangers order to do so.

The first batter, Elvis Andrus, came to the plate with a Leverage Index of 3.60. He didn’t feel the pressure, though, as he smacked one into the right-center gap, not only splitting Kearns and Granderson, but also hitting it to a deeper part of the park. That allowed him to take third base, which gave the Rangers an excellent chance to tie the game. That actually brought Texas’s win expectancy above 50 percent.

Michael Young batted next, and he actually faced a lower LI. Mo jammed him on the first pitch, and young popped one up to shallow right. Austin Kearns, making up for his rally killing double play in the eighth, sprinted in and made a shoestring catch to record the out. Andrus probably wouldn’t have scored in any case, but the out was big. It also increased the leverage dramatically.

The Rangers’ best hitter and MVP candidate Josh Hamilton batted next. This time the LI was 5.76. Mo did not feel the pressure. He just does what he normally does, which is to pump cutters. The first two crossed a bit too far inside, but on the 2-0 pitch Mo hit his spot. Hamilton tapped it weakly right back to Rivera for the second out. That left just one more batter.

Again the pressure was high. The Rangers’ win expectancy had fallen all the way to 17.2 percent, but they still had that tying run 90 feet away. Mo delivered a cutter, and again missed. He didn’t with the next. Guerrero pulled the thigh-high cutter right to A-Rod at third, who threw across the diamond to end the game.

On Javy

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

I’m torn on how to evaluate Javier Vazquez‘s start. On the one hand, he allowed six runs in 4.1 innings, which is never good. On the other hand, he got some bad breaks along the way. There was no way anyone could rate this as a good, or even decent, start. But it was something less than the disaster that the scoreboard suggested.

The first run, a solo homer by Michael Young, just barely caught the foul pole in right. That’ll happen. No biggie. Even Cliff Lee will give up a run from time to time. But then in the fourth Javy gave up two more, and with Lee on the mound the game felt bleak. But I wasn’t killing Javy. The runs scored on a ball that Cano nearly fielded. And in any case, the Yanks shouldn’t have been in that situation. Why they thought it appropriate to walk David Murphy with two outs is beyond me. Javy got him to pop up in his first AB. Let him face the guy. It’s not like they were setting up the double play or anything.

(Still, can’t give Javy a complete pass here. He did walk Bengie Molina, which is hard enough on its own, but he did it after being ahead 0-2. Poor form, Javy. Poor form.)

He allowed another run in the fifth, this off the bat of Josh Hamilton. It’s a forgivable offense, but Javy was running out of rope there. Thankfully he rebounded, getting Vlad to bounce right back to him and then Nelson Cruz to hit one towards A-Rod. That prevented the run from scoring, as A-Rod threw home. But Jorge Posada botched the rundown and allowed Young to return to third safely. That became huge, because Murphy then singled and drove in two.

Yay bullpen

Sergio Mitre came on in relief of Vazquez and got Molina to fly out. For some reason Nelson Cruz thought it appropriate to tag up. With a break-even rate of roughly 100 percent, there’s no excuse for getting thrown out there. Cruz did, and he let the Yanks off the hook.

Mitre came out to pitch a scoreless sixth, and then Kerry Wood followed with two scoreless innings. Clearly, they’re stretching him out to be a starter down the stretch.

The Yanks offense did the coming back, but without solid work from Mitre and Wood they wouldn’t have gotten there in the first place. Hats off to them. I’ve noticed far fewer people complaining about the bullpen these days.


Any time you score four runs off Cliff Lee you can pat yourself on the back. Good job by the offense.

After the Rangers broke it open in the fifth, the Yanks immediately fought back. Or, should I say, Jeter fought back. He tripled to lead off the sixth and eventually scored on a wild pitch. He’s damn lucky on that one, since the next three batters struck out swinging. That was Lee’s first wild pitch of the season.

Lee had an odd line. He gave up eight hits, four for extra bases, but struck out 11. And, of course, he walked none. Anything more would be unsuitable.

Derek Jeter apparently does not appreciate it when people say he shouldn’t be the leadoff hitter.

Box and graph

The graph gets kinda crazy there towards the end.

More at FanGraphs. Traditional numbers here.

Up Next

The Yanks travel north to Kansas City to battle the Royals. Bruce Chen vs. CC Sabathia, Same CDT start of 8:10.

Brackman strong in Trenton win

Baseball America posted their Best Tools lists for both Double-A and High-A (sub. req’d). Brandon Laird was voted as the Best Power prospect in the Eastern League while Corban Joseph was named the Best Defensive Second Baseman in the Florida State League. That means he’s either improved with the glove, or the FSL infield talent stinks this year.

Triple-A Scranton (10-4 loss to Buffalo)
Kevin Russo, 2B & Colin Curtis, RF: both 0 for 5 – Russo K’ed twice, Curtis once … Russo committed a fielding error
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 E (fielding) – the double came off a changeup down & away … flirting with a 1.300 OPS since the All Star break
Juan Miranda, 1B: 2 for 3, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 BB
Brandon Laird, 3B: 1 for 4, 1 K – three for his last 23 (.130)
Jorge Vazquez, DH: 1 for 3, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Chad Huffman, LF: 1 for 4, 2 K
Eric Bruntlett, SS & Greg Golson, CF: both 2 for 4 – Bruntlett doubled & drove in a run … Golson drove in two, K’ed & committed a fielding error
Zach McAllister: 6 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 1 WP, 2-6 GB/FB – 81 of his 109 pitches were strikes (74.3%) … picked a runner off first … he broke out the eephus … that’s 11 straight starts in which he’s allowed at least one homer (he served up two tonight)
Zack Segovia: 2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3-2 GB/FB – 26 of 34 pitches were strikes (76.5%)
Royce Ring: 1 IP, zeroes, 0-2 GB/FB – eight of his 13 pitches were strikes (61.5%)

[Read more…]

Game 113: Patience is not in the game plan

(AP Photo/Mike Fuentes)

The Yanks have long been known as a patient team. They take pitches and work counts. They’re currently second in the league in walks, to Tampa Bay. They led the league last year. They led the league in walks from 2002 through 2004 and finished in the top three from 2005 through 2007. The only year since 2002 that they fell below third was, unsurprisingly, in 2008. But tonight patience might not pay off.

This year Cliff Lee is dominant as ever. His walks per nine, 0.52, is less than half the rate of the pitcher with the next lowest rate, Roy Halladay. His WHIP is also a league-low 0.92. In other words, the Yanks will have to be a bit more aggressive than normal if they want to get something going off Lee. Working the count isn’t an option, as Lee finishes off batters with an average of 3.42 pitches, which is the second fewest in the AL.

On their end the Yanks will have Javier Vazquez to face the Rangers lineup. Javy wasn’t too hot the last time out, at least partly because his velocity was down in the low- to mid-80s. The Yanks called it a dead arm, so we can only hope that he’s feeling better. Maybe the Texas heat will help him get loose. The Rangers aren’t the most patient team, so maybe he can get them hacking at off-speed stuff. He’ll need it if his fastball isn’t at its best.

It’s another Granderson-less night. He’ll return tomorrow with a new swing, apparently. Mark Teixeira will return tomorrow, too, so this will be Marcus Thames‘s last day as a No. 3 hitter. Probably ever.


1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Marcus Thames, DH
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Austin Kearns, LF
8. Lance Berkman, 1B
9. Brett Gardner, CF

And on the mound, number thirty-one, Javier Vazquez.

Long, Granderson working to revamp swing

Hitting coach Kevin Long told reporters this afternoon that he is working on a “total reformation of the swing” with Curtis Granderson. The centerfielder’s struggles this season are well-documented, so this is obviously good to hear. Something had to be done. Remember though, wholesale changes like this can take time, it’s not like flipping a light switch.

Granderson is out of tonight’s lineup despite surprisingly good career numbers against Cliff Lee as he and K-Long do their thing.

Update: Just to clarify, it sounds like Granderson went to Long and asked for help, not the other way around.

Yankees agree to terms with third rounder Rob Segedin

Via Jim Callis, the Yankees have agreed to terms with third round pick Rob Segedin on a $377,500 bonus, which is about $108,000 over slot. I’m actually pretty surprised that he signed at that number, it seems pretty low. Maybe that’s just an indication of where the market is at.

A draft eligible sophomore with extra leverage, the Old Tappan, NJ native hit .373/.463/.625 during his time at Tulane (.434/.518/.788 last season) with more walks (68) than strikeouts (49). Segedin was drafted as a third baseman, but back and shoulder injuries could push him to the outfield. The righty swinger can definitely hit, and is the most polished player selected by the Yanks this year. Here’s some video.

Would the real Brett Gardner please stand up?

Credit: AP Images, Julie Jacobson

As the AL East tightens up a bit and the Yankees look to get back to their winning ways, a few glaring holes in the team’s lineup has emerged. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on how Francisco Cervelli has gotten far more playing time than he deserves, but the Yanks’ catcher isn’t the only source of outs these days. Another key player — a speedy outfielder — went from an early season catalyst to a summer slumper. He is none other than Brett Gardner.

It’s a dangerous exercise to split a player’s season into smaller bits and pieces and then draw conclusions from them. Small sample size issues abound, and a player is generally the overall sum of his parts by the team the season ends. That said, Gardner’s recent play presents a stark contrast to his early season success.

The Yanks’ left fielder opened the season on a tear. Through May 9, he had 108 plate appearances and was batting .344/.425/.419 with 12 strike outs — or one every nine plate appearances. He had also stolen 14 out of 15 bases. From May 10 to June 21, his numbers underwent a regression. In 37 games, 34 starts, he enjoyed 149 plate appearances and hit a very respectable .310/.389/.434, but he struck out 21 times, once every 7.1 PAs. He was safe on nine out of 12 baserunning attempts.

In his last 39 games, the bottom has fallen out. Over 141 plate appearances, he’s hitting .195/.321/.280 with 35 strike outs or one very four times up. He has stolen just eight of ten bases, and since August started, he’s 2 for 26 with 11 strike outs.

It’s hard to stress just how bad Gardner has been since the start of July. He has a .290 wOBA, and his .601 OPS barely trumps that of Francisco Cervelli. At a time when the Yanks desperately need base runners who can wreck havoc, Gardner has disappeared from the scene, and his late-season swoon is raising questions about his Yankee future.

In the long-term, the team has a few options. They can market Gardner as a 2-3 win player who is cost-controlled for a few more years and has shown the ability to get on base at a high rate and steal bases. We know that his base-runner skills are suspect, but we also know that he has the speed to outrun his lesser running instincts. To replace Brett Gardner, the Yankees can throw money at Carl Crawford. The Ray’s outfielder is a free agent this winter, and he’s already put up a 5-win season with seven weeks to go. Gardner is very expendable, and the Yanks could probably get a high return for him.

In the short-term, though, the team has a problem. The team needs his outfield defense. Gardner has been the Yanks’ best outfield defender with a 7.0 UZR and an arm slightly below average. He has eight assists and has muffed just one play. But his glove work can’t mask his offense, and to that end, the team must consider Austin Kearns the other half of a left field platoon.

Kearns isn’t an All Star. So far this year, he’s been worth only 1.3 wins above replacement to Brett Gardner’s 2.8. His left field UZR puts him below average in the field, but he has a decent stick. With the Yanks, he’s hitting .273/.429/.364, and overall, he’s at .272/.357/.417. Unlike Gardner lately, Kearns isn’t an automatic out. It’s less than ideal, but unless Gardner can put the ball in play and get on base again, his playing time should dwindle.

We’ve seen this year what Brett Gardner can do and what he can’t do. He has approximately a quarter of the season left to send the Yanks a message that he, and not Carl Crawford, should be the left fielder of the future. Austin Kearns is here to put pressure on Gardner, and how he responds will impact both the Yanks’ pennant race and their long-term outlook. I like Brett, but lately, he’s making a doubter out of me.

Posada’s achy shoulder could present a big problem

Just a little over a week shy of his 39th birthday, the Yankees have enjoyed another solid season out of stalwart catcher Jorge Posada. His .361 wOBA is second best among American League catchers, and other than a few fluke injuries (hit by pitch on the knee, foot fracture on a foul tip) and some nagging soreness that’s cost him a day here and there, Posada has largely defied the typical catcher aging curve. At least until now.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

After catching three straight games, including a day game after a night game, it was obvious that Posada was going to receive a day off yesterday. Throw in Joe Girardi‘s stated catching rotation, and it’s even less surprising. What did come as a surprise was the news following yesterday’s game that Posada’s surgically repaired right shoulder was “barking,” something that first popped up when he threw to second on a stolen base attempt during Monday’s game. Perpetually optimistic, Girardi downplayed the issue, saying that he hoped it would clear up and his starting backstop would return to the lineup soon. Whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen.

What we do know is if the Yanks lose Posada for any length of time, or even see his playing time reduced to cope with the ailment, they’re in big trouble. Frankie Cervelli, the target of much ire this summer, is far from an everyday catcher. Even with last night’s run scoring single, he’s still hitting just .197/.269/.237 in his last 175 plate appearances dating back to mid-May. Take away three hit by pitches and that on-base percentage shrinks to .250. On top of that, Cervelli has thrown out just seven of 39 attempted basestealers, a 15% success rate that is lower than Posada’s (17%) and the worst by a Yankee backstop with at least 500 innings caught in a season since Johnny Blanchard threw out 14% of basestealers in 1962. Who knows, perhaps regular playing time will help get Frankie in a rhythm and allow him to rediscover that BABIP luck from April, but things don’t usually work like that. The extended playing time during Posada’s disabled list stint in May is what brought Cervelli back to Earth in the first place.

In his Under The Knife column today, Will Carroll says the Yanks would like to add a catcher (according to his sources), which tells you a few things if true. First of all, the team is not seriously considering a Jesus Montero call-up regardless of his .413/.473/.775 batting line since the All Star break. That could be for any number of reasons, but it probably has something to do with them either a) not wanting to rush him, b) not feeling his a big league catcher defensively, or c) both. It was a long shot to begin with, as far as I was concerned.

Secondly, it tells you the Yanks aren’t all that comfortable with Cervelli as an everyday backstop down the stretch in a division race. Should the situation arise, finding a backup catcher on trade waivers shouldn’t be tough, though you’re not going to land anything special. Maybe the Mets are willing to move the presently injured Rod Barajas (.266 OBP, yuck) or Henry Blanco. The Jays could dump either John Buck or Jose Molina with J.P. Arencibia setting the world on fire, and I’m sure the Tigers would love to get of Gerald Laird to free up playing time for Alex Avila (and some salary). Point being, the trade options aren’t great, but they’re out there.

Either way, if Posada’s shoulder becomes enough of an issue to limit his catching to a game or two a week, the Yankees are in some pretty big trouble. Having his offensive production come from a premium position is part of the reason why the team has been so successful for the last decade-plus, and now if you’re replacing that with essentially a replacement level hitter who can’t control the running game, you’re talking about a one or two win swing down the stretch, if not more. In the ultra-competitive AL East, that could be difference between playing the Twins at home in October or going on the road to face the Rangers.