Swisher can still redeem himself

The postseason so far has not agreed with Nick Swisher. He’s just 3 for 29 with three walks, far from the production he posted during the regular season. He started off the ALCS with two hits in two games, but his last hit came in Game 2. Since then he’s 0 for his last 11, including a brutal Game 5 performance. Yet Swisher still has a chance to make everything right.

Just how bad is Swisher hitting right now? In the Yanks breakout seventh inning, he made both the first and last outs. The last one hurt especially. Robinson Cano had just tripled in the go-ahead runs and was standing on third, waiting for Swisher to dunk one into the outfield and extend the lead. Instead, Swisher did what he has done so many times this series: flied out.

In the ninth, down by one, the Yankees mounted a two-out rally, sparked by the Angels’ decision to intentionally walk Alex Rodriguez. Matsui coaxed a free pass, and Cano took a breaking ball between the shoulder blades. That set up Swisher in clutchest of clutch situations: ninth inning, bases loaded, two outs, tying run 90 feet away. Swish didn’t have to hit a home run. With Brett Gardner standing on second base, all he had to do was dunk one into the outfield and the Yankees would have taken the lead. But as he did in the seventh inning, he failed.

Sometimes you just have to chalk it up to the pitcher. Fuentes is the Angels closer, and he had retired the first two hitters of the inning. The Yankees made a valiant effort, but came up short. Yet in this instance, the failure seems to be squarely on Swisher’s shoulders — the pitch was a 91 mph fastball right down the middle. See for yourself (via Brooks):

Swisher is simply off his game. He he been even close to his normal rhythm, he might have parked that pitch and given Mo a three-run lead. Even if he’s not going perfectly, Swisher should be able to line that one into the shallow outfield and give the Yanks a one-run lead. But Swish popped it up, demonstrating exactly how out of rhythm he is right now.

The beauty of the Yanks’ position, though, is that Swisher still has a chance at redemption. If he can put his horrible performances behind him and come up with a big Game 6, all will be forgotten. If he drives in a few runs, or gets on base to set up a big inning, leading to a Yankees win, we’ll put the bad memories in the backs of our minds. Yes, Swish had a chance and failed. But, because the Yankees put themselves in an advantageous position, they still have two more chances. Swisher can be a big part of a potential series win.

That’s why I’m not too down about last night. No one thought the Yankees would blow out the Angels, so to finish the series in five would have been a gift. Now they get another shot, at home, in Game 6, and Swisher gets another shot at redemption. Last night’s loss may have been tough, but there’s still plenty of reasons to believe that the Yankees will finish this out. I just hope Swish is a big part of it.

How were the Yankees assembled?

A new addition to my RSS reader is a blog called The Sports PhD. He brings some interesting ideas to the table, and some of them I’ve already riffed on, like the best worst hitters in the playoffs. Today he goes over how the Philadelphia Phillies were assembled. The obvious next step is to see how the Yankees put together their squad. I’ll do it in the same style as Sports PhD.

1B Mark Teixeira Signed as a Free Agent from Angels 2009
2B Robinson Cano Amateur Free Agent 2001
SS Derek Jeter 1st Round Draft Pick 1992
3B Alex Rodriguez Traded by Rangers 2004
RF Nick Swisher Traded by White Sox 2009
CF Melky Cabrera Amateur Free Agent 2001
LF Johnny Damon Signed as a Free Agent from Red Sox 2005
C Jorge Posada 24th Round Draft Pick 1990
DH Hideki Matsui Signed as Free Agent from Japan 2003
SP CC Sabathia Signed as Free Agent from Brewers 2009
SP A.J. Burnett Signed as Free Agent from Blue Jays 2009
SP Andy Pettitte 22nd Round Draft Pick* 1990
SU Phil Hughes 1st Round Draft Pick 2004
CL Mariano Rivera Amateur Free Agent 1990

*Pettitte was a draft and follow, drafted in 1990 but signed in May of 91.

The Phillies assembled their team with 6 through the draft, 1 Rule 5 player, 1 amateur free agent, 4 trades, and 4 free agency signings. I added a few more players for the Yanks comparison, but they added 4 through the amateur draft, 3 through amateur free agency, 2 via trade, 4 through traditional free agency, and 1 by Japanese free agency. That looks like a good breakdown to me. The Yankees had an advantage in Latin America scouting, and it paid off. That’s the biggest difference between them and the Phillies, who had better amateur drafts — partly because they finished worse than the Yanks in most years.

Hopefully, this won’t be the last Yankees/Phillies comparison we see in the coming weeks.

Dunn finally throws some strikes

Don’t miss our ALCS Game Five recap.

AzFL Surprise (3-2 win over Peoria Saguaros, walk-off style)
Colin Curtis: 0 for 2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 SB
Mike Dunn: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0-1 GB/FB – all 10 pitches were strikes, a pleasant change for him … PitchFX says he was 94.61-96.6 with every pitch

Still no Puerto Rican League rosters.

A Game 5 seesaw lands ALCS back in New York

Since the first inning of last night’s Game 5 ALCS match-up, my status message on Gmail has said, “Unsurprised.” Nothing that happened during the game — from A.J.’s early troubles to Joe Girardi‘s poor pen management to Nick Swisher‘s pop out on a 3-2 meatball with the bases loaded in the ninth — was unsurprising. When the dust settled, the Yanks found themselves on the wrong end of a very close 7-6 game. Instead of a break until the World Series, the ALCS will return to the Bronx for a game, weather permitting, on Saturday night.

Instead of our normal chronological recap, I want to try something new tonight. I want to break this down by highlighting three turning points Remember: The Yanks still hold a 3-2 edge and are about to throw two lefties against the Angels in Yankee Stadium where the Bombers have won 61 games this year.

Turning Point 1: We start with two on and no one out in the top of the first. The Yankees were on the verge of breaking John Lackey and the Angels before A.J. Burnett even had a chance to step up onto the mound. Mark Teixeira was at the dish still looking for his first RBI of the ALCS.

Lackey’s first pitch to Teixiera was a ball. He followed that up with two strikes — one called in the zone and one a foul ball. Two more pitches out of the zone followed. The sixth pitch of the at bat was a good curveball, but it was low and away. Teixiera took it only to be rung up. Immediately, Fox showed their FoxTrax, and the ball was a good few inches outside. PITCHf/x agreed.

For Lackey, the call was a pick-me-up. He retired A-Rod and Hideki Matsui without allowing a run and sailed through six before running into trouble in the seventh. For the Yankees, the call, while not quite a punch in the gut, completely shifted the momentum. Instead of bases loaded, no one out with the red-hot A-Rod up, the Yanks had an out and two on. The entire complexion of the inning changed, and when Burnett gave up four in the first, the call stuck out.

Turning Point 2: Now, we skip ahead to the bottom of the seventh inning. After Burnett’s bad start, he had settled down to run through the Angels’ lineup. He didn’t have the K pitch working, but he held Anaheim at four. In the top of the 7th, the Yanks erupted for six runs and found themselves nine outs away from the World Series and with a very well-rested bullpen. They could have gone to David Robertson, Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera with a cameo by Damaso Marte. This was an all-hands-on-deck situation, and instead, Joe Girardi stuck with Burnett.

“We talked about it, but he was throwing the ball so well. He had put up five shutout innings and he had only thrown 80 pitches,” the Yankee skipper said.

Of course, this is the same manager who, just a few days ago, pulled Andy Pettitte in Minnesota with a lead and at 81 pitches. Why Burnett gets a longer leash, I do not know.

Burnett didn’t get the job done. He allowed a lead-off hit to Jeff Mathis, and still Girardi sat. He walked Erick Aybar, the number nine hitter, and then Girardi mercifully removed him, at least one batter two late and arguably two. Girardi later showed that he was willing to put Mariano Rivera into the game with one out in the eighth, but he was unwilling to go to the pen after coaxing six so-so innings out of Burnett.

Turning Point 3: After Marte retired Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu, Phil Hughes entered the game with just one mission in mind: Get an out. He walked Torii Hunter and then moved ahead 1-2 on Vladimir Guerrero. Instead of burying a curveball in the dirt against the notoriously free swinging Vlad, Hughes shook off Posada and went with a fastball. Vlad knocked in the tying run. Hughes would later give up the lead and take the loss. He faced three batters and retired one of them.

Girardi made the right move here, but Hughes didn’t execute. After the game, the Yanks’ manager issued an odd comment. “He’s still making pitches,” he said. “He got to the count he wanted to with Vlad Guerrero and just missed his spot.” So was Hughes making his pitches or did he miss? It looked to me as though he missed.

The Yanks had the tying run 90 feet away in the ninth inning but with two outs. Nick Swisher popped up to end it, and that seventh inning — another bad job of managing the bullpen coupled with some bad execution — cost the Yanks a chance to put away the Angels.

In the end, I would have liked to see the Yankees wrap this up tonight. The emotions among a fanbase still scarred from 2004 are running high, and on a personal level, my plans for Saturday night are going to be seriously impacted by yet another baseball game. Still, part of me wants to see the Yanks win this thing at home. We’ll have a grand celebration in the Bronx this weekend when they do.

ALCS Game Five Spillover Thread VIII

Okay, now do this thing.

ALCS Game Five Spillover Thread VII

Time for a new thread…

ALCS Game Five Spillover Thread VI

Would have been so nice if Hughes started that inning…