That might have been the most joyless game of the season. Yeah, the Yankees lost 6-0 to the Cardinals, losses happen, but they didn’t even put up much of a fight. There was nothing to get excited about. No sustained offense, no tense moments, nothing. Yuck.
The 2014 Yankees In A Nutshell
The Cardinals’ four-run rally in the third inning was so perfectly 2014 Yankees. Hit to beat the shift? Check. Replacement starter giving up rockets? Also check. Bad infield defense? Double check. It was a microcosm of the season. Matt Carpenter led off with the ground ball single to where the shortstop would normally stand, then Matt Holliday (single) and Matt Adams (run scoring ground rule double) laced line drives. That was the start of the inning.
Because second and third with one out was not enough of a jam, the Yankees intentionally walked Yadier Molina to load the bases. Sure, why not. Allen Craig hit a weak ground ball to short, too weak to turn the double play, but the Bombers didn’t even get one out because Derek Jeter‘s throw pulled Kelly Johnson off first base. The error went to Johnson because I guess they’re not allowed to give Jeter errors in his final season. Coming off the bag to make the catch and apply the tag was the routine part of that play, apparently.
Anyway, a run scored on Craig’s fielder’s choice and the bases remained loaded. Jhonny Peralta tapped an easy double play ball to Brian Roberts at second, but off course he completely whiffed and the ball went into the outfield. Two runs scored. It appeared Roberts was planning to scoop the ball, tag the runner as he went by, then throw to first, but he took his eye off the grounder and that was that. Four runs, two earned, two balls hit out of the infield on the fly. Yankees baseball.
This was one of those games that makes you wonder how the Yankees ever scoren. They hit three balls hard all night. Three. Brian McCann doubled in the second inning, Roberts doubled in the fifth inning, and Brett Gardner singled in the sixth inning. That’s it. Their two other hits (singles by Brendan Ryan and Jacoby Ellsbury) were well-placed ground balls. Noted non-ground ball pitcher Lance Lynn somehow got 16 ground ball outs during his stress free complete game shutout. He walked more batters (three) than he struck out (two). That’s always fun.
The top four spots in the Yankees lineup generated all of their offense, relatively speaking, of course. Gardner, Jeter, Ellsbury, and McCann went a combined 3-for-13 with three walks while the rest of the lineup went 2-for-18. With both Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran banged out, the lineup is very short. Yangervis Solarte has cooled off and Alfonso Soriano just looks done. Like done done. I know he’s typically a slow starter and notorious second half hitter, but man. The life in his bat isn’t there anymore. Anyway, the Yankees stunk offensively.
Obviously his defense betrayed him, but otherwise Phelps was okay in front of his family back home. He allowed five runs (three earned) in six innings while striking out five. The only run he allowed outside of that hilarious third inning was a solo homer by Craig, which deflected off a leaping Soriano’s glove. Was it a great start? No. It wasn’t a disaster though. With a competent defense he probably holds the Cardinals to three runs.
Alfredo Aceves was the only reliever to pitch, so the rest of the bullpen got a much-needed night off. Aceves allowed a solo homer to Holliday in his two innings of work, and he has now allowed nine runs and four homers in his last ten innings of work. He’s awful, yes, but I think there is some value in having a “who the hell cares?” veteran long man Joe Girardi can run into the ground in games like this.
It won’t make any highlight shows because there was no fancy dive, but Ellsbury made an outstanding running catch to rob Carpenter of extra bases in the first inning. It was a rocket over Ellsbury’s head, but he tracked it down and caught it on the warning track while running full speed. Outstanding catch.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and video highlights, head over to MLB.com. FanGraphs has some other stats and the updated standings are at ESPN. The Blue Jays are going to run away with the AL East if someone doesn’t stop them soon.
The Yankees and Cardinals will play the rubber game of this three-game set on Wednesday night as the nine-game road trip finally comes to an end. Hiroki Kuroda and Shelby Miller will be the pitching matchup.
Let’s start with the notes:
- According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed LHP Ramon Benjamin to a minor league contract. “A one-time Marlins prospect, [Benjamin] has matchup relief potential based on his fastball/slider mix, but he hasn’t pitched since 2011 because of injury,” wrote Eddy.
- RHP Ty Hensley pitched in an Extended Spring Training game earlier today, according to his Twitter feed. It was his first game action since the end of the 2012 regular season. Hensley’s been out with hip and hernia surgeries, and it sounds like we might actually see him in a minor league game relatively soon.
- RHP Bruce Billings has been activated off the Triple-A Scranton DL, according to Donnie Collins. He hasn’t pitched in a little more than a month due to a forearm problem. LHP Matt Tracy was sent to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot.
- 3B Dante Bichette Jr. was named the High-A Florida State League Offensive Player of the Week and LHP Jeremy Bleich was named the Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Week.
Triple-A Scranton (11-4 win over Louisville)
- CF Ramon Flores: 1-6, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
- 3B Scott Sizemore: 3-6, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 2 K – 9-for-21 (.429) in his last five games
- 1B Kyle Roller: 2-5, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K, 1 HBP – 12th dinger of the season
- SS Dean Anna: 3-5, 2 R, 1 3B, 2 RBI – snaps out of an 0-for-20 slump
- C Austin Romine: 2-3, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 BB
- DH Corban Joseph: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI
- RHP Bruce Billings: 2.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2/5 GB/FB — 27 of 49 pitches were strikes (55%)
- SwP Pat Venditte: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 Balk, 3/1 GB/FB – 30 of 49 pitches were strikes (61%)
- RHP Jose Ramirez: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2/2 GB/FB – 28 of 45 pitches were strikes (62%)
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 13 of 24 pitches were strikes (54%) … has to get that 6.26 BB/9 under control before he becomes a realistic call-up option
It’s not often the Yankees visit St. Louis, but the timing worked out rather well for David Phelps, tonight’s starter. He was born and raised in the St. Louis suburbs — “I was a die-hard Cardinal fan growing up. One of the best memories is, I was listening in 2005 when Pujols hit that homerun off Lidge. I was listening in the car,” he told George King — and I’m sure he’ll have a ton of family and friends in the stands. He’s probably pretty excited to be pitching at home. It’s neat.
Anyway, the Yankees have won three games in a row, something they’ve only done three other times this season. It’s hard to get on an extended winning streak in general, but that is especially true when it seems like a starter or two is going fewer than five innings each turn through the rotation. Phelps was very good in a tough luck loss against Chris Sale last week, and he’ll have to be good again tonight because the bullpen is worn out following yet another extra innings game yesterday. He might be out there for 100+ pitches whether he likes it or not. Here is the Cardinals lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
- RF Alfonso Soriano
- 2B Brian Roberts
- 1B Kelly Johnson
- RF David Phelps
It is cloudy, hot, and humid in St. Louis, plus there are scattered thunderstorms in the forecast. So basically the same weather as yesterday. The rain is not expected to be anything prolonged, but I guess there might be a delay at some point. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET and you can watch on My9. Enjoy.
Mark Teixeira Update: Teixeira (wrist) feels better but is not 100% just yet. He said he wants to play tomorrow, but with the off-day coming up on Thursday, I’d bet a lot of money on Joe Girardi holding Teixeira out of the lineup so he gets four straight days off. He will visit the doctor later this week just to make sure everything’s fine.
Carlos Beltran felt good after swinging a full-size bat earlier today, Joe Girardi told reporters. Beltran took 15 swings from each side of the plate with a fungo bat yesterday. It sounds like the plan is to gradually build Beltran back up — hit off a tee and soft toss, then in a cage, then in regular batting practice, then minor league games — before he rejoins the team. Obviously the bone spur is still in his elbow, so they have to be careful. So far so good though. · (8) ·
Jacob Lindgren | LHP
Lindgren is from Bay St. Louis in Mississippi, which is basically halfway between Biloxi and New Orleans. He did not sign with the Cubs out of high school as their 12th round pick in the 2011 draft, instead following through on his commitment to Mississippi State. Lindgren had a 3.84 ERA with an 89/25 K/BB in 84.1 innings split between the rotation and bullpen his first two years on campus — he missed time with an ankle injury last year after being hit by a comebacker — but this spring he has a 0.88 ERA with a 93/21 K/BB in 51 innings while pitching exclusively in relief.
Lindgren is not very big — listed at 5-foot-11 and 205 lbs. — but he offers nasty stuff from the left side. His fastball sits in the 93-95 mph as a reliever, and the pitch runs back in on left-handers. Lindgren’s sharp mid-80s slider is true out pitch and it has eaten up college hitters this spring. That 16.41 K/9 is no accident. A twisting delivery and somewhat stabbing arm action adds deception and makes the fastball/slider combination play up. Lindgren has all but shelved the curveball and changeup he used as a starter now that he’s in the bullpen full-time.
In their latest rankings, MLB.com, Baseball America, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Lindgren as the 41st, 89th, and 93rd best prospect in the draft class, respectively. He has a chance to do what Paco Rodriguez did for the Dodgers in 2012, going from second round pick to the big league bullpen in a matter of weeks. The Yankees have done a fine job of filling out their bullpen with later round picks in recent years, and while I’m not a fan of taking a pure reliever with a top pick, Lindgren could be someone they grab with their second rounder (55th overall) and fast track to the show. With a bevy of international signings on the horizon, using that pick to get near immediate help for the MLB club is a reasonable strategy.
According to George King and Zach Braziller, Michael Pineda threw two innings and 28 pitches in an Extended Spring Training game this morning, his first game action since being placed on the disabled list with a back/shoulder injury. He struck out four and allowed an unearned run on two singles and a walk. Twenty of the 28 pitches were strikes.
The ExST outing does not start Pineda’s official 30-day rehab window. That won’t happen until he pitches for one of the actual minor league affiliates. King and Braziller say Pineda will likely pitch in another ExST game this coming weekend, so the Yankees are understandably bringing him along slowly despite their rotation needs. He isn’t expected to return to the team until mid-June. The most important thing is that he’s healthy. · (23) ·
MLB released the first update of the All-Star fan voting this afternoon, and both Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury are among the top vote-getters at their positions. Jeter has received the third most votes overall behind Mike Trout and Jose Bautista, and the gap between him and the next highest shortstop (Alexei Ramirez) is the largest gap between first and second place at any position. Barring injury, Jeter will start the All-Star Game. I’m sure of it.
Ellsbury is a distant third to Trout and Bautista among outfielders. Carlos Beltran is fourth and not all that far behind Ellsbury while Brett Gardner is further down in 11th place. Mark Teixeira is fifth among first baseman, Alfonso Soriano is fourth among designated hitters, and Brian McCann is second among catchers. Along with Jeter, Ellsbury, Trout, and Bautista, the current voting leaders are Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Josh Donaldson, David Ortiz, and Matt Wieters. The current voting results are right here. Voting ends at midnight on July 3rd. Here’s the ballot. · (47) ·
One very valid criticism of the Yankees is that they simply don’t produce enough quality players from the farm system. It has now been seven years since Brett Gardner made his debut, and the second best homegrown position player during that time is Frankie Cervelli at 2.2 fWAR. An injury prone backup catcher. The Yankees do a good job filling out their bullpen and the back-end of the rotation from within, but they haven’t produced even an average position player in a long time. It really hurt last year during all the injuries.
Now, obviously the Yankees are the Yankees, and as long as they are the Yankees they will target big names over younger players, even their own young players. They have shown a tendency to favor certain players over others (the teacher’s pet, basically) and give them extended opportunities — Gardner, Phil Hughes, and Eduardo Nunez jump to mind — but otherwise a young player needs to do what Robinson Cano did and force the team’s hand if he wants to play regularly. That’s what Yangervis Solarte did earlier this year, for example.
So far this year, with an assist to Cervelli’s latest injury, John Ryan Murphy has emerged as a weapon off the bench. He plays sparingly because Brian McCann‘s contract guarantees he will play no matter how big his slump, but in limited time the 23-year-old Murphy has gone 14-for-37 (.378) and recorded at least one hit in eight of his ten starts. Despite walking only once, he is seeing 3.7 pitcher per plate appearances and has swung at pitches out of the zone at a league average-ish rate (31.0%). Murphy has shown some semblance of plate discipline, which is not all that common for young players in part-time roles. They tend to come out hacking when they get a chance to play because they want to prove to everyone they belong.
“In my role right now I just have to understand that I have to be ready to play at any time. So even though I’m not playing for the first eight, nine innings or whatever the game was at that time, I still have to be mentally locked in and ready to go,” said Murphy to Jorge Castillo recently. “I’m just learning everyday from these guys. It’s hard not to. The years on this team and the amount of experience that they have, it’d be dumb for me not to take advantage of this time I have here and learn from these guys.”
Usually we say that if a young player isn’t going to play everyday at the big league level, he should just go to Triple-A and get regular at-bats. That is true in almost all cases, but I think Murphy and young catchers in general are different. The catcher position is so unique because it’s not just hitting and catching the ball, like say an outfielder would. Catchers have to develop a relationship with the pitching staff and pour over scouting reports each series. Every position requires behind the scenes preparation, but catchers have by far the most. It’s a tough gig and I don’t just mean physically.
Young catchers have the most difficult transition from the minors to the show for that reason. Look at guys like Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters, for example. They were as highly touted as anyone coming up as prospects, but it took them quite a while to adjust to MLB and fully realize their potential. Wieters still hasn’t done it, really. Sure, everyone once in a while a Buster Posey breaks the mold, but they are the exceptions. The Yankees brought Jorge Posada along slowly for this reason, to ease the transition with the help of a veteran catcher. Murphy and McCann are the modern day Posada and Joe Girardi, in a sense.
Now, the elephant in the room is Cervelli, who is eligible to come off the 60-day DL on June 12th, two weeks from Thursday. Joe Girardi recently told George King that Cervelli’s rehab from a hamstring strain is going well and the expectation is that he will be ready to be activated when eligible. Two weeks and two days is a long time, plus Frankie has a way of getting hurt and staying hurt, so it’s tough to count on him. Whenever he is activated though, will the Yankees keep him and send Murphy back to Triple-A? Probably. Is that in the best interests of the team, both right now and into the future? I find it hard to believe.
Like I said, because the Yankees are the Yankees and are always looking to add that next veteran who may or may not put them over the top, Murphy and the team’s other young catchers are prime trade bait. The Bombers have been smart to hoard young backstops all these years because they are very hard to find and valuable in trades, at least somewhat. Backup catchers are a dime a dozen — Nick Hundley was just traded for a bad lefty specialist and George Kottaras is on waivers every other week, so I don’t think Cervelli would fetch much in a trade at all — but young guys with promise have very real value. A rebuilding club could stick Murphy in their lineup on just about an everyday basis — right now too, not two years down the line — and that is very appealing.
Unlike Austin Romine last year — man did Romine blow a golden opportunity last season, huh? — Murphy has shown the Yankees everything they wanted to see when they called him up following Cervelli’s injury. He’s hit well and I think he’s done well defensively, including his work with the pitchers. I don’t have anything to back that up, the pitching staff might hate him for all I know, but Murphy seems to be doing a good job in the non-hitting parts of the game. He broke out in the minors last year and has continued to progress this year. The Yankees haven’t had much luck developing homegrown position players lately, but Murphy is helping them win games right now and he looks very much like someone who can help the team long-term.
For the first time in his three big league starts, Chase Whitley completed five full innings of work yesterday afternoon. Usually five innings isn’t anything to celebrate, but for a recently converted reliever who had thrown 4.2 and 4.1 innings in his first two starts, five full innings was definitely nice to see. Whitley started the sixth inning as well, though he failed to record an out and the bullpen was pressed into action.
The bullpen has been pressed into action quite a bit of late, especially on the road trip. The Yankees have played three extra innings games on this trip through Chicago and St. Louis, totaling nine additional innings. They’ve played an extra game on the trip, basically. The Yankees did win all three of those extra innings games thanks to some strong relief work, so there’s no complaints there, but all that extra work is starting to tax the bullpen.
Through the first 50 games of the season, the late-inning duo of Adam Warren and Dellin Betances are on pace to throw 94 and 98 innings this year, respectively. Nine of Warren’s last 13 appearances have been for multiple innings while Betances has been asked to get more than three outs six times in his last seven appearances. In fact, of his 21 appearances this year, Betances has thrown one inning or less only seven times.
Of course, both Warren and Betances were starters their entire careers up until last season, but throwing 150+ innings in a season while on a five-day routine is much different than throwing 90+ innings when you’re pitching every other day in relief or something like that. It’s fewer total innings, yes, but they’re pitching more frequently as relievers. Warren and Betances have shouldered most of the workload, but the bullpen as a whole has been worked hard this year. Check out the first 50 games of the last few years:
|Starter IP||Reliever IP||Starter IP / Reliever IP|
The bullpen has already thrown 15 more innings this year than last through 50 games, and roughly 20 innings more than 2011 and 2012. Fifteen innings doesn’t sound like much, but we’re talking about one extra inning every three games or so. That adds up in a hurry, especially since these Yankees tend to play close games (only 14 games decided by 5+ runs), which means more work for Joe Girardi‘s primary late-inning guys.
Obviously injuries have a lot to do with this. Shawn Kelley has been out for a while and he would have definitely taken some of those innings away from Betances and Warren. The same applies to David Robertson when he was on the disabled list last month. Losing CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova — two starters the Yankees were able to count on for 6+ innings every fifth day in the not too distant past — to significant injuries has trickled down and added pressure on the bullpen since guys like Whitley and Vidal Nuno aren’t innings eaters.
The Yankees will hopefully get Kelley back soon. He played catch yesterday and will do so again in the coming days, reportedly, plus Michael Pineda is on the mend and a few weeks away. (The Yankees were very careful with Pineda early on, but he is still a better bet to get you through five innings than some guys in the rotation right now.) Those two will help lighten the load on the current relievers, at least somewhat. Every little bit will help. It wouldn’t kill the offense to break a game open every now and then either.
Girardi’s strength has long been his bullpen management, and I can’t remember another time when he worked two relievers as hard as he has Warren and Betances these last few weeks. You know he doesn’t want to do it — ““We’re trying not to kill Betances,” said the manager to Chad Jennings yesterday, after Betances threw two more innings — but Kelley’s injury and the thinned-out rotation have forced his hand. The Yankees are really pushing the limits of their pitching depth right now.
Until some guys start getting healthy, Girardi will have to rely on Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley and yes, even Alfredo Aceves in higher leverage spots — at least higher leverage than they deserve — to avoid overworking his normal late-inning relievers. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere without Betances, Warren, Kelley, and Robertson dominating at the end of games, but at their current pace, Warren and Betances will burn out by August. The rest of the roster has to pick up some slack and give these guys more rest in the coming weeks.
Guest: Will Leitch of Sports on Earth, New York Magazine, and formerly of Deadspin. He’s a noted Cardinals fan who talks avidly of the organization.
(Unfortunately, the first 10 or so minutes of the conversation ended up being garbled or nonexistent. So the conversation starts at an, um, awkward position. But it’s still a damn good talk.)
Mike and Jay had long weekends, so I’m solo. Thankfully, we got a bunch of questions. That kept me busy for a few minutes. Remember to email in your questions before Friday’s show (recorded Thursday night), podcast at riveraveblues.com.
You can also give us a call us at 716-393-5330 and leave a voicemail. We’ll play it on air and answer it. It’ll feel more radio-like that way.