Yanks guarantee series win over Toronto

Both times the Yankees faced the Blue Jays in August they lost the series 2-1. There are worse things than 2-1 series losses, especially to a team that has played like the Jays. It’s not like they lose a series to the Indians or Royals. With yesterday’s victory the Yankees locked down another series.

Biggest Hit: Mr. Automatic

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

What type of runs would you like? Do you like yours when down in a close game? How about game-tying? I hear that go-ahead runs are just the tastiest. Except walk-off, of course. Walk-off runs are the juiciest runs of them all. Marcus Thames has cooked up all of them this season. Yesterday he prepared us a helping of go-ahead runs.

The game took some early turns. Neither starter got through the fifth. Javier Vazquez did make a bid, but Joe Girardi removed him in a first and third, two outs situation in the fifth. In a scenario that we will discuss in a moment, the Blue Jays tied the game. It stayed that way for a couple of innings. Until Marcus Thames came to the plate, that is.

Thames actually led off in the bottom half of the fifth, but he realized that he had plenty of time. Instead of pulverizing a Jesse Carlson slider he merely grounded it to third. It was a gift by appearances, but Thames was just biding his time. In the seventh he recognized that the situation had become dire. Carlson retired six straight and his successor, Jason Frasor, added two to the tally. But then Robinson Cano snapped the skid with his second up-the-middle single of the game. Thames would not let the opportunity pass.

Frasor threw his first pitch, a slider, towards the inside edge. Thames swung, but he managed only to foul it away. Carlson, fool that he is, tried the same thing again, but this pitch he left right in the center of the plate. Thames put a mighty swing on it and drove it to the bit field in left-center. But it could not contain Thames. He sent the ball into the visitor’s bullpen, putting his Yankees ahead.

A curious pitching change

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Over the course of a season the manager makes hundreds of pitching changes. There is no way that they’ll all work. Most of the time, if he’s a good manager, he’ll make the right call. But most is just more than 50 percent. There are plenty of times when the manager will make a good call that fails. Other times he’ll make a plain bad call. It happens. Joe Girardi mostly makes the right call. Yesterday he made a suspect one.

Javier Vazquez was not pitching like he had during his previous two relief outings. His fastball didn’t crack 90. He didn’t have the command necessary to compensate for his diminished velocity. He threw too many damn sliders, a pitch that just hasn’t worked this year. It amounted to three runs through four innings, both on second inning home runs. But Vazquez had settled down, allowing no runs in the third and fourth before retiring the first two batters in the fifth. But then he walked Jose Bautista. No biggie. It became a biggie, apparently, when Vernon Wells followed with a single.

That brought Overbay, who had homered earlier in the game, to the plate. Joe Girardi bound out of the dugout after the single, so it was clear that he in no way would let Vazquez face Overbay again. That might sound like a reasonable position, especially considering how Javy looked, but there were a few things to consider here. First, the tying run was 270 feet away, so it would have taken a big hit to score him. Second, the homer earlier on the game came on a slider. Letting Vazquez pitch to Overbay, but forbidding him to throw a slider, was probably the right call. But Girardi went to Dustin Moseley. I fail to see the upgrade.

Maybe if he’d gone to Robertson, or Chamberlain, or even Logan, I wouldn’t have thought it such a bad call. But Moseley? Maybe he could have brought Moseley in to eat an inning or two after that. The big guns in the pen have been worked hard lately. That tends to happen when you win a lot of games in a short span. If Girardi wants to go with the long man in the sixth with a two-run lead, so be it. But Moseley with the tying runs on base? It just seems odd coming from a guy who, just a month and a half ago, used Robertson in the third inning in a crucial situation.

This doesn’t make Girardi a bad manager. No one will make the right call 100 percent of the time. But this seemed like a fairly obvious one. Don’t go to Moseley with the tying run on base unless it’s of the utmost necessity.

Wrap-around lineup

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

For much of the season Brett Gardner has hit ninth. That makes him a “second lead-off hitter,” whatever that means. Really, it means he’s hitting ninth. I don’t know why Girardi does it, but he likes having that second leadoff hitting advantage. But ever since A-Rod‘s injury Girardi has found a spot in the top of the lineup for Gardner. Which makes sense. He takes pitches, he gets on base, and he’s a threat to steal. That means not having a wrap-around lineup. Unless you do.

Francisco Cervelli had another pleasantly surprising day. He doubled twice and came around to score both times, first thanks to a wild pitch and second thanks to a Derek Jeter chopper that — to invoke Michael Kay — fortuitously ricocheted off the third base bag. As Chad Jennings relays, it was the first multi-double game of Cervelli’s career. It’s always a little easier to score runs when the bottom of the order produces. Cervelli deserves much praise for his recent timely hits.

Graph and Box

If I just saw this graph and the final score, I’d probably think that this was a pretty good game. And I’d be right.

More green lines at FanGraphs. Fogies can get their fix with the traditional box.

Up Next

It’s never a bad game when you’re looking at not only a sweep, but a ninth straight win. Phil Hughes goes for it, while Brett Cecil tries to stop it. It’s Day Game No. 4 of 5 from the Bronx.

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Mighty Mighty Marcus Thames

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Everyone loves a nice feel good story, and that’s exactly what Marcus Thames is. He and his four siblings ran the household at a young age after his mother was paralyzed in a car accident, and after his junior year of high school Thames joined the National Guard to earn extra money for his family. Nicknamed Slick by his mother because he used to suck his thumb as a child, Marcus managed to overcome the hardship of his adolescence to become a big league baseball player that homered on the first pitch he ever saw, off a future Hall of Famer no less. It’s the kind of stuff they base movies on.

Thames’ season has been pretty storybook for the Yanks this year. His “welcome to the Yankees” moment, so to speak, was the walk-off homer off Jonathan Papelbon back in May. Another walk-off hit against the Blue Jays in July built up his good will, though his defense in the corner outfield spots tested the limits of the fans’ patience. A 2-for-23 stretch before a disabled list stint in June appeared to put his job in jeopardy, and quite a few people thought he would/should be designated for assignment after the Yanks acquired Austin Kearns and Lance Berkman at the trade deadline. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Free from the rigors of outfield defense, Thames has been a man on a mission this month while playing almost exclusively designated hitter. He started the month with four hits in eight plate appearances before stepping in for Mark Teixeira as the three-hole hitter during a two game series against the first place Rangers. Lefties C.J. Wilson and Cliff Lee started the two games, exactly the demographic Thames was brought in to face. He picked up five hits in the two game set including an eighth inning solo homer and a game-winning single in the ninth inning of the second game. Marcus’ latest masterpiece includes six homers in his last five starts, putting his season wOBA at .410.

Like I said, Thames was brought in strictly to pound lefthanded pitching, but he’s gone above and beyond the call of duty. He’s posted a .419 wOBA against southpaws but has nearly matched it with a .400 wOBA against righthanders. It’s his best single season performance against pitchers of the same side since he wOBA’s .378 off righties in 2006, the year he helped the Tigers to the World Series. In a year where almost every offseason acquisition – Nick Johnson, Javy Vazquez, Randy Winn, Curtis Granderson, Chan Ho Park – has failed to meet expectations, Thames stands out as the one great move.

The inevitable question will arise about Thames’ future with the Yanks, which of course is something we can’t answer until the season is over and we see how things play out. The answer right now is an unequivocal yes, but as always we have to remember to keep things in perspective. At .318/.398/.556, he is currently sporting career highs in all of the triple-slash categories, and it’s really not all that close either. It’s practically impossible for Thames to repeat that next year, and if he drops back down to .249/.315/.496 (his career average) as a 34-year-old next year, how useful is he to this team?

That’s a debate for another time, but right now Thames has been worth every penny of his $900,000 contract (there’s another $900,000 in performance bonuses in there, and I’m sure he’s met a few of those already). Every great team needs to get big time production from an unexpected sources throughout the season, and for this year’s Yankees, it’s Marcus Thames. Mr. Thames to you.

Yanks open series with 11-5 drubbing of A’s

Heading into last night’s game, Trevor Cahill held the AL’s second lowest ERA, trailing just Clay Buchholz. So when the A’s staked him to a 3-run lead in the first, things didn’t look so good for the Yankees. It took all of five batters to change that outlook. The night continued to get better, and it ended with an 11-5 Yankees victory.

Biggest Hit: Swisher ties it early

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

For the most part Dustin Moseley has done a good job filling in for Andy Pettitte. He’s had some rough outings, but that’s expected. He is, after all, Dustin Moseley. All the Yanks ask is that he keeps them in the game. From the outset last night it looked like he would fail. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases, and the A’s struck for three before heading out to the field. That had to feel good with Cahill on the mound.

The Yanks wasted no time in evening the score. Gardner started with a walk, Teixeira followed two batters later with a single, and then Robinson Cano brought home the first run with a single of his own. That ball was so well struck that even though Mark Ellis was in a position to field it, he just couldn’t make the play. That brought Nick Swisher to the plate, and Swisher delivered.

Cahill delivered five sinkers during the at-bat, but only one of them ended up down in the zone — Swish took that one for ball two. The sequence went ball, foul, ball, ball, foul, double to deep center. Coco Crisp made a valiant effort, but the ball went beyond his outstretched glove. It took him a moment to recover, which gave Cano enough time to score from first and tie the game.

In a span of just five batters the Yanks turned this from a frustrating game into a new game. That’s what happens when you have such a high-powered offense.

Meet Saturday’s starter

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

When Moseley walked Kurt Suzuki in the fifth he accomplished two things. First, he guaranteed that Girardi would take him out of the game. The last pitch hardly had time to cross the plate before Girardi was out of the dugout and on a brisk jog to the mound. Second, he opened the door for Javy Vazquez‘s return to the rotation. For the next 4.2 innings, Vazquez made his case clear.

It took a Jeter jump toss to get out of the fifth, but from there Vazquez had things under control. He started the game by retiring seven straight and allowed just one run on two hits, striking out six. He even hit 90 consistently. Though, for what it’s worth, Moseley’s final pitch was also 90 mph.

Moseley’s next turn in the rotation would come on Saturday, but I’d bet on Vazquez slotting in there. It seems like a good time to see if he can be that guy he was from May into July. That will be a big boost to a rotation going through a rough patch.

Filling in for A-Rod

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Marcus Thames hit his 10th home run of the season this year, though it certainly feels like he’s hit more than that — probably because he’s hit six in his last six games. The tear comes at a great time. It’s like not losing Alex Rodriguez at all. In fact, since A-Rod’s injury Thames is 11 for 34 (.324) with three walks (.432 OBP) and six home runs (.765 SLG).

Mark Teixeira, too, has been cruising along since A-Rod started missing time. He was 3 for 3 with a walk last night, and is 14 for 41 (.342) with six walks (.429 OBP) and seven extra base hits (.659 SLG). He and Thames have made missing A-Rod not as big a deal as it could have been.

Miscellany

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Brett Gardner got on base three times and didn’t score. You won’t see that happen often.

How many young pitchers have we see throw 100 mph? How many of those pitchers sustained that speed? How many of them lasted long-term? Sorry, Henry Rodriguez, but you are no Billy Wagner.

Swisher is back up to .298, for those of you who are still holding out hope that he’ll finish the season at .300.

Trevor Cahill has allowed 50 earned runs this season. The Yankees have 14 of those.

Graph and Box

More at FanGraphs. You know, FanGraphs has the box score, too. But just in case you like ‘em simple, here’s the regul’r box score.

Up Next

Phil Hughes attempts to recover from a poor start, while Vin Mazzaro starts for the A’s. Considering the sparse crowd last night, I’m sure Mazzaro will be able to get all of his buddies into the game.

Nova nails first MLB win in 2-1 thriller

Amidst rumors of an MLB probe, Yankee rookie Ivan Nova threw a gem against the White Sox on Sunday afternoon. He held the Chicago offense to one run over 5.2 innings, and the Yanks’ bullpen, shaky on Saturday night, spun 3.1 scoreless innings as the Yanks grabbed the rubber match of this three-game set 2-1.

Nova settles in

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Ivan Nova isn’t one of the heralded arms leading the Yankee farm system this season. He doesn’t generate the same kind of buzz as a Brackman, Betances or Banuelos does. But for the second straight start, he has beguiled Major League hitters, lending stability to a shaky Yankee rotation. On Sunday, he earned himself the game ball as he picked up his first Big League win.

As he did against Toronto, Nova showed confidence in his stuff on Sunday. He averaged 94 with a live fastball and hit 96/97 regularly. He showed good velocity separation with his change-up and threw his curveball for strikes as well. As the stuff was there, so too were the results. Through 5.2 innings, he struck out seven Chicago hitters, and the White Sox lone run came on a Juan Pierre RBI single. The Yankees needed a good pitching performance, and Nova, all of 23 years old, delivered.

After the game, Joe Girardi announced that Nova would start next weekend against Toronto, and it will be interesting to see how a team fares against him in his second turn in short order. Nova is clearly on a short leash; he started leaving the ball up in the sixth, and Girardi took no chances after just 88 pitches. The Blue Jays, as we saw, are a solid offensive club, and facing them will be a true test for a pitcher who could be a key player in the Yanks’ rotation in September.

Let the good Thames roll

Marucs Thames does the hokey pokey. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

With Gavin Floyd on the mound, the Yanks couldn’t get much of anything going, but Marcus Thames came through in the second. Pressed into service against a right-hander because the team wanted to give Jorge Posada and Mark Teixeira remains sidelined by a sore hand, Thames led off the sixth with a booming home run to left field. The Yankees had a 1-0 lead they would not relinquish.

“I’m a power guy,” Thames said after the game. “And it’s big for power guys: You have to get into a rhythm to get some stuff going. But I know my role, so I don’t need to start putting pressure on myself. I’m just glad if I hit the ball hard every time I get a chance.”

For Thames, this homer was his ninth of the season and his fifth in his last four starts. On the season, he is hitting .320/.401/.544 in limited playing time. Considering how badly a pair of Brian Cashman‘s other off-season pick-ups have fared, Thames’ solid play is a breath of fresh air for the Yanks. He’s a true weapon off the bench and has delivered during his starts as well. As long as the Yanks don’t need Thames to put on a glove, he’s a fine contributor and at 1 win above replacement and counting, well worth the money the Yanks are spending.

This is how you fist-pump properly. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Cervelli’s big day

For all the grief I’ve given Francisco Cervelli this season, I can’t wrap up this game without a nod to his 4-for-4 performance. It is but the second time in his professional career that the offensively-challenged catcher has knocked out four hits in one day, and on Sunday, Cervelli scored what would be the winning run.

On a 3-1 pitch to start the third, Cervelli roped a double to right field. After fouling off a bunt attempt, Brett Gardner swung away on 0-2 and lined a single to center. Cervelli scored, and the Yanks would plate no more men throughout the rest of the game.

Cervelli’s day wasn’t a good one just at the plate either. He had his moments behind the dish as well. With Joba on the bump to start the eighth inning, Paul Konerko reached on an error by Eduardo Nuñez. Brent Lillibridge came on to pinch run, and the stolen base was clearly in the mix. Lillibridge went, and Cervelli threw a strike to Robinson Cano. It was a huge out for the Yanks as Andrew Jones singled in the at-bat. Cervelli hasn’t been a defensive whiz this year, and with Jesus Montero knocking on the door, his time on the Yanks may be limited. But on Sunday, he gave the team its biggest late-inning WPA bump as the White Sox’s win expectancy dropped from 40.9 to 24.8 with that caught stealing. It was a good moment for the beleaguered Cervelli.

To end the game, Joe Girardi was able to mix and match with the bullpen. Although Kerry Wood came dangerously close to blowing the lead, the pen, so bad on Saturday, sealed the deal for Nova, Cervelli and Thames — three unlikely heroes — on Sunday.

WPA Graph

Box scores: ESPN and Fangraphs.

Up Next

With the Rays’ nailing two out of three from Boston, Tampa Bay and the Yankees remain tied atop the AL East as Boston slips 6.5 games behind the pack. The Yankees will take on the Oakland A’s tonight at 7:05 p.m. at the stadium in the Bronx. Dustin Moseley (4-2, 4.53) will face the man with a .215 BABIP and AL Cy Young candidate Trevor Cahill (14-5, 2.43).

Cashman’s best offseason move

Credit: Sipkin/New York Daily News

Brian Cashman had a tough offseason coming into 2010.  While many of his moves made sense at the time, several of Cashman’s offseason trades and signings have not worked out.  Nick Johnson is likely out for the season after less than 100 plate appearances.  Javy Vazquez has at least provided innings, but otherwise has been much worse than expected.  Curtis Granderson, so far, has not rebounded from his poor 2009 and will need to hope Kevin Long can get him straightened out with an overhaul of his swing.  Chan Ho Park and Randy Winn, again signings that made sense, were disasters.  All of this brings me to one move that Cashman nailed in the offseason: Marcus Thames.

Thames was brought in to mash left handed pitching.  Cash likely had some visions of Thames playing the OF, but the injury to Johnson has for the most part left Thames in the DH role.  That’s a good thing.  Thames is a butcher in the outfield, but we knew this before he was signed.  Keep him out of the outfield at all costs. Despite doing everything asked of him and more, Thames has seemed to get no love this year which is unfortunate.

It started for Thames in spring training when he could not buy a hit.  He went 7 for 52 putting up a stunning .135/.182/.269 line.  Just 33 at-bats into spring training people already wanted Thames cut (Ed. Note: Like this idiot).  Small sample size be damned, people were killing the Thames signing and instead wanted the Yankees to keep Jamie Hoffmann, or explore the Jermaine Dye, Gary Sheffield market.  Luckily cooler heads prevailed and Thames made the cut.

Thames shining moment of the season, when he was finally appreciated by the majority of fans quickly disappeared.  On Monday May 17th Thames did the thing that Yankees fans might enjoy most for a regular season game.  Hit a walkoff against Jonathan Papelbon.  It doesn’t get much better than that, and remember, Paps is a right handed pitcher, so it wasn’t what Thames was brought in for.  If Thames had struck out there I would not have been surprised nor pissed at him, it’s not his primary role.  24 hours later of course it all came crashing down as Thames dropped a ball in the outfield that led to a Yankees loss, again against the Sox.  Thames was nearly in tears after the game; probably as much for the reception he would get from fans as he was for blowing the game.  Again though, Thames was outside of his element, he had no business being in the field in the 9th inning of a close game.

Getting back to Thames’ actual role he could not be doing a better job.  He is hitting .343/.416/.448 off left handed pitchers.  More shockingly Thames is even destroying right handed pitchers this year to the tune of a .283/.386/.500 line.  For a guy who was only brought in to hit lefties, could he have possibly brought more to the table than he has?