First Half Review: Those who met expectations

Over the past two nights we’ve been reviewing the first half of the Yankees’ season, looking at seven players who’ve exceeded expectations and seven who’ve fallen short. We’ll wrap up this short little series tonight by taking a quick look at those who are shooting par for the course. The guys that are doing pretty much exactly what we expected them to.

(AP Photo/Christine Cotter)

Javy Vazquez

GM Brian Cashman brought Vazquez back for a second tour of duty in Bronx not expecting the Cy Young contender from 2009, but instead a back-of-the-rotation horse that would keep the team in games and chew up innings. Javy went on to do anything but that in the early going. He was so bad through his first five starts (.337/.429/.663 against) that the team skipped his turn despite having the opportunity to give everyone in the rotation an extra day of rest.

Since that skipped start, Vazquez has rebounded nicely and given the Yankees exactly what they wanted from him, if not more. He completed at least seven innings in seven of his next 11 starts, surrendering more than three runs just twice. The Yanks would have done better than just six wins during that stretch if they bothered to score more than 30 runs, just 2.7 per game.

Overall, Javy’s season numbers have come back down to respectable levels. His ERA sits at 4.45, his xFIP at 4.53, and his strikeouts at 7.58 K/9. The Yankees have to be thrilled with how well he’s pitched over the last two months, and right now he’s giving them exactly what they wanted.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Marcus Thames

The Yanks brought Thames in for one reason and one reason only: to mash lefthanded pitchers. By and large, he’s done exactly that. In a limited sample of 57 plate appearances against southpaws (due in part to a hamstring injury), Thames has hit .327/.421/.449. He’s even chipped in nicely against righties (.250/.370/.444 in 46 PA).

Thames has picked up the team’s only two walk-off hits of the season , including what the majority of fans consider to be their favorite moment of the first half. Although his defense in the outfield has left everyone speechless for all the wrong reasons, Thames has generally been a fine reserve player for the Yanks.

Joe Girardi

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s hard to judge a manager, unless of course he consistently does things that are so monumentally stupid that you wonder how he ever got into baseball in the first place. Girardi’s job is fairly simple given all the talent on his roster, and really all he had to do was not screw it up. A subpar bullpen and colossal failure of a bench are not his fault, yet he’s managed to keep the regulars rested and not tax the bullpen. The Yanks haven’t just tread water, they’ve thrived.

Girardi’s job doesn’t figure to get any easier in the second half with two key pieces in Nick Johnson and Al Aceves unlikely to come back anytime soon, but there’s enough talent on the roster for the team to remain a force. All he has to do to be successful is exactly what he has been doing.

Honorable Mention: Frankie Cervelli went from super hot to super cold in the first half, but a .305 wOBA while taking some of the catching load off Jorge Posada‘s shoulders is pretty much what we all had in mind coming into the season … Damaso Marte‘s primary job function is to shutdown lefthanders late in the game, and he’s crushed them to the tune of a .146/.200/.268 batting line against … The farm system has also done what we expected it to: pump out useful players to plug the occasional hole on a temporary basis, whether it be Ivan Nova or Colin Curtis or Kevin Russo or Juan Miranda.

Thames activate, Huffman optioned to Triple-A

Out just about a month with a hamstring issue, Marcus Thames returns from the disabled list today to give the Yankees a little bit of pop off the bench and in the designated hitters spot. Unsurprisingly, Chad Huffman was optioned to Triple-A to make room on the roster since he’s basically a lesser version of Thames. Hopefully Marcus hits like he did in April and not like he did in May and June.

Injury Updates: Thames, Mitre, Aceves, Johnson

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been reduced to getting exciting about Marcus Thames returning, but that’s where we sit. The righty bat will play nine innings in the field during his third rehab game with Triple-A Scranton tonight, and if all goes well he could rejoin the team as soon as tomorrow. Given the current DH situation, that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, Sergio Mitre made his first rehab appearance after an oblique strain last night, throwing just one inning for High-A Tampa before throwing some more in the bullpen. He’ll throw two innings on Monday, and right now isn’t expected to rejoin the team until after the All Star break. Al Aceves is going to throw 40 or so pitches off a full mound early next week, a rather significant step in his return from back issues. The Yanks are going to take is slow and be very cautious with him given the nature of his injury, so Ace is probably still a few weeks away.

Finally, we have Nick Johnson, who is actually going to swing a bat today. Granted, it’ll just be a fungo, but it’s progress. Assuming all goes well – not a safe assumption, of course – he’ll head down to Tampa and continue baseball activities there. NJ is still a ways off from rehab games and rejoining the team, but any news is good news at this point.

Thames hits the DL with hamstring issue, Huffman recalled

Leftfielder/designated lefty masher Marcus Thames left today’s game with a hamstring issue, and although the MRI came back clean, he’s been placed on the disabled list with a strain. Chad Huffman has been recalled from Triple-A Scranton to take his place.

Huffman was claimed off waivers from the Padres in April, and he’s pretty similar to Thames. Righty hitter, mashes lefties (.903 OPS vs. LHP in the minors, .830 vs. RHP) and is limited defensively to leftfield and first base. Considering that Thames is hitting just .176-.314-.250 since May 2nd with awful defense, chances are Huffman can step right in and the Yankees won’t miss a beat, if not improve.

Pregame Notes: Granderson, Thames, Cervelli

Pregame stretching. Exciting stuff.

Curtis Granderson is leaving tonight to join Triple-A Scranton for a rehab assignment, according to Joe Girardi. He’s expected to play five out of six days while DH’ing some, and could be back in the Yankees’ lineup by the end of next week. Best news of the day.

Granderson was out on the field earlier running the bases, and he also fielded a variety of batted balls in the outfield – grounders, fly balls, liners off the wall, you name it. Girardi indicated that because he was moving around so well, it was time to get him in rehab games.

Here’s some other tidbits from the pregame press conference…

  • Marcus Thames‘ ankle is still bothering him, but he’s going to take batting practice and see how it goes. At best, he’ll be available to pinch hit.
  • Girardi didn’t seem concerned about Frankie Cervelli‘s heavy workload of late, and said there’s “no thought” about sitting him. He did say he’s going to watch him physically every day to see how he holds up. Tonight will be Cervelli’s fifth start in the last five days and seventh in the last eight, but he’s 24-years-old, lots of life in those legs.
  • “You start to feel it at game time,” said the Yanks’ manager when asked about the excitement of the Subway Series. “It’s the energy involved … players aren’t going to walk around and brag, but the fans might.”
  • As far as seeing Mets’ starter Hisanori Takahashi for the first time, Girardi basically said the only thing you can do is watch video. “It’s obviously more difficult. If you’re righthanded, you have to know you’re getting fastball-changeup.” The 35-year-old lefty has a 3.51 xFIP this season, though tonight will be his first start.
  • Girardi’s not concerned about Javy Vazquez‘s layoff at all. He basically had the “he’s been around a while, he knows what to do” attitude. Javy’s last start was nine days ago, but he did come out of the bullpen to strikeout Kevin Youkilis on four pitches Monday night.

Back with the game thread a little later on.

Thames exits game with ankle sprain

Update (11:18pm): Joe Girardi said during the postgame that x-rays were negative and that Thames was not expected to be placed on the disabled list, which I guess is good news. I just hate seeing that dead 25-man roster spot.

9:33pm: Sprained left ankle. Time to call up another reliever.

9:27pm: Marcus Thames left tonight’s game after literally stepping on his own bat running out a single in the 6th inning. Not sure if it’s an ankle or a knee or what, but it was obvious from the replay that stepping on the bat did the trick. He was lifted from the game after trying to walk it off, and was replaced by Ramiro Pena. We’ll update this post as more info becomes available.

Yanks ‘drop’ a heartbreaker as pen, Thames falter

Everything King Midas touched turned to gold, and tonight, the Yanks’ King Midas had his golden touch early on. Even without his best stuff, CC Sabathia held the Red Sox to just one run — a solo home run by Kevin Youkilis &mdash and the Yanks were cruising with a 5-1 lead. But then, after 112 pitches, King Midas exited stage left, and everything he had touched turned to dust. Once that perfect storm of bad plays, bad calls and bad pitching settled, the Yankees were on the wrong side of a 7-6 game. Tonight, there would be no pie.

AP Photo Kathy Willens

Goat Number One: Joba Chamberlain

Tasked with retiring the top three hitters in the Red Sox’s lineup, Joba Chamberlain utterly and spectacularly failed at his job. Although a dubious throwing error by Alex Rodriguez opened the flood gates, Joba couldn’t get through the 8th unscathed for the second straight appearance. With a 5-1 lead, he allowed a single, a double and another single following the error before recording an out.

With a runner on second, David Ortiz hit a booming fly ball that, three years ago, would have been a home run, and only Ortiz’s classes at the Hanley Ramirez School of Hustle resulted in an out at second base. While Joba had his second out, the damage was done. The Red Sox had tied the game, and the Yanks — who hadn’t taken advantage of a bases loaded, one out situation in the sixth — needed to pick themselves up from the letdown of another bad bullpen appearance.

We can wring our hands over the pen’s utter inability to get outs. Yankee relievers have allowed 12 earned runs and 15 runs overall in the team’s last three games. All but four of those have been charged to Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain.

We can wring our hands over Joba. He threw first-pitch strikes to just two of the seven hitters he faced tonight and couldn’t find the zone tonight. When he entered the game, the team’s win expectancy stood at 95.9 percent; when he left, that figure had dwindled down to 61.4. With that performance tonight, Joba is your official Goat of the Game.

AP Photo Kathy Willens

Goat Number Two: Marcus Thames

As a commenter with the amusing handle Jerkface said, “It was the best of Thames, it was the worst of Thames.” One night after delivering the Yanks their first walk-off win of the season, Marcus Thames showed us why he’s just a bench player filling in only in case of emergency.

With one out in the 9th and Darnell McDonald on first, Marcu Scutaro lofted a lazy fly ball into the no-man’s land behind second base in right field. Out raced Robinson Cano, in raced Marcus Thames. The right fielder called for the ball, glanced at Cano for position….and pulled a Luis Castillo. Thames twisted his glove around, and the ball bounced off of him. It was an epic error.

After the game, Thames talked to reporters with tears in his eyes. He said that he lost the ball for a second as he checked Cano’s flight and couldn’t recover in time to catch it. Had he done so, the Red Sox would have had a man on first with two outs instead of first and second with one out.

Goat Number Three: The Men in Blue

I hate to blame the umpires. I really do. After all, the Yankees’ players are the ones who have to do their jobs. Brett Gardner has to do more than bounce to second base with a drawn-in infield and bases loaded with one out in the sixth. Joba Chamberlain has to do anything better. Marcus Thames has to catch the ball. Mariano Rivera has to make his pitches. But tonight, the umpires did nothing to help either team.

For the Yankees, two plays loom large. The first was the ground ball off the bat of Scutaro in the 8th. A-Rod had to rush the throw, and it sailed low to Mark Teixeira. The Yanks’ first baseman stretched, appeared to keep his spikes on the bag, caught it and fell. Scutaro was called safe, and no one really put up a fight. The reply seemed to show an out, but we could forgive the umps for this one. The crew had missed a call at second base when Francisco Cervelli threw behind the runner to nab J.D. Drew, but those things happen.

The truly inexcusable call though came in the 9th on a two-strike pitch to Darnell McDonald. Replays showed how the ball cut the plate at the knees and how McDonald swung, but both the first base and home plate umpires refused to call strikes. Just look at the positioning of that thing on the Pitch F/x graph. Had McDonald been rung up, the Yanks would have had two outs on the Red Sox with no one on base.

Still, we can scapegoat the umps until the cows come home, but the Yanks have to get the job done. They didn’t.


Where to begin? Where to begin? How about Randy Winn’s positioning on Jeremy Hermida’s double over his head? Was the bench expected a shallow pop-up? Did Rob Thompson position him improperly? What happened to no-doubles defense? And can someone please stop telling Joba to throw 3-2 sliders? David Ortiz can’t get around on a 95-mph fastball, and Joba has to hang a breaking ball to him instead.

Let’s also question the Yanks’ ability to put a roster together right now. The team has a 13-man bullpen, and apparently, a one-man bench. If neither Jorge Posada nor Nick Swisher were available to pinch hit in the 9th, only Ramiro Pena was a viable bench player. Meanwhile, with the team’s decision to send down Greg Golson for Mark Melancon earlier in the day, they had eight relievers in the pen. Tonight was the night they needed Golson the most, and he was on a plane back to Scranton. How infuriating.

Do I consider Francisco Cervelli’s bunt attempt an annoyance? Some do, but I’m not sure I’m in the camp. In a very small sample, Cervelli has been a clutch contact hitter with runners on base. Behind him were Marcus Thames, a fastball hitter with strike out tendencies, Juan Miranda just up from AAA and Randy Winn. The Yanks opted to play for just one run and asked Cervelli to bunt. As The Honorable Congressman Mondesi noted, the successful bunt increased their one-run probability from 0.634 to 0.670 but dropped the win expectancy from 46.5 percent to 42.8. If anything, that’s a minor annoyance.

Finally, I have an irrational dislike of Randy Winn made worse by the fact that I just knew he would strike out to end the game. He made a terrible play in the top of the 9th and went 0 for 4 with three strike outs. He’s hitting .196/.293/.294 on the season, and I have to believe that, when Swisher and Granderson are both healthy, Winn’s days with the Yanks will be numbered. That was one off-season experiment that hasn’t quite worked out the way it was planned.

The Big Picture

Anyway, despite tonight’s maddening game and the team’s bullpen struggles, the Yanks are 25-14 with a +71 run differential. They’re three games behind a very hot Tampa team that has enjoyed a very easy schedule early on. Later tonight, A.J. Burnett and Wade Davis square off in a battle of AL East powerhouses, and the Red Sox head home to face Minnesota right where they were when they came to New York: in fourth place and at .500. I hated this game, but I’m loving the season so far.

WPA Graph

Just look at that up-and-down 9th inning. This is what a heartbreaking loss looks like on paper.