20-GAME WATCH: YANKEES VS. ANGELS
It’s an inevitable part of any season that the Yankees have to go to Anaheim. Sadly, the MLB schedule doesn’t offer any NFL-style options, where you might not see a rival ream for a few years. Over the last five years, the Yankees have gone 7-15 against the former Disney vassals. That’s a fairly amazing number given the Yankees’ overall records in those years. In one ballpark, a team that averages 90-something wins a year becomes a 100-game loser.
Due to injuries and disappointing performances, the Angels have been playing a lineup far different from the one they contemplated at season’s outset. They’ve remained competitive anyway. Let’s look at the 20-game picture:
W-L RS/G RA/G AVG OBP SLG SB CS HR/9 BB/9 K/9
YANKEES 14-6 5.5 3.8 .280 .371 .442 15 7 1.1 3.0 7.9
ANGELS 12-8 6.0 5.3 .275 .352 .440 16 6 1.6 3.6 7.4
The Yankees aren’t going to see Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter, as they’ve both hit the disabled list. Scot Sheilds is unavailable. Kelvim Escobar is there too, though that’s no surprise — his spot on the DL is a rental with an option to buy. Howie Kendrick is back from the minors but has yet to win his spot back from Maicer Izturis, who is peaking at .302/.352/.422. Catcher Mike Napoli, one of the best surviving bats on the team, doesn’t play every day, although with the DH spot freed up by Guerrero’s absence, the Yankees may get an extra serving. Kendry Morales is having a strong year at first, certainly a stronger year than this page ever expected him to have; Bobby Abreu is doing his usual fine job of getting on base; another former Yankee, Juan Rivera, has been mostly healthy for once and is killing the ball at .313/.353/.531. In his last fifteen games he’s slugging .645 with six home runs.
On the pitching side, the Yankees will see Joe Saunders, Jared Weaver, and John Lackey. Saunders has been hammered in three of his last four starts, allowing 19 runs in 21.1 innings. Most intriguingly for a power-hitting team like the Yankees, he’s allowed nine home runs in those starts. Weaver’s work of late has also been patchy. As recently as June 15, he had an ERA of 2.05. Since then, he’s four starts and been battered to the tune of .296/.358/.510, allowing 20 runs in 23.2 innings. He’s still awfully hard on right-handers at .176/.232/.255, but the Yankees have so many left-handers and switch-hitters that they should be less vulnerable than most other clubs. Finally, Lackey is normally one of the best pitchers in baseball, but has had injury problems and hasn’t been himself all year. He seemed to be coming around in a series of four starts beginning in mid-June, posting a 2.70 ERA in 30 innings, but three of the four starts were against light-hitting teams, the Giants, Diamondbacks (both DH-free games), and Orioles. His last start was against the Rangers, and he was thrashed.
The Yankees are facing a severely depleted Angels club. Neither their starters nor their pen has been particularly effective. Their offense is down to just a few above-average pieces. The defense, normally a plus, is among the least efficient in the game. They may still be winning, but they’re doing it with mirrors. For once, the Yankees may be able to make a strong showing in Anaheim.
Jeff Francoeur for Ryan Church: Mets bought themselves another fixer-upper opportunity, but Francoeur may be too stubborn to be fixed, in spite of all his great physical tools. As for the Braves, Church is not a great player, and he’s five years older than Francoeur, but he’s an upgrade on the out machine that Francoeur had become. In a light division, small improvements of this nature can help swing the standings in a team’s favor. The Braves really impress with their willingness to reshape their team on the fly this year. They tried to jump Jordan Schafer ahead of schedule. That didn’t work so they dealt for Nate McLouth. Kelly Johnson has been sent down in favor of Martin Prado. Tom Glavine was released so that young Tommy Hanson could pitch, and now they’ve ditched one of baseball’s worst hitters. They’re not living with their failures, they’re deleting them. You can’t ask more from a general manager.
The Mariners picked up two minor league pitchers from the Royals for Yuniesky Betancourt. They had to send some cash along, but still managed to delete a contract that ran through 2011 with a 2012 buyout and promised to do very little for them over that span. Betancourt is a classic triple threat: he doesn’t hit, doesn’t run, and doesn’t field. Even if the pitchers, who are a couple of years off, never develop, they’ve wisely decided that they can pay Ronnie Cedeno less to make the same outs. If they’ve freed up enough cash to add a bat, they might even stay in their divisional race. The Royals might be one of the only teams in baseball that Betancourt can help, although they’ll dearly for the privilege. With Mike Aviles out for the year and spectacularly disappointing before that, they’ve had a parade of shortstops, none of whom has distinguished themselves. Overall, Royals shortstops have batted .208/.234/.281 this year. That’s miserable, and it has no doubt cost the Royals quite a bit in the win column, but you still have to question the deal from their point of view. They’ve gone from pathetic to miserable, which probably isn’t enough of an improvement to win the division, and they’ll be stuck with Betancourt for at least two and a half years. Unless the Mariners are paying all of his contract, it seems like a heavy price to pay for a bid at mere respectability.