Writing before the start of this series, I asked if CC Sabathia would rise to this challenge, and asked if it was fair to expect him to do so given his performance to date, one that was, by his own standards, weak. I don’t have to tell you how Sabathia answered that question. The next question for Sabathia — there’s always another one — is if he can take the fire he showed against the Red Sox and carry it with him through the rest of the season AND have enough left in the tank for his increasingly likely postseason appearances. Sabathia’s postseason record is the mirror-image of Mariano Rivera’s; he has a 7.92 ERA in five starts. The reason seems to be not nerves, but fatigue. In the past two seasons, Sabathia worked so hard getting his team through September (Milwaukee’s rare postseason appearance last year was his personal work), he was gassed in October. Such an outcome would reduce Saturday’s triumph to the level of a Pyrrhic victory.
And a glorious victory it was. With the Yankees’ second straight shutout, the Red Sox are now batting .144 for the series. The Yankees have discovered Boston’s hidden shame: once you get past Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, and (recent acquisition) Victor Martinez, there’s not a whole lot of high-impact hitting going on — and Bay isn’t in this series. While they don’t have any hitters who are total pushovers aside from shortstop (though David Ortiz, hitting .208/.262/.377 in the second half, may soon qualify), they also don’t have anyone aside from the aforementioned three who transcend the level of merely good.
With the win, the Yankees are on a pace to become the club’s first 100-win team since 2004 and the 19th such team in club history. Eighteen of those teams went to the postseason–the 1954 Yankees are the exception, and 12 of them won the World Series. The teams that didn’t make it all the way: 1942, 1963, 1980, and the 2002-2004 teams. Sweeping the series from the Sox would go a way towards avenging humiliations suffered earlier in the season, but it won’t mean much if it doesn’t happen as Boston will decamp trailing by at least 4.5 games. They face 10 games against good teams in the Tigers, Rangers (their immediate rival from the wild card), and Blue Jays, six on the road, before hosting the Yankees from the 21st through the 23rd. The Yankees get three at home against the Jays, followed by an always-difficult western road trip to Seattle and Oakland. The latter, at least, should be less of a challenge than in the past.
WISHING ON THE WILD CARD
In doing such damage to the Red Sox, the Yankees have helped to recast the wild card race. Seven days ago, the Red Sox had a 2.5-game lead on the Rangers and a 5.5-game lead over the Rays. Five straight losses later, the Rangers are a game out and the Rays are 1.5 out. The Rays have six games remaining with the Red Sox and seven with the Yankees (and three with the Rangers next week), so if they just hang in they’re going to have a chance to make noise right until the very end… If you’re thinking about how the Yankees might best avoid seeing the Angels this fall, the Red Sox are 4-2 against the Angels, the Rays 1-2 (they play this week), the Rangers 3-8.
? When Manny Ramirez was suspended, he was hitting .348/.492/.641. Since returning, he’s hit .262/.363/.514. That’s still good, but it’s more like Nick Swisher than Manny Ramirez.
? With Saturday’s seven shutout innings against the Tigers, Carl Pavano is 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA against Detroit, 6-8 with a 6.61 ERA against everyone else.
? When Carlos Lee hit his 300th career home run last night, the Astros became the only team to have three players reach that mark in the same season. This sums up the whole problem with the Astros.
? That Josh Willingham is having a terrific year (.309/.417/.595) shouldn’t be a surprise–his numbers were neutered by the Marlins’ ballpark. He always had it in him to be this kind of hitter.
DISTANT EARLY WARNING
I’ll be hosting a live chat at Baseball Prospectus on Thursday at 1 PM EST. As always, if you can’t make it to the event itself, you can put your questions in the queue at the link above and I’ll look ’em over when we start up. I look forward to exchanging thoughts with y’all.
Here’s the upside to acquiring Chad Gaudin: He’s been a somewhat reliable starting pitcher in his career. Though as a starter his ERA is just 4.85 in 378.2 innings, he’s kept the ball in the park and pitched well enough, often enough, to post a quality start in 42 percent of his attempts. That’s a below-average figure, but as compared to the work of the other pitchers the Yankees have tried in the fifth starter’s slot it is the work of a Cy Young. This year, Gaudin has made nine quality starts in 19 attempts, or 47 percent, which is actually about average. Add up Phil Hughes, Chien-Ming Wang, Sergio Mitre, and Alfredo Aceves and you get two quality starts in 21 tries. Look at it this way:
|Wang, Mitre, Hughes||21||5-8||90||125||38||64||15||8.20|
Gaudin has a low 90s fastball and a very good slider, hence the high strikeout rate. The walks have been a career-long problem, which is why he’s ill-suited for the bullpen. Yet, that’s where Brian Cashman said he’s headed for now — Mitre will get another chance.
In the bullpen, though, Gaudin is just another Brett Tomko. He lacks good control, walking 4.3 batters per nine innings in his career and 4.8 per nine this year. Those walks are de-emphasized in an extended appearance, but bring a pitcher with poor control into the seventh inning of a one-run game and the free passes can kill you.
One other worry: Gaudin somehow put up an 8.10 RA in San Diego’s PETCO Park, the friendliest park for pitchers in the biz. That number has all the marks of a fluke occurrence — he had a more reasonable 4.55 RA on the road — but it’s something to be aware of. If a pitcher can get bombed in PETCO, he’s not safe anywhere, especially your friendly neighborhood Yankee Stadium II, where left-handed hitters get to take cheap shots at the right field wall. Lefties have hit .292/.388/.431against Gaudin in his career.
Despite this, the value of players is relative, and on paper Gaudin is an upgrade on what the Yankees have been trying. Why send him to the bullpen when there’s a more urgent an obvious need? One wonders if Mitre gets a break because Joe Girardi is vouching for him based on the good old days with the Marlins — which weren’t that good.
POSADA WEARS NO. 15/THURMAN THROWS
Posada wearing a No. 15 decal on his mask in honor of Thurman Munson was a classy gesture from one great Yankees catcher to another. Posada was not quite eight years old when Munson died, so the act was based as much or more on their mutual standing in that lineage than any real memory of Munson the player. It’s a more profound statement than any based on personal association, as it requires an appreciation and respect for history, and says that Munson remains a powerful enough figure in even death that he was able to touch Posada without Posada having had direct contact with him.
Something about Posada’s tribute reminded me of an aspect of Munson’s career that doesn’t get a lot of comment given the focus on his hitting, his leadership, and his gruff personality: He was great at throwing out runners. Consider:
Munson won only three Gold Gloves, those coming in 1973-1975. In his first three seasons the award went to Ray Fosse (1970-1971) and Carlton Fisk (the only one Fisk ever got); from 1976 on the award was dominated by Jim Sundberg, who took six straight awards. Sundberg was also very good at controlling the running game. The Gold Gloves don’t prove much — one of Munson’s awards came in 1974, a year in which a sore arm cut his success rate and led to 22 errors; he made 23 the next season and somehow won again. The errors probably caused the voters to discard Munson for Sundberg so quickly as much as Sundberg’s own defensive excellence; the latter was only in the league for two years when he picked up his first award.
QUICK NOTES ON THURSDAY’S ACTION AND OTHER STUFF
? I’m grieved by John Hughes’ passing. His movies were often skin deep, but at their best there was something touching about them, something wistful about youth and its passing in films like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Some Kind of Wonderful” — which is not to forget that these were basically teen comedies and often very funny. Of the films that took place outside of his suburban Illinois universe, there are bits of “Vacation” (the first one, not the countless sequels) that can still make me laugh, and I have a soft spot for “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” one of the few films that used John Candy to truly good effect. Hughes’ peak was long ago and far away, the 1980s (and by this I mean to exclude the huge 1990 hit “Home Alone” from the canon), but if you were a teenager then, his work was inescapable, alternatively patronizing and uplifting, and for many people, defining. Seeing him go is a bit like waving goodbye to a piece of the landscape of my youth. It’s saddening, even if the sadness isn’t really about him. I will now spin the Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” from “The Breakfast Club” in his honor.
? I really nailed that analysis of John Smoltz yesterday, didn’t I? Some days you’d be better off staying in bed. As important a win as it was for the Yankees, it was still painful watching a great pitcher brought low. Lefties are now hitting .440 off of Smoltz as he struggles to get his fastball by them on the inside. Righties have had a harder time of it, so perhaps Smoltz might still have some value out of the bullpen if he’s willing to go that route to stay in the game.
? Yesterday did nothing to dissuade me from the idea that the Yankees’ Joba Conservation Plan might cost him his command at a time when he and the team need and most, when he was about to turn the corner and show consistency for the first time all year.
? The Twins acquired Carl Pavano today from a player to be named. Good luck with that, Twinkies.
? Nick Johnson gets traded from the Nats, who can’t win a game, to the Marlins, who then get swept by the Nats. Life can be comically unfair.
? The A’s seem to have done a Soviet-style redaction off Jason Giambi’s place on the team. “No, nothing today,” Geren said. “I haven’t seen him today.”
Turns out the A’s released Giambi on Friday.
MORE TO COME
Since this is the <b>Series of the Year</b> I’ll be posting updates throughout the weekend. Hope you check in.
LET’S KILL TWO!
If the Yankees hitting into three key double plays on Tuesday night bugged you, if you were awake to be bugged, then know that it’s about par for the course for these Yankees, who have gone for the two-outs-on-one-swing sale in about 11.6 percent of their opportunities this year, the seventh-worst rate in the majors this year. The Mariners lead the majors, hitting into a double play in 13.6 percent of their chances. This is kind of amazing, as the Mariners also have the lowest on-base percentage in the majors. They reach base less than anyone else, then kill the few runners they get faster than anyone else.
What’s fascinating about the Yankees’ poor performance in double play situations is that for the most part, it’s not the regulars who are doing the damage. This year, the average AL batter is hitting into a twin killing 10.6 percent of the time (the NL rate is almost exactly 10 percent). For example, Derek Jeter has hit into four double plays in 25 opportunities, which is 16 percent. That looks bad, but it’s not, really — one fewer and he’d be right at the league average. The same goes for Melky Cabrera, who has also pounded into four DPs in 25 chances. Brett Gardner, with two in 17 chances, is at the league average, which is surprising given his speed, but less so when one considers that he hits more ground balls than any Yankee except Derek Jeter. The worst Yankees regular is Robby Cano, who has hit into five in 28 chances, or 17.9 percent, but again, that’s not a horror-movie number — Geovany Soto and Mike Lowell are at 30 percent in a significant number of chances (29 and 40, respectively). Several Yankees have actually done a terrific job at staying out of the double play. Nick Swisher, last night’s DP villain, has hit into only two in 33 chances. Johnny Damon has only two. Hideki Matsui and Mark Teixeira are both around six percent.
It’s actually the guys who haven’t played much, or played too much due to injuries, that are driving the Yankees’ into a high number of twin killings at bat. Together, Cody Ransom, Xavier Nady, Kevin Cash, Angel Berroa, Jose Molina, and Francisco Cervelli have hit into 11 double plays in 44 chances, or 45 percent. There’s not much that Joe Girardi can do to address the situation except not play those guys — he already calls as many or more hit-and-run plays as any manager in the game. Unfortunately, he hasn’t always had the choice not to play them, and the existence or continuation of Ransom, Cash, Berroa, and Molina as Yankees was the general manager’s call — but now we’re away from talking about the double play and once more in the realm of depth, so never mind.
In the short term, it’s little consolation that the Yankees blew a chance to take first place in part because of missed offensive opportunities, but at least you can be sure that it was a bit of a poorly timed fluke on the part of two of the three. There’s also an “on the other hand,” which is that when Jorge Posada comes back the team’s double play rate will actually pick up, because Posada runs like the 37-year-old catcher he is. Fortunately, Posada does other things with the bat that more than make up it. You can’t say that about the 11-for-44ers above.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Orioles 7, Blue Jays 2: Just over 10,000 showed up at Camden Yards to see the Orioles deal the Jays their eighth straight loss. During the streak, Jays batters are hitting .251/.306/.331, which is very bad but isn’t too different from what Padres hitters did during their recent winning streak. Of course, the Padres had great pitching, whereas the Jays have allowed nearly six runs a game. No doubt you’ve heard that Matt Wieters finally comes up on Friday. With Wieters, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis the Orioles are finally changing, and none too soon… I’ll talk more about Wednesday’s game in our next entry, but it should be noted that the Jays dropped their ninth straight to the Orioles in daytime action, the pen being unable to follow up Roy Halladay’s strong start. The Jays are now just four games over .500 and the division is wide open.
Mets 6, Nationals 1: The Nats DFA’d Daniel Cabrera. As Bill Ladson reported at MLB.com, GM Mike Rizzo said, “I looked at the execution of the performance and it wasn’t up to par. I was tired of watching it.” You have to appreciate a candid GM. Among other things, this should inoculate the Yankees from having to face the spectacularly tedious Mr. Cabrera during interleague play (as Bob Uecker said in “Major League,” “Ball three… Ball four… Ball eight…”). Adam Dunn homered again… Just sayin’. Another home run for Gary Sheffield, and he’s now batting .291/.430/.535. Talk about getting something for nothing, and a needed something now that the Mets are in the position of having to play 20-year-old prospect Fernando Martinez, who hasn’t actually looked very prospect-y in years.
Reds 6, Astros 4: Another three-hit night for Miguel Tejada, but that was most of the fun as Roy Oswalt is no longer the lucky rabbit of yore. Among the most unexpected events in baseball this season: a Laynce Nix renaissance in left field for the Reds, which is kind of like a Rod Stewart renaissance taking over for the late Joe Strummer in a Clash reunion tour. It’s just not something you’d ever think about.
Indians 5, Rays 1: Can’t tell a lie — Carl Pavano killed. Four Indians hit home runs, three of which probably shouldn’t have been in the lineup, but sometimes you win with your worst foot forward. Both of these clubs lost key players yesterday, with Jason Bartlett hitting the DL with a sprained ankle, and Grady Sizemore may take a seat with a left elbow that’s feeling poorly. The Indians shuffled Matt LaPorta off the roster to get another center fielder up to the bigs, so my criticism of them yesterday was in error.
Phillies 5, Marlins 3: The much-denigrated (at least by me) Joe Blanton had one of the best starts of his career, shutting out the Marlins for seven frames, striking out 11. That has far more to do with the Marlins with Blanton, as their defining characteristic as an offense is the strikeout. Make that double if Hanley Ramirez’s groin sidelines him for more than 30 seconds.
Cubs 6, Pirates 1: Cut short by rain, and you can expect that Lou Piniella danced in it, maybe more like Roger Daltrey closing out “Quadrophenia” than Gene Kelly — this win got the team that was going to end the 100-year-old dry spell to the break-even point. Elements of the Cubs that haven’t disappointed this year: Kosuke Fukudome, Ted Lilly, Johnny Evers. Evers in particular has done exactly what was expected of him.
Cardinals 8, Brewers 1: The Cards are pitching at about 20 percent above league average, the mark of not only a good pitching team, but a staff on the verge of having a great season. Whether the Cards can improve that much more I don’t know, but in this division they might not have to. Extra-credit to Adam Wainwright for his solo home run, thereby batting in as many runs as he allowed in seven innings.
Twins 5, Red Sox 2: One of the season’s great flukes — Nick Blackburn striking out seven Red Sox. Blackburn never strikes out seven anybodies. Jacoby Ellsbury has a 21-game hitting streak going, during which he’s batting .333/.366/.417. During the streak, he’s stolen 10 bases, been caught four times, and has driven in four runs.
6, Tigers 1: How does Jose Guillen have a .412 OBP? Not “how”– that’s like asking where babies come from–I mean, “Why?” …KC shortstops, principally Mike Aviles (now on the DL) are hitting .183/.214/.250 this year. With anything from the position, they might be leading the division right now. It also hurts that David DeJesus is having the worst season of his career. Haven’t mentioned another fine Zack Greinke start, and I won’t, except to say that for some, “potential” is a curse. It’s grand to see someone survive it.
Dodgers 7, Rockies 1: And there was much gnashing of teeth in Denver given the club’s .400 winning percentage, or maybe it was just losing to Eric Milton (and congratulations to the former Yankees’ draftee for making it back). Andre Ethier in May: .190/.298/.266, following up a .306/.423/.553. Shades of Melky ’08! That’s not to suggest that Ethier won’t be back, but that Melky should have been, or maybe that we just don’t know what turns a hitter on or off–the recipe is probably something like one-third mental, one-third physical, and one-third luck (sprinkle lightly with shredded cheese, serve over pasta).
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 5: Thus endeth the Padres’ winning streak, as Max Scherzer strikes out 10 in seven innings… Mark Reynolds is just off of last year’s 204-strikeout pace; he’d finish with 202 in the same number of at-bats. Scherzer is only 2-7 in his brief major league career, but his ERA is 3.21, and he’s K’d 119 in 106.2 innings. Of the current roster, Scherzer and Justin Upton will be part of the next great ‘Backs team, but you can’t be certain of anyone else. At .173/.220/.313, Chris Young has to be one of the biggest failures to launch in recent baseball history, a kid who came up with all the tools but didn’t develop a centimeter from where he started.
White Sox 4, Angels 2: Big day for the Nix family, as Jayson hit two home runs to go with Laynce’s one. What is it with that family and the letter “y?” Big Scrabble fans? Bart Colon’s win pushed his quality start percentage up to 33 percent, still well below average… Bobby Abreu hit his first home run of the season.
Athletics 4, Mariners 3: The A’s did all their scoring in one frame, Jason Giambi driving in two runs on a single as the Seattle pen tossed away six shutout innings from Jarrod Washburn. With Kenji Johjima off for a long stay on the DL, the M’s didn’t call up Jeff Clement, batting .309/.382/.533 at Triple-A Tacoma. The guy has his limitations — he’s an offensive catcher with a big swing — but given that the M’s are by far the worst offensive club on the circuit , you’d think they would go for a little more offense. Oddly, for a team that can’t hit, the Mariners have tried the fewest hitters in the American League. They’re standing pat, even though their lineup looks a lot like that of the ’54 Pirates.
Giants 4, Braves 0: And nothing to say about it except, “Lincecum!” Also, every time I load up the news on the Internet, there’s something about “Jon and Kate.” I have not the foggiest who they are, and don’t think I’m going to try to find out. Jon, Kate, Bread, Circuses — there are bigger fish to fry, like baseball (?).
This may be interesting only to me, but I’m fascinated by the fact that CC Sabathia, who is not fat, far outweighs — this is going by listed weights, which are at least partially fictional, but it’s what we’ve got — Hippo Vaughn, Fats Fothergill (who died young of his name), Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons (listed at 185), Jumbo Elliot, and Blimp Phelps. I’m pretty sure, though, that Rich “El Guapo” Garces and Jumbo Brown could take him. Especially if they teamed up.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
Tigers 3, Indians 1: Yankees fans saw Justin Verlander shut down the Yankees, and he did the same thing to the Indians, limiting them to two hits, three walks and a single run in seven innings. Eleven Indians walked back to the dugout with their bats in their hands. Note that Matt LaPorta, slugging prospect, made his Major League debut in right field and went 0-for-4. By the way, Carl Pavano on Friday night: 7.1/5/2/2/0/3.
Blue Jays 4, Orioles 3: Birds swept by Bluebirds. It was easy to scoff at the idea of journeyman Scott Richmond holding up the Jays’ rotation in the absence of so many quality arms back in April, but it’s much harder to do so now that he’s 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA. Many of the bats that carried the Jays early have predictably cooled, and yet they’re still here. Their next three series are against the Indians, Angels, and A’s, so expect them to stick around a little longer. Then they get the Yankees at home, a test for both teams.
Houston 7, Braves 5: The Astros take two of three in Atlanta, an embarrassment for the latter club, a team with playoff aspirations. Braves pitching has been good, but they just can’t find the stick. It’s a strange day when once is forced to acknowledge that the return of a healthy Garrett Anderson could actually help — not that it will help a lot, but no one is hitting now, not even Chipper Jones.
Reds 5, Pirates 0: The two Pirates losses in this series were shutouts, one by Bronson Arroyo, the other by Johnny Cueto. Cueto has allowed one run in his last 23 innings (oppo: Cubs, Astros, Pirates). With Brandon Moss struggling, there’s an opening for team top prospect Andrew McCutchen, but his work at Triple-A (.261/.309/.466) doesn’t really demand it.
Rays 5, Red Sox 3: The Rays take an important series from the Sox and climb a little closer to .500. The Red Sox were never able to get things going with James Shields. He’s a tough pitcher no doubt, but you wonder how long Terry Francona can maintain faith in David Ortiz given his homerless .208/.298/.302 on the season — aside from the shortstops, the rest of his team is hitting. Also of note, the Rays have the capability to punish the Sox for sticking with Jason Varitek. Varitek has hit quite well this year, all things considered, but can’t throw. The league knew that, but they’ll certainly take note of the eight steals the Sox allowed today (six by Carl Crawford) and increase the pressure. At least Brad Penny pitched well.
Brewers 4, Diamondbacks 3: I mocked Tom Gordon’s advanced age in a previous installment, but it was still depressing to see him carried off the field with a serious hamstring injury after a play at the plate on Sunday. At this stage of his career, any injury could mean the end of what has been an extremely memorable career. Gordon spent a lot of time as a so-so starter when it was obvious from the outset that his outcomes were far better out of the pen. He had great stuff, a killer curve, and the apparent endurance to be a starter, but he struggled with control over longer outings and the required consistency was never quite there. He didn’t become a pure reliever until he was 30, and in that decade of his life, 30-39, he was 36-31 with 142 saves and an ERA of 3.10. It’s not hard to imagine that if he had spent his 20s in the bullpen — and he came up at 20 — we might be looking at a future Hall of Famer now.
Royals 7, Twins 5: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that over the weekend, Willie Bloomquist hit his first home run since June 26, 2007… Sidney Ponson is now 0-4, with a 7.16 ERA. Why not do what the Jays did and call up whatever pitcher you have closest to being ready and just gamble on the upside instead of the predictable downside? For the Royals, that might be Daniel Cortes, who they sent down for a Texas League encore (why?) – he hasn’t pitched well, but he has the stuff – and Carlos Rosa, a former starter who is bullpenning it at Triple-A Omaha… Luke Hochevar is off to a great start down there, 4-0, 1.44 ERA, though without dominant strikeout numbers. Their division is soft enough that one more pitcher could make a difference.
Cubs 6, Marlins 4: Time to panic about Ricky Nolasco (1-3, 7.03) yet? …It’s rather amazing that the Cubs are 13-11 with the middle or their order struggling as much as it has — Derek Lee, Milton Bradley, Geo Soto have yet to put their hitting shoes on, and Aramis Ramirez is hurt. As a team, the club has scored far more runs than you would have expected given the component parts.
Giants 1, Rockies 0: A Barry Zito start. He’s not been half bad this year. Though written off long ago, Zito is just the latest exemplar of the old truism that pitchers can reinvent themselves ( the previous exemplar, Randy Johnson, pitched seven shutout innings on Saturday at the age of 64). The problem is that they can revert just as quickly, especially when they’re Giants and are unlikely to be supported by any kind of offense. That too is a truism.
Mariners 8, Athletics 7: Fifteen innings to bury Oakland’s hopes of a rebirth in the year of weakened (and fallen) Angels. As the Clash sang , “How many local dollars for a local anesthetic?” Matt Holliday: 0-for-7 and he hadn’t done anything before that. At least Josh Outman, wannabe superhero, pitched a strong game, and they can put a portion of the loss on Brad Ziegler’s unavailability due to illness. Darn it, I always want to type “Ron Ziegler.” Older types and historians know why.
Dodgers 7, Padres 3: At 11-15 the Padres are not yet where they belong, but they’ll have to play outside of the division to get there… Matt Kemp is 4-for-24 over the last seven games and Manny Ramirez has missed time with a bum leg, but the Dodgers roll anyway behind Chad Billingsley, who may prove to be Joe Torre’s greatest pitching legacy after Mariano Rivera. What, you thought it was Rick Mahler?
Rangers 5, White Sox 1: In which both teams reach the .500 mark. Ian Kinsler hit his ninth home run, which is one more than the Twins’ Scott Baker has allowed. Note Chicago’s starting outfield, from left to right: Carlos Quentin, who has eight home runs but is hitting .200 over his