Angels-Dodgers. Angels-Phillies. Yankees-Dodgers. Yankees-Phillies. These are the World Series possibilities thanks to last night’s conclusion of the Phillies-Rockies series, a denouement hastened by Jim Tracy’s Night of the Living Dead decision to let Huston Street pitch to Ryan Howard with the game on the line, a devotion to the idea of the CLOSER so compulsive as to be akin to mental slavery. Howard hit .207/.298/.356 against lefties this year, .226/.310/.444 lifetime. Conversely, he’s a .305/.406/.661 career hitter against right-handers, a number likely to be elevated against Street, who has always had problems with lefties until this year (and there is good reason to believe that he was just lucky). Tracy had Joe Beimel heated up and ready to go, but because Street is his CLOSER he stuck with him and got exactly what should have expected to get. Way to go, Jim.
Before anyone jumps and asks if this means that, should there be a Yankees-Phillies World Series, Mariano Rivera should not be allowed to pitch to Howard, the answer is no, it does not mean that. Rivera’s cutter makes him very hard for left-handers to hit. Lefties are hitting .206/.256/.261 against him for his career, .182/.238/.273. He’s a full-service closer, and the normal rules do not apply.
THINGS WE NEVER SAW IN NEW YORK …
… Happened in last night’s game. First, Jason Giambi singled to the opposite field. He then scored from first on Yorvit Torrealba’s double. Where was that guy the last five years?
In today’s Joe Girardi conference call, the manager suggested that he could go with a three-man rotation in the championship series. This is feasible because due to the wonders of television scheduling, the American League Championship Series will last 10 days if it goes the distance. Thanks to three off-days, after Game 2, Game 4 and Game 5, CC Sabathia would be able to start Game 1, then Game 4 after three days off, and then Game 7 on normal rest. A.J. Burnett would start Games 2 and 5, the latter on normal rest, and Andy Pettitte would start Game 3 and Game 6, also on normal rest. The question is, how has Mr. Sabathia done on short rest? Sabathia didn’t make any quickened starts this year but has in the past. Last year he made three such starts and did quite well, allowing just two earned runs (six total) in 21.2 innings. Those three starts represent 75 percent of his starts under such conditions. In short, there’s a record of success in short rest, but we’re well short of conclusive evidence. This does seem like a better option than going with Chad Gaudin, who has not pitched well against the Angels in his career (19 games) or pulling Joba Chamberlain back out of the ‘pen and praying.
If you want an “on the other hand,” here it is: in the fourth inning of his next start, Sabathia will pitch his 240th inning of the season. The guy could get fatigued. The guy could already be fatigued. This seemed to be a problem in past postseasons; in 2007 and 2008, Sabathia entered October already past the 240 mark. You never know if making a start on short rest will hasten him toward the wall.
ANGELS-YANKEES HEAD TO HEAD, PART ONE
FIRST BASE: KENDRY MORALES (39.8 VORP, 12th among first basemen) vs. MARK TEIXEIRA (54.7 VORP, 5th)
Cuban import Morales finally had his big breakthrough this year, knocking 43 doubles and 34 home runs while hitting .306. Intriguingly, his line-drive rate was actually a tad low, while his batting average on balls in play was high, so he likely had some good luck this year. If his line drive rate is normal next year, we’ll never notice the correction. Morales was much better from the left side of the plate than from the right side, batting .296/.319/.481. He was far more consistent, far more patient, against right-handers, and it’s probably worth it for Girardi to turn him around in the late innings. Mike Scioscia very rarely put Bobby Abreu and Morales back to back in the lineup, as this would have created an exploitable vulnerability to lefty relievers.
Teixeira wasn’t set back by turning around, not this year and not during his career. In fact, he’s a bit more dangerous against left-handed pitching. He’s a career .388/.464/.551 hitter against John Lackey, has hit .261/.346/.652 against Jered Weaver, and is 7-for-11 against Scott Kazmir. The only Gold Glove in the conversation is Teixeira. EDGE: YANKEES.
SECOND BASE: HOWIE KENDRICK (16.5, 20th) vs. ROBINSON CANO (50.3, 3rd)
In their eagerness to whack the ball, Kendrick and Cano are similar players. Both players had a crisis in their 25th year, Kendrick hitting so poorly at the outset of this season (.231/.281/.355 through June 11) that he was sent down. He hit well in the sticks and was brought back about three weeks later. In the 54 games remaining to him, Kendrick hit .351/.387/.532 and was a bit more patient than he had been before, walking 10 times. That doesn’t seem like much, but this is a guy who had taken just 40 walks in 303 career games to that point. He hit .371 against left-handers after coming back, and batted .400 with runners in scoring position.
Cano had his most consistent season in 2009, hitting well except for a two-month, May-June cold snap. Even then, results were never as bleak as they had been the previous year (.271/.302/.439). He was at his best in the second half, hitting .336/.365/.557 after the break. Cano’s season had two major downsides. He continued to be a double-play threat due to his lack of speed, his tendency to hit grounders, and his ability to hit the ball hard even when he wasn’t hitting it anywhere good. The other problem was his spectacularly poor hitting with runners on, runners in scoring position, runners anything. Put a man on in front of him and he melted like ice on a hot stove. Defensively the two are a wash. I see this as EDGE: NONE.
Third base, shortstop, catcher.
GOOD-BYE WOODIE HELD
A brief note marking the passing of one-time Yankee Woody Held. Held was signed by the Yankees and had a couple of brief trials with the big club, but the team looked at his limitations — strikeouts, low batting average, shaky defense at short — and ignored the fact that he had a ton of power for a shortstop of the day. In a move that Casey Stengel later acknowledged was a mistake, Held was spun off to the Kansas City A’s in one of the many trades the Yankees made with that ballclub (they got back Ryne Duren) and not retrieved. He went on to hit 179 Major League home runs in a 14-season career during which he played everywhere on the field except first base and catcher. His versatility made him a Stengel-type player, but Casey never got the chance. Regrets from this page to Mr. Held’s family and friends.
HOLD THAT BULLPEN
Nothing I haven’t said before, but it’s current: Ken Rosenthal reports that the Yankees will be looking to trade for a setup man. They might give Mark Melancon another try first. It would be far cheaper to have him succeed than to deal off Jesus Montero for Huston Street. Melancon hasn’t pitched all that well lately, but has maintained great control in the Minors, walking just under two batters per nine innings, and of course he’s still striking out more than a man per inning. I’m not exactly sure why the folks at Scranton felt they had to let him pitch three innings on Tuesday, but we’ll assume that was an aberration.
As frustrating as the Yankees’ pen has been at time this year, it has overall been about average in its performance. Deleting Jonathan Albaladejo and Edwar Ramirez was a huge step in the right direction. David Robertson has been quite good the second time around, having allowed no runs in his seven appearances since returning. That said, four of those seven appearances have been in losses, and two others were in games in which the Yankees were leading by a large margin. It might be time for Joe Girardi to try entrusting Robertson with a higher leverage role. Al Aceves has also been quite the discovery, last night’s disappointing outing notwithstanding. If Brian Bruney finally returns and is healthy, a lot of the pressure to seek outside help should lift. At least, that’s the theory.
CANO: THE CAUTION HORSES
Seems to me that Robinson Cano’s latest slump is not getting a lot of play. While a certain segment of fandom wants to see Nick Swisher benched every time he strikes out with runners on, Cano gets a pass, because periods of extreme pointlessness is part of what we’re used to with Robby. Yet, Cano really hasn’t been hitting on all cylinders since April’s .366/.400/.581. While he hit for good power in May, his batting average dropped to .272, and since the six walks he took in April stayed in April, his on-base percentage for the month was under .300. This month he hasn’t hit anything at all. Despite 13 multi-hit games since the end of the season’s first month, Cano has batted only .248/.281/.392 in his last 38 games. The average American League second baseman is hitting .271/.333/.410, so as always with Cano, Hot Robby is a real contributor and Cold Robbie is a real problem.
Unfortunately, you can’t platoon Robbie against himself. Since a manager never knows when he’s going to be hot or cold, he can’t bench him only on the cold nights, plus there’s the traditional school of baseball thought, possibly correct, that claims that a hitter has to hit his way out of a slump (usually, if you listen to broadcasters, by bunting, but never mind). That leaves the team with a player who has some months out of the Rogers Hornsby catalogue and others that even Cody Ransom wouldn’t sniff at. Well, maybe Ransom, but you get the idea.
Cano has valuable, of course, especially in the absence of an obvious replacement. There’s no argument here that he be summarily dispensed with. Yet, his overall production for the season is sliding to the point where he’s closer to last year’s numbers than to the good stuff of the previous two seasons. He is, in essence, a tease. I’ve said this before: At some point, the Yankees may need to confront the reality that a player with lower highs and higher lows might be give them more value. Fortunately for Cano, that player is not yet part of the organization. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Cano’s contract escalates to $9- and then $10 million over the next two seasons, so their options may be very limited.
… And of course Cano is batting fifth tonight. Sometimes I don’t understand what Joe Girardi is thinking. If he’s thinking that Cano has a career batting average of .333 against tonight’s starter Livan Hernandez, he might want to consider that Cano has only had six at-bats against him. We’ve seen these kinds of small samples cited in lineup decisions before.
AND ONE THING ON SWISHER
I realize he made a key baserunning error last night, but the guy does have an OBP just under .400, is slugging .538, and is second in the league in walks drawn. He just misses making the league top 10 in whatever overall hitting metric you chose. He’s been a very potent hitter for the Yankees, and to run the guy out of town over one mental error is … a mental error.
YOU KNOW THOSE READER COMMENTS I PROMISED?
They’re still coming, eventually … I had a few other things on my mind I wanted to get to first. I’ll also be updating Wholesome Reading throughout the weekend, so stay tuned.