Despite getting some things in Game 5 that seemed impossible just hours and minutes before they happened — big hits from Mark Teixeira and (holy cow) Robinson Cano — Joe Girardi helped pay back a terrific Yankees rally by once again mismanaging his pitchers. There are many questions to ask about the fatal bottom of the seventh, some in the Yankees’ control, some not.
1. Why can’t the Yankees retire Jeff Mathis, a career .200 hitter who normally strikes out once every 3.3 at-bats, equivalent to 152 Ks over a 500 at-bat season?
2. With a rested bullpen and another day off in front of him, why did the previously hyper-twitchy Joe “Coffee Joe” Girardi stay with A.J. Burnett to open the frame? Sure, his pitch count was on the low side, but he had also been on the bench for nearly half an hour and, despite settling down after being roughed up in the first inning, had struck out only three Angels, suggesting that, lacking his best stuff, he could again be damaged by a combination of walks and balls in play.
3. Why wasn’t Burnett yanked after the Mathis single to open the inning? Having broken ground on his grave, he was allowed to dig further by walking Erick Aybar, a hitter who took just 30 free passes in the regular season in close to full-time play. Girardi, who was so pepped to make changes in prior games, sat on his hands after the Mathis hit.
4. Why not start the inning with Phil Hughes? The way relievers pitch when they enter with men on is very different from the way they pitch when they start an inning. Though Mariano Rivera has performed some Houdini-like escapes in this series, including one to bail out Joba Chamberlain in this very game, even he yielded to the Twins in Game 2 of the Division Series, entering with two men on and allowing an RBI single.
5. If the Angels’ batting order was the problem and Girardi didn’t want to have Hughes pitch to Chone Figgins after (theoretically) retiring Mathis and Aybar, then why not burn David Robertson and his strikeouts in that spot, then pull him for the inevitable lefty?
6. Related to the previous question, is it really even necessary to worry about the platoon matchup when facing Chone Figgins? The Yankees have done a great job of taking him out of this series, in part by giving him a steady diet of lefty pitching to face. But even if Figgins beats a righty pitcher, he is likely to beat him with a single; this is a guy who homered once every 123 at-bats this year. The same is true, though to a lesser extent, of Bobby Abreu. Even against right-handers, he hit just 12 home runs in nearly 400 at-bats. That’s one per 32 ABs. Against hitters like these, a manager should only pursue the platoon advantage if it’s not going to trip them up in other ways.
In this case, it led to Girardi, so profligate with relievers previously, to keep his starter in the game, solely so he could avoid making a pitching change before those two lefties were due up. And as long as we’re on the subject of platoon advantages, let’s talk about Damaso Marte for a moment, and for that matter, Phil Coke as well. Even Casey Stengel, who loved the platoon more than anything else in the world save his wife, said that you don’t switch out a good pitcher for a bad one just to get a platoon advantage. You can see that done every day of the regular season, and though the move worked out in Game 5, Girardi might have been guilty of it here.
7. It didn’t have an impact on the game thanks to Rivera, but why is Chamberlain pitching ahead of Robertson, or Urban Shocker for that matter? It’s depressing, but sending Joba back to the bullpen has not magically turned the clock back to 2007. There are still the makings of a fine pitcher here — the guy just turned 24, which means he’s about 2.5 years younger than Tampa’s Jeff Niemann, who is going to get some Rookie of the Year votes. There is still time for him, but his moment might not be now.
8. I am sick of the Rally Monkey. Have the Yankees’ scoreboard operators gotten to work on the New York equivalent as of yet? Guys, I want to see Rally Kong climbing the Empire State Building and smashing biplanes. You don’t need more than a day to get that set up, right?
TEMPTED, BUT THE TRUTH IS DISCOVERED
With the Phillies in place for the World Series, the temptation is to jump ahead and crank up the head-to-head comparison with the Yankees. That would be premature. A.J. Burnett can be a riddle wrapped in an enigma decorated in squid ink, and when he’s off he’s really off. Yet, it would be wrong to think of him as truly unpredictable, because he gave the Yankees a quality start roughly two-thirds of the time. This was just a bit better than John Lackey (who did suffer from a strained elbow this year).
The great break that Burnett gets in this series is that when he’s off his game, he’s wild, but the Angels, by nature of their offensive approach, are not inclined to let him be wild. Despite all the talk that Bobby Abreu has made the Angels more successful by his example, if you remove him — along with Chone Figgins — from the equation (and they’ve pretty much removed themselves in this series), and they remain a team that likes to hack. The Yankees have nearly doubled them up on walks, 23-13. Arguably, they are also putting better pitches in play, as they’ve struck out more than the Angels but have gotten far better results when they have made contact.
As I write this, Coffee Joe is still mulling his lineup, which one assumes will be sans Jorge Posada. Melky Cabrera’s solid showing in the previous game probably bought him another start, whereas before it seemed likely that at some point Girardi would go to Brett Gardner for a game. We’ve seen the manager navigate the Jose Molina/Posada switch a couple of times now, and it hasn’t cost the Yankees. However, it remains to be pointed out that if there’s a high-leverage situation early in the game, he must pull the trigger on a pinch-hitter.
All of his fooling around with pinch-runners and incessant pitching changes doesn’t have half the potential to change the game’s outcome as putting a good hitter up with two runners on. Maybe Burnett’s comfort level is affected after such a switch, maybe not, but if you’re up by a few runs instead of trapped in a game where the score is just a run or so apart, you can pay a lot less heed to that particular issue. Plus, with the possibility of getting a nice rest before the World Series as part of the payoff for winning today, you can throw the bullpen at the Angels — which, let’s face it, Girardi was going to do anyway.
BYE BYE BLACKBIRD
Joe Torre has gone home again, and it was a bit sad to watch him try to hold back the tears at this latest disappointment. More than ever, it seems like he’s never going to get another chance to live down the 2003 World Series. Or 2004. Or Joba’s 2006 Attack of the Insect Kingdom.
Give Torre credit for surviving to manage, and manage relatively well — at least in the regular season — to the age of 69. As I said last night, not too many managers are working successfully at his age, or working at all. Unfortunately, Torre has never been a great in-game manager, and while it’s hard to pin too much of the blame on him for a series in which his pitchers had an ERA of 7.38 and his hitters put up a .287 on-base percentage, he still made numerous decisions, from starting Ron Belliard ahead of Orlando Hudson (reminiscent of his benching Tino Martinez for Cecil Fielder in the 1996 postseason) to casting Chad Billingsley into the bullpen. He emphasized a player’s short-term struggles or hot streak over longer-term results.
He didn’t show the same kind of manic hand in the postseason that Coffee Joe has displayed this year, but he never did. He just made his choices, picked his loyalties and stuck with them. This was a great asset in the days when George Steinbrenner was inclined towards a more impulsive leadership, but it’s a serious detriment when you have to shift gears on the fly, which the postseason demands. With luck, he’ll get to try again next year, assuming the strained ownership situation with the Dodgers doesn’t curtail their offseason efforts to get what they’re missing: one more starting arm, one more starting bat.
During last night’s chat, I made an off-hand comment that CC Sabathia had just pitched one of the best postseason games in Yankees history. This is undoubtedly true, but I had forgotten just how many Yankees had gone out and pitched shutouts in World Series play. Whitey Ford had three, Allie Reynolds two, and then there were one-offs by Waite Hoyt, Carl Mays, Vic Raschi, Ralph Terry, Spud Chandler, and (oh yeah) that Don Larsen guy. Going down to the League Championship level, there’s the nigh-obscene game Roger Clemens pitched against the Mariners in 2000, in which he held them to one hit, two walks and 15 strikeouts.
Still, if Sabathia’s night isn’t in the top echelon, it was close enough. The game lacked any tension once the Yankees took the lead, in large part because Sabathia didn’t allow them to build any momentum. He also set a terrific example for the occasionally twitchy A.J. Burnett to live up to in Game 2, assuming rain delays don’t knock him out after an inning or two.
I wish I had stats that showed how Burnett has fared pitching in freezing rain, but given that he spent most of his pre-Yankees career in the warmth of Miami or under a dome in Toronto, doubtless he hasn’t too much experience in that regard. Whatever the conditions, he’s made six starts against the Scioscia-men and has gone 2-2 with a 4.43 ERA. The overall line, 40.2 innings, 43 hits, 22 runs, 20 earned, five home runs, 11 walks, 39 strikeouts, doesn’t look all that bad; sometimes the little white ball just takes a funny bounce or two and things go all pear-shaped.
As you know, Jose Molina is catching again today, while Mike Napoli is in the battery for the Angels, so shift a little offensive advantage the Angels’ way, at least for the at-bat or two that goes to Molina before Joe Girardi pulls him. He did so well with this in the last round that I don’t see the point in worrying about it. The only point to raise, as I did last time, is that the manager should be aggressive — if Molina bats in a key situation early, it might be worth sacrificing the defense for a chance to put some crooked numbers on the board. That’s Casey Stengel speaking through me on that one, and he got seven rings out of thinking that way so I believe him.
A couple of quick notes:
? No matter how many times the announcers say that Bobby Abreu somehow turned the Angels into a team of Ed Yost-ian walking men, it just ain’t true. With the exception of Howie Kendrick, who was threatened with professional extinction if he didn’t get wise to himself and his impatient approach, most of the improvement shown by the Angels is down to Abreu himself. As with so many things, like the Angels “creating havoc” on the bases, it just ain’t true. They were third in the league in stolen bases and got caught more than anyone else. If this be havoc, the Yankees should say, let us have more of it. This should work to Burnett’s advantage. Note that even when the Angels beat him, it wasn’t because he went walk-crazy, as he sometimes does. In fact, his walk rate against the Angels is about half of what it is normally.
? Second point about “havoc.” It’s just one bloody base. If Team A steals three bases and Team B hits three home runs, guess which team is going to win? As with the sacrifice bunt, the stolen base is a situational tool, and that’s all. Babe Ruth changed that in 1920. At the end of his career, after Lefty Gomez was let go by the Yankees, he had a tryout with a National League team. Asked the difference between the two leagues, Gomez said, “Over here they play like they don’t know John McGraw has been dead for ten years,” by which he meant that Dead Ball-era tactics were still being employed in the Senior Circuit. That Gomez was incorrect to cite McGraw notwithstanding — the Little Napoleon was among the first to realize the strategic implications of the lively ball and to change his ways — he was correct that many in baseball did not know that those old weapons had diminished in value, and even today there are many who do not know.
From the comments on yesterday’s entry: You wrote this article about CC purely for the reason so that if for whatever reason he doesn’t pitch well in Game 4 you can say “I told you so.” Nice self-serving article. It would have nothing to do with the fact that the angels have always hit him well, or that after they see him in Game 1 they make some adjustments and take him the other way like the Twins did. Especially since that is what the Angels do. Just a very selfish posting.– acepoint01
Acepoint01, I’m flattered that I strike you as the kind of evil genius that would have the foresight and coordination to place an item like that purely for my own aggrandizement, but if you’d been around longer, it would be obvious to you that I have a hard enough time putting my shoes on the right feet each day, trying not to get lost on the way to the office–which, for the most part, is in my house–and writing an entry or two each day. Honest, pal, I’m just trying to present both sides of the issue, not polish my own statue–for more on the state of which, please see Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince”:
“The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer,” said the Mayor in fact, “he is little better than a beggar!”
“Little better than a beggar,” said the Town Councilors.
…So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince. “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,” said the Art Professor at the University.
By the bye, Sabathia had two rough-ish starts against the Angels this year, but prior to that, his career record against them was 5-5 with a 4.24 ERA. In those two difficult starts, he struck out 11 in 13.1 innings, walked just four, and allowed no home runs. I don’t see those two games as having much predictive power given that the abuse he suffered was a matter of balls in play finding their way to safety, not grape being blasted over the walls. Sabathia missed the Angels completely in ’08, and was 2-0 with a 1.12 ERA against them in ’07, so not only do I find your evaluation of my motives mysterious and misguided, but your basic premise is inaccurate.
…With Angels-Yankees Head to Head Part II.
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.
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.
20-GAME WATCH: ANGELS VS. YANKEES
W-L R/G AB/HR PA/BB SB CS AVG OBP SLG
ANGELS 9-11 5.1 36.6 11.7 21 3 .280 .343 .425
YANKEES 11-9 5.8 24.2 9.4 16 2 .275 .355 .464
ERA RA H/9 BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 OAVG OOBP OSLG
ANGELS 4.81 5.42 10.5 3.3 5.7 1.0 .295 .355 .421
YANKEES 5.64 6.09 9.1 3.8 7.3 1.3 .265 .347 .451
When was the last time the Yankees played the Angels in a four-game series and you felt like it wasn’t going to be an uphill battle the entire time? It feels like decades. Last year, the Yankees went 3-7 against the Angels, 3-6 the year before, 4-6 the year before, 4-6 in 2005… The Yankees went 6-3 against them in 2003, and that’s the last time they’ve been able to touch them. The year before that, the Angels manhandled the Yankees out of the playoffs, so even 2003 was very much an island in a stream of blood.
This time things would seem to be different. The Angels took a few steps backwards over the winter. Though Kendry Morales is crazy hot right now (.379/.419/.862, three homers over the last seven games), he’s not a replacement for Mark Teixeira. Brian Fuentes isn’t K-Rod. Injuries are a huge problem. Mike Napoli can’t stay in the lineup. Vlad Guerrero is out for the long haul, and Gary Matthews is having to play every day. Neither Erick Aybar nor Chone Figgins are hitting, but manager Mike Scioscia won’t give Brandon Wood a try, not that he’s a lock to hit with any consistency given his big swing and middling strike zone judgment.
The pitching has been dramatically thinned by injury as well as the tragic death of Nick Adenhart. The Yankees are going to see only two of the team’s top starters in this series, Jered Weaver in Game 2 and Joe Saunders in Game 4. Anthony Ortega is a rookie without a strikeout pitch. Matt Palmer is a 30-year-old journeyman who has been in the minors since 2002. He too has strikeout rates that are unsustainable in the major leagues. The Yankees should be able to go three-for-four against the Angels. It won’t be easy, it never is, but they’re not the special team they once were.