Inexcusable

Joe Girardi just managed the Yankees out of first place by using only one of his good relievers after CC Sabathia pitched a gem.

I can’t wait to hear the justification for going to Gaudin and then Mitre with Rivera, Robertson and Joba all sitting in the bullpen. Actually, there isn’t any justification. None of them had pitched since Saturday and each of them should have gotten into this game before Mitre or Gaudin even saw the ball.

AGGGHHHHHH!

At least there is another game tomorrow night.

Time To Wake Up

The Yankees have gone 9-7 over their last sixteen games. The problem is that they went 8-0 over the first half of that stretch and 1-7 over the second. And they only won that game with a walk-off homer against the Orioles.

None of that really matters at this point now because the next 11 days bring seven games against the Rays. As I noted last week, the Yankees have to come out of this stretch with a lead over Tampa if they want to have any hope of winning the division.

We will learn a lot about the Yankees over this stretch. I am really interested in tomorrow night’s game and the pitching of Ivan Nova. If he can turn in a good performance against the Rays in Tampa, you have to consider him for a postseason rotation spot. Phil Hughes has a huge start on Wednesday as he needs to show something. Hughes hasn’t been the same pitcher since May and the Yankees may have to resign themselves to the fact that he is suffering from a bit of a dead arm at this point and can’t be counted on for the playoff rotation.

It should be an exciting stretch. The Yankees have a lot of questions hanging over them as they head into the final 19 games of the season.

A Matter Of Trust

It’s 5-3 Yankees in the bottom of the sixth and Joe Girardi just pulled Javier Vazquez after 88 pitches and a leadoff single that was more about luck than anything else. Mitch Moreland is due up next for Texas and while he is off to a nice start in his career it’s hard to see how he is the guy you want Boone Logan to get out when Josh Hamilton is sitting on the bench. (Logan just walked him to make matters worse and Robertson is coming in) What bothers me about this move is that it really shows how little Joe Girardi believes in Vazquez. I’m not going to pretend that Vazquez has given Girardi a ton of reasons to believe in him, but this hook seems especially harsh. Coming on the heels of last week’s hook in the fifth inning it tells Vazquez that his manager has no confidence in him. Whatever you think of Javier Vazquez, the guy has managed to win 152 games in the majors over his career. I think Girardi would have been smart to leave him in there for another batter and save his only lefty reliever for later. Instead he has dealt another blow to Vazquez’s confidence and the Yankees will head to the 7th inning leading by a run and without a lefty in the pen if Josh Hamilton should pick up a bat tonight.

A Ring For A Ring?

Today’s injury news was very positive on the Posada front, but very negative on the pitching front. Unless miracles happen, we can probably cross Aceves and Marte off the list of guys we will see back in the Bronx this year. Both losses hurt, Marte would have given the Yankees a second lefty in the pen while Aceves showed in 2009 he could pitch in a variety of spots. My question is: will today’s news lead the Yankees to break the glass on their “emergency lefty” and summon Royce Ring to the majors?

The playoff bullpen is going to be a real conundrum. We can probably assume the Yankees will take 14 hitters, leaving 11 arms for the staff. We know some certainties- Sabathia, Rivera, Hughes, Pettitte, AJ, Logan, Wood, Robertson and Joba. But those final two spots are a mystery. I would assume one long guy from the quartet of Moseley, Vazquez, Gaudin and Mitre, makes it. (FYI-I am taking Cashman at his word that Nova is out of the discussion, but I hope he changes his mind!) And while the temptation to add a second from that group will be huge, wouldn’t another lefty in the pen make a ton of sense?

It will obviously depend on the matchups. If the Yankees play Texas, I would want to guarantee I can somewhat stymie Josh Hamilton by bringing a lefty up. After all, Hamilton’s slugging percentage goes from an insane .721 against righties to a scary .458 vs. lefties. If the opponent is the Twins, it is important to remember that lefties are Kryptonite to Joe Mauer and reduce the insane numbers of Justin Morneau somewhat. No matter the opponent, their best lefties suffer some impact when a lefty faces them.

My point is Royce Ring is worth a look in the next few weeks. Ring came to camp and while he didn’t make the team, he put up a 1.93 ERA in AAA this year. Against lefties, he allowed only a 1.13 ERA with 26 K’s in 24 innings. Adding him to the club requires a 40-man move, but Reggie Corona hit .238/.306/.354 in AAA this year. He could easily be DFA’ed to make room for Ring on the 40-man and then the Yankees could take a look. They can wait a bit, until Scranton finishes their playoff run, but let’s see Ring face Ortiz in a big spot and see what happens.

An Interesting Comment

Jack Curry gave a report during the third inning of the game tonight where he discussed a conversation he had with Brian Cashman. Cashman praised CC Sabathia and in speaking of a playoff rotation said that it would be Sabathia followed by 2 or 3 pitchers from a group including AJ, Pettitte, Hughes, Moseley and Vazquez. Ivan Nova was specifically excluded because they don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him now.

I’m certainly not ready to hand Nova anything, but how can you consider Dustin Moseley for a playoff start and not consider Nova? And while we are at it, what about Chad Gaudin who has a sub-4 ERA since coming back from Oakland? The playoffs are clearly all hands on deck and to me it shouldn’t matter much who the pitchers after CC and Pettitte are, just that they are the ones currently pitching the best. If Nova is rolling, give him the ball. Plenty of rookies have taken the ball and succeeded in the playoffs, including a 20-year old Sabathia in 2001.

Through Gritted Teeth I Say…

Let’s go Red Sox. That’s right, for the next three games, and those three games only, I want to see Boston win. The reason of course is that they play Tampa and the Yankees need to build a bigger cushion against Tampa.

The Yankees need to build as big a gap as they can between themselves and Tampa before the final 9 games of their season. When the Rays depart Yankee Stadium on September 23rd, they will return home to face Seattle and Baltimore before heading to KC for a four-game series to end the season. The Yankees will have to face Boston six times and Toronto three over that same span, with the final six games on the road.

A lead heading into those games is a must. The way things shape up right now, it’s between New York and Tampa for the best record in the AL. The winner gets homefield until the World Series while the loser gets the wild card and a tougher route through the playoffs. So, let’s go Boston, but just for these three games.

Dropping Jeter

Joel Sherman wrote in today’s Post that the Yankees should bat Jeter 8th or 9th in the lineup. He is absolutely correct, but as we all know it isn’t going to happen- this year.

The bigger Jeter question is what happens next year? I have seen many writers guess that Jeter will get a four-year/$25 million extension. To me, that is pure insanity and completely ignores the reality of the way Brian Cashman operates.

Cashman has shown time and again that he will not bend to sentimentality. He shipped off two fan favorites this past offseason in Damon and Matsui and don’t forget the whole Bernie Williams situation. If you are going to rank Yankees of the current era, I think you would have to put Bernie #3 behind Jeter and Rivera in terms of their meaning to the team. Yet when Williams’ big deal ended, his salary was cut by $10 million and he was given a one-year deal.

I don’t think the Yankees will be that drastic with Jeter. They want him back and the fact is they really don’t have anyone else right now to play short. (Eduardo Nunez hit .289/.340/.381 in Scranton this year- even diminished Jeter is better than that.) There is also the little matter of 3,000 hits and the Yankees will surely want to see Jeter to do that as a member of the pinstripes.

Depending on how he finishes this year, Jeter will be about 80 hits short of 3,000 when the season ends. Unless Nunez kicks it up several notches, the Yankees really don’t have anyone who profiles as a possible replacement for Jeter anywhere close to the majors. Creativity could be used in the trade market, but let’s assume that the Yankees need Jeter for at least 2011 and possibly 2012. To me the sensible approach is to offer arbitration and hope he takes it. Assuming he doesn’t, the solution would be more money and fewer years. How about starting with a one-year deal with an option for a second, triggered by a certain number of hits in 2011? You could pay him $22 million per season, way more than he is worth and a raise from his present deal, but also a measure of the respect the organization has for him. Included in this offer will be the understanding that he is moving down in the lineup. Down to where to be determined in spring training.

I don’t think Jeter would find anything like that deal on the free agent market. How many teams are going to be interested in paying a 36-year old shortstop any kind of money after a season like the one he is having? The Yankees really have the leverage here, but I think they will be smart enough not to alienate Jeter. These will be quiet conversations and I don’t think we will hear very much about the negotiations until they are completed.

Spring Training In September

Moseley is out, Vazquez is in. AJ pitches better and stays in. Hughes needs shorter outings. Andy Pettitte is trying to get stretched out. Ivan Nova is trying to open some eyes with his pitching. Does anyone else think it is March? A good indication of the depths of the Yankees’ rotation frustrations is the rumored attempts to add Ted Lilly and get an exemption from postseason roster rules. I don’t blame Brian Cashman for trying, but it is a pretty amazing spot to be in with 29 games left on the schedule. We all know who would be the #1 starter in the playoffs, but beyond that you could really pick the names out of a hat. Could the Yankees really trust AJ with anything in the playoffs? Last night was better, but consider the fact that he has given up 6 earned runs or more in 9 of his starts. That means 33% of the time he gets absolutely shelled. He went from an 0-5 11.35 ERA in June to 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in July back to 0-4 with a 7.80 ERA in August. I don’t care what happens between now and October, you can’t give this guy the ball with anything on the line. That leaves the Yankees hoping Pettitte gets healthy and returns to be effective. Praying that Hughes can regain his control and hoping that Nova’s first two starts weren’t a fluke. The good news is the bullpen seems to be really rounding into shape. The 1996 Yankees won it all with mediocre starting pitching and a great bullpen. The 2010 Yankees very well may have to repeat that formula.