Yankees

Nice Work

The Yankees did what they needed to, taking 2 of 3 from Seattle and building the wild card lead to three games. With 22 to go, they are in the driver’s seat and now need to put the hammer down. Three games against the Royals while the Mariners and Tigers play each other offers a chance to increase the lead before things get tougher next week.

With the day off today and Monday, the Yankees can play with the rotation a lot. They will use Kennedy, Pettitte and Wang this weekend and then Hughes can start Tuesday against Toronto with Kennedy and Pettitte following him and Wang in line to start the Boston series. That means no Mike Mussina and no Roger Clemens until September 15th in Boston. That’s when the Yankees will have to use one of them or go with someone else. September 15th is the final day of the International League playoffs, so unless Scranton goes the distance, the Yankees will have a number of choices.

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My only complaint from last night’s game is a familiar one, what is Rivera doing in that game? I know he hasn’t pitched since Saturday, but Tuesday night Joe used Vizcaino in a blowout and now he is out indefinitely. If Rivera needs work, have him throw on the side, throw BP, throw against a wall, just don’t use him in 10-2 games.

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Lastly, is it me or does all the football talk right now annoy you as well? I love football and I will watch tonight’s game, but I head one sports radio guy say that “now baseball is over”. Seriously, I can’t understand that kind of reasoning when you have good wild card races in the AL and NL, and two amazing division races in the NL. Watch football all you want, but don’t knock baseball this time of year.

That’s An Ace

Critics will point to a lack of strikeouts as a major flaw and his somewhat high ERA, but Chien-Ming Wang is an “ace” in my mind. Yes, he doesn’t strike people out and yes, he can be hit at times. But, think about when the game is on the line and the Yankees need a big effort, who is the guy you want to see holding the ball?

In my mind it is Wang. Tonight they needed a big win, last week they needed a win for a sweep. In July it was two big wins against LA and Minnesota that got things going for the Yankees. It’s funny, but I always think of a game he pitched against Washington last year as when Wang showed he was an ace. I say funny because he lost. It was June 18th and the Yankees were desperate for a quality start because they had burned through most of their bullpen in the first two games of the series. Wang came out and dominated for the first 8 innings, entering the ninth with a 2-1 lead. He got the first out of the ninth, but then gave up a hit and a home run to end things right there. Ballgame over, but Wang had saved the bullpen for later in the season.

I would guess that by the end of 2009, Wang will no longer be looked at as an ace for the Yankees. Hughes will probably be established by then and Joba seems to have the highest ceiling of them all. But, I don’t know if I will ever feel as comfortable watching any of them as I do when I see Wang, the guy just knows how to deliver.

Wake Up!

I realized this morning that the last game I saw that the Yankees actuallly won was August 19th. Part of that was because I was on a trip, but another part of that is beacause the Yankees have gone 6-8 over their last 14 and that includes the sweep of Boston.

The main problem as Joel Sherman alludes to today with his clever headline of “Wang and Pettitte and Then Forget It” is that the starting pitching isn’t very good. Actually, most of the pitching isn’t very good. The Yankees have gone 16-12 over the last month and they have done that with a team ERA of 5.41. So, as the offense cools, the pitching simply isn’t there to pick things up.

To their credit, the Yankees have tried to address this. Joba is now a fixture in the bullpen and Kennedy will make another start this week. That certainly helps, but with Roger Clemens missing at lest a start that means Mike Mussina will rejoin the rotation (8.33 ERA over the last month) . Sean Henn (17.27) is back in the minors, but the Yankees have to rely on Phil Hughes (5.53) every fifth day. Kyle Farnsworth has turned his year around (2.08) but Edwar Ramirez (5.23) hasn’t provided a spark since he has surrendered four home runs in ten innings.

At this point, with the wild card really a dead heat (Seattle is tied with New York in the loss column) there is nothing to lose by trying every asset they have. Jose Veras is back in the bigs and should be tried out in singificant relief roles. Baseball allows teams to play the last 25 games or so with expanded rosters and the Yankees should take advantage of that. Other than Andrew Brackman, every other pitcher on the 40-man roster has pitched for the Yankees this year or last. Seven of them are still in the minors and they should all be recalled. Get them up here and send see if quantity can replace quality. Who knows, maybe Chase Wright can dazzle out of the bullpen for an inning here or there. Maybe Mike Mussina would be effective if he knew he was only going to pitch three innings each time out. What about using Clippard/DeSalvo/Igawa and Karstens two innings each in a game? I know it is radical and not traiditional baseball, but the Yankees have to try something else.

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It is sad that Andy Phillips is going to miss the rest of the season. By all accounts, he is a great guy and he has had way more than his share of bad luck. But, it will allow the Yankees the rectify a big hole in their lineup. Phillips hit .292/.338/.373 which just doesn’t cut it. I am all for having Giambi play there more because while the defense is weakened at first, it is strengthened if the Yankees put Damon in left and Matsui at DH. (Note for 2008, Damon is a pretty good left fielder so far). Since Giambi at first every day won’t hold up for the rest of the year, how about a platoon of Duncan and Betemit at first?

Duncan has certainly earned some playing time and his .800 slugging percentage against LHP speaks for itself. Betemit has hit a big slump, but I think that may be more a function of adjusting to New York and his role here. In his career he has hit .267/.348/.467 against RHP, why not give it a whirl?

The Week That Was

The Yankees get humiliated in Detroit Monday, sweep Boston, get humiliated against Tampa Friday and then see the third of their young guns pitch pretty well for a win Saturday. Meanwhile, Seattle loses eight-straight and the Yankees are now two-games up in the wild card. And since I didn’t see a single pitch of any of it, I can’t really say much more about it. But, I do have a few observations from reading box scores.

1- Bravo to the Yankees for benching Mussina after Monday’s pounding and rolling the dice with Kennedy. From what I read, Brian Cashman doesn’t think his innings limit (whatever that may be) will be a concern for the rest of the year, so good for them.

2- Speaking of Mussina, why won’t the Yankees pitch him in relief? If a starter gets bombed, why wouldn’t they call on Moose? I know they are trying to keep him happy, but Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi have shelved their egos, why can’t Mussina be expected to as well?

3- Phil Hughes is struggling, which isn’t that surprising when you consider his age. The question is, how long can the Yankees keep throwing him out there? His next start is Wednesday in a huge game with Seattle. If he doesn’t pitch well, they have to consider putting someone else in his spot.

4- Chris Britton made it out of AAA, this has to be a mistake right?

5- September callups for Kennedy, Veras and Gonzalez with Mientkiewicz activated. I am just confused as to why the Yankees chose to DFA Kevin Thompson and keep Bronson Sardinha. Sardinha may have more of an upside, he is four years younger, but Thompson could help this club now. He can steal bases and play great defense. He may never amount to more than a 4th or 5th outfielder, but that would be a nice thing on the bench for September in my mind.

6- Scranton made the AAA playoffs, so we won’t see some additional players for a bit, but I would bet that Karstens and DeSalvo will be brought back when they end and maybe, just maybe Kei Igawa. The Yankees need to see if Igawa can pitch in the bigs at all and a September blowout would be a good place to start.

26 games left, it should be a fun ride to the finish.

Keep It In Perspective

It’s tough to remember as you go through the season, but I bet 16 games ago, you would be happy to have the Yankees where they are now. 9-7 though the tough 20-game stretch. This allows them to finish the stretch 2-2 and still come out over .500.

(Now, to be honest, 2-2 would leave me wanting more. I want a win tomorrow and a win in the Red Sox series, nothing less than that.)

The other thing to remember is that Seattle is going to start facing some very tough competition. Three@ LA, One@Cleveland, 3@Toronto and then the big one, 3@ the Stadium. And, when they finish that stretch they still have 11 games left with Cleveland, LA and Detroit.

So, despite the tough losses, bad play and general malaise I feel tonight, things are ok. Tomorrow morning we will wake up and the Yankees will either be 2 or 3 games out of the wild card. Not wonderful, but considering the whole picture, not terrible.

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One last note, I am off on a family trip for the next week, but hopefully I will be able to check in with some updates along the way.

Don’t forget the “second” trading deadline is Friday, if Moose gets bombed, I would bet a veteran starter shows up courtesy of Brian Cashman.

Moose Replacement?

The papers are full of speculation that Mike Mussina will be replaced in the starting rotation after Monday if he gets shelled again. Now, I am not going to attempt to defend Mussina’s pitching recently, he has stunk, and if you look at some splits things get a little more frightening. Consider the top and bottom halves of the league in terms of runs scored. Against the teams in the top half, Mussina has a 6.39 ERA against the bottom half it is 4.42.

The fact that he pitches worse against the best teams is not a shock, but the fact that he is only league-average against the lower half is a cause for concern. It is obvious to anyone that watches him, that Mussina has lost his fastball, but the stats suggest that he isn’t really fooling anyone. So, the Yankees are right to think about replacing him in the rotation, the problem is, who do you put in his place?

Right off the top, cross Joba off your list. His inning cap of 130 makes it impossible (more on that later) and since putting him back in the rotation would bump the risk of an injury, the Yankees would never do it.

And that’s the big problem, there really isn’t a candidate in the system you can get excited about. Matt DeSalvo didn’t exactly dazzle in his time in the Bronx, so would you want him back? Likewise with Kei Igawa and Jeff Karstens. Tyler Clippard and Chase Wright are currently in AA ball. Ian Kennedy also has an innings cap and while I don’t know exactly what the figure is, he has thrown 140 innings already this year.

So, that leaves you with probably one candidate, Steven White. White has pitched reasonably well at AAA (3.50 ERA in 79 innings) and he is following his pattern of reaching a level, struggling and then doing well there the following year. He only has 46K’s which is a cause for concern, but those numbers have improved lately. But, despite that, do you really want to insert him into a pennant race over Mike Mussina? After Monday they may not have a choice, but for now it is a hard question to answer.

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Last night’s game was typical Pettitte, he has always been the “stopper” for this staff. It is one of the reasons everyone was glad to see him back and an ingredient this staff has lacked since he left. I would bet almost anything right now that Joe Torre starts him in Game Two of the playoffs if they make it.

Despite the win, I have to admit I was upset with seeing Joba in the eighth. Yes, I enjoyed the theatre of the Guerrerro-Chamberlain at bat (if you missed that you missed a great showdown and the sight of Guerrero almost crushing an 100-mph fastball, but fouling it back. As Ted Williams used to say, I bet he smelled the wood burning on that one) and I understand there are no “refunds” on the Joba plan. If he doesn’t pitch Wednesday, it doesn’t mean he can pitch back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. But, the Yankees have said they want him to only pitch 130 innings this year. Last night’s game brings him to 96. That means he has 34 left over the final 35 games which following the Joba Rules should work, but why are they using him and Mo in that game? I can see one, but not both and isn’t that the perfect situation for a Farnsworth appearance?

Anyway, that is about all I can grumble about and that is a good thing. Now the Yankees need to get back on track against a slumping Tigers team without Gary Sheffield.

A Welcome Weekend

You have to love the way the Yankees responded to losing three-straight and dropping the first game of the Tigers series. They rediscovered their bats and their starting pitching, while not spectacular, got the job done. Even better, the bullpen and the bench are becoming big strengths.

Don’t underestimate the pitching performances this weekend. Yes, Clemens and Wang struggled, but Detroit is a great offensive team. Six innings and three runs or less is something you will take every time when facing that offense. And, the bullpen was simply awesome. Mo looked great, same with (cough…cough) Farnsworth and Joba and Edwar are simply electric.

Add it all up and the first half of the 20-game crunch shows the Yankees have gone 7-3. Since 11 wins was the initial goal, things look good, but the degree fo dificulty is ramping up a lot. Three in Anaheim and then four in Detroit before three against Boston. So, a lot of potholes remain in the road, but this team looks ready for them.

A New World

The Yankees just gave a guy with less than 100 innings of college ball and an arm in need of surgery $4.5 million and a major league contract. Have they gone insane?

It is certainly easy to say they have, after all, that is a lot of money, but on second glance, this is all part of the plan that Brian Cashman has been developing with good results so far. Basically, the Yankees are going to use their considerable financial advantages to get high-ceiling players in the draft. Player who some of the other teams will avoid because of the costs involved with signing them. So, the Yankees drafted Brackman, a 6’10” flamethrower that scouts loved because they could afford him. In fact, they spent somewhere around 10$ million when all is said and done on their first fifteen picks in the draft.

That’s a lot of money, but it is still just one season of Carl Pavano (Actually, when you factor luxury tax in, it is less than a season of Carl) and that is how we have to look at these things now. Developing young pitchers has become the mantra of the organization and by aiming for the high-risk/high reward type of player you sometimes hit the lottery. (Remember, last season Joba Chamberlain scared away a lot of teams because of cost and arm problems.)

I am not sure what will happen with Brackman. If he indeed has surgery, which seems likely, we won’t see him in the Bronx until 2010 at the earliest in my mind. But, besides Brackman there are a lot of interesting names out there, a couple of catchers, Ryan Pope who has thrown 19 innings at Staten Island already and Damon Sublett who has five home runs there in 175 AB’s. What seems fair to say is that some of the 2007 draft picks will work out and because the Yankees went for talent regardless of cost, some of those picks should work out quite well.

I think it will take another year or two, but a Yankees’ minor league system teeming with prospects seems to be attainable. If the team is indeed ready to look inside first before signing the big free agent, the rest of baseball better watch out.

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Tonight’s lineup
Damon- LF
Jeter- SS
Abreu-RF
A-Rod-3B
Matsui-DH
Posada-C
Giambi-1B
Cano-2B
Cabrera-CF

I love Torre putting Giambi at first against the very tought Verlander and I imagine it is also a way of playing him before facing the lefty tomorrow night.

That’s Baseball

That game certainly took you from the lows to the highs to the lows. The utter futility of the Yankees’ offense for eight innings, punctuated by a great home run and then Mo looking lost. As Mitchell said in a comment on a previous post “ugh”.

But, there were some very positive signs. Duncan has to be considered in the first base mix anytime a lefty is pitching and Ramirez showed that wicked changeup very well in 2+ innings. I know it is hard to lose a series to Baltimore, but since the All-Star break they are 18-13, definitely a team on the rise.

Now comes a huge test, four against the Tigers. Detroit has a great offense and we will learn a lot about the Yankees’ pitching staff the next four days.

Reinforcements On The Way

Sean Henn and Edwar Ramirez have been recalled from Columbus with Karstens sent down and Brower DFA’ed.

After last night’s debacle, it was clear that Karstens wasn’t ready to pitch in the bigs again and Brower was still lousy. Getting rid of them is a plus. Henn probably becomes the longman in the pen right now and that leaves the question of what role does Ramriez fill?

Based on his 40 innings of work in Scranton where he struck out 69 with a 0.90 ERA, he should be in the mix for the late innings. But, in his first stint with the Yankees he pitched twice in three days and then was left to rot for two weeks. When he finally got into a game, he was destroyed by Tampa. Why Joe didn’t use him more is hard to understand, but that is going to have to change now.

With the “Joba Rules” stating that Chamberlain never pitches on consecutive days (Joe said yesterday that is “set in stone”) there are a lot of bullpen innings that need to be filled. On days when the Yankees need someone to pitch in the seventh and Chamberlain isn’t available, it will have to be Ramirez unless the team suddenly decides to trust Farnsworth (not recommending that) Vizcaino can pitch the 8th and Rivera the 9th in that scenario.

The real key to this bullpen remains the same, getting rid of Farnsworth. The New York Post reported that he went got through waivers (no surprise there) so he can be traded at any point. Yes, the Yankees might have to eat some money, but unlike the Igawa situation (BTW- the Yankees pulled him back yesterday) Farnsworth is hurting the team while Igawa is stashed in the minors. Cashman needs to hold his nose, admit his mistake and make the best deal he can. Then, get Chris Britton or Russ Ohlendorf up to the Bronx to fill his spot. Then you have Henn and Villone as your long guys, Vizcanio and Joba for the 8th and Ramirez and Britton or Ohlendorf for the 7th and 8th as needed. The Yankees need more flexibility in the bullpen and getting rid of Farnsworth would provide them with that.

Of course, Ramirez has to prove he can pitch here as well. That is still an unknown, but we will never find out unless Joe starts using him.

Back after the game.

UPDATE: Brower has been optioned back to Scranton because he agreed to an option when he signed with the Yankees. I guess he is insurance in Scranton, but I hope Britton is the next guy called up if they need someone.