Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The First Big Game

At a certain point each season you have your first big game. Could be a chance to get to .500. Could be a chance to win a rubber game against a division rival to impact the standings. Could be a certain set of circumstances. Could be a lot of things, but for the Yankees tomorrow it is definitely a certain set of circumstances. They have lost three of their last four games, and easily could have lost all four despite being in position to win two more than they did with six outs or less to go. They have played atrocious baseball in all four games. That was capped off by an absolute embarrassment against Tampa Bay tonight. Not paying attention to baserunners, getting picked off bases, not making routine plays, having completely impatient at bats, not getting hits in big spots, the list goes on. There is a total lack of focus, and it is unacceptable. I've been talking about the starting pitching the Yankees have been getting as being unsustainable, and as it becomes less sustainable (even if it is very good) they are going to lose games they had been winning. That is starting to happen, and they need to pick it up in other areas. With the injuries substantial and mounting, this needs to start with extreme attention to detail, which should be a job requirement but has not been evident recently. All of this said, the Yankees have a chance to win a game tomorrow and have a 4-3 homestand against Minnesota, Boston, and Tampa Bay, all good teams. All considered, especially the aformentioned injuries, that would be a great thing. Considering the game is against the best team in baseball, who happens to be the same team who made the Yankees look like a Little League team tonight, it is a big game.

Now on to the fun stuff:

- The Yankees have to figure out a way to iron out flyballs/pop-ups inbetween the outfielders and SS/2B. Other teams don't have half the awkward moments Jeter and Cano have with the outfielders on their own team. While this is often the outfielder's fault for not calling balls that are theirs and thus asserting themselves, Jeter and Cano go after balls in a way that give the outfielders pause. There is such a thing as being over-aggressive, and that is the case when you go for balls that you very clearly know (or should know) the outfielder can catch with ease. I'm not talking about flares that you have to go all out to get. I'm talking about high flyballs that the catcher would have a chance to get under if he sprinted. In this scenario, it's the outfielders ball. Every. Single. Time. It falls on all of them. Girardi needs to address it. The outfielders need to assert themselves and take every ball that is theirs. Letting Jeter/Cano get it sometimes breeds confusion, and that will cost you when it counts, like it did Tuesday night in the 9th inning. Jeter and Cano have both played enough baseball to have a sense of which flyballs they need to seriously pursue. Situations like Marcus Thames dropping that ball last night should not occur often. Sometimes it's going to happen. But it's going to happen more than it should when the Yankees have what seems like a few adventures per week regarding who is going to catch the ball.

- I would not have bunted Fransisco Cervelli in the 9th inning last night. This is what Papelbon had done against the last eight Yankees he had faced before Cervelli between Monday and Tuesday: double, line out to deep right center, two-run homer, fly out to deep left center, hit by pitch, two-run homer, reach on error, RBI double. Is this the kind of guy you want to give a free out to? With the bottom of the order coming up? With a contact hitter who can really handle the bat up, who also happened to be ELEVEN FOR FOURTEEN with RISP and batting .375 on the season? If it's a weaker/colder hitter at the plate, okay. If the top or middle of the order, or even the normal Yankees' bottom of the order is coming up, okay. But you're giving a guy who can't get any outs an out to pass the bat to Marcus Thames, Juan Miranda, and Randy Winn. Come on. Now all he has to do is get one out and he's in position to end the game straight up. I understand that by moving the runner over now you can tie the game with an out. But you know the infield is going to be brought in. You also know Papelbon has the ability to get a strikeout, even though he hasn't been doing much of that this year. So you need a very particular kind of out, a flyball, and not just any flyball, one deep enough to get the runner in. And you get once chance to do it. Are you really improving your odds doing it this way, as opposed to giving a fastball hitter (Cervelli) a chance to single, and if he can't do it, you have two more chances? And that ignores the possibility that Cervelli moves him over by swinging the bat, which a guy with his kind of contact and situational hitting ability can do.

- The Yankees have to start turning balls that should be outs into outs. With a 5-1 lead, when Marco Scutaro grounds to third base, Rodriguez needs to convert that play. He didn't, committing a throwing error, and instead of one out nobody on, it was no out runner on first. A four run inning ensued, tying the game. A tough play, but one that needs to be made. Facing a 2-0 deficit against a team with great pitching, when B.J. Upton grounds to shortstop, Jeter needs to convert the play. He didn't, letting the ball glance off his glove and too far away to make the play, and instead of one out nobody on, it was no out runner on first. A four run inning ensued, turning a manageable deficit into a blowout. A tough play, even tougher than Rodriguez's, but one that needs to be made. In both instances their pitching needs to pick them up. But the pitching has been picking this team up all season. The defense needs to start making it easier on them. We don't even need to talk about the Thames play, that was one of the more ridiculous things I have ever seen on a baseball field. And it's not the first time he's done it this year.

- The Yankees have to start tacking on runs when they get leads early. They had chances Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday to do this. They didn't, and it came back to bite them all three times. We are talking gimme situations too. For example, Tuesday night, Bottom 6, Yankees up 5-1, bases loaded nobody out. Manny Delcarmen has no idea where the ball is going, walking the bases loaded and getting a groundball inbetween. Brett Gardner chops a ball weakly to Pedroia who easily gets the out at home. There has to be better execution than this, and it is happening all across the board with this team. You get that run home, then you get the run home in the 9th, and there's your ballgame, Yankees win. It's like they get complacent when they have an early lead, just expecting the pitching to take it home. Unacceptable.

- Related, Brett Gardner needs to start doing more of the little things well. I've talked about this a few times before this season. He's being incredibly productive, and he is doing it by doing the big things well. Which is great, except he could be providing more if he would do some of the little things more. It's very bizarre, because usually players like him get to where they are by doing all of the little fundamental things correctly. He cannot get a runner in from third with less than two outs. Can't do it. He's come to the plate 10 times in that situation so far this year. He's 1/9 with a walk. Keep in mind that you don't get an at-bat for a sacrifice fly, so a .111/.200/.111/.311 line in this situation is atrocious. It appears to be the approach, because he's also had 10 plate appearances with a runner on third and two outs, and he's 3/8 with two walks, good for a .375/.500/.375/.875 line. It's an extremely small sample, but this is not a good trend. Especially when you pair it with other little things, like getting picked off in the very first inning and not being able to execute a bunt. He's having a great start to the season, but that is no reason to not get the little things done, especially when you have the skill-set/game that he has.

- Dustin Pedroia is a crybaby. He complains about almost every call that doesn't go his way it seems like, no matter how obviously against him it is. C.C. Sabathia struck him out looking on Tuesday on a ball that was closer to right down the middle than anything else, and he immediately turned around and spread his arms wide arguing with the ump. C.C. Sabathia then yelled something into him (that you could easily decipher on the highlights) that cannot be repeated on this blog. But the main point was "that was a strike, stop crying". The umpiring is terrible, no doubt. But since they're so bad, that gives you plenty of opportunity to whine about stuff that is actually a legitimate gripe.

- C.C. Sabathia was outstanding on Tuesday. It was a perfect example of why he has become one of my favorite athletes ever. Terrible weather, throws a ton of pitches early, the Yankees' bullpen is taxed and has been awful, and he finds a way to get through 7 giving up only 4 hits, 3 walks, and one run by way of a Youkilis solo homer. He finds a way almost every time it seems. A.J. Burnett was awful tonight, but at least he didn't further work and already overworked bullpen, at least in terms of the key guys. Hopefully Pettitte can continue his excellent season tomorrow, because the Yankees will need it if they want to get a win in their first big game of the season.

- Finally, the injuries continue to mount. Jorge Posada is going to be out a few weeks due to a hairline fracture that is the result of a foul ball he took off of his foot while catching Sunday. Marcus Thames stepped on his own bat after singling and sprained his ankle. The bug has really hit this team right now, which is going to happen sometimes. They just have to be thankful that so far nothing is serious, and try to navigate the next few weeks. Most importantly, they have to hope the starting pitching can continue to stay healthy. If that happens, the should be able to deal with non-major injuries to the lineup, even when they come in bunches like they are right now (obviously major injuries are a different story, it's tough for any team to lose a key player anywhere on the roster and make up for the lost production no matter how good they are). If they can get through these next two weeks without anymore injuries and without taking a hit in the standings, then get Swisher, Granderson, and Posada back by early June, that shouldn't be a bad spot to be in. They do still have the second best record in baseball, so they have given themselves a slight cushion, although Tampa Bay being as good as they are (by far the best team in baseball, the Yankees aren't close to on their level right now and neither is anybody else) makes that cushion not seem like much. Big game tomorrow.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF,

Good post. A lot of what you said could be consolidated into this statement which can be applied to all areas of life:

Turning routine activities into unnecessary adventures is unsustainable in the long run.

Even if you escape most of the time and it doesn't burn you, it puts unnecessary stress on your pitchers and other players after these events occur. Whether it's routine flyballs, or turning easy outs into outs, you just need to handle those situations well for the betterment of your team.

Anonymous said...

PF

Let me first say that you are shockingly harsh on Pedroia considering that you two clearly are related some place. Give him six inches and a head of hair and we may have some Irish Twins on our hands.

Also, the Yankees are playing .625 ball which translates into 101 wins. I wouldn't be too concerned about this recent blip on the radar screen. Even if the Yankees lose tonight the situation is far from dire.

Also, agreed on not bunting with Cervelli the other night. I was at home all fired up to see him bunt. It gave Papelbon confidence to get a free out and put him in a position where he needed only one tough out before any kind of out would end the game. As much as he was struggling, you don't want to give him any room.

Also, I know what you're saying when you call Sabathia an athlete, but just for the sake of argument, the guy is not really a great athlete. Jeter is. ARod is. Jacoby Ellsbury is. CC Sabathia, with his build, really couldn't do anything in sports other than what he does (maybe professional golf, but probably not--he's too tall).

And Brett Gardner? You gotta take it easy on him. He's been awesome. He leads the league in runs, is batting .326, and his OPS+ is 129! Those are tremendous numbers. If I told you he'd give you those numbers at the start of the year you'd have taken them and run.

Lastly--let's hope that the Red Sox win more games than they have. I don't like watching SportsCenter when they lose all the time and I don't enjoy checking this blog nearly as much. Somebody out there has to start pitching well and hopefully Buchholz is the guy to get it started.

--the Gunn

from the bronx said...

the gardner bashing is out of control. 10 at bats isn't significant in any way, and gardner has done so much right for the team this year it is unfair to include him on a list of things that need to be improved. there are so many at bats he's had over the last few weeks that have led to big innings that he doesn't get any credit for because they don't show up in the box score. for instance, the other night against paplebon... if gardner doesn't get on there the yankees don't come back. last night in the 9th inning gardner came up with 2 outs and no one on and got on base with a hit. that led to 4 runs, and while the yankees didn't get the win they made it much closer then it should have been. despite getting off to terrible starts, teixeira is on pace for 122 RBI and Jeter is on pace for 95. why is that? because gardner is getting on base at a ridiculous clip batting from the 9-hole and the 2-hole.

the guy is leading the league in runs, 2nd in steals (with the best % of anyone), has an .820 OPS and HE'S MAKING THE MAJOR LEAGUE MINIMUM! He is one of the best - if not the best - values in major league baseball right now.

Of all the things you could complain about with this team...

PF said...

Gunn -

CC Sabathia received multiple Pac 10 football offers to play tight end. He also received division 1 basketball offers. I believe he was all state in all three sports in high school, and california is a high school sports state. I underdstand he's a huge guy and that makes him an easy target. But sometimes huge guys have incredible athleticism. Even looking just at baseball, how athletic do you have to be to repeat a delivery as consistently as he does with a body as big as his producing the velocity, movement, and location that he does? outside of rivera, he might be the best pure athlete on the team.

I didn't know playing good baseball made you immine to criticism if you're brett gardner. Jeter is one of the best players of this generation and my favorite athlete ever and I criticized him in this post for not making plays that he should. I can be objective about things. He's been making an obscene amount of boneheaded plays and doesn't do a lot of the little things well. Having good overall numbers doesn't make that acceptable. Its called being objective, some people should try it. Further, just because you are playing well doesn't mean you shouldn't make simple adjustments to make you better. It will make him an even better value if that's what were concerned about (I'm personally biased towards winning and losing, and getting picked off and not getting runners in from third at more than a 10-20 percent clip and not getting key bunts down aren't helping us win, no matter how much he's doing in other areas to help.).

Anonymous said...

PF

I don't know anything about Sabathia other than what I see on the field, but I bet you anything he weighed 60-100 pounds less in high school than he does now.

Unrelated note: The Yankees have absurd depth. Johnson, Swisher, Posada, and Granderson have all gone down at one time or other (or all the same time). And yet, Cervelli, Pena, Thames, and Gardner all step up to the plate and produce, and it's not like they're producing at replacement level. They're giving you something above and beyond. Yankees fans should be tickled.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Pat,

It really seems like the Yankees are prone to taking the foot off the gas. In both of the Boston games, they blew big leads. I think it's sloppiness and complacency on both sides of the ball. I hope Girardi went nuts on the buffet table after the second game. I'm sorry, if you're the New York Yankees, you have to make Tim Wakefield and Manny Delcarmen pay. Especially Delcarmen, who is the worst pitcher on the staff.

I'll allow the Gardner criticism. I mean, Red Sox fans especially shouldn't say anything, because we were crushing Beltre for his fielding liabilities when he was hitting .350 off of one knee.

Anonymous said...

Pat,

What makes the Gardner back and forth in this comments section even more unsettling is that you clearly qualified your remarks in the post by acknowledging the fact that overall Brett Gardner was playing very well.

Furthermore you said that it's rare for someone of Gardner's limited overall ability to play so well without doing the fundamentals. If Gardner did some of the fundamentals better, imagine what he could be doing!

It seems as if certain people have a pager that goes off whenever certain topics a raised, and then fly in and comment without reading your full post.

Perhaps we should get on the phone this afternoon to brainstorm different ways you could have made your point without being so offensive. I can't think of any, but i'm sure we can put our mid-level NESCAC educations together to come up with something.

PF said...

gunn -

i'd say there's almost no doubt he was substantially lighter. but my thinking is that when you're athletic you're athletic. it's one thing if a high school hero puts on 50 pounds and can't move around by the time he's 30. it's another thing if you put on weight and are out there still performing at an elite level. i mean it's not like pitching is golfing. one of the big things in the verducci/torre book was people talking about how athletic david wells was. out of shape? sure. but one person said he could get on the mound in the middle of january and paint the corners with his fastball. that's athleticism in it's own way, and i think that part of it gets underrated for pitchers. i think sabathia takes it further than that (he can hit, he can move, he has a very athletic delivery), but it's worth pointing out. i'm not saying wells is athletic in the traditional sense, but i do think he was athletic in his own way in his prime, and sabathia is certainly a lot more athletic than he was, more like a position player. he just happens to be really big too, but he's not out of shape the way wells was.

gm -

absolutely, this team does not tack on runs. i was sitting around a lot of really good/intelligent fans, and we were all saying the same thing. sunday, monday, and tuesday's game were all the same: early lead with good pitching that made it seem like you were in complete control, even though you really weren't by that much. close enough that one swing could change it. and in each game, one did. the way to avoid that is by continuing to tack on runs and actually take further control.

bandi -

thank you. i mean my goodness. in a post where i criticized numerous players on the team (most of which are better overall players than gardner) the only one where there is issues is brett gardner. now i understand the expectations are lower for him and therefore easier for him to exceed. but as you mentioned, i acknowledged how well he is playing overall. i just didn't know that when you were playing well overall, that means you could make bonehead mistakes, and that there shouldn't be a desire for you to be playing even better by making a few simple adjustments. i must have totally missed when we established that.

PF said...

gunn -

a very good point on the yankees' depth. even despite the great pitching, the yankees might have been losing more games if not for the contributions of the players you mentioned. it's one of the better rosters i've seen put together. that said, they'll need to get healthy. some of those guys are playing above their head, the pitching can't keep going like it had prior to this week, and they are in a division with the best team in baseball in tampa bay and another team that we all know is going to come charging at some point in boston. it's my experience that depth players can be huge for a club in short spurts, but over time the reasons why they became depth players get exposed. i know this is not what you were commenting on (you were commenting on how big they were in this short spurt), i'm just taking it a step further because i think it's an interesting analysis. got spot from you.

PF said...

nice job by brett gardner here in the first inning. coming off pettitte giving up 3 runs in the top of the first, jeter singles to lead of the bottom. you know, always good to get some of that right back if you can. so gardner promptly grounds a routine double play ball right to second base. fair criticism? nope. but if there are going to be reactions to fair criticisms, i'm going to start making unfair criticisms. at the very least it will balance out all of the irrational praise he gets making him out to be more than he is on a blog that six people read. i like brett gardner a lot, i just don't get the point of pushing how good he is in a place like this. who cares outside of the yankees fans wanting him to do well?

PF said...

fair is fair, because i can't do this whole incredible biased thing, great job by gardner in his second at bat creating havoc with his speed. good job by jeter doing the same before him.

PF said...

and while we're at it, good job by randy winn getting on in front of them having a good at bat and lining a single to left.

second and third, nobody out, 3-3 game, teixeira weak grounder back to the pitcher, rodriguez strikes out swinging, cano strikes out swinging. nice job guys. what is it with this team and not being able to drop the hammer when the opportunity presents itself? it's like they have to scrap for everything offensively.