Yanks Beat Jays 7-4

It really doesn’t get old writing headlines about the Yanks winning.  A.J. Burnett wasn’t great but worked through some kinks for a decent start, going 3 1/3 IP and allowing 3 hits, 3 walks, a run earned, and getting a K.  The Yanks got plenty of offense, pounding 14 hits in a 7-4 win.  Swisher was 2-2 with an RBI double that came in a long at-bat, punctuated by his cranking the ball off his left leg.  He shook that off by cranking the ball to left field.  Pena and Posada each had RBI doubles, Matsui had an RBI single and a walk, Melky came through with an RBI single, Austin Jackson had a single and a walk, and Eduardo Nunez belted a pinch-hit two-run homer.  Posada’s double was pretty impressive.  He went down and got a pitch low and away while being out on his front foot, and nearly hit it out to center.  The ball bounced right at the front of the warning track.  That’s a very good sign.

Bruney was terrible, allowing two hits and four walks in just 1 1/3 IP, but a Steven Jackson sinking fastball hit for an F8 bailed him out of worse damage.  Mariano continues his way back frm off-season shoulder surgery, pitching a perfect, and easy-looking 1-2-3 sixth. Edwar worked around a hit in the seventh, and Giese allowed a solo homer in the ninth and four hits in his two-inning wrap-up work.  It wasn’t the best-pitched game for the Yanks, especially compared to their terrific work of late, the offense picked up the team.

Phil Hughes goes today at 1:05 ET against Minnesota.  I would have posted this last night, but it was late by the time the Illinois-WKU game ended.  I wasn’t too surprised that Illinois lost, given the absence of point guard Frazier.  I was surprised, however, by how slow they looked compared to Western Kentucky, and how poor their perimeter defense was.  They looked a step behind everything last night, maybe a sign of being tight, and maybe just made to look that way by a Western kentucky team that many (rightly) picked as an upset opportunity against Illinois.  Otherwise, the first day of the NCAA tournament had few surprises on a day with at least mostly competitive games.

Published in: on March 20, 2009 at 8:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Yanks Top Houston 4-1

Chien-Ming Wang continued the excellent string of strong starts the Yanks have gotten from the rotation, going 5 and surrendering just three hits, a run, and no walks while getting two K’s and 10 ground outs to keep things close until the bats awakened.  Wang yielded the only run the Astros got in the first when Jason Smith tripled and Carlos Lee singled him in.  The Yanks scored two in the seventh and added two more in the ninth.  Cano was 2-4, Molina 2-3, Eric Duncan 1-1 with 2 RBIs in the ninth, Melky tied the game at one with an RBI ground out, Austin Jackson was 1-1 and scored twice, Teixeira was 1-2 with a walk, Swisher 1-3, and Berroa 1-3 with the go-ahead RBI.

The bullpen locked things down.  Coke notched the win with a one-hit sixth with a K.  Tomko continues to impress, himself allowing a hit in the seventh.  Veras struggled with his control, walking two but avoiding anything costly in the eighth, and Albaladejo secured the win with a 1-2-3 ninth.  As I’ve discussed numerous times, starting pitching should make a big difference with the 2009 Yanks, as long as the staff is healthy.  They’ve dominated the last five games, with the projected rotation allowing just 8 hits, 2 earned runs, and 2 walks in the last 19 innings with 16 K’s, according to Pete Abraham.  Today was a classic example of the importance of an ace hanging tough, with Wang keeping things close and the bullpen shutting the door the rest of the way on one run.  Four runs in this situation was more than enough and, although it took until the seventh to gin up the offense, that might be what we can expect from this year’s Yanks rotation.  I love the offense and think it’s vital to the Yanks’s success, but I’d have no problem if the Yanks won a lot of tight, low-scoring games as a result of good pitching.

There are many ways to win games, and good starting pitching needs to be right at the top of the list for a change this season.

Published in: on March 18, 2009 at 9:51 pm  Comments (2)  

Yanks Cream Bucs 9-2

Hideki Matsui drove in four runs with a long homer and a double, the Yanks pounded seven extra-base hits, one Carsten Charles Sabathia fanned seven in four innings, and one Mariano Rivera fanned two in a 1-2-3 fifth–his first inning of work this Spring–as the Yanks rolled over Pittsburgh 9-2.  Jorge had a single, walk, and drove in two, Nady was 2-3 with a hard double to LCF, Teixeira ripped a double into the corner in right and scored on Matsui’s blast, Melky had a double, an RBI, and scored, Miranda doubled and scored when Cano doubled him in, and the Yanks had 13 hits and 4 walks in all today.

But the story was on the mound.  Sabathia was in total control, striking out 2 in each of the first 3 innings, totaling 7 in his four-inning stint. He only allowed a walk and a run.  His fastball was sharp, and his slider was very nasty, especially to lefties.  Sabathia was very impressive, as was Mariano making his first Spring outing in a perfect 1-2-3 fifth, fanning two with ease.  Great to see Mariano back, and looking like himself.  Edwar was good in the sixth, and Aceves cleaned it up in the last three, allowing just the lead-off solo homer in the ninth to Salazar with four hits and a walk in all.  In four of the last five games, the Yanks’ pitching has been dominant and, although Melancon struggled (for the first time) in the ninth of the game Saturday, really the Yanks have had four pretty good pitching performances from their team the last five games. Effective arms would make the injury layoff A-Rod has all the easier to endure.

Joel Sherman has a good article in yesterday’s New York Post about the newly tight-knit Yanks rotation and their camaraderie for each other’s warm-ups.  I can’t say that’s going to hurt the team any.  Nor does what Pete Abraham passes along about Burnett’s other contributions to team chemistry, in addition to his idea about the rotation members watching the others do their warm-ups.  I was thinking about it as I drove to campus today, and thinking about how refreshing it is to have new players contributing to a new, positive team chemistry.  It’s very similar to what occurred in the mid-1990s, when Cone, Tino, Wetteland, Strawberry, then later Brosius and Clemens, among others, added.  They pushed the team in positive directions on the field and in the clubhouse, forming friendships, mentoring young players, and setting examples of preparation and hard work for their teammates and eventual successors to emulate.  I see similar things occurring this year, and that’s a very encouraging thought.

Speaking of encouraging thoughts, Pete Abe mentioned that Girardi tossed Igawa’s name into the hat of candidates for the long reliever job.  After the shivers from that tidbit subside, be relieved to know that Abraham also discussed Mariano’s collecting cash from the players for the clubhouse kids doing the dirty work during Spring Training, as well as Mariano’s five-star comportment with coaches and other players, including Alfredo Aceves.  What a rare privilege it is to have been a Yankees fan during the tenure of the greatest closer and reliever I’ve ever seen, if not ever.

Published in: on March 17, 2009 at 10:08 pm  Comments (3)  

Yankees Crush Phils 12-0

Joba has settled in his last two starts, pitching well and fairly efficiently today.  He only allowed two hits and a walk (to the first batter of the game) in three scoreless innings, fanning three including Howard on a money fastball on the outside corner.  Bruney struggled through the fourth, giving up two hits and a walk, before escaping any damage.  After that, it was all Yankees, who scored 12 runs in all–10 after the third inning–on 20 hits, pasting the Phillies in a 12-0 shutout.

Ransom was good and disruptive, scoring in the third on an error after stealing second, singling and scoring twice.  Brett the Jet had an RBI triple, two runs, and a walk. Nick Swisher busted out of his Spring slump in a big way, going 3-4 and knocking in three.  Nady was 2-4 with 2 runs and an RBI.  Eduardo Nunez was 3-3 with 2 runs, and turned a Jayson Werth hot one-hop smash into a 6-4-3 DP, impressing the Phillies radio crew. Jose Molina was 1-3 with an RBI, and showed that he is probably the best throwing catcher (if not best defensive catcher outright) by throwing out Bruntlett–from his knees, and with ease. Shelley the Marauder was 2-2 with an RBI, and Austin jackson was 1-2 with an RBI.  Amazingly, only 4 of the Yanks’ 20 hits were for extra bases.

Igawa continues to throw well, with the pressure off as the Phillies radio crew saliently reminded, putting up the same stat line as Joba–3 IP, 2 hits, no runs, a walk, and 3 K’s.  Right now, it’s just sad that Igawa’s fine Spring is followed up with so little positive commentary.  He’s engendered just so little trust that it’s impossible for me–and surely others–to get worked up about his Spring successes and 0.00 Spring ERA until he actually does it consistently when it counts.  Alas, he likely won’t get that chance without a significant spate of injuries in The Bronx, and no one wants to see either of those scenarios transpire.  Albaladejo fanned two in his impressive eighth, and Robertson cleaned it up with a walk and a K in the ninth.  They both sport Spring ERAs under 2.

Tremendous day for the team, maybe their most impressive game thus far.  Sabathia gets the start tomorrow night, and Mariano will make his first Spring appearance for an inning.

Published in: on March 16, 2009 at 4:38 pm  Comments (3)  

Yanks Beat Twins 5-1

Andy Pettite was sharp, the offensive contributions were diverse,and Posada was back behind the plate for the first time this Spring as the Yanks bested the Twins 5-1.  Posada went 2-2 with a double, scoring twice.  Melky had a good game, doubling, working a walk, and scoring a run.  Swisher doubled and scored, hopefully working out of his Spring funk.  Berroa doubled and drove in two.  Ramiro Pena went 2-3 with an RBI.  Not to be overlooked, Matsui showed some speed in beating out a DP ball, scoring Posada and the game’s first run on the force.  That’s a good sign, along with Jorge’s catching.

The arms again were excellent, starting with Pettite’s terrific start.  He allowed just two hits and no walks, fanning one and getting five ground-ball outs–a very good sign for him.  Coke gave up the only run the Yanks allowed in the sixth, but on the whole was sharp, allowing three hits and a walk in three innings, fanning two.  Veras, Claggett, and Jackson combined for three scoreless innings to end the game, giving up just two hits combined and striking out two.

Joba gets the start tomorrow at 1:15 ET against Philly. Keep the good starts rolling, kid–and stay focused after the talking-to from Posada.

Published in: on March 15, 2009 at 3:50 pm  Comments (4)  

Yanks-Twins Lineups

Jorge Posada gets a start catching today–and gets to lead off for extra at-bats–as the Yanks take on the Twins.  As per Pete Abraham, the lineups are below.  The legal team of Pettite, Coke, and Veras goes today.  Abraham also notes that several Yankees–Ian Kennedy, Jesus Montero, Mark Melancon, Christian Garcia, Kevin Russo, and Kyle Anson–were re-assigned to the minor-league camp.  The game is on WCBS, not YES–disgracefully.

Posada C
Damon LF
Teixeira 1B
Matsui DH
Swisher RF
Cabrera CF
Berroa 3B
Pena SS
Bernier 2B

Pitching today: Andy Pettitte, Phil Coke, Jose Veras.

Span LF
Hughes 2B
Gomez CF
Kubel DH
Harris 3B
Buscher 1B
Redmond C
Winfree RF
Plouffe SS

Pitching today: Glen Perkins followed by Nick Blackburn, Rob Delaney, Sean Henn, Ben Julianel.

Published in: on March 15, 2009 at 10:55 am  Comments (3)  

Guard Play Wins Championships

Those who know me know I’m a hoops junkie–college and professional basketball alike.  While working this afternoon, I had the TV on in the background and watched/listened to some Big Ten action.  Ohio St. beat #6 Michigan St. 82-70, while #24 Purdue beat #25 Illinois 66-56, with the latter not being that close for much of the game.  These games fit in to others in recent days, particularly those that saw many of the top-ranked teams lose.  They include #22 Florida State beating top-ranked North Carolina today 73-70, #20 Syracuse beating #4 UConn in an instant classic 127-117 in 6 OT Thursday night/Friday morning in Big East tournament play, West Virginia handling #2 Pitt 74-60 Thursday in the Big East tournament, Maryland beating #9 Wake Forest 75-64 in ACC tourney action, Mississippi State beating #16 LSU 67-57 in the SEC tournament, Temple besting #19 Xavier 55-53 in the A-10 tourney, and Baylor upsetting #11 Kansas 71-64 in the Big 12 Thursday.

All these games had three big things in common.  The first is that, in all these games, the losing team had beaten the winning team in all their previous match-ups–either one or two regular-season conference games.  It goes to show the difficulty of repeating, once or twice, initial victories against quality opponents when the motivation is already strong (or doubly strong) from previous losses, and when NCAA tournament births are on the line.  With so many conference tournament upsets already, bubble teams must be quaking before tomorrow’s bracket announcements, all the more so after today for, while most of the winning teams today were probably in the tournament anyway, having the highest ranked conference teams win the conference tournaments would have cleared more at-large bids for others.  Over the last week, at-large bids have probably been reduced by several because of conference tournament upsets, since some teams not previously tournament worthy received automatic bids, and at-large bids likely going to well-regarded teams such as Butler and Xavier despite their upsets.

The second commonality is that they all showed that despite some very good teams this season in college basketball, it’s a very wide open field.  It could be a year in which few if any #1 regional seeds make it to the Final Four in Detroit.  That wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

The third and, for this post, most important point and commonality is that in all these games, guard play was the determining factor in the victory.  Others were important as well, but in every single of the games I listed above, standout or subpar guard play was decisive.  In all but three of these recent games, the winning team’s starting guards (sometimes tandems, sometimes sets) had outscored their opposition while committing fewer or no more turnovers than their counterparts on the losing side:

  • Syracuse 56 points, 8 TO; UConn 41 points, 11 TO
  • WVU 23 points, 1 TO; Pitt 11 points, 6 TO
  • Baylor 36 points, 5 TO; Kansas 30 points, 5 TO
  • Mississippi St. 29 points, 4 TO; LSU 24 points, 4 TO
  • Temple 34 points, 6 TO; Xavier 24 points, 6 TO
  • Purdue 22 points, 3 TO (only 5 for the team today); Illinois 18 points, 6 TO (though only 9 in a losing effort)

In the other three games, the winning team committed more turnovers but outscored their opponents, sometimes drastically so, to atone for the turnover disparity.  To wit:

  • Florida St. 34 points, 4 TO; UNC 26 points, 1 TO
  • Ohio St. 55 points, 10 TO; Michigan St. 19 points, 2 TO
  • Maryland 39 points, 8 TO; Wake Forest 18 points, 2 TO

In two of the games, the absence of a starting point guard was crucial–North Carolina’s Ty Lawson and Illinois’s Chester Frazier.  That only buttresses my point: to win in the tournament, guard play must be good and solid.  Guards must minimize errors, control the tempo, distribute the ball, shoot well, and prevent their opponents to what extent they can from doing the same.  Much more often than not, the teams that do this win.  Big players help and can dominate, but ultimately it’s guard play that controls teams’ fates come tournament time.  Off the top of my head, some examples include Duke’s back-to-back championships in 1991 and 1992–the first back-to-back NCAA Men’s championships since UCLA’s run ended in 1973; Indiana’s 1981 title run led by Isiah Thomas capped by their 63-50 defeat of UNC in Philadelphia; UNC beating Georgetown 63-62 in 1982 on Michael Jordan’s rainbow jumper in the Superdome and Fred Brown’s infamous giveaway to James Worthy–despite a tremendous and overlooked game by one of my all-time favorite players, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd; Syracuse blistering Kansas for an 11-point halftime lead before hanging on, 81-78, in 2003, aided by Gerry McNamara and ‘Melo; Magic Johnson guiding Michigan State over Larry Legend and previously unbeaten Indiana State 75-64 in the 1979 classic; and on and on.

Published in: on March 14, 2009 at 6:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Impressive Sweep for Yanks Split Squads

A pair of perfect outings through four innings occurred in each game today–one by A.J. Burnett against Houston, and one by ex-Yankee Ross Ohlendorf of Pittsburgh.  Yet the Yanks exploded against Pittsburgh, battering the bullpen for 13 runs including 7 in the seventh en route to a wild 13-10 win.  The pitching against the Pirates was good until the last two innings, with Hughes giving up two solo shots in the first innings and struggling a bit with his control, but pitching well in the second and third.  Albaladejo and Kennedy were very good, with Albaladejo pitching a perfect fourth with a K and Kennedy giving up only an unearned run on his errant pick-off throw and one walk in three innings, fanning five.  Garcia gave up two unearned runs in the eighth, but the Yanks responded with three in the top of the ninth as Jesse Chaves issued three walks.  Melancon got roughed up badly, allowing five runs off six hits and a walk in the ninth, with two homers and two doubles.  This stint made a difficult path to The Bronx to start the season that much tougher.   Robertson had to get the final out in the ninth to finish it.

Offensively against Pittsburgh, top prospect Austin Jackson tied the game at 3 in the sixth with a two-run shot off Danny Bautista, setting the stage for a big seventh inning capped off with a pinch-hit grand slam by young phenom Jesus Montero off Chris Bootcheck.  What impressed me about this comeback is not just that it occurred after being completely handcuffed in the first four innings, but particularly that it occurred off major-league caliber pitchers in Bautista, Hansen, and Bootcheck–not a bunch of A-ball pitchers.  Jackson was 2-4 with the homer, 3 runs, 2 RBIs, and a stolen base.  Montero had the salami and a walk, scoring twice.  Swisher continues to struggle at the plate batting .100 this Spring, but is contributing with walks, getting one today with a stolen base and a run.  Melky was 1-4 with a run and RBI.  Shelley the Marauder was 1-2 with a run and RBI.  Bernier walked three times–part of nine overall for the split-squad Yanks.  Teixeira had a tough day, going 0-3 with 3 Ks.

Against Houston, the Yanks won a tamer 3-1 decision.  Burnett was incredibly good, mowing down the 12 batters he faced with relative ease.  His fastball was crackling, his curve was nasty, he threw 32 of 40 pitches for strikes fanning three, and he was clearly efficient by the low pitch count.  It was the most impressive start by a Yankee staff member thus far, and his comportment in a post-game interview with Pete Abraham and others impressed me just as much.  Burnett sounded calm, mature, and perspicacious about his approach to pitching and maintaining his health.  Both he and Sabathia present themselves as likeable both as players and as people–nice and mature but also no-nonsense.  Giese allowed the only Astros run with a solo homer in the sixth.  Edwar looked good in his first ST stint, working around a hit and error on a Leone dropped ball, fanning one, and Bruney was excellent, fanning two in a perfect eighth. Jason Johnson saw his first action since his eye surgery, allowing two hits but no runs to finish off the game.

Cody Ransom continues to impress this Spring in his run-up to manning third base in A-Rod’s stead, going 2-4 with a double and a run.  JD hit a solo homer in the first.  Brett the Jet singled but fanned twice.  Matsui singled and scored a run.  Miranda and Berroa each singled, and Cano grounded out in a pinch-hit appearance before his doctor’s visit for a sore shoulder he had before going off to play every inning for the Dominican Republic.  The Yanks fanned 11 times, but the pitching carried the day today against Houston.

Mariano had a 40-pitch bullpen session that Pete Abe described as excellent, with his cutter darting sharply.  It was supposed to go 30 pitches but, since he felt so good, he threw 10 more.

Published in: on March 14, 2009 at 3:53 pm  Comments (2)  

Yanks Lose 8-4

Chien-Ming Wang got roughed up, Juan Miranda’s defense let Wang and the team down, and a seven-run second inning sunk the Yanks as they dropped their first game against Boston this Spring, 8-4.  After Lowell’s lead-off homer tied the game at one, Miranda made a terrible throw to second base on a sure DP ball from Wilkerson.  After lunging to knock down a ball and save a run on Kotteras’s, Miranda then dropped a potential inning-ending DP ball on Ellsbury’s grounder, resulting in a 3U and a run instead of possibly ending the inning.  However, Wang’s pitches were too often up, his sinker drifted out of the zone and the Sox laid off it, and Wang’s change didn’t look sharp.  Ortiz also hit a long homer in the second, ending Wang’s night.

The offense was decent, and mustered some response immediately after the big Sox second.  Ransom belted a triple that nearly left the park, Nady had a double and drove in two, Molina had an RBI single, Berroa had two hits and an RBI, and Shelley the Marauder had a two-base hit. Pena and Gardner each stole a bag.  But the Yanks stranded 11, not good, and the big second sunk the Pinstripers.  They also struck out 12 times.

Brett Tomko was excellent in relief, allowing just two hits while fanning five in 3 1/3 IP.  When the Yanks signed Tomko, I questioned the move, at best.  As it stands now, Tomko just might make the team as its long reliever and spot starter.  He’s been very good this Spring.  Igawa allowed a hit and a walk in an inning, striking two.  He’s been fairly good this Spring, but I just can’t and won’t hold my breath with this guy.  Plus, Spring is Spring.  Show me something when it matters, K-Man.

In a way, it’s disconcerting that the top two members of the Yanks staff–Sabathia and Wang–struggled this week.  But the overarching thing, to me, is that it’s Spring. Miranda thankfully won’t be at first; Teixeira will.  A seven-run inning might become two or three during the season, making the game quite reasonable.  It’s Spring–work out the kinks and faults, hone the craft and routine, stay healthy, and get prepared for the season.

The Yanks will be fine.

Published in: on March 13, 2009 at 10:41 pm  Comments (1)  

Sabathia Struggles as Yanks Lose 7-4

CC Sabathia couldn’t finish the second inning of today’s Spring Training game against Detroit, allowing five runs in the second and six hits and a walk in all as the Yanks lost 7-4.  According to Pete Abraham, Sabathia had trouble locating his cutter with two strikes, his out pitch.  I’m sure he’ll be fine when the season comes.  Struggles occur, as Joba knows all too well this Spring.  For veterans, ST is all about working into shape and good routines, working out kinks and bad habits, and fine-tuning what they do during the season.  I’m not worried in the slightest about today.  It’s Spring.

Aceves allowed three hits, a walk, and two runs earned in 3 1/3 IP.  Bruney, Veras, and Melancon each had a scoreless inning, with Bruney and Veras fanning two each and Melancon allowing the only hit over the final three innings.  Abraham sees Melancon in a strong position to be the first reliever called up during the season, with Edwar, Robertson, Coke and Veras ahead of him.  I think that’s probably accurate, though part of me wouldn’t mind seeing Melancon instead of Edwar.  But I wouldn’t want Melancon in The Bronx or called up just to collect dust ala Britton.  If Melancon either starts in The Bronx or is eventually called up (probably the latter, since he’ll stay sharp at SWB and since Edwar has more experience), he should be up to work whenever the time comes.  Not working should only be a result of starters going deep into games, which would be a fine reason to rest most of the bullpen.  Coke and Veras should start in NY, filling vital roles in middle relief.  Robertson has been good, has last year under his belt, and throws deceptively hard. Plus, for all his quirks and hiccups Edwar has had some very good, efficient stretches. Remember last year, from July 2 to July 28, Edwar went 11 1/3 hitless, scoreless innings over the span of 9 appearance, fanning 16 and walking just 3.  He’s inconsistent, but when he’s on he can be excellent.

Offensively, JD and Texeira had two hits and a walk apiece, Miranda, Cash, and Ransom each had a single, Posada had two walks, Swisher had an RBI sac fly, and Melky had a walk, stolen base (as did Ransom), and a run.  That the Yanks again did well against Verlander 93 hits, 4 runs 2 earned, 4 walks in 2 IP) is encouraging.

Mariano threw a good BP, the Yanks have off tomorrow.  See you Friday.

Published in: on March 11, 2009 at 8:31 pm  Comments (3)