Results tagged ‘ A.J. Burnett ’

Game 2: Pre-Game

Funny that A.J. Burnett said he cant remember much about his kaboom start against the Phillies in the Bronx in May, but Pedro Martinez seems to recall every detail of every nanosecond he spent at the old Yankee Stadium, and in fact each moment inside the city of New York, and probably which of Don Zimmers fingers first touched him during their still remarkable brawl.
I wonder if the Phillies were not reminded by the travails of Brad Lidge of the intensity and focus required to win a Worlds Championship, while the Yankees might have begun to believe all of the exaggerated things written about them in the New York papers. They still dont seem even slightly worried, and given that Burnett has proved himself the most easily rattled pitcher since Nuke LaLoosh, they should be.

Win, Or Lose Job

So the scenario has almost completely played out: Joe Girardi’s misuse of his bullpen, and the forces of nature, have combined to push Game Six of the ALCS to Sunday. It is a game that likely will determine whether or not Girardi is still Yankee manager on the 15th of next June.

If the Yankees beat the Angels Sunday Night their intended World Series rotation will be unchanged and they will still be able to throw lefthanded starters against the Phillies at least four times and probably five. Two posts back you’ll see the key southpaw splits for Phils’ lefthanded and switch bats, but the money line remains Ryan Howard’s nightmarish production at home against lefties: one homer, eight RBI, a .178 batting average, a .290 slugging percentage (numbers that suggest they’d be better off starting Eric Bruntlett at first base in those match-ups. Or Miguel Cairo. Or Chris Wheeler).
But if the Yankees lose the Sunday Night game, Girardi is facing a choice of three unpleasant futures:
a) The Angels win Game Seven. It is hard to believe that Girardi, with a year left to go on his contract, would not be the scapegoat for the Yankees’ collapse. It might be one of those old-fashioned quick firings, too, especially if George Steinbrenner is even tangentially involved in the decision, especially with Don Mattingly ‘in play’ as at last a nominal candidate for the Indians’ managerial job.
b) The Yankees win Game Seven. But with the rotation plans scuttled by the extended ALCS and the weather, they have no choice but to open the World Series behind A.J. Burnett on Wednesday and Chad Gaudin on Thursday. CC Sabathia might yet shine on three days’ rest, but he’s not going on two. The Yanks would no longer be favorites, for at least the first two games, and perhaps for the Series. Whereas they still get the opportunity to fire Sabathia and then Andy Pettitte in Philadelphia in Games Three and Four next weekend, to use them both twice in the Series, he’d have to use them both on short rest, and there would be absolutely no way to use Sabathia three times. In short, the extension of the ALCS to a seventh game would move the Yankees from the chance to pitch them each twice in the first five games, to the prospect of having pitched them each only once in a Series that could conceivably be lost in five games.
Presumably that would cost Girardi his job, too – only about a week later.
c) The Yankees beat the Angels and despite the astrayness of the best laid plans, also beat the Phillies. Yet in the back of the minds of everybody who counts at Yankee Stadium is this unspoken doubt that they can be confident that Girardi – entering the last year of his deal and doubtless pushing for an extension – knows how to manage a bullpen. Even Defending World Champion Yankees can change managers (ask Billy Martin and Bob Lemon)  when things start slowly or unhappily the next season.
And yet all of those unhappy events are nearly obscured, if not totally forgotten, if they still put away the Angels in Game Six. Remarkable on how the game turns on such seemingly small things.

LP: Girardi (0-2)

Seriously: you rally back after another wobbly A.J. Burnett start to put up a six-spot when Mike Scioscia takes out John Lackey too soon – and you leave Burnett, whose normal yips could only have been exaggerated by sitting on the bench during the rally, in to pitch the bottom of the seventh? And when you finally go and get him you turn to Damaso Marte? And then Phil Hughes in the middle of an inning?
The Yankees are not in the World Series, clearly and unequivocally, because Joe Girardi has mishandled his pitching staff. It’s as shocking and as obvious as some of the eyechart-defying umpiring in this post-season.
What exactly was the intent in leaving Burnett in, and eschewing the seventh-eighth-ninth format that has served the Yankees so well since late spring? To make him feel better or more confident? Burnett had just rebounded from a first-inning tank job to throw five scoreless. He should’ve felt better or more confident as it was. Instead, he now can reflect on blowing the same game twice.
Even if Girardi and his Yankees survive a second tactical disaster in three games, he may pay for his unpredictable combination of going to his bullpen too soon and then too late. No matter how they do henceforth, the Halos are increasing the Phillies’ chances of winning the World Series. With a game sixth forced, huge crimps develop on the horizon in the Yankees’ rotation, even assuming they win one of the last two. The forecast for Saturday’s game in New York is “rain/thunder/90% chance of precipitation.” Suddenly the prospect of the Yankees having to pitch Andy Pettitte on Sunday, and maybe CC Sabathia in a Monday Game Seven, is very real.
Look what that combination would do to the Yankee plans, assuming they win in a Monday finale:

   Game One, Wednesday, New York: Burnett

   Game Two, Thursday, New York: Gaudin? Chamberlain?

   Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Sabathia*

   Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Pettitte*

   Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Burnett

   Game Six, Wednesday, New York: Game Two Starter or Sabathia*

   Game Seven, Thursday, New York: Sabathia* or Pettitte*

The Phillies would be favored to win the first two games in New York.
To get to the Series the Angels would have to stick to the current rotation, Joe Saunders Saturday and Jered Weaver or Scott Kazmir Sunday (or a day later in the event of rain in New York). So what does their rotation look like in a Series that would seem to pivot on throwing as many lefties as possible at Ryan Howard in Philadelphia?

Game One, Wednesday, Anaheim: Lackey

Game Two, Thursday, Anaheim: Saunders*

Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Weaver

Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Kazmir* or Lackey

Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Lackey or Kazmir*

Game Six, Wednesday, Anaheim: Saunders*

Game Seven, Thursday, Anaheim: Weaver

The gutsy play by Mike Scioscia here would be, use Kazmir on Sunday, bring Saunders back on three days’ rest to pitch in Philly on Monday, and hold Lackey back when the series goes back to California. You get both your lefties in Philly.
A rainout Saturday in New York and a Game Seven win by the Angels on Monday would force the Angels to do that – but also force them to swap Kazmir out:

Game One, Wednesday, Anaheim: Lackey

Game Two, Thursday, Anaheim: Kazmir*

Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Saunders* 

Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Weaver

Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Lackey

Game Six, Wednesday, Anaheim: Kazmir*

Game Seven, Thursday, Anaheim: Saunders*

At least this gives you a lefthander against Howard in your decisive game.
Let’s look at those two critical statistical lines again. Ryan Howard, in Philadelphia, 2009 season, versus lefthanded pitchers:

1 HR, 8 RBI, .178 BA, .290 OBP, .290 SLG. (107 At Bats)

Ryan Howard, not in Philadelphia, 2009 season, versus lefthanded pitchers:

5 HR, 25 RBI, .235 BA, .305 OBP, .417 SLG. (115 At Bats)

THAT TRICK NEVER WORKS
“With Robinson Cano coming up, one swing can change the complexion of this game.”
So said my old pal Joe Buck as Hideki Matsui walked in the 6th inning of tonight’s Game Five in Anaheim. The score was 4-0 Angels, and a Cano homer would’ve scored three runs. And I have now been watching and listening to baseball broadcasts for 43 seasons and not once can I recall ever seeing a pronouncement about “one swing” changing the game, actually being followed by such a swing.

Yankees, Quickly

I know, I know – the Yankees have not even made the World Series yet. George Steinbrenner would file a protest if somebody told him I was already picking them to beat the Phillies.

But I speak to you as a season-long skeptic about New York, who now looks at this team and believes they should’ve swept the Angels, but for some over-managing by Joe Girardi. I still think the Yankees have some holes and I wouldn’t leave my season in the hands of A.J. Burnett and I still don’t like starting CC Sabathia on short rest. 
But one set of statistics should make Phillies fans shudder: 

1-8-.178-.290-.290.

Those are Ryan Howard’s numbers against lefthanded pitchers, during the regular season, in Citizens Bank Park, in 2009. And it’s not a small sample, it’s 107 at bats, and he struck out in 51 of them. And no matter whether Girardi is going to push the envelope on Sabathia and try him on three days’ rest again, or play it safe, there will be two games at home in which Ryan Howard will have to face Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. He has seen nothing like them individually during the post-season, and nothing like them in tandem, conceivably in consecutive starts, during the regular season. The Phillies might as well bench him in those games over Halloween weekend.
It’s not like he’s good against lefties out-of-town, either. Howard’s line this year is 6-33-.207-.298-.356. And he will open at Yankee Stadium against Sabathia, who during the season gave up twelve hits, and no home runs, to lefthanded batters, in fourteen starts. Pettitte has been less dominant than Sabathia against lefty hitters in New York, but even he has only surrendered five homers to them at home.
The other Phillies do not fold entirely against southpaws but they become less imposing. Here are their key lefthanded or switch batters versus lefty pitchers:

Ibanez:   13-40-.285-.359*-.639*

Rollins:     7-22-.230-.266-.425*

Utley:      11-33-.288-.417-.545

Victorino:  2-12-.314*-.385*-.459*

  * better LH than RH

The problem becomes apparent when you consider the way the two ways the Yankees could set up their rotation:

Game One, Wednesday 10/28, @ New York: Sabathia*

Game Two, Thursday 10/29, @ New York: Burnett

Game Three, Saturday 10/31, @ Philadelphia: Pettitte*

Game Four, Sunday 11/1, @ Philadelphia: Sabathia* or ?

Game Five, Monday, 11/2, @ Philadelphia: Burnett, ? or Sabathia*

Game Six, Wednesday, 11/4 @ New York: Pettitte* or Burnett

Game Seven, Thursday, 11/5 @ New York: Sabathia* or Pettitte*

If the Phillies get to the seventh game, and if Joe Girardi plays it conservatively, they will have already had to face starts by three southpaws, and then beat Pettitte in the finale, with Sabathia available in the bullpen. It is absolutely plausible that Girardi will not be conservative at all, and will have already started both Sabathia and Pettitte twice each, with Sabathia gearing up for the start in the decider.

It’s a slightly more daunting task than beating the Rockies with no lefty starters, and then flummoxing a slumping Clayton Kershaw and beating, in a do-or-die game for the other team, a starter who was released by Texas two months ago and on whom you can always rely – he’ll always let you down. And they don’t have a power plug-in for the DH in The Stadium (unless Charlie Manuel were to pull a real rabbit out of his hat, like John Mayberry, Jr.).

I don’t think they can do it. Congrats on that pennant.
PS: For whatever this is worth, Howard went 2-for-14 in the three-game clash at Yankee Stadium in May. The hits were both off Sabathia, and both infield singles to the left side.

Notes From A Sickbed

OK, not that sick. Just enough.

As you watch the rest of the Yankees’ post-season, especially these first two games against the Angels, consider this: What do these guys have in common? Wilson Betemit, Johnny Damon, Shelley Duncan, Morgan Ensberg, Juan Miranda, Chad Moeller, Jose Molina, Xavier Nady, Jorge Posada, Cody Ransom, Richie Sexson, and Jason Giambi?
They played first base for the Yankees last season. Where would the Yankees be right now – just from a defensive point of view – if any of them were still playing first base for them, and were reaching for the high-degree-of-difficulty throws of CC Sabathia, Molina, Robinson Cano, et al, instead of Mark Teixeira? Apart from the likelihood the Angels might be leading this game and might’ve won last night’s, I wonder if the Yankees would even still be playing.
Two other notes. Interesting that given my speculation last night that Erick Aybar might have had an auditory awareness problem because he had been dressed “like a teletubby” – as Joe Buck put it – that Aybar went with just an ordinary cap tonight. 
Also, credit to Fox for an intriguing innovation following a Tim McCarver query – a measurement of the speed of pitches as they leave the pitcher’s hand, and, separately, as they arrive at the plate. For A.J. Burnett’s supposed 93 MPH fastball, it was 93 at his hand, and “only” 86 at the plate. It’s pure guesswork, but the differential might explain the concept of the “heavy” pitch catchers and hitters talk about, as one that somehow partially overcomes the aerodynamic drag that affects any object in flight. If another pitcher’s 93 MPH fastball actually hits the glove at 87 or 88, it might  explain the otherwise anecdotal concept of a “heavy ball.”

Outfield Defense – Again!

OK, I might have to completely revise my assessment of the Yankees. In the Bronx last night, in one of the ten best baseball games I’ve ever attended, the New York club tied it on Rodriguez’s homer, benefitted from a horrible call in rightfield, staved off bases loaded and none out on Robertson’s pitching, and got the winning run on Teixeira’s parabola off the top of the left field wall.

But they won it because Nick Swisher proved me a liar with a beautifully executed play on an inattentive Carlos Gomez in the fourth inning, and because of how A.J. Burnett pitched in the litmus test for his post-season reliability. As Delmon Young busted it for home on Matt Tolbert’s single, Gomez over-ran second, Swisher threw a dart behind him, and he was retired before Young could cross the plate with what would have been the game’s first run. Burnett walked five and hit two – but wriggled out by giving up only three hits and stranding eight of the runners. My 11-year old nephew, attending the first post-game season of his life, stated with confidence after Burnett got one of his six strikeouts, “that was some slider!”
So the Yankee outfield defense already exceeded expectations in terms of plays back to the infield or the plate, and Burnett probably did the same. Meanwhile the Twins’ chances are not only bad enough, but what is wrong with Joe Nathan?
Saturday I would expect the Cardinals to avoid elimination (and perhaps as my pal Joe Magrane suggests, rally to beat the Dodgers behind the second starts of Carpenter and Wainwright) and the Rockies and Phillies continue to move to their inevitable fifth game back in Philadelphia.
BABE RUTH FILM UPDATE
I’ll go into this in a future post but it appears the Hall of Fame agrees with me, that film is from the A’s-Yankees doubleheader of September 9, 1928, with more than 85,000 in attendance (and probably filmed more for that reason, than for the presence of Ruth).
Some additional notes: I got it wrong, the Yankees began to wear numbers not in 1931 but 1929, thus 1928 is also the latest the film could be. And MLB Productions got it wrong, that is 
not Lou Gehrig following Ruth to the plate, but the lankier, righthanded hitting Bob Meusel. And even the Hal was wrong. Photo ID whiz Tom Shieber was also inspired to look at a panoramic photo that has always been marked “1928 World Series” that, like the Ruth film, showed no holiday or Series ceremonial bunting hanging anywhere in the ballpark. As of now they have re-marked it to date to the A’s-Yanks doubleheader – Shieber also notes that the socks of the visiting players in their picture don’t look like those worn by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1928, but like the A’s.
Socks. And you think I’m nuts.
The Times may be doing more on this little bit of historical sleuthing. In the interim, everybody wanted to correct an impression that MLB Productions was “stumped” by the film – it was more that they were looking to open up the archaeology dig to fans.

AND FINALLY:
Yes, it’s true. Bill O’Reilly and I in the same place at the same time, in the Yankee suites restaurant, and then three rows and seven seats apart. No one was injured, and everybody had a good time.
And to everybody who’s asked about my Dad – thank you, and he thanks you. Got in several hours with him before the Mental Vacation in the Bronx, and several late tonight. They keep throwing him spitballs and curves and he fouls them off as adroitly as Richie Ashburn in his prime. His main issues have all but been resolved, it’s now just a sequence of complications. But he keeps fouling them away and hanging in there. 

Outfield Defense!

Carlos Ruiz’s sinking liner meets Brad Hawpe’s ole’ play and the Phillies extend a 1-0 lead over the Rockies in the fifth. An inning later, Carlos Gonzalez plays pin ball with his own body, and Ryan Howard’s screamer to left – and then Utley sticks Dexter Fowler against the centerfield fence like a butterfly stuck in a collection. I know the wind was in the 40′s – my home in New York was creaking the Pequod going after Moby-Dick. 

But in the post-season, the two biggest changes are: A) the evaporation of mediocre pitching, and B) if your outfield defense is mediocre, it will be writ large against the sky before the 27th out is completed.
Looking ahead: if you watch Cole Hamels pitch against the Rockies today will you, like me, be unable to get out of your head his new commercial, and that almost munchkin-like question to the fan who comes to the mound: “Who are yoooooo?”
One other note: I commend Joe Girardi for trying something to make A.J. Burnett into a winner Friday night, even if it is the silliness that is the personal catcher. It may or may not work, but it shows the kind of imagination and flexibility that are usually the only traits a skipper can bring that might really impact the outcome of a game.

The Ordeals of A.J. Burnett

At their current trajectory, the Yankees are going to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Here in the Bronx, A.J. Burnett – to my thinking the most important player on the roster – has again succumbed to the yips, and, for the fourth time in his last nine starts, surrendered six or more runs – twice in twelve days to the less-than-daunting Orioles. As on Monday, Burnett, staked to a 1-0 lead, wobbled in the second, giving up a blast to Nolan Reimold and then walking Matt Wieters with one out. There followed three successive singles – the last two of them dink hits by Aubrey and Andino – and then the almost predictable kaboom: a crushed and crushing grand slam by Brian Roberts.

Burnett’s ability to handle misfortune – or even ordinary adversity – seems to be declining. And as was speculated here in the press box by Pete Caldera of The Bergen Record, on what can the Yankees depend if they were to lose a Sabathia playoff opener 1-0 and had to hand the ball to Burnett in an essential second game? More daunting still, until today Burnett had made 14 starts at Yankee Stadium and only once given up more than three.

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching (Updated)

What would the Giants look like in the post-season without Tim Lincecum? What about the Yankees if the A.J. Burnett they get is last month’s, not Monday night’s?

There is something bizarre about the rapidity with which the Giants had prized prospect (and the singularly named) Madison Bumgarner ready to go as soon as the news came down that Tim Lincecum would not pitch against the Padres Tuesday night. As late as Tuesday morning, newspapers in Eastern League cities had Bumgarner pitching the opening game of that circuit’s playoffs, Wednesday night, for the Connecticut Defenders. I know we have jets nowadays, and you could actually get from the Nutmeg State to SFO Airport in less than six weeks of stagecoach relays, but doesn’t it strike you that the Giants had to have had more of a hint that the incumbent Cy Young Winner’s back was acting up, than they’re letting on?
In turn, does that suggest that Lincecum is more hurt than they’re letting on? Certainly the reach to Bumgarner – the minors’ best pitching prospect even though he is barely two years removed from high school – implies that. To be fair, there was nobody on the active Giants’ roster this morning who had started a game in the majors this year (concurrent with Bumgarner’s promotion, Joe Martinez was summoned from Fresno, but Martinez pitched four innings on Saturday). Still, Madison Bumgarner, 3,000 miles away, does not sound like the likeliest emergency starter, even if you’re two games out in the wild card.
This update: as Bumgarner made his debut against the Padres, on the San Diego telecast, Mark Grant (who himself debuted as a 20-year old Giants starter before Bumgarner was born), offers an intriguing theory that uses the same evidence to reach the exact opposite conclusion. It’s not that Lincecum’s hurt, it’s that he’s just a little tired, and the rest could do him good for his next two starts, both against the Dodgers. I have to say Big Grant’s theory holds at least as much water as my own.
Meantime the Yankees are breathing a little more deeply after A.J. Burnett’s solid work on Monday, though they are fully aware that their second most expensive free agent starter was on the ropes in the night game against the Rays until Andy Sonnanstine took him off it by giving up eight runs. Forget Jeter, Sabathia, Rivera, Teixeira and all the rest – Burnett might be the most pivotal figure in New York’s post-season hopes. If he is the lights-out pitcher of the spring and early summer the Yankees are the favorites in any post-season series. 
But if he’s not, the Yankee rotation is Sabathia and The Question Marks. Andy Pettitte has been successful but nearly as generous to the hitters as Burnett. The Yankees have meanwhile completely screwed up Joba Chamberlain. This leaves… Sergio Mitre? Somebody in the Bronx is likely regretting having not given Alfredo Aceves a more serious look as a starter.
The Yankees’ starting weakness and another flaw are the kind that might not show up over the course of a long season against a lot of those pitching-poor, fundamentally-unsound AL also-rans, but could be fatal in the playoffs. The second problem is outfield defense. Brett Gardner can run down anything, but could not stave off Melky Cabrera’s bat. Johnny Damon is still a strong outfielder, and still would be better off returning the ball to the infield by FedEx. Cabrera is a mixed bag in the field. Nick Swisher could have the team’s best outfield arm, and that should terrify any Yankee fan who contemplated a playoff series turning on a successful relay play to the plate, or even a great catch in rightfield.
One other pitching note: the mutterings are that the Rockies are not as confident as they appear, that Huston Street will be back closing by this weekend or even the first of next week. Nothing firm on this, but worth noting (and thanks to the lights-out brilliance of Franklin Morales, not necessarily a big thing one way or another – except if it lingers to the post-season and experience or its lack is magnified).
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