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Barber Shop BS

Cliff Lee vs. Andy Pettitte–let’s chat. No matter how Lee fares tonight, and I assume he’ll pitch well once again, I’ve got a bad feelin’ about Andy.

Am I just being dramatic? My Spidey Sense is tinglin’.

[Picture by: galvarez51]

Onion Powder

So far I like the idea of Kenny Powers more than I like the real Kenny Powers. But the jury is still out, and there’s always room for improvement. The fact that Kenny Powers doesn’t literally know how to throw a ball is weak.

Oh yeah, huge game tonight–Price vs. Lee. Should be a good one.

Southpaws

The fifth and deciding game of the ALDS between the Rangers and the Rays features a fantastic match-up of left-handed twirlers. In fact, it’s been raining lefties in the ALDS, with four Cy Young candidates showing off their stuff. CC Sabathia and Francisco Liriano faced off in the Yankee-Twin opener, and Cliff Lee and David Price go at each other for the second time tonight. Throw in the fine performances of Andy Pettitte and CJ Wilson and left-handed batters have not felt very comfortable since the regular season ended.

I’ll never forget my introduction to the lefty’s breaking ball. For left-handed batters, it’s a rite of passage. Mine came in the ultimate setting, the batting cages near the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. I was eight or nine years old and I had never seen a batting cage that spit out breaking pitches. The cage with the shortest line featured a lefty slide-piece and I jumped in without a clue for what was in store.

The first round was not a happy experience – the bend was just too unsettling. The ball came directly at my front, right shoulder before succumbing to the laws of physics and dropping down and towards the plate. I realized that even though the pitches looked like they were going to hit me, they always broke down and away before impact. I just had to trust it, keep the front shoulder pointed at the machine, and wait for it.

After attention-getting success in the second round (after all this time, I can remember the special feeling of a gathering crowd behind the cage) , the baseball gods decided that this was too much, too fast. Or maybe one of the balls was just worn down too much to generate the proper spin when released from the machine. As it came hurtling toward my front shoulder, I dug in and waited for the break. It never broke. The ball just bore in and in and plowed into my lead arm. It stung badly and I watched, through tears, as the last few pitches sailed over my head. The balls whacked the backstop with that depressing thud. 

I understood something there on the ground. This was the deal you made when facing a lefty. If you want to cover that pitch, you have to give in, trust the break and accept the consequences. That’s how these pitchers keep us from hitting everything they throw. Among other dastardly things, they can move us off the plate; they can drill us in the arm.

Cliff Lee and David Price are both incredibly tough lefties, but that doesn’t mean that facing them is a similar experience. Look at their release points. David Price comes at you from the sling-shot arm slot, like a Randy Johnson-lite. The fastball and the breaking ball sweep across the left-handed batter’s box, but the fastball materializes suddenly on the hands while the breaking ball just keeps slipping down and away. Distinguishing one from the other is the difference between a difficult at bat and an impossible one.

Cliff Lee comes more over the top, which might be preferable for some lefties. But because of the expert way Lee hides the ball, and the movement he generates on all his pitches, he replaces the sweeping motion of Price with dart-gun precision and an unpredictability that the sling-shot lefty does not possess.

Both Lee and Price have success at limiting left-handed batters, but in two of the last three years, Lee actually had better numbers against righties. Price displayed the more traditional platoon advantage this year. Small sample sizes are in play for both, but I can believe that Price’s sweeping approach makes things more difficult for lefties but is slightly easier to track from the right-handed batter’s box. Meanwhile, Cliff Lee’s overhand style sacrifices some advantage versus lefties to better contend with the righties.

Outside of Ben Zobrist, none of the Rays did much with Cliff Lee in the first game. And then the righty-heavy lineup did even less with CJ Wilson in Game Two. I wonder if Joe Maddon will be tempted to start some of the lefties tonight, since the offense finally put runs on the board in Texas. Ron Washington has a much easier decision. His right-handed sluggers damaged Price the first time around and he can feel confident in trotting the same team out there again.

I expect Cliff Lee to be excellent, and I expect David Price to be much better than last time. But I don’t think he will be good enough. I expect the Rangers will win a low-scoring affair, 3-1. But no matter the outcome, Yankee fans can look forward to seeing a tough lefty in Yankee Stadium in Game 3 of the ALCS.

The Price is Right

I think David Price and the Rays will find a way to beat Cliff Lee and the Rangers tomorrow night. Either way, neither Lee or Price is likely to start Game One of the ALCS against the Yankees. Over at the Pinstriped Bible, Steve Goldman takes a look at the possible pitching rotation for the New Yorkers:

Now, we know that the Rangers are reluctant to use Lee on short rest, but perhaps young Price won’t be subject to the same limitations. Yet, moving up Price, or Lee for that matter, doesn’t change anything. Whether they pitch Saturday (three days) or Monday (five days), they’re getting two starts in the seven games. If they pitch on regular rest on Monday, they have the benefit of their usual recovery time, and the manager retains the option of asking them to come back on short rest for Game 6 or regular rest for Game 7.

After the first four games, determining the matchups becomes difficult and depressing. Given Andy Pettitte’s fragile physical state, it seems spectacularly unlikely he would pitch on short rest for Game 5. That means A.J. Burnett or Ivan Nova or Waite Hoyt or someone who wouldn’t ideally start is going if Game 5 is necessary. One alternative, and it’s probably not a good idea or even a realistic one, is Hughes pitching Game 2 . This would open up the possibility of shis tarting Game 5 on three day’s rest. Then Pettitte would pitch Game 3 and would line up to pitch in the seventh game if, for some reason, Sabathia couldn’t make another short-rest start.

Clean Sweep

Cliff Lee allowed just two lousy hits and pitched into the 9th inning. Guess he’s back is okay, sombitch. The Rangers scrapped four runs off Dustin Moseley–who pitched admirably in defeat–as they beat the Yanks, 4-1 to complete the weekend sweep.

The Rays lost, however, so the Yanks are still in first place, by a half-a-game.

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Texas Terror

The Yankees won last night’s game 7-6, but that’s kind of like saying the plot of The Sun Also Rises is “a guy watches some bullfights.” I really don’t know where to start with this particular thrill ride, which, around 10 PM, I thought the Yankees had absolutely no shot at winning. (I wasn’t far wrong). In fact, I didn’t really think they had a shot until they actually took the lead and put Mariano Rivera on the mound, and then right away the first batter he faced hit a triple and I still wasn’t so sure. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. They say when you don’t know where to start, you should start at the beginning.

The Yankees were facing Cliff Lee, who, in case you’d forgotten, is mind-bogglingly awesome. Since arriving in Texas he’s walked three batters – two of those intentionally. (Though why the hell Cliff Lee was intentionally walking anybody I can’t imagine). He’s allowed nine walks all season, which makes me think of Joe DiMaggio and that crazy 1941 season where he only struck out 13 times. I’ve had a platonic baseball-crush on Lee ever since he made that sick behind-the-back catch in Game 1 of last fall’s World Series and then shrugged it off with Steve-McQueen cool; I’ve also been looking at him as a bit superhuman, and so I didn’t expect much from the Yankees last night. Especially since Marcus Thames was batting third*.

And, against Cliff Lee, they indeed didn’t do much… except they had some good at-bats, and made him work (though of course not actually walk anybody), which is often really the only thing you can do when facing someone like Lee. The Rangers didn’t beat around the bush, starting their scoring in the 1st with a Michael Young homer, as Javier Vazquez continued to struggle with both his velocity and his location. The Yankees evened things up in the 4th, when Marcus Thames singled and A-Rod doubled him home and I thought, not for the first nor last time over a four-hour span, okay maybe I’ve been a little hard on Marcus Thames; but it didn’t take. The Rangers scored two more in the bottom of the inning (two-run Mitch Moreland single, off the glove of Lance “not Mark Teixeira” Berkman at first), and three more in the fifth (single, single, botched run-down, double, fielder’s choice, single), and when Javy slumped off the mound to make way for Sergio Mitre it was 6-1 and I was thinking about how I should frame the loss in the recap.

But Sergio Mitre was just fine, actually – 1.2 hitless, scoreless innings – and it turned out the Yankees were only mostly dead (“mostly dead is slightly alive!”). In the same way they used to have some success against aces like Pedro Martinez back in the day, they took a bunch of pitches, fouled others off, kept scuffling, and got Lee out of the game after 6.1 innings – which is, by Cliff Lee standards, quite early; as Michael Kay pointed out, Lee had pitched 8 innings or more in ten straight starts. The comeback trail began in the sixth, when Derek Jeter tripled -  seems like it’s been a long time since I wrote that – and scored on a rare Cliff Lee wild pitch, but I don’t think the Rangers were exactly quaking in their boots at that point. The next inning, though, things started to get a little interesting: Robinson Cano doubled, and Austin Kearns singled, hard, and when Austin Kearns creams one like that it’s a pretty good sign that Cliff Lee is probably starting to get a little tired. (It was 100 degrees in Texas last night, which couldn’t have helped any). Lance Berkman hit a ground-rule double, and then Brett Gardner singled, and suddenly it was a decently close 6-4 game. The Texas bullpen is very good, though, and the Yankees were relying on Kerry Wood for two innings, so I remained unimpressed except in a vague, it’s-nice-they’re-showing-some-fight-however-futile sort of way.

Like Sergio Mitre before him, Kerry Wood exceeded my expectations, although he did add a little spice, in the form of two straight singles in the seventh before he induced a Nelson Cruz double play. But he kept things from getting any worse, and so when Marcus Thames led off the 8th inning with a sonic boom of a home run off Frank Francisco – huh, perhaps I really was a little hard on that guy – it was suddenly a one-run affair. Cano and Posada walked… but then Austin Kearns, who giveth and taketh away, ground into a DP of his own and you had to figure that was probably that.

In the top of the ninth inning, Lance Berkman walked and, being rather less swift than a puma these days, Curtis Granderson came on to run for him. And he drew a lot of attention from the hard-throwing Rangers reliever of the moment, Neftali Feliz, but he still hadn’t gotten anywhere when Brett Gardner singled him over. Derek Jeter was getting ready to bunt (grrrrr), but Feliz — perhaps overcome with admiration for Jeter’s selflessness in being willing to sacrifice himself for his team! — threw a wild pitch and both Granderson and Gardner advanced, no bunt necessary. Jeter then bent over, picked a four-leaf clover, and hit a sneaky seeing-eye hopper of a single that came within an inch of being caught by both the pitcher and the second baseman before trickling into the outfield. Tie game. Nick Swisher struck out, but that brought up Marcus Thames, who singled off of Alexi Ogando, scoring Gardner and giving the Yankees their first lead of the game.

You know, it’s possible I’ve been a little hard on Marcus Thames.

Anyway, the one-run lead meant Mariano Rivera for the bottom of the ninth. I’d say he was looking for redemption after the previous night’s rare blown save but, really, Mariano Rivera doesn’t need any redemption; he’s got redemption coming out of his ears. He did, however, give everyone a bit of a start by immediately giving up a whopping triple to Elvis Andrus.

Michael Young flew out, just not quiiiiite far enough to score the run.

Josh Hamilton grounded directly into Rivera’s glove.

Vlad Guerrero took one whole pitch before swinging from his heels and sending the ball to Alex Rodriguez, who made a nice play and tossed him out by several entire feet.

If the Yanks and Rangers meet down the road in October, it could be quite a series. In the interests of being prepared, I recommend you start discussing blood pressure medication with your doctor sooner rather than later.

*There’s no doubt that the Yankees miss Mark Teixeira – that lineup hasn’t been looking all that awe-inspiring the last few days. (Still, to the people who are actually upset that Teixeira is taking several days off to be with his newborn child and wife, I can only say: you’ll feel differently about this down the road, once you’ve matured a bit, and passed puberty.) Ken Singleton made the extremely good point that, as with the Bereavement List, when players leave for the birth of a child, their team should be able to call up a replacement. Teams would therefore feel less of a squeeze when a player like Teixeira does the right thing and spends a couple of days with his family, and there would be less pressure on the player himself to rush back immediately. Paternity leave: get on it, MLBPA.

Press On like Lee

The Yankees are wary of Cliff Lee reports George King:

“He uses all four quadrants of the strike zone and puts the ball wherever he wants it,” said Jorge Posada, a .292 (7-for-24) hitter versus Lee. “He is like (Tom) Glavine but with more speed.”

That was a tough loss last night, what with the Rays and Sox both winning.

Lee tonight makes for a chore. Hey, nobody said it was gunna be easy like Sunday Morning, right?

[Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images]

Yankee Panky: Midway Ramblings

What a weird turn the season has taken through the first 91 games, and specifically over the last two weeks. With the passings first of Bob Sheppard and then of George Steinbrenner and news of the fall that landed Yogi Berra in the hospital, a somber mood has befallen the Yankee Family, which includes us.

There’s a lot on my mind — nothing new there — and I wanted to get it as much of it down as I could, not only for my own cathartic reasons, but also for your reading enjoyment.

Here we go …

* The discussion regarding the fifth starter spot was rendered moot very quickly, Phil Hughes, with an improved cutter and curveball and most importantly, and an Eff-You attitude that he took from his eighth-inning role in ’09, took control in Spring Training and never let go. He won 10 of his first 11 decisions and earned an All-Star appearance. Now, with Andy Pettitte on the shelf and AJ Burnett looking like an extra in “Girl Interrupted” — more on this in a bit — Hughes is effectively the Yankees’ No. 3 starter, maybe even No. 2, depending on your opinion of Javier Vazquez. Yes, even though Hughes got roughed-up last night. 

The question with Hughes now becomes how the Brain Trust wants to handle the Phil Rules. He is supposedly on an innings limit (160 innings? 175? What’s the number?). But what will that do to his effectiveness? Skipping starts to curb innings is likely not the best move, as evidenced by the 10-day break between his home starts in June against the Mets and Mariners. The Yankees need him to be effective in September and October, yes, but they have to figure out a way to do this right.

On WFAN Saturday, Steve Phillips, commenting on the Cardinals’ management of prospective NL Rookie of the Year Jaime Garcia, said Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are not taking chances with Garcia; they’re not allowing him to start the seventh inning when he has a big lead. The Yankees can learn from that with Hughes. Skipping starts, especially as the pennant race heats up, could be devastating to both the Yankees’ chances and to Hughes’s development. Look what happened to the Tigers and Rick Porcello last year. Porcello was skipped several times over August and September as a means of preservation for the stretch run. He pitched well in the one-game playoff against Minnesota, but then this year had a miserable start and was optioned to Toledo in mid-June. He’s back with the team now amid rumors he’ll be packaged in a trade? Do the Yankees want to take that chance with Phil Hughes? Probably not.

(more…)

Friend or Foe, eh, State Your Business

Cliff Lee pitches against the Yanks tonight in Seattle. Could he be pitching for the Yankees soon? According to a report by Jon Heyman at SI.com:

The Yankees have intensified talks with the Mariners for star lefthander Cliff Lee, sources confirm.

The discussions appear serious, and one source said it’s “quite possible” a deal will be consummated. The Mariners are said to love Jesus Montero, the Yankees’ 20-year-old catching prospect, and have been asking for him all along. SI.com reported Thusrday that Seattle’s asking price of the Yankees was Montero plus two other prospects.

Over at the New York Post, Joel Sherman writes:

The Knicks didn’t get LeBron James, but the Yankees were on the brink of obtaining Cliff Lee late last night for a package that would include top prospect Jesus Montero, the Post has learned.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman and Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik have been in constant contact over the last week, but it was only last night that the Seattle GM told Yankee officials he wanted to move quickly, possibly before the All-Star break.

The Yanks were not assured of obtaining Lee since other clubs such as the Mets, Twins and Rangers were in talks. But the Yanks were definitely making the strongest move last night, coming from seeming disinterest into the clear front-runner and last night it seemed they were all but certain to obtain the 31-year-old lefty.

Not to be out-scooped, Buster Olney at ESPN adds:

The Seattle Mariners are pushing hard to complete a Cliff Lee deal, and the Yankees could be closing in on a trade for the left-hander — but as of Friday morning, there was no agreement in place, sources say, and it’s possible that another team could step in and make a more aggressive bid.

The Mariners have been talking with the Rays, Twins, Rangers, Reds and other teams, and news that the Yankees were on the verge of getting Lee — first reported by the New York Post — could spur one of the other teams to strengthen their offer.

All along the Yankees have felt as if no other team matches up better than they would with Seattle in a Lee deal, because they are offering Jesus Montero, who figures to have a long and productive career as a hitter regardless of whether he plays catcher or first base.

….Mornin’. LeBron, who?

UPDATE: Nothing done yet. Buster said the Yanks were getting close, then Ken Dawidoff reported the talks his a “snag.” More to come…MLB Trade Rumors has the latest…

UPDATE: Nothing set yet, but here’s the skinny according to Joel Sherman.

[Photo Credit: Rich Lederer]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver