"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: Curtis Granderson
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Left Out

Yanks need to replace Curtis Granderson, at least for a little while.

Breaking Training

Curtis Granderson was hurt today. He’ll be out for a while.

Temper Temper

Oh yeah? Well, at least your wife didn’t hijack the TV to watch Dancing with the Stars leaving you to follow this horseshit of a ball game–Curtis Granderson’s fine running catch and a couple of first inning pops (Jeter, Grandy) notwithstanding–on your phone and your laptop.

Lots of muttering and then flat-out cursing as that meathead, Captain Horseshit himself, Carl Pavano had his way with the Yanks and the Twins cruised to a  7-3 win. Yanks had a 3-2 lead after the first and then, well, I don’t want to talk about it, okay? Is it too early to be irked by a crappy game? Apparently not. I sulked like a brat. The wife stopped just short of telling me to put a muzzle on it.

Ah, whadda ya gunna do? They’ll get ‘em tomorrow night.

[Image by Ron English; Photo Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images]

Life Lessons

 

If you are looking for a holiday gift for a young Yankee fan, look no further than All You Can Be: Learning and Growing Through Sports, by Curtis Granderson. It’s a trim, glossy, hardcover book, illustrated by students from New York City’s public schools, and it is nicely done. It also includes  some fun pictures of Curtis as a kid.

The artwork is beautiful.

Painting by Logan Hines, 7 years old (Queens)

Detail of picture by Nancy Lin, 5th Grade P.S./IS 49 (Queens)

When the Truth is Found

Nick Blackburn loaded the bases in the second inning and then came out of the game with a lateral forearm strain. But the Yanks did not score and there still was no score in the bottom of the fifth when Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson botched a fly ball putting runners on second and third with nobody out. Then Ivan Nova, who had several pitches working today (fastball, curve, change-up), struck out the next two batters and got a ground ball to get out of it.

Robinson Cano doubled in the next inning–a line-drive to left field–tagged to third on a deep fly ball by Swisher and scored on a sacrifice fly by Russell Martin. In the seventh, Granderson, who has seemingly done it all for the Yanks this year, added to his resume when he hit a long fly ball off the top of the wall in right center field. The ball came back into the field but bounced far enough away from the outfielders to give Granderson a shot at something more than a triple. He ran all the way home and slid across the plate just ahead of the throw, good for an inside-the-park home run. Mark Teixeira followed with a line drive home run the old fashioned way, over the fence, and the 3-0 lead was enough.

David Robertson got into a pickle in the eighth, but even with the bases loaded, he escaped unharmed. Mariano Rivera put heads to bed–killing them softly–in the 9th and Yanks return to the Bronx heppy kets. Alex Rodriguez did not get a hit in his return but that was a footnote to Granderson’s heroics and seven shutout innings from Nova.

It was a good Sunday.

And that’s word to Rabbi Marshak:

Flying J, the Score Truck, and a Live Arm

For the past two years, in mid-August the Minnesota Twins have been competitive enough to defuse the inevitable Brett Favre melodrama. Favre is out — supposedly — Donovan McNabb is in, and Republican presidential hopefuls who win straw polls in neighboring Iowa and confuse celebrity birthdays and deathdays are providing the melodrama. The Twins, they entered tonight’s game 15 games under .500, 11 games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers, almost irrelevant in the AL Central.

But for the Yankees, the Minnesota Twins are relevant. They’re on the list of “teams we should beat whenever, wherever” en route to the postseason. Thursday night, with C.C. Sabathia on the mound, mission accomplished. Friday night, with Phil Hughes going, the team performance was even more impressive.

First let’s take the offense. The first time through the batting order, Derek Jeter, Robinson Canó, Nick Swisher and J Martin were the only Yankees to swing at the first pitch against Kevin Slowey, who was making his first start of the season for the Twins (his previous six appearances had been in relief). None of the four first-pitch swingers put the ball in play. Martin was the only one to keep his in fair territory, however. He crushed a hanging curveball into the leftfield seats not unlike someone named Trevor Plouffe did in the first inning for the Twins.

Russell Martin

Russell Martin had three hits, scored twice and drove in three runs. (Photo Credit / Getty Images)

Martin’s solo home run tied the game and allowed the offense to collectively exhale and get into the rhythm. They scored a run in the fourth and in the fifth, which Martin led off with a single, the top of the order wore out Slowey. With Gardner on first base (he reached on a fielder’s choice), Jeter squibbed a single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch. The at-bat may have been the turning point in the game. It set up first-and third with one out, and Curtis Granderson followed with a double that tightroped the first base line and skidded off the bag before barreling into the rightfield corner. Gardner scored, Jeter to third. Mark Teixeira followed with a sac fly to make it 4-1 and the Score Truck had a head of steam. The coup de grace came in the sixth, as J Martin unloaded again. This time, it was a two-run shot to left that broke the game open. With Scott Brosius doing a guest spot in the YES booth in that same half-inning, it seemed fitting that the best No. 9 hitter in recent Yankee memory observed the current No. 9 hitter have arguably his best offensive night as a Yankee. The Yankees posted another two-spot in the ninth inning to complete the rout at 8-1.

Now, let’s take the pitching, specifically Phil Hughes’s outing. Despite Freddy Garcia’s placement on the disabled list and what that means for the temporary settlement of a five-man rotation, Hughes still has pressure on him. Every start is an audition to present his case to remain in the rotation through September and into October. Given what happened in Boston when he appeared in relief, perhaps Hughes has readjusted his brain chemistry to be a starting pitcher.

Hughes cruised much the way he did in Chicago on August 2. He pounded the strike zone with his fastball, changed speeds effectively, and maintained his aggressiveness with two strikes. That aggressiveness didn’t manifest itself in strikeouts as it had in Hughes’s previous two starts against Chicago and Tampa Bay, but it did lead to weak contact and routine outs. Between the home run he allowed to Plouffe in the first inning and the walk he issued to Plouffe to lead off the seventh, Hughes only allowed one Twin to reach base.

Joe Girardi allowed Hughes to start the eighth, and pitcher rewarded manager by retiring the first batter. The next two at-bats didn’t go quite as well. Luke Hughes (no relation) singled to left on a 1-2 curveball and Tsuyoshi Nishioka followed with a screaming liner that caught Gardner in left more than Gardner caught the ball. That was it for Hughes.

Credit Girardi for relieving Hughes when he did — not because of the pitch count, but because in the last eight batters he faced, Hughes issued two walks, a hit, and a loud out. Overall, Hughes was as dominant as he was in the rain-shortened effort against the White Sox. He is 3-0 in his last three decisions as a starter and his fourth straight quality start. Since returning from the DL on July 6, he’s lowered his ERA from Chien-Ming Wang (13.94) to Sergio Mitre (5.75).

All signs point to Hughes being on the right track.

J Martin said of Hughes, “He’s progressing late in the season. You’d rather have somebody peaking late than peaking too early.”

CURRYING FAVOR FOR GRANDY
Curtis Granderson figured prominently in the Yankees victory, yet again. Midway through the game, Jack Curry joined Michael Kay and John Flaherty in the YES broadcast booth and Curry asked Kay if he had an MVP vote, who he would vote for. Kay believed that Adrian Gonzalez would win, because his batting average entering Friday’s action was more than 60 points higher than Granderson. Curry said he’d vote for Granderson.

Curtis Granderson

Curtis Granderson reached base four times and scored another run Friday. (AP Photo)

Traditionally, the Triple Crown categories have swayed the writers’ vote for Most Valuable Player. If that were to hold true this year, Granderson holds the edge over Gonzalez in both home runs and RBIs. He also has scored more runs than Gonzalez (113 to 81), and has a higher slugging percentage (.596 to .543), and OPS (.973 to .950). Granderson also leads the American League in triples and has 23 stolen bases. His 113 runs scored lead all of baseball, as do his 12 home runs against left-handed pitchers. The only thing Granderson hasn’t done is hit for average. With that in mind, I’ve thought that if Granderson finishes the season within 10 points of .300 on either side, he has a chance to win the MVP.

But there’s a catch.

Six years ago, I wrote a column arguing that Baseball Prospectus’s VORP statistic should be the primary determinant in MVP voting. If that were to hold true this season, Jose Bautista would win, as his VORP total is 69.2 to Granderson’s 57.6. Bautista’s batting average is .314 to Granderson’s .284, he leads the American League in home runs (35), on-base percentage (.455), slugging percentage (.638) and OPS (1.093). The Sabermetricians would put Bautista as the MVP. In terms of VORP, Gonzalez ranks fourth on his team.

So where’s the line? Granderson, compared to Gonzalez and Bautista, is a different offensive player. Not better, but different. Speed adds that other dimension. Perhaps the speed makes Granderson a more complete offensive threat. That completeness is what swayed Jack Curry.

The bottom line: the decision will be subjective, and bias will be involved. If Granderson isn’t the league MVP this season he’s definitely been the MVY (Most Valuable Yankee).

Center Stage

Steve Goldman looks at Curtis Granderson as an MVP candidate. He examines stats from Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference and says that:

One of the main reasons for variance between these measurements is the way they handle fielding, with each having different ways of tabulating a player’s defensive contribution. What is fascinating is that despite this, all three rankings agree that Granderson shouldn’t be anywhere near the MVP award, and they agree on the reason: they think he has been a poor defensive player this year. Conversely, they agree that Brett Gardner has been a spectacular defensive player, which is why he shows up in the top 10 for two of the three sites (Gardner ranks 17th in BP’s hierarchy). BP’s fielding runs say that Granderson has set the Yankees back about 10 runs with the glove beyond what an average defender would have done, equivalent to a full win. Fangraphs’ version of the same says about the same thing with -8 runs, while BB-Ref generously only penalizes him seven runs.

What perplexes me here is that I can’t see it, whether on television or at the ballpark. When we talk about Derek Jeter’s defensive deficiencies, I have always been able to see his difficulties going to his left. The statistics merely confirmed what I already knew. In this case, Granderson’s problems aren’t obvious to me, so I ask you: have you noticed Granderson fail to play a solid center field?

That’s a good question. I have a hard time wrapping my head around fielding stats, that’s for sure.

[Photo Credit: ESPN]

Phew!

Russell Martin, Carlos Pena

Russell Martin absorbed heavy contact and kept the Yankees ahead. (Photo Credit / Getty Images)

Former Marlins teammates AJ Burnett and Ryan Dempster squared off in the middle game of the marquee interleague series of the weekend, at Wrigley Field. There was potential for a pitchers’ duel, if the “Good AJ” showed up, and if Dempster maintained the good control he’s shown at home thus far (almost a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio in 52 1/3 innings pitched at Wrigley this season).

That wasn’t to be, though. The game was tight and low-scoring, but more because both teams missed opportunities, rather than Burnett and Dempster dominating. Both pitchers followed the “bend but don’t break” M.O. Burnett allowed two runs, struck out eight and walked three in 5 1/3 innings pitched, while Dempster allowed only three runs while walking a season-high six batters, and struck out six.

The Yankees had their chances. They had base runners every inning, but were only able to push runners across in the third and sixth innings. In the third, Curtis Granderson led off with a single — doesn’t it seem like when the Yankees score, he’s in the middle of the rally? — and later scored on Robinson Canó’s double. Nick Swisher followed with a sacrifice fly to bring in Alex Rodriguez, who singled and advanced to third on the Canó double.

The Cubs tied the game in the fourth, making Burnett pay for issuing a leadoff walk to Blake DeWitt. Two batters later, Carlos Peña hit a laser into the right-field seats.

Sometimes, the most important moment in a game isn’t a timely hit, it’s a baserunning mistake. Following a one-out walk to Kosuke Fukudome, Starlin Castro lined a single to center. On that hit, Fukudome was running on the pitch but did not advance to third. On the FOX broadcast, Tim McCarver said there was “no excuse for Fukudome to not be on third base with one out, or at least get thrown out trying.” The next batter, DeWitt, who figured in the Cubs’ first rally, bounced into a 4-6-3, inning-ending double play.

Eduardo Nuñez carried the positive vibes from the solid turn of the double play into the top of the sixth, lining a single up the middle on an 0-2 count and later scoring on a Granderson sac fly to give the Yankees the lead. (The Granderson RBI was off lefty James Russell. Granderson, versus lefties this season: .277/.341/.651, 20 RBI.) In the ninth, Nuñez drove in what would be the go-ahead run with a double.

Mariano Rivera made things interesting, yielding a leadoff home run to Reed Johnson and a single to Alfonso Soriano. But he needed just four more pitches to record three outs, inducing Geovany Soto to ground into a double play and striking out Jeff Baker.

That would be the high-level overview of the game. Two plays in particular preserved this victory for the Yankees: the first was the double play that ended the fifth. The second came in the sixth inning. Canó missed an easy catch on a force attempt that turned a potential first-and-third, two-out situation into a bases-loaded, one-out scenario. On a full count, Soto lined to left. Brett Gardner made up for his base running gaffe in the top of the sixth by making a nice catch on the liner and firing a one-hop strike to home. A huge collision ensued between Peña and catcher Russell Martin. Martin hung onto the ball, showed it to both Peña and home plate umpire Sam Holbrook.

Sometimes over the course of a season, winning teams win games despite an odd boxscore. Saturday, the Yankees walked 10 times and only scored four runs. They got 11 hits and went 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position yet left 13 men stranded. They committed two errors and ran themselves out of an inning.

Yet in the end, the formula that usually leads to a victory — timely hitting, a few key defensive plays, above average starting pitching and a capable bullpen effort — put a W up for the Yankees. By all accounts, they should have beaten the Cubs about 11-3 in this game. But as the better team, being able to hang on and win the close game is encouraging and should serve them well as the season wears on.

Code of Hammurabi? Meh.

Joe Girardi, Gene Monihan, Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez was hit by a pitch for the second time this week. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

An excerpt of the Code of Hammurabi, courtesy of Thinkquest:

Although it follows the practice of “an eye for an eye”, it does not allow for vigilante justice, but rather demands a trial by judges. It also glorifies acts of peace and justice done during Hammurabi’s rule.

What does this have to do with the Yankees? Alex Rodriguez got plunked in the sixth inning of today’s game after Curtis Granderson homered to make it 2-0. Much will be made of Alex Rodriguez getting plunked in the sixth inning after Curtis Granderson’s home run increased the Yankees’ lead to 2-0. There will be much ado because while Mitch Talbot was ejected immediately (wet mound conditions or not), yet again, the HBP went unanswered by a Yankees pitcher. The Yankees have had eight hit batsmen in the last five games. They’ve hit only one. The Boston Red Sox sent a message that teams can hit the Yankees’ batters without repercussion.

To date, despite Joe Girardi’s emphatic stance, the message has gained traction.

Columnists are clamoring for the Yankees to follow Girardi’s lead, to start showing some fight and “protect their own.” David Wells, who was patrolling the clubhouse on Saturday, told reporters the Yankees need to “grow some.”

Perhaps Talbot’s ejection led the Yankees to be more cautious in their retaliation strategy. But a passive-aggressive approach has been the Yankees’ stance for years. The recent beanball wars are reminiscent of 2003, when the Red Sox, more specifically Pedro Martinez, routinely hit Yankees batters, often without repercussion. On July 7 of that year, Pedro and Mike Mussina engaged in a classic pitchers’ duel. Martinez opened the game by hitting Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano on the hands, knocking them both out of the game. Mussina wouldn’t retaliate. Didn’t even buzz anyone. Fans were miffed. Writers were, too.

At the time, George Steinbrenner said of Martinez: “I don’t know what was going through his mind, but if it’s what it looked like, it’s not good. It’s not good for his team, not good for baseball.” Mussina’s response: “It was a situation that was pretty delicate. I think if I go inside to somebody, the umpire’s going to warn both benches. I didn’t want to lose half the plate. It’s a tough spot. You try to do what’s right. I’m not sure what anybody was thinking, but I felt I had to get guys out.” Not until Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, when Roger Clemens threw a fastball to the backstop with Manny Ramirez at the plate, igniting a bench-clearing brawl for the ages, did the Yankees exact revenge according to the common interpretation of Hammurabi’s Code.

If the code glorifies acts of peace and justice, then the Yankees are doing the right thing and should be applauded by being professional, acting above hitting Indians’ batters and winning the game. But do they have to hit someone to demonstrate protection? Pitch inside. Buzz someone. Make the batter uncomfortable. Move his feet. That could work.

Would the umpires allow the Yankees to pitch inside or buzz someone, or would they warn the benches immediately and put the pitchers in a bind, as Mussina feared? It’s a tough call. Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees in that 2003 game, now sits in the League Office and has jurisdiction over this exact issue. He also caught Bob Gibson, who you know full well would have given an opposing batter a shave by now if his teammates were getting hit at the rate the Yankees’ guys are. At what point will Torre get involved? Should he get involved?

It’s unlikely. The Yankees will do what they believe is right. But will they lose players as they consider the appropriate time to punch back?

OH YEAH, THE GAME …
Three solo home runs and a clutch RBI single by Jorge Posada in the seventh inning provided the scoring for the Yankees. The arms of Bartolo Colon, David Robertson and Boone Logan did the rest. The most important juncture of the game was the eighth inning. While it won’t go in the box score as a save, Robertson should get one for his yeoman effort. After allowing consecutive singles to start the inning, and then balking the runners over to second and third, respectively, his strikeouts of Asdrubal Cabrera and Grady Sizemore preserved the shutout and pretty much ensured the Yankees would emerge victorious.

Robertson and Logan combined to allow just two hits and struck out four. Contrast that to Friday night, where in a blowout, mop-up scenario, Kevin Whelan and Lance Pendleton yielded five runs on five hits, and walked five. Their performance led Girardi to pull an “I have no other recourse” move, bringing in Mariano Rivera to end the losing streak.

HAMSTRUNG
Big Bart pulled up lame covering first base in the seventh inning. He had thrown just 83 pitches and was working on a two-hit shutout at the time of his exit. Given his age, weight, and conditioning (or lack thereof), Colon could be looking at a long stint on the disabled list. The only good news from this: if and when Phil Hughes returns, there’s no doubt where he’ll be slotted in the rotation.

NEEDLESS COMPARISON
Granderson’s home run was his 20th. Mark Teixeira’s was his 19th. YES Network’s announcers got homer happy. Ken Singleton brought up 1961, and that the recent home run barrage reminded him of that seminal year in Yankees history. Michael Kay mentioned that Maris had 20 home runs and Mantle 18 on this date 50 years ago. Please stop. Granderson and Teixeira are not Mantle and Maris. Moreover, the 2004 Yankees hold the team record for home runs in a season (242). Granted, they didn’t have two guys going shot for shot the way Granderson and Teixeira seem to be right now, but it’s worth noting that the ’04 group, not the ’61 group, is the most prolific Yankees team in that category.

A Grand Finale

Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira finished what Curtis Granderson started. (Photo Credit / Michael Heiman - Getty Images)

Some of the Yankees’ most memorable moments at home over the past 15 years have occurred in the month of May. In 1998, David Wells’ perfect game against the Twins and the brawl against the Orioles sparked by Armando Benitez’s plunking of Tino Martinez took place May 17 and 19, respectively. In 2002, Jason Giambi’s 14th-inning game-winning grand slam in the rain, also against the Twins occurred on May 17.

Here we are in 2011. The Yankees had only won four home games this month. “Consistently inconsistent” would probably be the best description for their play. The pressing trend has been the team’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position. They were too reliant upon the home run.

Speaking of home runs, this series against the Blue Jays was billed as a duel between the Majors’ top two home run hitters: Jose Bautista of the Jays and Curtis Granderson of the Yankees. Bautista won Round 1 Monday night. Granderson won Round 2 on Tuesday. Granderson keyed the Yankees’ comeback from a 4-1 deficit with a leadoff double in the eighth inning, leading the “Thank you for taking Ricky Romero out of the game” charge. He later scored on Robinson Canó’s RBI double. With two outs in the ninth, Granderson singled to drive in Chris Dickerson, tying the game at 4-4. Minutes later, he scored the game-winning run on Mark Teixeira’s single.

Granderson went 4-for-5 on the night, bringing his current line to .275/.347/.618. He has been the Yankees’ best all-around player this season, and a top-5 player in the American League. Granderson remains second in home runs to Bautista, is fourth in RBI, second in runs scored, third in slugging percentage, and fourth in OPS.

The Yankees’ last four runs were all scored with two out. They went 4-for-6 with runners in scoring position over the last two innings, 4-for-4 with two out and runners in scoring position. This is the stuff that builds a team’s self-belief. Late-inning comebacks like this helped carry the team to a World Series title two years ago.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. We don’t yet know the identity of this Yankee team, or where they’re going to end up. For one night, here’s what we do know: Curtis Granderson’s efforts led to another pie at Yankee Stadium III. They made a winner out of CC Sabathia, who delivered the Yankees’ first complete game in 341 starts.

And they put the Yankees in first place.

Thunder Storms in Balti'mo

The Yankees lineup slumps as a team and hits as a team. The slump: Wednesday night. Fourteen innings, fourteen singles, and a 1-for-14 effort with runners in scoring position was the epitome of the Yankees’ recent bout of anemia. The hits: Robinson Canó’s 2-RBI double in the 15th inning not only broke the singles brigade and the RISP issues, it was the beginning of an avalanche of offense.

Derek Jeter led off the game with a double, and Curtis Granderson followed with an RBI triple off the top of the right field wall. A productive out by Mark Teixeira had the game at 2-0 before some people realized the game had even started. Later in the inning, Brad Bergesen drilled Cano, walked Russell Martin on four pitches, threw a wild pitch and was forced to walk Jorge Posada to load the bases. Nick Swisher unloaded the bases with a double. 5-0 after a half inning. Score truck idling on Eutaw Street.

Ahead to the fourth inning, where Brett Gardner and Jeter hit back-to-back triples, and then Big Teix went yard. 9-0 and pray the rain held out. It did. The game was official. Tack-on runs in the fifth and sixth. Even Eduardo Nuñez belted a home run to cap the scoring.

The early barrage was more than enough for CC Sabathia, who was on auto-pilot from the get-go. About as economical as he gets: average of 14 pitches per inning through his 8 IP, and struck out nine. No walks. Seventy-seven percent of his pitches went for strikes.

As good as CC was, make no mistake, this game was about the offense. Up and down the lineup, it was like a huge exhalation. A channeling of several days of frustration. The Yankees did what they’re supposed to do: destroy bad pitching. And the timely hitting was there. Eight of 13 runs were scored with two outs. They went 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

This was the type of victory the Yankees needed. Now if they could only have this kind of effort against teams other than the Orioles…Wait, how about the Mets?

NOTES:
* Jorge Posada was in the field, at first base, and went 1-for-3 with an RBI, a run scored, and two walks. His long flyball out to center field in the eighth inning has him 0-for-25 vs. LHP this season. A great note on Posada, though, from YES Network’s Jack Curry, via Twitter: Since he asked out of the lineup Saturday, Posada has reached base in 7 of 9 plate appearances.

* Another beauty from Mr. Curry: Swisher had 4 RBI tonight. He had just 3 in his previous 17 games.

* When Sabathia was removed in favor of Amauri Sanit for the ninth inning, the Yankees extended their MLB record streak of consecutive games without a complete game to 337.

* Courtesy of Larry Koestler at YankeeAnalysts, the Yankees have never had their starting pitchers go 8 innings on consecutive nights. Sabathia and Bartolo Colon just did it.

New York Minute

Last night I was walking to the subway in midtown when I saw a woman wearing a Curtis Granderson jersey. Don’t see many of those, I thought as I approached her. I must say hello. She had her back to me and was standing on the corner. Next to her, another woman was looking at a subway map.

“You guys need help getting to Yankee Stadium?” I asked when I reached them.

The woman in the Granderson jersey raised her eyebrow and looked me suspiciouisly. The kind of “What-Do-You-Want-From-Me?” look that you only see from out-of-towners.

I told her I was a Yankee fan, not to worry, then helped them out. We talked about the team for a minute. She told me that she was Curtis Granderson’s sister. I told her how well-liked he was by Yankee fans and now the suspicion was gone and she smiled, big and beautiful. And then she and her friend went to the game.

Come Down Selector

Curtis on the ones and twos…

Yankee Panky: Oblique Outlook

Dictionary.com lists 13 definitions for the adjective form of the word oblique. As it pertains to anatomy, oblique muscles are those that run at an angle, as opposed to transversely (horizontally) or longitudinally (vertically). In the abdominal wall, the obliques are the muscles that form the side cut of a six-pack. They’re the love handles.

Synonyms, as listed within the aforementioned link, include “indirect,” “covert,” or “veiled.” But oblique strains have directly, overtly and obviously affected the Yankees this Spring, with Greg Golson, Sergio Mitre, Joba Chamberlain and now Curtis Granderson all falling victim to the injury. Granderson’s injury may put his Opening Day availability in question. This is no surprise, given that recovery time ranges from 10 days up to 3 weeks, depending on the severity of the strain.

Chamberlain missed 10 days. He returned to action Tuesday and was throwing 95 miles per hour. Golson also returned Tuesday, after missing 15 days of action. Mitre, meanwhile, was making his first appearance since March 14. MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, in a mid-afternoon post Tuesday, reported that Mitre thought he had a roster spot secured when he arrived in Tampa 6 weeks ago. Tuesday’s start, Mitre’s first since he suffered his oblique strain, may be giving the Yankees pause about adding him to the 25-man roster. The following quotes are priceless.

First, Mitre is confidently unsure:

“I don’t look at it as a setback. I’m hoping they don’t base everything off of one spring start. If that’s the case, then we’ll see what happens, but I don’t think that’s the case — at least toward me. They know I can get people out and they know they can rely on me, I hope.”

Let’s examine this: two home runs yielded, a sinker that didn’t sink, Nova and Colon basically acting in full carpe diem mode. But this wasn’t a setback. Fans have little to no confidence that he can get anyone out. The numbers over the past two seasons prove as much. Plus, he wears the accursed No. 45. From Steve Balboni to Cecil Fielder to Chili Davis to (gulp) Carl Pavano, that number never helped anyone in a Yankee uniform over the last 25 years. And yet I digress …

More from Mitre:

“I don’t think there should be any reason why not. If I still have to worry about that, then I’m probably not doing something right.”

(Insert laugh track here)

(more…)

Bump in the Road?

As spring training winds down the Yanks face uncertainty in the outfield.

 

[Picture by Ted Barron]

Ruh Roh

Curtis Granderson will not play today because of a strained oblique. No word yet on the seriousness of the injury.

Crawford, Werth, Fit for Pinstripes?

CARL CRAWFORD JAYSON WERTH
Age: 29 Age: 31
Position: LF Position: RF
Height: 6-2 Height: 6-5
Weight: 215 Weight: 220
Bats/Throws: L/L Bats/Throws: R/R
MLB Service: 1,235 games MLB Service: 775 games
BA/OBP/SLG: .296/.337/.444 BA/OBP/SLG: .272/.367/.481

The Yankees were in  Arkansas yesterday visiting Cliff Lee, but that doesn’t mean they’re blind to other free agents who could help the ball club. As recently as a week ago, it was reported in numerous outlets that the Yankees were not planning to pursue corner outfielders Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth.

Enter the latest developments: we know that per Jon Heyman at SI.com, that the Yankees have called Crawford, who is reportedly the Angels’ top target. Torii Hunter has already begun stumping for the speedy left fielder. “We need Carl Crawford,” Hunter told the LA Times. “Put it like that.” In that same article, Hunter predicted the finalists in the Crawford Sweepstakes would be the Angels and Red Sox.

To date, the Yankees have not contacted Scott Boras regarding Werth. That’s not to say they aren’t interested, however, according to Frank Russo at NYBD.

“It would be foolish to count the Yankees out on a bat after their stealth singing of Mark Teixeira two years ago,” Russo writes.

Discussions regarding all three players should heat up during the GM Meetings next Wednesday and Thursday in Orlando. If no progress is made by then, there is always the Winter Meetings, which start December 6.

With all that in mind, if the Yankees end up demonstrating interest in both Crawford and Werth, and ultimately land one of them, which one should it be? Who is the better fit for the pinstripes? I e-mailed some members of our network of trusted bloggers and newspaper scribes to get their thoughts. With the exception of Jay Jaffe, whose commentary was excerpted from a recent post at Pinstriped Bible, their e-mail responses are listed below.

Sincere thanks to the respondents for participating.

Anthony McCarron — NY Daily News:

Crawford might be a better player, but Werth would be a better fit only because the Yanks can probably get him on a shorter contract. If the speculation is right and Crawford will get $100 million, that’s just too much money and probably too long a contract for a guy whose best skill, speed, likely will be regressing in the twilight years of the deal. He’s not worth $100 million to a team that already has a dynamite speed guy in (Brett) Gardner.

As for Werth, if the Yanks got him on Jason Bay’s deal or even a little more (4 years, $66 million, with a $14 million option for 2014), I think he’d be a good buy. But only if the Yanks are convinced he’d be happy in New York.

Jonah Keri, uber-writer:

Crawford is the better player – better D, better stealing/running, younger and more likely to age well over the next 5+ years.

Fit isn’t all that important when one player is clearly better than another.

Jay Jaffe, in the aforementioned post at the Pinstriped Bible, warns of luxury tax implications steeper than paying $200 or 10 percent of your assets:

While it might seem natural to link the Yankees to just about any player with a big sticker price — it’s what those players’ agents lie awake every summer night dreaming of, not to mention an obvious talking point for any pundit — they’re simply not fits for the combination of the Yankees’ current needs and budget. And while the Yankees spend far more than any other team on payroll, they most certainly do have a budget. …

… Hal Steinbrenner’s stated desire is to keep the Yankee payroll at “the same level” as recent years. Loosely translated, that means an opening day payroll somewhere just north of $200 million. The Yankees have been above that mark four times in the past six years. They’ve been above $205 million in three of those years, including 2010 ($206.3 million). But they’ve never been above $210 million, topping out at $209.1 million in 2008. Similarly, while they’ve shown a willingness to add payroll in-season via trades, their year-end payrolls — which tally the incentive bonuses, buyouts and other benefits they actually paid over the course of the season, as well as the base salaries — have never topped $225 million. We don’t have those figures for 2010 yet; the commissioner’s office generally releases those figures right around Christmas time, but from 2007 through 2009 they ranged from $218 to $222 million, again a very narrow band.

Accounting for the salaries coming off the books and the raises due the remaining players via contract clauses and arbitration, my calculations quickly took the Yankees to $159 million committed to 19 roster spots, which would appear to leave not much more than $50 million available to re-sign Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and whomever they go after on the free agent market — not only Cliff Lee, their number one target, but also any significant bench players to fill the slots vacated by Marcus Thames and Austin Kearns, to say nothing of the sizable hole in the bullpen left by Kerry Wood’s departure. Considering that Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte made nearly $50 million alone in 2010, it’s apparent that the Yankees can’t simply pile another $20-25 million on without heading for a $230 million opening day payroll and a $250 million year-end tally. Remember too that for every extra $1 million the Yankees add to the pile above a certain threshold — $170 million in 2010, $178 million in 2011 — they pay a 40 percent luxury tax.

Another vote for “neither,” from Ben Kabak of River Ave. Blues:

Don’t see it from a money or marginal win upgrade perspective. Depends on returns, but I highly doubt either end up in pinstripes.

The ever astute and cerebral Larry Koestler, of Yankeeist, throws a bone to the Werewolf:

If the Yankees were to look into acquiring one of the two, they’d likely have to move one of their current outfielders first. Each of Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher — the latter two of whom put up career years, while the former didn’t quite meet some lofty pre-season expectations — have been mentioned in various circles as potential trade bait, but given that each is (relatively) affordable and produced at a 3.0-plus fWAR level in 2010, it’s difficult to make a serious case that any of them should be traded.

On the surface Crawford might seem like the more appealing option, given that he’s two years younger than Werth, fast and a great fielder, but if it were up to me I think I’d probably pursue Werth, who theoretically should command a slightly lesser deal in both years and overall dollars and is going to provide more bang for your buck.

Crawford had a career year in 2010, posting a .378 wOBA along with an eye-popping 6.9 fWAR for a season worth $27.4 million according to Fangraphs. However, Werth wasn’t exactly a slouch himself, with a .397 wOBA (good for 5th-best in the National League) and 5.0 fWAR, worth $20 million.

For 2011 Bill James has Crawford projected for a fairly significant regression, with a triple slash of .300/.350/.453, and a .357 wOBA. Those are solid if unspectacular numbers, and probably not worth the $20M/year Crawford is likely looking for.

Bill James has Werth projected to a .275/.375/.493 and .380 wOBA line in 2011. No Yankee outfielder put up a wOBA that high in 2010, and the highest wOBA the trio is projected to produce per James is Nick Swisher’s .362.

Crawford’s clearly superior to Werth (and almost everyone in baseball) defensively, but given the various shortcomings of the assorted advanced defensive metrics we have at our disposal, I’m not sure how wide the gulf truly is. Anecdotally I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard anyone say Werth was a particularly lousy defender, so I wouldn’t get too caught up on defense.

So while I’m sure there’s a case to be made for locking Crawford up long-term, my preference for a hitter boasting patience and power — two of the rare baseball skills that can improve with age, unlike speed — makes Werth the easy choice.

My former colleague, MLB.com’s Jon Lane:

I love both players, but based on statistics, my “eye test” and overall feel, Carl Crawford is both the better player and fit for the Yankees.

Werth obviously has the edge in power numbers, has blossomed into a star the past two years and would fit nicely in the middle of anyone’s batting order, but that’s where it ends. Crawford is two years younger and gives you a good bat with speed that bolsters his offensive numbers, and the better range in the outfield. Crawford is a four-time MLB leader in steals and triples. The Yankees aren’t getting younger and there still tends to be such an over-reliance on power, which could explain their frequent undoing with runners in scoring position. As much as I like Brett Gardner, Crawford’s gotten it done in all categories in a longer time frame and will continue to get it done.

Another thing to factor in is if the Yankees will actually bite the bullet and move Derek Jeter down in the order. Crawford hitting in the No. 2 spot would go a long way in solving that problem.

As far as Crawford’s defense, he’s been in the top three in putouts from left field every season since 2005. Ditto his range factor since 2003. In the same category he leads all active players and is sixth all-time (Source: Baseball-Reference.com).

I’d take an outfield of Crawford, Granderson/Gardner and Gardner/Swisher/Crawford any day. Both players can play multiple positions, but like Joe Girardi I’m more comfortable moving Gardner around the outfield on given days.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s 2 for Crawford, 1 for Werth, and two for “none of the above.”

What’s your take?

Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Win

C.C. Sabathia pitched pretty well, but pretty well wasn’t going to get it done against Francisco Liriano tonight. No, scratch that. Liriano was magnificent, but in the sixth inning his slider turned back into a pumpkin and the Yankees – no, never mind, in the sixth inning Sabathia lost it and the Twins finally – nope. It was Curtis Granderson – no, it was Mark Teixeira who – it was Mariano – the blown call in the ninth could’ve… screw it, the Yankees won, 6-4.

I went through quite a few different ledes tonight.

Initially, it looked like Francisco Liriano was going to out-ace C.C. Sabathia. The Hefty Lefty wasn’t bad, but his mistakes were taken full advantage off: a two-run Michael Cuddyer home run in the second inning, and a failure to cover first base quickly enough one inning later — combined with heads-up Orlando Hudson base running and a Posada passed ball — led to a 3-0 hole for the Yankees. At the time, that seemed like a lot of runs.

Meanwhile, for the first five innings, Liriano alternated between merely pitching well and making the Yankees look ridiculous. During his streak of 10 New York batters retired in a row, hitters like Gardner and Granderson and Alex Rodriguez were cutting loose with swings that came nowhere near the ball in either time or space.

But then all of a sudden Liriano turned mortal – or perhaps, to be less dramatic about it, in their third time through the order the Yanks just got a better feel for him. Mark Texeira got things started with a double, and Alex Rodriguez, who had struck out flailing on three pitches in his previous at-bat, worked a walk. Robinson Cano singled, and after a rather hapless-looking Marcus Thames struck out, Jorge Posada had a fantastic at-bat and pushed a single into right. Curtis Granderson’s triple finished the Yanks’ scoring in that inning, and also finished Francico Liriano’s night.

The bottom of that inning wasn’t any kinder to Sabathia, who had a very un-C.C. meltdown (“you’re being very un-Dude, Dude”). A walk, a double, and another walk loaded the bases, at which point Sabathia walked in the Twins’ tying run in the person of Danny Valencia (who has been a pleasant surprise for the Twins this season and is about to become an unpleasant surprise for a lot of Yankee fans). Yoicks. He recovered to strike out J.J. Hardy and end the inning, but the lead was already gone and everyone headed into the seventh inning all tied up at 4.

It was Texeira who led the second Yankee comeback, too, following a Nick Swisher single with a high, slow two-run home run just fair to right field. (I don’t know if it was an actual phenomenon or just a product of weird camera work, but the fly balls hit tonight seemed to have an unusually long hang time; I could’ve recited “Jabberwocky” in its entirety while waiting for that ball to come down on one side of the foul pole. Joe Girardi was shown yelling “Stay fair! Stay fair!” and his leadership skills with inanimate objects must be impressive, because it worked). So now the Yankees had a 6-4 lead, but with as many reversals as this game had, nobody was relaxing.

The Yankee pen kept things right there, although not without a few terrifying moments. It took the combined efforts of Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Kerry Wood to get the ball to Mariano Rivera, with two outs in the eighth and runners on second and third. And Rivera — who one of these days will start showing some cracks in his 40-year-old facade, but not today — got Denard (“No Relation Unless He Has Some Short Uncoordinated Jewish Relatives We Don’t Know About”) Span to do what hitters traditionally do against Mariano Rivera, and ground out.

The ninth inning would’ve been another by-the-numbers Rivera classic except that the third out, a shoestring catch by defensive replacement Greg Golson, was incorrectly ruled a trap by the umpires. As if we needed yet another argument for instant replay in the postseason, and if the Yankees had gone on to lose I would’ve suggested a Tweet-up at MLB Headquarters with pitchforks and torches. Instead, Jim Thome popped up the first pitch he saw, and the 6-4 lead held up.

For all the tsuris over how hard the Yankees should play for the Division as opposed to the Wild Card, the Twins lost their home field advantage along with this game. Andy Pettitte starts Game 2 tomorrow for roughly the 300th time in his career, and with the Yanks up 1-0 in the Series, I look forward to actually being able to breath during that one.

We Know Drama (and Twitter)

So much happened in the 25-minute span from 10:30 p.m. ET to 10:55 p.m. ET, in Tuesday night’s Yankees-Rays game. Five plays, specifically, spread over seven outs. All with the specter of a fifth straight Yankees loss and 1 1/2-game deficit in the American League East. Thanks to Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada, Carl Crawford and Greg Golson, the Yankees earned a split in the first two games of this three-game set in St. Petersburg and vaulted back into first place.

First, Granderson’s incredible diving catch robbed Ben Zobrist of an extra-base hit — possibly a three-bagger or even an inside-the-park homer — to end the ninth inning, bail out David Robertson and send the game into extras. Three pitches later, Jorge Posada repositioned a Dan Wheeler fastball into the restaurant above center field to give the Yankees the 8-7 lead. Posada’s bomb sent the Yankees’ Twitter universe into upheaval as beat writers, columnists and bloggers — myself included — attempted to describe the sudden turn of events in 146 characters.

Mark Feinsand of the Daily News called the shot “ridiculous.” Our friends at RiverAveBlues guessed that Posada’s blast “probably would have hit the restaurant glass in the Bronx.” I wonder if it would have been out at Yankee Stadium I?

Bottom 10, enter Mo to close it against Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce. Crawford reaches on a single. Longoria also unloads to center. “Holy cow, that looked gone. Instead, Granderson catches Longoria’s drive at the track in dead center,” read the tweet from the Ledger’s Marc Carig. Crawford, however, made the first of his two base running gaffes here. Instead of tagging and ending up on second base, Crawford went too far, and was forced to retreat to first. He proceeded to steal second. This set up the second Crawford gaffe: Joyce hit a high fly ball to shallow right field, and if you watched closely, you could see the play developing as Golson sped to circle the ball in order to catch it in optimal position for the throw to third base. Crawford sped toward third and Golson fired what Michael Kay called a “laser” to third. Alex Rodriguez picked the throw on a short hop and tagged Crawford on the shin.

Game over. Arms raised. Fist pumps abound.

Carig later reported via Twitter that Golson didn’t think Crawford was going. Granderson was yelling from center field to alert him. Watching the whole series of events, I can only think of my father’s assessment of Rickey Henderson, and how he used to scoff at broadcasters who lauded his base running skills. Dad was, and is, of the opinion that Rickey was a great hitter, great athlete, great base stealer, but a terrible base runner. He didn’t tag when he was supposed to, he didn’t run hard out of the batter’s box, etc. Crawford’s hiccups are more of the lack of instinct. The Yankees made Crawford pay for his hubris.

It was one of the wildest finishes to what may have been the best regular season game the Yankees played since A-Rod’s walk-off home run beat the Red Sox in 15 innings last year.

* * *

Lost amid the hubbub of the last two innings was how events progressed to that point. Storylines heading into the game were as follows: 1) Four straight losses, two of them coming in disappointing extra-inning fashion, to relinquish control of first place for the first time since August 3. 2) Bullpen question marks. The Meat Tray and Chad Gaudin prominently involved. (To this end, Michael Kay recited a quote during the My9 telecast from pitching coach Dave Eiland: “Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win the war,” a not-so-subtle metaphor for the Yankees’ long-term thinking and plans to get the main horses for the bullpen healthy in time for the playoffs. Those horses will likely not include the Meat Tray or Gaudin. Back to the recap.) 3) Swisher and Gardner out of the lineup. 4) Tex with a broken pinky toe on his right foot. 5) Perhaps most flagrant, manager Joe Girardi says he’s gunning for the division but acting like he’s gunning to open the playoffs in Minnesota to face Carl Pavano’s mustache.

To add even more reasons to drive fans into a questioning frenzy, Girardi trotted out a lineup that was essentially 5 1/2 deep to support Ivan Nova, who was opposing Matt Garza, ye of the no-hitter.

The way both offenses started the game, though, combining to strand seven runners in the first two innings (four in scoring position), it was only a matter of time before the dam broke and the numbers got crooked in a hurry.

For the Yankees, that time was the third inning, when they exploded for four runs, the rally capped by a frozen rope of a home run by Robinson Canóo. In the fifth, an A-Rod home run and another tack-on run had many Yankee fans feeling comfortable with a 6-0 lead.

That was, until Nova lost the strike zone and coughed up the lead in the fifth. Willy Aybar’s pinch-hit home run — off a good 1-2 pitch by Boone Logan that was just golfed into the seats — cemented the 7-run comeback. The Yankees got the tying run right away, and then both bullpens took over. Before the Posada home run, three Rays relievers combined to retire 11 consecutive Yankees.

The Yankees’ relief arms were equally good. Logan, to his credit, retired four in a row after the Aybar home run and Joba Chamberlain, Kerry Wood and Robertson combined to allow just one base runner. Until he arrived for the ninth, Robertson had warmed up on three separate occasions.

The Yankees needed this win badly. Any shot of confidence will help, the way they’ve literally limped through the last week and a half. And if these two teams meet in the ALCS, we can only hope, as Ian O’Connor tweeted, that it goes seven games and each one resembles the first two games of this series.

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