Ken was at the game two nights ago. This afternoon, a win gives the A’s the AL West title.
[Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]
Ken was at the game two nights ago. This afternoon, a win gives the A’s the AL West title.
[Photo Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images]
I usually write exclusively about the Yankees, either past or present, in this space. That’s because many of the readers have told me they prefer to read about the Yankees in “Observations From Cooperstown” and “Card Corner.” But there are times when I find it necessary to deviate from that plan. The loss of former major league slugger Don Mincher is one of those times.
Don died a week ago at the age of 73, just about six months after retiring as president of the Southern League. Though I never met him face to face and only remember his playing career from a few highlights, he meant a lot to me personally. Don was the first player I interviewed for the first book I wrote: A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s.
I had never done an interview for a book-length project, so I really had no idea what I was doing. If the phone interview had gone poorly, I might have felt discouraged to do any more. But Don Mincher wouldn’t let that happen. He was friendly, accommodating, informative, helpful, and funny. At the end of our extended conversation, he gave me some helpful hints. He told me which A’s to avoid interviewing, and even warned me about one guy who would likely ask me for money in exchange for the interview.
The interview with Mincher went so well that I said to myself, “I can do this.” I interviewed several other players on the way to putting together a book over which I take a certain amount of pride and a great deal of pleasure.
Don provided me with some real insights into the inner workings of the A’s in 1971-72. When Mincher heard that t he fiery Dick Williams would replace the laid-back McNamara, he knew that the culture on the ballclub would change dramatically. “Well, I knew one thing right away; there would be some confrontations. I knew that,” Mincher told me back in 1997. “I knew Dick Williams from playing against him, his reputation and what-have-you. And I knew there would be some confrontations that would take place, and I knew that Dick Williams would win ‘em all.”
Mincher realized that a constant swirl of turmoil would result from the heated interaction between the feisty Williams and some of the egocentric players on the A’s. “You could just feel it coming,” Mincher said, “and sure enough there was.” More importantly, Mincher sensed that with the hiring of Williams, the A’s were about to start winning a lot more games than they done in the late 1960s. “That was really the beginning of a great ballclub,” Mincher said declaratively, “when Dick Williams was signed to that contract.”
In addition to the heavy demands imposed by Williams, the 1972 season also marked the beginning of an era of ill feelings between some of the Oakland players. “I can remember a lot of animosity in that clubhouse between individual guys, and it became a little bit cliquish to some degree at that time,” said Mincher, one of the few A’s who didn’t have conflicts with his teammates. “It was amazing the guys that had trouble with each other just forgot about it when they went out on the field, and then picked it up after the game. It was amazing to do that.”
Mincher would be long retired by the time player and owner controversies fully overtook the team in 1973 and ’74. But the roots of dissent all go back to 1972.“Yeah, I can remember it beginning in ’72. Of course, I wasn’t there when it really got hectic, but I can imagine what happened, and I can imagine who was in the middle of it. It wasn’t any fistfights or brawls or anything like that [in ’72], but I remember the bickering, sure.”
The catalyst to much of the controversy could be found in the form of a future Yankee. “Reggie [Jackson], who is probably the most intelligent individual I ever played with,” Mincher recalled, “was always the center of the media attention, either good or bad. And he seemed to always be there. I can remember some bickering with other players and him. You know, Dave Duncan, who was Reggie’s good friend—they had some problems. But David was a very stern individual himself, just like he is now, really demanding a lot of the pitching staff and himself. When an outfielder caused a pitcher to get in trouble with an overthrow or an error or something like that, there could be some things said and some words exchanged in those situations. And I can remember some of those. Of course, my old roomy, Sal Bando, he wasn’t very shy about stepping up to the plate either as far as telling people exactly what he thought. And there would be some words back and forth.”
At times, the wars of words forced a likable, even-tempered player like Mincher to assume the role of peacemaker. “I did,” said Mincher, who usually preferred to stay in the background. “Of course, when you’re not playing regularly and you’re just doing your thing, you try to get along with the players, and just sit down and be quiet… I tried to do my part and console everybody. But really, with those kinds of mentalities, egos, and talent, they worked themselves out.”
Mincher said that the uncomfortable feelings created by such verbal outbursts never seemed to interfere with the team’s on-field playing ability. “These guys were great, great players, and they learned from most things, and while I was there we never had any fistfights or anything like that. And all of the confrontations [actually] led to good things, and they just played better, it seemed like, as they went along.”
Mincher was traded to the Senators in the middle of the 1971 season, but he returned to Oakland in another deal the following season, primarily as a pinch hitter. He achieved his most indelible highlight as a member of the A’s with his appearance in Game Four of the World Series. Called upon as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning with the A’s down a run, Mincher faced Reds relief ace Clay Carroll. With the count one-and-oh, Carroll threw a fastball over the middle of the plate. “I was lucky enough to be able to get a good pitch I could drive, down in the strike zone,” Mincher said, his memory working in overdrive. “I tried to get a ball that you can drive up the middle or pull in the hole to first base. Those were the things I really thought about, and I thought about on that day. The ball went directly over the second baseman’s head. If it had been on the ground, it’d been a double play.”
But it wasn’t. Mincher’s uppercut swing enabled him to lift the ball over the infield. “I remember it just like it was yesterday,” Mincher told me in 1997. “I got it in the right-center field gap, which probably should have been for a double, but I was cold and couldn’t run.” Mincher’s golf shot into the alley scored pinch-runner Allan Lewis with the tying run and sent Gene Tenace, representing the potential game-winning run, to third base.
“It’s the last hit I ever got,” Mincher said in recalling the key RBI single that tied the game and set the table for Angel Mangual’s game-winning single, “and certainly it’s the most vivid in my memory.” Mincher’s pinch-hit RBI helped the A’s win Game Five of the Reds, on their way to a stunning upset in the 1972 World Series. It was also marked the final at-bat of Mincher’s career; he retired after the season, rejecting an overture from Finley to become the team’s first DH in 1973.
Mincher’s career ended with Oakland, but there was much that transpired in his other major league stops. Drafted and signed by the original Washington Senators, he then moved with the franchise when it became the Minnesota Twins. As the starting first baseman, he played an important on the 1965 American League pennant winners, hitting a home run against Don Drysdale in a seven-game World Series loss to the Dodgers.
From there he went to the California Angels, where he put up a productive season before ending up on the receiving end of a Sam McDowell fastball early in 1968. The ball struck him squarely in the face; Mincher slumped to the ground, his face bleeding. Limited to 120 games and plagued by dizzy spells throughout the summer, Mincher muddled through one of his worst seasons. Concerned that Mincher might never be able to return to form, the Angels left him unprotected in the expansion draft. That’s how he ended up with the Seattle Pilots in 1969. He had a good year for a bad team, while becoming the only All-Star representative in the franchise’s one-year existence.
The Pilots moved to Milwaukee, but Mincher never made the trip. He was traded to Oakland for a package of catcher Phil Roof, outfielder Mike Hershberger and pitchers Lew Krausse and Ken Sanders. He then moved on as part of a trade package to Washington for Mike Epstein and Darold Knowles, moved with the Senators franchise to Texas, and then made his last pitstop in Oakland. By the time he called it a career, he had hit exactly 200 home runs, put up an OPS of better than .800 seven times, and accumulated nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He was a hitter with power and smarts, and there is always value in that kind of player.
Yet, Mincher’s story did not end there. Remaining in baseball, he made a smooth transition to the front office, eventually becoming the GM and then the owner of the Double-A Huntsville Stars. (It was while he was owner that I interviewed him for the book on the A’s, and began to understand why he was beloved in the Huntsville community.) From there, he was promoted to president of the Southern League. Along the way, he became a revered figure in Huntsville, the unofficial “Mr. Baseball” of the community. They loved him for his work ethic, his easy going personality, his willingness to talk to just about anybody.
I interviewed Don only once, but I miss him. I can only imagine how much the people of Huntsville, who knew Don Mincher very well, are missing him today.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.
“I can’t stand AJ Burnett. I don’t like him. I don’t like his face, I don’t like the way he looks, I don’t like his tattoos, I don’t like him at all.”
It’s not some demented baseball version of “Green Eggs and Ham,” it’s my mother’s visceral reaction to Allan James Burnett’s mere appearance on a pitcher’s mound. Mom lives nearly 600 miles away, and I’m sure she was repeating those words when she asked my father, “Who’s pitching tonight” and he likely said, “Burnett. Your favorite.”
My mom’s disdain toward Burnett is shared among many Yankee fans. Turning from the superficial to the baseball-related stuff, Burnett’s 2010 performance provided all cause for whatever disdain, distrust, or dislike is felt. Burnett had allowed at least six earned runs in nine of his 26 starts prior to Wednesday’s outing. As news of Andy Pettitte’s pain-free, 55-pitch bullpen session and Javier Vazquez’s return to the starting rotation filtered through the wires, talk shifted to AJ Burnett potentially pitching his way out of the rotation. ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand, my fellow Ithaca alum, went so far as to say he was staring at “that Ed Whitson-Hideki Irabu-Kei Igawa abyss,” and gave this start make-or-break status.
(I’d put the “abyss” more on the Kevin Brown level rather than Whitson, Irabu or Igawa especially when you consider the parallel of Burnett cutting his hand while breaking a plastic casing on the clubhouse door to Brown punching a stanchion in the clubhouse back in 2004 and breaking his left hand, but OK, point taken.)
Burnett has had three discernible trends this season: 1) all-out implosion; 2) early blow-up, then cruises, as he did in Kansas City; 3) cruise early, then have a one- or two-inning hiccup and hang on for dear life. Wednesday, Burnett chose Option 3. Staked to a 4-0 lead after two innings, Burnett had everything working the first pass through the A’s order. He was throwing hard but looked like he had a lot in reserve. Once the fourth inning came around, the inevitable “uh-oh” moment happened. Burnett caught too much of the plate with two fastballs: the first resulted in a line-drive double off the bat of Kurt Suzuki, and the second ended up in the right-field seats, courtesy of Kevin Kouzmanoff. 4-2 Yankees.
The fifth inning wasn’t much better. Rajai Davis led off by scalding a belt-high fastball to left-center that one-hopped the fence for a ground-rule double. He later stole third base and scored on a groundout. As quickly as the Yankees built the four-run cushion for Burnett, the lead was down to one. Burnett then lost a nine-pitch battle with Daric Barton, issuing a two-out walk. He bore down and got Suzuki to fly out to end the inning, and retired the A’s in the sixth, the only blip in that inning being the two-out single by Mark Ellis.
Joe Girardi has fiercely defended Burnett, citing how well he’s pitched in big games specifically Game 2 of the World Series and the way he dueled Josh Beckett at Yankee Stadium last August and it’s not too late for him to turn things around and have a good month heading into the playoffs. But he did not take any chances Wednesday night. Girardi pulled Burnett after the sixth with the Yankees holding the slim 4-3 lead, preserving at worst a no-decision. Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan and Kerry Wood made things interesting in the seventh and eighth innings, putting the tying run in scoring position in both frames. However, they were able to escape those jams.
Even Mariano Rivera wasn’t a sure bet. He, too, allowed the tying run to advance to scoring position. After retiring the first two batters quickly, Daric Barton reached on an infield single and later stole second base. But Rivera ended the suspense by striking out Suzuki on a 93 mile-per-hour sinker.
Mark Teixeira continued to wield a hot bat, going 3-for-4 and driving in three more runs.
But the story was Burnett. He bent but didn’t break, tying a season-high with eight strikeouts and walking just two to earn his first winning decision since July 28. More importantly, 65 percent of the pitches he threw were strikes (59 of 91). As there are three trends to Burnett’s starts, there are now three AJs: The Extreme AJ that’s either great or awful, and the AJ that’s in between. Not bad, not stellar, just good enough to win. The Yankees will take that last one every time.
For one more turn through the rotation, at least, Burnett is still a piece to the Yankees’ pitching puzzle.
Tuesday night’s 9-3 rout of the Oakland A’s was the Yankees’ 82nd victory, thus ensuring their 18th consecutive winning season. That’s a remarkable feat. What’s even more remarkable is that the streak isn’t even halfway to the team’s record of 39 straight winning seasons, done from 1926-64.
Phil Hughes started the game and watching his first few innings over again — isn’t DVR great? — it didn’t look like his stuff was that bad or that he was too far off with location. He wasn’t sharp, to be sure, but he didn’t appear wild enough to have issued five walks. There were some pitches that looked like they painted the outside corner or were within that two- to three-inch window to be called strikes, or were over the plate on the lower border of the strike zone. In short, they were pitches that were close enough that many umpires would have given the benefit of the doubt. The fastball had life, the curveball was good enough to get outs, and the changeups and cutters he mixed in enabled him to pitch out of jams.
More of a concern was the fact that three of the four hits Hughes allowed came when he was ahead in the count. The worst offenses came in the fourth inning, when he grooved an 0-1 fastball to Kevin Kouzmanoff that resulted in a hard single up the middle, and next, after two straight curveballs that kept the bat on Mark Ellis’s shoulder, Hughes threw a belt-high fastball on the outside corner, allowing Ellis to extend his arms and line it to right for a single. This is the same issue, not coincidentally, that has been plagued both of Javier Vazquez’s Yankee tours. A strikeout pitcher has to be able to put away hitters when he’s ahead in the count. Vazquez hasn’t demonstrated that with any consistency this year, and Hughes didn’t on Tuesday.
Michael Kay summed up Hughes’s start in the YES postgame: “When you look at his numbers, 16 wins, how can you complain? But when you watched this game, that’s not the way Phil Hughes wants to pitch.”
Indeed. Despite earning that 16th win, a total which is second-most in the American League, Hughes didn’t do much to instill confidence in Yankee fans that there’s a lock-down guy in the rotation behind CC Sabathia. Hughes seems to be the epitome of why wins can be a misleading stat when rating pitchers. With Andy Pettitte’s injury situation still in flux — he’s throwing another bullpen session before tomorrow’s game — A.J. Burnett as schizophrenic as ever, and any combination of Vazquez, Dustin Moseley, Sergio Meat Tray or even Chad Gaudin behind that, many have been waiting for Hughes to step up and be the No. 2 guy, and he hasn’t. Since the All-Star Break, he is 5-4 with a 4.65 ERA. His performance over the past two starts, particularly the number of pitches thrown — 200 in 8 2/3 innings — is helping to enforce the innings limit. He has thrown 149 1/3 innings now, and figuring he has at least five more starts, if the limit is 175 innings, Hughes is essentially a five-inning starter down the stretch.
Those are the negatives. The positives in this victory were all on the offensive side. The nine runs were scored in the first four innings. Nick Swisher (25th), Curtis Granderson (15th), and Mark Teixeira (30th) all homered for the Yankees, who scored six of those runs with two outs.
Teixeira’s home run marked the seventh straight year he’s hit 30 home runs, and he’s five RBIs away from his seventh straight 100-RBI season. He also scored his Major-League leading 100th run. What a turnaround for Tex. Three months ago, in this space, I wrote a column trying to prove that while Tex’s batting average was hovering near .200 and he was getting a free pass from the mainstream media, we in the blogosphere were not being as dismissive. Now, his average is up to .264 and with a month left, .280 or even .290 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Tex’s batting average is now just two points behind that of Derek Jeter, who after another oh-fer has just one hit in his last 25 at-bats and is getting summarily hammered at all angles. Is this the beginning of the end? Is the contract on his mind? How can he command $20 million a year if this is the level at which he’ll be finishing his career? I heard one talkie late last week even compare Jeter’s recent slide to Willie Mays with the Mets in 1973. Are we there yet? I don’t think so. The Yankees have been able to cover for him in the same way they did Teixeira earlier this year, but we’ll see what happens in October.
The other positive of the evening: Toronto blasted Tampa, so the eight-day deadlock atop the AL East is broken. The Yankees hand their longest winning streak since the All-Star break to A.J. Burnett. Maybe a new month and a weak-hitting team is what he needs to get on the path to being right.
The Yanks are back in the Bronx. They kick off their longest home stand of the year tonight against the Oakland A’s. Here’s Ted Berg with a preview:
And of course, our man CC does his thing.
Let’s Go Yan-Kees!
Trevor Cahill, the A’s lone All-Star this year and CC Sabathia’s opponent Tuesday night, was on the disabled list with a scapula problem when the Yankees took two of three from the A’s in Oakland in April. Since then, he’s gone 8-2 with a 2.47 ERA while three other members of the A’s rotation (Brett Anderson, Justin Duchscherer, and Dallas Braden) have landed on the DL. That leaves tonight’s starter, the brittle Ben Sheets, as the only member of the A’s intended Opening Day rotation not to hit the DL this year.
If that wasn’t troubling enough for the A’s, Sheets has been struggling through his worst major league season (3-7 with a career worst 4.98 ERA and 1.85 K/BB). Mind you, Sheets hasn’t been awful, he has just been consistently unimpressive. Out of his six June starts (1-4, 5.11 ERA), he lasted six innings in five (seven in the exception) and allowed four runs in five (five runs in the exception). When he faced the lowly Pirates, he struck out nine against no walks. Against everyone else he struck out 14 against 11 walks over five starts, and he has allowed a home run in each of his last seven outings.
Consistently unimpressive pretty much describes this A’s team as a whole. They’re scoring just 4.1 runs per game, but in this pitching-dominated year there are seven teams that score even less often, including the Yankees’ next opponent, the Mariners. The pitching has been solid when healthy, though even Cahill isn’t particularly threatening or exciting, their ballpark helps, and 31 of their games (37 percent of their schedule to this point) have come against the Mariners, Orioles, Indians, Cubs, and Pirates, five of the teams below them in runs per game.
The A’s enter this series hot because they just played three of those teams and went 7-2 against the Pirates (sweep), Orioles, and Indians (two of three, each). Tonight they face Javier Vazquez, who struck out eight Mariners in a futile quality start against Felix Hernandez his last time out. Javy posted a 3.23 ERA in June and his first win of the season came in Oakland back on April 20. With the Yankee bats having shown some life the last two days, the all signs point to a good series for the Yankees this week. If only they could bring that glaring summer afternoon Bronx sun with them to these three night games in Oakland.
With Jorge Posada day-to-day with a sprained left ring finger, Joe Girardi tries a new look lineup tonight. Brett Gardner leads off with Derek Jeter batting second and Nick Swisher hitting in Posada’s vacated sixth spot. I can dig it. Swish is the DH tonight, Colin Curtis plays right field and bats ninth behind Francisco Cervelli.
Oh, and it has nothing to do with the game, but Andy Pettitte is indeed going to the All-Star game, as Clay Buchholz’s injury replacement.
The A’s team the Yankees will face over the next three days is currently in first place in the American League West. That doesn’t mean they’re any good. The A’s are 9-5, with six of those wins having come at home. Thus far they have gone 4-3 against the Mariners, 3-1 against the Orioles, and taken two of three from the Angels. That’s a solid intra-division showing, but the Mariners are missing Cliff Lee, and one of the A’s wins against the Halos came against replacement starter Matt Palmer.I’d say the A’s are headed for a fall, but they haven’t really climbed to any great height just yet. The Angels and Rangers, the real cream of their division, are just two games behind them in the standings, and with the Yankees coming to town, things are about to get serious.
The A’s have some pitching. Justin Duchscherer and Ben Sheets are currently healthy. Twenty-two-year-old lefty Brett Anderson is an emerging ace. Twenty-six-year-old lefty Dallas Braden, who will face CC Sabathia on Thursday, is emerging as a nice, team-controlled mid-rotation innings eater, and tonight’s starter, 24-year-old lefty Gio Gonzalez, is a prospect with good stuff, a nice high-upside option for the fifth spot. That rotation has posted a 2.70 ERA thus far, second only to the Cardinals in the majors, and home-grown arms such as Trevor Cahill (currently rehabbing an injury to his non-throwing shoulder) and Rutherford, New Jersey’s Vin Mazzaro provide depth with major league experience at Triple-A. The A’s bullpen, headed by 2009 Rookie of the Year closer Andrew Bailey, has been solid as well and should continue to be so.
That the A’s have been the stingiest team in the American League in the early going is particularly impressive given that they’re nothing special on defense. That their pitching has carried them to the top of their division is similarly impressive given that they can’t hit. In terms of runs scored per game, the A’s have been roughly league average in the early going, but their component performances, especially their .362 team slugging percentage (third worst in the AL and sixth-worst in baseball), are unimpressive. There is worse to come.
Here’s a question: who is the A’s best hitter? Is it Daric Barton, the first base prospect who finally seems to be clicking? Barton is an on-base machine, but he doesn’t have much power. His ceiling seems to be something like a healthy Nick Johnson. Is that their best hitter? Is it Kevin Kouzmanoff, the power-hitting third baseman acquired from the Padres? The right-handed Kouzmanoff has finally escaped Petco Park only to find himself playing his home games in a stadium that had a 77 park factor for right-handed home runs over the past three years per The Bill James Handbook (Petco’s was 86). Kouzmanoff has hit .284/.328/.477 on the road in his career. Is he their best hitter? Is it Eric Chavez, the man once tagged as the A’s franchise player whose bad back limited him to 31 games over the past two years and who, having returned as a designated hitter, has yet to start hitting again? Chavez has hit .249/.323/.439 over the last six seasons. Is he their best hitter? Their third-place hitter is Ryan Sweeney, a righty-swinging outfielder with a career .286/.343/.388 line in 1,109 plate appearances in the major leagues. Is he their best hitter?
Since the Yankees took three-of-four from the A’s in the Bronx in late July, Oakland has gone 11-9 including a split with the Red Sox and taking three of four from the now-Wild-Card-leading Rangers. Of course, the Yankees have gone 14-6 over the same stretch with half of those losses coming on the south side of Chicago as the calendar turned to August and are 5-1 against the A’s on the season.
Still, the A’s are suddenly doing something they hadn’t done all season: scoring runs. In April, May, and June, the A’s averaged 4.21 runs scored per game. In July and now half of August, they’ve scored 5.22 runs per game. What the heck happened?
The most obvious thing is Mark Ellis, who returned from the disabled list at the end of June and has hit .313/.342/.520 since, pushing Adam Kennedy to third base. Ellis thus replaces the A’s non-Kennedy third basemen, who hit a combined .195/.284/.324 in 292 plate appearances. That’s a huge upgrade at that spot in the lineup, one highlighted by his throwback walkoff in yesterday’s game. The A’s are also getting a ton of production from Rajai Davis. Since taking over in center field after Matt Holliday was traded to St. Louis (with Scott Hairston sliding over to left), Davis has hit .373/.429/.533 and stolen 11 bases in 12 tries. Less dramatically, Cliff Pennington (.296/.333/.407) has thus far been a slight upgrade on Orlando Cabrera (.280/.318/.365). I’m not sure that that adds up to a full run per game, but those are the big upgrades you might not necessarily see when looking at their lineup below.
Again the Yankees have the A’s beat, having scored 5.57 runs per game in July and August, but when you consider the disparity in the two team’s home ballparks, it’s shocking that the A’s offense has come that close to matching the Yankees over a full month and a half of the season.
As you may have noticed, the Yankees have won 12 of their last 14 games and 13 of their last 15 series. Tonight they look to keep that ball rolling by pounding recent bullpen castoff Brett Tomko, who was released just before the trading deadline after posting a 5.23 ERA in 15 relief appearances for the Yankees and has since posted a 7.94 ERA in two starts and one relief outing spanning 5 2/3 innings for the A’s Triple-A team in Sacramento. Said Girardi of Tomko after Sunday’s game, “I think we have an idea of what he’s going to do.”
Opposing Tomko tonight will be A.J. Burnett, who has turned back into A.J. Burnett in August after an awesome run of eight straight quality starts in which he went 7-1 with a 1.68 from mid-June to the end of July. Burnett’s last three starts have been a dud (4 2/3 IP, 7 R, L), a gem that still managed to include a ton of walks (7 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 6 BB), and something in the middle that included a lot of strikeouts, but also a game-tying wild pitch (6 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 7 K, 3 WP, ND).
Matsui’s out after having his knee drained during yesterday’s game. Derek Jeter will get his hits at DH, not shortstop tonight as Ramiro Peña gives him a half-day off on the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum field which has been battered by preseason football.
Update: Aaron Cunningham is the player sent down to make room for Tomko, leaving the A’s with a three-man bench.
The O’s could hit a little, but not pitch. The Yankees swept them. The A’s, who have a nearly identical record, can pitch a little, but not hit. The Yankees welcome them to the Bronx tonight for a four-game set that has the Bomber faithful salivating at the thought of their team extending their perfect 6-0 second-half record and building on their two-game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East and game-and-a-half lead over the red-hot Angles for the best record in the league.
The A’s arrive with the third weakest offense in the American League, and one which just lost ex-Yank Jason Giambi to the disabled list via a strained hamstring. Not that Giambi was hitting (.193/.332/.364 on the season), but he was tied for second on the team in homers with 11 and would have had fun trying to lift balls into that jet stream to right field (you just know J-Bombs is miserable over missing these games). Matt Holliday is doing what everyone expected he’d do, hit like his career road split, which is still good enough to make him the A’s best bat. His closest rival is replacement third baseman Adam Kennedy, who was released by the Cardinals in February, dumped on the A’s by the Rays after spring training, and spent April in the minors.
As for the A’s pitching, it’s typically park influenced. The A’s staff has a 3.83 ERA at home, but a 4.75 mark on the road. Accordingly, the A’s are a .391 team outside of Oakland. The A’s rotation currently consists of three lefties and four rookies, but the most effective left-handed rookie starter they’ve had this season, stirrup socked fashion plate Josh Outman, has been lost to Tommy John surgery.
The Yankees will face Brett Anderson, the most heralded of the rookie lefties, tomorrow. Anderson gave up five runs in 5 1/3 innings in the Yankees 16-inning win over the A’s in April, but has turned it on of late and enters tomorrow’s contest with an active streak of 21 scoreless innings and a 0.34 ERA and 0.68 WHIP over his last four starts. Saturday brings rookie lefty Gio Gonzalez, part of Oakland’s return for Nick Swisher. Gonzalez is Outman’s replacment and his four major league starts this season have been evenly split between decent and disaster, his last seeing him cough up 11 runs on on ten hits, including four homers, in just 2 2/3 innings against the Twins. Sunday brings non-rookie lefty Dallas Braden, who is the ripe-old age of 25. Braden has been the A’s most consistent pitcher having delivered quality starts in 14 of his 20 starts and maintaining his 3.40 ERA both at home and on the road. He’ll face Sergio Mitre.
Tonight, the Yankees will face one of the A’s two rookie right-handers in 22-year-old Vin Mazzaro, a Hackensack, New Jersey native and graduate of Rutherford High School who relies on a hard, heavy, mid-90s sinker. Mazzaro joined the rotation in June and got off to a fine start with four quality starts, but things have gone downhill from there, bottoming out with the eight runs he allowed in three innnings against the Angels his last time out. The A’s have lost Mazzaro’s last seven starts, with Vinnie taking the loss in six of them. In fact, the A’s haven’t won a game in which Mazzaro has given up a run all year (Mazzaro’s first two starts, both wins, saw him pitch 13 2/3 scoreless innings).
Maz has his work cut out for him tonight as he’s facing not just the major league’s best offense in a hitting-friendly environment, but CC Sabathia coming off seven shutout innings against the AL Central-leading Tigers his last time out. CC wasn’t as good as his numbers in that last start, however, as he walked three, hit a batter, threw 51 pitches in the first two innings, and had just two 1-2-3 innings. CC who started against Anderson in that 16-inning monster back in April and had one of his worst starts of the year, allowing seven runs in 6 2/3 innings while walking five. He’s come a long way since those early struggles, however, and will be looking to build some second-half momentum tonight.
Tonight’s lineup includes Hinske in right, Gardner in center, and Matsui at DH.
2008 Record: 75-86 (.466)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 76-85 (.472)
Manager: Billy Beane
General Manager: Bob Geren
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (93/93)
Who’s Replaced Whom:
1B – Jason Giambi (L)
2B – Mark Elllis (R)
SS – Orlando Cabrera (R)
3B – Eric Chavez (L)
C – Kurt Suzuki (R)
RF – Travis Buck (L)
CF – Ryan Sweeney (L)
LF – Matt Holliday (R)
DH – Jack Cust (L)
R – Nomar Garciaparra (IF)
R – Bobby Crosby (IF)
R – Rajai Davis (OF)
S – Landon Powell (C)
L – Dallas Braden
L – Dana Eveland
L – Brett Anderson
L – Josh Outman
R – Trevor Cahill
R – Brad Ziegler
R – Russ Springer
R – Santiago Casilla
R – Michael Wuertz
R – Drew Bailey
R – Sean Gallagher
R – Dan Giese
15-day DL: RHP – Justin Duchscherer (elbow surgery); OF – Ben Copeland (shoulder sprain)
60-day DL: RHP – Joey Devine (elbow)
L – Ryan Sweeney (CF)
R – Orlando Cabrera (SS)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
R – Matt Holliday (LF)
L – Jack Cust (DH)
L – Eric Chavez (3B)
R – Kurt Suzuki (C)
L – Travis Buck (RF)
R – Mark Ellis (2B)