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Tag: Toronto Blue Jays

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Freddy Garcia

Freddy Garcia suffered his first loss since July 15th. (Photo Credit / Darren Calabrese - Canadian Press)

Author’s Note / Excuse: Apologies for the delayed post. If you need further proof that the NFL, not Major League Baseball, is the National Pastime, try getting online between 1 and 4 p.m. on a Sunday to access photos from a baseball game to include in a recap. The requisite sites were performing at speeds not seen since 1997.

Threads in this space, elsewhere in the Blogosphere, the Twitterverse, Facebook — basically anywhere you search for Yankees information — have featured criticism of Joe Girardi for managing passively over the past week and a half. That judgment was typically reserved for his bullpen maneuvering, specifically in the one-run losses in Baltimore, Anaheim and Seattle, and then again in the series opener at Rogers Centre Friday night. Not as prevalent in those threads was that the “A” lineup, while physically present on the field, was doing little to help the winning cause.

Then on Sunday, with the Yankees’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot at five, the starting lineup looked more like one you’d see in mid-March than mid-September. Girardi has stated publicly that he’s been looking for places to give the regulars some rest. The counter, “Win the games, win the division, secure the playoff spot and then rest people.” And so it was that the only regulars in the starting lineup were Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, A-Rod and J Martin.

The result was a feeble, fundamentally unsound 3-0 defeat that left the Yankees 4-6 on this season-long 10-game, four-city road trip. Brandon Morrow dominated the Yankees, striking out seven and walking only one. The Yankees had five hits, only two of which left the infield. Like in the early going Saturday, they ran themselves out of potential scoring opportunities. In the first inning, with Eduardo Nuñez Nuñez on second and Robinson Canó on first, Canó was thrown out on the tail end of a double steal. Later, in the top of the sixth, Nuñez, who Michael Kay and John Flaherty lauded on the YES telecast during his first at-bat, once again incited fans’ ire by inexplicably trying to turn a single into a double. Nuñez hit a clean single to rightfield. Nuñez tried to catch Jose Bautista napping, but it didn’t work. Bautista fired behind the runner to first base, where Edwin Encarnación fired to second to catch Nuñez by a mile. Inning over, potential rally over. Nuñez’s one-out double in the ninth inning marked the only other time in the game the Yankees had a runner in scoring position.

Meanwhile, Freddy Garcia surrendered three runs on five hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings, and he made a throwing error that contributed to one of the three runs. In short, Garcia did little to pitch himself into consideration for either five-man rotation over the final two weeks of the regular season, or the playoff rotation.

Other things we learned …

* The Ghost of Raul Valdes, who pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, may have shown that he could be the Yankees’ LOOGY over the next two weeks and into the postseason.

* The Yankees’ bullpen, in the last two games, pitched 9 1/3 innings of shutout ball. The group allowed just two hits and walked four — three by Scott Proctor — in that span.

* The Rays are white-hot. They beat up the Red Sox again and are surging toward a September comeback to rival the 2007 Colorado Rockies. The Yankees have a six-game edge over the Rays in the loss column, which may seem cushy with only 10 games left, but this week’s series at Yankee Stadium cannot be taken lightly. Depending on Monday’s result against the Minnesota Twins, sweeping the Rays would clinch that coveted playoff spot for the Yankees, leaving next weekend’s series against the Red Sox open for clinching the division.

This week features the games the regulars get paid the big money to play. Let’s see how the manager and the team respond.

Magic kit



When it comes to late-September series in Toronto that carry postseason implications, the Yankees have a mixed history. In 1985, the Yankees entered the season’s final weekend needing a three-game sweep of Bobby Cox’s Blue Jays to force a one-game AL East playoff. They won the first game but lost the second game and watched the Jays celebrate their first-ever playoff appearance. The next day, the season’s final day, Phil Niekro won his 300th game.

Ten years later, the Yankees were the ones celebrating. They swept the Blue Jays to complete a 22-6 September and clinch their first playoff berth since 1981. The image of Don Mattingly pounding his fist on the top step of the Rogers Centre dugout, knowing he was finally getting his chance to play in a postseason series, is ingrained in the memories of Yankees fans.

Tuesday night, Toronto was the site of yet another Yankees playoff clincher. Following Monday’s two-and-a-third degree burn from the Purple Pie Man, there was a sense of confidence and calm with CC Sabathia on the mound. CC was back to his ace-level self, powering through the first eight innings, allowing one run on two hits in that span.

Sabathia was pulled in the ninth inning after putting the first two runners on base and retiring Jose Bautista. With a 6-1 lead, manager Joe Girardi could have summoned anyone to get the final two outs — I’ll be honest, I was ready for any combination of Javy Vazquez, the inimitable Chad Gaudin, even the Meat Tray — but he put one over on those of us who thought he was mailing it in since last Wednesday by calling on Mariano Rivera to close it out. Six pitches later, it was done. If corks didn’t pop, sighs of relief were definitely released.

Two thousand miles to the south, the Rays’ ace, David Price, shut out the Orioles to secure Tampa’s spot in the playoffs and keep them a half-game ahead of the Yankees.

Now the Yankees have a decision to make: Be content with just reaching the playoffs and rest the aging veterans prior to the start of the Division Series, or go for the Division crown and home field? Two games separate the Rays, Yankees and Twins. Only two of those teams will open their first-round series at home.

Girardi has said he wants to win the division. He has four games to prove it. At the very least, though, it’s nice to see that “x” next to the Yankees’ place in the standings.

The Yankees did a great job of plating runners with less than two outs. And none of those runners scored as a result of a hit. While the Yankees did muster two hits with runners in scoring position, five productive outs — three sacrifice flies and two groundouts — and a bases-loaded walk provided the six Yankee runs.

Back to Work

Yanks Jays.

No frills, just banter.

Ivan Nova, the World is Yours.

[Picture by Bags]

Toronto Blue Jays III: Can't Take It With You

I have to be honest, I just can’t figure the Blue Jays this year. It’s not just that I expected them to be a poor rebuilding team yet they haven’t been more than a game under .500 all season. It’s not just that they’ve had a confluence of career and comeback seasons, most of them boosted by the long ball (29-year-old Jose Bautista: 32 HR; 31-year-old Vernon Wells: 20 HR; 33-year-old Alex Gonzalez: 17 HR; 29-year-old John Buck: 14 HR). Now that the trading deadline has passed, I can’t figure out why the Jays did so little.

The Jays made a solid deal in mid-July, flipping Gonzalez to the Braves for 27-year-old Cuban shortstop Yunel Escobar, who had fallen out of favor in Atlanta, but has already rebounded nicely in Toronto, hitting .323/.344/.500 in 14 games (with three homers, of course). Escobar, a solidly above-average offensive shortstop who won’t hurt you in the field, will be arbitration eligible this winter, but won’t have much of a case given his .238/.334/.284 performance for the Braves, and will then remain under team control for the next three years.

Kudos to general manager Alex Anthopoulos for that one, but I can’t figure out why Bautista, Buck, Lyle Overbay, Jason Frasor, Shawn Camp, and especially Scott Downs are still Blue Jays. I’m going to go out on a very short limb and say that Bautista will never have a more productive season than he’s having now and will not be on the next Blue Jays playoff team. Given his performance this season, he’s due for a huge arbitration raise, and his trade value will never be higher than it was on Saturday. Buck, Overbay, Frasor, and Downs are all free agents this winter and should have been cashed in. Perhaps there was no market for the first three, but Downs was highly sought after. As his predecessor J.P. Ricciardi did with a much bigger chip at last year’s deadline, Anthopoulos set his price too high and refused to budge. In the case of Roy Halladay, the Jays still owned him for another season and after Ricciardi was fired, Anthopoulos was able to get a solid return for him (though he frittered away part of it, turning impressive prospect Michael Taylor into marginal one Anthony Gose via two subsequent moves). Downs, however, will now provide the Jays no long-term benefit.

So the Jays are left to click along as just-above-.500 team in a division in which a .600 winning percentage is typically required for a second place/Wild Card finish. I don’t get it.

The twist for the Yankees this week is that the Jays, having held onto all of their major league trade chips, remain a solid team worth taking seriously. Tonight, the Yankees and A.J. Burnett face Brandon Morrow, one of Anthopoulos’s better additions, who has begun to find some consistency after having finally been left alone in the rotation. He leads the major leagues in strikeouts per nine innings with an even ten and enters tonight’s game coming off two quality starts, although both came against the Orioles. The knock on Morrow at the moment is that he seems to thrive against bad teams and struggle against good ones, though that pattern isn’t consistent. The Yankees have already faced Morrow twice this season. He dominated them in Toronto on June 6 (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K), but struggled in a rematch in the Bronx (6 IP, 9 H, 5 R, albeit with just one walk and seven Ks).

Burnett enters this game having not allowed a run in 11 1/3 innings over two starts since cutting his hand in a clubhouse temper tantrum and having to leave his previous start in the third inning. Burnett has faced his former team twice this season, inverting Morrow’s results (or echoing them, depending on your perspective) by pitching poorly in Toronto and well in the Bronx, throwing 6 2/3 shutout innings against the Jays at home on July 2.

Nick Swisher returns to the two-hole tonight, Mark Teixeira returns to first base, and Alex Rodriguez returns to the lineup. Jorge Posada is catching and batting sixth ahead of Fat Elvis. Quothe Berkman, “I don’t know if I’ve ever hit seventh. I’ve hit sixth before, I know that. But I also can’t remember the last time that I’ve been on a team with like eight Hall of Famers. That has a lot to do with it.” Future Hall of Famers Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner fill the last two spots


Toronto Blue Jays II: Not Again

We’ve seen this before. Last year, the Blue Jays shot out of the gate, were 27-14 (.659) on May 18, but went just 48-73 (.397) the rest of the way. This year, the Jays were 25-17 (.595) on May 19 and have gone 15-23 (.395) since. Of course, they took two of three from the Yankees in Toronto during the latter stretch, but that’s because the one thing the Jays still have going for them are some strong starting pitchers.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: the Jays have scored just three runs per game since June 1, but lefties Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero and righty Brandon Morrow, the same three pitchers who will face the Yankees this weekend in the Bronx, held the Yankees to a total of four runs in 23 combined innings in that previous series. Cecil, who faces A.J. Burnett tonight, has struggled in his last three starts (0-3, 9.19 ERA), but the other two, who face Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes over the weekend, have remained sharp.

Of course, the focus today will be how A.J. Burnett responds to the early-week return of pitching coach Dave Eiland. Not that Eiland had any magical fix. Here’s what he had to say upon returning to the team on Tuesday:

For me to sit here and say the reason that A.J. pitched the way he pitched was I wasn’t here is not fair. A.J. has been pitching a long time. He knows what he needs to do. It’s nothing that A.J. and I haven’t addressed and discussed already. Every pitcher you have to stay on about certain things, and with A.J. there are a couple of things. They’re very minor things that are going to make a huge difference. But A.J. has to do it. He’s been told over and over in the past what they are.

It seems Burnett’s main problem was opening up his left side to early. Said Eiland Thursday after working with Burnett in the bullpen, “It’s not like I gave him anything new today. Mike Harkey was telling him the same thing.”

There’s a certain element there of not wanting to throw Harkey under the bus for failing to get Burnett straightened out, but there’s also a lot of exasperation in those Eiland quotes.

Normally you’d feel good going up against a pitcher like Cecil who has been 0-3 with a 9.19 ERA in his last three starts, but Burnett has gone 0-3 with a 16.55 ERA in his last three starts and was 0-5 with a 11.35 ERA in June. The big question heading into tonight’s game is which one of these guys is going to snap out of their funk. The upside might be that, if the answer is neither, you have to like the Yankees’ chances of winning a slugfest in their own park.


2010 Toronto Blue Jays

Now that the Red Sox, Braves, Dodgers, and Reds (all teams I picked to make the playoffs this year) are ascendant, there are just two teams whose performances escape my understanding. One is the San Diego Padres, who continue to have the best record in the National League thanks to a wildly overperforming starting rotation and despite almost no contribution from their offense. The other is the Toronto Blue Jays, who are tied with the Red Sox with the fourth-best record in the American League thanks to a homer-happy offense that leads the majors in dingers having tagged 20 percent more taters than the second-place Bosox. The Blue Jays also lead the majors in slugging with a remarkable .474 team mark, but are fourth-worst in on-base percentage, second only to the Diamondbacks in strikeouts, and their pitching has been merely average.

If that’s not confusing enough, here are the Jays’ top home run hitters this year:

16 – Jose Bautista
13 – Vernon Wells
11 – Alex Gonzalez

Huh? Bautista’s 16 homers lead the majors; they also tie his previous career high set in 2006. Wells averaged just 17 taters the last three years, and Alex Gonzalez averaged just 13 in his six full seasons from 2003 to 2009 (he missed 2008 due to a knee injury). Wells has hit 30 homers twice before, but while Bautista and Gonzalez are both known to have some pop, they’ve both far exceeded their previous propensity for power.

I might have understood if the Jays were winning with starting pitching. Shaun Marcum is back from a season and a half lost to Tommy John surgery and pitching like a front-of-the-rotation horse. Ricky Romero, who faces Andy Pettitte on Saturday afternoon, is building on his strong rookie performance from a year ago, and Brandon Morrow, the former Mariners prospect acquired in an offseason swap for Brandon League and right-field prospect Johermyn Chavez and who faces Javy Vazquez on Sunday, has tremendous stuff, as the Yankees saw first hand when he pitched 7 2/3 no-hit innings against them in late 2008. Yet, Morrow has been erratic, and after Marcum and Romero, the pitching staff has been largely mediocre.

I suppose the good news for the Jays is that while Bautista and Gonzalez have been going yard, their young offensive core of Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, and Travis Snider have been scuffling and/or injured. That suggests that once the early-season flukes fade (which seems to already be happening), the Jays will still have the bats to keep the offense afloat. Still, even with those that young core producing, the Jays weren’t really supposed to be good this year (as I thought I made clear in my essay on the team in Baseball Prospectus 2010).

The Jays have gotten fat on the Orioles and Indians (9-0), but then so have the Yankees (11-2). Perhaps it’s more telling that Toronto is 3-9 against the Rays and Red Sox and have yet to face the Yankees. That ends this weekend as the Yanks arrive in Toronto for a three-game set. Things kick off tonight with A.J. Burnett facing sophomore lefty Brett Cecil. Burnett had two quality starts against his old team in the Bronx last year, but lost his one start in Toronto. In his career, he’s 22-9 with a 3.83 ERA with 290 strikeouts in 270 innings pitched at the Rogers Centre, most of them with the Jays behind him rather than in front of him.

Cecil was the Jays’ top pitching prospect heading into last year, but in that organization that’s not a huge compliment. He was erratic as a rookie last year and started this year in the minors, joining the rotation at the end of April. Toss out his one big stinker against the Rangers on May 14 and he’s been solid thus far, going 5-2 with a 2.45 ERA in his other seven starts. In his last three, he has averaged roughly 7 1/3 innings while posting a 1.66 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP, winning all three games.

Marcus Thames starts in left against the lefty Cecil, giving Brett Gardner a day off. Chad Moeller catches Burnett, giving Francisco Cervelli a breather. Jorge Posada is the DH again.


Toronto Blue Jays VI: Wrap It Up

The Yankees have gone 24-10 (.706) against the two non-contenders in their division, the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, but with this brief, two-game, mid-week series against the Jays in the Bronx, that gravy train is finally pulling into the station.

The Jays and Yankees split a four-game set in Toronto, two weekends ago. Given that Sergio Mitre is taking on Roy Halladay in tonight’s game, the Yankees would probably be happy with a split here as well. Though they beat him in their previous meeting, Halladay dominated the Yankees the last time he faced them, throwing a one-hit shutout against them while striking out nine. In his four starts against the Bombers on the season, Halladay has three complete games and lasted seven full in the exception. In those 34 innings he has compiled a 2.65 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.

Mitre’s last start, also against Toronto, was a disaster. He gave up 11 runs in 4 1/3 innings, though he wasn’t helped by his defense in what was one of the sloppiest games the Yankees have played all year. The Yankees run out their standard lineup behind Mitre tonight save for Brett Gardner starting in center over Melky Cabrera.

The Yankees will start Chad Gaudin against Brian Tallet in Wednesday’s finale, skipping Andy Pettitte until Monday due to a bit of late-season shoulder fatigue. Pettitte said he threw a light bullpen Monday night and “felt great,” so it seems the team is just being cautious in anticipation of the playoffs. Still, there will be some lingering concern given that it was a shoulder problem that undermined Pettitte’s performance in the second half last year.


Toronto Blue Jays V: Doin’ The Streak

So much for Cito Gaston’s brilliance. Yeah, the Blue Jays traded Scott Rolen, let Alex Rios go via waivers, lost Rolen’s replacement, the disastrous Edwin Encarnacion, to a hamstring injury, and have been forced to play musical closers due to injury and poor performance, and have had to similarly improvise their starting rotation for similar reasons. Despite all that they have outscored their opponents only to find themselves with an actual record eight games worse than their Pythagorean.

The Jays have been in free fall since the end of June, playing .340 baseball (18-35) over that stretch. Since eking out a one-run victory over Sergio Mitre and the Yankees on August 10, they’re 5-16 (.238!). They haven’t won a series, or even had consecutive victories since they faced the Orioles the series before that. Even, Roy Halladay, who pitches tomorrow, has gone 0-3 with a 7.94 ERA over his last three starts. Top prospect Travis Snider has come back from the minors to replace Rios and has hit .167 in 16 games. Things really can’t get much worse for the Jays.

Well, I suppose there’s the Yankees coming to town. The Yanks, like they were against the Orioles prior to their just-completed sweep, are 9-3 against the Jays this year, and two of those losses came in May. The Yankees are 7-1 against Toronto since then. No wonder the Yanks figured they could bounce A.J. Burnett to Monday’s double-header against the Rays and throw Chad Gaudin (tonight), Sergio Mitre (Sunday), and the innings-challenged Joba Chamberlain (tomorrow) in this series. At least they’re giving the Jays a sporting chance.

Rookie of the Year candidate Ricky Romero starts for the Jays tonight. He has two quality starts in as many tries against the Yankees on the season, though the Yankees won the later contest via one of their many extra-inning walkoffs (Cano single). Gaudin was been alternately great and awful in August, striking out 12 in nine scoreless innings in his three “great” appearances (including his one start, in Oakland, all three as a Yankee) and giving up 11 runs in 8 1/3 innings in his three “awful” appearances (two in relief for the Yankees plus one start for the Padres). If he makes like Saberhagen, he’s due for “awful” tonight. Hopefully the Yankees can out-hit whatever it is he gives them.

With Mariano Rivera nursing a tender groin, Phil Hughes will close this weekend. Jonathan Albaladejo has been called up to add innings to the pen. Yanks run out the standard lineup tonight.


Toronto Blue Jays IV: Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da

Normally, coming off a crucial, possibly season-defining series win like the Yankees’ just-completed four-game sweep of the Red Sox, I’d be worried about the team suffering a let-down. The pieces are in place for a stumble. Their current seven-game winning streak seems likely to end soon. Fifth-starter Sergio Mitre will take the hill tonight against the Blue Jays and rookie Marc Rzepczynsky, who pitched well against the Yankees last week. Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jose Molina round out tonight’s lineup with Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui (via a DHing Jorge Posada) on the bench. Wednesday’s game brings Ricky Romero, who is one of two Blue Jay starters to have beaten the Yankees this year (do I even have to tell you who the other is?). Despite all that, I don’t see this year’s Yankees falling victim to a let-down.

The Yanks current seven-game winning streak is their fourth of that length or longer this season (they had three all of last year). They enter this series 7-2 against the Blue Jays on the season, including a two-game sweep last week as part of their current winning streak in which they beat Roy Halladay. Halladay won’t pitch in this series (Scott Richmond will pitch the middle game), and there was no off-day or plane trip today to interrupt the Yankees’ momentum.

There’s also the Blue Jays, who despite still having a positive run-differential on the season, have gone 26-43 (.377) since peaking at 27-14 on May 18. Since July 1, they’re 12-19 (.375), and most of that came before they traded their cleanup hitter.

The Blue Jays arrive in the Bronx tonight with the same 25-man roster they had last week in Toronto. Chad Gaudin and a rested Alfredo Aceves lurk in the Yankee bullpen to work long relief that could turn into a start when Mitre’s turn next comes around. Mitre’s struggles thus far can be summed up by his opponents’ .423 average on balls in play.

Rzepczynsky against Mitre and the Yanks last week: 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 7 K. Nick Swisher homered off Zep in that game, tying it at 3-3 in the seventh. The Jays’ bullpen caved, and Aceves got the win. Swisher moves up to the two-hole tonight with Damon sitting. Hairston bats seventh followed by Melky and Molina.

Toronto Blue Jays III: John Birch Society Edition

The Yanks are in Toronto for two-game series with Roy Halladay starting tonight. That screams “split,” but you know the Yankees are glad they’re facing Halladay in Toronto tonight because it means they won’t be facing him as a Red Sock over the weekend. The Jays didn’t trade Halladay, but they did make one big deadline deal, while the Yankees made a smaller one, both with the Cincinnati Reds.

The Jays got younger and cheaper by trading Scott Rolen (34 and due $11 million in 2010) for fellow third-baseman Edwin Encarnacion (26 and due $4.75 million next year), relief pitcher Josh Roenicke, and minor league righty Zachary Stewart. The trade was made at Rolen’s request and blows a giant hole in the Blue Jays’ infield defense, as Rolen was a former Gold Glover who could still pick it at the hot corner, while Encarnacion is the worst defensive third baseman in baseball.

Like new Seattle Mariner Ian Snell, Encarnacion is a “change of scenery” pick-up, a player who had long been in the doghouse of his former team, the Reds, and whose performance the Blue Jays are hoping was suffering as a result. Prior to joining the Blue Jays on Friday, Encarnacion was having his worst major league season (.209/.333/.374 in just 43 games, the latter due to a fractured wrist suffered in late April).

Roenicke, a 27-year-old righty (as of today) and the nephew of former Yankee Gary, has seen only incidental major league action over the last two seasons, but has been dominant in Triple-A over the same period (2.55 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 3.75 K/BB, just two homers allowed in 67 innings). He throws in the upper 90s and could become Toronto’s closer in short order and for the foreseeable future. He’s in the Toronto pen now. Stewart was a third-round pick in last year’s draft out of Texas Tech. He was a college closer, but started seven games each in High-A and Double-A this year with excellent results only to return to relief in Triple-A. It’s unclear what the Jays plan to do with him just yet, but while he may not be a future star, he’s a good addition to their system.

The Yankees picked up the man who replaced Encarnacion at third the day that the latter hit the DL, utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. It’s difficult to remember now, but Hairston began his career as the Orioles’ second baseman, and there was a brief period during which it wasn’t clear whether the Orioles were going to commit to him or to Brian Roberts at the keystone. The O’s ultimately made the right choice, turning Hairston into a utility man in his age-28 season of 2004, then sending him to the Cubs that winter with current Cubs second-sacker Mike Fontenot for Sammy Sosa.

Thus began Hairston’s career as an itinerant utility man, spending a year and a half each with the Cubs, Rangers, and Reds while playing ever position but pitcher and catcher. That ability to bounce around the diamond saved Hairston’s major league career as he hit just .253/.324/.358 through his age-31 season in 2007. Then last year he had that fluke year that it seems every bench player is entitled to at some point in his career, hitting .326/.384/.487 for the Reds while playing, in order, short, left, center, right, second, and third. He made $500,000 that year, but the impressed Reds re-signed him for $2 million only to watch him return to his previous level of production (.254/.305/.397).

Hairston joins the Yankees as a strong defensive outfielder, solid defensive middle-infielder, poor defensive third baseman, inexperience first baseman (less than one full game), and a right-handed bat unlikely to out-hit Cody Ransom (career: .233/.321/.401). For that, the Yankees gave up 20-year-old A-ball catcher Chase Weems. Though only in his second pro season, Weems has yet to start hitting and was buried in a suddenly catching-rich system. No loss there, but Hairston doesn’t really represent a gain either.

Andy Pettitte starts for the Yankees tonight. In three starts since the All-Star break, Andy has posted a 2.70 ERA and struck out 23 against just 3 walks and one homer in 20 innings, but has gone 0-1 with the Yankees losing two of those starts. Facing Halladay tonight, he’s staring another hard-luck loss in the face. Here’s hoping we get the compelling pitchers duel that promises.

Home Run Hinske starts in right tonight against his former team and bats ninth. The rest of the Yankee lineup has the usual suspects in the usual places.


Toronto Blue Jays II: Back To Reality

I said my piece on the Blue Jays’ hot start on SI.com when the Yankees were in Toronto in mid-May, so let’s see how things have changed since then.

Entering their series with the Yankees on May 12, the Blue Jays were 22-12 (.647), the best record in the American League at the time. Since then, they’ve gone 20-26 (.435) and fallen back to their expected place as the fourth-best team in the AL East.

At the time, I pointed to the unexpected health of the Jays’ starting nine as one reason for their early-season success, saying “Injury seems sure to strike the offense at some point, and several of the team’s batting averages, including [Aaron] Hill’s .346, catcher Rod Barajas’ .307 and platoon left fielder/utilityman Jose Bautista’s .311 seem sure to regress.”

The starting nine has stayed healthy, but Hill has lost 45 points off his average, Barajas has shed 40 points, and Bautista has lost 57. Hill was the Jays’ best hitter in the early going, but since going 2-for-4 with a homer in the first game against the Yankees on May 12, he’s hit just .255/.294/.452. Barajas has hit .228/.267/.378 since the start of the Yankees series; Bautista .191/.353/.309.

Scott Rolen, on the other hand, is hitting like he did before his shoulder problems derailed his path to the Hall of Fame. Rolen went 6-for-11 with three doubles against the Yankees and has hit .341/.405/.508 since, though with just six homers on the season. Accordingly, Cito Gaston has moved him back to the cleanup spot after having demoted him from that spot upon taking over for John Gibbons last June. Adam Lind and Lyle Overbay have also maintained their hot starts, the latter by virtue of not having to face left-handed pitching thanks to the presence of platoon partner and Yankee killer Kevin Millar. Marco Scutaro has come back to earth a bit, but has hit a still-respectable (for a fine fielding shortstop) .290/.364/.403 since the Yankee series and still leads the league in walks (though Nick Swisher is in hot pursuit).

On the flip side, Alex Rios and rookie slugger Travis Snider weren’t hitting in mid-May, and they’re still not. Rios, another Yankee killer, still managed to go 4-for-10 with a double and a homer against the Yankees in May, but has hit just .256/.311/.421 since. Snider was demoted to Triple-A then aggravated an old back injury and has since been replaced by former Yankee David Dellucci, who was released by the Indians at the end of May and signed a minor league deal with the Tribe. Dellucci was just called up this morning.

As for the pitching, I raised red flags about the unsustainably low opponents’ batting averages on balls in play being recorded by starters Scott Richmond and Brian Tallet, and relievers Jason Frasor, Jesse Carlson, and Bill Murphy. Richmond, who starts Sunday, was bounced by Yankees in the second inning on May 13, but rebounded with seven shutout innings against the White Sox and has posted a 3.18 since his Yankee disaster. His season BABIP has actually dropped a point over that stretch. Similarly, Tallet, who starts this afternoon, has been solid with a 4.30 ERA over his last nine starts while his BABIP has also shifted just one point (up to .228).

The rotation suffered from Roy Halladay’s DL stay, but Halladay is back and will pitch on Saturday, still leading the majors with ten wins. Meanwhile, the return of former first-round pick Ricky Romero has further solidified the rotation. Romero will bring a 20-inning scoreless streak into Monday’s game and has posted a 1.91 ERA in six starts since the calendar flipped to June.

As for those relievers, Frasor’s BABIP has increased by 54 points, but that hasn’t hurt his bottom line much. Carlson’s BABIP has increased 85 points, as has shown up in his performance as he’s posted a 7.32 ERA since the start of the Yankee series. Murphy was optioned to Triple-A right after the Yankees left town.

The man Murphy made room for was B.J. Ryan, who has posted a 3.14 ERA since coming off the DL, but with more walks than strikeouts and without a single save opportunity. Those opportunities were going to Scott Downs, but he’s replaced Ryan on the DL, leaving the closing duties to Frasor and his tight-rope act and 2007 closer Jeremy Accardo, who started the year in Triple-A after a forearm injury ended his 2008 campaign prematurely.

All of that adds up to . . . well, the fourth-best team in the AL East, just like everyone thought.

A.J. Burnett faces Tallet today in the first game of an unusual, wrap-around, Independence Day weekend series in which all four games will start at 1:05pm. Burnett gave up five runs in 7 2/3 innings to his former team on May 12, but has been nails in his last three starts posting this line: 20 1/3 IP, 10 H, 2 R (1 ER), 10 BB, 26 K, 0.98 WHIP, 0.44 ERA. Amazingly, A.J. lost one of those three starts, having matched up against the ace of his other former team, Josh Johnson of the Marlins.


FIP To Be Tied

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