See you guys at game time. Good night.
The Yankees are on the pursuit of their 28th World Championship and they face a difficult opponent this year in the Orioles who refuse to go down in any fight. How exactly do the Yankees fare in this matchup? Are they underdogs, favorites, or will this be a perfectly balanced war between the two AL East teams? Here's a quick look into the Yankees roster and how it could fare in the ALDS.
Yankees: C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes
The Yankees have the only real ace among the two teams with C.C. Sabathia going for them Sunday evening in Baltimore. He’s followed by Andy Pettitte, who is no stranger to big games, and arguably the Yankees most consistent starter this year in Hiroki Kuroda. Sabathia worked his way out of a slump in early September and pitched to a 1.50 ERA over his last 24 innings (3 starts) while striking out 28 and walking just 4 batters. There is no doubt that he needs to be a huge asset (no pun intended) for the Yankees to get deeper into the postseason. Two DL stints limited his innings but Sabathia still threw 200 innings and boasted the best SO/BB ratio in the American League. The Orioles have plenty of hitters who have a tendency to strikeout so it might work in the lefty’s favor.
Andy Pettitte is no stranger to the postseason. He has 263 innings of postseason experience and has gone 19-10 with a 3.83ERA. He’s a bonafide stopper and he knows exactly what is necessary to get major leaguers out at this point in his career. With Andy Pettitte and C.C. Sabathia pitching in Game 1 and 2 the Yankees will have a good chance to split or take both before heading to the Bronx for Game 3. Hiroki Kuroda will be the Game 3 starter, and if he can avoid a major 1st inning hiccup (opponents hit .288/.331/.500 vs. him in first inning of the regular season) then he should be able to settle in and pitch a solid game. Kuroda went 11-6 at home with a sparkling 2.72 ERA in 132.1 innings in the regular season so there isn’t much of a mystery on whether he knows how to pitch in the Bronx or not. He didn’t pitch his best baseball at the end of the year but he’s a veteran pitcher who has the stuff to dominate a baseball game.
Phil Hughes had a quality regular season but you have to worry about the way he finished the season. Hughes lasted just 4.2 innings in his final start, surrendering 5 runs to the Blue Jays and boasted an ERA over 5 in the final month. As the scheduled Game 4 starter, Hughes needs to avoid his Achilles heel, which is the long ball, against a pretty good home run hitting team in the Orioles. Pitching in a more spacious park at Yankee Stadium could help Hughes since most of his issues this year have come against right handed hitters. He’s the most questionable pitcher starting for the Yankees and he’ll need to display that plus slider and better fastball command to keep the Orioles sluggers at bay.
Late Game: Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, David Phelps
Specialists: Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada
Long-Man: Derek Lowe, David Phelps
Doubtful: Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia
The Yankees need Rafael Soriano and David Robertson to pitch better than they did in September for them to have a shot at the ALCS. The bullpen had a very long, arduous year as there weren’t many blow outs or laughers for them to take a night off here and there. Boone Logan pitched what seemed like every night and with an Orioles team breathing down their neck for a large portion of the second half, Joe Girardi couldn’t afford to lose games and often relied on the back of his bullpen. With Clay Rapada and Boone Logan the Yankees have to lefty specialists that can be used late in games, along with Cody Eppley as the right-handed specialist. Joba Chamberlain has returned to pre-surgery form and he’s a big piece in the late game puzzle. He has strikeout stuff and his command has returned (17:2 SO:BB in last 13.1IP) so Girardi will not hesitate to bring him in to bridge the gap to Soriano. Joba has struggled with inherited baserunners so it would be a good decision to start him in an inning rather than with men in scoring position in a close game.
David Phelps could be used in multiple ways. If a starter is knocked out early Girardi can go to his young righty to pitch a few scoreless frames. If he needs a late game reliever Phelps could also be used in that situation as well. The rookie right-hander doesn’t seem to be fazed by the moment and he’s proved that he can start in the major leagues with a solid arsenal of pitches. He’s arguably the most versatile pitcher out of the Yankees bullpen this year. The other long man, Derek Lowe, has resurrected his career since nearly pitching himself off the roster after his Yankee debut. Lowe has a 1.94 ERA in his last 10 appearance and he’s another experienced arm that Girardi can use to get through a few innings if need be.
These three days of rest will mean a lot to the overworked bullpen. They needed this break and that’s one of the biggest positives of winning the AL East crown. Without Mariano Rivera the Yankees are obviously more vulnerable in the postseason so late game postseason leads aren’t a lock as they used to be. It’s definitely a quality bullpen nonetheless.
Who’s Hot: Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki
The Yankees could be the most dangerous offensive team in the American League right now. They have gained their health back and along with that the lineup has lengthened. There aren’t any more opportunities for the Steve Pearces and Casey McGehees of the world to get a start here or there as most of the regulars, sans Brett Gardner, will start in the playoffs. Robinson Cano finished the season going 27 for 59 (.458), with 7 doubles, 3 home runs, and 16 RBI. If that continues it might not matter what kind of magic the Orioles throw at the Yankees in this short series. Cano is the best hitter on either team and right now he’s hitting like one of the top three offensive players in the MLB.
Derek Jeter, a career .307/.374/.465/.839 postseason hitter, can carry a team in the postseason with his bat and intangibles. After the last game of the year, Derek Jeter was quoted as saying, "now the real season starts." That's exactly what it is for the #legend. His defense might not be spectacular anymore but you won’t see him making any game changing defensive miscues or make a key base-running error that costs the team a run or two. Jeter had a major league leading 216 hits and he’s a dangerous hitter atop the Yankees lineup. The Orioles will need to keep him off the bases if they want to have success, especially with a lot of offense following him in the lineup.
Alex Rodriguez finished the season going 7 for his last 23 (.304) with a gaudy .433 OBP in 30 plate appearances. If he can get on base then it will be much tougher for Orioles pitchers to navigate through a deep Yankee lineup. Rodriguez’s power has been sapped and it does not look like he’ll provide much pop in the postseason but Camden Yards might be just the place for him to have a power surge. A-Rod for his career has hit .306/.389/.570 at Camden with 59 HR and 192 RBI in 847 AB. He sees the ball well in Baltimore and it could be the ideal fix for A-Rod’s lack of power.
Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the Yankees before the deadline with cash for D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar. He hit .322/.340/.454/.794 with the Yankees while providing the Yankees with speed and excellent defense. Suzuki hit .338/.363/.531/.894 at Yankee Stadium this year so opposing pitchers should definitely exercise caution when pitching to him in the Bronx. He's also 8 for 14 (.571) at Camden Yards this year (career .394/.426/.518 at Camden) so he's a serious threat in the Yankee lineup at either park. Ichiro was the best trade at the deadline this year and credit Randy Levine, Brian Cashman, and the brains behind this low-risk, high-reward trade that paid off extremely well.
Curtis Granderson has also had much better AB’s of late and he has performed with runners in scoring position this year, hitting .254/.335/.493/.828 w RISP. Granderson has had a strange season, hitting 43 home runs and driving 106 but hitting just .232. Granderson will have his chances in the tiny Camden Yards and the short porch at Yankees Stadium to do some damage. Nick Swisher has failed to be a presence in the post season but the Yankees could use his dangerous bat to step up this year. Mark Teixeira could also use a good postseason after a few disappointing ones. He hasn't had much time to readjust to major league pitching but he has the power to change the game and he can also impact the game defensively with amazing defense at first. A lot of things have to click for the team to provide a consistent offense and it looked like they were clicking in the final week of the year. The only question is if it will carry over into success in a short series.
Possible Bench: Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez
Doubtful: Andruw Jones, Chris Dickerson
The Yankees added a ton of speed in September with the addition of Eduardo Nunez, Chris Dickerson, and Brett Gardner. Gardner hasn’t had much success stealing bases since his return but he’s a big threat to pinch run and steal a bag. With news that Jayson Nix is healthy enough to play, adding his abilities (bunting, fundamentals, and defense) will be huge considering that Eduardo Nunez will be the primary backup middle infielder without Nix. It’s unlikely the Yankees will ever pull Cano or Jeter out in any situation but if they do then Nix would be the go-to-guy to fill in for defense. Eduardo Nunez shouldn’t be on the field unless he’s a pinch hitter or a pinch runner. Anything beyond that is a risk, a monumental one at that.
Raul Ibanez had his fair share of big regular season moments this year. Most people didn’t expect him to be much of anything when the Yankees signed him to be the primary DH against right-handers. He hit righties well this year, .248/.319/.492/.812, so it’s likely he’ll DH vs. RHP. Ibanez finished the season hitting .405/.450/.811/1.261 in 37 AB. He’s no stranger to pressure and he has a great approach when a big hit is needed. Another big hitter off the bench is Eric Chavez. His opposite field approach makes him dangerous in late game situations and he has plenty of power, hitting 16 homers in 278 AB. Chavez kills righties to a split of .298/.365/.543/.908 and the Yankees could very easily use him as the primary DH over Ibanez and leave Raul on the bench for late game situations. The Yankees have an excellent mix of power and speed off the bench this postseason.
The Yankees have a good combination of pitching, offense, speed. All of that has to translate in a short 5 game series where sample sizes play up and some hitters who you expect to do nothing turn into absolute stars and some who were locks to go 15 for 15 with 7 home runs go 1 for 20. The Yankees don’t need everything to break right to win this series, but they do need a few big starts from their pitchers and healthy run production. The Orioles have magic this year so they will definitely play better than paper predictions. It’s going to be a close, nail-biting, series. Just the way this season has been. May the hotter team win.
With Hiroki Kuroda on the hill for the Yankees on Friday, the Yankees on paper looked like they had this game even after the disappointing series versus the Toronto Blue Jays. Unfortunately, the game isn't played on paper and the Yankees lackluster play doomed them from keeping the red-hot Baltimore Orioles back from their race to first place.
Kuroda quickly surrendered 3 runs in the top of the second inning on a sacrifice fly by Chris Davis and a long two run home run by Mark Reynolds. He settled down but the Yankees offense had very little going for them tonight. The team hasn't scored much for Kuroda to begin with but tonight was all Miguel Gonzalez. He carved through the punchless Yankees lineup. His only bump was the sixth inning where a leadoff single by Ichiro and a walk to Jayson Nix following a wild pitch to advance Ichiro to second base. Derek Jeter then hit into a fielder's choice and the Yankees had two chances to drive the runner in from third. Nick Swisher would follow with a strikeout (he had 4 on the night) and Robinson Cano would end the inning on a foul out to third base. The Yankees would also have 1st and second 2 outs in the 7th but again stranded those runners. The team left five on base for the night and four in scoring position.
Miguel Gonzalez worked effectively, spotting his fastball early in the game and forcing Yankee lefties to chase the pitch on the outside corner. He dropped all his pitches in for strikes, striking out 9 Yankees while walking one, and the Yankees let him off the hook when he finally entered some trouble. It's become a common theme over the past few days, and with the lack of scoring in opportunities where the team could expand or gain a lead they have lost numerous games with their inefficiencies in situational hitting. Without Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira their power production has taken a hit and without power or situational hitting the team is lacking any consistent run production.
Derek Lowe entered the game having to record just one out after Rapada was pulled with 2 outs in the 9th. Lowe followed by giving up a home run to Mark Reynolds and another run on three hits before he completed the inning. Lowe has given up a run in his last 5 appearances and in his last 5 innings he's surrendered 14 hits and 6 runs,including two home runs. The Yankees should realize that the Lowe experiment has failed and look into another direction, possibly minor leaguer Adam Warren, to fill his role.
Kuroda gave a valiant effort, surrendering 4 earned over 8.1 innings. He battled back after the second and only surrendered one run the rest of the way. Mark Reynolds' two home runs powered the O's to a 6-1 victory and now find themselves just 2 games back of the Yankees for the AL East lead. David Phelps will pitch tomorrow and the Yankees need to recoup some of the offensive punch that they had after the All-Star break.
The Yankees do not have much space to get creative with their 40-man roster. Justin Thomas, Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce are the three best candidates the Yankees can designate for assignment in order to make room for the likes of Pedro Feliciano, Chris Dickerson, and Ronnier Mustelier. There are plenty of names thrown out there on twitter, ranging from Cody Johnson to Luke Murton, and as some of them sound reasonable but it’s simply not easy. Let’s take a look at the possible candidates:
2B/3B David Adams: Adams has had a terrific year for the AA Trenton Thunder after returning from a serious ankle injury. The man can simply hit the baseball and he’s hitting lefties at a .337/.397/.582/.978 clip this year. He’s also hitting .297 with a .388 OBP versus right handers so it’s safe to say that no one is fooling him at the plate. Adams had a terrific July, hitting .375 and he’s hit .308 in August with a .411 OBP. The Yankees could use a DH versus LHP and Adams just might be the guy right now with Andruw Jones’ lost season. Adams is sufficient at 2B, his range won’t excite anyone but he turns the double play extremely well. He’s played some third but it’s unlikely the Yankees throw him out there to play 3B in a pennant race. Is Adams worth a try? Perhaps, but it’s no lock that he comes in and hits MLB pitching in a pennant race.
OF Chris Dickerson: Dickerson is hitting .321/.421/.523 with the AAA SWB/Empire State Yankees. He’s hitting .344 versus lefties (64AB sample) and has a .456 OBP versus lefties which suggests he’s somewhat seeing LHP well. He’s hitting .313 vs. RHP and all of his seven homers have come off right handers. Dickerson has stole 17 bases and with just 3 caught stealing his speed would be a great add to this roster. The only problem with Dickerson is that he isn’t on the 40-man roster and the Yankees would need to make a move to get him on the roster. His versatility in the outfield and ability to play multiple outfield spots could come in handy and the Yankees don’t have to burn away winning opportunities by playing Andruw Jones in right or left field. If the Yankees have to DFA Casey McGehee to get Dickerson on the roster, it would be a decision well made.
2B/3B/OF Ronnier Mustelier: Mustelier has struggled for some time now but he’s found his stroke of late. He is 10 for his last 26 and he’s picking things up after tearing his way through the system. For the season he’s hitting .290/.348/.445 but just .273/.327/.465 versus LHP. He isn’t a prospect by any means so the Yankees won’t be hurting his development but he’s shown he can hit and he could be that “lightning in a bottle” that the Yankees are looking for. Mustelier isn’t a base stealer but he does have 10 steals this year so that automatically makes him one of the faster bench players on the slow as molasses Yankee bench. He could also play some outfield and has much more range than Andruw Jones who at this point shouldn’t play the outfield at all. It seems unlikely that the Yankees bring up Mustelier because they already have a 3B who can hit LHP, Eric Chavez. Mustelier is not on the 40 man roster so someone will have to lose their job for him to move to the 40 man roster, that could be a major factor in Cashman’s decision.
SS/2B/3B/OF Eduardo Nunez: Nunez might play all these positions but as we know he is a serious liability every time he puts on the glove. He’s hitting .227/.256/.288/.544 in AAA but he’s hitting .282 vs. LHP and that’s really one of his better abilities. The Yankees will probably call him up because they could use his terrific speed as a pinch runner. His speed impacts the game and the Yankees have played station to station all year so Nunez could help win them a close game by stealing a few bags late in games. Since he is already on the 40 man roster there will be no holdup. Just hope Joe Girardi doesn’t get creative and start playing him in the field.
RHP Cory Wade: Cory Wade is a lock to be called up. He’s pitched to a 2.27 ERA in AAA and has looked even better of late. Wade has plenty of MLB experience and a good Cory Wade can be used in a variety of situations, including late game high leverage innings. Wade was hit hard in June but he was demoted with a 34-8 K:BB in 33.1 IP and aside from the slump he pitched pretty well. Expect Wade back with the team within the next few days. He’s a much better arm to go to than Derek Lowe.
LHP Pedro Feliciano: Feliciano is a lock to return to the roster with Clay Rapada’s regression in full force. When he comes off the 60 day DL, the Yankees will probably DFA Justin Thomas and add Feliciano to the roster. His 2012 rehab has so far been decent: 6.1IP, 6H, 2R, 2ER, 3BB, 8K through three minor league levels and tonight he pitches for the SI Yankees as he inches his way back to the majors. His velocity isn’t much, 84-85, but if he has command and movement he can get tough lefties out. It’s something the Yankees need with a bullpen that has thinned out due to injuries and regression.
RHP Adam Warren: Warren has a few things going for him. He’s already on the 40 man roster so calling him up would require no additional moves. He’s a starter so he could be utilized in a long man role to give the Yankees pen some innings. He’s also pitched to a 2.98 ERA over his last 10 starts and a 2.98 ERA post All-Star so he’s been better than earlier in the season. Warren was clubbed in 2.1 IP vs. the Chicago White Sox on June 29th, surrendering 6 ER in just 2.1 innings. It’s still a good idea to call up Warren and use him in a bullpen role in limited innings. With Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada, and Derek Lowe struggling, Adam Warren is a decent roll of the dice.
C Francisco Cervelli: Cervelli is a lock to return as he is already on the 40-man roster and the Yankees could easily give him opportunities with Russell Martin hitting as poorly as he is. Cervelli hasn’t been an offensive machine either in AAA, hitting just .246/.341/.316/.657. He’s hitting just .236 in August and the Yankees shouldn’t expect much of anything from Cervelli. He is a speedy catcher so the Yankees could use him in a pinch running role and utilize him in that role. Nonetheless, expect Francisco Cervelli back very shortly.
C Austin Romine: Romine is already on the 40-man so the Yankees won’t have an issue calling him up. The Yankees could call him up but it’s questionable on how much playing time he will receive. He’s only had 95ABs this year due to back issues and he’s hitting .245 in AAA. He’s hit 3 homers in 12 ABs versus LHP but just .122 vs. RHP, both tiny samples. He should be in the mix for catching duties next season for the MLB team so some experience with Tony Pena could do him well. If Romine is called up, expect it only after SWB Yankees season is over and don’t expect him to suddenly take Martin’s job.
OF Melky Mesa: Mesa is on the 40 man roster but he’s not hitting in AAA and other than outfield defense he adds nothing to the MLB roster. The Yankees only use with Mesa would be a late game defensive substitute where his range and arm strength could play up. He is a strikeout machine at the plate and he seems like a long shot for a call up. Possibly after the SWB Yankees season is complete. He really hasn’t done much to be rewarded a call up.
OF Zoilo Almonte: Zoilo is hitting .276/.322/.494/.806 with the AA Trenton Thunder. He has shown plenty of power with 20 home runs but has also struck out 102 times in 409 ABs. Almonte is hitting just .210 vs. LHP and .303 vs. RHP this season. Like Mesa, Almonte seems like a long shot to be called up. He hasn’t mastered AA and other than defensive help he is unlikely to contribute. He could possibly be called up after Trenton’s season is finished, maybe to sit on the bench and get a closer look at professional baseball. Slim shot he sees the Yankees dugout this year though.
2B Corban Joseph: Joseph is on the 40 man roster but he isn’t bringing anything special to the team if he is called up. He’s hit .269 in AAA and .357 in his last 10 games with 2 homers and 14 RBI. He’s only hitting .181 vs. LHP and .301 vs. RHP. With a shaky glove and no speed, it is unlikely the Yankees call him up. Again, he might be called up later in season to give him a peek at MLB baseball but the Yankees won’t have their bench clogged up with prospects in a pennant race.
New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman made plenty of moves last offseason to bolster the team for a successful 2012 campaign. Michael Pineda, Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, Andy Pettitte, Clay Rapada, and Chris Stewart were some of the names that Cashman either retained or acquired to give the team depth on offense and pitching before the season started. Is there anyone on this list who has been more important to the Yankees than Hiroki Kuroda? At the time of the signing many Yankee fans mocked the acquisition, calling it a poor addition of a career National League pitcher who benefited from the spacious Dodgers ballpark and light hitting offenses in the NL West. Kuroda has had the last laugh so far, proving that not only was he good enough for the American League but that he is arguably the best pitcher on the Yankees staff in 2012.
Kuroda has a 3.19 ERA, ninth best in the American League. For the FIP believers, he has a 3.77 FIP, which some may say signals a future regression but his 2011 FIP was 3.78 and he ended last season with a 3.07 ERA. A regression doesn't seem likely and Kuroda's pitched largely like an American League ace. Kuroda’s 3.19 ERA and 1.18 WHIP lead all Yankee starters (min. 100IP) and his 133 ERA+ is also tops among Yankees starters (min. 100 IP). His highest ERA+ with the Los Angeles Dodgers was 120 in 2011 and the 133 ERA+ this year blows that number out of the water. In comparison, Mike Mussina had only one season with an ERA+ over 131 with the Yankees, having a 143 ERA+ in his first season with the team. Roger Clemens’ highest ERA+ with the Yankees was 131 in 2000. Kuroda might not make headlines on ESPN Sportscenter but he’s quietly having a dominating season in the American League.
What is the secret behind his amazing season? Kuroda has thrown the four seamer just 12.1% of the time in 2012, a 10.7% drop from 2011. He is utilizing the slider this year to compliment his sinker, throwing it 25.8% of the time, a 6.9% increase from 2011. His slider command has been good this year, throwing it for strikes 65.3% of the time, better than league average (63.4%). The whiff percentages also favor Kuroda as hitters have whiffed on his slider 15.8% of the time, better than the league average of 13.63%. Shying away from the straight four seamer has helped him keep the ball in the park and avoid Hughes-itis. Furthermore, the sinker, slider, splitter combination has helped him lower the 22% line drive percentage from 2011 to 19.6%. Weaker contact has helped him lower his ERA into the sub 3.5 range, and most scouts expected Kuroda to be hovering around 3.5 to 4 this year.
Kuroda has also pushed his ground ball percentage back up 50.1% on batted balls, a 6.9% increase from 2011. With powerful American League lineups from top to bottom, this change was needed and it was definitely needed in Yankees Stadium where pitchers like Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova have struggled to keep the ball in the park. Kuroda has generated 1.65 groundballs for every fly ball and that is his personal best since his rookie 2008 season with the Dodgers. He has become more effective in keeping the ball down as the season has progressed and with the combination of command, groundballs, and strikeouts, he has taken his game to the next level.
Kuroda surrendered ten home runs in six starts between April and May but things started to click after the May 27th start vs. the Oakland Athletics, where he went eight and held the A’s to just four hits and no runs. He has only given up 5 home runs since May 27, a span of thirteen starts. He was known to be a second half pitcher before signing with the Yankees and he is certainly living up to the billing with a 2.27 ERA second half ERA in 35.2 innings.
The Yankees need Kuroda to step up and be the number two behind Sabathia as the Yankees continue their drive into the playoffs. With a healthy Andy Pettitte back sometime in September, this team might get healthy at just the right time to go on a deep playoff run. Kuroda enjoys and thrives on pressure pitching so the playoffs will be a perfect spot for him to showcase his talent for the 2013 free agency. Hopefully the Yankees see the talent they have in Kuroda and keep him around for another season or two, because there will be plenty of questions surrounding Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova and Kuroda would be one pitcher without any questions that need to be answered. He is who he is, a true pitcher and arguably the ace of the 2012 Yankee staff.