Rethinking Trades

The first thing we need to do is find out why these trades don’t work for the selling team (I’m essentially going to stick with selling teams, but as Yankee fans, you’re interested in the buying teams. Guess what? You win. What? You were expecting something different?). The original theory is a nice one. You turn one really good player into several good ones, and in the swap, you switch out future value for present value. However, the idea is flawed. The theory assumes that the 6-win player traded brings back 2 or 3 4-win (the numbers don’t exactly match up, but you get the point) players, but in practice, the 6-win player continues to be the 6-win player while the prospects never make it or turn into 2-win players or worse. So how do we change this?

One, start demanding top prospects back when you can. I’m going to use the Oswalt trade for the rest of the piece to illustrate my points. In this instance, the Astros have an ace pitcher that should bring top prospects back, but the Astros brought back a league-average pitcher (2 wins) and two prospects that are really far away and risky. One of those was used to bring in Brett Wallace, but we’ll get back to him in a moment. Instead, the Astros should have used their leverage (they ate money, and therefore, the lone minus to the deal was gone) to get a team’s top prospects back, who are much more likely to reach the majors and contribute. Of course, this means that the receiving team is going to get fewer players.

Which brings me to the second point—accept quality over quantity. This is easier said than done. If you swap a guy one-for-one, it essentially means that the prospect coming back has to perform just as well as the guy leaving, which is really hard because the guy leaving has already become a very good player and they don’t just grow on trees. It’s easier to rationalize a one-for-three swap because you can convince yourself that all of them, or at least, two will contribute and make up for the lost player. The problem, as Goldman notes, is that prospects coming back have rarely worked out. This isn’t because prospects are flawed in general. It’s because those prospects are flawed. People like to ask Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein, John Sickles, Jim Callis, etc. what a player’s ceiling is, but instead of realizing it as a ceiling, they see it as a probability. It’s not. It’s a long-shot. They’re more likely to be worse. So those 4th and 5th starters become AAA lifers, and those aces turn into number threes. Instead, the teams should have taken fewer but better prospects, who are bound to at least have value. Yes, sometimes this won’t work out, but I’m guessing it works out a helluva lot more. So go ahead armchair GM, accept the two great ones for the four mediocre ones.

Third, remember roster politics. The Oswalt trade isn’t a one-for-three swap because those prospects don’t get to count for only one roster spot. It doesn’t work that way. Essentially, Happ takes Oswalt’s space while Wallace takes Berkman’s (you can say this because he was traded, whether Wade admits it or not, to take Berkman’s spot on the team). The difference is that Wallace doesn’t directly substitute for Berkman, only his space (Berkman’s value has to be recouped by his trade). But when you assess the value of the Oswalt trade, you can’t just combine all the potential WARs of the players coming back to put on top of Oswalt’s one spot, which is essentially what we do now. Instead, you have to realize that real value is placed on Berkman’s spot. The usual assumption is that Berkman would have been replaced by a replacement-level player, but that’s not likely. The Astros, in the off-season, would likely have picked up someone off the scrap heap to give them 1 or 2 wins of value. Wallace isn’t replacing the AAA guy. He’s replacing whatever other guy the Astros would eventually get, but because it’s unlikely that the Astros could get someone now, Wallace is replacing that replacement-level guy for the rest of the season. I realize most of this is context, but you can’t ignore context because it’s always there.

In summation, here’s the idea. Trade major-league stars for minor-league stars when you can. Eat money, take fewer prospects, etc. to make this happen. Usually we give value to any minor-league player, but I think it’s time to stop doing that so often. They have value, but I think they get too much. Also, stop trading people for trading’s sake. People like to criticize the Orioles for not trading Wigginton, but I’m not sure it was the wrong decision. What would you have given for Wigginton? Probably nothing significant, and if it’s nothing significant, then why get it back? Why not hold on to Wigginton, maybe try to resign him, and get more value from him? Because that prospect isn’t going to bring back value.

That brings up trading lesser players, and not the stars we have been talking about. What do you do about them? Again, stop trading them just to trade them. If you don’t get anything back of value, then keep him unless you absolutely have to get rid of him (I imagine the need to shed payroll is a bit overplayed). Of course, you need to scale back your desires. Wigginton isn’t Oswalt. But Wigginton gives the team real value whereas the bit guy coming back likely won’t.

But we have to look at the other side. It’s not good to just look at one side of the deal. Most teams are starting to value prospects a lot more than they used to, so would they give them up? I don’t know the answer. Some teams may value them that much, but I imagine that selling teams aren’t taking a hard enough stance. They want to shed payroll. They want to get young players back because, otherwise, they just lose the guy (but again, I’m not sure having a body is worth having a body). If the selling teams started demanding better, the buying teams would have to acquiesce in some manner, most likely somewhere in the middle. But the selling teams have the leverage. They have what the other teams need. The players are sunk costs to the selling teams, and the selling teams need to realize this. If you have to eat some money to get the deal done, you should. But get the talent back. But yes, I realize that the buying teams don’t like to give up top prospects, but they are more willing to because of the desire to win now. Selling teams need to be better at demanding more. It’s supply and demand. Demand more.

I, of course, realize that I could be wrong in all this (sorry if this is really stream of consciousness, but I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it. Ever feel like you’re onto something but can’t quite get it to the end?). The desire is to get into more of a discussion about trades and how we evaluate them because there seems to be something wrong, as Goldman notes, but the theory seems to make sense. Is there something wrong in the theory? Practice? What’s going wrong?

My essential argument is that selling teams aren’t wrong for trying to turn one player into several. They’re wrong for not asking for the right things back. Sometimes the limitations are practical (no team will just hand over the farm, thus limiting what you get back). Sometimes they are social (“I don’t want to get fired because I traded our star for two stud prospects that didn’t happen to work out”). But trading away major league talent for essentially nothing only helps the other team, and this business isn’t altruistic.

Also, I have a Twitter now, so you can follow me if you wish.

Delayed Reaction to the Trades

I was away this weekend and found out about the Lance Berkman trade via the radio Friday night while on the way to my girlfriend’s from a softball game (20-3 W, I was 0-3 with a sac fly–two balls, including the sac fly were ripped right at the right-center fielder…bad BABIP luck).

Anyway, my thoughts on the three trades the Yankees pulled off…

I know Berkman’s been having an iffy season and is likely in his decline phase, but I love this trade. I’m not a fan of the rotating DH because it means that a replacement level player–Ramiro Pena or Francisco Cervelli–has to play and that hurts the team. With Nick Johnson out, presumably for the year now, this is a good move. Berkman presents a similar skill set (15.5% walk rate) to Johnson, but with a ton more power (.253 IsoP, though it’s at “only” .198 this season). Fat Elvis can slot into literally any slot in the lineup and be right at home. The price, though, is what really sold me on this deal.

I always had high hopes for Mark Melancon, but he stumbled this season and it appeared he wasn’t going to get much of an extended shot at the big league level with the Yankees. Paredes is still in A ball and while he’s demonstrated good contact skills (.280 BA), he still looks like he has some work to do and has a ways to go before reaching the majors. I loev this price because it is so not what I thought it would be. I thought Houston would at least want Ivan Nova and Eduardo Nunez to start. I would have done that deal, and I’m definitely happy with trading a reliever and a Low A infielder for a guy of Berkman’s caliber.

Austin Kearns for a player to be named later? Cool. Kearns may not be the sexiest of the sexy, but he’s a useful piece. As a right handed batter, he helps the Yankees with one of their few offensive problems: hitting left handers (.353 wOBA vs. LHP). And as a bench OF, he provides a little more than Colin Curtis. Curtis was fine in his role, but getting him more reps at Scranton could be beneficial to him.

Kerry Wood for a PTBNL is also good. He may’ve struggled a bit this year with a 5.04 xFIP, but I’ll always gamble on an arm like his, especially for a player to be named later. At best, he’s a rock-sold set-up man for Mariano Rivera. At worst, he’s a guy with a good arm who can miss bats.

One hole that wasn’t filled was the bench infielder spot that I think could be upgraded, but that’s not a huge deal and there’s still the waiver wire to fill that hole. But, the Yankees filled three holes out of four this past weekend for relatively small costs. I’m happy with Brian Cashman and his team for the moves they made at the trade deadline. I look forward to what they’ll do in August.

Yankeeist's July 2010 Wrap-Up

The 2010 Yankees had a spectacular month of July, tying the Tampa Bay Rays for the best record in the Majors with 19 wins and only 7 losses. They actually gained a game on Tampa during the course of the month (before having the lead shrunk back to one yesterday afternoon). The fact that the team played .731 ball in July and still only managed to gain one extra game in the standings on Tampa Bay tells you a lot about both the Yankees and the Rays. The more I think about it, the more I see these two on a collision course for the ALCS. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

(Please click on all of the tables to enlarge them)

The offense came back in a big way in July, with the team’s wOBA jumping nearly .030 points from June’s mediocre .326. July also represented the team’s best month of slugging on the season.

The pitching staff also improved last month, with a sterling 3.46 ERA (though incredibly this was only good for 4th-best in the AL). At the end of July 2009, the Yankees were 62-41 and had a 1.5-game lead over Boston for first. While the division lead is currently roughly the same, it’s rather insane that this year’s team is four games better than last year’s.

Here are the individual numbers for the eight regulars with the most plate appearances in the starting lineup:

The offensive story of the month was one we’ve been waiting for all season long: the resurgence of Mark Teixeira, offensive beast. Tex not only led the Yankees in wOBA on the month with an obscene .488, but had the fourth-best wOBA in the American League in July. Nick Swisher, who just continues to have a phenomenal season, wasn’t far behind, posting his second .400-plus wOBA month of the year with a .434 mark. Robinson Cano continued his torrid hitting, though his .375 July wOBA — still a great number — was actually his lowest month of the year. Still, Cano ranks 5th in the AL on the season with a .405 wOBA, which is unbelievable.

Brett Gardner fell off a bit in July (.344) from his molten-hot .455 wOBA in June, but has still continued to exceed expectations with a .370 wOBA on the year. Jorge Posada contributed what felt like a fairly quiet .356 wOBA in July.

I know I’ve beaten this story to death, but it may finally be time to accept the Alex Rodriguez is no longer going to be the elite, .390-plus wOBA hitter we’ve been spoiled by these last six years. Prior to looking at the numbers I’d assumed that Alex had had a fairly decent month in July, and then I saw that he posted a .331 wOBA, his worst month in a season full of disappointing months. Did you know that Alex’s OBP in June was .308 and in July it was .305? Ouch.

I also figured Curtis Granderson had posted better than a roughly league-average .331 wOBA in July, although to his credit he’s at a .392 wOBA over his last 14 days.

And the offense’s worst performer in July? None other than Derek Sanderson Jeter, who I’ve been riding pretty hard of late. Jeter turned in a pathetic .282 wOBA in July, which I’d have to figure is one of the worst months of his career. It’s rather amazing that the Yankees were able to win 19 games in July with a .310 OBP out of the leadoff slot. I know it’s already been suggested and Joe Girardi actually tried it with relatively middling results, but it may be time to think about giving Brett Gardner another shot at leadoff and slot Jeter back down to the two-hole.

However, if a move like that were to work, one of a handful of areas of Gardner’s game that could use improving is aggressiveness on the basepaths. I’d love to see Gardner start swiping bases earlier in counts; something he seems highly reluctant to do. Given Jeter’s refusal to work counts, a Gardner-Jeter 1-2 could result in way too many double plays, so both players would have to commit to revising their game plans in this scenario.

Here’s the bench and the guys who left the team:

Nothing much to see here. Marcus Thames has done pretty much everything one could have expecte
d of him given his limited playing time. The rest of the bench has been fairly nightmarish, though to his credit Colin Curtis has come up with a handful of timely hits. Francisco Cervelli has plummeted back to earth after a hot start to the season and Ramiro Pena is the third-base version of Wil Nieves.

As for the castoffs, Austin Jackson has continued to defy the naysayers who expected that his numbers would start dropping once he experienced a correction in BABIP. Somehow that BABIP remains seemingly unsustainably high at .422, which has fueled Jackson’s impressively above-average .350 wOBA on the season. ZiPS’ Rest-of-Season projection has him wOBAing .310 the rest of the way and ending the year at .334, but given how Jackson’s continued to defy the projection systems who knows where he’ll end the year. Regardless, no one in their right mind would’ve expected Jackson to produce a .350 wOBA through the first four months of the season, and given that I’m convinced we have yet to see the real Curtis Granderson on the Yankees, I think it’s still too early to make a judgment on that trade.

Jose Tabata‘s hit reasonably well since being called up by the Pirates in June, while Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera have mostly floundered since leaving the Yankees, Melky in particular.

Here’s what the starting pitchers did in July:

CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett paced the rotation in July, followed by another solid month from Javier Vazquez. Andy Pettitte injured himself in his first outing after the All-Star break, and saw one of his starts butchered by Sergio Mitre and the other handled quite well by Dustin Moseley. Phil Hughes had the roughest go of it in July — not to mention the worst FIP of the entire staff, including the bullpen — and a look at that monthly chart tells an unfortunate story of his numbers trending downward as the season wears on. It will be interesting to see (a) how the Yankees handle Hughes and his innings limits during the last two months of the season and (b) how Hughes performs as he continues to throw more innings than he ever has at any point in his career. It seems safe to say at this point that, barring another April-like collapse for Vazquez, Home Run Javy will likely be the fourth starter in the playoff rotation with Hughes shifted to the bullpen.

Here’s the bullpen and retreads:

Outside of Mariano Rivera, who just continues to be outrageous (0.96 ERA!), David Robertson (3.09) and Boone Logan (1.80) of all people get gold stars for stellar bullpen work in July. As we all know Joba Chamberlain was a mess despite solid peripherals, while Chan Ho Park finally pitched his way off the team.

Scranton closer Jonathan Albaladejo, in the midst of a stellar year at AAA, finally got called up but only got to throw 2.2 innings before being sent down again. Phil Coke is somehow having an excellent year in Detroit, although he can post the most absurd numbers in the world and I still won’t regret trading him away; I just could never trust Coke in any situation last season.

One other interesting point worth noting about this past month is that in bringing Lance Berkman in to DH, Austin Kearns as a fourth outfielder and Kerry Wood to help the bullpen, Brian Cashman basically addressed each of the Yankees’ Areas of Weakness we highlighted during the All-Star Break, so props to Cash for that.

Mike and I have basically been saying all season that we can’t wait for this team to be firing on all cylinders, although at this point I think we need to accept that this is what the 2010 Yankees are. Just because Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter are having down years (for them) doesn’t take away from the fact that Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner and (more recently) Mark Teixeira have been carrying the offense for the most part. As much as we’d love for the entire starting nine to get hot at the exact same time, it seldom works that way in baseball. Unless you’re the 2009 Yankees, who wOBA’d .368 as a team last July, .375 last August and .370 last September.

This year’s incarnation has also benefited from exceptional starting pitching for the most part, which has helped mitigate the drop-off in offense to some degree. The Yankees addressed their offensive shortcomings with the Lance Berkman acquisition, and I imagine we’ll start to see the offense heat up even more as we move into the hottest month of the year.

Resting players the right move

When yesterday’s lineup came out, fans started complaining immediately. Wally Matthews echoed these complaints in a piece he penned for ESPN-NY and it provides a good jumping off point for this discussion.

No Alex Rodriguez? No Brett Gardner? Berkman at first in place of Mark Teixeira? Kearns starting in left?

If it wasn’t for the name “Jeter” appearing where it is just about every day, at the top of the list, it would have been difficult to determine at first glance that this was a Yankees lineup card at all.

That was just the beginning of a strange day for Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who is always concerned about resting his horses and somehow—on this day, in this game, against this team at this point in the season—chose to rest three of them. (Teixeira technically got only a half-day’s rest, but still.)

Worse than that, he went and defeated his own purpose by using Rodriguez to bat for Kearns in the seventh, necessitating that he also rouse Gardner from his day of rest because he now needed a left fielder.

…So how Girardi—a manager who prides himself on the mastery of statistics and tendencies and spray charts and matchups—could choose to send out the B team against an A opponent is a mystery not even he could fully explain.

“I’m just playing so I don’t blow somebody out,’’ he practically shouted after the game when asked about his lineup. “I had talked about giving Alex a day off, and I can’t play Tex 37 out of 38 days or I’m gonna break him down. People they’re gonna question it, but I gotta think about the long haul.’‘

A few things here. First, this is nothing new. Braves fans complained for years about Bobby Cox’s “Sunday lineups” while they won division after division every year. Mets fans grumbled about Mike Piazza never playing a day game after a night game under Bobby V. Tony LaRussa often rests multiple regulars if the team has already won the first two games of a series. Every good, winning manager I can think of does some version of this. On the flip side, Willie Randolph played all of his regulars down the stretch in 2007 and the team collapsed. Joe Torre had a teams that took April and May off, put the pedal to the metal down the stretch and were spent by the time they got to October, getting blown out in the ALDS in 06 and 07 by lesser competition. The Yanks are designed to make the playoffs each year, so they play the regular season with an eye on October. I know games facing the Rays seem much more important to most fans, but the reality is they’re just another game off the schedule.

Next, are Gardner/Kearns  or Teixeira/Berkman really such big downgrades that they’re going to feel in a single game? Lets take a look:

Gardner: 119 OPS+ in 2010, 98 OPS+ (3 year)
Kearns: 114 OPS+ in 2010, 85 OPS+ (3 year)

Teixeira: 132 OPS+ in 2010, 146 OPS+ (3 year)
Berkman: 115 OPS+ in 2010, 142 OPS+ (3 year)

Facing a righthander like Shields, Berkman (.860 OPS 2010/1.014 OPS career) has actually been better than Tex (.806 OPS 2010/.909 OPS career). Alex to Ramiro Pena is obviously a big drop off, but it was for 2 measly ABs. Tex was in the lineup as DH, and while they missed his glove at 1B on a few plays that didn’t decide this game. James Shields being on top of his game and having his change up working beautifully did. Anyone who watched Alex’s ABs the previous two games in Tampa knows why Joe sat him. He was visibly getting frustrated at himself and umpires and badly expanding the strike zone, swinging at pitches way off the plate. Fans asked “why not sit Alex during the CLE series? Because he was having good ABs in that series, but clearly the chase for 600 started to wear on him facing better pitching in a big series against the Rays. Right move by Joe, let Alex sit and clear his head.

As much as we may wish all that players were robots who can play everyday, the fact of the matter is that the Baseball season is a grind. You’re playing games almost everyday for 8 straight months from March through (hopefully) October, spending most of your down time working out and traveling, sometimes coast to coast. Ever take a flight from NY to LA? Can you sleep on a plane? I know I can’t. The Rays starting 5 (which have been key to their success this year) have logged 65% of the innings pitched by the team. Let’s see how those arms feel come October, particularly staff ace David Price. He threw a career high 162.1 innings last year, and should be well over 200 by the end September this year. Having enough talent on your roster to be able to rest your regulars is a luxury the Yanks enjoy that most of their competition does not. It’s a competitive advantage come October, you’d be silly to throw it away for a game in August.

Mo summed things up nicely on his Twitter last night:

Maybe the Yankees didnt rest people against Cleveland bc the options to fill in were Juan Miranda and Thames, not Berkman and Kearns.

Tampa Bay Series Recap

Game 103:
Lance Berkman was making his first start in a non-Astros uniform and he was thrown right into an intense battle. If the rest of the season is anything like this game, we are in for a lot of fun – along with some well-bitten fingernails.  Jaso lead off the bottom of the first with a double and moved to third on Carl Crawford’s bunt single.  Longoria hit a sac fly to left, scoring Jaso and giving the Rays a 1-0 lead before Javier Vazquez got the next two hitters out.

Alex Rodriguez worked a walk in the top of the second and moved to third on Cano’s double.  Curtis Granderson hit a sac fly to left, bringing Rodriguez to the plate and tying the score.  The Rays got the run back in the bottom of the third when Jaso tripled and scored on a Crawford single, putting the Rays on top 2-1.

B.J. Upton lead off the bottom of the fifth with a ground-rule double.  A sac bunt by Kelly Shoppach moved Upton to third and Jason Bartlett hit a sac fly, scoring Upton and giving the Rays a 3-1 edge.  Jeter got the Yankees going in the top of the sixth, driving a double to right.  Berkman popped out, but Mark Teixeira connected with his 21st homer of the season, tying the game up at 3-3.  Vazquez, who was not pitching a bad game, got two quick outs in the bottom of the inning, but gave up a solo homer to Matt Joyce, putting the Rays in front again.  A homer by Nick Swisher in the top of the seventh, tied the game yet again, where it stayed into the ninth inning.

Facing the middle of the Yankees’ lineup, the Rays sent their closer Rafael Soriano in for the ninth inning.  He got Rodriguez to pop out, but Robinson Cano, who already had two doubles on the day, connected with a solo homer to right, giving the Yankees their first lead of the game.    Mariano Rivera came in for the bottom of the inning and gave up a two out single to Willy Aybar before getting Bartlett to ground into a force out, sealing the Yankees 5-4 victory.

Game 104:
Having evened up the series, the Yankees sent their ace, CC Sabathia, to the Tropicana Field mound Sunday afternoon, however, the lineup was unusual for the Yankees, particularly in what could be an important game.  Alex Rodriguez got the day off, as Berkman, Ramiro Pena and Austin Kearns were all in the lineup.  The Rays struck early, starting with an Aybar ground-rule double to lead off the bottom of the second.  CC got the next two hitters out, but a single by Shoppach put the Rays ahead 1-0.

Sabathia got into trouble again in the third, giving up a lead-off single to Reid Brignac.  Upton followed with a double, moving Brignac to third.  Crawford then hit an infield RBI single, scoring Brignac and moving Upton to third.  Longoria hit a grounder to third, with Ramiro Pena starting a double play that allowed Upton to score.  The Rays 3-0 lead held through the game as the Yankees managed to pick up five hits and no runs.  The Rays threatened in the fifth when a single by Crawford, ground-rule double by Longoria and an intentional walk of Aybar loaded the bases for Tampa.  CC was able to induce a double play ball from Sean Rodriguez, however, to end the inning.

Sabathia made it through 6.2 innings before Kerry Wood made his Yankee debut. Wood struck out Longoria to end the inning but struggled with control in the eighth.  He walked Aybar and gave up a single to Sean Rodriguez before striking out Bartlett and Jaso.  He walked Joyce to load the bases and Chad Gaudin was summoned to get the Yankees out of trouble, which he did by striking out Brignac.  Running out of time, the Yankees did have the heart of the lineup, Teixeira and Cano both popped up.  Swisher singled and moved to second on defensive indifference, but a fly ball to left by Posada landed in Crawford’s glove, ending the game in a 3-0 victory for the Rays.

Bronx Cheers:
Alex Rodriguez: Personally – I don’t care when A-Rod hits #600.  I mean, I’m sure it’ll be exciting once he does it – and he will – but as long as he is producing I am happy.  For a while after hitting #599, A-Rod was still producing, picking up nice looking hits and RBIs consistently.  His bat, however, disappeared when it was needed most, against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Alex went 0-8 with one walk and one run scored.  When he was hitting he looked like he wasn’t pressing, but lately he’s been putting up a lot of pop flies which leads me to believe the pressure of #600 is finally getting to him.

Curtis Granderson: Grandy had been pretty hot for a while, but his bat also disappeared against Tampa.  He went 0-9 with one RBI.

CC Sabathia: It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but CC was struggling with his command.  He gave up eight hits for three earned runs on Sunday afternoon.  He walked three and only struck out three.

Javier Vazquez: Javy got a no-decision in Saturday night’s game, but it wasn’t one of his best.  He actually didn’t look bad, but every time the Yankees tied things up he managed to give the lead back to Tampa.  He went 6.1 innings giving up eight hits and four runs.  He only walked one hitter and struck out three.

Curtain Calls:
The Bullpen: It wasn’t always pretty, but the bullpen got it done this weekend.  In fact, they did not give up a single run and only gave up two hits over six combined innings.  Perhaps the biggest silver lining to this weekends’ series was the performance by the Yankee relief pitchers.  Each day different pitchers stepped forward and at least kept the Bombers in the game.  Joba had a great two innings on Friday, giving up no hits, walks or runs while striking out three.  On Sunday even Kerry Wood and Chad Gaudin were able to hold off the Rays.  Boone Logan, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera took care of things in Saturday’s win.

Nick Swisher: Swisher went 4-12 this weekend with three RBIs and two runs scored.  He picked up a couple homers and has seriously quashed any worries people may have had about the home run derby ruining players’ swings.

Robinson Cano: If there was one person on offense who seemed to single-handedly be trying to keep the Yankees going it was Robinson Cano.  He went 3-4 on Saturday, with two doubles and the game-winning homer.  He was 5-12 on the weekend, failing to pick up a hit in Sunday’s shutout.

In the On Deck Circle:
Between the craziness of the trade deadline and a big (and semi-disappointing) series against the Rays, the Yankees are probably happy to return to New York and face the fourth place Toronto Blue Jays.  A.J. Burnett will take the mound and try to turn things around for the Pinstripes.  He has had some good outings as of late, holding the Royals and Indians scoreless in his last two starts.  He kept the Blue Jays off the board over 6.2 innings on July 2nd.  Brandon Morrow will take the ball for Toronto.  He is coming off a victory over the Orioles on extra rest, keeping Baltimore to just two runs and five hits in six innings.   Morrow has done alright when he’s in Toronto, but he owns a 6.23 ERA on the road, however, his FIP away is just 3.96.  First pitch is at 7:05pm in the Bronx.

Yanks come up empty against Big Game James as Tampa Bay takes series 2-1

James Shields was outstanding, pitching 7 1/3 innings of four-hit, shutout ball as the Rays beat the Yankees 3-0. The series win moved the Rays back to within one game of first place.

There’s not much to say about this one. CC Sabathia was decent again but not quite ace-like, giving up three runs over 6 1/3 innings. The Yankee bats went cold for the fourth time in the past week, and Tampa’s pitching gets a ton of credit in holding the Yankee offense to seven runs over three games. Hard to win ballgames when you only bang out five hits and only two of those hits are back-to-back.

Lance Berkman picked up his first hit as a Yankee, and Austin Kearns went 0-2 in his Yankee debut. Kerry Wood tossed a scoreless inning and picked up three strikeouts, and even Chad Gaudin — rather bizarrely called on in the bottom of the 8th with the bases loaded and two outs — got his job done, striking out the only batter he faced.

While it’s frustrating to lose a series to the Rays, given that they’ve been nipping at the Yankees heels for the last month and a half, it’s important to remember that it’s also not the end of the world. The division isn’t decided on August 1, and as much as we’d like the Yankees to take the AL East, ultimately no one can complain as long as they make the playoffs, which they remain in excellent position to do (CoolStandings has their % chance of making the playoffs at 89.2%; the highest mark in all of baseball). In trying to put a happy face on the loss, I find it’s also helpful to keep in mind that:

  • This was the first series the Yankees have lost in a month, when they dropped two of three at home to Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez.

  • This was the first time the Yankees have been shut out since that same Seattle series on June 30 (King Felix, natch).
  • The Yankees’ worst losing streak of the season is three. This tells us that the 2010 Yankees have proven to be quite resilient and not prone to long stretches of overall ineffectiveness. Of course, that statement doesn’t necessarily hold true for the offense, which does like to go into hibernation a bit more frequently than it should.

I also think that Yankee fans need to finally accept that the Tampa Bay Rays are most certainly for real. I for one believe the Rays to be a championship-caliber team, and I definitely do not look forward to a hypothetical ALCS match-up with the Rays. Tampa Bay’s pitching is no joke, and they certainly seem to have a knack for the timely hit. Should be a fun last two months of the season, that’s for sure.

Photo c/o The AP