Bullpen blows gem by Burnett as Yanks fall to Royals in extras 4-3

Our butts are hurt too, A.J. (photo c/o The AP)

This about sums last night’s game up.

A.J. Burnett tossed seven innings of one-hit, one-run ball against the Royals on Wednesday night (the one hit being a solo home run by Eric Hosmer), and left the game with the Yankees up 2-1. Unfortunately neither Joba Chamberlain (due to having pitched thrice in four games) nor Rafael Soriano (shoulder inflammation) were available in this contest, leaving the Yankee bullpen a tad short. David Robertson couldn’t hold it down in the eighth, as one of his 8,000 walks finally came back to bite him in the form of a Wilson Betemit (argh) two-out game-tying single.

In fact, free passes were the theme of the night for the Yankee pitchers. Though the Royals only picked up four hits, the Yankees handed out a season-high 11(!) walks to Kansas City. Most critically, Buddy Carlyle walked the leadoff hitter in both the 10th and 11th innings, and both times the Royals wound up scoring. The offense — which we’ll get to in a moment — should certainly take its share of blame for this one, but holy heck did the bullpen not do its job. I know Carlyle and Luis Ayala are the last men in the ‘pen, and to his credit Ayala didn’t even pitch that poorly, but it was tough to see the Yankee bullpen falter in stark contrast to the Royals relief corps, who have now allowed one measly run in 10 innings this series.

Ayala wound up giving up the go-ahead sac fly to Hosmer — who came to the plate with the bases loaded because the Yankees elected to intentionally walk Melky Cabrera (four words I never thought I’d have to type) to set up a double play that never came — and the Yankees went down meekly in the bottom of the 11th, losing to the Royals 4-3 and falling to 2-3 in extra innings on the season.

This loss was truly a team effort, with enough blame to go around for pretty much everyone not named A.J. Burnett or Curtis Granderson, the latter of whom popped his MLB-leading 12th home run and also forced the game further into extras with a game-tying single in the 10th. The Yankee offense stranded 15 runners, and the mere fact that they were only able to plate two runs off starter Vin Mazzaro — who only made it through four innings — was pretty frustrating. Adding insult to injury, Joe Girardi continued his absurd love affair with the bunt, calling for Derek Jeter — who has never been known for his bunting ability — to lay one down in the eighth after Brett Gardner led off the inning with a single, which resulted in Jeter popping the bunt up and not even advancing Gardner. Gardner’s had his issues with the stolen base this season (only a 50% success rate) but it’s baffling to not send him and maybe then perhaps have Jeter (0-6 on the night) bunt him over to third. Two innings later Joakim Soria — who did not look like himself — walked Russell Martin to lead off the 10th on four straight pitches. So what does Joe do with Gardner coming to the plate and a reliever who can’t find the strike zone? Bunt, of course!

Never mind that Gardner worked the count to 3-1 and seemed a lock to draw a walk against a wild Soria; Gardner wound up dropping the bunt down and advanced Martin to second. That Granderson wound up knocking Martin in seems almost trivial in the aftermath of this game. I’ve been a big Joe Girardi fan for as long as he’s been managing the Yankees, but I’ve been having a hard time rectifying the proliferation of bunting this season. It’s gotten to the point where if it’s late in the game and the Yankees are up, tied  or behind by one run I almost don’t want the lead runner to reach ahead of Jeter or Gardner, because you know Joe is going to call for the bunt and giftwrap the opposition an out every single time.

Why oh why would you purposely lessen the number of opportunities you have to win by ceding the only unit of currency you have at your disposal? Given the fluctuating offensive performances the team has received from many members of the lineup, it just seems crazy to me that Joe would rather purposely inch closer to a loss in a critical spot (the Leverage Index for Gardner’s at-bat was 5.39 — the second-highest of the game for the Yankees — and the bunt decreased the Yankees’ chances of winning, as it was worth -.062 WPA. Now obviously it’s unlikely you’re going to record positive WPA by giving away an out, but to me this underscores why this is a colossally stupid move) and take his chances with only two outs remaining instead of three. I’d rather Gardner bang into a double play than attempt to lay down the sacrifice; at least in that case he’d have been swinging away.  And if everyone at home knows this, obviously the opposition does as well, completely taking away the element of surprise. I understand that every now and then the bunt might be a sensible play to keep the other team honest, but not when you bunt each time you think the situation calls for it! Also, why would you willingly take the bat out of Gardner’s — who YES noted, has the highest OBP in baseball over the last two weeks — hands?

In any event, this was probably the most frustrating loss since the ‘pen blew that 4-1 lead against the Twins back during the first week of the season. And given the sheer amount of RISP fail and baffling managerial moves, I probably wouldn’t argue with anyone who felt that this was in fact the most frustrating of the season. I know the Royals are playing pretty good baseball, but you have to win games where you take a lead into the eighth inning, no matter who you’re facing. That the Yankees — the best offense in baseball — have somehow only managed to score six runs against the Royals over 19 innings is truly the cherry on top of the crap sundae.

It’s only one loss — nothing in the grand scheme of things — but man was that a tough game to watch. Anyway, now that that’s over with, I fully expect the Yankees to pick up the series win tonight. They’ve been excellent in series-enders thus far, and it’d be great to head into this weekend’s set with Boston on a winning note.

12 thoughts on “Bullpen blows gem by Burnett as Yanks fall to Royals in extras 4-3

  1. Joe

    I understand Girardi trying to save the bullpen, but I’m over these bullpen rules. I understand why they are constructed as they are, to a point. I didn’t get to watch the end of the game last night, but I know Chamberlain only threw 9 pitches the night before and looked incredible. He’s not 41 like Mo, let the man pitch. He clearly was the best option to take the 8th. The binder strikes again.

    • You may be over the rules, but Joe Torre was as well and burned out plenty of relievers. Joba had pitched 3 of the last 4 days, and has already thrown 17 innings. I was fine with that.

      • Joe

        I understand, and like I said I understand the rules to a point. It’s not like Joba has not ever thrown over 80 innings in a season. Just frustrating when we lose completely winnable games to teams we should beat. Especially before a big series with Boston this weekend.

      • Duh, Innings!

        According to Joba Chamberlain’s page on baseball-reference.com, he has thrown only 53 pitches in May like this:

        5/1: DNP
        5/2: 14 pitches
        5/3-6: DNP
        5/7: 10
        5/8: 20
        5/9: Off-day
        5/10: 9 pitches

        He should’ve been brought in after Robertson or Carlyle. You cross the bridge called who to pitch after Chamberlain or Carlyle if the game is still tied when you get to it.

        • He pitched 3 out 4 days. While he may not have thrown many pitches, he did have to warm up on each of those days, and then pitch. They don’t like to go to guys 4 out of 5, so he was unavailable. They shouldnt change that just because the game went to extra-innings.

        • Joe

          I’m also wondering why Carlyle (who?!) and Ayala (who again?) are even on this roster. If we don’t have anybody in the minors that are better than these two, then the yanks have bigger pitching issues then first thought. Side note, did anybody see this Bartolo HGH story?

          • Joe

            Just read the rest of this summary, and am now full blown pissed. Why did Girardi have the bunt on with Gardner on first? Quite certain he has the capacity to steal a base.

  2. The Jeter bunt was fine. Cost them about 2.3% chance of scoring a run, but that number is likely considerably lower with a GB machine hitting. Its about a push. The Gardner bunt was atrocious.

  3. […] my Twitter feed, after that an extra-inning Buntathon of Death ensued, about which I’ll let somebody else vent, as my spleen is […]

  4. […] In tonight’s opener, A.J. Burnett takes on Felipe Paulino. Paulino throws gas (95mph avg. fastball) and appears to be yet another Alexi Ogando-style fastball/slider guy. Unfortunately, unlike Ogando, Paulino’s fastball is eminently hittable (0.00 wFB/C), which presumably is why the Rockies were willing to dump for nothing but cash considerations. Despite the newness factor, the Yankees should really be all over a guy like Paulino. The Yankees counter with Burnett, whose string of middling performances — he doesn’t have a win or quality start since June — has many calling for him to be banished to the bullpen. Even though Hughes pitched admirably this past weekend, my hunch would still be on Phil getting sent to the ‘pen, given Burnett’s ability to hide safely behind his contract. On the plus side, Burnett had one of his best starts of the season last time he saw the Royals, coming up the hard-luck loser after the bullpen blew the lead in a 4-3 extra-inning loss. […]

  5. […] and win this one. Unfortunately, for the first time in what feels like a long time — in fact, the last instance I can find of me griping about a Girardi bunt was on May 12 –  Joe Girardi conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Following the Posada […]

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