Nova, Yankees down Rays 5-3

Ivan Nova tossed six strong innings, and the Yankee offense took down James Shields in a 5-3 win over the Rays Saturday afternoon. Nova, who has become a fixture in the rotation over the past year, made a strong impression on his return to starting after missing about a month with a shoulder injury:  he gave up only two hits in his first five innings of work, mixing his strong fastball sitting in the low to mid 90’s with a devastating slider and curve. After Desmond Jenning’s first-pitch single, Nova didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning. He struck out 8 on the afternoon, reminding Yankee fans of the poise he showed last year in important games.

Nova’s counterpart, Tampa Bay’s James Shields, didn’t fare as well–he gave up four earned runs in six and one-thirds innings, surrendering most of the damage on back-to-back home runs by Curtis Granderson (two runs) and Eduardo Nunez in the second inning. Ironically (at least for this writer, as I chose to mention this in my preview), Granderson came in batting .107 (6-for-56 with 14 K’s) against Shields.

The win lets the Yankees open up a half-game lead on the Baltimore Orioles atop the AL East; the O’s play later tonight (9:05 PM EST) against the Oakland Athletics.

Bullets and commentary after the jump.

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Game 145: Please be super, Nova

In the minute-by-minute, second-by-second horse race that is the modern AL East, nothing is secure. Teams that were awful one year come back completely rejuvenated the next; teams that seem like juggernauts drop completely out of contention; teams that dropped completely out of contention look like juggernauts. The only certainty is that, ultimately, pitching still matters, hitting still matters, and these teams are playing baseball. That’s pretty much it.

So, judging by the last starts from Ivan Nova (this afternoon’s Yankee starter) and James Shields (for the Rays), well, we wouldn’t be able to conclude very much at all–but that’s the point. Nova hasn’t started since August 21st, when he gave up six earned in six innings in a loss to the Chicago White Sox. Not a great time to be a Yankee fan then, so let’s not dwell on that moment. Shields, on the other hand tossed a nine-inning shutout masterpiece against the mighty Texas Rangers on September 9th–quite a bit more recently than Nova’s disaster. But who knows how they’ll do today? (Obligatory statistics defense: Prediction in baseball is a science of averages and variation; it’s not very good at understanding individual performances, but rather at trends that last a year or more.)

Interesting fact I couldn’t work in to the super-short preview: Curtis Granderson is batting a career 6-for-56 (.107 against Shields, with 14 K’s). So yeah. Good luck to Curtis.

And the Yankees are still tied with the Orioles for first in the East. And the Rays are three back. But hey, Ichiro is leading off!

Rays (78-66)
D. Jennings, LF
B. Zobrist, SS
E. Longoria, DH
B. Upton, CF
J. Keppinger, 3B
M. Joyce, RF
R. Roberts, 2B
C. Pena, 1B
J. Molina, C
Yankees (81-63)
I. Suzuki, LF
D. Jeter, DH
R. Cano, 2B
A. Rodriguez, 3B
R. Ibanez, RF
E. Chavez, 1B
C. Granderson, CF
E. Nunez, SS
C. Stewart, C Continue reading Game 145: Please be super, Nova

Yankees rock Orioles 13-3 as Grandy, Jeter go yard; AL East lead back to 1

The Yankees dominated the Nick Markakis-less Orioles at Camden Yards Sunday afternoon, reclaiming sole possession of the AL East with a resounding 13-3 win. Curtis Granderson hit his 100th home run as a Yankee (in a little less than three seasons–not bad), while driving in five runs, snapping a long-running cold streak with a monster 3-for-3 performance off the bench. Derek Jeter also homered to extend the Yankees lead in the eighth to 10-3, effectively putting away an Orioles team that looked wounded by the loss of one of their star players.

The win lets the Yankees claim a much-needed 2-2 series tie in Baltimore, retaining the lead they had at the beginning of the set. The bombers will now travel to Boston on Tuesday to face their arch-rival Red Sox, who look to play spoilers this season. The Orioles host the Tampa Bay Rays for a three game set that starts on Tuesday. These parallel series could very well determine the fate of the AL East heading into the last few weeks of the season: a favorable result for the Yankees in Boston, coupled with a few Rays victories could spell trouble for the O’s, for example. Of course, a sweep by any of the three teams could result in a completely new AL East landscape by next Saturday–when the Yankees face the Rays in the Bronx.

Time to catch your breath folks, because this is the real deal. Here’s the rundown of today’s much-needed blowout:

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Game 140: Please be steady, Freddy

I used to play tennis in high school. My team was pretty good, but I was one of the lower-level players at the school. I wasn’t great at tennis, but I wasn’t bad–I’m a tall guy, so I could get to a handful of balls that the other people couldn’t (especially at the net), and I could serve acceptably well. This is all by way of relaying to you what my coach used to tell me every time I would get into an argument (yes, all the time–I was am a very spoiled “talkative” sports player) with an umpire, or with my opponent (if we didn’t have umpires, which was normal): “Just don’t put them in position to make a bad call.” Just beat them so badly that you don’t need them to make a close call at all–don’t allow the umpire, or the player, to make a call.*

*Of course in soccer, my coach always told me the opposite, which speaks to the difference between the sports.

The Yankees need to win in Baltimore today, and they need to win badly. They’d take a win any way they can get one–so if they get a gifted blown-call win like last night, that’d be fine–but they’d really like a blowout. For that to happen, they need the bats to come roaring back (not impossible, though they are facing Zach Britton, who has been on fire recently), and they need Freddy Garcia to keep the O’s more or less off the board. It’s not going to be easy; but the Yankees need to make it look easy to make their fans stop taking Tums before games.

(It’s worth noting that Baltimore will be playing without slugger Nick Markakis for the next six weeks, after a Sabathia pitch nailed his thumb last night.)

Yankees (78-61)
Derek Jeter, DH
Nick Swisher, RF
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Steve Pearce, 1B
Andruw Jones, LF
Jayson Nix, SS
Ichiro Suzuki, CF

Orioles (78-61)
N. McLouth, LF
J. Hardy, SS
W. Betemit, DH
A. Jones, CF
M. Wieters, C
M. Reynolds, 1B
C. Davis, RF
M. Machado, 3B
R. Andino, 2B Continue reading Game 140: Please be steady, Freddy

Hughes, Yankees implode, lose 8-3 to Orioles, AL East lead shrinks to 2

The Yankees are determined to make the end of this season headache-inducing: they imploded Sunday afternoon against the Orioles, giving up seven runs in two disastrous innings, while failing to muster up shootout-level offense. Phil Hughes, while not entirely to blame for the final score, gave up four runs in the sixth inning, turning a 3-1 lead into a 3-5 loss. The combination of Cody Eppley, Clay Rapada, and Joba Chamberlain got the Yankees through to the eighth inning, but a couple of walks by Joba allowed Baltimore to load the bases with one out. Derek Lowe came in to walk Robert Andino to give up a run, and was promptly replaced by Boone Logan, who managed to give up a two-run single to Nick Markakis. Logan was promptly replaced, but the damage was done.

The Yankees limp out of their series with the O’s only two games ahead of Baltimore for the AL East lead. This is the third series this season that the birds have taken from the bombers in New York, the first time they’ve accomplished that since 1976–which is, in part a testament to how good the Yankees have been against the O’s, but mainly it’s just a weird trivia answer (it’s not like the Yanks have been this good since 1976, and it’s not like the O’s have been uniformly bad since then).

  • Chris Dickerson had a good day. He hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the second, scoring Russell Martin, and robbed a possible homer from Adam Jones in the seventh. He was probably the best Yankee performer on the day–which isn’t saying a lot.
  • Phil Hughes looked pretty good until the sixth. He wasn’t vintage ’09 Hughes; but he wasn’t 2011 Hughes, either. He was hitting his spots, for the most part, locating his breaking stuff, and getting outs when he needed to. Then, he just started missing his spots. He allowed a couple singles and a walk to score Wieters, then hung an atrocious-looking curve (I think it was a curve–I don’t really know because it looked awful) to Mark Reynolds with two men on. If Wei-Yin Chen and the Orioles imploded slowly and painfully last night, the Yankees imploded brilliantly and quickly tonight.
  • The aggravating thing about the Hughes implosion was that an inning earlier the Yankees had manufactured a run in a classic baseball way: a walk (Dickerson–again), a sac bunt (Nix), a sac fly (Jeter–we’ll give him “sac” because Dickerson went to third on the play), then a single (Swisher). It was the kind of series of plays that make old-school baseball people nod and say “well, that’s why you gotta sacrifice–it’s all about creating runs, y’ see?” It put the Yankees back up by two runs, which should have given Hughes some breathing room.
  • The O’s yanked starter Chris Tillman after three innings because he had elbow soreness. That could be bad for the O’s, as Tillman has been quite good this season–he’s one of many reasons that they’re in contention this late in the season.
  • Ichiro Suzuki did not get a hit against Tillman, stretching his career record to 0-fot-7 against the righty. Apparently this is a thing, because I saw maybe four articles about it. Ichiro gets a lot of hits, so it’s rare that he has an 0-fer against a pitcher.
  • Mark Reynolds was the man of the night for Baltimore, blasting two home runs–the first, a solo shot, the second the dagger that ended the night for Phil Hughes. He’s playing well at the right time, against the right opponents.
  • Best tweet of the game goes to Newar Star-Ledger beat writer Mark Craig:

Continue reading Hughes, Yankees implode, lose 8-3 to Orioles, AL East lead shrinks to 2

Game 133: Four (More) Games!

The Yankees won in epic fashion last night, stringing together a two-out rally that would make the best teams proud. They featured one of the most tense, exciting walks I can remember–Derek Jeter in the seventh–and one of the timeliest errors committed against the Yankees since Luis Castillo in 2009. With the win, the Yankees moved three games ahead of the Orioles in the AL East, maintaining some distance from the fetid puddle of sludge that is the Wild Card race.

This afternoon, they have a chance to put more ground between them and the quagmire, when they go up against Chris Tillman, the O’s youngster with a 14-17 career record, who is in the midst of a fantastic season. Tillman is 7-2 with a 3.26 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP, completely flummoxing most of the people who cover this stuff professionally before the season (his 4.08 FIP and 4.19 xFIP suggest he has been slightly lucky. The Yankees will toss out their own young enigma, Phil Hughes, who, as is his wont, has been off and on this year–but more on than off compared to 2011. Hughes is 14-11 with a 4.02 ERA.

First pitch is at 1:05 PM EST.
Orioles (73-59)
N. Markakis, RF
J. Hardy, SS
N. McLouth, LF
A. Jones, CF
M. Wieters, C
M. Reynolds, 1B
C. Davis, DH
M. Machado, 3B
R. Andino, 2B

Yankees (76-56)
D. Jeter, DH
N. Swisher, 1B
R. Cano, 2B
E. Chavez, 3B
R. Ibanez, RF
R. Martin, C
I. Suzuki, LF
C. Dickerson, CF
J. Nix, SS Continue reading Game 133: Four (More) Games!

Walks, bullpen help Yankees grab important 4-3 win over Orioles

We’ve finally reached that point in the season when games start to really matter, where journalists, players, and even casual fans look at the standings every day like they’re watching the stock market after investing their life savings. “Time to panic” headlines and stories seem a bit less insane, and there are a whole lot less “well, it’s a long season” answers during press briefings. It’s with this air of importance, anxiety, as a backdrop that the Yankees lost to the Orioles Friday night; and it’s with this air of nervous excitement as a backdrop that they came back to eek out a 4-3 win Saturday afternoon.

Wei-Yin Chen tossed six and two-thirds innings of four-run, four hit ball for the O’s, who looked completely in command of the game before the seventh inning. Chen had allowed one earned run up until that point (on two hits), hadn’t walked a batter, and had barely allowed any Yankees to reach base–the story of the game up to that point (aside from Curtis Granderson, who I’ll mention in a second) was, for the second game in a row, how a Baltimore pitcher dominated the bombers in the Bronx.

But then the seventh inning happened, and it all seemed to unravel for the Orioles.

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Game 132: Bird Hunting, Redux

The Yankees’ seemingly-insurmountable early season lead over the AL East has withered down to two games. Now, it’s September 1st, and the bombers are facing the very real possibility of a playoff stretch run that could see them drop out of first place in the East and fall into the horrible muck that is the new Wild Card system. And when you’re in the muck, it’s pretty hard to climb back out.

All of that is a prelude to the next two games against the Orioles–yes, they’re actually a real team. After last night’s loss, if the Yankees lose today and tomorrow, they will be in a tie for first. If they win the next two, they will push their lead back to four games. And if they split, well, we’ll be talking about the two-game lead on Monday.

Today, Joe Girardi will turn to his young call-up David Phelps to stop the bleeding; Phelps, who has been solid all year–spectacular at times, brutally mortal at others–will need to keep his offense in the game against Wei-Yin Chen. Chen, a first-year big leaguer out of Taiwan, has been absolutely phenomenal for the Orioles: he features a strong, well-located sinker, and a workable arsenal of breaking pitches that he can throw in most places.

First pitch is at 1:05 PM.

Orioles (73-58)

N. Markakis, RF
J. Hardy, SS
N. McLouth, LF
A. Jones, CF
M. Wieters, C
C. Davis, DH
M. Reynolds, 1B
O. Quintanilla, 2B
M. Machado, 3B

 Yankees (75-56)

D. Jeter, SS
N. Swisher, 1B
R. Cano, 2B
A. Jones, RF
C. Granderson, CF
R. Martin, C
J. Nix, 3B
E. Nunez, DH
I. Suzuki, LF Continue reading Game 132: Bird Hunting, Redux

Yankees do the little things, beat Indians 4-2

The Yankees were not perfect Sunday afternoon in Cleveland, but they were good (lucky, whatever you want to call it) enough to escape Progressive Field with a 4-2 win, thanks to some timely hitting (of course), and adequate pitching. Freddy Garcia tossed four and two-thirds innings of four hit, two run ball–with six K’s!–but was yanked with one out left in the fifth inning down by one with runners on the corners, as Joe Girardi decided to turn the game over to the bullpen. Garcia probably deserved the win–and to try to pitch himself out of the jam–but Yankee fans should be happy with Girardi for moving aggressively to lock down the Indian threat: Carlos Santana had just singled in two runs with the bases loaded, and lefty Michael Brantley (of yesterday’s homer fame) was coming up.

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