Thursday, May 31, 2012

The saving grace

             Whereas Oakland is a west coast destination the Yankees thrive in, Anaheim has been a place where they go to be massacred. Since 1996 overall, and specifically starting in 2002, Mike Scioscia and his Angels club have been slaughtering the Yanks on both coasts.

             Although the Yanks took 2 out of 3 earlier in the season with the Stadium home opener, the weather is warmer now, Pujols has started hitting finally, and the Angels were throwing their top three starters: Jared Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana. With Jared Weaver already had tossed a no-hitter this season and is one who usually shuts the Yankees down, things weren't looking too good with the onset. That is, of course, until the Yankees caught a break. Weaver injured his back while on the mound and had to be removed from the game. Then with the help a number of unlikely errors by the Angels, the Yanks were able to grab an early 3-0 lead in the 1st and things were really looking up!!

             Unfortunately for the Yankees, Phil Hughes wasn't able to grasp hold of the gift he was given and managed to flush the lead down the toilet by surrendering 4 runs in the bottom of the 1st to swing it in favor of the Angels 4-3. Hughes was atrocious and was charged with 7 earned runs in 5.1 innings of work. With his past few starts being more productive against weaker-hitting teams, the up and down of Hughes is turning him into the team's next A.J. Burnett.

             To the offense's credit, the Yankee bats battled back all night and even tied the score 8-8 thanks to a huge hit by Russell Martin. In the top of the 9th, Derek Jeter had a chance to put the Yanks ahead with the bases loaded and 2 outs, but anytime the bases are loaded this season, the Yanks can't get a hit, and this night was no different as Jeter grounded out. Cory Wade was inserted in the bottom of the 9th and he served up the 9-8 game-winning homer to Mark Trumbo, who would go on to kill the Yankees all series with homers in each game.

             Trying to bounce back after a tough loss, the Yankees sent their crafty veteran Andy Pettitte to the mound against Angels hard-thrower Dan Haren. Pettitte had been marvelous in his return in 2012, but on this night he had the worst performance of all his starts. Both Trumbo and Pujols went deep on Pettitte as he was responsible for 5 runs in his 7 innings of work. Dan Haren was untouchable with only giving up one measly run in 7 innings while striking out 7 Yankees. In the top of the 9th, the Yanks did load the bases with a 5-1 deficit and Cano at the plate to be able to tie the game with one swing, but Cano struck out pathetically on just three pitches to end the game.

               Look at another miserable stay in Anaheim and the prospect of getting swept by the Angels, the Yankees turned to the young man who had been winning important games for the past two seasons, Ivan Nova. Just like the first game, the Yankees grabbed a 5-1 lead thanks to huge blasts by Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano off of Ervin Santana, who had lost his 5 previous starts against the bombers. But then just like Hughes in the first game, Nova blew the lead immediately after and the Angels had tied the game at 5-5 (highlighted by yet another Mark Trumbo homer). One of the biggest unsung heroes of 2012 for the Yankees, lefthanded hitting Raul Ibanez, managed a triple off the wall in center off lefty-reliever Hisanori Takahashi. With Ibanez at 3rd with only one out, amazingly, the Yankees executed a sacrifice fly at the hands of Nick Swisher to take the 6-5 lead.

           Nova was able to settle down and paced his way through 6.2 innings of work and witnessed Cory Wade making amends for the other night by striking out Howie Kendrick in a huge spot with the tying run on 3rd. Wade came back in the 8th to breeze through the next three hitters, which set up the drama in the 9th. Rafael Soriano, in his biggest save situation of the season so far since taking the job, was up against (of course) Yankee-killing Mark Trumbo with the tying run at 2nd base and two outs. Luckily, Soriano was able to break Trumbo's bat which cased a weak flyout to left, giving Soriano the green-light to untuck his shirt for the 6-5 victory.

          With a 4-2 west coast swing under their belt and on their way to Detroit with a 27-23 record, the flight couldn't have been all that good as news of reliever David Robertson's return has been pushed back to mid-June the earliest thanks to a new rib cage injury. To combat this unfortunate development, Brian Cashman picked up a real nobody off the scrap heap in Ryota Igarashi, because the Yankees always have success with Japanese pitchers.....

Sunday, May 27, 2012

An A's for effort

             Escaping the horror show of no offense the Yanks were experiencing recently on the east coast, the team headed out west to the safe confines of the Oakland Coliseum where they had won six straight and wanted to tack on three more. After righting the ship somewhat by taking the last two games against the Royals, Ivan Nova was given the task to keep the small streak going against A's starter Tyson Ross.

             Although Ivan Nova was solid in the 7 innings he recorded on the mound with only giving up 3 earned runs, the story of the night as well as the weekend was the emergence of some of the missing Yankee bats, namely Mark Teixeira.

             The Californian air must have agreed with him because he was responded with 2 hits, including a homerun in the massive pitcher-friendly ballpark. Both Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher also added homers and Rafael Soriano came into the 9th to close out the 6-3 victory for his 4th save of the season.

              The next day brought two larger-than-life pitchers to the mound as CC Sabathia set to face his teammate from last season, Bartolo Colon. Like Freddy Garcia, Colon too hasn't had the same success he had in pinstripes in 2011 and the Yankee hitters were more than happy to see him.

             The Mark Teixeira Show continued as he shined in the offensive display by the Yankees with his whopping four hits that included two more homeruns added to his weekend tally. Robinson Cano too went deep in consecutive games, but he only hit one homer this time around. CC Sabathia navigated his way through 7 innings of work for his 6th win of the season. This time Soriano wasn't needed as the Yanks were well ahead 9-2 which became the final score.

             Winner of 4 straight games for the first time in a long time, the Yanks wanted to get greedy and make it 5 in a row with a sweep of the Oakland A's. Standing in the Yankees way was A's left hander Tommy Milone. In the top of the 1st inning, Derek Jeter continued to climb up the hits chart by surpassing Royals Hall of Fame 3rd baseman George Brett.

             Yankee runs weren't as plentiful for this final game and Hiroki Kuroda was forced the make an early 1-0 lead from an Andrew Jones bomb to centerfield stand. Looking for his first road win of the season and the usual recipient of poor run support, Kuroda took matters into his own hands and delivered shutout 8 innings of brilliance against the weak-hitting A's lineup. The only threat came in the bottom of the 7th when the A's had runners at the corners with only one out, but Kuroda boldly struck out Kila Ka'aihue and got Josh Donaldson to fly out. Mark Teixeira failed to hit another homerun, but did add a major RBI double to give Rafael Soriano a two-run cushion to work with. With the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the 9th, Soriano struck out Seth Smith to end the game and complete the sweep of the A's with the 2-0 win.

            Resembling a baseball team at 26-21, the Yankees head to the warmer Southern California this time to face off against the always-nemesis Anaheim Angels of California and a lockdown rotation of Jared Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana....

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Royal return to normalcy

             As the Yankees were seemingly heading straight to hell in the standings, a few games against the Kansas City Royals would typically be a cure for all the ails, but the Yanks were only able to split against the Royals a few weekends ago and scoring runs has been impossible lately.

            The team resumed it awful play immediately in a rainy, foggy, and miserable game to open the 3-game set. Hiroki Kuroda put the Yanks in a 2-0 hole immediately in the 1st inning by giving up a 2-out walk, followed promptly by a 2-run homer by Mike Moustakas which hit the foul pole. After that Kuroda grinded through 5.1 innings of work, only giving up 3 runs, but yet again the offense was non-existent. Felipe Paulino, just as he had done weeks ago, completely shut down the Yankees and had them eating out of his hand. In fact, the Yankees had one of their usual bases loaded and no out situations, and yet again failed to get a run in off it. 

            Manager Joe Girardi helped seal it for the Royals by bringing Freddy Garcia out of the bullpen in the 6th inning and his batting-practice quality array of pitches gave up a 2-run bomb to Jeff Francoeur for a 5-0 lead. The Royals would go on to win 6-0 and put the Yankees season record at .500 and on the way to the AL East basement. Ineffective as a starter, Freddy Garcia is also proving to be useless out of the bullpen as well and his $4 million dollar contract the steal of the century.

              Rumors swirled before the next game that the Yankees held a team meeting to discuss important issues such as why they suck so much lately. In addition, reports in the media were that the Steinbrenner family had interest in testing the waters of selling the franchise, due to the recent big money the sale of the Dodgers organization raked in. Yankees top brass and management denied both stories and it up to Phil Hughes to stop the never-ending avalanche of losing.

             The Yankees right-hander was up to the task as he continues to turn his tide this season and his love-handles was able to limit the Royals to 2 runs in his 6 innings of work, which included 7 strikeouts. Cano finally got the Yankees on the board in the 4th inning with a solo shot off of Luke Hochevar. An inning later the Yankees had one of their usual bases loaded and nobody out situations, but shockingly, instead of flushing the opportunity down the toilet, the Yankees got the weird idea of using it to score runs (perhaps the idea a result of the brainstorming from the rumored team meeting). Derek Jeter singled in a run and Curtis Granderson followed that up with a RBI groundout. The Yankees took a rare lead at 3-2 and Girardi pieced the bullpen together the rest of the way. Tension was high in the bottom of the 9th as Rafael Soriano was on the hill with two outs and the Royals with the tying run on 3rd base, but Alicides Escobar grounded out and the Yanks had won their first game in seemingly forever.

              With the remembrance of victory fresh in their minds, the Yankees set out to do it again in the final game against the Royals. Royals youngster Will Smith took the mound, and with his family in attendance, the Yankees offense properly embarrassed him.

            Curtis Granderson jumped on Smith in the 1st inning for a solo homerun, and then a few batters later Alex Rodriguez repeated the power feat with a 2-run shot to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. A-Rod woke up from his season long slumber and added another homerun in the 3rd inning, a 421 foot bomb to left-center which put the Yanks ahead 5-0. That was more than enough for Andy Pettitte as he went 7 strong innings and only gave up two measly solo homers in his third start of the season.

            It was a 8-3 victory for the Yankees and the tweaking of Rodriguez's swing by hitting coach Kevin Long seemed to have paid off. More good news for the Yankees, both Brett Gardner and David Robertson were cleared to report to Tampa to begin their road to recovery from their DL stints.

               The rest of the club takes their 23-21 record out west to prepare to battle the Oakland A's. Hopefully they remember the benefit of hitting when they have bases loaded....

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The big red scare of mediocrity

             Despite a magical night from Andy Pettitte, a stark reality is hitting the Yankees that they might be no better than a mediocre team this season. After throwing their three best starters at the Cincinnati Reds; Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova, and CC Sabathia, the Yanks had a whimpering weekend of one win next to two losses against the visiting club. Before a pitch was even thrown, Mark Teixeira was assigned to sit on the bench all weekend as the team is bewildered by his mysterious respiratory illness which hasn't left him all season.

             Teixeira, who has been struggling at the plate this season, joins Brett Gardner as yet another key figure out of the lineup. Superstar Dewayne Wise saw more playing time as he was slotted into left field, Ibanez to right, and Swisher played first in the opening game. Andy Pettitte made his second start of his third Yankee comeback trail and the 39 year-old looked better than he has in any point in his career. An early error by catcher Chris Stewart helped put Reds shortstop Zack Cozart on third base with only one out. Pettitte dung his heels in to strikeout former NL MVL Joey Votto, followed by Brandon Phillips to escape the jam.

             From that point on, not another Reds hitter even reached second base throughout Pettitte's 8-innings of work. In fact, Stewart made up for his gaffe later on by throwing out Drew Stubbs trying to steal second. Facing the Yankees was former Red Sox foe Bronson Arroyo and his high leg-kick.

             The Yankees offense went ahead 1-0 in the 4th on an RBI groundout by A-Rod, but ruined a huge opportunity to blow the game wide open in the 6th with a bases loaded situation and no out. In true Yankees fashion, they managed to do absolutely nothing with it and continue to be rancid hitters with runners in scoring position. This is how they flushed it down the toilet: A-Rod hit a hard grounder to third (which is a surprise he actually hit the ball hard) and Jeter came home to score, but the throw to home beat Jeter for an out, although replay showed the catcher's foot off home plate. The next hitter, Raul Ibanez, grounded to first baseman Joey Votto, who threw home as well for the second out. Then the last out was achieved by Nick Swisher popping out to the shortstop. Luckily, Andy Pettitte didn't buckle and continued to sit down Reds hitters one after another in a cap-tipping performance. Pettitte finished with 9 strikeouts and only surrenders 4 hits and 1 walk in this 8 innings. Finally, the Yanks bats showed some thumb in the bottom of the 8th as Robinson Cano unleashed a solo bomb deep into the bleachers and Raul Ibanez chipped a 2-run shot over the right field wall. Boone Logan came on in the 9th to close out the 4-0 opening set victory.

             After getting nicked up in his last start in Baltimore, there was question whether Ivan Nova would be able to make his next scheduled start. Nova wanted to pitch, but maybe he shouldn't have because he was slapped around for 5 runs in 6-innings, including a homerun given up to Joey Votto. The Yankees, with Teixeira still on the bench, weren't able to get much going against Reds starters Homer Bailey, and things didn't get interesting until the bottom of the 9th when the Yanks started to stage a comeback. A few doubles and singles from Raul Ibanez, Nick Swisher, and Jayson Nix cut the Cincinnati lead to 6-5, but with the tying and winning runs on base, the usually reliable Curtis Granderson grounded out to first to end the game.

             Both teams sent their aces to the hill in the final game of the set as CC Sabathia toed the rubber with Johnny Cueto and his dreadlocks.

               It was pitching all the way in this one and the Yankees had an early opportunity to put some runs on the board in the bottom of the 3rd with Granderson and Cano reaching on consecutive two-out walks, but then Alex Rodriguez hit a weak fly ball on the first pitch he saw. A-Rod and his miserable statistics this season have him at only 5 homers and 15 RBIs for a player who once used to be one of the most feared hitters in the game. A Yankee player who is actually hitting homers, Raul Ibanez, got a two-run shot in the 6th for his 9th of the season to break the tie at 2-0. With the lead, the reliable Sabathia let it wither away as he served up two solo homers, and even walked in a runner with a bases loaded situation. The Yankees bullpen allowed two more Reds to score in the 9th and the Yanks lost the rubber game 5-2. The offense continues to lag behind the pitching and Alex Rodriguez looks like he lost whatever pop he had left in his bat (with 500 years left on that contract). Now with Tex down with this never-ending bronchial infection, Gardner still out with his continuous hand injury, Robertson on the DL, Rivera out for the season, and the aged offense, the Yanks might be looking at a tough 2012 in the dumps.

               At a mediocre 21-20, the Yankees will welcome in the Kansas City Royals for three games, which used to mean three easy wins, but with the way this team is playing who knows.....